Monday, August 25, 2014

Book Report #105 - The Delta Anomaly by Rick Barba a Starfleet Academy novel.

Book 29 of 52
Page count - 223

The first installment in the Starfleet Academy series of YA books set in the newly rebooted Star Trek universe.  It follows Kirk (played my Chris Pine in the movies) during his time at the academy.

This is the third book in the series that I've read and the second by Barba.  Luckily these stories are all quite self contained so reading them out of order is not a big deal, although watching the first movie before reading the books is highly recommended.

As I keep finding while reading YA books; I am NOT the target audience and so I keep noticing just how thin the plots are.  I find things are not pursued to my satisfaction and that the characters can move on from certain events like they have ADD.  The ability for characters to switch from being in peril to hitting on an attractive girl in the span of one paragraph is a bit concerning. Although this is played for humor it tended to take me out of the story.

In this book Kirk is in the middle of some practical away mission tests.  At the same time there is a serial killer roaming the streets of San Fransisco striking on foggy nights.

There is no story unless Kirk and the gang are involved in the attacks; how they are initially drawn in worked extremely well.  As a matter of fact the first encounter with the killer, known as the Doctor, happened during my favorite scene in the book where kirk is fending off the advances of Gaila in a local bar.

The story switches from classes to the investigation quite frequently.  Obviously the SFPD are involved in the murders and they quickly realize starfleet can help, I was continually being thrown out of the story thinking, "that would never happen" as the police handed more and more responsibility to starfleet cadets.  Cadets!

Even the final confrontation with the Doctor, which called for so much suspension of disbelief that I nearly started laughing out loud.  Everything about the investigation worked, it was only in the author's choice of who was tasked with trying to apprehend the bad guy that struck me as improbable.

Would I recommend the book?  To be honest, no.  But the author gets his legs in The Gemini Agent which had better plotting with an interesting twist ending, and he also got the voices of the characters better in his second book.

I believe the flaw in the books speaks more to the flaw in the series and that seems to point to the editors at Simon Spotlight. Lets face it; kids in school are kids in school, I would much rather read about something plausible, like how they cope with difficult classmates and instructors.  Instead the reader is constantly being asked to believe that Kirk has been saving the world since day one.  It's a bit much.

There is only one more book in the series to read ...

Rick Barba

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