Thursday, 26 February 2015

Star Trek: Ishmael - Barbara Hambly


Title: Ishmael
Author: Barbara Hambly
Genre:Science Fiction
Published:1985
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“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

The Three - Sarah Lotz


Title: The Three
Author: Sarah Lotz
Genre: Horror
Published: 2014
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
“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

Star Trek: Provenance Of Shadows (Crucible Book 1) - David R. George III


Title: Provenance Of Shadows (Crucible Book 1)
Author: David R. George III
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2008
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
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

Shades of Empire - Carmen Webster Buxton


Title: Shades of Empire
Author: Carmen Webster Buxton
Genre: Science-Fiction
Published: 2012
Formats: Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“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

Star Trek 2 - James Blish


Title: Star Trek 2
Author: James Blish
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1968
Formats: Hardback/Paperback

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“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:

Arena
A Taste of Armageddon
Tomorrow Is Yesterday
Errand of Mercy
Court Martial
Operation--Annihilate!
The City on the Edge of Forever
Space Seed

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.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Rendezvous with Rama (Rama Book 1) - Arthur C. Clarke


Title: Rendezvous with Rama (Rama Book 1)
Author: Arthur C. Clarke
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1973
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
“Rendezvous with Rama” is probably Arthur C. Clarke's most famous work outside of “2001: A Space Odyssey”. This classic Science Fiction novel is set in the near future with humanity now spread across our solar system. When scientists discover an asteroid heading towards the sun, they are surprised to realise it is going fast enough to escape the sun’s gravitational pull. As it gets closer they soon discover that it is no ordinary asteroid and is in fact an alien spacecraft, massive in size. And so, at short notice a space craft is sent on a mission to investigate the craft before it leaves the solar system.

As far as I am aware, this was the first ever Big Dumb Object styled science fiction novel and on an intellectual level reading this ensured it was quite an interesting experience. The book also includes some of Clarke interesting ideas about the future of human society and space technology which are always intriguing.

On the writing front, Clarke does a great job at describing the size and majesty of what the characters were seeing and the narrative is easy to follow. However, everything is told in a rather workmanlike manner and the novel feels like a rather cold and unemotional documentary rather than an engaging adventure story. Quite simply, it was missing any sense of excitement at the discoveries being made as Clarke has buried most of the fun beneath multiple layers of hard science-fiction detail.

The characters all suffer from the same issue with them coming across as rather robotic and unengaging. Yes we get a decent amount of detail about who they are and what may be driving them but it that workmanlike textbook style was still present. The dialogue between them wasn’t any better and beyond the odd sense or surprise or concern I couldn’t really feel any real emotion in it.

Overall, what was a rather interesting and epic idea is let down by some uninspiring writing. As the first real attempt at writing a Big Dumb Object book, it is probably something that you may want to read as the descriptions and detail put in by Clarke are superb but don’t expect to find any real excitement or tension.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Gods in the Machine - Marilyn Peake


Title: Gods in the Machine
Author: Marilyn Peake
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2011
Formats: Ebook

Review:
“Gods in the Machine” by Marilyn Peake is a Science Fiction novel with a rather interesting premise. It follows a shady government department who are using orbiting space hotels as a base from which to fight off a perceived alien incursion. This governmental department is not afraid to use holograms and manipulation of the truth to deceive people in an attempt to ensure that the people of Earth are ready to support the fight against an expected invasion.

This interesting sounding plot line was enhanced by many other intriguing facets such as time travel, family issues, drug addiction and religious dogma. Unfortunately, it didn’t hang together very well; the pacing is slow and disjointed which meant at times it felt rather confusing and unsatisfying. The complex plot fell apart as the novel just wasn’t structured in a decent manner, with the author constantly getting bogged down with minor elements. This was particularly noticeable in regards to the characters, Peake seemed determined to detail every minor character to the nth degree. This felt completely unneeded, especially when I realised that some of the characters appeared to have no actual purpose and were actually all rather one dimensional. It just meant that I struggled to know who I should try and engage with.

In addition, Peake tends to consistently feel the need to over-specify things. For example, “General Nate Williams” is always that, he is never “Nate”, “The General”, “Him” or “He”, he always seems to be described in full, even in dialogue between characters which results in a rather clumsy feel. Using his full moniker at times was fine, but it would have been nice to change it up a little bit, especially when characters were talking about him. It isn’t all bad however as Peake does have a decent descriptive ability and I was always able to understand what she was trying to portray, even if could maybe seem to be a pointless element of the story I just think she needs to get herself a good editor who could help her shape the book in a more efficient manner.

One thing that I didn’t really understand with the book was in regards to the lopsided future that Peak has created. The story is set far in the future, with space based hotels and high tech holographic technology, yet somehow we have people living in Mexico who believe a baby with a cleft palate is some sort of dodgy suspect child. I just find it hard to believe that in this future we are seeing, we have people almost terrified of a cleft palate. These sections of the book felt like they were set in the early 1900’s rather than a point in our future. It was probably the most obvious issue that affected my attempts at immersing myself in the overall story.

Overall, this novel has a decent premise but it is let down by some poor execution. Personally, I do find it quite hard to recommend this book as it wasn’t easy to work through the issues in an attempt uncover the interesting story hidden beneath. However, if the premise does interest you then feel free to give it a go, you may find it easier than me to forgive the problems.