Monday, 15 September 2014

Star Trek: The Original Series: Killing Blow (Errand of Vengeance Book 2) - Kevin Ryan



Title: Killing Blow (Errand of Vengeance Book 2)
Author: Kevin Ryan
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2002
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“Killing Blow” is the 2nd Novel in Kevin Ryan’s “Errand of Vengeance” trilogy that takes a look at the tension between the Federation and Klingon Empire which results in war as seen in the Star Trek Original series episode “Errand of Mercy”. The main focus of the novel continues to be on Kell, the Klingon infiltrator who is current disguised as a human aboard the Enterprise. Kell has come to realise that the way in which the Empire portrays Kirk and humanity as a whole is not accurate, in fact his viewpoint has changed so much that he has ended up in a relationship with a human woman called Leslie Parrish. However, despite his reservations he is still determined to complete his mission and assassinate Kirk.

When I started reading this book I wasn’t expecting much as middle novels in trilogies do tend to be weakest of the three. However, Ryan has managed to continue the overall plotline adequately whilst also giving us an interesting and enjoyable story specific to this novel. There are of course still some elements of the novel dedicated to setting things up for the finale but the inclusion of a specific mission to follow that contains a start and finish ensures that the when you finish the novel you still feel satisfied with the conclusion.

In regards to the writing, the quick pacing and action packed storyline ensures the novel feels like an episode of the TV series with us never dwelling to long on any one area. Also, the loss of red shirted personnel left, right and centre really reinforces that Original series feeling. Probably the only element that really differs strongly from one of the TV episodes is that most of the viewpoints are from people outside the regular cast. These new characters introduced in the first novel continue to grow and provide a feeling of freshness to the Star Trek Universe.

Overall this was an enjoyable continuation of the Errand of Vengeance trilogy which continues to highlight and develop the lives of the “regular” people aboard the Enterprise. In addition, Kell’s personal struggles are well portrayed and whilst we know that Kirk won’t be killed, how Kell’s journey will conclude does remain a mystery and I am eager to see how this will be resolved.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Dodger - Terry Pratchett



Title: Dodger
Author: Terry Pratchett
Genre: Historic Fiction
Published: 2012
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
“Dodger” is a novel by Terry Pratchett which explores Dickensian London rather than his usual haunt of Ankh-Morpork within the fantasy world of Discworld. As a big fan of Pratchett I was looking forward to reading this novel although I have to be honest and say that I do tend to prefer his Discworld novels as they allow him a bit more freedom.

Anyway, the plot follows Dodger, a loveable rogue who earns a living as a Tosher, a scavenger who prowls the sewers of London hunting out coins and other lost items amongst the sewage. When he rescues a young woman in distress one night he has no idea that it will lead to a series of events which results in his exposure to the public and various important people such as Benjamin Disraeli, Sir Robert Peel and Charles Dickens.

I will start by saying that the humour and wit I have come to expect from Pratchett are there in abundance. At its heart this is a light hearted journey into old London but yet there are some interesting dark undertones as well. Pratchett isn’t scared to touch on the poverty, class issues and rather bleak existence that existed then. Then there is a really clever and sensitive treatment of the Sweeny Todd story which really is one of the big plus points in the novels. However, despite these interesting elements I found the plot to be rather weak and uninspiring. Quite simply there was no spark, it was lacking any real surprises and I could see what was coming a mile away.

Then there are the characters that were probably my least favourite aspect of the story which is hard for me to say as normally the characters really shine in Pratchett novels. For example, Dodger himself is just too much of a super hero that seems to survive and prosper at everything. He manages to go through an odd makeover or two and become accepted by high society, fights off trained assassins at will, wins the heart of a princess he hardly says more than a few words to and becomes accepted as a national hero who is showered with coins by a thankful public. I just found it all a bit too much; he seemed unable to lose at anything which meant he felt too unreal and I was unable to connect with him. In the end I could probably have accepted this if the supporting characters had varied and well developed personalities. However, I found most of them to be wooden and rather lifeless. I don’t know if this is because Pratchett used a lot of historical people in the novel and didn’t want to paint any of them in a bad light but they all just felt like cardboard cut-outs.

Overall, I did smile and grin at parts of the novel and it there was some interesting elements but the weak overall plot and characters meant the whole thing just felt average. This is probably the most disappointed I have been in Pratchett for quite a while but in the end it was still an enjoyable enough diversion even if it wasn’t his best.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Star Trek: The Original Series: The Edge of the Sword (Errand of Vengeance Book 1) - Kevin Ryan



Title: The Edge of the Sword (Errand of Vengeance Book 1)
Author: Kevin Ryan
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2002
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“The Edge of the Sword” by Kevin Ryan is the first in a trilogy of Star Trek novels known as the “Errand of Vengeance” trilogy that revolves around the slow build up to war between the Federation & the Klingon Empire as seen in the TV episode, “Errand of Mercy”. This novel mainly follows the actions of a Klingon infiltrator who has been sent to the Enterprise to assassinate Kirk. However we also get to see what is happening to the spy’s brother who is on-board a Klingon ship, witness the events as they unfold at Starfleet Command and finally we get to see what is happening with the main Enterprise crew itself.

First off I have to say that I really enjoyed the book, I specifically appreciated seeing life on-board the Enterprise from the viewpoint of the red shirts within Security. In the TV series they were treated as throwaway characters but here we get to see a group of professional and proud people who understand and acknowledge the high mortality rate but are determined to do their job. This slightly different viewpoint also give the novel a fresh and interesting feeling which was highly appreciated by me as I try and read through the entire Star Trek collection.

In regards to the plot, well it was well-written, exciting and action packed but to me it felt secondary to the exploration of the life of a red shirt and Ryan’s attempts to link various TV episodes and events into his overall Klingon-Federation story arc. This attempt at trying to resolve aspects of the Original Series’ very episodic format into a coherent flow was impressive and worked very well.

As for the characters, well the new ones are all lovingly crafted by Ryan and I found myself quickly coming to like them all. They really do take over the narrative of the story so if you are a big fan of Kirk, Spock and McCoy then you may be disappointed as they felt rather side-lined. Personally, I liked this diversion from standard Star Trek formula, especially as the new characters are all interesting and well developed but there may be some out there who don’t.

One of the weakest aspects of the novel in my opinion however was the way in which the Klingon seems to resolve his feelings on Kirk. I appreciated how he slowly came to accept his fellow Security officers as he worked and fought alongside them but with Kirk it all felt a little bit too rushed and easy. I found it hard to believe that he would suddenly flip his viewpoint in the way he does. In my opinion it would have been nicer and more realistic to see a much more drawn out process.

Overall, this was an enjoyable first book in the trilogy and it was wonderfully utilised to set up the new characters and viewpoint from the Security team. The new viewpoints used by Ryan have resulted in a much more action packed Star Trek novel than I am used but this just helped to increase the feeling of freshness around the entire thing. I am now really looking forward to seeing where Ryan is going to take the characters and the story next.

Monday, 1 September 2014

The Fisherman's Son (The Fisherman's Son Book 1) - Marilyn Peake



Title: The Fisherman's Son (The Fisherman's Son Book 1)
Author: Marilyn Peake
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2002
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“The Fisherman’s Son” by Marilyn Peake is the first novel in a fantasy series aimed at a young audience. The story follows Wiley, a boy from a poor family whose mother dies from a disease that has infected his village. His drunk father isn’t around and so Wiley is forced to travel to the next village to find a priest so that his mother’s body is properly cared for. However, on the journey he encounters a mysterious woman who sets him off on an adventure that will lead to him to see wondrous things and also teach him the history the very land on which he lives.

I need to start by saying that I am clearly not the target audience for this book so perhaps some of my comments here are a bit unfair. Anyway, I struggled to read this story to be honest, yes the plot is interesting and quite unique but at times I couldn’t understand why anything was occurring or why things were linked. Seriously, I still don’t get what the magic cups, giant bears or talking dolphins have to do with a long dead civilisation or why the young lad Wiley was dragged into it all.

Then there are the problems with the writing itself which was quite uninspiring. Everything is described to a level beyond what is really needed and there are several logical inconsistences with the story. For example, I can’t imagine anyone finding strawberries in the frozen cold and not thinking that there is something odd there. Then there is the rather strange section in which is drinks himself full on milk and 5 minutes later is starving and fights some chickens for some food.

Overall, I found the entire book quite an unsatisfying experience, what could be an interesting plot is let down by how it is actually being told. I suspect its target audience of younger children would potentially still enjoy it as they are more likely to ignore the logical failings etc. but it just doesn’t work as a book which can reach other age groups. For myself, I can’t see myself picking up the other books in the series.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Dreams of the Fallen (Temple of the Traveler Book 2) - Scott Rhine



Title: Dreams of the Fallen (Temple of the Traveler Book 2)
Author: Scott Rhine
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2012
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Samshwords
Amazon UK

Review:
“Dreams of the Fallen” by Scott Rhine is the 2nd book in his epic fantasy series, “The Tales of the Traveller”. This book follows on from the 1st novel and really develops the story and characters further. The plot continues to be complex and varied and due to this I think you really need to have read the previous novel to ensure you get some enjoyment out of this one.

I won’t really detail that much about the plot here as it is hard not to spoil things but we get to see Tashi and Jotham’s quest continue with both of them facing some tough challenges along the way. They even have to face the Gods themselves, some of who have no real interest in seeing them succeed.

The story Rhine is telling here is intelligent, complex and fascinating. He has continued to develop a world and characters that are unique and thoroughly interesting to follow. This time however the pacing is much better as the primary mythos of the world has already been explained in the previous book. This enables Rhine to really delve into the action and adventure that he seems to love filling his novels with. As I read this book I realised that the effort and concentration I had spent in getting through and understanding what was going on in the first novel is paid back in dividends with this book.

Don’t get me wrong the problems I had with the first book are still present to some extent in that the story can get confusing at times as it jumps between the vast array of characters. This is compounded by Rhine’s decision to add even more characters into the mix to increase what was already quite a large cast. However, it was much less distracting this time as the main characters were all well known to me now and I understood the basic principles of the world itself. In addition, one of the new characters, Sarajah was actually a very interesting and enjoyable character to follow as she transforms from an evil person through to picking up the pieces or her life after an encounter with our heroes and then into a real force to be reckoned with.

Overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable chapter in the “Temple of the Traveler” series. Rhine has used the world and plot building of the first novel incredibly well in this sequel to ensure it is an enjoyable romp with characters that we have grown to like and understand. If you enjoy Fantasy novels then this series shouldn’t disappoint.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Star Trek 11 - James Blish


Title: Star Trek 11
Author: James Blish
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1975
Formats: Paperback

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“Star Trek 11” by James Blish is another of his collections of Original Series scripts adapted into short story form. The seven stories included in this collection are all from season one and are as follows:

What Are Little Girls Made of?
The Squire of Gothos
Wink Of an Eye
Bread and Circuses
Day of the Dove
Plato's Stepchildren

As seems to be the norm with Blish’s adaptations, they tend to succeed or fail to the same extent as the episodes themselves did. For example “The Squire of Gothos” was an episode I really enjoyed on the TV screen and I also found myself enjoying it here in this collection. Whereas “Bread and Circuses” rather silly Roman theme irritated me when I saw I first saw it and I quickly found myself feeling the exact same irritation here.

I won’t really go anymore into the various stories as most of you will know them anyway but my enjoyment of this collection was rather mixed. This probably shouldn’t be a surprise as several of these stories were taken from the rather weak third season. One positive is that Blish does capture all the episodes very well and I could easily visualise them all. Although this wasn’t really a surprise to me as his adaptations have always been competent and as this was his 11th collection he was fairly experienced at writing up the episodes and characters.

Overall, I do find myself repeating myself a lot when reviewing Blish’s collections but what is true for one of them is pretty much true for them all. Quite simply this novel was another competent attempt at capturing the Star Trek episodes that should appeal to anyone wanting to enjoy a quick and painless reminder of the Original series stories.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Down Under - Bill Bryson



Title: Down Under
Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: Travel
Published: 2000
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
“Down Under” (known as "In a Sunburned Country" in the US) by Bill Bryson is a travel book and I read it not because I was planning on heading to Australia but because the genre was a requirement in the 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge. I decided on this book because I had heard that Bryson is a humorous and clever writer and I decided I wanted to read about a place I had never been before.

Anyway this book is a travelogue of a journey across the incredibly diverse country of Australia. It really is a humorous romp that had me grinning at multiple places, Bryson has a very self-deprecating way of expressing his thoughts and observations that appeals to my Scottish sense of humour.

Whilst the humour is a very big part of the book, there is still also a fair amount of interesting information present about Australia itself and the various attractions that Bryson visits. One thing he really pushes in the book is how big and varied Australia really is. He covers a fair chunk of it from the vast empty desert to the various cosmopolitan cities. But it isn’t just the landscape and places which are highlighted, he also covers the flora and fauna which are abundant, diverse and very specific to Australia itself. I am honestly not sure I fully appreciate the scale and variety of Australia before but I definitely do now.

Bryson doesn’t just stick to humorous commentary and highlighting the various local features, he also provides the reader with historical information and stories about the places he is visiting. This was actually a very interesting addition and it helped me gain a better understanding of why some of the places where the way they were. It also didn’t try and hide things either which meant at times it was quite eye opening with the attitudes to the Aboriginals in particular being quite saddening to read about.

One minor niggle with the book is that I am reading it about 15 years after he wrote and therefore it can at times seem a little dated. I suspect this would be even more obvious to people who live in or have visited Australia recently as any local differences would be much more noticeable to them. It isn’t a major issue but it does make me wonder how much of it is all still relevant.

Overall I loved this book; the writing is witty, clever and well-paced with the alternating narrative of facts, stories and humour ensuring I was thoroughly entertained. Reading the book has definitely increased my interesting in heading to Australia myself. As far as I am concerned any travel book that attracts you to the place it is describing is quite simply a success.