Friday, 30 May 2014
Title: Star Trek 1
Author: James Blish
“Star Trek 1” by James Blish was the first Star Trek novel ever released and is a collection of Original Series scripts adapted into short story form rather than being an original piece of work. The seven stories included in this collection are all from season one and are as follows:
Charlie's Law (Charlie X)
Dagger of the Mind
The Unreal McCoy (The Man Trap)
Balance of Terror
The Naked Time
The Conscience of the King
Reading this collection was an interesting experience for me as I was looking forward to reading the stories and refreshing my memories of the original episodes involved, especially as I felt these most of these were good episodes. To be honest, whilst the book did succeed in reminding me of the stories there were a few issues that affected my overall enjoyment of the collection.
For example, my favourite episode in this collection, “Balance of Terror” just feels downright flat and uninspiring. The novelization is badly missing the Romulan Commander’s point of view which really added to the story. In addition I just didn’t like how the entire crew, even Kirk to an extent decided they were going to distrust Spock. Basically my favourite episode on TV turned out to be least favourite in this collection. To be fair to Blish he was constrained by the short story length and he was working with the shooting scripts which at times varied quite a bit from what we finally see on the screen. Therefore I do understand why there would be some issues but readers should still be aware that there are some differences, some of which do weaken the stories.
However, it isn’t all bad and there are two stories in particular where I think Blish has actually added some really good elements. The first of these is within “The Unreal McCoy” (AKA The Man Trap) where Kirk knows realises that there is no way his officer would have eaten a strange alien root. In the actual episode everyone just seems to assume the redshirt is an idiot and doesn’t worry about it. The second was “Miri” which has been enhanced by the removal of silly sections like the planet being an “exact duplicate of Earth” and enhanced by some supplemental information on the virus itself. Whilst it could get a little bit dry at times it helped to ensure that things made a bit more sense and it would therefore have been nice for some of this explanation to have made it over into the episode.
Overall, this was a competent attempt at capturing the Star Trek episodes at a time when VCRs and DVDs weren't around. Some of the stories are enhanced and some are weakened by the adaptations but they were all readable in their own way and still highlight the fun of the Star Trek series. On a personal point, one thing this collection did highlight to me is how much the actors themselves really helped develop and enhance both the character interactions and stories.
Tuesday, 27 May 2014
Title: Messenger (Behind The Walls of Sleep Book 1)
Author: Scott Rhine
“Messenger” by Scott Rhine is the first book in his YA fantasy series entitled “Behind the Walls of Sleep”. It is Rhine’s first attempt at writing for the YA market and I can easily see how it could tap into the mind-set of online game playing teens the world over. The story follows Daniel, a young teenager who has suffered a terrible accident in his past which led to his mother going to prison and his movement between foster families before his unknown relatives took him in. Whilst living with them, Daniel soon discovers that whilst he dreams he can pass through into another world reminiscent of a roleplaying video game where wizards and barbarians roam. However, before long it becomes clear that what he is doing in one world is upsetting people in the other and Daniel’s life is far from being safe in either place.
My first impressions of the book was that the sections in the dreaming world really did feel like I was following someone’s adventure in a game such as World of Warcraft with respawn points, loot, NPC style characters and quests clearly evident throughout. All you would have needed to was switch the going to sleep for powering on the PC and it would have easily fit. The interesting bit here is that I found most of the charters in this world to be rather flat and uninspiring but I actually found that this enhanced that online game feel and made it all feel very familiar.
The real meat of the story to me however was in the real world; it was here that I found some more development in the characters which contrasted wonderfully with the dream world. It is also here that Rhine really tries to tap into the YA writing elements of showing Daniel’s attempts at discovering who he is and what he wants to truly wants become.
It was actually nice to see Rhine slowdown his pacing with this book as many times in the past I have found his work to quickly launch the reader from one fast paced section to the other which can be fun to follow but does sometimes leave the reader feeling dizzy. Yes, the dream world still seems a bit madcap and fast but this worked due to the nature of the world itself and was again wonderfully contrasted by a slower and further developed real world story.
My biggest issue with the story is the ending which left me feeling rather disappointed as it is all rather sudden without any real resolutions. I know it is setting up for the sequel but I do still like to see some sort of reasoned ending to a book in any series and I felt that this was missing from this novel.
Overall, this was a very different book from what I have seen before from Rhine which was actually nice to see. I think he has done a great job in trying to reach the YA audience, especially those who enjoy online gaming and fantasy adventures. Personally, whilst I am not the target audience I still appreciated the story, helped along I am sure by my own love of gaming so I know that I will be picking up the sequel when it is released.
Friday, 23 May 2014
Title: The Demolished Man
Author: Alfred Bester
Genre: Science Fiction
The Book Depository
As part of the 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge I was required to read an award winning novel, therefore for a science fiction geek like me I thought this would be a good excuse to go back and read the first ever Hugo award winning novel. It turned out that the first ever winner was “The Demolished Man” by Alfred Bester back in 1953 and so I quickly picked up a 2nd hand copy from Amazon and started reading.
The story is set in 2301 and follows two characters, the first of which is Ben Reich, owner of Monarch Corporation who decides he must arrange for the death of a business rival. Unfortunately he now lives a in a society whereby telepaths can easily detect premeditated murder and therefore must enact a plan which will enable him to commit the crime and also get away with it. Against all odds he succeeds and thus the reader is introduced to the 2nd main character, Police Prefect Lincoln Powell who has an incredibly powerful telepath and identifies Reich as the culprit but can’t actually nail him down. And so the reader gets to follow a game of cat and mouse between the two.
It was an enjoyable enough read that combined a murder mystery with a science fiction environment to the point that it feels more like a mystery novel than a Science Fiction one. The basic premise of the novel about someone trying to commit murder in a society full of telepaths was actually very interesting and I did appreciate seeing how it played out. In addition the way in which Bester has extrapolated 1950’s technology was also rather fun to see. For example I loved how he introduced new powerful computers but they still used punch cards.
The age of the novel does of course result in some issues. Bester had some fresh and invigorating ideas when he put this book together in the 50’s but in today’s world some of them do appear rather tired and unexciting. In addition, the rather unflattering portrayal of women didn’t make for the best reading. I understand this is a sign of the misogyny inherent from the times but it is still pretty tough to wade through the clichéd bimbos and wimps who don’t do much beyond fawning after various men.
However, the biggest issue that affected my enjoyment though was some of the contradictions and weak plotting. For example, I found some of the various behaviours to be badly motivated and rather naïve. In addition the big premise of the novel is that premeditated murder is all but impossible yet after the first murder a few more occur that also manage to get missed by the telepaths. These types of things all conspired to reduce my overall appreciation of the novel.
My final note is positive and is in regards to the mindspeak that is conducted between the various telepaths. I loved how at times it seemed very reminiscent of the shorthand we now see via phone SMS and Instant Messenger programmes. Then there were the various mindgames that occurred between groups of Telepaths which I enjoyed reading through. It was all a quirky and fun attempt by Bester to highlight the different ways in which both communication and literature itself can occur.
Overall, this was an interesting novel that would have been rather innovative back in the 50’s and I can see why it was nominated and won the first Hugo award. It does suffer a bit from its age and I think contemporary readers may be less forgiving of its plotting flaws etc. than readers from the 50’s who were enjoying the creative boom of Science Fiction.
Thursday, 8 May 2014
Title: Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel
Author: Christopher L. Bennett
The Book Depository
“Tower of Babel” by Christopher L. Bennett is the second novel in the “Birth of the Federation” series which continues the adventures of the crew from Star Trek Enterprise. I thoroughly enjoyed Bennett’s previous novel in the series and therefore I had been looking forward to this from the moment I heard about the release date.
The story picks up where “A Choice of Futures” finished off with the fledgling Federation still trying to understand what it really wants to be in the galaxy. This is highlighted by a presidential election which is being fought between two factions who have very different views on what the Federation’s future should entail. With this election in the background, Admiral Archer is undertaking negotiations to bring the Rigel system into the Federation although his attempts are being hampered by an alliance of criminals including Orions and Malurians who are determined to ensure the Federation fails.
Without doubt this is one of the busiest Star Trek books I have read in a while, there really is a lot going on and my summary above only briefly touches on it all. There are multiple plotlines on the go and Bennett has managed to find a role for pretty much every main character from the series which was nice to see. I was quite impressed that I didn’t actually feel lost at all even with so much going on, Bennett manages to blend all the pieces together into a well-paced, coherent and entertaining story. The only minor downside in utilising a wide array of characters and plotlines is that the novel felt like it was missing a powerful central plot that would have made me really care. Don’t get me wrong, it was still fun and entertaining but it just didn’t draw me in as much as other books have.
This was only a minor fault to be honest and it was easily overshadowed by some other elements of the novel such as the way in which Bennett has tried to create some depth to the villains. So often we get treated to a one dimensional villain but in this book we get some rounded characters whose motives and actions can be understood on some level if not necessarily agreed with. In addition, he has continued to flesh out some of the other minor characters such as Sam Kirk and Valeria Williams so that they interest me almost as much as the regular crew from the TV series.
One interesting observation I had about this book and in “A Choice of Futures” was the way in which various aspects of the plot relate to episodes of both the Enterprise and Original series. What I liked about this is that it was done in a manner which adds to the story and feels completely natural. I know some people don’t like “continuity porn” and I admit in the past I have seen links to various TV episodes that look forced and very much in your face, but with this series of novels Bennett has managed to seamlessly blend the various continuity points into the plot so this it should still make sense and be enjoyable for people who don’t know every TV episode.
Overall, “Tower of Babel” was another enjoyable novel in the Rise of the Federation series and it is always nice to return to this neglected era of Star Trek history. Bennett has done a good job in keeping the light burning for the Enterprise series and I am looking forward to seeing where we go next.