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Tag Archive: Del Rey


Review by C.J. Bunce

Every fan of Stranger Things will likely approach a Stranger Things novel looking for something like an “X-File.”  Adam Christopher’s new novel Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town is about Jim Hopper (played by David Harbour in the Netflix TV series), and it takes place in 1977, seven years before a Christmas in 1984 where he is enjoying a winter in his cabin with his newly adopted daughter Eleven (played on the series by Millie Bobby Brown).  A few weeks after the events of Season Two, Eleven finds a box of Jim’s mementos and wants to know more about his past, so he decides to tell her a crime story from his days as a New York City detective.  So it will help the reader’s 432-page journey to know this is not an X-File–there is nothing fantasy or science fiction about Hopper’s past to be learned, no demogorgons or other monsters, and although it includes a few scenes with his wife Diane and daughter Sara, we never learn more about why they aren’t around when the series takes place.

Understandably reader expectations might be wrongly set by the folks advertising the book.  This is how Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town is marketed:

Chief Jim Hopper reveals long-awaited secrets to Eleven about his old life as a police detective in New York City, confronting his past before the events of the hit show Stranger Things.  

I don’t know what “long-awaited secrets” could mean for Stranger Things fans other than learning what happened to his wife and daughter.

But if you can get beyond a sci-fi/fantasy assumption, or if that is not even your expectation, then you’ll learn more about what makes Hopper tick.   In a story laid out like a 1970s prequel Law & Order episode, Hopper goes undercover in the style of Donnie Brasco or The Departed, except the undercover work begins and ends not over several months but inside of 12 days (making Hopper very lucky or some kind of supercop) between the Fourth of July 1977 and the aftermath of the real-life July 13-14 city power outage.  As a crime story for beginning readers of the genre, Christopher’s storytelling provides a thorough tale of an alternative cause for a real-life event.   He uses gangs, connecting Hopper, a new partner, federal agents, and research on returning prison inmates to the public after serving out their sentences in a hot summer where the Son of Sam was still yet to be captured.  It may very well say something about Hopper’s character, that he would select this story to tell his daughter.

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Our borg Best of 2018 list continues today with the Best in Print.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2018 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2018 here, and the Best in Television 2018 here.

So let’s get going.  Here are our selections for this year’s Best in Print:

Best Read, Best Sci-fi Read – The Synapse Sequence by Daniel Godfrey (Titan Books).  The Synapse Sequence is one of those standout reads that reflects why we all flock to the latest new book in the first place.  The detective mystery, the future mind travel tech, the twists, and the successful use of multiple perspectives made this one of the most engaging sci-fi reads since Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.  Honorable mention: Solo: A Star Wars Story novelization by Mur Lafferty (Del Rey).

Best Retro Read – Killing Town by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Hard Case Crime).  The lost, first Mike Hammer novel released for the 100th anniversary of Mickey Spillane’s birth was gold for noir crime fans.  This first Hammer story introduced an origin for a character that had never been released, in fact never finished, but Spillane’s late career partner on his work made a seamless read.  This was the event of the year for the genre, and a fun ride for his famous character.  Honorable mention: Help, I Am Being Held Prisoner, by Donald E. Westlake.

Best Tie-In Book – Solo: A Star Wars Story–Expanded Edition novelization by Mur Lafferty (Del Rey).  Not since Donald Glut’s novelization of The Empire Strikes Back had we encountered a Star Wars story as engaging as this one.  Lafferty took the final film version and Lawrence and Jon Kasdan’s script to weave together something fuller than the film on-screen.  Surprises and details moviegoers may have overlooked were revealed, and characters were introduced that didn’t make the final film cut.  Better yet, the writing itself was exciting.  We read more franchise tie-ins than ever before this year, and many were great reads, but this book had it all.  Honorable Mention: Big Damn Hero by James Lovegrove (Titan).

Best Genre Non-fiction – Hitchcock’s Heroines by Caroline Young (Insight Editions).  A compelling look at the director and his relationship with the leading women in his films, this new work on Hitchcock was filled with information diehard fans of Hitchcock will not have seen before.  Young incorporated behind-the-scenes images, costume sketches, and a detailed history of the circumstances behind key films of the master of suspense and his work with some of Hollywood’s finest performers.

There’s much more of our selections for 2018’s Best in Print to go…

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When Lando Calrissian showed up on the doorstep of Han Solo and Leia with a toddler Ben in tow, Han knew the outcome couldn’t be anything good.  In Daniel José Older‘s novel Star Wars: Last Shot–A Han and Lando Novel, it’s Lando that causes angst for Han, but it also gets him away from a home life where it’s just not happening for the former smuggler and decorated General of the Rebellion.  Someone has set off some assassin droids and if your name was ever on the title for the Millennium Falcon, you’ve been marked.  The mastermind behind the droids is a character inspired by H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, a medical student plucked from his good life and plunged into a maddening existence where he begins to merge men with machines.  For Fyzen Gor, droids are the more advanced form and he will stop at nothing until the galaxy knows it.  Enter Han, Chewie, Lando, and Ugnaught, an Ewok tech guru or “slicer,” an attractive Twi-lek who Lando has his eyes on, and a young hotshot pilot, and you have a Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven story plucked from the pages of classic Marvel Comics.

But that’s the present, or at least the present time as it existed a few years after the events of Return of the Jedi, where only part of the story takes place.  Both partners Han and Chewie, and Lando and companion droid L3-37 have each encountered Fyzen Gor and his enigmatic Phylanx device before–once before Lando loses the Falcon to Han during Solo: A Star Wars Story, and once afterward.  Star Wars: Last Shot presents three parallel stories all culminating with the present search and confrontation with Gor to learn the secret of the device.  L3-37’s theme of droid rights is a significant element in this tale, and further expands L3’s influence on the future beyond being merged with the Falcon’s computer.  Despite several key cyborgs in the Star Wars galaxy (not the least of which being Luke and Darth Vader), this novel is Star Wars taking on cyborg themes not usually found in the franchise outside the early comics, themes you’d find wrestled with previously in other sci-fi properties.

The prequels live on.  Adding to the surprise presence of Darth Maul in Solo: A Star Wars Story, writer Older resurrects many bits and pieces from the Star Wars prequels, including a Gungun who makes clear that Jar Jar Binks was not emblematic of the alien race.  We also encounter many names, aliens, and places from past stories, like aliens reflecting the likes of Bossk, Hammerhead, Ewoks, Ugnaughts, and Cloud City from the original trilogy.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Not since Donald Glut’s novelization of The Empire Strikes Back.  That is the last novelization in the Star Wars universe that was as fun as Mur Lafferty’s new novelization of Solo: A Star Wars Story–Expanded EditionThat’s saying a lot, because Glut’s exciting prose is what got many of us through the 2.5 year wait period before The Return of the Jedi arrived, in the dark days before VHS.  Lafferty writes with quick, succinct sentences that zip the reader through the action-packed, roller coaster ride of a story.  This is the space fantasy and space Western nostalgia that fans of the original series were hoping for when the prequels and sequels came along.  Electric and classic like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the novelization energizes an already great movie.  Of course screenplay writers Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan deserve the appropriate praise for the bones of the story, but the novelization provides everything else that couldn’t make it into their 135-minute movie.

Best of all is a three-page epilogue that directly ties Solo: A Star Wars Story together with not just the obvious connections you already know with Han Solo, Chewbacca, and the original trilogy stories.  The novelization introduces an intersection with two other major characters from the Star Wars saga no one could possibly predict.  As good as the gambling scene was between Han and Lando at the end of the movie, it’s a shame this scene did not become part of the film.  No spoilers here, but the book is worth reading for the epilogue alone.  You’ll also find a revealing scene between Qi’ra and L3-37, and a surprising, hilarious exchange onboard the Millennium Falcon between Lando and Chewbacca.

Solo: A Star Wars Story Expanded Edition has an apt subheading, because it is precisely what sets it apart: expanding on every major character’s backstory.  Han and his encounters with Lady Proxima on Corellia and life in the Imperial Navy (including an appearance by comic book characters Tag & Bink) are told in flashback memories.  Chewbacca‘s thoughts are fleshed out, too: how he got to where we meet him in this story, and his passion to help Sagwa and the other Wookiees escape from the muddy spice mine on Kessel.  We learn what happened to Qi’ra right after Han left her behind, as she is sold to another slaveholder and finally falls into the clutches of Dryden Vos and Crimson Dawn.  Lafferty expands on the relationship between Val and Beckett, including their first encounter, too.  And most enlightening is the heavily emotional inner-workings of Lando‘s droid L3-37 and how her mechanics–plus a little coaxium–made the fastest ship in the galaxy all that it would later become.

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