Saturday, August 23, 2014

Hard Crash by Christie Golden - a short story review

Here was a good stand-alone story of finding a crashed ship on an inhabited world.  The government of the planet calls for Federation help to remove the alien vessel.

Once the da Vinci arrives nothing they first suspect about the ship is correct.

What we are left with is a touching story of an ill-fated civilization with a type of technology we've had little exposure to.

It's good to read a story that does not have an aggressive antagonist but, instead, a misunderstood one.  This goes to the hart of what Star Trek is really all about: discovery.

Well done indeed.

Her website is HERE.

Christie Golden
Cover art of the anthology

Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Review #104 - Star Trek: Seekers - Second Nature by David Mack

Book 28 of 52
Page count - 301

Hoo Boy! Was this book ever a ride!

As this is a spin-off from the Vanguard series I was reluctant to start here but the cover has a big fat number ONE on it, so it seemed like a good place.  Sure enough, there were references to the previous series but David Mack did a great job adding the exposition to make THIS story work.  

And what a story; in a nice departure from typical Star Trek adventure, the crew compliment of the USS Sagittarius is 14.  It is a tiny scout ship making for tight quarters.  What I loved best about this book was the dialog.  Mack showed a more relaxed crew with a sense of humor and how these tightly-packed people tease each other; get on each others' nerves and work together.  This crew felt more real, more believable, less formal than what we've seen on other star ships.

I felt like I was reading an old-fashioned science fiction pulp novel. I mean that in the best way possible; this opening chapter, in what I hope is a long running series, was pure escapist fun.  Best of all, there's even a cliff-hanger ending.

This is set in the TOS timeline and makes references to Kirk and the Enterprise for context, and to encourage you to dig out your DVD box set to watch the episode that has a bearing on this story.

The story starts like you'd imagine; the Sagittarius is sent to investigate a strange energy reading on a sparsely populated pre-warp world.  The race that lives there all commit a ritual suicide when they reach the age of 17 or 18.  This is done to avoid something the natives call The Change.  The Starfleet crew are trying to understand these people when - the Klingons show up.  Classic!

The wisecracking dialogue and the pacing make this near-stand-alone a must read.

I am so looking forward to book 2 because I want to see what comes next.

Stay tuned travelers.

David Mack

Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review #103 - Starworld by Harry Harrison - Book 3 of the To The Stars trilogy

Book  27 of 52
Page count 161

At long last I've read the last book in the series.

Trilogies - they can be frustrating; the middle book especially.  The second volume of this trilogy was such a departure from the promising first that I and no desire to pick up the third for four months. Thankfully this last volume was a return to the fun Cold War-like setting but this time much if it taking place on board ships in space.

Revolution has come to Earth and Jan Kulozik is leading the charge for freedom from the oppressive government.  Right in the middle of things is Jan's antagonist Thurgood-Smyth, his evil and manipulative brother-in-law.  Smyth is by far my favourite character in this story; he is such a self-serving, ambitious, back-stabbing bureaucrat that I just wanted to take a shower after reading the parts of the book where he was present.

I love hard science fiction that pokes holes in popular tropes of the genre.  There is one scene in this third volume, that I just loved, where the opening scene of the movie Star Wars is discredited for the fantasy that it is.  After explaining how there can be no lasers in space warfare the engineer explains to Jan how, to truly fight in space, you have to use tried-and-true methods from hundreds of years in the past.  I won't tell you what it is since I think it was the best moment in the book and made everything else seem more plausible.

There was some great interplay between Kulozik and Thurgood-Smyth and, even in the final pages, you are never quite sure what Smyth is really up to.

So, was the story, as a whole, any good?  Well ... It was okay.  The second book really ruined things for me, there were some good moments there but not enough to say that it was worth reading.  It does, however resonate with you as you read the third novel.  These are rather short books, making the whole thing less of a commitment than most modern trilogies.  But it also suffers from the short page count, in that some leaps in plotting and simplification of character development occurs.

Up until now I've stayed away from the literary form, trilogies I mean.  They seem like such a commitment; three books to tell one story?  For my self, I am more comfortable with a series, you can dive in at just about any point, knowing the books are linked but that the author will give you enough back story to allow you to understand the book you are reading.

Original cover.

Harry Harrison

Monday, August 4, 2014

Book Review #102 - Star Trek: Destiny: Gods of Night by David Mack

Book 26 of 52
Page Count - 269

I had read this book once before and gave up on it.  I knew it was part of a trilogy, however I found the book so slowly paced that I was uninterested in perusing it further.

Then along comes the Literary Treks podcast and I learn that this trilogy is the key to the entire Star Trek universe reset.  Since all the shows are done and there is no chance of further movies, Pocket Books now has the freedom to alter the path of the characters how they want.  

With this trilogy the separate shows of The Next Generation, Deep Space 9 and Voyager are folded into one giant story.  This is appropriate since they all occupy the same time period.  Even some of the characters that have only lived in the novels are brought in here too.

Based on what Christopher Jones and Matt Rushing, the hosts of Literary Treks, said about this series, I bought the 828 page, door stop of a book, omnibus edition collecting the tree novels. 

In my mind, if you're writing a trilogy, you might want to bore people with the second book, not the first one.  I remember why I quit it in the first place - pacing.

I'm shocked that the death of millions of people from Borg attacks could feel as though it is a footnote to the more "important" story of what happened to the crew of the NX-02 Columbia or of Troy and Riker's attempt to have a baby.  

We follow four different story lines here, Captain Hernandez and the Columbia, Captain Jean Luc Picard of the Enterprise, Captain Will Riker of the Titan and Captain Ezri Dax of the Aventine; who are all chasing the mystery of the Columbia's disappearance.  Some of these captains don't know it yet as they are looking for clues as to how the Borg are getting into Federation space without being detected but it is all linked to the Columbia.

The only plot line that is even remotely interesting is the Enterprise because they are engaged with the Borg directly.   What goes on with all the other plot lines is exceedingly dull and mostly revolves around folks talking about tricorder readings. But I kept with it and things got more interesting at the end of the book where two of the four plot lines came together.

I will keep with it because I trust Rushing and Jones and because I want to get into this new universe.  Plus, when I hold a book that is over 800 pages long it's understandable that the first 270 might be about the set up.  I think I would have been happier if each of the separate plot lines were broken up into smaller chunks and if there was more action within.  I don't need explosions on every page but I also don't want computer readouts and endless descriptions of alien crew members.  To be honest, I'd be much happier if Star Fleet had more humans on board so we could enjoy some story telling.

So far, I'm not a fan.

David Mack's website is HERE.

Original cover of the first volume.

David Mack

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Fatal Error By Keith R A DeCandido a short story review.

Mission #2 for the crew of the da Vinci. I do like the serial nature of the story telling here. 

The SCE team respond to a distress call from a super computer.  This computer controls all aspects of life on the planet Eerlik.  It controls the economy, traffic and even the weather, but things are not going as they should; the computer has been infected with a virus.

It doesn't take long before the crew is tangled up in something bigger than they expected. 

It was a pretty good story except for one thing; it fell into a Lord of the Rings vibe where much of the action revolved around walking. The away team just walked for miles and miles getting trapped behind force fields, random doors and being chased by bad guys.  It went on so long that I began to get frustrated with the story.

After investing so much time walking to the computer core I was very disappointed the problems were solved in a matter of just a few paragraphs. There was certainly some character growth, which I like but, over all, the plot was just a bit thin.

One of the good things about short stories is that they are short.  I'm glad I didn't pay for this one individually.

The cover art of the omnibus eddition

Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Report #101 - The Gemini Agent by Rick Barba a Starfleet Academy novel.

Book 25 of 52
Page count 195

Another installment in the Starfleet Academy series of Young Adult novels set in the JJ Abrams version of Star Trek. 

I actually like these books since they show Kirk as a goofball twenty-something with all the glimmers of the adult he will become. 

Strangely I've been reading the series backwards, this is book 3 and my earlier review was book 4.  This is because I've been reading the books as I've received them from the library.  The books can be read in any order but I usually like to start with the first. 

This book was quite good with quick pacing and a nice twist ending.  The Romulans are the Big Bad in this one and the author captured their methods very well. Romulans are known for their deceptions, spying and covert missions.  The stretch in the plot was how this involved Kirk or, more precisely, why it involved him. If you're going to influence an enemy would you target a student or would you go after are person in power?

The conclusion explained the reasoning employed but I was still left thinking the plausibility was a bit suspect.  That being the only fault in the story I can say that it was a fun read and I'm glad I opened the covers.  The author's ability to capture the Chris Pine version of Kirk and McCoy's voice is to be celebrated.  I just love McCoy in this new version of Star Trek.

There was one exchange between Kirk and McCoy that I just loved; it occurs very early in the book.

McCoy just glared at Kirk.

"You're over that aviophobia thing, Right?" Asked Kirk distractedly. 

"You mean the fear of dying in something that flies?" said McCoy.  "No."

"Ah, so that explains your surly demeanor."

"I'm always like this."

Dialogue always made Star Trek special and this book kept that tradition alive.

This was definitely a likable story even if the plot was a bit weak.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Belly of the Beast, a Star Trek SCE story by Dean Wesley Smith

The original cover art of the story.
I've known about the Star Trek SCE (Starfleet Core of Engineers) series for years; I've even read a few.  They first saw the light of day in 2000 just when eBooks were in their embryonic stage.  Proving, once again, that science fiction fans are early adopters of new tech.

Most of the stories have been collected in omnibus volumes; I've purchased the first one called, Have Tech, Will Travel that contains the first four stories.

Story #1 kicks the series off with a bang.  We are dropped right into a battle involving Captain Jen-Luc Picard's Enterprise and an enormous ship of unknown origin.

The Enterprise is involved in a long-duration battle with this ship that resembled the Death Star of Star Wars fame, but with two rings; one running pole to pole and the other along the equator.  With a bit of luck the Enterprise disables the vessel.

Now it's up to the Starfleet Core of Engineers to survey the ship and to acquire as much knowledge the can about the species that constructed it.  This is where Captain Gold and his ship the USS da Vinci come in; they are the flag ship of the Core of Engineers and are tasked with being "fixers" for Starfleet.  It is also here that we catch up with a minor character from the TNG TV series; ensign Sonya Gomez, who famously spilled hot chocolate on Captain Picard, she is now a Commander and head of the SCE team on the da Vinci.
USS da Vinci

The alien ship is so big the crew nicknames it The Beast.  At first look the ship gives every impression that it is a cruise ship; filled with luxury suites and the rings are discovered to be promenades that are transparent from the inside.  Every indication show that the ship could hold thousands of people but there is no one to be found.  A thorough search is begun and I can tell you there is something lurking deep in the centre of the thing.  Oh, my god - yuck!

This was a terrific story and one that will immediately make you want to read the next installment.

It's always good to see the universe of Star Trek expanded to include new characters and ships and to see more of Starfleet.  I've always been a fan of Star Trek and I'm happy there is more of it to experience.

Dean Wesley Smith's website is HERE.

The cover art of the omnibus edition.
Dean Wesley Smith

Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Report #100 - The Assassination Game by Alan Gratz

Book 24 of 52
Page count 320

This is the first book I found that is based on the new series of movies made by J.J. Abrams.  It fits nicely in the time line of the first movie where we were not shown Kirk's experiences at the Academy.

I don't ordinarily turn to teen fiction simply because - I'm not a teen.  But I thought I'd give this one a go, and you know what?  It was a blast.

There is a lot going on in this book; there are aliens on campus who get tangled up in some political intrigue when a couple terrorist attacks take place.  There is the threat of war and throughout the story there is a cool game of tag being played. 

It took me a few chapters to get into this book and, to be honest, there were no surprises here.  You could guess the villain quite quickly but that was okay too.  What I got was the paper equivalent of a popcorn movie.  It was just plain fun.

The author should be commended; I think he got the voices of each of the characters spot on.  I was particularly taken by Leonard "Bones" McCoy.  I am a massive fan of Karl Urban; I just love his version of the character and the author got him just right.

He also portrayed Kirk very, very well.  The whole cast is well represented here and I certainly recommend it for anybody who likes the new version movies.

Alan Gratz blog is HERE.

Alan Gratz

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The More Thigs Change by Scott Pearson - A short story review.

Fantastic cover art.
At first I was going to include this as part of my Book A Week Challenge but since the story comes in at around 90 pages, that would have felt like a bit of a cheat.

I grew up with Star Trek during it's re-run phase from the 70's and 80's and always loved Kirk, Spock and McCoy.

This was an eBook original set six months after the events of Star Trek The Motion Picture.  You know the one; where V'ger (Voyager 6) comes back to Earth.

In this story we find Dr. Christine Chapel in a shuttlecraft with Spock as they are transporting an ailing Commissioner Audrid Dax to a Trill ship for medical attention.

This is mostly a character piece exploring the relationship between Chapel and Spock.  Fans will like the expansion of the story of Chapel's love for Spock that was touched on in episodes of the TV series.  It also does a nice job of establishing the Trill species into Star Trek lore.  I believe we first got to know the Trill during the Deep Space 9 TV series.

Along the way they encounter some trouble, as you might expect, and come under fire by some unidentified (until the end) villains.

The author did an admirable job of character growth, interwoven with some good action and dialogue.

I felt the author's writing was so strong that he could have very easily expanded this to a novel-length story and found myself wishing that was the case.

Like they say; "Leave them wanting more."

Visit the author's website HERE.

Scott Pearson

Monday, July 14, 2014

Book Report #99 - Star Trek DTI: Forgotten History by ChristopherL.Bennett

Book 23 of 52
Page count - 346

I recently discovered an entire suite of podcasts dedicated to the Star Trek universe; TREK FM.

Trek Lit has been the one show I started listening to in earnest, it is hosted by Christopher Jones and Matthew Rushing.

In some side comments Rushing mentioned how much he liked the Department of Temporal Investigations series of books. This series tries to link together and explain the consequences of specific time travel events in the Star Trek universe.  I purchased this book on the strength of Rushing's enthusiasm.

I had my first "Oh, cool!" Moment by page 13 when a starship, of Federation design, is discovered drifting within a temporal anomaly.  She was fitted with the original engines of the first variation of the Enterprise.  Remember how the Enterprise was given new engines in the first movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture?  Ever wonder what happened to the old ones?  Me neither, but it's cool to think something had.
Top: original design for the TV show.  Below: from The Motion Picture.

Chapter 3 from page 55 to 81 completely blew my mind!  Which, sadly, means I didn't understand a word of it.

I read the first half of the book the day I started it.  By about the middle, things started to get complicated as we traveled between timelines and alternate realities.  The techno-babble became thick and unavoidable. I put the book down and didn't get back into it until a few days later, by which time I had forgotten some things and was lost.  I kept reading and fell back into it but, I've got to say, give yourself a good block of time to read it, since a continuous read is best for it.

I'm sure my fractured reading of the book played against my enjoyment of it but it WAS a bit confusing; there was so much tech-talk and movement between timelines that I found it overly complex.  The tying up of loose ends was very entertaining but I saw that I missed a lot after reading the acknowledgments where the author listed every source of inspiration for the book.

Obviously I am not the geek I think I am.

Would I recommend the book?  Well, sure...  I had inconsistent reading opportunities and the book required more attention than I gave it.  I'd have to say; if you can give the novel the attention it deserves, then you're going to like it.

Christopher L. Bennett.

Trek FM can be found HERE.

Christopher L. Bennett's website is HERE.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Book Report #98 - An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield.

Book 22 of 52
Page count - 282

Sticking to space I decided some non-fiction would be a nice choice.  I've been a fan of Hadfield's for a while now.  There are only a handful of Canadian astronauts out there; he made the best of his career and simply glowed Candian-ness.

The book itself is just wonderful.  It was not what I expected - a simple memoir explaining his career.  More valuable, to the reader, he explained his attitude and work ethic.  It wasn't just about his accomplishments but how he did little things; how hard work, determination and a willingness to simply do what is needed were the keys to his success. 

His positive and simple message made me feel like I was not living up to my potential.  I decided to emulate his attitude and started to "sweat the small stuff" and to "aim to be a zero" which are the titles to two chapters that made strong impressions on me.

There is plenty of space stuff to keep anybody interested in space exploration happy but the personal ethics presented make this book special.

Below is a YouTube clip promoting the book.  It does a good job of showing the value of reading it.

Chris Hadfield's Wiki page is HERE

Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Report #97 - A Time To Harvest by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore

Book 21 of 52
Page Count - 330

The second book in the A Time To Sow/ A Time To Harvest duology was a very satisfying payoff. 

The troubles that were plaguing the Dokaalan people, it was discovered, were more than just unfortunate accidents.  The Dokaalan's were involved in a very difficult project of trying to terraforming a nearby planet.  But acts of sabotage and disagreements within the population threatened to destroy what was left of this race.

The troubles that had to be addressed were many and interrelated.  The authors did a wonderful job of tying things up and creating a bad guy that was so good that I stopped reading to enjoy the "Oh, cool!" moment.  I love intelligent, pragmatic bad guys and the baddies in this book are great.  They are highly resourceful and able to turn unexpected events to their own advantage.  Plus, and this is something I always loved in Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels, when they were caught they merely smiled with a "Well, you've got me." attitude then were willing to discuss things in a civilized way.

This whole series is building up to the movie Nemesis so it will be fun to see how the crew gets to where they are at the start of that story.  Until then, we get to enjoy some very well though out adventures that simply feel like this was season eight or nine of the television series.

I like these two books very much, maybe even a bit more than the first two because the baddies were just so well done.  I still don't own the next two books; A Time to Love / A Time to Hate, I may have to buy them as eBooks to continue this series.  But I will certainly continue with it.

Dayton Ward has a website HERE

Sorry to say that I could not find a personal website for Kevin Dilmore.  (He may have a FaceBook page or Twitter account but I didn't search for those.)

Dayton Ward (left) and Kevin Dilmore (right)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Book Report #96 - Star Trek: A Time to Sow by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore

Book 20 of 52
Page count - 314

In 2151, during the time of Johnathan Archer and the TV series Enterprise, a probe was found by the Vulcans.  This probe was a distress call from a far flung planet that was suffering planet-wide seismic events that threatened to destroy it completely.  It was discovered that the probe had been in space for 38 years.  The Vulcans decided to to nothing about it since the events plaguing that world would have already taken place and there would be no rescue to mount.

Fast forward two hundred years to the days of the Enterprise-E, with Starfleet wanting to keep Picard out of the way, they are sent to explore the region to see what evidence they can find of the inhabitants of this poor world.  They discover the planet had indeed been destroyed but were surprised to find the survivors had migrated to, and created a sustainable society, in the asteroid belt of the system.

Since the Dokaalan people had sent the distress call Picard initiated first contact with them.  A crisis occurs while they are there and the Enterprise manages to rescue over 400 Dokaalans which goes a long way to enable the trust of the leadership.

This is classic Star Trek; exploring strange new worlds.  It takes a while to discover that there is some internal strife going on that threaten the crew.  This is a story that takes place over two books so I don't recommend reading A Time To Sow without having A Time To Harvest close by.

I really liked this first installment.  I grabbed the second book without pause and just kept on reading.

Dayton Ward (left) and Kevin Dilmore (right)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Canadian Expansion 1867 - 1909 by Dr. David Bercuson.

I was recently on vacation in Ottawa where I discovered I have a deeply disturbing lack of knowledge of my own country.  The history of Canada is everywhere in Ottawa and I decided I needed to get some knowledge on the subject.

History is such a large subject that it can be overwhelming to decide where to start.  I bought a nice Penguin history book that I am currently reading that is a good overview.  I also went on a rampage at my local library, ordering all kinds of books to look at.

How Canada Became Canada, From the Atlantic to the Pacific: Canadian Expansion 1867 - 1909 is an 80 page juvenile book which does not talk down to its audience and offers another quick overview of a very important period in Canadian history.  I like to think of this as being a good introduction and a jumping off book that can point me to specific areas to explore.

To date, I've only reviewed fiction but I've never been limited to it.  Non-fiction requires a different kind of attention, unlike fiction, where the story is not told until the last page.

I got what I wanted from it.  Namely the knowledge that I know nothing!

Dr. David Bercuson