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THE ZOCALO'S REVIEWS

BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

NEW ITEMS COMING OUT SOON

Alias ALIAS: AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY TP
by Paul Ruditis

This ultimate insider's guide to all things Alias comprises a mission-to-mission analysis of the series complete with a color-coded global "mission map"; a catalog of agents' personal histories and psychological profiles; Jack Briskow's own extensive coverage of the Enemies of the State; descriptions of the high-tech gadgets used by Sydney and her team; and Project Black Hole's official report on the shadowy figure Milo Rimbaldi. (248/1-4169-0215-5) (CAUT: 4)
SC, 7x9, 256pgs, FC..........$17.95


Ranger Connie dropped by this book recommendation:

I had to write to you to tell you about a book titled "American Science Fiction TV", by a Jan Johnson - Smith. I found it in a bookstore here in NY and had to have it. Even though its subtitle is " Star Trek, Stargate,, and beyond" it is mostly about B5 with a big chapter about it at the end of the book. It is a really good book and if you keep following this link http://www.upne.com/0-8195-6738-8.html you can read the synopsis given. I was so delighted that finally someone is giving B5 its due, most exciting.

NEW TV SERIES

Closer Cast TNT's new original series THE CLOSER, starring two-time Golden Globe nominee Kyra Sedgwick (The Woodsman, Something To Talk About, TNT's Door to Door) as an Atlanta detective transferred to Los Angeles to head the Priority Murder Squad, premiered Monday night with a special commercial-free presentation. This gripping drama series comes to TNT from The Shephard/Robin Company in association with Warner Bros. Television. THE CLOSER is executive-produced by Greer Shephard (Nip/Tuck, The D.A.), Michael M. Robin (Nip/Tuck, The D.A., NYPD Blue) and James Duff (The D.A., The Agency). Gil Garcetti, Los Angeles district attorney from 1992 to 2000, is a consulting producer on the series.

An offbeat personality, a tough-as-nails approach and a track record as one of the country's leading investigators: these are just a few of the traits exhibited by television's next great detective, Deputy Police Chief Brenda Johnson. In her first lead role in a dramatic series, Sedgwick plays the CIA-trained detective who has been brought to Los Angeles to head a special unit of the Los Angeles Police Department that handles sensitive, high-profile murder cases. Brenda is tapped to lead the team because she is a world-class interrogator, and when it comes to obtaining confessions, she is a closer.

For more information about the series and some clips to get you hooked, go to The Closer Page here at The Zocalo Today.


MARCH OF THE PENGUINS

Penguins Here is something for the whole family -- from Warner Independent Pictures and National Geographic Feature Films --
MARCH OF THE PENGUINS.
March of the Penguins - In theaters June 24th, Rated G

www.marchofthepenguins.com
Directed by: Luc Jacquet
As told by: Morgan Freeman
Cast: Introducing the Emperor Penguins

Penguins Synopsis

“March of the Penguins” tells one of the most beautiful love stories on Earth.

In the Antarctic, every March since the beginning of time, the quest begins to find the perfect mate and start a family. This courtship will begin with a long journey – a journey that will take them hundreds of miles across the continent by foot, in freezing cold temperatures, in brittle, icy winds and through deep, treacherous waters. They will risk starvation and attack by dangerous predators, under the harshest conditions on earth, all to find true love.

For more information about this film, go to MARCH OF THE PENGUINS page here at The Zocalo Today.


NEW BOOK REVIEWS

Here are four new book reviews received from sci_fi_reviewer@hotmail.com. We hope you enjoy reading through them. If you enjoy them, let us know. If you agree with the review/disagree with the review, let us know that too!

Title: Batman: Captured by the Engines Price $4.99 (USA)
Author: Joe R. Lansdale Publisher: Warner Books

The only good thing I can write about this novel is that it's not the worst book I've ever read. Part of the plot is the same old Bruce Wayne crying to Alfred about the murder of his parents. Get over it already!

The other part if the story is similar to a plot-line from a "Transformer" cartoon. For you aspiring novelists, find out who at Warner Books approved this novel. They will publish yours no matter how bad!

Rating: Zero out of ten.


Title: Todd Gamble's Cartographica: Journal of Maps
Author/Illustrator: Todd Gamble Price: $15.95 (greenronin.com)
Publisher: Green Ronin Publishing

WOW! I have been into role-playing games for two decades and never has a book had such an impact on me. The dungeons, castles, under ground lairs, etc. add a whole new twist to the adventure. With over 62 full-color maps this book is a must have for the novice as well as the game master!

Rating: A perfect 10.


Title: Star Trek: The Edge of the Sword
Author: Kevin Ryan
Price: $6.99 Publisher: Pocket Books

Although I have read well over one hundred Star Trek novels, this book is the best one that I have ever read! The author has a perfect understanding of Star Trek and its characters. The Klingon Empire has managed to place an infiltrator aboard the Enterprise whose sole mission is to kill Captain James Kirk. Lt. Jon Anderson is the Klingon who has been altered to appear human, or "Earther" as the Klingons say. His Klingon name is Kell. Much of the story is told from Kell's point of view. Kell has been indoctrinated into believing that Earthers are weak, cowardly and without honor. Kell is a follower of Kahless and he believes it will be an honor to kill Kirk.

What Kell doesn't expect is to fight along-side Earther crew members and learn that what he's been taught is false-including what he's been told about Kirk. To Kell's amazement not only does he become romantically involved with a female Earther, but he also owes his life to Kirk when Kirk saves Kell's life during a skirmish with the Orions. Despite this, Kell is determined to complete his mission although it will cost him his honor.

When I first read the back cover of this novel I thought, "Oh great, another story in a long line of stories about a Klingon trying to kill Kirk". I was 100% wrong. This book is fast-paced, believable, and has great moments of drama and humor.

Rating: A perfect 10. A must read for fans of the original series.


Title: Deathlands: Way of the Wolf
Author: James Axler
Price: $5.99 Publisher: Gold Eagle

With over 40 volumes the "Deathlands" series is the best post-apocalyptic sci-fi series on the shelf. I hope to see it adapted to a TV series some day. Unfortunately, "Way of the Wolf" is the worst of the series.

The established characters in this series are untrue to their personalities in this book. The plot jumps around in an unbelievable and erratic fashion and the ending is highly predictable. The only point in reading this book is in case future volumes refer to events in it.

Rating: 3.5 out of 10

COMMENTS ON THE LATEST HARRY POTTER NOVEL

Date: 06/21/2003 7:53:01 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: RobWired@aol.com

I would also add that, for example, the practice of not providing screenings for upcoming movies is not about movie reviewers giving away plot points. It's usually because the studio knows it has a stinker on its hands and doesn't want word to get out. Scholastic Press and J.K. Rowling can both hedge their bets against such an instance.

Yes, keeping the plot under wraps does stoke curiosity. But when book reviewers are not provided copies for review ahead of time, it means the publisher and the writer are more interested in milking their cash cow than about giving the plot away to readers.

As it is, we got an advance copy from industry sources, not Scholastic. And it's filled with flabby writing. Will children care? Probably more than Rowling, who seems to be getting too big for her writing, obviously gives them credit for. Here's hoping that children who ask things like, ''Why do they say something is a little big?'' will maybe look up what ''amble'' means, as in when Rowling says, ''ambled slowly.'' Yes, and how else does one amble? Or how about ''slightly panicked''?

The Harry Potter books have gotten children to read, and that's a good thing. But as for keeping plots under wraps, there are better plots that have been published, and in books the publisher WANTS to be reviewed.

Ranger Robert


SEASON TWO BABYLON 5 DVD

Date: 05/02/2003 2:59:45 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: garyl@cpepeo.com

Sandra,

I received my B5 2nd Season DVD Set yesterday and I so far I am very pleased. A pleasant surprise was the special feature on the episode "Geometry of Shadows". They got Bruce Boxleitner, Claudia Christian & Jerry Doyle in the same room to give commentary on this episode. This episode is almost 10 years old from the original air date. Right away, their genuine camaraderie showed through. They started immediately with the opening credits making irreverent comments about themselves, each other and the other cast members. Because "Geometry of Shadows" was filmed so long ago they needed notes about the episode. They made fun of each other's hair (or lack of it for Garabaldi), Bruce's continuous smiling and how thin Claudia used to be. There was some serious commentary mixed in for this 40+ minute episode. The tidbits about how Claudia only had one line with Londo in her four years; how they got to show up to the set at 7:30 am (and leave early also) instead of 4:30 am everyday because they did not have to wear alien makeup; and how they used to eat lunch with each other every day. They made fun of Lord Refa's "fake British accent" among many other comments during this segment. Jerry Doyle even commented on something that happened in Season 5 and was told he was out of line by Claudia who said they were supposed to stick to Season 2. I thoroughly enjoyed their commentary and insight on the making of this episode as well as the series in general.

Gary Lustgarten


Date: 4/14/2003 3:16:26 PM Eastern Standard Time
From: DPBarker@aol.com

THE DA VINCI CODE REVIEW
by Dennis P. Baker

Just finished reading "The DaVinci Code," and I truly enjoyed it. It's an exciting read. If readers like adventure thrillers shrouded with solving with ancient 2,000 year-old mysteries, this is a book that fulfills this promise and more. It starts out with the murder of the curator of the Louvre Museum, and escalates into a mad dash to find the Holy Grail. Uncovering the truth about the Grail could rock the foundations of the Catholic Church. Each clue that gets the main characters closer to their goal is wrapped in ancient enigmas concocted by DaVinci and his modern disciples. Along with the main characters, you try and solve the puzzles as well. Characters, who you think are bad guys, turn out to be good guys and vice versa. Truly a page turner from start to finish with the main action of the story taking place in just over 24 hours -- just like the TV show of the same name. While the main character appeared in an earlier work -- Angels and Demons, it's not a prerequisite to read and enjoy "The DaVinci Code." I recommend it wholeheartedly. It's one of the best books that I've read in awhile.

CONTEST REVIEW
by Dennis P. Baker

I also just finished reading "Contest" by Matt Reilly, which is somewhat reminiscent of an old Star Trek episode. In the ST episode, Kirk has to battle various aliens in an arena to see who will remain standing. I forget the name of that episode. While somewhat predictable, "Contest" was a fun read with all of the action taking place in the New York Public Library on 42nd Street (after hours, of course). I can also recommend "Utopia" by Lincoln Child that takes place in a futuristic amusement park -- like Disney World and Futureworld on steroids."

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by Helen Cripe

It's not difficult to see why this one keeps setting new records at the box office: it's wonderful. An excellent adaptation of the novel, well cast and acted, spectacular effects and breathtaking scenery. When I say breathtaking scenery, I really mean it -- some of those shots panning up mountainsides, towers, fortresses, whatever, are so fast they leave the eyes a little unfocused and a funny feeling at the pit of the stomach. I particularly enjoyed Treebeard and the Ents -- I loved them in the book and wondered how they would be presented on the screen. Gollum was also very well done. I don't know how they did him but they certainly got him right. The rest of the cast really looked like they'd been living and traveling rough, and showed plenty of grunge and dirty fingernails. No perfectly groomed, spotlessly clean Errol Flynn in velvet tights here.

My only criticism of the movie is that it's way too long. A lot of the battle scenes and even some of the scenery could have been cut drastically without damaging the movie, and in fact, some judicious cutting might have tightened the story. The plethora of Orcs never gets as boring or annoying as all the battle droids and Jar Jars in The Phantom Menace, but let's face it, you see one Orc, you've seen 'em all. There was also a tendency for the camera to stay far too long on close-ups of faces. An effective technique, but can be overdone.

Can't wait for the next one. In the meantime, I think it's time to get out my battered paperbacks, dating all the way back to graduate school, and reread both The Hobbit and the trilogy.


Invoking Darkness
Book 3: The Passing of the Techno-mages
by Jeanne Cavelos

Sandy,

If you can and will publish it, I would like to make an unsolicited recommendation for Jeanne Cavelos' Technomage books.

I've been reading Science Fiction for 38 years, and these books are excellent.

They represent a "must read" for every B5 fan.

And they are just plain excellent SF tales for those who are *not* initiates into JMS' reality.

To provide some perspective -- I've read everything I could find re: B5.

The PsiCorps trilogy -- just okay, important for filling in the background and the fate of Bester, but otherwise not memorable. Just doesn't engross the reader in the tale as any good tale does.

The Centauri trilogy -- again, fills in and explains a lot. Unlike the PsiCorps trilogy, actually pleasant to read and could be enjoyed by someone unfamiliar with B5, but nothing to jump up and down about in excitement.

Jeanne's work (at least the first two books of the trilogy, I buy the third today) is far and away superior to the other trilogies. The story itself is intriguing, the characterizations are strong, and Jeanne writes so well that the reading itself is wonderful.

So go out, BUY them, READ them and TELL YOUR FRIENDS, folks. Discover the truth behind the Technomages.

Eric Dawson
Aiea, HI

Passing of the TechnoMages Book 1: Casting Shadows

by Jeanne Cavelos Review by Mitch Obrecht

Casting Shadows is a novel that, in my opinion, should be at the top of any must-read book list.

As with her previous work, Shadow Within, a knowledge of the Babylon 5 universe is not required to enjoy this, but for those who have been following the series for some time, Casting adds a new depth, new layers, that have not been shown in any previous tie-in book.

It is the rare book that not only matches the quality of the material it is based upon, but surpasses it.

While I would recommend reading Shadow Within before Casting, it is not required to enjoy the novel.

The majority of the action takes place in November and December of 2258, the end of the first season of B5, and the ending leads into the events seen in Geometry of Shadows, which featured Elric – Galen’s mentor and teacher.

There are appearances by many people we’ve seen within the B5 and Crusade universe, including Galen, Elric, Alwyn, Isabelle, Blaylock, Morden, Anna Sheridan, and “Johnny” Sheridan.

Something I found highly unusual was the author’s characterizations. They were ALL dead-on, portrayed exactly as seen on-screen, in a very three-dimensional light. The characters were, quite simply, brought to life.

Events range from falling-out-of-your-chair laughter (just picturing Alwyn in a probe-spitting contest was deadly for the mountain dew I’d just swallowed!) to ripping-your-hear-out sadness.

I have heard people talk before about books they just couldn’t put down, that they needed “just one more chapter” before bed, but I had never experienced that feeling. Until now.

It’s almost twice as long as Shadow Within, and it leaves you waiting with breathless anticipation for the next one, due in July. I don’t know how we will survive the wait.

Would I recommend this to others? Without a Shadow of a doubt.


From: nickhindle@cwcom.net

"Blood Oath" by John Vornholt

published by Boxtree Press
This book tells the story of a Blood Oath vowed against G'Kar, and how he dealt with it's ultimate aim - his death.

Although the story line links quite well into the main story arc, and there are some references to past events in the history of Babylon 5, it is spoiled by bad production.

There are numerous spelling mistakes, incomplete words, and words in the wrongplace (G'Kar suddenly takes the place of Garibaldy in a scene when he is in fact miles away!).

If you want to get this book to complete your collection, put it straight on the bookshelf and don't read it (unless a new edition is printed).


From: nickhindle@cwcom.net

Legions of Fire - "Out of the Darkness" by Peter David

A DelRey book published by The Ballantine Publishing Group, New York.
ISBN 0-345-42720-3

This is the final book in the Legions of Fire Trilogy, and is best read after the two previous books, rather than a standalone novel.

The misfortunes of poor old Londo continue. Things don't seem to be able to get any worse. Meanwhile, Durla continues with his slightly insane plans to amass a huge fleet and launch an attack on the alliance, and begins to worry the other Centauri leaders with his extreme approach.

President Sheridans son David, is finally given the dreaded Urn...

The first part of the book describes the flow of events leading up to preparation for attack, the opening of the Urn and the movements of the resistance, and is reasonably calm, and then the ships exploded.

The story suddenly takes a sharp left turn and gets in sync with several threads from the TV story arc. Sheridan changes place with the Sheridan who has slipped through time from Babylon 4. He and Delenn are about to be executed. Londo finishes telling the two children how it all started, from "In the beginning", and the end of his life appears to be approaching. G'Kar's future also appears to be moving towards realising the famous vision we saw so many times. The resistance movement begins to make itself known, in a rather explosive way, and the leader of the "Legions of Fire" are finally revealed to all, including the Drakh.

It ends both with exitement and happiness, combined with sadness. As SoylentTom says in his review, reveals a lot more about the thoughts and feelings of the characters than you could ever get from TV or film.

An excellent culmination of an excellent trilogy.

The Babylon 5 story will live on for many years to come.

Nick Hindle


Frontier Earth by Bruce Boxleitner

Whenever I see a novel, autobiography, or other highly advertised publication by a celebrity I usually avoid it like the plague, having seen too much junk that would never have been published without a celebrity name. Therefore, I was a little surprised at myself for including Mr. Boxleitner's novel in a stack I bought for a cold, snowy weekend that was only fit for cuddling up with the cats, some good music, a little trash TV and a lot of reading.

Frontier Earth is set in the American West in 1881, specifically the few days centered around the famous gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. But this is no ordinary shoot-'em-up and the hero is no ordinary cowboy - he's an extraterrestrial who has crash-landed on Earth and lost his memory. He has to try to fit into an alien environment and culture, and at the same time figure out who he is, what his mission is, and how to stay alive in the midst of an assortment of human gunfighters and savage alien hunters.

It's obvious that Mr. Boxleitner is fascinated with the history of the American West and has done plenty of research as background for his novel. He deftly combines real people and events with his fictional characters and plot, and keeps the suspense heightened and the action moving as the gunfight draws near and the enemy aliens stalk their prey. Although there is plenty of alien technology around, the book doesn't depend upon it to solve all the problems. The main focus is on the characters, what they think and how they meet various perils and challenges. You'll laugh at some of the challenges - our poor alien hero has a hard time with 19th-century male-female relationships and an even worse time trying to ride a horse!

Bruce Boxleitner has given us a rousing good story that just might make me take back some of the unflattering generalizations I've made previously about celebrity books. In fact, I'll go so far as to say I recommend the book highly and I'm looking forward to the sequel.

Helen Cripe

Centauri Trilogy

Date: 11/19/2000 6:41:49 PM EST
From: SoylentTom

A nearly seamless tie-in to what we had seen on the show. I only say "nearly" because I assume someone else may have noticed something I didn't. Personally, I thought it was handled amazingly well. While not War and Peace, it had me jumping up and down many times. I was on edge waiting for each new book. It is everything a series like that could be. A magnificent answer to the questions we had once the show was over. I was very satisfied. And truth be told, some things are better in book form. There was so much going on in the characters' heads to really put on screen.


Star Trek Deep Space Nine Companion
by Terry J. Erdman, with Paula M. Block
Review by Helen Cripe

In the words of Vic Fontaine, this one's from the heart - a gift to all Star Trek fans and a special gift to those of us who think Star Trek's "middle child" is the best show the Star Trek universe ever produced. TV Guide rightly called Deep Space Nine "the best acted, written, produced, and altogether finest…Star Trek series." This official guide to all 176 episodes lets the reader trek again and again to that grungy gyroscope in the middle of nowhere with its intriguing mix of lifeforms. On this space station life is as real as it gets - multifaceted characters engrossed in learning how to live with each other while coping with internal and external conflict, cultural differences, and bizarre situations. Here no prissy-perfect Star Fleet solves everyone's problems.

One of the best things about this book is that the authors waited until the series was complete before they finished it - you won't have to keep buying updates and revisions. The narrative is structured by season, each having a general introduction followed by episode synopses with guest cast and production lists and behind-the-scenes information about the making of each episode. Groups of episodes that form arcs have one information summary covering the entire group. The production team chose, rightly in my opinion, to be lavish with black-and-white illustrations rather than spend money to have only few in color. Many fascinating sidebars provide information that didn't fit neatly into the text. Several nifty original maps of Bajor are also included.

For all its completeness, the book lacks a couple of indexes that would greatly aid the reader. First of all, it needs a listing of the episodes in the order in which they were shown, done either as part of the table of contents or as an appendix. An alphabetical list of actors from the guest cast lists with the episodes or pages where they appear would also have been helpful.

All things considered, this book is a standout among companions, guides and the like to television shows. There's nothing cute or slick here, just great reading - a good solid well-researched, well-written and edited account of one of the best science fiction shows ever made. You'll soon wear the covers limp with the number of times you dip into it to verify a plot detail, hunt up your favorite guest actors, or check out information such as what Nana Visitor and Rene Auberjoinois really thought about the Kira-Odo romance or whether the Sidney Opera House design was the inspiration for one of Kai Winn's hats.


Farscape The Illustrated Companion
by Paul Simpson and David Hughes
Titan Books, London, 160pp large(ish)-size paperback, £9.99, ISBN 1 84023 178 5
Reviewed by Dave Brown

This is the first Farscape book (as far as I know), and very nice it is too. There are lots of illustrations - mainly screen shots, but with some behind the scenes pictures and conceptual art - all, unfortunately, in black and white.

The book is divided into several sections: a foreward by Farscape's creator Rockne S O'Bannon, ten pages on the genesis of the show, 68 pages on the episodes, 30 pages on the main and recurring characters, and 26 pages on the special effects. The book is primarily concerned with the first season, but there are few pages on plans for season two, and the book ends with a glossary of Farscape terms - and why the frell shouldn't it?

In the genesis section, we learn that O'Bannon had initial discussions with Brian Henson in 1993 about what was to become Farscape, but was then known as Space Chase. They pitched it to Fox, ABC and Fox again (to the top man, Rupert Murdoch, no less!), before getting the SCI FI channel to show an interest. However, it took a great deal of persistence on Brian Henson's part, before SCI FI finally bought the show in January 1998. This section also includes some of the preliminary design sketches for various characters, including D'Argo, and for Moya's cargo vessel.

The episode section takes each season one episode in turn and gives a brief synopsis, followed by some background, several screen shots, and a quote.

Sample: Rygel to Aeryn: "I've suffered many assassination attempts on Hyneria, but..."
"Nobody knows you here. It's only people who know you who want to kill you."
(from Thank God It's Friday Again)

and Crichton to Chiana: "We have rules."
"Yeah. Well when I see any of you following them, so will I."
(from Durka Returns)

The character section gives the back-stories of all the main characters and some of the recurring ones, how they changed from the original concepts, and how they were cast.

The effects section is divided into two parts, the first dealing with the puppets and prosthetics produced by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, and the second with the CGI effects produced by the Australian company Garner McLellan Design - there were more CGI shots in Farscape's 48 minute premiere episode than in the movie Independence Day! In order to meet time and financial constraints of episodic television, the effects are graded as A, B or C, depending on their complexity, with one A being worth so many Bs, and so many more Cs. Directors can then juggle the As, Bs and Cs as they wish, as long as they stay within budget.

Puppets are an important part of Farscape, and they are initially made by the Creature Shop in London, and then flown out to Australia, where the show is made, but the makeup and prosthetics obviously have to be applied locally in Sydney. In order to make the prosthetics for D'Argo, actor Anthony Simcoe had to fly to London to have a complete body-cast made: "I was basically naked, surrounded by six strangers, and covered in plaster, thinking 'What have I gotten myself into?'"

This is a fascinating book, and if you are interested in finding out some of the background to the show, I can heartily recommend it.

MIDNIGHT NATIONS

by Dan Johnson

MIDNIGHT NATION #1 Review: It Looks Like This Comic is Going to be a Long, Strange Trip and I Can't Wait to be a Passenger by Dan Johnson A few days ago, a good friend of mine gave me a black and white preview issue of J Michael Straczynski's new comic book, MIDNIGHT NATION. Ever since I had heard that MIDNIGHT NATION was coming out, I have been eagerly awaiting its release. (Imagine my surprise when I got a sneak peak at this comic.) I have long been a fan of Straczynski's, ever since his REAL GHOSTBUSTERS and CAPTAIN POWER days. I have always admired him for his strong story telling ability and his attention to characters and their motivations. More than that, there is usually a pattern to the way that Straczynski goes about telling his stories. Judging from what I read so far, I think that pattern is already forming in this new series.

Straczynski likes to build up his stories. Sometimes his beginnings look slow, but what some readers and some television viewers have taken to be slow beginnings are really well crafted and carefully thought out foundations. These foundations are what support the stronger stories that usually follow. (Case in point, BABYLON 5. Some of the show's harshest critics thought the first year of the show was weak and had no direction, but in reality the stories from that season set the stage for the story arcs that followed in Seasons Three and Four.)

MIDNIGHT NATION's first issue isn't what you would call a big, flashy event. The main plot doesn't really kick in until the last few pages of the comic, but its worth waiting for. Until then, the comic looks like it will be a book set in the mode of something like NYPD BLUE. Don't be turned off by that. I think that is part of the plan of this story, at least the first issue. One big plus that MIDNIGHT NATION has going for it, and that is evident from page one, is some of the strongest dialogue and caption naratives I've seen in a comic book in a good long while. There is no arguing that Straczynski still knows how to turn a phrase better than anyone currently working in the comic industry, with the possible exception of Alan Moore.

The comic begins at a murder scene that is being overseen by the main character, Lt. David Grey. In this issue we get a few glimpses into Grey's life. He is recently divorced and he is also saddled with a partner who denies being a racist in words, but not in deeds. Sounds like typical police show stuff, huh? It appears to be just that until Grey starts to get the hint that the murder of the drug dealer is tied to something bigger and badder than he is used to dealing with. For example, a friend of the murder victim tells Grey that he knows who killed his friend: The Men. The drug dealer died because he was making trouble for a thug named Jaeker, who has protection from these Men. From there, Grey's informant winds up dead himself, the victim of a killer who likes to play word games using the body parts of his victims. The killer leaves the head of this young man in the refrigerator (giving you a head cold, get it?), minus the eyes, with a simple message that explains the motive for his death and also serves as a warning, "Talks too much."

With no other leads, Grey decides to concentrate on the aforementioned Jaeker. Jaeker turns out to be a career criminal who Grey hopes will lead to The Men. Grey gets lucky when he learns that there is a warrent for Jaeker's arrest on a prior crime from out of state. Grey leads a team of policemen to take Jaeker in on the prior and hopes that while they hold him for that crime, something will surface to link him to the two murders. All "by the numbers" as Grey himself says. It is only when Grey's men start getting picked off one by one as they storm Jaeker's apartment building that the homicide detective starts to realize he might be in over his head. The action with Grey and the attempt to bring in Jaeker is sandwiched between scenes of a young woman holding a conversation with some unseen force that calls to her. It's easy to tell from what is happening to Grey that their conversation is about him. The unseen force tells the girl that Grey doesn't know what he is facing and that he is alone. The force also tells her that she must go to Grey, but she is afraid. She speaks of pain and how if she stays where she is, there is no pain. Also, she is afraid to leave because she is afraid she'll die. All the time, Grey comes face to face with Jaeker and beings that can only be described as supernatural demons (the way they are drawn reminds me a bit of Darth Maul from THE PHANTOM MENACE with smiles taken straight from arch enemy of Batman, the Joker). Although he puts up a good fight, Grey goes down and we get scenes of him that indicate the detective is dying and that by the end of the first issue may be dead. That is where things really start to get interesting.

The first issue ends with Grey regaining his conscious in a hospital room. At first Grey is thankful just to be alive. After several minutes pass, he realizes that no one has come to check on him. He notices too that there are no sounds, which is strange in any hopsital. After calling for a nurse with no one coming to answer him, Grey gets up from his bed. In the hallway of the hopsital, he is startled to find everyone around him is transparent and they all look to Grey like ghosts. Everyone that is but the young woman who has been sent to him. We learn this young woman's name is Laurel. She explains a few things to Grey. She tells him, "You're in the place between. And it looks like I'm your Guide. Until they find you. Until they kill you. Or until you turn. Which is when I'll kill you." (Yeah, right away I can tell this chick is going to be a barrel of monkeys.)

And that my friends is how the first issue concludes. Like I said, not too flashy. But then again, Straczynski never is in the beginning. I will admit that there is more than enough here to hold my interest and I will certainly be adding MIDNIGHT NATION to my must read list each month.

Like so many of Straczynski's characters, we don't get to know Grey right off the bat. On the surface, until his brush with the supernatural, Grey is presented as just like a few dozen cop characters we've all seen before. But Straczynski has a real talent for unveiling his characters one level at a time and even when you think you know the whole man or woman, you suspect there is a little more you aren't being shown. Grey is certainly being set up in the grand tradition of characters like Poet from RISING STARS and John Sheridan from BABYLON 5. They too looked all too familiar in the beginning, but then Straczynski revealed the real man inside each of those characters. I think the same can be said for Grey.

We aren't given too much detail about Laurel, his guide, in this first issue. All we know for sure is that she is very nicely drawn by artist Gary Frank as a twenty-something modern girl and she is there because of Grey. We're left with very a very cryptic introduction that is based on undisclosed missions and first impressions that are largely visual. Again, its another hallmark of some of Straczynski's best characters, like the Vorlon Kosh and Morden from BABYLON 5.

The artwork is very nicely done by Gary Frank. This first issue is primarily shot from the original pencil art. When the book is released later in September, it will be fully inked and color added, just like RISING STARS. I like Frank's style better than what I've seen so far on RISING STARS. The art is very solid with a lot of good detail to characters' faces. Unlike a lot of young artist these days, he knows how to draw realistically. Grey isn't a musclebound superman, nor is Laurel a buxom bimbo. These two look like realistic human beings, which I think is going to be a big plus for this series later on. My only concern for this series is that when color is added to this book it will be handled right. Personally, I think the original black and white artwork is always better without color.

My final word is so far, so good. I think if Straczynski follows his normal pattern of storytelling, he is going to have another winner on his hands and I think MIDNIGHT NATION is going to be a treat for his fans. This looks like a great graphic novel in the making and worthy of being picked up.

AMAZING STORIES #602

Date: 7/2/2000 12:46:35 AM EDT
From: SNBennet@cs.com

Hi! I know I don't write to you much (I think I've written only once before). But I thought I'd put in my two cents worth... For the past week I've been on vacation, and while I was on vacation I saw a copy of the latest issue at a bookstore and just had to buy it even though I had a subscription to it and knew a copy would be waiting for me when I got back home. I read the "Space, Time, and the Incurable Romantic" story as soon as I got the chance. I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Marcus, Susan, the Susan/Marcus relationship, or anyone else who is an "incurable romantic." The story's very good and quite a shocker. I just wanted to suggest to you that you should emphasize the story's worth to those on the Zocalo Today list.


BABYLON 5: ARMIES OF LIGHT AND DARK -- BY PETER DAVID

Reviewed by Dave Brown

Babylon 5: Legions of Fire, Book 2: Armies of Light and Dark, by Peter David, based on an original outline by J Michael Straczynski. Published by The Ballantine Publishing Group, New York & Random House of Canada Ltd, Toronto, 2000. A Del Rey Book. $6.50 US, $8.99 Canada. ISBN 0-345-42719-X.


This is the second book in Peter David's Legion of Fire trilogy, which tells the story of what happened to the Centauri after Londo acceded as emperor. Vir Cotto takes centre-stage in this volume, which covers the period from the end of 2267, where the previous book stopped, to the spring of 2273, as he discovers why Londo has been acting so strangely, and, with the help of the Technomages, finds out some of the Drakhs' plans.

Along the way we meet again some old "friends" from the TV series, including Galen, Londo's ex-wife Mariel, Garibaldi, G'Kar and Lou Welch (one of Garibaldi's security team in seasons 1 and 2), as well as characters introduced in the previous book, such as Shiv'kala, Senna and Durla, and, of course some new ones. We get some of the background to the unleashing of the Drakh plague on Earth, and the Centauri reaction to it (they're not exactly heartbroken!), and we see some of what Galen does when he's not on the Excalibur.

The Technomages take Vir to the secret installation on K0643, which was featured throughout the previous book, and we finally find out why the Drakh were so keen for the Centauri to excavate there. In the light of all he sees, Vir becomes more ruthless, realising that, if he is ever going to free his home planet from the Drakh, he can't afford to be too fastidious and handle things with kid gloves.

I thought this was a cracking book, which keeps you turning the pages to see what happens next. It inevitably suffers from the usual problem with the middle book in a trilogy - no real beginning and no final resolution, but it's a good read for all that. Yes, you really should read The Long Night of Centauri Prime before reading this book, and you'll certainly want to read the concluding volume after you've finished it.

And remember, book publishers are in business to make money, so if this trilogy doesn't sell in sufficient quantities, Del Rey may very well decide not to publish any more Babylon 5 books, so if you want the Babylon 5 story to continue, buy this book! It should be available in book stores throughout North America - they'll order it for you if they don't have it in stock. In the UK, copies should be available in specialist shops such as Forbidden Planet - Boxtree seem to have stopped publishing these books in the UK, so W H Smith, etc, won't have it. If you can't get a copy locally, you can order it over the internet from suppliers such as Amazon (www.amazon.com). Or you can drop Sandy a line.

BABYLON 5: LEGIONS OF FIRE -- BY PETER DAVID

Reviewed by Dave Brown

Babylon 5: Legions of Fire, Book 1: The Long Night of Centauri Prime, by Peter David, based on an original outline by J Michael Straczynski. Published by The Ballantine Publishing Group, New York & Random House of Canada Ltd, Toronto, 1999. A Del Rey Book. $6.50 US, $9.99 Canada. ISBN 0-345-42718-1. To be published in the UK by Boxtree.


This is the first in a trilogy of novels telling the fate of the Centauris in general, and Londo Mollari in particular, following the bombardment of Centauri Prime by the Alliance in 2262, as shown in The Fall of Centauri Prime. This book takes us from 2262 to 2267, starting with Londo getting his keeper, and we see how it, and the Drakh, ensure that Londo does exactly what they want.

The first part of the book shows us the slow reconstruction of Centauri Prime and the gradual suppression of civil liberties under the invisible guidance of the Drakh, seen mainly through the eyes of Lord Refa's orphan daughter Senna, who Londo takes under his wing. The Drakhs' control of Londo is not absolute, and he can exercise free will, although the penalties for going against their wishes can be severe, both for himself and for others near him. In order to try and protect Senna, he has to agree to the Drakh's appointee, Durla, a person he dislikes and mistrusts, being installed as Minister of Internal Security. I didn't realise, until I read one of JMS's newsgroup postings, that Senna was the children's nurse in In the Beginning (she'd be about 30 in 2278).

We see how Londo is forced to give Delenn and Sheridan the urn containing the dormant keeper, as a coming-of-age present for their son, seen in Objects at Rest. There seems to be a continuity glitch here, as the scene describing Senna finding Londo's account of the meeting is at the beginning of the 2265-2267 section, and the meeting is said to have taken place about five months earlier, which would put it in July 2264 at the earliest. However, the television episode implied that these events took place towards the end of 2262.

While on the subject of continuity glitches, it has been pointed out in the newsgroups that Vir meets Garibaldi on B5, with Garibaldi claiming to be head of Alliance covert security at a time after he had given up that post and was resident on Mars. I don't think that necessarily need be a problem - we don't know when Garibaldi was formally replaced as head of security, and he could have referred to himself as such for some time, especially when talking to the representative of an "enemy" power.

Also, at one point Vir recalls his first meeting with Captain (rather than Commander) Sinclair - presumably this was originally Captain Sheridan, until someone realised Sinclair was in command when Vir first arrived on Babylon 5, and the name got changed but not the rank!

Still, I don't think two or three minor, easily corrected, glitches really detract from the book's worth or the reader's enjoyment.

As you will have gathered, we meet a number of old B5 friends. As well as Garibaldi, Sheridan, Delenn and Vir - Vir even gets a love interest (doubtless Stephen Furst wished it could have happened on-screen!) - and we also see two of Londo's wives, or rather one wife and one ex-wife. Peter David wrote Soul Mates, the second season episode where Timov, Daggair and Mariel appeared, of course. In that episode Londo divorced Daggair and Mariel, and we see how this affected Mariel, and what happens to her subsequently. We also see how Timov reacts to Londo's change of behaviour, now he's under the control of the Drakh, and how he reacts to her.

Peter David draws a convincing picture of Centauri society as it tries to recover from a devastating war and of Londo as he comes to terms with never being alone, and explores the boundaries of what he is and is not allowed to do. The first part of the book is rather introspective and slow-moving, dealing in the main with Londo's feelings and inner thoughts, but the pace picks up later in the book, and the account of Vir's experiences with his lady friend (I don't want to give too much away) is very enjoyable. There's a nice contrast between the lighter episodes with Vir on B5, and the much darker tone of what's happening back on Centauri Prime.

I liked this book, and I hope you do too.

If you want a taste of the book, the prologue appears in US editions of J Gregory Keyes' book "The Fate of Bester", and the first half of chapter one is in issue #19 of the Official Magazine.



BABYLON 5: FINAL RECKONING

by David Brown

Babylon 5: Final Reckoning: The Fate of Bester, by J Gregory Keyes, based on an original outline by J Michael Straczynski. Published by The Ballantine Publishing Group, New York & Toronto, 1999. A Del Rey Book. $5.99 US, $8.99 Canada. ISBN 0-345-42717-3. Published in the UK by Boxtree at £5.99.


The final volume in the Psi Corps Trilogy, as the title indicates, tells us what finally happens to Psi Cop Alfred Bester. This is much more of a novel than the previous books were; the first one, Dark Genesis, was really several connected novelettes, and the second, Deadly Relations, was more a collection of short stories.

The story starts in 2271, after the Telepath War (JMS is obviously saving that for another time!), which Bester's side obviously lost, as we find him being hunted by members of the reconstituted Corps. But a much more dangerous adversary is also tracking him: Michael Garbaldi, with all the resources of the Edgars-Garibaldi pharmaceuticals empire behind him. Bester decides that the safest place to hide is among the billions on Earth, and he returns to Paris, a place he last visited as a boy. There, he briefly finds the greatest peace and happiness he has ever known — but, of course it can't last.

Seen mainly from Bester's point of view, the book almost makes him into a sympathetic character, rather in the way the fifth season episode The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father did. In both cases, we understand more about what makes Bester tick, and why he does what he does, but his innate ruthlessness eventually resurfaces to show us why, in spite of that understanding, we still really hate him.

Keyes does an excellent job of invoking 23rd century Paris (which doesn't seem all that different from 20th century Paris), and the other characters are well-drawn and believable. Part of me really wanted Bester to have found his ultimate happiness, and to live happily ever after, while the other, somewhat larger part, it must be admitted, wanted to see him get his comeuppance — you can probably guess which part got its wish! Bester's ultimate fate is unexpected (well, it surprised me, anyway!), and, when you consider it, it can be seen as both just and terrible.

Along the way, Keyes has a dig at literary critics, when ruthless killer and manipulator Bester finds his vocation reviewing novels for a small-circulation magazine, and proves to be a very good at it! His maxim is that it's no good reviewing a book you like, only review books you don't like, so that the author can learn something from your criticism (I don't think Gregory Keyes is going to learn much from this review, then). There's an amusing scene where Bester realises that his latest piece is due, and that he had actually enjoyed the only available book; he's afraid that his reputation will suffer immensely if he submits a favourable review.

The tension builds as the net starts to close around Bester, and his twists and turns as he tries to escape are fascinating — we know that he must be caught eventually, but the author's skill keeps us guessing up to the end as to exactly how it's done. Although we know Garibaldi must survive (we've seen him in Sleeping in Light), the fates of all the other characters are not so certain.

Well, at the risk of invoking Bester's wrath, I must say that I really liked this book, and I think you could enjoy it even if you had never seen an episode of Babylon 5, which is one of my criteria for a good book — it should be able to stand as a work of art on its own. Of course, if you are familiar with the Babylon 5 universe, you will get much more out of the book. The only B5 characters to appear are Bester, Lise (briefly) and Garibaldi, although several others are mentioned in passing - we hear of the ultimate fate of Lyta Alexander, for example, although no details are given. However Keyes has invented a good group of new characters, including Louise, the hotel owner, Jem, the gangster and Inspector Girard, the Paris cop.

As a bonus, the Prologue from the next B5 novel The Long Night of Centauri Prime, by Peter David is included. Note that this excerpt does not appear in the Boxtree edition published in the UK, but an excerpt from the novel (probably the same excerpt) is to appear in issue #19 of the Official Magazine, due out at the end of December 1999.


Bruce Boxleitner "Frontier Earth", a new novel by Bruce Boxleitner, was released in November. You can order the book from Amazon.com.

For a review of the book, visit Alison Weinstock's site.

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