Monday, 28 September 2015
Title: Across The Universe
Author: Pamela Sargent & George Zebrowski
“Across The Universe” is a Star Trek Original Series novel written by Pamela Sargent & George Zebrowski. The novel follows the discovery of a ship from the 21st Century which was on a pre-warp journey to a distant planet to start a new colony. The crew has only aged thirty years due to relativistic effects but two centuries have passed and Kirk has to inform them that their target planet now no longer exists. Starfleet do find them an alternative colony world that they can now head to, but upon arrival they find that something on the planet appears to be attacking the colony.
When I started reading the book I was curious to see if it would offer anything interesting or original in regards to the well-used premise of 21st Century humans trying to acclimatise themselves in the 23rd Century. Unfortunately, the two authors appear to have just entirely skipped over this opportunity and decided to just used the crew of the Hawking as an inefficient plot device to give the Enterprise an excuse to visit a colony world. Personally, I am sure this could have been accomplished much more efficiently with a simple emergency broadcast from the colony which would have then enabled the authors to cut this entire premise and concentrate on the core story and characters. This would probably have been a good thing to do as the core story and characters really do need some extra work. The plot is rather dull and there is really nothing that original, we have a ship from the past, a planet wide intelligence and Spock saving the day as he is able to detect, withstand, and reason with the intelligence. Honestly, I can’t remember how many times we have seen those plot points used throughout the Star Trek Universe.
Weak plots can sometimes be ignored if the characters work well but in this novel the characterisation is quite simply missing. The new characters aren’t developed in any meaningful way and the established characters just feel like cardboard cut outs. I do wonder if the authors had actually ever seen Star Trek. To me, the established characters and their interactions are a vital ingredient of what makes Star Trek work and it just doesn’t feel right when this is missing in such a glaringly obvious way.
Overall, it is probably one of the weakest Star Trek books I have ever read. The story isn’t terrible exactly; it is just that the lack of originality in the plot or good characterisation makes it all rather boring. This is then exacerbated by the inclusion of the 21st Century ship which doesn’t actually add anything worthwhile to the story. If you aren’t like me and on a missing to read every Star Trek novel then I would just skip this one.
Saturday, 26 September 2015
Title: The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge (The Stainless Steel Rat Book 2)
Author: Harry Harrison
“The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge” is the second instalment in Harry Harrison’s light hearted science-fiction series, “The Stainless Steel Rat”. It follows on a few months after the end of the first book and continues the story of Slippery Jim diGriz. Jim is now married to Angelina, his nemesis from the first book now that the homicidal parts of her personality have been programmed out. Unfortunately, their holiday together is cut short when the Special Corps hunt them down and “offer” Jim the opportunity to investigate a secretive planet that has been invading other worlds even though interplanetary invasion was believed to be impossible due to the huge level of effort involved.
Once again Harrison gives us an enjoyable and humorous novel full of witty banter that kept me smiling from start to finish. Considering the pulpy feel of the novel it was also good to see that the writing is competent tight and the pace is quick without being too over the top. The only slight niggle is that overall the plot feels very similar to the previous novel and there isn’t really anything original added to the formula readers will be familiar with.
In regards to the characters, well the loveable rogue diGriz shines through again here and I couldn’t help but enjoy following his escapades. The other characters do tend to be skimmed over and most of the enjoyment there is in regards to seeing the various cameos and actions of people we were introduced to in the previous novel. This book is quite simply all about diGriz.
Overall, this was another humorous entry in “The Stainless Steel Rat” series. It follows the same mould as the previous novel so if you enjoy it then you should also enjoy this one as well. I do worry that in the long run the series could get a little bit too samey as the series progress but at this stage it is still entertaining enough.
Wednesday, 16 September 2015
Author: Mike W. Barr
“Gemini” by Mike W. Barr is a pretty standard Star Trek story set during the original five year mission. The story follows the crew of the Enterprise as they are sent the planet Nador to assist in a vote that is being taken on whether the planet should join the Federation. The leaders of the planet, conjoined twins named Abon and Delor are advocates of joining the Federation but they are determined to let the people decide for themselves. However, a faction opposed to this are attempting to disrupt the vote and even threaten the lives of Abon and Delor resulting in Kirk and Co. stepping in to protect the twins and investigation the instigators.
To be honest, I can’t say it was the most enthralling of stories as the plot was quite basic and the twists and turns, whilst were reasonably interesting were quite obvious. The pacing and drama were adequate but the novel just seemed to be lacking a real feeling of excitement and tension. In addition there was a subplot involving Kirk’s nephew, Peter which seemed rather superfluous to the whole thing and I would rather have just seen it cut. I suspect it was added to try and further develop Kirk’s involvement in the story but it just didn’t really add anything to the storyline.
The best part of the novel is in regards to the treatment of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Barr captures these main characters in competent manner that is reminiscent of how they appear during the original TV series. In addition, the camaraderie and engaging banter between them all shines through very well and these sections of the novel did have me smiling.
Overall, this is a standard Original Series novel that doesn’t try to be anything spectacular. I suppose, the best way I can describe it would be that it is simply average. So, if you are looking for something original within the Trek literary Universe then you will probably want to look at other offerings.
Saturday, 12 September 2015
Title: Trojan Odyssey
Author: Clive Cussler
The Book Depository
"Trojan Odyssey" is one of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt adventure novels, a series of books which kept me thoroughly entertained as a teenager. I have to admit that over the last 10 years I more or less stopped reading them, not because of a lack of enjoyment, but because I had begun to increase the range of books I was reading. However, when I saw this book in a local library I decided that I may as well try and re-ignite old pleasures.
The story starts with a Hurricane in the Caribbean threatening a floating super hotel in the Caribbean. Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino soon get involved to try and avert the potential tragedy that is brewing and in doing so unwittingly unlock the beginning of an adventure which results in them being pitted against a sinister corporation. I can’t really reveal much more than this without ruining the twists and turns of the story.
I actually found the plot to be a little bit too silly at times. It basically reminded me of some of the more outrageous aspects of the James Bond movies that starred Roger Moore. The comic elements of the Dirk Pitt novels do tend to help the reader to accept the ludicrous plot points but sometimes this novel went a bit too far into the absurd. None of this was helped by the fact that several of the side stories seemed to be very weakly related to each other and I think several of them could easily have been cut without affecting the story. However, one redeeming feature of the plot is that there are some interesting sections of the novel about Homer's Odyssey in which it is claimed that this story was actually set in Britain.
The writing itself is pure Cussler, it is fast paced, action packed and full of humour. The relationship between Pitt and Giordino continues to be thoroughly and I really enjoyed the signs that both of them were now beginning to get older, and that they were equally self-aware of this fact. I am not sure that Dirk’s son and daughter who are obviously being set up to replace the ageing pair are going to engage me in the same manner but I will need to wait and see.
Overall, this was an entertaining entry in the Dirk Pitt series of novels but it was probably one of the least enjoyable. Not because it wasn't engaging, funny or action packed, but because it was just missing the odd element of realism. I can forgive that in a fantasy book, but in a novel set in the real world, it just detracted from the story’s impact. There was still enough here however to ensure that I will likely return to the world of Dirk Pitt sooner rather than later.
Friday, 4 September 2015
Title: Star Trek 3
Author: James Blish
“Star Trek 3” by James Blish is the third collection of short stories which includes seven adaptations of Star Trek Original Series scripts.
"The Trouble with Tribbles"
"The Last Gunfight" (an adaptation of "Spectre of the Gun")
"The Doomsday Machine"
I have to admit that it is getting quite hard for me to review these collections without sounding like I am just repeating what I have said before but in the end what is true for one appears to be true for others. Basically, the level to which they entertain a reader is proportionate to how enjoyable the original episodes were. Luckily this collection contains a few decent episodes which meant that reading it was an enjoyable enough diversion for an afternoon.
As always there are a few changes to the stories as Blish tended to work with earlier scripts that were different to the final product and trying to spot these differences can be quite an entertaining experience. They don’t tend to overly affect the impact of the episode but it was quite nice to see the stories being told in a different way.
A slight negative is that the dramatic impact and tension was lost in several of the stories. For example, “The Doomsday Machine” was put across in a rather stale manner and the dramatic impact Kirk’s death in “Amok Time” was lost a little as the story was told from his viewpoint. It wasn’t a major issue but as these were some of the more enjoyable episodes used in the collection it was a shame to see them put across in a manner which wasn’t as strong as it could be.
Overall, Blish continues to do a competent job at adapting the various episodes but outside of nostalgic Star Trek fans I doubt they are going to appeal to many people.
Saturday, 8 August 2015
Title: The Disinherited
Author: Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman & Robert Greenberger
“The Disinherited” is a Star Trek Original Series novel written by three authors, Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman & Robert Greenberger. It contains two parallel stories, the first of which follows Kirk and the Enterprise who are trying to pursue a group of raiders who have been viciously attacking Federation colonies. The second plotline is in relation to Uhura who has been temporarily assigned to another ship, the USS Lexington. Her role is to serve as an interpreter for the inhabitants of Rithra who have asked the Federation for assistance in protecting their procreation centre from a volcano.
The two plotlines enabled the novel to provide some entertainment on multiple levels. The Enterprise segments had plenty of entertaining action with Kirk taking centre stage, masterfully commanding the Enterprise through various incidents. Whereas the story on Rithra enabled the authors to really explore and develop Uhura’s character beyond just her expertise at linguistics. Basically, it enables readers to experience a story which tries to capture the feeling of series with some Kirk centric adventure, but also learn something new about one of the less developed characters which to me is an important part of Trek literature.
This interesting dual narrative is also supplemented by some great retcon work in regards to Chekov. We get to see the angst and nerves that he may have faced when he took on the role as Navigator and became a bridge officer. I really enjoyed getting a chance to see how he deals with his new more prominent position.
Whilst the action and adventure were fun to follow, it was the characters that really impressed me. As I have mentioned already, Uhura and Chekov get some great exposure here but what I also liked is that both of them and the others all felt true to the characters we know and love. The authors had a great grasp on the characters and it shines through here in this novel.
My only other comment on the book is to highlight that whilst the book is written by three different authors it didn’t feel like it. The writing flowed nicely between the chapters without any issue and at no point did it feel disjointed. I do not know how they did it but all I can say, is well done.
Overall, this was an enjoyable TOS novel that provides the reader with the best of both worlds. A fun Trek adventure in the standard mould supplemented by some great character work that really helps to enhance the overall Trek Universe. If you are one of those Trek fiction readers who only read a limited number of TOS novels then I recommend you consider this one.
Monday, 20 July 2015
Title: Light (Gone Book 6)
Author: Michael Grant
The Book Depository
“Light” by Michael Grant is the 6th and final Book in the Gone series. As it is in the final book in the series, I suspect that if you have been read the other books you are going to read this book no matter what I say here. However, I will put down at least some of my thoughts as it may persuade the odd curious reader to give the series a try.
The story picks up from the enjoyable events the concluded the previous novel, “Fear”. The evil gaiaphage has been reborn into human form and is slowly doing all she can to destroy the children who are left inside the FAYZ. Her aim is to kill everyone there and then escape uncontested into the wider world which she can bring under her control. So, begins a final battle begins between her and the final few survivors who must stand together against her.
Closing a long series such as this is no easy task but I feel that Grant has done a great job with “Light”. The adrenaline packed adventure we have been following throughout the series doesn’t let up for one moment, the fast pacing grabs the reader from the first page right to the last. In addition, Grant uses the characters he has wonderfully crafted over the past few novels to expertly showcase a finale that is full of loss, horror, sacrifice, heroism and triumph.
The characters are something I do really want to go into with this book as it is the final one. I have thoroughly enjoyed following what is a very diverse and varied cast, many of whom have their own development arcs that were interesting and at times could be classed as quite risqué in what is essentially a YA novel. For example, he wasn’t scared to show two teenagers having sex as it fitted perfectly with the story he was telling and he wasn’t worried about delving into religious aspects with characters questioning their faith and begin to doubt things. All these type of things helped to ensure that characters actually felt real and were people that I wanted to know more about.
If I have to give you all one minor niggle it is that whilst Grant did a great job delving into quite a wide range of characters, a couple of them do seem to fall by the wayside such as Bug and Computer Jack who were developing along nicely before Grant just seemingly decided to abandon their arcs beyond the interactions needed in regards to the main plot. Not a major problem but it is disappointing when you see the side-lining of characters you were enjoying following.
A final thing I will also note is that this book and the others in the series as a whole do contain a fair amount of gore and violence which may not appeal to everyone. Grant is more than happy to try and shock the reader in a new and more extreme way for each book, so by the 6th book I am sure you can imagine how inventive the deaths and horror can be.
Overall, this was an excellent final chapter in an engrossing and enjoyable series. It is a credit to Grant’s work that I do believe this is one of the best YA series I have read in recent years and highly recommend it to anyone who may be looking for a dark, dystopian story with strong characters and thrills aplenty.