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Praise for the Beta-Earth Chronicles!

I’m excited to report that book two of the Beta-Earth Chronicles, The Blood of Balnakin, is coming very soon! We’re just waiting for the last-minute cover art and then off we go!

Until then, I thought I’d share some of the reviews for book one, The Blind Alien, both old and new. Please join the choir as the next chapter is about to commence—

“The Blind Alien is a story with a highly original concept, fascinating characters,
and not-too-subtle but truthful allegories. Don’t let the sci-fi label or alternate Earth setting fool you--this is a compelling and contemporarily relevant story about race, sex, and social classes.”
--Raymond Benson, Former James Bond novelist and author of the Black Stiletto books


“An excellent work of new SF that hearkens back to the classics of Asimov and Heinlein. Told from the viewpoints of the different characters, it is a tale of a man from our earth (Alpha) being unwittingly transferred to a parallel earth (Beta) where he must learn to adapt to new cultures, attitudes, languages at the same time as coming to grips with the loss of his sight. Each of the characters are fully developed and well defined and being able to hear their thoughts about each encounter brings a richness to the narratives. Politics, religion, social mores and relationships are all examined from both without and within. Think "Stranger in a Strange Land" combined with "Foundation" and you may begin to get an idea of the scope and quality of this adventure.”
—Dave Massengale, Amazon review

“The Blind Alien is fascinating down-to-earth Science Fiction”
"The Blind Alien" Is Fascinating Down-To-Earth Science-Fiction
"The Blind Alien" Is Fascinating Down-To-Earth Science-Fiction

“Spymaster and imaginative author, Dr. Wesley Britton has another big hit! His book takes the reader on a compelling journey of an Alpha earthling who has been spirited to planet Beta. Science-fiction, yes, but much more. The book explores science, medicine, commerce, education, spiritual life, family life and sex on an alternative planet which
at times is insightful and hilarious in its comparison to our own Earth. In an ingenious way, Dr. Britton has created a new grammar and vocabulary to continually intrigue the reader. A true winner!”
–Bobbi Chertok, Amazon Review

“A most commendable and unique novel. I can honestly say I have not come across anything quite like it. The Blind Alien follows the life of an unremarkable man who by some twist of fate is pulled from his world, into that of one parallel . . . What follows is a story of rebellion, politics, love, science, and religion . . . without a doubt, this is an admirably well crafted piece of work, that was both entertaining and very thought provoking.”
--Tosin Coker, author of The Chronicles of Zauba’ah

“I really didn't know what to expect from a book with a blind protagonist, but I was extremely pleased. The book centers around a character who is blinded by an event that drags him from Earth to a different universe (not quite parallel) where the light skin people were the lowest end of the social spectrum. Most men die at or near birth, so men are in short supply, and polygamy is the norm. An Earth human goes to this planet, deals with blindness under freakish circumstances and ends up married to women from various races. It's odd as hell, but very well thought out, and well written. I think it will make a great movie!”
—Doug Myerscough, Amazon Review
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Review: Left For Dead by Peter Vollmer

Left for Dead
Peter Vollmer
• Publisher: Acorn Books; 1.0 edition (February 2, 2016)

by Wesley Britton

First posted at

While I might not have been precisely the first reviewer to discover the books of Peter Borchard a.k.a. Peter Vollmer, I must have been among the early birds. I was delighted to review his first two thrillers, Diamonds are but Stone (2011) and Relentless Pursuit (2013). For both, I noted Borchard was very much in the mold of fellow South African writer Geoffrey Jenkins in both style and substance. This connection was even more overt when Borchard/Vollmer was commissioned to update Jenkins’ character, Commander Geoffrey Peace, in last year’s Per Fine Ounce, a book designed to be a reworking of a Jenkins James Bond continuation novel that was never published.

Again using the Vollmer pen name, the author returns with his own original characters in Left for Dead, and I’m again reminded of Geoffrey Jenkins for several reasons. First, his story is set on the Skeleton coast of South Africa in the same time period as Jenkins debut novel, 1959’s A Twist of Sand. Second, many of Jenkins’ stories were sea adventures, and much of Left for Dead takes place on fishing trawlers with occasional encounters with a Russian ship. Most importantly, Geoffrey Jenkins was not primarily a spy novelist despite his friendship with Ian Fleming. Instead, his canon includes some 16 adventures that only sporadically involved espionage.

Likewise, Vollmer’s yarns are equally varied in their settings and plots. For example, despite the placement of Russian gun runners on the South African coast, Left for Dead is much more a character-based adventure with young Arnold Schonbrunn surprised to learn his late uncle has bequeathed him the family fishing business. Equally surprised is the uncle’s stepson, Bruce McAllister, who believes the business should have been given to him. From that point forward, Bruce sets out to get the business by hook or deadly crook even as his sister, Jocelyn, is attracted to Schonbrunn.

Vollmer really excels with his rich, vivid descriptions that clearly establish the day-to-day life of South African fisherman. For the first half of the book, there’s little plot as Schonbrunn learns about his new life and the crew of his ship. The second half centers on Bruce McAllister’s plot to kill Schonbrunn in the jungle, and here’s where the action picks up.

The strength of the book is Vollmer taking readers to a time and place few know anything about. Vollmer is extremely believable down to the most minute of details. The duel between McAllister and Schonbrunn is also well spun out including the very surprising conclusion. Left for Dead is not an action-packed thrill ride, but rather a slow burning personal drama occurring in a setting many will find far from familiar grounds.
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Book Review: Fast Track To Glory by Tomasz Chrusciel

Fast Track To Glory
Tomasz Chrusciel
Publisher: Agato House, January 2016
ISBN: 978-0992957421
ASIN: B01A75N0X6

by Wesley Britton

This review was first posted at

One of my favorite delights when reading through a new thriller is running into original surprises and unexpected twists and turns. While it takes a few chapters to begin all that, Tomasz Chrusciel did take me places I didn’t expect to go with plot twists I didn’t see coming in Fast Track to Glory.

In the opening chapters, I wondered if I was experiencing a clone of the Covert One or Sigma Force books where agents are on the hunt for some ancient artifact that has the power to change the world, and not for the better. The set-up certainly looked like a conspiracy was at play when three European officials summoned professor Nina Monte to verify the age of a tablet found in a galley sunk at sea in the 15th century. But, in short order, the alleged conspirators disappear and are replaced by explorer Lammert van der Venn and his deadly quest to learn the tablet’s secrets. It’s his possible connection with a possible homicide that prompts happy-go-lucky Italian hotel manager, Alessandro Pini, to investigate the circumstances of his friend’s death and becomes a fly in van der Venn’s ointment.

From that point forward, Fast Track to Glory joins the tradition seen in the film versions of The 39 Steps, Three Days of the Condor, and The Bourne Identity. By that I mean we have an unlikely pair of very opposite types, in this case Monte and Pini, thrown together in a relentless chase from a villain who wants both a translation of the secrets of the tablet and to eliminate those who know too much. From Italy to Austria and across India, the learned professor and the more earthy Pini come closer and closer together while escaping the close calls of their pursuer.

I admit, it takes some time to learn just what that tablet is all about. For most of the story, it seems like it includes mystical incantations that would provide spiritual enlightenment, not any corrupting power over others. But, what would a mystery be if we knew what the end game would involve? Without question, this is a book full of vivid, rich, and believable descriptions, especially in the chapters set in India on trains and in crowded city streets. There’s no lack of character development which sometimes crosses the line into interesting, if off-track, digression.

It’s hard to quibble with an unlikely romance that unfolds in a fast-paced chase set in exotic locations that are detailed in a finely woven, intricate international tapestry. Gratefully, Fast Track to Glory doesn’t fulfil the expectations portrayed at the outset, but instead travels a lesser followed road.
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Book Review: Zombie Tetherball by Terry Taylor Hobbs

Zombie Tetherball Kindle Edition
Terry Taylor Hobbs
Publisher: Terry Taylor Hobbs; 1 edition (August 27, 2015)

This review by Wes Britton first appeared at at:

To begin, I must confess I’ve never been a zombie fan. I haven’t watched any zombie films or TV shows or played any of the games. I’ve only read one previous zombie novel, and that was a Walking Dead tie-in I read to have the opportunity to interview someone associated with the TV series for an online radio show I used to co-host. Prepping for that interview, I learned there’s not much to say about zombies themselves. It’s the human characters that are interesting as they cope with the mindless, relentless threats to their humanity and individuality. I forget who said this first, but zombies can be seen as metaphors for our real-world worries about pressures to conform to society’s “norms” or represent our resentment against those who have power over our lives.

Still, I was intrigued by the title, Zombie Tetherball. What could that mean? I suspected a sense of humor was involved. Well, not so much. The story opens when Liz, a resident of the very ordinary town of Copper Creek, suddenly meets neighbors who seem to have gone crazy. Trying to find help, she’s rescued by the band of Alan, Matt, Justin, and Keiko who tell Liz all power in the area is out and that “biters” are trying to kill everyone. The group all go to a local elementary school for shelter and it becomes their fortress for most of the book.

In that fortress, we see a group somewhat secure in their calm, quiet comradery trying to find simple ways to occupy their long hours. Many times, I thought I was experiencing an episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits as those classic shows offered similar stories of strangers forced to come together in ordinary settings surrounded by extraordinary challenges. I came to wonder if author Hobbs saw that school as her own metaphor. After all, most of her chapter titles are school related—“School Supplies,” “First Bell,” “Home Schooling,” “Hall Pass,” and the names of many classes all students take. No doubt, tetherball must also be symbolic of something. Some of the group enjoys the sport as a way of passing the time, but Hobbs must have something larger in mind. My suspicion is that a tetherball has a limited reach because it’s tied to a central pole, and perhaps Hobbs is saying the group is likewise constrained in their self-imposed confinement.

Along the way, we come to know the characters both by watching their interactions with each other and the occasional memories they share about their previous lives. Naturally, their relationships change as time goes by. Those who didn’t think much of other members when they first came together will come to forge friendships. Liz and Justin have an unlikely romance, something they admit probably wouldn’t have happened in normal circumstances. Of course, this time of seclusion must come to an end as the zombies outside finally find ways to break into the school and the group thinks they have discovered a plan to end the scourge. The tether must be broken.

Zombie Tetherball is a well-written, fast-paced yarn that should appeal even to those not enamored with the zombie apocalypse. Instead, we meet five very sympathetic folks who each have their own depths and strengths. It’s an ideal YA book, even if some of the trapped students in Cooper Creek elementary are parents and not young heroes. I’m glad I met them in their school of life, even if I’m equally glad I wasn’t a member of their class myself.

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Book Review: Horizon by Tabitha Lord

Tabitha Lord
Publisher: Wise Ink Creative Publishing
Date publish: December 2015
ISBN: 978-1940014791

This review was written by Wesley Britton for on Dec. 4, 2015

Horizon is being publicized as a hybrid of romance, science fiction, and survival novels. I can’t figure out why. I don’t know what exactly characterizes a romance novel, but I presume a convoluted love story is the main thing. Well, sci fi has no lack of convoluted love stories. Likewise, there’s never been a shortage of survival sagas in SF. So what’s the hybrid? Depending on how you feel about three or four very short sex scenes, I think the publisher might be missing a bet by not promoting the novel as YA. After all, the straight-forward story is told very simply without complexity or denseness.

The romance begins when Commander Derek Markham crash lands on an alien planet where he’s saved by Caeli Crys, an empath with healing powers. While he recuperates, Derek learns Caeli is hiding in a cave after her people were nearly exterminated by a warring civilization. While her people have special mental abilities and wanted to keep their world shielded from potential space invaders, Marcus, the dictator of the other inhabitants, fears those abilities and wants very much to open his planet to outside worlds. He captured Caeli and other survivors of his vicious invasion and she joined a resistance movement of those opposed to Marcus’s rule and tactics. When Marcus learned of this, Caeli was forced to flee and that’s when she rescues Derek. This is likely the section author Lord considers “survival.” True enough, much of part one of Horizon isn’t especially SF as the aliens don’t seem very alien. Even the character names are suspiciously earthy like John, Sam, or Daniel.

In Part Two, the setting switches to Derek’s milieu, namely his spaceship, Horizon. There, Caeli puts her healing abilities to good use as a space battle devastates the ship and Derek leads a mission to another planet besieged by mercenaries and a hostile race. Caeli joins his team and unhappily uses mental probes to defeat both an assassination and invasion. All along, the romance between Derek and Caeli thrives, and there’s nothing convoluted about it.

Horizon is a comparatively light read with many likeable characters. There aren’t many twists and turns so the story progresses with easily overcome bumps in the road for Derek, Caeli, and their protégées. In addition, Horizon doesn’t have the layers and layers of plots and sub-plots so characteristic of many contemporary SF epics. Naturally, the closing passages are full of clues as to what to expect in the certain sequel, including a threat to Caeli’s home world. Odds are, there will be many readers eager to find out what happens next, no matter how you label the story.

This review first appeared at:

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Review: Zero Hour, Shifting Power by David Berko

Zero Hour, Shifting Power (Before the End series, Book 1)
David Berko
Publisher: Independent
Publish date: August 28, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4951-8427-7

Reviewed for by Wesley Britton.

While Zero Hour is billed as a science fiction/ political thriller, the sci fi elements are far less pronounced than the political message David Berko makes very overt from the first page on. It’s sci fi in the same mold as Tom Clancy’s Net Force series in the sense the story is earthbound, set in the not-so-distant future, and there’s advanced technology in the mix. Another unavoidable similarity to Clancey is Berko’s conservatism. In his future world of 2041, it’s progressive socialism, academic liberals, and political correctness that led to America’s second Civil War resulting in the U.S. fragmenting into six independent entities.

In Book one of Berko’s Before the End series, these fiendish socialists are controlled by a long-standing and extremely powerful shadow government called Scorpion. It’s opposed by President Alexander Toporvsky, the free-market leader of the Free Republic of North America consisting of Alaska, Hawaii, with a hoped for alliance with Texas. It’s the Free Republic where patriotic stalwarts work to restore Constitutional principles and a stronger reliance on the Bible as both sides of the war see what’s coming in terms of the End Times.

Zero Hour is different from most dystopian novels as we don’t spend time with those suffering from the catastrophe of 2041, but rather with billionaires on golf courses, in a souped-up Area 51, and in the company of the power brokers plotting their moves and counter-moves. In fact, there’s no evidence anyone is living in unpleasant circumstances other than the select few who become Scorpion targets. In The first half of the book, Berko largely establishes his often dispensable characters while revealing the dastardly scope of Scorpion. The second half, again in the mold of Clancy, is the fast-paced covert operations of Scorpion kidnap and killer squads stirring up the country while the Free Republic tries to figure out how to react.

In his Foreword, Berko tells us the Before the End series was inspired by the direction he fears the U.S. is taking, that his books are to inform as well as entertain, and that he’s a “watchman on the wall.” It’s rather disconcerting to read a very unsubtle yarn casting anyone on the left of Berko’s ideals as out-and-out evil. At least he admits he’s not predicting the future. Judging from the epilogue, book two is going to expand the scope of his geopolitics with a prominent role for Israel and an attempt to Christianize the Jews. Is that an alien spacecraft in the final two paragraphs?

So reader appreciation will likely depend on your responses to Berko’s stated agenda, but if you can look past the ideology, Zero Hour might quench your taste for a high-octane thrill ride centered on a deadly conspiracy that might be setting the stage for the Second Coming.

This review was first published at

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Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: A TV Companion

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: A TV Companion
Patrick Jankiewicz
• Publisher: BearManor Media (November 27, 2015)
• ISBN-10: 1593931719
• ISBN-13: 978-1593931711

Reviewed for by Wesley Britton

In the wake of the 1977 success of Star Wars, TV producer Glen A. Larson latched on to the idea of launching two Sci Fi series clearly modeled on the cinematic galaxy far, far away. One was the semi-serious Loren Green vehicle, Battlestar: Ponderosa, er, Galactica. The other was the far more tongue-in-cheek Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Now, media historian Patrick Jankiewicz offers the first in-depth exploration of Buck Rogers, and it’s a treat for those who fondly remember the two year run of the cult classic.

Right off the bat, Jankiewicz let me know I wasn’t the only viewer to have seen the show as wonderfully sexy, notably for the alluring eye-candy of Erin Gray as Colonel Wilma Derring and the well-liked Pamela Hensley as Princess Ardala of the planet Draconia, not to mention so many leggy guest stars. Jankiewicz quickly admits sexy ladies held much of the drawing power for Buck Rogers which was why he invited Gray to write the foreword to his book and not the lead actor, Gil Gerard. In that introduction, Gray says she’s very aware of how male viewers responded to her character (especially the costumes) but asserts many women saw Col. Deering as a trend-setter for women hoping for leadership positions in the 1980s. Perhaps so—I had no idea the series had that much of a social impact.

But, of course, Gerard was the star of the show, playing the astronaut who is cryogenically frozen for 500 years before returning to an earth after a nuclear apocalypse. While there’s considerable praise lavished on pretty much everyone involved with the first year of the show in the many interviews with the cast and crew, Gerard is the only one to earn mild criticism from other participants. In particular, he lashed out at scriptwriters he felt were injecting too much humor in his lines. He didn’t like the idea of Gray getting equal billing in the show’s titles. Well, he played a rather two-dimensional character requiring little acting skills, something of a cross between Han Solo and James Bond. Still, his co-workers noted his good nature and professionalism throughout a series he wasn’t sure he wanted to do, even if he created, sort of, his own fighting style dubbed “Buck-Fu.” One legacy for Gerard was meeting and becoming friends with future President Bill Clinton who, according to Gray, hit on her at a charity screening of the pilot movie.

Other attractions to the show included Twiki, the little robot with the immortal voice of Mel Blanc saying "biddi-biddi-biddi-biddi" before his one-liners. Equally well-regarded was Dr. Elias Huer, played by Tim O'Connor. His being cut from the 1981 season was seen as one of the reasons the second and last season lost much of the show’s spirit. As with many programs of the era, stories benefited from a high caliber of guest stars such as Joseph Wiseman, Jack Palance, Roddy McDowall, Cesar Romero, Peter Graves, Frank Gorshin, Julie Newmar, Jamie Lee Curtis, Vera Miles, and especially Buster Crabbe, the actor who had played Buck Rogers in the original movie serials.

By all accounts, while season one was a delight to create, everything eroded when veteran producer Bruce Lansbury was replaced by John Mantley, a producer mainly noted for Westerns, and he even had a Gunsmoke script rewritten for Rogers. Ironically, Lansbury didn’t think much of Rogers and tried to sabotage his last episode by giving it to a director who had no experience whatsoever. The setting was changed to a spaceship called The Searcher where Rogers, Deering, and a cast of new characters left earth which made the show seem a mere imitation of Star Trek. On one hand, they introduced the character of the birdman, Hawk, played by Thom Christopher. On the other, the role of Col. Derring was seriously downgraded and the lower budgets were obvious. After 13 episodes, NBC pulled the plug.

Jankiewicz’s overview is not as exhaustive as many other TV books, providing essentially participant biographies and an episode guide. Noticeably, he never mentions critical reviews or show ratings, which likely would have added a negative pale over his appreciation of Buck Rogers. Clearly, this is a book for fans, especially those who go to conventions to meet and greet the stars who impacted their childhoods. If that’s you, here’s a souvenir of a short-lived exploration of a fanciful future. Biddi-biddi.

This review first appeared at:

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Book Review: Saturn Run by John Sanford and Ctein

Saturn Run Hardcover – October 6, 2015
John Sandford
• Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons; First Edition / First Printing edition (October 6, 2015)
• ISBN-10: 0399176950
• ISBN-13: 978-0399176951

Reviewed for by Wesley Britton

John Sanford, of course, is a noted author with a well-established fan base and an extensive catalogue, most famously his Prey series. On the other hand, few readers know much about photographer Ctein, apparently the mind behind many of the scientific and technological details in Saturn Run. If Ctein was truly the “technical advisor” to the novel, he more than deserves his co-author status. Without question, few sci fi novels, hard as it might be to believe, come close to being this techy.

Like Caesar’s Gaul, Saturn Run unfolds in three parts. In part one set in 2066, the apparently spoiled rich vet with PTSD, Sandy Darlington, accidently discovers an alien spaceship is hovering around Saturn. In short order, the competing governments of China and the U.S. hastily build their own spaceships to race to the aliens who, presumably, will give the winning country technology that would give them preeminence back on earth. In the early chapters, we’re introduced to many of the characters who will join the crew of the spaceship Richard M. Nixon, a name the authors chose as they thought it funny. There’s Crow the suspicious security chief and John Clover the anthropologist who won’t go unless he can take his cat. There’s Dr. Becca Johansson, the plump engineer who secretly beds Darlington. Captain Naomi Fang-Castro is the very embodiment of what a commander should be who is caught between political pressures and on-ship realities. The alluring Cassandra Fiorella is the reporter who transforms scientific verbiage into layman’s terms for the taxpayers back home while the ship’s crew engages in high-stakes wagering on what date will mark the expected first consummation of a Fiorella/Darlington coupling. For many readers, all this set-up may be the most entertaining section of the book.

The longest stretch is part two, the cruise to Saturn on U.S. spaceship Nixon. Here’s where the lengthy techy sections give the book much of its believability. Readers might well be drawn into the very companionable and calm ride around the solar system. But very little happens dramatically. We do learn tidbits about the voyagers as we go along, and, occasionally, Sanford pops in his trademark humorous dialogue to break up the exposition. But you’re likely to wonder—is anything at all going to happen? Like the crew, is your biggest question when will Fiorella and Darlington get around to doing something neither is interested in doing?

Finally, the Nixon and the Chinese meet the aliens, sort of. Here’s where we get all the action and 99% of the conflict, naturally between the national interests of the earthlings and not a human/alien duel. The trip home is far shorter and far more eventful than getting there. Can governments put aside their single-minded desires for the benefit of all humanity? Was it all worth the trouble? Your call.

Saturn Run opens with a premise with promise and offers no lack of serious science to paint one of the most realistic First Contact novels you’ll ever read, at least until part three. Many of the characters are engaging and likeable. Others seem tossed in the mix for color but add little in the way of driving the plot. In other words, there’s no lack of enticing ingredients in Saturn Run, but the porridge is sometimes too cold, sometimes too hot. Mostly, it’s just lukewarm.

This review first appeared at:

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Review: Counting Down The Rolling Stones: Their 100 Finest Songs by Jim Beviglia

Counting Down The Rolling Stones: Their 100 Finest Songs Hardcover – November 5, 2015
Jim Beviglia
• Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (November 5, 2015)
• ISBN-10: 1442254467
• ISBN-13: 978-1442254466

Reviewed by Wesley Britton

I can’t avoid admitting that many of my observations regarding Jim Beviglia’s third volume of his Counting Down series are very like what I said about his second book on the 100 best songs of Bruce Springsteen. After all, the formats of these books are pretty much identical and readers are likely to enjoy the same sorts of responses to each.

For example, readers will likely want to match their own Top 100 lists with Beviglia as he rates, from 100 to 1, the songs he considers as the best of The Rolling Stones. Odds are, none of us would make all the same choices. For me, how can Midnight Rambler” come in at a mere 86? “Honky Tonk Women” only 46? Heresy! No mention of the 1994 bluesy single, “Love is Strong”? But when he gets to number twenty and moves up, I have to agree with all his picks, especially as that part of the hit parade is top heavy with songs from the 1960s. Could Number One be anything other than “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”?

For me, the many surprises were songs I either don’t remember or I heard maybe once back in the day. Do you recall “Who’s Driving Your Plane?” from 1973? (Number 81 in Beviglia’s opinion.) Or Number 50, “She Smiled Sweetly” from 1967’s Between the Buttons, an album Beviglia repeatedly notes is an underappreciated mid-60s collection? The Stones, after all, have 50 years of recordings and many didn’t have quite the resonance as their glory years between 1963 and the late ‘70s. Still, Beviglia found nuggets from albums like Bridges to Babylon, Voodoo Lounge, Emotional Rescue, and Undercover. If there’s one album Beviglia clearly didn’t care for, that would be 2005’s A Bigger Bang. Only one track, “Laugh I Nearly Died,” made the Top 100 at Number 40. Other songs from the Stones apparently last studio album were simply listed in the unannotated also-runs of the appendix counting down the songs rated at 101 to 200.

Beviglia, of course, is quite correct to include material from the entire Stones canon, although he admits he’s only including original material and not the many excellent covers the band has recorded over the years. So the rudder from the bottom up are the compositions of Messrs. Jagger and Richards with a mere handful of other collaborators, some credited, most not.

Beyond the obvious inclination to measure our own ideas with Beviglia’s, the real meat of the book is the author’s extremely insightful reasoning for his choices. In addition, even serious Stones fans are likely to learn some history about the composition of the songs, their evolution in the studio, the contexts of their production, and the contributions of all the performers, both the Stones themselves and guest musicians and producers. Biviglia’s research is impressive, although I noted he missed engineer Glyn John’s 2014 Sound Man. That memoir included anecdotes that might have added some insights, such as Keith Richards singing “You Got the Silver” because Johns erased a track he shouldn’t have, Jagger wasn’t around, so Richards filled in. So Keith Richards first lead vocal was the result of an accident.

But Counting Down isn’t intended to be a reference book giving readers the definitive production history of the Stones canon, but rather a critical overview of why so many songs still deserve our appreciation to lesser and greater degrees. Now, Beviglia really has only one place to go. He’s done Dylan, Springsteen, the Stones—who else has 100 songs to rank? Well, The Beatles, of course, especially if you mix in the solo works with the band’s fab career. Who else has that much of a catalogue, at least in rock history? Till then, the Stones are more than worthy of this new exploration, and rock fans who read have a treat to enjoy this year.

This review first appeared at on Nov. 26, 2015.

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Review: A Long Time Ago: Exploring the Star Wars Cinematic Universe, an essay Anthology

A Long Time Ago: Exploring the Star Wars Cinematic Universe, an essay Anthology

Edited by Rich Handley and Joseph F. Berenato

• Publisher: Sequart Research & Literacy Organization (November 6, 2015)
• ISBN-10: 1940589061
• ISBN-13: 978-1940589060

For some time now, the Sequart Organization has been releasing high-quality essay anthologies and documentaries dealing with popular culture productions that have a fantasy or sci fi bent. They’ve especially excelled with collections exploring comic book series and artists, Star Trek, Batman on TV and film, and Planet of the Apes.

Now Sequart has released the first of a three book series diving into nearly every aspect of the Star Wars phenomena, A Long Time Ago focusing on the films and TV programs associated with the franchise. It’s a book for serious Star Wars fans, those who are devoted watchers and collectors, but especially those interested in almost scholarly critiques and analyses.

Naturally, an anthology of so many perspectives will be uneven in quality and usefulness, and gratefully the content isn’t a collection of tributes and accolades. Of course, many essays are syntheses of the countless publications that came before. Speaking of the past, the book opens with discussions of two predecessors to Star Wars; Ian Dawe connects George Lucas’s 1971 THX 1138 to Star Wars. Rich Handley deftly compares and contrasts Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz.

Then, Julian Darius explores why Star Wars “broke cinema” not only in terms of transforming summer films into blockbusters relying on merchandising for profits, but also set the stage for films that dropped logic and credible plots to become anti-intellectual special effects fests. Lou Tambone summarizes why many feel The Empire Strikes Back was the best of the original trilogy, and Joe Bongiorno reviews why Return of the Jedi was the result of compromises and concessions diminishing what the film could have been. For me, the most intriguing look into the original films is “The Ecology of Tatooine as the Epicenter of the Star Wars Films” by Matthew Sunrich which proposes that Luke Skywalker’s home planet might also be the world where The Force is centered.

In terms of TV efforts, Steven H. Wilson offers a pointless deconstruction of the pointless 1978 holiday special, and Kevin Dilmore and Jean-François Boivin delve into how Ewoks and droids came to television as childish films and animated series. Then, David Pipgras warmly praises the five plus seasons of The Clone Wars, and Nathan P. Butler reviews the potential of the new Rebels series. Fortunately, all these authors provide detailed plot synopses for those who missed or forgot these broadcasts. Somewhat related to the book’s scope is Alex Newborn’s history of Star Wars rides created for Disney parks, an example of how such collections try to touch all the bases.

Regarding the second trilogy, Joseph F. Berenato revisits his own 1999 review of The Phantom Menace which, strangely, details all the problems he finds in the film but still determines it’s a fine piece of work. Zaki Hasan, Keith DeCandido, and Rocko Jerome also examine the prequels, each providing viable reasons for some of the decisions that shaped them and discuss the could ofs, would ofs, and should ofs that might have improved the stories and characters. Everyone seems to agree the visuals were spot on.

Other essays underline why the Star Wars mythos resonates with the inner child in all of us, but A Long Time Ago was assembled for adults who know the Expanded Universe of George Lucas very well. If that’s you, there are essays here that are illuminating and insightful. For others, some chapters might tempt you to explore projects like The Clone Wars or Rebels. Stay tuned: Sequart’s own trilogy has just begun.

This review originally appeared Mon. Nov. 23 at