Listening to Nine to Eternity

One of the things I love about contributing to anthologies is reading all the contributions by other authors. Unfortunately, sometimes life gets busy and by the time I receive a contributor copy, I don’t have the time to read the anthology right away and it ends up added to my to-read stack. That was what happened when Nine to Eternity came out in 2020 while I was hard at work on my novella Breaking the Code and Kitt Peak National Observatory was preparing to reopen for science. As it turns out, Nine to Eternity is one of the rare anthologies which has been published as an audiobook, so I was able to give it a listen during a recent commute to Kitt Peak.

Nine To Eternity: A Science Fiction Anthology began when the editor, M. Christian, reached out to the authors to invite them to submit “a personal favorite story: one that also, sadly, didn’t get the love they’d put into it.” The anthology is also a sequel of sorts to M. Christian’s anthology Five to the Future: All New Novelettes of Tomorrow and Beyond. Christian invited all the original authors back, and then asked each of them to invite a friend to submit a story for the new anthology. That’s how I became connected to the book.

The audio edition is read by Gordon MacCathay who has a wonderful, deep voice. He also has great vocal control and was able to give each character in each story a distinctive voice. I was able to follow the events without any difficulty.

The anthology opens with the story “Skin Deep” by Emily Devenport. It tells the story of a woman on the planet Moasai who enters her dog, Puke, in the Ugliest Pet in the Galaxy contest. But before she can win the contest, she must resolve a dispute over the dog’s ownership.This was a fun tale with a nice romantic sub-plot.

Next up is “Spitzkov Red” by Jody Scott. Raik is a young man nearing graduation from the military academy. For his final test, he must face the hologram of a famous ancestor and learn about his family’s true nature. It takes a thoughtful look at the nature of comradeship and service while also delivering a poignant twist ending.

In Ralph Greco Jr.’s “Bombastic Christ”, Jesus is cloned from DNA taken from the Shroud of Turin. Agents plan to capture the clone. However, the growth agent used by the university researchers behind the project goes wrong, creating a giant toddler Jesus who goes on a rampage through the university.

The story I knew best besides my own was Ernest Hogan’s “The Great Mars-a-Go-Go Mexican Standoff” because I was the first person to publish the story in Tales of the Talisman Magazine. What’s more, Ernest is the friend who recommended me to M. Christian for this anthology. This is a rollicking tale of a detective hired by a model’s head to find out who stole her body and is holding it for ransom.

From the introduction, I gather Arthur Byron Cover wrote “A Murder” to help process the loss of friends to murder. I can’t honestly say I “enjoyed” this tale because Cover is so effective at getting inside the head of both the misogynistic murderer and his terrified victim. Still, it’s well written and worth reading, if nothing else for its reflections on how casually writers of popular fiction often treat the subject of violent death.

Cynthia Ward gives us a breezy steampunk tale set in London’s East End. Lucy Harker is a woman who has gained great strength and skill through her life experiences and seeks to end a mass murderer’s career. Her efforts bring her to the attention of a certain consulting detective’s older brother who sits near the seat of British government.

My story about the discovery of an asteroid on a collision course with Earth comes next. In this case, it was fun to just sit back and hear how Gordon MacCathay interpreted Professors Jerry Auchincloss and Bethany Lange, along with Auchincloss’s assistant Roy Talbot. I enjoyed hearing the story read back to me and only caught a couple of places where I might have said something a little differently if I ever had another chance to edit the story.

The penultimate story in the anthology is “In the Canal Zone” by Jean Marie Stine. It imagines a sort-of inter-dimensional way station where people might flee dangers in their home dimension. In this case, a young girl befriends one such person and helps her elude pursuit. As with many tales in this book, it gives us a nice twist ending.

M. Christian closes the anthology with a whimsical story he wrote in his early days learning the craft of writing. He tells a tale of humans living in a near paradise where they have everything they need until a force is unleashed that causes the humans to begin disappearing, which then leads them to build the first skyscraper.

Listening to this anthology felt like spending time with old friends. I’m fortunate to be acquainted with Ernest Hogan, Emily Devenport, and Cynthia Ward in real life. I’ve also had the pleasure of publishing one of Ralph Greco, Jr.’s stories in Tales of the Talisman. If you haven’t discovered this anthology, I encourage you to give it a read or a listen.

The Kindle edition is available at: https://www.amazon.com/Nine-Eternity-Science-Fiction-Anthology-ebook/dp/B08JHBGTJS/

The Audible edition is available at: https://www.audible.com/pd/Nine-to-Eternity-Audiobook/B08VNF8Q4Y

You can also find the audio book at iTunes and Amazon.

Doctor Who: Connections

Near the end of November, I discussed Big Finish’s Doctor Who story “What Lies Inside?” featuring Paul McGann as the Doctor, Nicola Walker as Liv Chenka, and Hattie Morahan as Helen Sinclair. One of the things I like about Big Finish is that they frequently have deals on their website or via their newsletter. When I bought “What Lies Inside?” I bought a bundle that included an additional set of three adventures called “Connections.” That second set has been released and my family and I were able to give it a listen during a recent road trip.

Back in my university days, before the World Wide Web, I subscribed to message boards on Usenet. One of those message boards discussed all things Doctor Who. One character who would spark much discussion on the message board was an old school chum of the Doctor’s from the planet Galifrey named Drax. Now, Drax only appeared in a couple of episodes of serial “The Armageddon Factor” which was part of a longer arc where the Doctor, played by Tom Baker, and his companion Romana, played by Mary Tamm, seek out pieces of something called the Key to Time, which will is needed for god-like entities to put the universe back into balance. Drax used to come up for so much discussion because he was not only one of the few people from Galifrey who seemed to actively like the Doctor, he also referred to the Doctor by the name: Theta Sigma. Was Theta Sigma really the Doctor’s name? Was it a nickname? Was it a fraternity they belonged to? These were all questions bandied about on the message board. None of which were ever definitively answered then and none of which are definitively answered in the new audio episode, “Here Lies Drax.” That said, it was great fun to hear a new episode with Drax. Or, does it really have Drax? The episode opens with the Doctor receiving a parcel from Drax for safekeeping. Soon after, they receive an invitation to Drax’s funeral! Once they get to the funeral, they discover Drax had made a lot of enemies over his lifetime, and that’s just how things get going. We soon get a rollicking mystery where the Doctor has to figure out whether there really is any value to the things in the parcel, while he figures out what happened to his old friend.

The second episode of “Connections” is titled “The Love Vampires” and felt like an appropriate listen while I’m working on a vampire novel of my own. In this episode, the Doctor, Helen, and Liv arrive at a space station orbiting a dying star. However, the crew of the station are apparently being killed off by vampires. Now, these aren’t your ordinary run-of-the-mill bloodsucking vampires These vampires take you back to memories of your first love and feed off the emotions generated. Energy and emotion vampires are nothing new to the genre, but the writers cleverly use this concept to explore the characters of Helen, Liv, and the Doctor through their memories of their first loves. We get some nice background on both Helen and Liv. Right from the beginning of the television series, it was established that the Doctor has a granddaughter and Big Finish’s audio dramas have reinforced the idea that Susan is a biological granddaughter. She doesn’t just call him “Grandfather” as a term of affection. In fact, there are several great Big Finish productions where Susan, played by Carole Ann Ford, is teamed up with Paul McGann’s Doctor. So, one figures, the Doctor must have had at least one love in his life, or at least a liaison. Who did the Doctor have a child with? What was their relationship like? This episode suggests some possibilities, but like Drax in “The Armageddon Factor” it may raise more questions than it answers.

The final episode of the “Connections” set moves the focus from the Doctor to Helen. In this case, the Doctor, Helen, and Liv land in modern-day London to investigate a time anomaly. Helen soon discovers one of the Weeping Angels in the back of an old record shop. These are villains who look like statues of angels and only move when you’re not looking at them. When you blink, they can jump on you and transport you back in time. In “Albie’s Angels” this happens to Helen and she’s transported back to the 1960s and is reunited with her long lost brother Albie. She never knew what became of her brother and she learns that her father and brother had a falling out because Albie was gay. It felt quite appropriate to listen to this episode while on a family trip, since it reminds us why families shouldn’t let themselves be torn apart by different lifestyles and viewpoints. The story itself involves the Doctor and Liv trying to find out where Helen has gone while Helen tries to help her brother find his own path in life. Without spoilers, this episode proved to be a bittersweet and poignant tale with connections to other characters in the Doctor Who canon.

You can find “Connections” at https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/doctor-who-the-eighth-doctor-adventures-connections-2523 and while you’re there, you can sign up for the Big Finish newsletter if you choose. I’m just a fan of Big Finish and this isn’t an affiliate link of any kind.

Meanwhile, if you want to get ready for my forthcoming vampire novel and meet a set of characters with their own special abilities, check out my Scarlet Order vampire novels at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

The Last Adventure

Jodie Whittaker’s final Doctor Who adventure debuted at the end of October 2022. Throughout the series, the episode where a Doctor regenerates is often of the most powerful of that actor’s tenure. “The Power of the Doctor” was a great case in point, giving the Doctor an opportunity to confront her past and bringing back several companions Doctor Who’s classic era. Unfortunately, in Doctor Who history, there was one actor who was never given a proper final episode and that was the sixth Doctor, played by Colin Baker.

Colin Baker’s era on Doctor Who was plagued by several related problems. The top people at the BBC had lost interest in Doctor Who. Because of that, the show runner, John Nathan-Turner, was spending more time fighting to keep the show on the air than actually running the show. When I go back and watch Colin Baker’s episodes, I get the sense that the writers had a lot of talent but were writers who really needed strong editorial guidance. Unfortunately, because of the issues with the BBC, that guidance really wasn’t there and Doctor Who is a show that needs top notch writing and a good editorial vision to work. In the end, the BBC dictated changes in the show, which included a change of lead actor. Colin Baker basically decided he wouldn’t come back for a few minutes of screen time before his regeneration began. So, after Colin Baker’s last season, we start the next season with the Doctor in mid-regeneration and suddenly the Sylvester McCoy era began.

Colin Baker’s Doctor could be irascible, prickly and childish. The only problem is that the TV writers of his era tended to overplay those tendencies making him a challenging Doctor to like. Fortunately, Big Finish productions came along and gave us more adventures for the sixth Doctor. Stronger writers showed “Old Sixie” could also be heroic, fiercely loyal, and determined. In many ways, because of the episodes produced by Big Finish, the sixth Doctor’s era has become one of my favorites. In 2015, Big Finish decided to tackle one of the biggest challenges and write a fitting finale for the sixth Doctor. The result was “The Last Adventure.”

Title notwithstanding, “The Last Adventure” is actually four stories set at different times in the sixth Doctor’s tenure. Each adventure features a different companion. In “The End of the Line” the Doctor and Constance Clark find a train lost in the fog. When they attempt to find help, they find the same train at a different point in time. They soon find someone is breaking down the barriers between parallel universes. In “The Red House,” the Doctor and Charley Pollard end up on a world populated by werewolves. Except they really aren’t werewolves. These creatures are normally wolves who take on human aspects at certain times. In “Stage Fright,” the Doctor and Flip Jackson arrive in Victorian London only to find that a director is putting on plays about the Doctor’s regenerations. Finally, “The Brink of Death” brings us to the Doctor’s final days as he teams up with Melanie Bush only to find himself trapped in the Time Lord Matrix. The common denominator in all of these stories is that the Valeyard is involved.

We met the Valeyard in the sixth Doctor’s final TV season and we learn that he’s the amalgamation of all the Doctor’s darker tendencies all merged into one being sometime between his penultimate and final incarnation. The idea is that the Valeyard is playing a long game and in each story, the Doctor gets another piece of the puzzle until their final confrontation in “The Brink of Death.” I remember at the time “Trial of a Time Lord” was on TV, there were many fan discussions of how the Valeyard came to be. This story gives us an answer and without spoiling it, I thought it was a lovely bit of minimalist writing in that it gives us an answer in one sentence. It’s a great example of how something can be explained without pages of exposition.

I’m a big fan of the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy. While there were some rough moments in his first season, I generally loved his tenure from the moment he’s captured by the Rani until he walks off in the sunset with Ace, and then has his amazing regeneration into Paul McGann in the TV movie. Still, I choked up a bit as it came time for “Old Sixie” to go. He met his end showing his best qualities. If you want to know the end of Colin Baker’s story, or even if you just want to sample him in stories from different eras of the Big Finish run, “The Last Adventure” is a great place to go. You can find it at: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/doctor-who-the-last-adventure-1212