Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Report #100 - The Assassination Game by Alan Gratz

Book 23 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 22 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

Monday, June 16, 2014

Book Report #95 - Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Book 19 of 52
Page count - 368

I thought I'd give Handler a chance to speak to me under his own name.  So far I've only read his work under the Lemony Snicket moniker and I was curious to read something he put his own name on.

Interestingly it was teen fiction written from the point of view of a broken-hearted, misfit teen-age girl, who fell in love with the co-captain of the high school basketball team.

My problem with the book is - I am a middle aged man.

This was not targeted for me.  I'd recommend this book to any love-struck teen girl. (not a boy because, at that age, they tend not to read books)

I was not disappointed in Handler's ability to turn a phrase.  The book was interesting in that it was written in the form of a very, very, very long letter from Min (Short for Minerva) to Ed the jock in question.  The letter is put in a box full of mementos of their brief relationship where she picks each item up and explains what it meant to her.

It was a touching bit of work and I also like the illustrations that accompanied each item from the box.

I found the story a bit of a mess because it was written while Min was upset, sad and crying.  The sentences tended to run on and it followed her stream of consciousness.

I thought Handler's ability to portray the teen jock absolutely spot-on.  It's surprising the human race has survived considering just how thick teen boys can be.

I liked it but I also did not like it.  I found myself frustrated with both characters because I have the advantage of years of experience they simply do not have.  At times I found it tedious to slog through the emotional upheaval Min was going through.

So, Okay, the book was not for me but it was expertly written, beautifully illustrated and is truly something special.

If you're a teen fiction fan or want to relive your angst-filled youth you're going to love this book.

Daniel Handler

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Scanners Live in Vain by Cordwainer Smith - A Short Story Review

Oh my God!  It's the freaking Borg!

Yes my friends, this story first saw the light of day in 1950, although it shows a copyright date of 1946, and tells the story about one Scanner on a very important day.  Scanners are part robot part human and are tasked with ensuring humans are safe during space flight.  Humans travel in suspended animation while the Scanners look after the ship functions.  Humans have spread out to other star systems without the ability to travel faster than light.  Without constant oversight trips of this length would be incredibly dangerous.

The story does not go into how the Scanners came to be but we do know that some Scanners have been forced into existence; criminals have undergone the procedure but there are some people who volunteered to be transformed.  In all of this a Scanners' humanity is not lost however they spend most of their time in a robot state.  A scanner can enjoy a type of holiday (or shore leave) by undergoing a temporary procedure that restores his humanity and full cognitive function.

We follow Martel, who is on his shore leave at a critical time in the history of Scanners.  By this time in the future Scanners occupy a strange position in human society, neither part of nor excluded from it.  Along comes a scientist who discovers FTL and threatens the Scanners way of life.

As in all of these vintage stories, I first found the language a bit stiff but it did not take long to get past it.  I just loved this early take on a species that Star Trek fans love -  The Borg.  These guys are definitely just like the Borg; surgically altered to be part machine and part human, allowing them to work in space unprotected, making long-duration space flight possible.

I just love discovering stories like this one; it goes to show that some things we thought were completely original have been around for longer than we imagined.

It was a fun read.

Smith's website is HERE.

Cordwainer Smith
Fantasy Book No. 6

Monday, June 9, 2014

Book Report #94 - Star Trek: The Covenant of the Crown by Howard Weinstein

Book 18 of 52
Page Count - 191

Published in 1981, after the events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) we find Kirk, McCoy and Spok trying to end a civil war by restoring a monarchy.  The Klingons would rather the war go on giving them the chance to annex the planet.

This story held up very well, given the book is 33 years old.  The characterization was spot-on and I was happily swept away in the story.  There were some minor flaws that I found disappointing, such as how the Klingon threat was treated but otherwise I was glad every time I picked up the book.

For me, I prefer stories that take place on board ship with all the trappings of shipboard life; this book spent most of its time on the surface of a rather primitive planet.  That said, it felt like a lost episode of TOS, and could easily have been shot as one, had the series continued.

This is #4 of the Pocket Book series.

Well worth finding it in a used book store.

Howard Weinstein

Saturday, June 7, 2014

That Only A Mother by Judith Merril - A short story review

This should really be called flash fiction coming in at only ten pages. Set in 1948, present day for when it was published, it is an alternate history story speculating on what life would be like in the USA after it was hit with nuclear bombs, like Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In particular it focuses on babies born after the parents were exposed to radiation.

Thank goodness the story was so short because the trauma of mutations and the psychological impact on the mothers was chilling.

The attitudes and dialog were a bit old fashioned for today but that's only a reflection of the time it was written in.

It was very well done and I found it quite disturbing.

A list of all her works can be found HERE.

Her Wikipedia page is HERE.

Her dedicated website is HERE.

Judith Merril

Astounding Science Fiction - June 1948

Monday, June 2, 2014

Book Report #93 - When Did You See Her Last? by Lemony Snicket

Book 17 of 52
Page Count - 288

The second installment of the All The Wrong Questions series.

Snicket is proving himself to be an apt investigator.  After his adventures of the first book Lemony is making friends and forming alliances.  He may be twelve or thirteen years old but he is much smarter than his age would lead you to believe but, just like anybody, his lack of experience sometimes get the best of him.

In this adventure Snicket and his chaperone are tasked with finding a missing girl.  But is she truly missing?

More of this fantastic world is developed and a larger conspiracy is brought to light.  The twists and turns make this book such a treat, I really feel like I'm in a privileged position just being able follow in the author's imagination.  He is less concerned with the story making sense than creating something special.  The real treat is that the stories DO make sense, eventually, in their own way.

What fun.

Daniel Handler AKA Lemony Snicket

Saturday, May 31, 2014

First Contact by Murray Leinster - A short story review

I enjoyed this story very much.  While on survey of the Crab Nebula the crew of the LLANVABON encounter another craft in the region.

You'd think First Contact would be a good and exciting thing. Trouble is, how can you be sure the species you've just encountered won't just follow you back home and wage war?

The author came up with a compelling resolution to the problem. It's an interesting premise since much of these kinds of encounters on Star Trek do not have this level of paranoia to complicate things.

This story was first published in 1945, considering the Cold War started at the same time I can see how the author could push the attitudes into space.

I think the story stands the test of time. The technology could use some freshening up but the plot would make a fine 90 minute movie. 

Find out more about the author HERE and HERE.

Murray Leinster - circa 1930's
Astounding Science Fiction - May 1945

Monday, May 26, 2014

Book Report #92 - Who Could That Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket

Book 16 of 52
Page Count - 258

Book one of "All the Wrong Questions" series.

This is a very strange little book but, then again, what would you expect from Lemony Snicket? (AKA Daniel Handler)

I read him for the language and the wonderfully twisted worlds he creates.  It may be a children's book but he has never talked down to his audience and even makes his use of explaining more difficult words by throwing it in to the dialogue.  Handler is obviously a highly intelligent person and that comes through in his writing style.  I have never come across anybody who writes quite like him.

The plot is loosely follows Snicket's first adventure, he is an apprentice to a secret society, in the town of Stain'd-by-the-Sea.  Stain'd-by-the-Sea is a dying, one-industry town, that used to make the world's best ink.  Snicket and his chaperone are assigned to recover a statue of the Bombinating Beast.
The Bombinating Beast
The assignment is not as important as the world building that takes place in the book.  In Snicket/Handler's hands I actually enjoy the exposition more than the plot.

Because it's a children's book it is also filled with illustrations, something that was much more common during the days of the pulps.  I would love to see them make a comeback in some way.

I really enjoyed this first installment.

Daniel Handler AKA Lemony Snicket