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John A. Hart RSS Feed (Antioch, CA United States)

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The political decisions made by the American government and the resulting chaos makes the Tea Party look like flaming liberals, August 5, 2014
This review is from: Titan (Kindle Edition)
After thoroughly enjoying Stephen Baxter's "Voyage" about an alternate reality Mars mission in the 1980s, I decided to give "Titan" a spin.

The problem I have with these alternate reality stories set in our own timeframe is that the suspension of disbelief required is enormous. With "Voyage" it was how only NASA and the space program was affected when JFK survived the assassination attempt but the rest of history played out as is. "Titan" has the opposite problem. Mr. Baxter's tale of a bleak earth just after the loss of the space shuttle Columbia (in which he changes how she was destroyed and the aftermath) is cold and unbelievable. The political decisions made by the American government and the resulting chaos makes the Tea Party look like flaming liberals. There is no love, no warmth, no inner desire for anything.

Then there's the mission itself to Titan, created in the wake of the Columbia disaster and as a last ditch effort to have one last hurrah from NASA before the upcoming election of an isolationist president causes the agency's dismantling. The characters whine and complain the whole time. They are copycats from "Voyage" and could easily have been swapped one-for-one without anybody noticing. They are flat, one dimensional stock characters who show no depth of character, no inner revelations at all.

I always tease people when they ask me how a book and a movie ends by saying, "They all die" but in this one everybody does. And I mean EVERYBODY -- the entire planet becomes extinct as a result of the lousy politics in this book. I pretty much predicted who would be the red shirts in this story and figured out how they would kick the bucket. I did not care for anybody in this story, and that's a certain death for a writer.

But wait. Before you say "I ruined the ending", that's not the true ending. I won't reveal it here in case you actually want to read it for yourself, but it is implausible and ridiculous. Mr. Baxter loves his techno-babble and would have felt at home writing for the later Star Trek shows. He spends pages and pages explaining technical details that sound accurate but aren't necessary to the story. Finally there's the writing itself. There are commas EVERYWHERE in places where there should be no commas. I found them to be distracting because they broke the rhythm of the writing.

In the end, I cannot recommend this book for anything but fireplace starter. It left me thoroughly depressed.

Eat Pray Love
Eat Pray Love
DVD ~ Julia Roberts
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8 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Touches All the Right Chords, October 13, 2010
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This review is from: Eat Pray Love (DVD)
There are two types of people who watch this movie: those who get it, and those who don't. Those who don't may learn to appreciate it but it will never become a part of their souls. If movies ever define what a person is going through in life, then this is one of those movies.

Based on the memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert, it follows Gilbert (played wonderfully by Julia Roberts) in her attempt to find herself after her divorce and a failed romance. She decides to do this by spending the year in Italy ("eat"), India ("pray"), and Bali ("love"). In each of these regions of the world she rediscovers a part of her that she had lost over the years: in Italy she discovers not just an appetite for food but for life in general; in India she finds her spiritual center while in Bali she learns that she can love again.

This is a simplistic description of the movie, but to go into more detail would simply take too much space. Chances are if you are female over the age of 40 you may understand where Liz is coming from and learn something from her experience. Most men might not get it -- a neighbor of mine who saw was utterly clueless about the subtext; I myself did see some of my own journey through life in what Liz went through and ended up seeing the movie three times in the theater (my wife saw it six times). If you are hardcore in your religious beliefs you may have a problem with her seeking spirituality in a non-Christian/Western setting (in fact, the Vatican itself condemned the movie saying Liz should have stopped eating while in Rome and visited one of the many churches in the Eternal City for spiritual guidance rather than go to India). But that's the whole point of the movie: Liz needed to find what worked for her, and each part of the film represents a step in that discovery. Could she have gone into the churches? Perhaps, but at that point she wasn't ready to find that part of her soul and she didn't need the church to tell her what she HAD to do which, frankly, she got tired of doing throughout much of her life.

Julia Roberts' performance is excellent, and I will be sorely disappointed if she does not earn an Oscar nomination next year for it. It easily surpasses her work in "Erin Brockavich". The cinematography is excellent, the musical score is uplifting (and it's a shame that only one song from the original score is on the soundtrack album), and the supporting cast is so well that several should be up for their own Oscar noms. If you're especially interesed in cinematography and acting, pay attention to the scene between Liz and Richard from Texas that takes place on the roof of their ashram in India -- that's all one take without edits.

This isn't a movie to watch. This is a movie to experience. This is a movie that wants you to feel something. I know my wife and I did. And I've been told watching the film before reading the book makes the book much easier to read.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 13, 2010 9:41 AM PST

Alex & Emma (Widescreen Edition)
Alex & Emma (Widescreen Edition)
DVD ~ Kate Hudson
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Boring and Predictable, October 13, 2010
There used to be a time when director Rob Reiner had the golden touch when it came to romantic comedies ("RomComs"). "When Harry Met Sally..." is, by all definitions, a classic. "The American President" while somewhat formulaic adds a political edge thanks to writer Aaron Sorokin that makes it rise above the others. "Alex & Emma", however, doesn't even get to first base and is a lifeless imitator following in the shadows of these two other films.

Alex, played by Luke Owen, is an author suffering from writer's block. If he doesn't break through it and finish his novel in a month and get some badly needed money some unsavory Cuban mobsters intend to feed him to the fishes. Enter Emma, played by Kate Hudson, as the stenographer he hires to help him get through the book. She is the "shoot-from-the-lip" kind of gal who doesn't have a problem questioning some of Alex's story logic as he blindly feels his way through his novel. As the novel progresses, there is a sort of "movie within a movie" as Alex, Emma, and (unbeknownst to Emma at the time) his ex-girlfriend, Polina (portrayed by Sophie Marceau) play out his story that's set in the early years of the 20th century.

"Alex & Emma" proceeds predictably: boy and girl clash, boy and girl sleep together, boy and ex-girl get together for brief moment, girl tells boy to get lost, yadda yadda yadda. You don't need to even watch the movie to know what's going to happen next. It's as if the writer simply took a "How to Write a RomCom for Dummies" book and followed a tired format used by just about everybody else. Rob Reiner's direction is bland and uninspiring. The worst part, however, is Luke Owen. In my opinion he is the worst actor of the current generation, an opinion that I verified when I stumbled upon another outing of his on cable, "My Super Ex-Girlfriend." There is no variety or emotion in any of his work. He could very well be doing one of his cell phone commercials and you would never know the difference.

If you like predictable romcoms that follow the basic framework, then go get this one. If you want something more, then go rent either "When Harry Met Sally..." and "The American President". Otherwise, this film just isn't worth the time or the effort.

V: The Second Generation
V: The Second Generation
by Kenneth Johnson
Edition: Hardcover
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13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Okay, but Not Worth Waiting 20 Years, February 10, 2008
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I felt like Rip Van Winkle waking up from his twenty year nap when I read Kenneth Johnson's sequel to his original "V". The world around me had changed dramatically, and I had become reunited with some familiar faces, but nobody bothered to explain to me what had happened in the intervening years.

I remember when the Ann Crispin's novelization of "V" came out. I felt disappointed by it (and still do). I felt she spent too much time on details to the original miniseries that weren't very relevant, and the parts that were key she merely glossed over. I remember thinking, "Boy, I bet if Kenneth Johnson were to write the novelization it would be a heck of a lot better."

And he has. Unfortunately, it isn't.

If you're a fan of this franchise, you may be upset Mr. Johnson chose to write a sequel to "V" and completely ignore "The Final Battle" and "The Series". Frankly, I agree with his decision. You see, Mr. Johnson is god (little "g", not big "G"), and if he decides to ignore a bastardization of his creation then he is entitled. To me "Final Battle", with its deus ex machina ending of the magical Star Child saving the day, was silly (imagine "Star Trek: The Next Generation"'s Wesley Crusher with magical powers), and "The Series" was just plain awful. "V: The Second Generation" is how I envisioned the story continuing.


Mr. Johnson has chosen not to tell us many of the details that transpired in those twenty years. Most notably absent are many of the key characters from the first miniseries, particularly Robin Maxwell. Robin was the central character in the original "V". It was her story being told, much like a sci fi version of "The Diary of Anne Frank". Not only is she missing in this novel, but she is not even mentioned. At first I had assumed the half-breed child Julie was raising (named Ruby after the elderly woman who gave Julie a shot of confidence in the first film) was Robin's daughter. It turns out Ruby's mother was just a nameless human woman who conveniently died in childbirth.

And the others? What happened with Elias? I always pictured him taking over the L.A. resistance cell or New Orleans. The other Maxwell children? Did Katie and Polly survive? I'm surprised he mentioned how old Ruby was shot in the back by a Visitor Friend (now called Teammates) because that occurred in "Final Battle".

If there was one character from "Final Battle" I would have liked to have seen brought in was the character of mercenary and Donovan's perpetual thorn-in-the-side Ham Tyler. Maybe he wasn't his creation, but he was a delicious character who could have played a key role in this story.

The characters who are there simply don't ring true, and a few, like Robert Maxwell, have no real reason to be there. Since I only have the original "V" on DVD and have not seen either of the others since they were first out, I can truly say my observations have not been tainted. They have the names, and they have the looks, but I kept asking myself, "Who are these people?" I should know them, but I don't. Since when did Willy become more important to the Fifth Column than Martin? Why would the pascifist Harmony even risk her life being a part of the resistance? As for the new charcters, I didn't care for them. There was no reason to root for any of them. They were all, even Diana, one dimensional cut-outs.

Instead of providing clues and insights into the fate of many of the characters, Mr. Johnson spends five pages -- count them, five -- describing what Earth looks like now that the Visitors had reduced the size of the oceans by one-half. I'm sure that will look great on screen if/when it is made into a movie, but to devote five pages to the description is absurd. The space would have been better filled with the back story of the past twenty years.

He has also decided to join the Politically Correct crowd. Collaborators are now called Players. The Visitor Friends are Teammates. He even has a couple of personal relationships within the story that I find morally reprehensible, but that's just my own opinion and won't go into it any further.

Mr. Johnson has also decided not to answer many of the fundamental questions about the changes he made in his creation. Example:

1) When and why did Diana decide to move her flagship from Los Angeles to San Francisco?
2) When and why did the Visitors decide to "officially" reveal to humanity their reptilian form?
3) Why did the Visitors change their cover story for being on Earth from creating a chemical compound to save their own planet to the pretext of sucking up our oceans in order to scrub them clean of pollution?
4) When and why did the Visitors abandon the process of conversion?

A lot of the science fiction elements in the story are very derivative. The flying stealth motorcycles were used in "Galactica: 1980" and also seem reminiscent of the speeder bikes in "Return of the Jedi" and the flying broomsticks of "Harry Potter". The fact that the San Francisco mother ship is now the flagship borrows from "Star Trek" the notion that San Francisco is the home of both Starfleet Headquarters and Starfleet Academy. (By the way, Mr. Johnson, the Golden Gate Bridge is a mile long, not two. I should know; I cross it every day). And yet another derivative is the new Zidti species introduced in the novel. You can argue that he pulled this notion directly from the third season of "Star Trek: Enterprise" with its similarly named "Xindi" which, like the Zidti in this book, developed multiple sentient species on a single planet. I'm not entirely sure Paramount Studios doesn't have a case for a copyright infringement lawsuit over this.

There is also a fundamental scientific flaw in Mr. Johnson's handling of the human-Visitor half-breed children. On the plus side, I think the way he characterized Ruby was excellent and should have been the route followed by the producers of "Final Battle" and "Series". The scientific negative which kept bothering me throughout the novel was how he described them as not really having any physical symmetry to them and that the reptilian and human features were at odds with one another. I must point out that mules, which are a hybrid of horses and donkeys, do have physical symmetry and balance.

I think the main issue is Mr. Johnson is a television writer and not a novelist. One could argue writing is writing, but television writing is a form of shorthand of which he is a master (same goes to Gene Roddenberry -- his novelization of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" is horrendous). I have tried to adapt my own material into screenplays just as an exercise and failed miserably; very few writers are adept at both (Harlan Ellison comes to mind). I have the feeling that he just couldn't or wouldn't break out of that when he adapted the screenplay he wrote for "The Second Generation". Unless he plans more novels which will answer and clarify things, I think I'll go back to sleep. Night-night.
Comment Comments (12) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 11, 2010 6:15 AM PDT

World Without End
World Without End
by Ken Follett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.26
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good but not Great, February 2, 2008
This review is from: World Without End (Hardcover)
They say the devil is in the details, and Ken Follett certainly proves he is the master of detail in this follow-up to his bestseller "Pillars of the Earth". Unfortunately the details aren't enough to disguise the fact that the plot for this story is dull, predictable, and ultimately unsatisfactory.

This story takes place 200 years after the events of "Pillars" in the same English town of Kingsbridge. Whereas "Pillars" was centered around the construction of a cathedral and the politics around it, there is no central focus to this book. At first it's a new bridge, then a new steeple for the cathedral, and neither are a satisfactory cement for the story. It centers around four characters -- Merthin, Caris, Ralph, and Gwenda -- and their lives after they witness a knight who nearly gets killed for a secret he has about the current monarch. Merthin longs to be a knight himself but becomes a carpenter; his younger brother, Ralph, who has no moral problems with rape, pillage, and murder becomes the knight instead; Caris wants to be a doctor but, alas, in 13th century England that isn't possible, and Gwenda just wants to survive from year to year. Merthin and Caris go through a rollercoaster of a relationship, Ralph becomes a horrific earl, and Gwenda seems lost in the shuffle as she marries and raises a family admist feudal English life.

As with "Pillars" there is a great deal of politics going on, particularly with the new prior of the church, Godwyn, his scheming witch of a mother, and his toady, Philemon.

Here are the problems that I have with the book. The characters are ultimately stock characters, even cartoonish, without any real redeeming qualities. Merthin is a wimp who doesn't stand up for himself. Caris is too 21st century in her attitudes about what she wants in life. Ralph is a typical bully who doesn't learn anything in the end. Poor Gwenda just lurches from side to side in an aimless meander through life. It's easy for the reader of "Pillars" to predict which characters will have which characteristics and actions.

Another problem is Follett telegraphs every plot point in advance. Example: when any of the characters have sex and the woman "worries about becoming pregnant", you know that she ultimately will. This isn't forshadowing; forshadowing, as I've told my students, is supposed to be subtle and not be bludgeoned. It makes the story uninteresting simply because there's no real surprise.

Speaking of sex, his sex scenes in the beginning are very explicit when the characters are young, but as they grow older the sex just seems to stop. Don't older people have sex?

Characters are mentioned briefly then disappear. For instance, Merthin runs away for Florence and gets married, but his wife dies in the plague. She is never really mentioned and seems to be an after thought. Even the daughter they create seems to be thrown into the story just to mix things up but has no dramatic purpose.

He also makes the assumption that we've forgotten something and will paraphrase it, such as "That's Philemon, the monk, Gwenda's brother." Times like those make me feel like he's writing down to the reader.

Finally, the secret that is supposed to be the motivator of the story in the beginning simply vanishes. Every now and then a character would remind us it is there, and when it's revealed in the end it's more of a "That's it?" reaction rather than "Wow! That's fantastic!"

In the end, this story really is much ado about nothing. I wasn't left with the desire to re-read it to understand it. I felt it had jumped the shark within the first hundred pages, and I only kept going to find out if it would get any better. Like I said, he's great at the details and painting a picture. In the end it wasn't worth the journey.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 27, 2012 12:25 PM PDT

The Phantom of Manhattan
The Phantom of Manhattan
by Frederick Forsyth
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
143 used & new from $0.01

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An Unworthy Sequel, May 16, 2007
If you are a phan of "Phantom of the Opera", don't bother getting this book. It is dull, lifeless, with a mediocre plot, no tension, and written in a ponderous elephant-like style. Unfortunately, this story was inspired by Andrew Lloyd Webber and is going to be the basis of his new musical. If I thought ALW would listen I would urge him to abandon the idea, but maybe he can wring some theatrical life out of this beached whale of a story.

Here's the gist: it's 13 years after the events in the musical version of Phantom. Erik (aka "The Opera Ghost") has moved to NYC and has risen to become one of the wealthiest people in the city. However, only one person, his demented sidekick, Darius, has ever seen him, and certainly the only one who has seen him without his mask. Despite his success, Erik still is bitter toward humanity and its earlier treatment of him and wants to stick it to them whenever he can.

Tying in real events, Erik and Oscar Hammerstein (grandfather of the great librettist OH III), Erik builds a new Manhattan Opera House to compete with the Metropolitan (again, because he was snubbed). He receives a letter from the now-dead Madame Giry and learns Christine has borne him a son. He becomes obsessed about getting his son and, through Hammerstein, lures Christine (who is now the greatest opera diva in Europe) to perform at the opera's grand opening in his own custom-written opera. Once she is in New York he begins his old "Phantom" tricks -- a hall of mirrors so he can talk to her alone, a "papier-machie musical box in the shape of a barrel organ, attached to a figure of a monkey playing the cymbals" that plays -- you guessed it -- "Masquerade" from the musical.

The plot is so predictable. Yes, the original novel by Gaston Leroux has many implausible moments and is just as badly written, but this novel is just plain boring. It is told in the first person by several peripheral characters. Erik only has one chapter where he explains what has happened to him over the past twelve years. Poor Christine has none. As the supposed heroine of the piece she is little more than a specter herself, a cardboard cut-out who has devolved into a one dimensional nothing. Raoul shows up only at the end for one chapter and is also a nothing.

Here's a question about how their son was conceived. If this is a sequel to the musical and not the novel, when did they have time to get it on? The text says there was an hour between her abduction during "Don Juan Triumphant" and when Raoul finds her. Also, was it consensual or was it rape? I seem to get mixed messages about that point as well. We also know the child isn't Raoul's because, in the letter Madame Giry writes to Erik, she explains that an accident left him unable to get it up long before he met Christine. Didn't really need to know that part.

I only read this book because (a) ALW has announced this will be his next project and (b) I am considering my own version of "Phantom" and wanted to read what other writers had done. Now that I have read it I will either donate it to the library book sale or simply let collect dust on my bookcase with a sign attached to it reading, "Do Not Enter".
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 17, 2007 1:02 AM PST

50 First Dates (Widescreen Special Edition)
50 First Dates (Widescreen Special Edition)
DVD ~ Adam Sandler
Price: $5.00
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Barrymore Saves a Sinking Sandler, December 19, 2005
Every movie has it's great moments and it's embarrassments. Sometimes these embarrassments bring down what promises to be an enjoyable piece of entertainment. The embarrassment in this movie is Adam Sandler himself.

If you like Adam Sandler, if you like his gutter humor, then you might actually like this movie. I, on the other hand, found Sandler grossly miscast as leading man Henry Roth. I found the first 15 minutes of the movie very painful to watch because of the walrus vomit, the pointless androgynous character, and the lowbrow sexual comments. To me it felt like Adam Sandler said, "Hey, my fans won't like this movie if I don't put some of this stuff in because that's what they like." I must say I almost turned it off and threw it away because of the humor (I received it as a Secret Santa gift).

But I stayed with it, and I'm glad I did. Drew Barrymore is the saving angel of this film. She plays Lucy Whitmore, a young woman who was in a car crash about a year earlier and, as a result of head injuries, can no longer turn short-term memories into long-term memories. She is a blank slate every morning, and Sandler's character has to get her to fall in love with him every single day. Barrymore shows a true acting ability by carefully walking a tightrope from making Lucy either too pathetic or too comic. She brings warmth and sensitivity to the role and certainly makes up for what Sandler doesn't have. She is also drop-dead gorgeous, and that doesn't hurt at all.

That isn't to say Sandler doesn't have some good moments so long as it fits the movie. One scene I laughed at was his second meeting with Lucy. He's unaware of her memory problem and says he spent the whole night thinking about her while he stroked his walrus. The double entendre (and Drew Barrymore's classic reaction) was well done AND appropriate to the movie.

Here's my problem. Sandler can't act. He is as wooden as William Shatner and just about as funny as well. I liked the fact that he isn't a good looking guy and even pokes fun at himself by telling Lucy that he's sorry he's not better looking. It just proves that even us average Joes can fall in love and get the girl. Too often he falls into his SNL schtick (which I never liked) and threatens to pull the entire movie down with it.

A minor problem I have is Rob Schneider. How could they cast him as Sandler's Hawaiian best friend, Hula? Was there no truly Hawaiian actor who could have played the part? This reminds me of a time 15 years with the musical Miss Saigon when the acting union protested the casting of a Caucasian as a Eurasian.

The last half hour of the film is the best (though Sandler does, sadly, do his gutter schtick on occasion -- somebody should tell him that raising his voice is not acting). The ending, which I won't reveal, is the best I've seen in ages and is not the typical ending Hollywood would have used.

Once again, Sandler stinks. It's Drew Barrymore who lifts this movie from the dung heap. That's why I can only give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Testament [VHS]
Testament [VHS]
Offered by missmarybooks
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Human View to Nuclear War, July 27, 2001
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This review is from: Testament [VHS] (VHS Tape)
I have a personal reason for reviewing this movie: the writer of the original short story, Carol Amen, was a good friend of mine from church before she died of cancer. Carol told me she woke up in the middle of the night covered with sweat when she envisioned this story and wrote it in one sitting. She worked closely with the screenwriter, John Sacret Young (of "China Beach" fame) and was very pleased that he was able to flesh out the characters and situations without altering the main story.
This film, with its excellent acting (for which Jane Alexander earned an Oscar nomination) and a beautiful, simple yet haunting score by James Horner, is different from all of the other Cold War/Nuclear Holocaust films. It's a story of a family and community coming together. There is no magic pill that saves everybody in the end; there is no squad of commandos rushing in to defeat the evil Ruskies. What IS there is a sense of connection with this ordinary family (particularly Ms. Alexander) as they survive what has happened and ask themselves, "Why was I saved? Why was I allowed to live when so many others died?". This is not a date movie, not a movie for an evening of brainless entertainment. This is a movie to be thought about, to be felt with the heart. As a history teacher, I find this film invaluable and use it in my classes to demonstrate the human costs of nuclear war since most of my students have never had to live under the serious shadow of nuclear annihalation.

The Abduction
The Abduction
by James Grippando
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Politics Gets In The Way of a Good Story, July 25, 2000
Mr. Grippando has written a taut thriller that keeps the reader's attention riveted. The end was just a little too quick and tidy for my preference, as if the author had more he wanted to say but somebody, his agent or his editor, told him to end the thing or it may end up being as long as War and Peace. The biggest problem I had was with the politics. I was very turned off by Mr. Grippando's characterization of the heroine as being the Democratic candidate for president while her Republican opponent was characterized as being the bad guy (that doesn't mean I've given away the ending). I'm a Democrat myself, but I don't particularly agree with Mr. Grippando's political stereotyping. The best way around the political party labelling is to be vague; just mention "the party" and let the reader decide which it is. Otherwise, a decent enough story.

by Stephen Baxter
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Hypothesis, July 20, 2000
This review is from: Voyage (Mass Market Paperback)
Many people who consider the phrase science fiction to be populated by Star Trek-ish characters and zap guns will be pleasantly surprised by this novel. Writers have always done a "what-if" regarding the Kennedy assassination, but Mr. Baxter has done a remarkable what-if in regards to NASA and the possibility of a Mars mission. In fact, NASA is the only entity to have actually been affected by Kennedy's survival; everything else -- Vietnam, Watergate, and every other political moment -- has remained surprisingly intact. The characters are true to life and the situations mirror what NASA might have done to prepare for a Mars landing, the blunders it might have made that are chillingly similar to the ones they made that lead to the Challenger disaster, and the ultimate soaring of the American and human spirit once success had been achieved. The only drawback is the technical writing; Mr. Baxter goes into perhaps too much detail on the technical aspects of the NASA missions, but not enough to detract from the human drama.

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