Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Coalescent - Stephen Baxter

   2004; 527 pages.  Book #1 (out of 4) in the Destiny’s Children series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Historical Fiction; Drama; Mystery; a smidgen of Science Fiction.  Laurels: Nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2004.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    It’s a somber occasion for George Poole.  His father has just died, and he’s the only one in the family left in England to return home and see to the estate.  Not that there’s much of an inheritance to split with the one other living relative, his older sister, Gina, who’s happily married and raising a family way over in Florida.

    But at least his boyhood chum, Peter McLachlan, is around to help go through dad’s few earthly possessions.  Peter’s kind of a weirdo, being heavily into SETI and other far-out groups who look for anomalies in outer space, to say nothing of extraterrestrials.  But it’ll be good to have someone there to help dispose of the family keepsakes.

    So it is quite to George’s surprise to learn he has a sister he’s never heard about.  A twin sister, no less.  Taken away (or more accurately, given away) soon after birth, and placed in some sort of religious order in Rome.

    Say, wasn’t there some sort of family legend about one of George’s many-times-great-grandmother (and wasn’t her name Regina?) also being involved with a religious order?  But that was 15 centuries ago, back in the days right after the Roman Legions abandoned England.  Surely there’s no connection, right?


What’s To Like...
    Coalescent is yet another ambitious effort by Stephen Baxter, with four storylines and genres involving untold millennia cleverly interwoven into an overarching Poole family saga.  There’s a present-day story, one of Intrigue, that follows George’s efforts to locate his long-lost twin sister. There’s a Historical Fiction account of the legendary Regina.  There’s a Drama plotline involving a girl named Lucia, who wants out of her present-day situation in Rome.  And late in the novel, there’s a very small Science Fiction thread that takes place far in the future. 

    Personally, my favorite thread was Regina’s story, as all of Western Europe, and England especially, fall into the Dark Ages after the collapse of the Roman Empire.  Stephen Baxter’s attention to detail in this is impressive, and I liked that he went with gritty realism, as opposed to some King Arthur type of fantasy tale. I enjoyed learning about the “Wall Walk”, some nominal contact with Druids, and even a brief mention of an ancient religion near and dear to my heart – Mithraism.

    Life was tough in those first years after the fall of Rome.  So if frequent cussing isn’t your cup of tea, or you find things like rape, oral sex, slavery, homosexuality, and ritual procreation offensive, you might want to skip this book.

    The unifying theme to the book is Baxter’s hypothesis that societies – be they insects, mammals, or even humans – when placed in extremely stressful and existence-threatening conditions, will adapt a “hive mentality”, where everyone has a predetermined role that needs no explaining, and does it without fail or question.  The individual members of such a society won’t even be aware of this collective mentality, they will just naturally coalesce into it, hence the book’s title.  The three favorite maxims within the Order are “Ignorance is Strength”; “Listen to your Sisters”, and (most importantly) “Sisters matter more than Daughters”.

    The ending ties these disparate storylines together, with a twist or two to keep you on your toes.  This is a standalone novel, but several loose threads remain afterward (most notably, the Kuiper Belt Anomaly), which presumably pave the way for the sequel and the rest of the series.

 Kewlest New Word...
Eusocial (adj.) : of an animal species (usually insects) showing an advanced level of social organization, in which a single female or caste produces the offspring and non-reproductive individual cooperate in caring for the young.
Others : Extirpating (v.); Intaglio (n.).

    Rosa leaned forward and said softly, “Mamma- Mamma-“
    Maria looked up blearily, her eyes rheumy grey pebbles.  “What, what?  Who’s that?  Oh, it’s you, Rosa Poole.”  She glanced down at her book irritably, tried to focus, then closed the book with a sigh.  “Oh, never mind.  I always thought old age would at least give me time to read.  But by the time I’ve got to the bottom of the page I’ve forgotten what was at the top …”  She leered at Lucia, showing a toothless mouth.  “What an irony – eh?”  (pg. 232)

    “No Renaissance.  There would have been no need for it.  But there would have been none of the famous Anglo-Saxon tradition of individual liberty and self-determination.  No Magna Carta, no parliaments.  If the Romans had gone to the Americas they wouldn’t have practiced genocide against the natives, as we did.  That wasn’t the Roman way.  They’d have assimilated, acculturated, built their aqueducts and bathhouses and roads, the apparatus of their civilizing system.  The indigenous nations, in North and South America, would have survived as new Roman provinces.  It would have a richer world, maybe more advanced in some ways.”
    “But no Declaration of Independence.  And no abolition of slavery, either.”  (pg. 416)

 “Honesty doesn’t excuse ignorance.  But it helps.”  (pg. 504)
    For all its lofty aspirations, Coalescent doesn’t quite …um… coalesce into a smooth, seamless story.  First and foremost, the pacing is uneven.  The initial storyline, George’s search for his sister, moves much too slow, and takes a hundred+ page sabbatical in the middle of the book while waiting for the Lucia thread to catch up.  The Regina storyline ends early – well, she had to die sometime – and is sustained only by some sparse, interesting, but ultimately unrelated temporal updates about the Order’s activities.  And the futuristic plotline is woefully short, sparsely developed, and seems to exist only to give a glimpse of the sequels.

    To boot, there simply isn’t much Science Fiction here, and those who read Stephen Baxter novels for that genre are going to be disappointed.  OTOH, those, like me, whose favorite Baxter book is Evolution (reviewed here) will find one or more story threads in this book to be quite interesting.

    These would be some serious drawbacks, if it were not for Stephen Baxter being one heckuva an accomplished writer.  Hey, he kept me interested in the Drama storyline, and that’s not a genre that I'm particularly fond of.

    Overall, I found Coalescent to be a good, but not great effort by Baxter.  This may change depending of how well I like the sequel, Exultant, which sits within my Kindle, waiting to be read.

    8 Stars.  Add ½ star if the phrase “Kuiper Belt Anomaly” piques your science-fiction interest.  I have a feeling it plays an integral part in the rest of the books in this series.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Abominable Showman - Robert Rankin

    2015; 326 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Absurdism; British Humour; Time Travel; Fantasy.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    The year is 1927.  Her Madge, Queen Victoria is about to feted at her Double Sapphire Jubilee, which means she’s been on the Royal Throne for 90 years.  The celebration will take on Count Ilya Rostov’s spaceship “The Leviathan”, orbiting in space high above the Earth.  Dignitaries and Luminaries from all four planets in Queen Vic’s empire will be there.

    What?  You say Queen Victoria died in 1901 and there weren’t any such things as spaceships in the 1920’s? And that furthermore you can prove it because this is all historical record from almost a century ago?  I’m sorry, you must be living in an alternate universe.

    But there are those who say that things are (were) going to go amiss during the event, and that somebody needs to go back in time and put things aright again.

    And whoever agrees to do this ought to have a time-traveling sprout in his head, to lend him sage advice.

What’s To Like...
    The Abominable Showman is Robert Rankin’s most recent effort, and, as is true of any of his books, is chock full of absurdity, wit, plot twists, and clever dialogue.  The hero of the story is – well, we don’t really know, since his name is never revealed - and that takes some deft writing by Rankin.  But the plotline is easy to follow: he uses a 1st-person POV when the protagonist is involved, a 3rd-person POV for everyone else.

    As in any Rankin offreing, the dialogue and peripheral craziness take precedence over the main storyline.  A lot of the recurring gags appear again here, including the lady in a straw hat, Lazlo Woodbine, Fangio’s bar, and the mystical martial art, Dimac.  But the story’s events are ambitious and fascinating too.  The reader will take a walk in the Garden of Eden, play 3-D Clue, learn the secret of the Sun, travel through time and dimensions, meet God (his first name is Terrance, FYI), and last and probably least, save the World.

    There’s a MacGuffin, some great mixed drinks (rum and cocaine, mescaline and lemonade, etc.), and a bunch of sounds-dirty-but-isn’t euphemisms, such as buffing the landau, biffing the badger, and chasing pinky around the garden lady.

    The characters are fun to meet as well.  John ‘Boy’ Betjeman will entertain you with his little odes, and the three owls (Owl Jolson, Owl Capone, and Owleister Crowley) all contribute to the amusing antics.

    Despite all the literary tangents, everything builds steadily to an exciting, twisty and well-conceived ending.  This is a standalone novel, and a worthy addition to several series in Robert Rankin’s repertoire.

Kewlest New Word...
Catspaw (n.) : a person used to serve the purposes of another.
Others : Tumescence (n.); Beadle (n.); Tannoy (n.).

    “Well,” said the chap.  “You’ll be kept busy.  Just about every high-falooting swell on the four worlds will be attending the Jubilee ball.  The celebrations will be like nothing on Earth.”  The chap laughed loudly at what he considered to have been a rather witty remark.  I laughed too, but out of politeness.
    “Ninety years is a very long time for a queen to be on the throne,” I said.
    “Her bum would be rather sore,” said the chap and he laughed once more, and louder.  (loc. 1043)

    “Armadillos,” said Sir Jonathan Crawford once again.  “Crusty little nubnunks that scuttle about like bandy-legged butlers.”
    “Know the fellas well,” said the roguish Atters.  “Bagged a few in the Americas on a big game hunt last year.  “Had a motor cycle helmet made out of one.  Can vouch for their inefficiency in regards to cushioning the head.  Came a cropper, terrible business.”
    “You wore one on your head whilst riding a motor bicycle?” queried John ‘Boy’ Betjeman.
    “Me?  Heavens no.  Had the mater test it out for me.”  (loc. 2508)

Kindle Details...
    The Abominable Showman sells for $8.99 at Amazon, a decent price for the latest release by this author.  Robert Rankin has a slew of other books for the Kindle, all in the $4.99-$7.99 range, and most of them going for $6.99.

“If you are going to destroy our planet can I be on your side?”  (loc. 535)
    There’s nothing to quibble about in The Abominable Showman, with ample humor although it didn’t reach out and grab my funny bone the way a lot of other Robert Rankin books I’ve read did.  Still, it is a worthwhile read and we're really just nitpicking between a good book by the author and an excellent one.

    FWIW, a number of Amazon reviewers seemed a tad bit peeved that Mr. Rankin self-published this book and thus it is only available in the Kindle version.  My reading happens to be about equally divided between e-books and “real” books, so this didn’t make any difference to me.  I can’t say I prefer one over the other; both have their assets and drawbacks.

    One reader/reviewer offered some interesting insight into his displeasure in this regard.  He said he owns every one of Robert Rankin’s books, and they stand proudly in his bookcase.  But this one can’t take its place alongside the others, because it only exists in electronic form.


    8 Stars.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Cybill Disobedience - Cybill Shepherd

   2000; 275 pages.  Full Title : Cybill Disobedience: How I Survived Beauty Pageants, Elvis, Sex, Bruce Willis, Lies, Marriage, Motherhood, Hollywood, and the Irrepressible Urge to Say What I Think.  New Author(s)? : Yes.  Genre : Autobiography; Non-Fiction.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    Hey, do you remember that great comedy-drama (aka: “dramedy”) series, Moonlighting, starring Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis?  Man, I loved that show.  You could tell that there was great chemistry between the two stars.  That’s what made the series so funny.

    Well if you happen to be a fellow fan of Moonlighting, there’s a whole chapter in Civil Disobedience that focuses on that series, with Cybill Shepherd giving the reader a behind-the-scenes look at the goings-on of a hit show.  She devotes even more ink to her subsequent series, the eponymously titled Cybill.  Cybill-holics will be both enlightened and amazed.

    Oh, and BTW, that chemistry between Bruce and Cybill?  It’s strictly in the mind of the beholder.

What’s To Like...
    Cybill Disobedience chronicles the life of Cybill Shepherd from birth up through the cancellation of her series, “Cybill”, in 1998.  The book is divided up into 12 chapters, whose lengths vary considerably.  This is a “tell-all” book; Cybill doesn’t hold back on her family, her fellow Hollywood celebrities, and especially not on herself.

    Other than the Prologue, the book is chronological.  A new chapter indicates a new stage in Cybill’s life, with some of the topics being : Family Tree, Teenage Sex, Beauty Pageants & Modeling, Making Movies, and Hollywood Sex.   Mixed into all this busy-ness are several marriages and divorces, a role as a mistress, a couple of kids and an abortion. 

    The sex passages aren’t lurid, but are detailed as to who and when.  There is a lot of name-dropping, which I liked.  Among the people we get to meet (warts and all): Elvis, Dustin Hoffman Ryan O’Neal, Charles Grodin, Joey Bishop, Don Johnson, and many more.  The degree of interaction ranges from flirting, to making out, to rolling in the hay.

    OTOH, if you’re more interested in the life of a movie star, the book doesn’t disappoint either.  Shooting on location in Thailand may sound exotic, but not when there’s no running water or decent food.  Trying out for parts means you’re in competition with other attractive and desperate actresses, and it can be quite humbling when you’re passed over for someone else.  Even more crushing are the soul-killing, negative reviews

    The writing is good, and it is nice to see the ghostwriter getting due credit for her efforts.  I loved reading the details, both personal and professional.  Barbra Streisand refusing to cut the fingernails on one of her hands for What’s Up Doc?, leading to wardrobe and prop challenges.  The “duck walk” at the Peabody Hotel (I’ve seen it!).  How she came to get her unusual first name.

Kewlest New Word…
Cynosure  (n.)  :  a person or thing that is the center of attention or admiration.
Others : Sobriquet (n.)

    (W)omen who represent the cultural gamut of sizes and ages aren’t too welcome in any media.  After nearly a decade of murmuring “I’m worth it” for L’Oreal, I was fired because my hair got too old – approximately as old as I was.  It’s okay for Robert Mitchum to get up early in the morning and look like Robert Mitchum, but it was not okay for me to wake up in the morning and look like Robert Mitchum.  Fans are always asking why Bruce Willis and I don’t reprise our Moonlighting roles for the big screen.  The answer is: studio executives would consider me too old for him now.  (loc. 58)

    An old Hollywood joke (often repeated with the substitution of different names) lists the five stages of an actor’s career.  First: Who is Dustin Hoffman?  Second: Get me Dustin Hoffman.  Third: Get me a Dustin Hoffman type.  Fourth: Get me a young Dustin Hoffman.  Fifth: Who is Dustin Hoffman?  (loc. 1849)

Kindle Details...
    Cybill Disobedience sells for $0.99 at Amazon, which is a remarkably reasonable price for a tell-all book by a Hollywood headliner.  Unsurprisingly, this is Ms. Shepherd’s only literary offering.

 Perhaps I have karmic dues to pay for my participation in the cult of emaciated buffness.  (loc. 3616)
    If you read the reviews at Goodreads and Amazon, Cybill Disobedience gets savaged quite a bit.  At both sites, the overall rating barely clears 3.0, which is abysmal, particularly for a non-indie published book.  Words like “bitchy” and “spoiled” abound.

    When I was about 75% through the book, I still couldn’t see the cause of all the negativity.  Yes, there were some cutting remarks earlier, a couple even bordering on being snarky.  But nothing really vicious.  Then I hit the chapters on the show Cybill.  Then I understood.

    Cybill Shepherd has some serious bitterness over the handling of that show.  Just about everyone – from co-stars to directors to network suits – is viewed as being back-stabbers at best, traitors at worst.  Whether this was true or not, I cannot say.  But the harshness of Cybill’s words significantly detracts from the classiness of the first 9 chapters.

    Finally, and e-book contained a staggering number of typos.  It seemed like someone scanned the hardcover book, then didn’t bother to see if the text conversion was accurate.  Cybill has no control over this, of course, but you’d think a publishing company could afford at least one editor to proof the electronic version, and fix the errors.  Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

    8 Stars.  Despite the typos throughout, and the rancor at the end, I really enjoyed Cybill Disobedience.  I rarely read biographies, and can’t recall ever reading an autobiography before.  This one is worth your time.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Grave Peril - Jim Butcher

   2001; 436 pages.  New Author? : No.  Book 3 (out of 15) in the Dresden Files Series.  Genre : Urban Fantasy.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    Something’s gotten into the ghosts around Chicago.  Not literally, of course, ghosts have no substance to them, at least not over here in our world.  But they seem to have grown more powerful, and meaner too.

    So Chicago’s only practicing wizard, Harry Dresden, and his thinks-he’s-a-knight pal, Michael, have their work cut out for them as they do battle with a particularly big and beastly shade who's making mayhem in a nursery wing at the local hospital. Don’t let her name – Agatha Hagglethorn – lull you to sleep, Harry.  She can pack a mean wallop.

    But ghosts can’t beef themselves up, can they?  Something – or someone – has to be behind all this.  And besides all that, there seems to be a sudden increase in the sheer number of undead creatures crossing over from Nevernever into the real world.

    And that’s perhaps the scariest aspect of all.

What’s To Like...
    Grave Peril is the third book in Jim Butcher’s incredibly popular Dresden Files series, which I’ve enjoyed immensely so far, despite only reading it sporadically.  The action starts immediately, and really doesn’t let up until the final page.  It’s been a couple years since I read Book 2 (reviewed here), and I’d forgotten some of the supporting characters, but I quickly became reacquainted with everyone.  Bob’s back , who I do remember, and I liked meeting a new guy, Thomas, a vampire of the White Court.

    There are a bunch of nasty critters for Harry and Michael to deal with, from ghosts to hellhounds, from vampires to demons.  Perhaps the most dangerous of all is Harry’s godmother, Lea, who keeps trapping both our heroes in increasingly desperate “deals” in exchange for bailing them out of difficult scrapes.  Some of these are still unresolved at the end of the story, and no doubt will spill over into Book 4.  Nonetheless, Grave Peril is a complete story in itself.

    As always, there is an abundance of Butcher's/Dresden's wit and dry humor.  I also liked the Kenny Rogers reference, and the concept of Cassandra’s Tears.  The writing is good, and the storytelling is tight.  There are no “wasted” characters; if Butcher takes the time to develop someone, take note, because they will figure into the tale somewhere down the line.

Kewlest New Word ...
Sidhe (n) : the faerie people of Irish folklore.
Others : lambent (adj.); surcease (n.); demesne (n.).

    The male vampire opened his mouth, showing his fangs, and laughed.  “Peace, wizard.  We’re not here for your blood.”
    “Speak for yourself,” the girl said.  She licked her lips again, and this time I could see the black spots on her long, pink tongue.  Ewg.
    The male smiled and put a hand on her shoulder, a gesture that was half affection, half physical restraint.  “My sister hasn’t eaten tonight,” he explained,.  “She’s on a diet.”
    “Vampires on a diet?” Susan murmured beneath her breath.
    “Yeah,” I said back, sotto voce.  “Make hers a Blood Lite.”
    Susan made a choking sound.  (pg. 67)

    Thaumaturgy is traditional magic, all about drawing symbolic links between items or people and then investing energy to get the effect that you want.  You can do a lot with thaumaturgy, provided you have enough time to plan things out, and more time to prepare a ritual, the symbolic objects, and the magical circle.
    I’ve yet to meet a slobbering monster polite enough to wait for me to finish.  (pg. 146)

“Holy brillig and slithy toves, Batman.”  (pg. 377)
    I don’t really have any quibbles with Grave Peril, and I can see why the series is so popular, especially among teenagers.  There is some cussing, which prudes may find offensive, but it isn’t excessive, and I feel it adds to the tone of the tale.

    So too with the violence.  Wherever you find vampires, you’ll also find victims, and there is collateral damage whenever you’re fighting the Undead.  And poor Harry gets beat up more times than Bruce Willis in a Die Hard flick.

    It all builds to an exciting ending.  Despite knowing that Harry will prevail (there are after all another dozen books to go in the series), I still kept turning the pages, wondering how he was going to overcome the forces arrayed against him and Michael.  The “key mechanism” by which he turns thing around felt a bit clichéd to me, but I think most readers will have a better opinion of it.

    8½ Stars.  This is actually the fourth book in the series (Books 1, 2, 6, and now 3) that I’ve read and I have yet to be disappointed.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Queen Lucia - E.F. Benson

    1920; 244 pages.  New Author? : Yes, but not a new series.  Book #1 (out of 6) of E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia series.  Genre : Humor, British Fiction.  Overall Rating : 5½*/10.

    Mrs. Emmeline “Lucia” Lucas should like to be properly addressed as “Queen Lucia”.  Don’t take my word for it; ask her.  Oh, her queendom is rather small – a quaint little English village called Riseholme, close to London.   And her realm is limited to the social and cultural goings-on in Riseholme.  Don’t even think about holding a social event without first clearing it with her, and second inviting her.

    Lately some of Lucia’s Riseholme subjects seem to be acting a bit, well, rebellious.  There’s Daisy Quantock with her dabbling in the ridiculous practices of spiritualism.  And even Lucia’s best friend (not including her husband), Georgie Pillson, at times seems to be a bit reluctant in sharing all of the neighborhood gossip.

    But uneasy lies the head that wears the crown when a new socialite moves to Riseholme.  Someone who sings better than Lucia and speaks better Italian than her.  Someone who could seriously threaten the “Queen” in “Queen Lucia”.

    We wouldn’t start a war, of course.  That would be undignified.  But some spirited competition for the title is perhaps called for.

What’s To Like...
    Queen Lucia was published in 1920, so the reader gets a glimpse of life in small-town England a century ago.  The tone is lighthearted and pokes gentle fun at those trying to climb the post-Victorian social ladder.  Most of the characters are likeably obnoxious, which seems like an oxymoron.

    The book is written in “English”, as opposed to “American”, and I always like that.  It means the (Yankee) reader will encounter lots of strange words and phrases.  You can ride in a “fly”, which I gather is slang for a 1920’s cab.  And you can compliment someone by calling them a “brick”, which I’d never heard of before.

    Italian gets spoken quite often, a lot of times mangled.  I thought that was kewl.  Yet beneath all the social humor, I thought the reader gets a good glimpse of life back there and then.  You’re going to laugh at the dress codes – Hightum, Tightum, and Scrub.

    There is a running theme on spiritualism, which I gather was quite trendy in those days.  Daisy Quantock bounces from Christian Science to Uric Acid, to an Indian Guru, then to séances, followed by “automatic writing” (directed by a spirit) and from there to palm reading.  It all wraps up with magic pills that will make you grow several inches taller in just a couple weeks.  Let's hope the partaker of the pills remembers to stop taking them before he becomes a beanpole.  One gets the feeling that E.F. Benson took a dim view of all this.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Gladstone bag (n.; phrase) : A bag-like briefcase having two equal compartments joined by a hinge.  (Google-image it).
Others : diffy (adj.); tiffin (n.); truckled (v.); planchette (n.); apophthegm (n.); bibelots (n.); hip-bath (n.).

    With regard to religion finally, it may be briefly said that she believed in God in much the same way as she believed in Australia, for she had no doubt whatever as to the existence of either, and she went to church on Sunday in much the same spirit as she would look at a kangaroo in the Zoological Gardens, for kangaroos came from Australia.  (loc. 197)

    Georgie rapidly considered what Hermy’s and Ursy’s comments would be if, when they arrived tomorrow, he was found doing exercises under the tuition of a Guru.  Hermy, when she was not otter-hunting, could be very sarcastic, and he had a clear month of Hermy in front of him, without any otter-hunting, which, so she had informed him, was not possible in August.  This was mysterious to Georgie, because it did not seem likely that all otters died in August.  (loc. 482)

Kindle Details...
    The copyright on Queen Lucia has expired so you can always get it for free at Amazon.  There are also a couple versions of it that go for $0.99-$3.99 (including one annotated version) but why pay when you don’t have to?

“Vermouth always makes me brilliant unless it makes me idiotic, but we’ll hope for the best.”  (loc. 2184)
    Queen Lucia is E.F. Benson’s first book in the 6-volume “Lucia” series.  Curiously, I became aware of the series through the author Tom Holt, who I very much enjoy, and who wrote 2 sequels for it in the 1980’s.  The one I read is reviewed here.  Frankly, I think Holt improved things.

    The main problem is the action – there is none.  Our characters talk and plan and scheme and gossip.  But very little happens beyond that.  The secondary issue is the writing style. Benson frequently gets quite wordy about trivial things.  All of this leads to slow spots.  The book is short, but it took me a while to trudge through it.  It also doesn’t help that the titular character is not very heroic.

    Still, if you can make it through all the slow spots, you will be treated to an ending that has a twist or two, and is, I thought, very well done.  And that makes up for the tediousness.

    5½ Stars.  Add 2 stars if you really liked movies such as The Breakfast Club and Return of the Secaucus Seven.  They didn't have any action in them either, and some people seemed to love them.