Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Little Light on the Past

Three Science Fiction Authors That Inspired Me As a Child
by Margaret Fortune

Ask any science fiction writer to name the authors that inspired them, and you’ll likely hear some very familiar and famous names: Asimov, Clarke, Wells, Dick, Heinlein, Herbert, Verne. The list goes on and on, and no one’s list is quite the same. However, when I think back to my childhood, to the very first science fiction books that captured my imagination and inspired a love of sci-fi in me, it’s not the famous names that leap to mind. It’s the authors who wrote science fiction for children. Since it’s unlikely you’ll find these names on most people’s lists, I thought I’d shed a little light on a few sci-fi authors that maybe aren’t so well-known.
As a child, I was a voracious reader, and the library often felt like a home away from home. Now there wasn’t much science fiction for children at that time, at least not that I found, but there was a little bit. In particular, three authors—all female, interestingly enough—who first inspired me to dream of space stations, underground cities, and alien planets.

Louise Lawrence
I fell in love with her first book, Andra, from the moment I read it. Andra tells the tale of girl living in a rigid underground city in a future where Earth’s surface has been destroyed. Blinded in an accident, she’s given a brain graft from a boy who died in the 1980’s to save her sight. Not only does she wake up with the ability to see again, she has the ability to see a past Earth that was still green and free. 

This may be the first dystopian book I ever read, and I was enthralled by this restricted society and the rebellious girl who would challenge the authorities to ask for something better. The ending was both truly terrible and truly perfect at the same time, and this is one story I have never forgotten.

H.M. (Helen Mary) Hoover
Space stations, alien civilizations, colonies on Mars, underground cities. H.M. Hoover seemed to write it all, and she was, without a doubt, my favorite science fiction author as a child. The Delikon, Away is a Strange Place to Be, The Winds of Mars, This Time of Darkness…I honestly don’t think I could pick a favorite. These books, among many others, were all wondrous in different ways. What I will say is that these were the books that truly transported me to far-off worlds. That made me contemplate what it would be like to live on a space station or to discover an alien civilization…or to be conquered by one! 

Monica Hughes
I first saw her book, Invitation to the Game, in a weekly reader at school, and had to read it based on the cover alone. Set in an overcrowded futuristic Earth, this is probably one of, if not the first book, I read dealing with virtual reality simulations. However, it wasn’t this book, but the one it led me to, The Keeper of the Isis Light, that really left an impression on me.

The Keeper of the Isis Light tells the tale of an orphaned girl raised by a robot on an alien planet. As a baby, she was physically modified to withstand the environmental dangers of the planet, and though still human, looks distinctly different. Having never seen another human, she’s excited when a new colony comes to settle her world…only to find out that different isn’t always considered a good thing. This book’s commentary on what it truly means to be human—both inside and out—is a lesson worth remembering.  
These days, there is no shortage of MG and YA science fiction to inspire today’s youth. YA sci-fi is booming, from dystopian epics like Veronica Roth’s Divergent, to space adventures such as Beth Revis’s Across the Universe, to alien invasion stories like Rick Yancey’s The Fifth Wave. And as a YA crossover science fiction author, I hope my stories will one day inspire readers, both young and old, as well. The same way I was once inspired by battered old library books from the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s that contained amazing stories and added their own small piece to the world of sci-fi. 

Bio:  Margaret Fortune wrote her first story at the age of six, and has been writing ever since. She has a BA in psychology from the University of Minnesota – Morris, and her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in magazines such as Nth Zine, Neo-Opsis Science Fiction Magazine, and Space and Time. Her science fiction novel Nova is the first of a five book series coming from DAW Books in June 2015. 
Twitter: @mara_fortune

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Rise and Fall of the Eleventh

In this round of viewing, I am endeavoring to make sure I have seen every story at least twice. since I know what episodes I've had in my collection and when and how many times I've viewed them, I have skipped Doctors Three, Four, Nine, and Ten. Three, Four, and Seven I have seen uncountable times, but I only recently got my hands on the missing episode reconstructions for Doctors One and Two and filled in seasons twenty-one and twenty two completing my Fifth and Sixth Doctor collections. That left Eleven and Twelve to watch again.

It has been a marvelous experience to dive in with Matt Smith and really see him. His performance was brilliant. As the youngest actor he could have taken it many ways, but he played it as a very old man in a young body.

Unlike the Classic Era, the New Series often features many shorts and minisodes. I have not included those here, though I did watch them all. Also, the two parters are listed as a joint title.

The Eleventh Hour - Ameilia, fish fingers, and custard. The newly regenerated Doctor crash lands in Amelia Pond's back yard. He has two issues to solve - to fix the Tardis and to figure out what the crack in the wall is. He ends up putting the Tardis first and doesn't return for many years. He does it in a brilliant way which gives a good introduction to his Doctor. His choice of costume matches and he ends up looking like a 50's college professor. A fabulous story.

The Beast Below - The United Kingdom is replicated on a space ship that carries the last survivors of Earth. But something is amiss. There is no engine sound or vibration and people disappear. It turns out that the designers had captured a giant space whale and are forcing it to propel their ship. They hadn't even asked if it was willing. This story was good fun and the portrayal of a future Queen of England was marvelous.

Victory of the Daleks - Churchill calls and the Doctor answers, but something is amiss. A scientist claims to have invented armored soldier. The Doctor isn't fooled, if it looks like a Dalek, it must be a Dalek, even if they keep repeating that they are England's soldiers. Once they confirm the Doctor's identity, their plan is unleashed. They release a new breed of Dalek. This was an unusual episode with some nice ties back to Power of the Daleks and some nice twists. A good Dalek tale.

The Time of Angels & Flesh and Stone - A throw away line from her first appearance sets the stage for this River Song story. The crash of the Byzantium turns out to be a weeping angles story of excellence. Even viewing it a second time it took a moment for the Doctor referring to the natives having two heads to click that the statues only have one. The crack that appeared to the audience but not the Doctor in the previous two stories plays a major role and we learn that to be sucked through the crack is to be wiped from existence. This two parter is fantastic and full of action and adventure. The angels are well used and River makes the story a lot of fun.

The Vampires of Venice - Rory joins Amy and the Doctor and they head back to Venice, but something is wrong. At first it appears to be vampires, but the Doctor can tell they aren't and wonders what is so terrible that it doesn't mind being though of as a vampire. The creatures have a plan for taking over the Earth so the Doctor must stop it. A well done story and a good first story for Rory (well, second, but the first traveling in the Tardis).

Amy's Choice - Amy, Rory, and the Doctor are faced with a dilema, which reality is real and which is a dream. It prove a nearly impossible decision and it falls to Amy to decide. This was a well written and executed story.

The Hungry Earth & Cold Blood - Homo-reptilia are back. They aren't quite the Silurians who faced the Third and Fifth Doctors, but they are related. A drilling experiment has touched off their perimeter alarms and awoken a small portion of the homo-reptilia below. The factions have different ideas, some want to kill the humans some want peace. Near the end the find a crack and Rory is pulled through. When the peaceful faction wins out, the Doctor has them sleep for another thousand years and two of the humans join them. This story was an interesting way to bring back an old adversary and give them a fresh look. A well done story that certainly ends better than the previous encounters did.

Vincent and the Doctor - Richard Curtis gives us the Doctor, Amy, and Vincent Van Gogh. The troubled painter can see a creature that no one else can see. The Doctor identifies it when Vincent paints what it looks like. The Doctor wants to take it to join its fellows, but there is no way to communicate and they end up killing it. The ending scene at the museum pulls at the heart in typical Richard Curtis fashion. He should definitely do more.

The Lodger - This Amy light episode has the Doctor becoming a roommate with a man who has an interesting neighbor upstairs. People keep disappearing. It turns out that it is a time machine looking for a pilot. The design is important later, as many things in this season are. Very well done.

The Pandorica Opens & The Big Bang - A legend comes to life. The Pandorica is a box that holds the most dangerous being the universe has ever seen. Leave it to River to find it under Stonehenge. Romans, Cybermen, Daleks, and more show up as the Pandorica opens. All these enemies of the Doctor (for the Romans are actually Autons, including Rory) have come together to create the Pandorica to contain the Doctor. The cracks in the universe are the Tardis exploding and they think they can stop it this way. Rory struggles to maintain his identity but fails and kills Amy. But in a loop (because if he doesn't the universe will die because the Tardis is exploding with River inside) the Doctor comes back to tell Rory how to get him out and they put Amy in and Rory and Amy go forward the hard way while the Doctor jumps forward and has the younger Amy open the Pandorica. They have a Dalek to contend with to make trying to find a way to save River, the Tardis, and the Universe harder, but they manage to succeed, but the Doctor is on the wrong side and is no more. Until Amy remembers him, then he is back in a Tux to dance at her wedding. A whirlwind series finale that delivers.

A Christmas Carol - The Christmas episode always happen at Christmas and this one just happens to be on an alien planet where the Doctor gets to Scrooge a bitter old man. Fabulous music and a wonderful story make this an awesome Christmas episode.

The Impossible Astronaut & Day of the Moon - What a way to start a new series. The Doctor, now two hundred years older, dies in Utah and the Doctor (the younger version), River, Rory, and Amy must find out what happened. The trail leads to the White House then Florida where they find an Apollo space suit filled with alien technology and the Silence. The Doctor manages to stop the Silence, but they fail to find the girl intended to fill the suit. Delightful teasers. The story delivers but is not the best of the series.

The Curse of the Black Spot - Pirates and a water sprite open the story, but all is not what it seems. A dimensional ship and its healing hologram have them trapped. A fun story that has some nice surprises.

The Doctor's Wife - The title conjures images of River Song, but that is not what this story is about. Neil Gaiman delivers a triumph by having the Doctor follow a old distress beacon of a Timelord. Which of course turns out to be a trap. The lifeforce of the Tardis is placed in a human and the Doctor and his Tardis carry on a fun banter while Amy and Rory try to avoid dying in the hijacked Tardis shell. The Doctor has a few tricks up his sleeve that land him back in the console room and the Tardis is restored. One of the best of the Eleventh's stories.

The Rebel Flesh & The Almost People - Not every story carries a message, but this one did. In no uncertain terms it addressed the disposal of technology when it becomes so advanced that it seems alive. People inhabit synth flesh and to work in hazardous situations. But when events conspire to give the syth flesh a life of their own, things get dangerous. At the end of the story it is revealed that Amy is a synth flesh body and has been since Florida 1969. A fantastic story.

A Good Man Goes to War - The Doctor is after Amy and he pulls in a bunch of favors to do it. River mysteriously refuses. Demon's run is the target and the Doctor manages to take it without a fight. They rescue Amy, but her baby is gone. River reveals that she couldn't help because that baby is her. She is Amy and Rory's daughter. This story was a bit over the top, but good none the less. River's role is fantastic.

Let's Kill Hitler - So if the girl in Florida was River, what happened to her after that. Well, she went and found her parents (after at least one regeneration, maybe two) and grew up with them. It turns out Amy named her daughter after her best friend who.... is her daughter. The twists just make the head spin in a good way. But that body is shot and regenerates into the familiar face of River. Fun stuff and a good story.

Night Terrors - The Doctor, Amy and Rory arrive at an apartment building with strange things happening. The alien at work is just trying to find a home and they help it. It is a sweet story and a nice break from the intensity that preceded it.

The Girl Who Waited - What difference a choice makes. Amy is trapped in a faster time stream in a facility where terminally ill patients die. When the finally find her, she has been there for 30 years. She only helps them on the promise that she gets to live too, but the Doctor could never keep that promise. A very poignant ending.

The God Complex - Random people are trapped in a hotel and if they find the room intended for them they start worshiping the creature that will kill them. The Doctor finds a way to break the connection and reveals that it is a hologram hiding a prison. The monster dies. A chilling episode with the crack from the previous season making an appearance.

Closing Time - A light break. Looking back to the season opener, this is the Doctor's last stop before Lake Silencio in Utah. It is a sequel to the Lodger and features a crashed Cyberman ship causing havoc in a department story. Nothing really special, but still a good story.

The Wedding of River Song - The Doctor shows up for his execution and there is no surprise that it is River inside the space suit. But she won't kill him and it tears at the fabric of time causing all time to happen at once. In the end he convinces River to both marry him and kill him and the timeline is restored. But is the Doctor dead? No. He borrowed the Teselecta from Let's Kill Hitler so that he was both at Lake Silencio and safe from harm. It was a fun and surprising solution to the dilemma. A good season finale, though it came at it from a strange angle.

The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe - From Dickens to Lewis. This story is set in WWII and features a woman helping the Doctor and then him helping her in return. A very uplifting story..

Asylum of the Daleks - The Daleks need the Doctor's help. A ship has crashed on their asylum and something is wrong. As the Doctor investigates, he encounters Oswin, a survivor who has managed to avoid the Dalek Nano traps and can hack any Dalek system.

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship - The title says it all. An ark created by the homo-reptilia is on a collision course. The crew have been killed by the collector who has seized the ship. A interesting collection of companions, including Nefertiti, round out the story. This one was pure fun and a joy to watch.

A Town Called Mercy - The Doctor returns to the old west, but this time with some aliens to contend with. A cyborg is out for revenge on his creator but ends up becoming sheriff. Some good moment in a good story.

The Power of Three - Black cubes have invaded Earth and the Doctor is intrigued. He stays with Amy and Rory to check it out. when things start, UNIT gets involved and their new science advisor is non other than the Brigadier's daughter. And interesting idea and nice to see UNIT back.

The Angels Take Manhattan - The weeping angles have taken over a hotel in 1930's New York. They are tapping people and feeding off of them. Rory is their next victim. They use a paradox to escape, which clears New York of the angels, but there is a survivor who again takes Rory and Amy follows him. The Doctor is devastated. One of the most incredible exits for a companion. For while they are gone forever from the Doctor's life, they are not dead and life out their lives in New York, with Amy becoming a writer.

The Snowmen - The Doctor has retreated to 1890's London, with Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, to mourn (or sulk, whichever seems to fit). But living show and a charming governess named Clara change his mind. He tried to offer Clara the Tardis key, but is prevented and Clara falls, mortally injured. His adversary is the Great Intelligence (last encountered by the Second Doctor) who has just formed. He defeats the Great Intelligence, but cannot save Clara. Only at her funeral, where he sees her headstone and her full name, Clara Oswin Oswald, does he realize it was her on the Dalek Asylum. The mystery is fantastic and the story was quite good.

The Bells of Saint John - Deep in the middle ages, the Tardis phone rings. It is a young women needing computer help. It is Clara and the Doctor is intrigued. The enemy turned out to again be the Great Intelligence and the Doctor defeats it for a fourth time. A great story.

The Rings of Akhaten - The Doctor takes Clara someplace spectacular and alien where Clara encounters a young girl. Turns out she is the most important person and to rescue her Clara has to do something amazing. A nice twist on the Doctor always saving the day. A somewhat slow story, but not too bad.

Cold War - A nice double meaning title. During the Cold War, the Doctor and Clara materialize on a Russian submarie, It has just brought aboard a block of ice with something inside. It turns out to be one of the most famous of the Martian Ice Warriors. He is soon lose on the ship out of his armor. The Ice Warrior ship that come to his rescue brings the entire submarine to the surface. Unlike the redesign of the Silurians, the Ice Warrior design remains unchanged, except that it is now armor instead of their skin. A nice change and a well written episode.

Hide - When is a ghost story not a ghost story, when it is the echo of a lost time traveler. Well done twist after some really scary scenes. Love this one.

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS - While trying to teach Clara to fly the Tardis, the Doctor lowers the shields and the Tardis is attacked by salvagers. The Tardis is going to explode and the Doctor slips through a crack in time and delivers a message that lets him raise the shields in time and avoid the salvagers in the first place.

The Crimson Horror - There are some stories that just work because of who plays the parts. The Pater Noster gang is back and Diana Rigg guest stars. Some great material and a nice Victorian themed alien encounter. A favorite of mine.

Nightmare in Silver - In the far future, Cybermen have advanced to a horrifying state and nothing can stop them. In a game of surviving until everyone could be saved, the Doctor nearly doesn't make it except that one of the kids Clara cares for guesses the secret that saves the day. The Cybermen were truly frightening in this one and the solution is drastic, but effective. And how could Neil Gaiman not deliver an excellent story.

The Name of the Doctor - Who is Clara? Why has the Doctor met her three times? When the Great Intelligence sets a trap for the Doctor and nearly wins, it is Clara who steps in to beat the Great Intelligence. She splits herself through the Doctor's timestream where she suggests which Tardis the First Doctor should steal and encounteres him many other times. The Doctor jumps into his own timestream to save her. They encounter one of the Doctor's many secrets right before they escape.

The Day of the Doctor - 50 years to the day from the first episode, the story starts up at Coal Hill School with Clara teaching. She goes to meet the Doctor but as soon as she is in the Tardis, the Tardis gets picked up. Kate Stewart and UNIT have a mystery. On Gallifrey, the War Doctor, the incarnation the Doctor has tried to forget, comes to the point where he can take no more. He stead the Moment, a dangerous weapon, to end the war. But the Moment is sentient and appears in the guise of Rose Tyler (as Bad Wolf). She opens a door in time that lands the War Doctor, Eleven and Ten in Elizabethan England. Zygons and Queen Elizabeth give the Doctors a challenge, with Ten being forced to carry through with his promise to marry the Queen. In the 20th century, they settle the Zygon problem and the War Doctor makes his decision. But this time he is not alone (or maybe he never was). This time there is a solution, but the result looks the same as if he had used the moment. He regenerates as he takes off in his Tardis. Ten returns to his wanderings, and Eleven contemplates a painting, only to have a mysterious curator tell him it is called Gallifrey Falls No More. Epic.

The Time of the Doctor - A message is being sent out and the Doctor has to know what it says. The message is coming through one of the cracks caused by the Tardis exploding and it is from Gallifrey. He can't answer and can't leave so he stays. He twice tries to send Clara away, only for her to end up being there at the end. Becausse of what she says, his fellow timelords give him a new set of regenerations. Eleven falls and Twelve takes the stage. Again, epic.

As you can see from my reaction, I loved this Doctor and his stories. One of my favorite eras. Not everyone feels that way, but that can't be helped.