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 UK

“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:

A Taste of Armageddon
Tomorrow Is Yesterday
Errand of Mercy
Court Martial
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:
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

“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

“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.

Thursday 15 January 2015

Star Trek: Sacrifices of War (Errand of Fury Book 3) - Kevin Ryan

Title: Sacrifices of War (Errand of Fury Book 3)
Author: Kevin Ryan
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2008
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

"Sacrifices of War" is the final novel in Kevin Ryan’s “Errand of Fury” Trilogy, which in itself was a sequel to his earlier “Errand of Vengeance” Trilogy. In this novel, we see that time has finally run out and both the Federation & Klingon Empire are truly teetering on the brink of war. The story is split into two parts with the first section following a Kirk led mission to destroy a Klingon weapon stash to ensure it cannot be used against the Federation. In addition, we get to see some more about Lieutenant Leslie Parrish who is traveling back to Earth aboard a cargo ship which is soon attacked by a Klingon raider. The final element of the novel is a novelization of the “Errand of Mercy” TV episode in which war finally breaks out and Kirk must try and persuade the peaceful Organians to try and resist the Klingon Empire’s advances.

To be honest, I was a little bit disappointed in this novel, it felt very schizophrenic with the first half of the novel continuing to utilise Ryan’s original ‘lower deck’ characters, before then abandoning them with a faithful adaptation of the “Errand of Mercy” episode. Don’t get me wrong, it was a very competent and well written novelization but I think I would have preferred to have seen that story told from an original point of view as it was this fresh look at the Original Series that had kept me entertained throughout the previous five novels.

My favourite bit of the novel had to be in relation to the story around Leslie Parrish and her time spent trying to fight off a Klingon attack on the cargo ship Antares. In this section, we get to see her trying to contend with a civilian crew, dated equipment and her own pregnancy, whilst trying to get everyone to safety. I particularly loved seeing how she manages to persuade some of Antares’ crew assist her in killing Klingon’s resulting in an opportunity to explore the morality of the individual involved. It was very unexpected and interesting to see as normally the characters just dispatch enemies such as the Klingon’s without much thought or remorse.

Overall, this was probably an average conclusion to Ryan’s series, let down in my opinion by the decision to tack on a novelization of “Errand of Mercy” at the end. If Ryan had continued to concentrate on his original characters we may have gotten some new insights into what occurred at the time but unfortunately we just get to see something we already know. For anyone who has read the previous novels, it is really a no brainer about reading this to conclude the series but it is probably my least favourite of the six.

Wednesday 7 January 2015

Armor - John Steakley

Title: Armor
Author: John Steakley
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1984
Formats: Paperback

Available at:
Amazon UK

Armor by John Steakley is a military science fiction novel in a similar vein to Heinlein's Starship Troopers. The story is split into two distinct sections, the first features Felix, a soldier fighting in a war against an alien ant like race. He is sent on mission after mission, with a form of split personality helping him to face the horrors and keep on fighting. The second features a space pirate named Jack Crow (If you imagine Disney’s Jack Sparrow you wouldn’t be far off) who finds Felix’s armour several years later whilst undertaking a con who uses it to learn and understand what happened to Felix.

The first part of the book is truly action packed and quiet intense, with Steakley doing a great job with his vivid and quite chaotic sounding portrayal of the battles. This section of the story really did remind me of Starship Troopers, with the huge quantity of large ant like enemy, the pure brutality of the fight and the huge loss of life. I have to admit it can get a bit repetitive as there is only so much variety you can add when you are fighting an insect like enemy on a rather barren planet but I never found myself getting bored of the action scenes.

As you start the second part of the novel you do experience a bit of a shock, the pace slows down hugely and you are suddenly faced with a new character to learn about. This isn’t helped by the fact that we actually learn very little about Jack Crow, he just seems to be a rogue type caricature without any real development. However, as the section progresses and Crow begins to uncover more about what happened to Felix we really begin to understand what war can do to a person's psyche. Felix’s retreat into his alternate personality and the themes of post-traumatic stress really came to the fore here and wonderfully complimented the action packed chaos we were seeing from the armor memory banks.

The only real issue I had with the book was probably in relation to the fact it is split in two. The pacing issues at the beginning of part two and the rather tenuous links between the two elements make it feel to me like Steakley just decided he wanted to merge two novella’s together to create a full blow novel. In a way it would have been nice to have seen him create two different novels, one capturing Felix and the other capturing Crow.

Overall, I did enjoy this adrenaline soaked military sci-fi novel and I wish Steakley had finished the sequel before he died but alas it wasn’t to be. If you like military science fiction, especially novels like Starship Troopers then I suspect you won’t be disappointed if you decide to pick this book up. If you don’t normally read this sub-genre then I also think it would be a good book to try it out with as the post-traumatic stress related themes are actually quite interesting and do compliment the action.