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Book Probe: Alien: Weyland-Yutani Report, Back to the Future, Lois Lane
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, @revolutionsf, © 2015

Format: Book
Review Date:   June 30, 2015

You read geek-related books. We review geek-related books. Let's work together on this thing.

Alien: The Weyland-Yutani Report

The Weyland-Yutani Report has gone too far. It’s an enormous art book featuring details about all the creatures, locations, technology and storylines of the Alien movie universe, including Prometheus.

From the amazing art that I've seen so far, my favorite thing is that it’s not a book about how they made the creatures and filmed the effects. Books about real things are the worst. This book takes place within the universe of the movies, from the perspective of the poor jerks that I’m sure will one day get their chests burst.

For more details, check out this video. Warning: It contains privileged information about a lifeform so powerful that its applications for military application appears to be limitless.

Desolation Sound by Fraser C. Heston

This murder mystery novel is short, violent and thrilling. It’s written by Fraser C. Heston, son of the legendary Charlton Heston. I give my highest recommendation to reading this book in the voice of the writer’s father. Two detectives are the stars, a grizzled old guy and a rookie lady. She is the action hero of the whole thing. There’s a creepy villain and a climactic battle. It’s old school in the best way.

The book is based on a real-life mystery. Since 2007, fifteen severed feet have appeared on the shores of British Columbia and Washington state.

What kind of bizarre stuff goes on out in Seattle, besides people throwing fish at you? I have friends there. Should they be worried about their feet?

Abomination by Gary Whitta

The real-life history of England is dramatic enough. Gary Whitta’s Abomination is a look at the secret history of that time. It seems like a standard history story, what with royal people complaining about fighting and that kind of thing, but then the magic arrives at around page 19, literally, from the belly of a wild hog. A freaky monster pops out, and everything gets BONKERS.

“The beast lifted its head, opened its jaw wide, and howled—an appalling sound that defied nature and raised gooseflesh on the arms of every person present.”

That’s just page 19.

The rest of the story details the pitfalls of trying to win wars by using magic monsters. From there, it contains bloody, brutal details of epic medieval battles.

Writer Gary Whitta is the screenwriter of Book of Eli and the Telltale Games Walking Dead game. So I was already a fan, but then in this book, he spells magick with a K. So that pretty much sealed the deal. Abomination is tons of fun.

Indelible Ink by Matt Betts

I really dug Matt Betts’ crazy Firefly-style adventure book, Odd Men Out. It was just plain fun, crammed with action and neat characters. This time he does something completely different, a crime thriller. And it's just plain fun, too.

The hero is Deenna, an assassin with a shape-shifting super-powered tattoo. There’s plenty of cussing and killing and assorted other violence which comes with the territory in books about assassins.

The labelers among us would be compelled to label this book Urban Fantasy, but really, it’s a crime thriller where the hero happens to have a superpower.

Here’s my favorite quote:

“It was one thing to arrest criminals and punish them for crimes, but this. Catching people with things growing inside them. It wasn’t something he was trained for.”

The first chapter contains the same kind of slow-building intensity that starts really good horror flicks.

The hero’s power reminds me of the Marvel superhero Cloak. By that I mean it’s awesome.

The villains are stereotypical in the best way, the way that leads Deenna to take them down with her superpowers.

The most important thing in the book is the hero’s relationship with her sister. That’s where its emotional guts lie, but even there, when the story might have gotten sickly sweet, both characters act exactly like siblings. They can’t stand each other.

We Don't Need Roads: Making of Back to the Future

2015 is the thirtieth anniversary of Back to the Future, and I’m so excited to have this book in hand. It depicts the making of all three movies with quotes from many of the creators and actors. It gets to the hearts of the actors’ and the creators’ feelings about these movies, in a clever, incisive way.

It has intricate details of the productions, step by step. But writer Caseen Gaines tells a story, instead of just listing items on a timeline. When he interviews actors and creators, he depicts what feels like their sense of joy and accomplishment.

Each movies’ controversies are detailed. I was afraid the book would degenerate into gossip-website salacious details. Instead it just reports the news, with multiple interviews and perspectives. The replacement of Eric Stoltz by Michael J. Fox gets fully detailed, and so does the recasting of Crispin Glover and Claudia Wells.

The book is a document of the making of an incredible batch of movies. The overwhelming tone of the book in the thoughts of Bob Gale, Bob Zemeckis, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and tons more people is upbeat happiness about the legacy of these movies, and you can tell how proud the creators and actors are of them.

Lois Lane: Fallout

Lois Lane has been in movies, TV, cartoons and comics in her 75-year history. In many of her recent versions, she’s dead or a robot. So finding her in this book as a YA novel hero is a distinct improvement.

Here, she’s a modern-day teen. That will cause some of my fellow DC Universe fans to fall upon their fainting couches, since, you know, Lois is an adult who already knows Superman, and if she’s a teen here, this can’t be set in the modern day. It throws off the canon!

Gwenda works Superman in without making him the star. He and Lois are online friends and they’ve never met. Their relationship in Fallout has sweetness and cleverness that has been absent in almost every recent Lois / Superman story.

He doesn’t swoop in and save her at any point. The star of the story is Lois. She’s got elements of other Lois versions, mainly Dana Delany’s Lois from Superman: The Animated Series. But her character feels like a current, vibrant new thing.

ALTA Project by David Chen MD

The writer is a hospital administrator, and this book is a pandemic story that rings chillingly true. Since a pandemic did what pandemics are wont to do, lots of people are dead and a police state is in charge. More conspiracy stuff includes Biblical prophecy. The ALTA Project isn't fully in the realm of sci-fi. It's just realistic enough, with intensive medical details.It's a short thriller with an ending that shocks. Pandemics and conspiracy go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Robot Overlords novelization

The movie's writer Mark Stay writes the book, so that's super helpful, novelization-wise. No kidding, as I read the book I had the thought, "This would make a great movie." In other words, my short-term memory rewarded me greatly.

The story involves robots taking over and humans not being allowed outside. The robots have some ground rules, as powerful conquerors are known to do. Unique among them is they tell the humans they're only going to be here for a little while, then they'll pack up their stuff and get out.

Naturally, the humans don't quite believe them, even though they have a PR-friendly tagline that says "Robots Never Lie."

Hijinks ensue with scrappy humans aiming to take back their planet.

Scrappy humans vs. robots is a classic sci-fi setup, and it's classic because it works. In this case, it works well, with no excessive techno-babble, no hand-wringing melodrama. The robots need to be fought, and the humans take care of that requirement.

This one has plenty of heroic action, robot fightin' and stuff blowin' up. It's a very satisfying construction.

Vessel by Lisa Cresswell

First up, one character is named Bane, so I read all Bane's dialogue in the voice of Bane from Dark Knight Rises. I couldn't help it, and I loved it.

This one is about a girl in a post-supernova Earth, where, as you might imagine, things aren't going well. Lisa Cresswell portrays the emotional stakes of the book's heroes amid a tense adventure. The ending is stunning, but not in an M. Night Shyamalan kind of way. It's stunning because for awhile, it's easy to forget the book is an SF story. But, well, the end of the book fixes that.

The key to the story's success is the hero. Her harrowing journey is worth a look.

Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen science fiction about exploring. Dark Orbit is about explorers of a planet whose inhabitants have a unique vocabulary and psionic perception. This kind of SF story I, and many fans grew up on. The writer digs into the science with a zeal usually reserved in sci-fi books for blaster muzzle-load distribution.

Here’s part of a discussion in the book: “Is it possible to be pure consciousness?”

Here’s another one: “It’s as if dimensionality itself underwent a reorganization.”

Those are the kinds of things Dark Orbit discusses.

And on top of that, it has a murder mystery. The book is 300 pages, but you get a brain-full of SF goodness.

Blue Gemini by Mike Jenne

A secret military space program. What could go wrong?

Author Mike Jenne is a pilot, Army Ranger and a former Special Forces officer. He takes advantage of his real-life experiences here, and it's so obviously a step above most stories of this kind. These details are things you can't find from research.

More than that, Jenne creates real people. Engineer Scott Ourecky is in the middle of the Cold War and gets in over his head. The story re-creates 1968, with all the tension of that era. This story is thick with depth and details, really bad guys and patriotic good guys. Read it while at a July 4 barbecue (any day the rest of the year is fine, too.)

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