Books that changed my life: 06 – Cyborg

Note: This blog originally appeared on tobinelliott.com

This is the sixth in a series of blogs where I go back and examine the books that deeply affected me and became part of the foundation of the person I am now.

Click on the titles to read the others

01 – Chariots of the Gods?
02 – Rocket Ship Galileo / Space Cadet
03 – The Illustrated Man
04 – Childhood’s End
05 – Rendezvous With Rama


After digging into the lighter SF of Heinlein and Bradbury, then going through Arthur C. Clarke’s brand of SF, known more as Hard SF because the science was more accurate, I found I preferred it for the most part.

Of course, SF has been known to stand not just for Science Fiction, but also for Science Fantasy, and Speculative Fiction. The difference is, those last two seemed to downplay the science. I liked my science. The more the better. So, I found myself casting about for more hard stuff.

Steve Austin - The Six Million Dollar ManThen in March, 1973, I watched a movie that knocked my socks off. It was The Six Million Dollar Man. For those old enough to remember the television series that ran for five years, no, this initial offering didn’t deliver the same amount of cheese the series eventually did. You saw no signs of Bigfoot here.

Jaime Sommers - The Bionic WomanInstead, Steve Austin was a little darker, somewhat James Bondish…at least in my four decades removed memory. I instantly fell in love with the character and the two subsequent movies. Then, in January of 1974, Steve Austin got his own series. Then Jaime Sommers got her own series with The Bionic Woman. Then Farrah Fawcett starred on the show. I was in frigging heaven.Farrah Fawcett as...ah, who cares, it was friggin' Farrah!

But I digress.

I was learning to be watchful of certain phrases, or key lines on my television screen. And I saw, with this series, something to the effect of “Based on the novel Cyborg by Martin Caidin.

There was a book? Hot damn! I immediately sought it out and, of course, with the popularity of the series, it wasn’t hard to find.

And what I got was a technically more accurate bionic man. A cyborg, or cybernetic organism. I can’t tell you how much I loved that term.

CyborgThe first half of the book detailed Lt. Col. Steve Austin’s horrific crash in a test flight gone wrong, leaving him with just his right arm. And it detailed the operations that then provided him with a new arm, two legs, a camera hidden in his missing eye, a steel skull plate and a radio transmitter built into a rib. The camera did not help Austin see, so none of that boopboopboopboopboop zoom vision the show is famous for, but he could remove it and take pictures. And he also had a finger that he could twist to arm a poison dart to shoot at someone. How cool is all that?

What he didn’t have was the super-strength of the show. So, no lifting a car with that arm (because it would crush the still-only-bone vertebrae in his back), and no running at 60 mph (because, yeah, anyone that’s stuck their head out of a car moving that fast knows what a bitch it is to breathe…and to keep that perfect Lee Majors hairstyle).

So, he wasn’t necessarily the superman they portrayed on television. And I wasn’t disappointed at all. In fact, I preferred the literary Steve Austin. Not only was he more accurate, but he was a lot darker. He would kill without concern. And he got the women. In fact, when he’s teamed with an experienced female operative (who’s also hot) and she demands to know if he can still function sexually, then beds him to remind him he’s still human, well, my little twelve-year-old brain pretty much fried its circuits.

But really, that’s what the book was about. What makes us human? When much of a human is replaced by machinery, can they still be considered human? The title of the novel was Cyborg, not Human With Some Machine Parts. And the story is about how Steve Austin learns to first deal with, then finally accept the new limbs–and the new abilities–he has. He adapts to a new normal.

How did this book change my life?

Cyborg taught me that a lot of the stuff they threw at me on television was junk compared to the source material. Don’t get me wrong, I still watched every single episode of every bionic person on television through the Seventies. Even when they had Bigfoot. Even when they had William Shatner turn into the world’s smartest man. Even when they had Barney Miller, the Seven Million Dollar Man. Even when they brought in the bionic dog.

I watched it all and loved it all.

But not as much as the book.

And Caidin also eased me into stories involving covert ops.

But most of all, he was the first one to give me a story wrapped around the paradox of being a man in a mostly machine body. Something that would come to be explored again and again, through stories like Robocop (the original movie, not the crap sequels or remake), and even, to a point, Iron Man.

And while this was mostly an adventure novel with a science fiction heart, it was also very much an adult novel. Yes, so were the ones I read by Bradbury and Clarke, but I understood all of this one. I got it all. I caught the nuance. I understood the central who am I? question.

And not only did I understand it all and get the core premise…Caidin wrapped it up in a novel that I enjoyed the hell out of. So much so, I went on to read a ton of his other stuff, mostly enjoying it all as well.

So, this book changed my life because, for the first time, I felt I could read adult novels, and not just ones that were science fiction. I had enjoyed this book, even the second half where he was a spy in the Middle East. If I could enjoy that, what else was out there, just waiting to crawl into my mind?Martin Caidin

Though I’d previously had the universe opened to me, I realized now it was a universe with a very narrow science fiction path. This one opened a side door and let me see into an entirely different world. By taking the science fiction aspect and, instead of travel to a planet or distant star, Caidin instead looked inward to what it meant to be a man, to be human. He made it personal again.

Thank you, Martin.


Did you ever read something that changed your life?

Did you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you hadn’t been able to read those words? What if you couldn’t read? How different would your life be?

What if you couldn’t read Facebook status updates? What if you couldn’t read well enough to Google whatever you need to know? What if you couldn’t read to your kids? What if you couldn’t read a street sign? What if you couldn’t read the instructions on the pill bottle? What if you couldn’t fill out that job application?

What if you couldn’t read?

I’m the person I am now because I can read. I couldn’t imagine a life without a constant influx of words to entertain me, to irritate me, to make me laugh and make me cry.

But I know there’s many out there, and I’m trying to help them. Please, if you read and enjoyed this blog, or if it made you think back to a book that changed your life, please consider helping me help those who are trying to read.

I’m participating in the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a 72-hour event where 40 writers try and write as much as they can, while raising money to fund Literacy and Numeracy programs for adults in the Simcoe/Muskoka area. And the program works.

One of the lucky people who went through their literacy program has now joined our group as a writer. How often can you donate money and look at the walking, talking, reading and writing result?

Any amount is sincerely appreciated.

To find out more about the Muskoka Novel Marathon, click here.
To donate, click here.

Please. Help me change someone’s life through reading.

Muskoka Novel Marathon donation page - just click on the pic

Muskoka Novel Marathon donation page – just click on the pic

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Books that changed my life: 05 – Rendezvous With Rama

Note: This blog originally appeared on tobinelliott.com

This is the fifth in a series of blogs where I go back and examine the books that deeply affected me and became part of the foundation of the person I am now.

Click on the titles to read the others

01 – Chariots of the Gods?
02 – Rocket Ship Galileo / Space Cadet
03 – The Illustrated Man
04 – Childhood’s End


Rendezvous With Rama - with its cool die-cut cover in paperback

Rendezvous With Rama – with its cool die-cut cover in paperback

Arthur C. Clarke was now a known entity to me, having read Childhood’s End. Then, shortly after that I discovered Rendezvous With Rama. Now, where I live, a short distance from a casino known as Rama, Rendezvous With Rama would take on a completely different meaning, but with Clarke, this is a book about ideas.

I found Rama to be a much more accessible book than Clarke’s Childhood’s End novel. The characters were straightforward, with no surprises–and stunningly little characterization. Years later, when I went back to reread Rama in preparation for continuing on with the Rama series, this lack of characterization stood out quite strongly. No one will ever read this book to gain an insight into the human condition.

Oh, and those followup Rama novels? Rama II, The Garden of Rama, and Rama Revealed? Yeah, they’re terrible. Though, to be fair, I can’t honestly say that about the final one, Rama Revealed, because I gave up halfway through the third one, Garden. The less said about them, the better.

The inside of Rama...and what I first saw when I opened that die-cut cover

The inside of Rama…and what I first saw when I opened that die-cut cover

But that first one, the one that started them…that’s a different story. The basic idea was that an alien spacecraft, a tube 16 kms wide and 50 kms long, slides into our solar system and a team is sent out to explore it. Inside, they find an environment that’s somewhat Earth-like, with breathable air. Then the fun begins. The team explores the ship.

Along the way, they find life…or do they? The beings are more like robot servants, yet there is some biology to them. Clarke refers to them as biots, biological robots.

And then there’s the glimpses into the builders, dubbed the Ramans. They never find an Raman, but they do find a uniform that suggests the basic size and shape of the Ramans. Then there’s the technology of the ship itself. The strangely alien cities, the massive sea that encircles Rama, the three lines of lights that run the length of the ship, the sharks, underwater biots that seem to reclaim any garbage or broken tech, and the propulsion system for Rama, something Clarke referred to as a reactionless drive.

That one alone–the reactionless drive–captured my attention. A system of propulsion where thrust is generated without any momentum exchange. Basically, picking yourself up by your own bootstraps. It completely violated Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

But not here. Not in Clarke’s universe. And I found that endlessly exciting.

Even more, Clarke never ever showed you the Ramans. You never met them, only their products and creativity. And that blew me away.

How did this book change my life?

This book was the one that showed me that an author didn’t necessarily have to reveal everything. Everything I’d read up to this time laid everything out on the table at one point or another. Everything was revealed. I always found out the Great and Terrible Oz was simply a man pulling levers behind a curtain.

But not here. Here, Clarke gave us a story that actually posed more questions than it answered. Who were the Ramans? Why did they build these ships? Were they ever on them? Did they die out? Why did they do everything in threes? Where were they from? Where were the ships going?

Clarke was very content to give us enough to spark our imagination, then sit back and say, “I’ve done enough. You figure it out.” But in a good way.

Clarke taught me that less could be more, especially when it came to story. It’s a lesson I would learn again and again through other novels, movies and in life. But this was the first.

He was the first to not give me all the answers, and make me enjoy that fact.

Unfortunately, in the subsequent books in the series, they did just that, and the reality was so much less than what I’d conjured myself that I had to stop reading. It was a mistake to pull back that curtain. The same feeling I have with the last couple of Thomas Harris Hannibal novels as well.

So, instead, I choose to remember only that first one. Rendezvous With Rama, the only book. No series.

Thank you once again, Arthur.Surely the "C" in Arthur C. Clarke stood for "cool"

Surely the “C” in Arthur C. Clarke stood for “cool”


Did you ever read something that changed your life?

Did you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you hadn’t been able to read those words? What if you couldn’t read? How different would your life be?

What if you couldn’t read Facebook status updates? What if you couldn’t read well enough to Google whatever you need to know? What if you couldn’t read to your kids? What if you couldn’t read a street sign? What if you couldn’t read the instructions on the pill bottle? What if you couldn’t fill out that job application?

What if you couldn’t read?

I’m the person I am now because I can read. I couldn’t imagine a life without a constant influx of words to entertain me, to irritate me, to make me laugh and make me cry.

But I know there’s many out there, and I’m trying to help them. Please, if you read and enjoyed this blog, or if it made you think back to a book that changed your life, please consider helping me help those who are trying to read.

I’m participating in the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a 72-hour event where 40 writers try and write as much as they can, while raising money to fund Literacy and Numeracy programs for adults in the Simcoe/Muskoka area. And the program works.

One of the lucky people who went through their literacy program has now joined our group as a writer. How often can you donate money and look at the walking, talking, reading and writing result?

Any amount is sincerely appreciated.

To find out more about the Muskoka Novel Marathon, click here.
To donate, click here.

Please. Help me change someone’s life through reading.

Books that changed my life: 02 – Rocket Ship Galileo / Space Cadet

Note: This post originally appeared on tobinelliott.com

This is the Second in a series of blogs where I go back and examine the books that deeply affected me and became part of the foundation of the person I am now.

Click on the titles to read the others

01 – Chariots of the Gods?


Somewhere around 1971 or 1972, the year I would have been in Grade Four, I somehow discovered the school library. Now, before that, of course we had been trooped down to the library regularly, and had books read to us by the librarian. But none of the books we’d been read had ever made an impression on me. None of them were as exciting as the science fiction movies I was regularly watching on television. How could some kid’s adventures on boring old Earth compete with spaceships and aliens?

I don’t remember what ultimately shook me from my stupor and got me to walk around the library to scan the books, but I do remember finally seeing a section that was labelled Science Fiction and I stopped dead in my tracks.

Wait a minute. Hold on. There’s actually science fiction books? No way!

I scanned the titles, with very little grabbing my attention. Some seemed just too…old…or boring…for me. Then I came across this author that seemed to not only have a bunch of books, but ones with titles that seemed to jump out and grab at my eyeballs. Robert A. Heinlein. How the heck was that even pronounced? Hyne-line? Heen-leen? Didn’t matter. He wrote what appeared to be cool books. I started with Rocket Ship Galileo, simply because it was about some kids that work with their uncle to convert a rocket ship and travel to the moon. So…here was a kid’s adventures…but mashed up with spaceships and aliens. Well, I wasn’t sure on the aliens, but still…spaceships!

It involved kids getting to the moon and discovering those dastardly Nazis had established a moon base. How evil! How unspeakably…cool!

I ripped through that book like Elvis through a fried-banana sammich. And I wanted more. More!

The next time I was in that library, I went straight over to the SF section again and quickly found the “H” authors. And the next book that called to me was Space Cadet. Okay, this one had a guy actually signing up for and becoming a Space Cadet.

Sidenote: Ah, the early Seventies. Back when Space Cadet was still a term that was considered cool (well, at least it was to me, then again, I was a nerd), instead of someone who’s shockingly lacking in the required volume of marbles. End of sidenote.

So this one had even more action and adventure. This one went farther than the Moon. Hell, we were out in the asteroids, we were on Venus. And…spaceships!

Over the next few weeks, I proceeded to burn through every single Heinlein book in that library. And when I ran out of his, then I moved on to…

Well, that’s for the next post, isn’t it?

How did these books change my life?

I lumped Rocket Ship Galileo and Space Cadet together because, quite frankly, I read them back to back with virtually no break in between. These were my first forays into literary SF, instead of the crazed aliens that wanted to take over our planet every Saturday night on television. And, aside from the Chariots of the Gods? book, these were the first novels I’d read.

Heinlein gave me characters a little older than myself that went on grand adventures throughout our solar system. He captured my attention with young protagonists, something a horror author would do a few years hence, and gave me a rollicking good story. Well, at least, a story that the almost ten-year-old me thought of as rollicking. I learned that novels didn’t just have to be about stuff that happened on Earth.

But more than that, he gave me imagination. Like I said, I hadn’t read anything like this before, so all my SF came from Star Trek reruns and SF movies from the 50s and 60s. I was so used to seeing the strings holding the spaceships, and the cardboard buildings wobbling under Godzilla’s rubber foot. I still loved the stories, but the visuals were flawed. I always had to force myself to ignore the zippers on the back of the beast and the cheesy special effects. But when I read…oh, when I read, the visuals were what I created in my head...and they were so much better.

Heinlein gave me that.

Heinlein showed me a universe that was vastly larger and more exciting than I had ever truly expected up to that point. Heinlein gave me wonder. He filled my mind with questions, with more worlds to explore. He gave me the hunger to read.

These days, if I’m ever asked who are my most influential authors, I’ll throw out a series of fairly well-known authors. I’ll talk about books I’ve read in the past couple of decades. But it occurs to me that, without Heinlein first hooking me, I may never have gone on to discover any of those others. He was the one that got me started. He’s the one who wrote the first novels that I actually found on my own or sought out and enjoyed.

Heinlein was my first discovery, and he planted seeds in a garden that continues to bloom more than four decades later. Hell, I’ve even begun planting my own seeds.

Thank you Robert.


Did you ever read something that changed your life?

Did you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you hadn’t been able to read? Stop and think about that for a second: what if you couldn’t read? How different would your life be?

What if you couldn’t read Facebook status updates? What if you couldn’t read well enough to Google whatever you need to know? What if you couldn’t read to your kids? What if you couldn’t read a street sign? What if you couldn’t read the instructions on the pill bottle? What if you couldn’t fill out that job application?

What if you couldn’t read?

I’m the person I am now because I can read. I couldn’t imagine a life without a constant influx of words to entertain me, to irritate me, to make me laugh and make me cry.

But I know there’s many out there that can’t read, or at least, can’t read well, and I’m trying to help them. Please, if you read and enjoyed this blog, or if it made you think back to a book that changed your life, please consider helping me help those who are trying to read.

I’m participating in the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a 72-hour event where 40 writers try and write as much as they can, while raising money to fund Literacy and Numeracy programs for adults in the Simcoe/Muskoka area. And the program works. One of the lucky people who went through their literacy program has now joined our group as a writer. How often can you donate money and look at the walking, talking, reading and writing result?

If you can donate, any amount is sincerely appreciated.

To find out more about the Muskoka Novel Marathon, click here.
To donate, click here.

BiblioBabes.ca reviews VANISHING HOPE

The very beautiful Kat over at BiblioBabes apparently hounded Colum McKnight from Dreadful Tales (which is currently running an excellent Women in Horror series this month that you should check out) after his review of VANISHING HOPE and he promptly sent her off her very own signed copy, which she then reviewed herself.

She opens with

“I wanted it to be longer.  I wanted more details, I wanted to read more about Talia and her activities, and I DEFINITELY want to read the next book.”

You can read the rest of the interview here.  And check out the rest of their site.  They’ve got some really interesting shit going on over there, let me tell you!

VANISHING HOPE is published by Burning Effigy Press and is available on their site or, if you’re local to the Durham Region (oh hell, even if you’re not), drop me a line and I’ll be happy to get a signed copy to you.

And if you do head over to Burning Effigy, check out the other awesome books they have on offer.  There’s not a stinker in the bunch, and I can honestly say that…I’ve read damn near all of them.