Monday, 30 September 2013
Title: Red Planet Blues
Author: Robert J. Sawyer
The Book Depository
“Red Planet Blues” by Robert Sawyer is slightly different from the more Space Opera styled Science Fiction novels I normally read. The book is an interesting take of the 1940’s era pulp noir detective novel set that has been expanded from his earlier short story entitled “Identify Theft”. It tells the story of a PI named Alex Lomax working on a frontier gold rush styled town on Mars. When Lomax gets involved in a missing android case he can’t anticipate the adventure he is going to embark upon which leads him to unravel a decades old mystery surrounding the location of a mother lode of valuable Martian fossils.
In terms of the story, it was a fun read and the world that Lomax has created was particularly interesting with its gritty, dark feeling and a subtle sense of desperation. It is very soft on the Science Fiction side of things which I think works well alongside the novel’s pulpy feel. Despite this softness, Sawyer does still try and tackle some interesting issues such as souls and how they are affected by the transfer of people’s consciousness into android bodies was nice to see although it isn’t really an original concept.
There are a couple of weak points in the novel, the first of which is linked to the structuring of the plot. The novel feels like a collection of three individual short stories the author has tried to shoehorn together rather than being a well-structured overall story. In addition these three elements all felt very similar, Lomax would investigate a little before initiating some form of action packed chase and stand-off. I would have appreciated seeing a little bit more thought and development being evoked which may have helped avoid the repetitive feeling.
The biggest let down though is in regards to the characters, Sawyer has created an interesting range and he tried to show them in shades of grey rather than being black and white but I just felt that the development was lacking. Too many of them came across as being two-dimensional meaning the chance to really capture them in an interesting and entertaining manner was lost. This just meant that in the end the only character I found myself caring about was an android named Rory-who was endearing despite being somewhat of a stereotype.
Overall, despite the hackneyed plot, repetitive structure and two-dimensional characters I did actually enjoy the story. It was easy to read, fun and I appreciated the pulpy noir style which is something I am not used to reading. Perhaps, if I had read multiple noir detective novels it wouldn’t have had held the same interest but if you are looking for something a bit softer on the Science Fiction front alongside seeing this noir detective style for yourself then you may as well give it a go.
Saturday, 14 September 2013
Title: Things Fall Apart (Mere Anarchy Book 1)
Author: Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore
“Things Fall Apart” by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore is the first book in a six part Star Trek mini series entitled “Mere Anarchy”. The interesting thing about this series is that the stories were originally released only in ebook format only which seems to have resulted in a shorter length in comparison to other Trek novels.
In this story the readers are introduced to the inhabitants of the planet Mestiko who have been under observation by a small team of Starfleet cultural specialists. However, the future is not looking good for the planet as a rogue pulsar has been detected approaching their star system. The lethal radiation given off by the pulsar is expected to destroy all life on Mestiko. The Federation must therefore decide if it is willing to step in and try to assist when it is limited by the strict definitions of the Prime Directive.
I actually found this to be a thoroughly enjoyable introduction to the series as it expertly sets the stage for future instalments. I liked how the authors have split the narrative between Mestiko’s inhabitants and the crew of the Enterprise. This ensures that as well as getting to see the familiar crew, the readers are able to identify and understand the people on the planet who I suspect we will see more of in the future stories.
One thing I really noticed about this story is that it really did seem to capture the feel of the original series era. I could easily envision this as the same crew witnessed in the episode of “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. I don’t think it offered any new insights into the crew but with the short length of this story I don’t think there was much opportunity and I was more than happy just to witness the crew acting in the manner I expected.
Overall this was a very engaging and enjoyable introduction to the “Mere Anarchy” series that sets the scene admirably and leaves the reader looking forward to the next instalment.
Note: Whilst this story was originally released in ebook format only, a collection of all the Mere Anarchy stories is available in a paperback edition.
Wednesday, 11 September 2013
Author: John Scalzi
The Book Depository
"Redshirts" by John Scalzi is an amusing novel which should appeal to anyone who has watched Star Trek and felt sorry for the way in which it is always an extra, or redshirt, that dies when the crew visits a planet. The book has actually been sitting on my shelf for quite a while now but I decided to finally read it as part of the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge which required me to read a humorous novel and this book really fit the bill.
The story itself follows the starship Intrepid and its voyage to explore new worlds and new civilizations. However, rather than focusing on the captain and his senior staff, it focuses on Ensign Andrew Dahl and his fellow low-ranked crew members who slowly begin to realise that their fellow Ensigns are dying at an alarming rate. As they dig deeper into this mystery, they uncover an uncomfortable truth that leads them on an unexpected journey through time and space.
At its core this novel could simply be taken as an entertaining spoof of Star Trek in the same vein as Galaxy Quest. However, I think there is more to it than that as it gets quite metaphysical with a link between the voyages of the Intrepid and people in the 21st century writing a Science Fiction TV show. This is further enhanced by the fact that around half the novel is actually made up of some additional codas. These codas further explore the 21st Century world after the crew of the Intrepid have visited and influenced several people.
To be honest, I think it was the Codas that appealed to me the most in this novel. The main story was funny and enjoyable but these Codas added a little bit more variety and depth to the story and I found myself forming much more of a connection with the characters.
The writing itself was probably the weakest element in the novel as it felt very lazy. There was basically little to no descriptive exposition meaning I had no idea how anything looked etc. It was mainly just dialogue which actually began to get on my nerves as I progressed through the story as it was very choppy and got bogged down by the constant use of “X said” and “Y Said” as shown below:
“Blah, Blah, Blah.” Dahl said.
“Blah, Blah, Blah.” Hanson said.
“Blah, Blah, Blah.” Dahl said.
“Blah, Blah, Blah.” Hanson said.
And so on! All I can say is that I am glad I read the book and didn’t pick up the audiobook as this would probably have driven me mad if I was listening to it. I just wish he had tried other ways to bring across conversations instead of always reverting to this format.
Overall, this was an entertaining and enjoyable lampoon of Star Trek with some deeper meaning held within the various Codas. The writing does let the book down in my opinion and this helped to ensure that I never really engaged with the main characters. However, if you are a fan of Star Trek then I am sure there will be something you find in this book that can make you smile.
Sunday, 8 September 2013
Title: The Final Reflection
Author: John M. Ford
“The Final Reflection” by John M. Ford is a Star Trek novel that I believe is rather unique for the genre. The reason for this is that the core story is quite simply one that could be enjoyed by any fan of Science Fiction, not just those who appreciate Star Trek.
Part of this is due to the fact that the only section of the novel which involves the regular Star Trek characters is a very minor framing story. This framing element basically details Kirk deciding to read a novel entitled “The Final Reflection” which is based on the experiences of Samuel Tagore, a Federation Ambassador to the Klingon Empire. The core of novel is basically this story which is set several decades prior to the events of the original series and follows the life of Krenn, a captain in the Klingon Navy. However, the real aim of the story in my opinion is to use Krenn’s experiences to portray Klingon culture in a deep a meaningful manner.
I honestly don’t believe I can overstate how much I enjoyed this novel. It has a complex and thoughtful plot that kept me fully engrossed in a way I haven’t felt with many other Trek novels. Politics, diplomacy, espionage and action are woven together into an entertaining story that really made me think. In addition the portrayal of Klingon society is quite simply superb and whilst much of it has been contradicted by later TV episodes it is still a well-constructed and believable portrayal. To be honest, I actually think Ford’s portrayal of the Klingons is much more varied and interesting that what we ended up seeing on the various TV series although I did enjoy that portrayal as well.
In regards to the characters, at times it is hard to fully identify with Krenn and his Klingon companions due to Ford’s ability to portray their culture and beliefs as being alien to our own. However, despite this there is still something there that readers can respect and appreciate to the point that the will quickly find themselves supporting them. It was fascinating getting to see the viewpoint from characters that are on the “opposite” side from the Federation etc.
The only comment I can make that could possibly be portrayed as being negative is that there were several points throughout the novel at which I felt I was missing something. Ford’s story is so deep that I had to re-read some sections a few times to catch the meaning and understand everything that was going on. Personally, I quite enjoyed this challenge that I don’t normally get in Trek novels but I am sure some people may not appreciate it.
Overall, this was an excellent novel that probably is one of the finest examples of Trek literature that I have read to date. The story itself is an excellent Science Fiction piece that explores an alien culture and would have been just as enjoyable to read without the Star Trek elements. Whilst much of it has been contradicted by what has come since, I still think it is well worth reading and really highlights the missed opportunities in the late 80’s when books such as this which looked at the wider Trek Universe would no longer be approved.
Thursday, 5 September 2013
Title: On the Lips of Children
Author: Mark Matthews
“On the Lips of Children” by Mark Matthews is a horror novel that actually had shocked me from the first few pages. The story follows Macon and Erin, a couple who are staying at a San Diego hotel with their daughter in preparation for a marathon that Macon intends to take part in the following day. However, when Macon decides to go for a training run he sets in motion a chain of events that will brings both him and his family face to face with evil and cruelty.
I won’t say much more than this as I don’t want to ruin the plot, however the story itself was a thoroughly good read that was well written and well-paced. I had some real moments of unease in regards to some of the events that take place which is something I do look for when reading horror novels. These elements were also well supported by some good atmospheric work by Matthews, there is a real sense of darkness here and the tension and dread is built up and maintained wonderfully.
However, the thing that really works well in this novel is the characters. Whilst the elements of running and tattoos that are core to the main characters thoughts didn’t mean much to me, it didn’t really affect my appreciation for who they were. They still felt like real people to me with their determination to protect their family being really powerful to witness.
A word of warning about the novel however is that some parts are rather gruesome and uncomfortable to read. If you are used to this genre or enjoy some of the more visual horror movies out there then it probably won’t bother you, but if it is new to you then you may find it quite disturbing.
Overall this is a dark and intense story that should keep all horror fans well and truly hooked right up until the end. The back of my mind is still tormented by some of the images portrayed in this book which I think really shows both the impact of the story and the ability of Matthews to write it.
Monday, 2 September 2013
Title: Enterprise (My Brother's Keeper Book 3)
Author: Michael Jan Friedman
“Enterprise” is the final book in the “My Brother’s Keeper” trilogy by by Michael Jan Friedman which explores the friendship between James T. Kirk and Gary Mitchell. As with the previous two novels in the series, it utilises a framing story set after the events of the TV episode entitled "Where No Man Has Gone Before" in which Gary Mitchell dies.
The framing story is based around following Kirk’s journey back to Earth where he meets Gary’s parents and decides to tell them the truth about what happened to their son. However, whilst there he ends up thinking over one of his first adventures as captain of the Enterprise in which Gary continues to help shape his career. This flashback follows Kirk and his crew as they finally unravel a mystery that had been building through both the previous novels. What they find is a secret that both the Klingon’s and Federation have kept hidden and will result in Kirk having to work with a Klingon commander named Kang if he is to save the Enterprise.
I initially struggled to get into this book as once again Friedman decided to use a portion of the novel to describe Mitchell’s death. I can’t imagine anyone reading without having picked up the previous novels in the series so don’t understand why he felt the need to subject me to another re-telling of the same story. It doesn’t help that the best telling of Mitchell’s death was in the first novel anyway.
However, once we get past this the novel is actually quite an enjoyable read and I was happy to finally see the conclusion to the mystery that had been progressing in the other novels. There is plenty of action and fun throughout, but in addition there is some character development in regards to Kirk as he tries to learn about accepting everyone’s opinion, not just people he may have known closely in the past so that he can be a great captain.
Another nice little element to story is Friedman’s attempt at trying to explain the physical differences between Klingons in the Original Series and in the Next Generation. This book of course was written prior to the “Enterprise” TV series which gives a different reasoning, but I think that I actually prefer this version.
Overall, this was an enjoyable and entertaining conclusion to the trilogy and I probably found the core story to be the best out of all three novels. There is plenty of action, adventure and excitement packed into this novel in addition to its attempt at exploring Kirk’s growth into a good captain.