Monday, 20 April 2015
Title: First Strike (Invasion! Book 1)
Author: Diane Carey
“First Strike" by Diane Carey is the first novel in a series of four novels which span the multiple different lines of Star Trek fiction from the Original Series to Voyager. The novel starts with a Klingon battlegroup encountering a ship full of creatures that appear to resemble the demons of Klingon folklore. So upset by what he sees, the Klingon General decides to contact Starfleet for help in addition to his own High Command. Starfleet sends Kirk who is determined to try and understand these visitors rather than just destroy them as the Klingons wish.
Whilst the book is part of a series it still works very well as a standalone novel. The ending does hint at the sequel to come but it still provides a satisfying enough conclusion that there is no need to read the next book unless you really want to. I particularly appreciated this as I am reading all the Star Trek books in Chronological order and therefore won’t get to the sequel for quite a while.
It is also a thoroughly enjoyable story with a structure and pace that keeps the reader entertained right until the end. In addition the plot explores several interesting points with a particular plus point for me being the premise that our myths are based on vaguely remembered facts that have left us with some ingrained prejudices. The attempt to overcome those prejudices then compliments the conflict between scientific thought and religious zeal that is also present within the novel.
The characters are all well-written with the main focus being on Kirk, McCoy and Spock. However, what we do see of the other characters is more than adequate and Carey has tried to develop the Furies beyond just being a token alien-of-the-week which was nice to see. One particular thing I noted was that Kirk is well portrayed, we get to see in all his glory as both a leader and a friend, but also as someone who is still in the end just a human with all the flaws and weaknesses that this can entail.
Overall, the plot is interesting, the characters come across in the manner we would expect and the pacing feels right. Basically, it is an enjoyable Star Trek story which works well as both a standalone novel and as an entry into the overall “Invasion!” series.
Friday, 20 March 2015
Title: The Stainless Steel Rat (The Stainless Steel Rat Book 1)
Author: Harry Harrison
The Book Depository
“The Stainless Steel Rat” by Harry Harrison is a pulpy sci-fi adventure which was first published in 1961. The story follows James Bolivar diGriz, a.k.a. "Slippery Jim", a rogue who moves between worlds committing various crimes that he believes are victimless. However, his antics have attracted the attention of the mysterious Special Corps who want to recruit him as an agent to catch other criminal. His first assignment for the Special Corps soon pits him against a criminal for whom human life has no value and perhaps someone who could even outsmart Jim diGriz.
The first thing I noted is that book probably hasn’t aged that well. It really does feel like a product of the sixties with a slight misogynistic feel being quite obvious in the society that Harrison has created. In addition some of the technology we see is rather dated by today’s standards, although I do suspect that some of this such as a coal powered robot was there to add some humour rather than being a real imagination of what the future could entail.
Despite the aging of the novel, it is still a very fun and entertaining story to read. It is packed full of humour and action with a quick pacing that ensured I kept on reading. The writing itself isn’t anything special but it is competent enough and much better than the standard in seen in various other pulpy science-fiction.
The characters themselves were enjoyable enough, they are probably rather stereotypical but they are fun enough to follow. DiGriz in particular actually being a likeable character despite his criminal tendencies. This is probably because of two elements, the first being that his morality is actually a complex and interesting thing to see. He only commits crimes that he feels are victimless and he goes out of his way to ensure that no one is killed or injured as part of his activities. Then there is the humour and wit that diGriz brings to the novel, his sarcasm and one liners left me smiling throughout the story which just enhanced my appreciation for him.
Overall, this was an entertaining first novel in Harrison’s “Stainless Steel Rat” series. It isn’t a complex or high-brow story but if you are just looking for some light-hearted, fun science-fiction then this book will easily fulfil that requirement. It does have quite a pulpy style which may not appeal to some fans of contemporary science fiction but personally I still enjoyed it and I will probably read more books in the series.
Thursday, 26 February 2015
Author: Barbara Hambly
“Ishmael” by Barbara Hambly is a Star Trek novel that mainly follows the antics of Spock who is transported back to Earth in the 1800’s where he is found by a local of Seattle, Washington called Aaron Stemple. Unfortunately Spock has lost his memory and therefore Stemple, realising that this man is an alien decides to take him under his wing and introduces him to the community as his nephew, Ishmael. Spock is soon caught up in a rather peculiar scheme to find marriageable lads for a group of hopeful brides who were transported to the area from the Eastern United States.
One thing I didn’t realise when I first read this book is that the story about Aaron Stemple and the marriage scheme is actually taken from another TV series called “Here Comes the Brides”. Basically, this book is a crossover novel created to link these two distinct shows and I can only assume that Hambly must have been a fan of both. However, Hambly doesn’t stop with just this core crossover element, she also introduces characters from other TV series such as “Bonanza” and “Have Gun-Will Travel”. It is all a little bit silly but surprisingly enough, it was actually very entertaining to follow. This is mainly due to the fact that whilst it sounds like something you would normally see poorly written on a fan fiction website, it is actually an incredibly well written novel with all the right plotting elements and pacing to keep it an enjoyable and fund read.
In addition, I found the characters to be well-written and interesting to follow although outside of the Star Trek characters I wouldn’t know if they were portrayed in a manner similar to the way they were on their relevant TV shows. In regards to the Trek characters, well they did come across as I would expect and even Spock with his memory loss acted and behaved in a way I would expect as his core personality shone through.
Overall this is a fun story which I am sure would appeal hugely to fans who enjoyed both “Star Trek” and “Here Comes the Brides”. Most of the time it doesn’t feel much like a Trek novel as it is set in the 1800’s and Spock doesn’t know who he is but it was actually quite nice to read something which felt a little bit different. It isn’t something that I would probably want to read a lot of but it was still a fun little diversion from the norm that made me smile a lot.
Tuesday, 17 February 2015
Title: The Three
Author: Sarah Lotz
The Book Depository
“The Three” by Sarah Lotz is mainly described around the internet as a horror novel although after reading it, I would say that it would be more apt to describe it as an interesting cocktail of multiple genres. It basically contains facets of mystery, horror, thriller and religious literature whilst also trying to maintain some semblance of realism.
The story starts with four plane crashes happening almost simultaneously across the globe. Three children are the only survivors and their very survival seems to be miraculous, resulting in some rather intriguing theories. So the plot follows the children, their families and some external forces who are very interested in how and why the children survived.
As I said earlier, the book does include a lot of elements from other genres but there is still an overall tone of horror present throughout. However, this isn’t the type of horror that includes gore or shocks; it is the type that provides the reader with a creepy undertone and a sense of unease about what may really be happening.
In regards to the style of the writing, well everything is told in the manner of a documentary with various books, newspaper articles, interviews and recordings being used to tell the story. It was an interesting style which helped to give the book a sense of realism and provide the reader with multiple points of view from which to understand the various events. However, this factual documentary style meant that emotional engagement with the characters was rather limited and I therefore didn’t really care much about any of them.
My main issue with the novel was probably the pacing. It started off wonderfully, with the plane crashes, the initial responses and the foreshadowing of tragedy that was going to unfold. The pace then changed and the plot slowed to a crawl with very little movement in the story and various plot lines that didn’t really add anything valuable to the story. It actually became a chore to read and then when you get to the ending it doesn’t even reward you properly for getting to it.
The ending was quite simply irritating in the extreme. After dragging on the story for so long the reader is then given an open and ambiguous ending. Was it terrorists, aliens, the four horsemen, plain happenstance or something completely different? I don’t know and because of this I feel incredibly cheated. I now know there is a sequel novel but I don’t know if I can face reading it as I worry that Lotz will follow the same method and continue to leave out some form of final pay-off!
Overall, it is an interesting enough story and I thoroughly enjoyed the initial portion of the book before it began to drag on. There is a lot of potential here but there was a fair bit of filler present which should have been cut by the editing team. If the novel had been a bit sharper and quicker I could probably have also forgiven the rather open ending but instead I slogged through the 2nd half of the novel and received little reward.
Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Title: Provenance Of Shadows (Crucible Book 1)
Author: David R. George III
Genre: Science Fiction
Provenance of Shadows by David R. George III is the 1st book in the Crucible trilogy of Star Trek novels which were written as part of the 40th anniversary celebrations. The story starts off after the events that occur in the Star Trek original series first season episode, The City on the Edge of Forever. From that point on we get to follow two stories from McCoy’s perspective. The first of these is where we see what happened to McCoy in the 1930’s on the assumption that Kirk and Spock didn’t manage to rescue him from the Guardian of Forever. The other story follows McCoy’s life after his rescue right up until his death.
This novel is without doubt a character piece, it tries to explore the reason why McCoy is the man he is. McCoy has always been a fascinating character and George has done a great job in bringing him to life in a manner that fits in with what we know of him. We do get to learn some interesting facts about him and whilst some of the psychological elements seem a bit melodramatic it was still thoroughly interesting.
However, there are a few issues with this characters driven approach. Basically, George has spent so much time exploring McCoy and padding out the story that the pacing is incredibly slow. Everything seems to be overly drawn out and because George decided to use the TV show as the basis for the overall plot points, most of what we see in the novel in terms of events is already known to us. This means, that there is no suspense or real excitement in the novel beyond what you may feel in regards to the exploration of McCoy’s psyche.
The 1930’s period does give George much more leeway and he has tried to add in some original events. However, even here the pacing seems rather slow and there is still a basic lack of surprise as we already know from the TV episode that the events around WWII are altered by McCoy’s presence. This part of the story however, really strives to explore the human condition via McCoy’s interaction with the other characters in this time period and I really enjoyed following this.
Overall, this is an interesting novel which tries to explore and explain McCoy the character. It does have some pacing issues and beyond the character exploration it doesn’t have the most exciting or entertaining of plot lines. However, if you are a fan of McCoy you would be mad to miss out on this novel which is almost a shrine to the man and his time within the Star Trek Universe.
Tuesday, 3 February 2015
Title: Shades of Empire
Author: Carmen Webster Buxton
“Shades of Empire” by Carmen Webster Buxton is a Science Fiction novel set in her ThreeCon Universe. The novel follows events on the planet Gaulle which is ruled by a brutal, decadent Emperor. He forcibly drafts his male subjects into his army and, in the case of women, into his personal harem or military brothels. When, Alexander, a soldier in the Imperial Guard attempts to rescue a concubine, he is caught and sent into Space, contained within a lifepod where he is forced to watch the rape and torture of the concubine over and over again. However, as luck would have it, a passing smuggler rescues him from his torment and so begins an adventure involving, the imperial family, rebellions and ThreeCon’s own espionage network.
The first thing I need to mention here is that the book does contain a fair amount of unsettling elements. There is nothing graphic or explicit but there is quite a lot of rape present and even an incestuous relationship. For me, it wasn’t overdone and it helped to really drive home the decadence of the society and people on Gaulle but I suspect some readers may be turned off by its rather constant presence.
I found the story itself to be very interesting with a good mixture of action, intrigue and suspense. The beginning was a little bit slow as Buxton tried to introduce her vast array of characters but once they were all in place the pace picked up adequately. This large quantity of characters really pushed home the point that the book is on the whole a character driven story. You really get to see the story from everyone’s point of view, the rebels, the Imperial family and the various external forces.
The characters themselves were a mixed bag, there are people in there for you to love, people to hate and people that you just wish had been developed further. In the end though Buxton only has so many pages to try and explore everyone but it would have been nice to have seen a bit more development of the “bad guys” such as the Emperor and his sister as there was no real explanation for their decadence and brutality. The one character that really stood out to be however was Peter Barranca, he was wonderfully developed with a sense of decency that shown quite brightly against the darkness which surrounded him.
Overall, this was another thoroughly enjoyable Buxton novel that tries to provide the reader with a story from everyone’s point of view. Yes, this large array of characters does result in some lacking in development and slow initial period but the final result is entertaining and interesting to behold.
Thursday, 29 January 2015
Title: Star Trek 2
Author: James Blish
Genre: Science Fiction
“Star Trek 2” by James Blish was the 2nd in his series of short story collections which brings together adaptations of Star Trek Original Series scripts. The eight stories included in this collection are all from season one and are as follows:
A Taste of Armageddon
Tomorrow Is Yesterday
Errand of Mercy
The City on the Edge of Forever
This is actually quite a decent set of stories, which include the introduction of Khan, the Guardian of Forever and the Klingon-Federation peace treaty. It has probably been my favourite Blish collection so far but this just reinforces my belief that these books largely succeed or fail based on the quality of the episodes themselves.
On the whole, the stories are similar to the episode with minor differences that mainly occur I suspect due the fact that Blish tended to be writing from earlier versions of the scripts. It was “Operation-Annihilate!” which had the largest collection of differences with an altered ending involving the destruction of the creatures’ home planet rather than the blinding of Spock that we originally saw. Unfortunately, this version has had some important elements cut as well as Kirk’s brother and family were no longer included in the story which I felt reduced the drama.
Overall, Blish has done another competent job at adapting the various episodes and anyone looking for a bit of nostalgia probably won’t be disappointed.