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Josh Reviews Seinfeldia

My love for Seinfeld is deep and vast.  I started watching around the time of the show’s fourth season, back in 1992/93.  I remember being told that I absolutely had to watch “The Contest.”  I liked it, and by the end of that season I was watching regularly.  I think it was the fifth season episode “The Marine Biologist” that made me a fan of the show for life.  I can remember, like it was yesterday, that moment at the end in which George whips that golf ball out of his pocket.  (Kramer: “Is that a Titleist?”)  I don’t think I had ever before laughed so long or so hard at anything I had seen on TV.  Circa 1995, my friends and I started watching and/or taping the daily Seinfeld reruns at 11:00 PM, which allowed me to catch up on all the earlier episodes.  It was at this point, watching and re-watching those old episodes over and over again, that my Seinfeld love inched towards obsession, and I quickly grew well-versed in the minutia of the show.  I watched regularly until the end, and I have enjoyed regularly diving back into the show over the years.  When the DVDs were released, between 2004-2007, I enjoyed doing a complete re-watch of the show from start to finish.  So, yeah, I am a fan.

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s new book, Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything, tells the story of the show.  The book begins with a look back at the life and careers, to that point, of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, and their fateful conversation in a Korean deli in 1988 in which they hatched the idea that would become Seinfeld.  We read about everything that went into creating the pilot episode, and the sporadic early episode orders from NBC that gradually led to the order for a complete, twenty-two episode third season in 1991.  Ms. Armstrong’s book moves through all nine Seinfeld seasons, right up to the controversial finale.  Along the way, we stop for spotlights on various members of the supporting cast and also the production team, in particular a variety of the show’s writers.  The final chapters follow the main Seinfeld players through their post-Seinfeld years, including Michael Richards’ unfortunate racist outburst and the cast’s reunion on Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Seinfeldia is an enjoyable read, but it’s not nearly as in-depth as I had hoped.  Reading this so soon after The Daily Show (The Book), I found that Seinfeldia suffered significantly in comparison.  I loved the oral history format used in The Daily Show (The Book), and I wish a similar format had been used here.  It doesn’t appear to me that … [continued]

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Long Mirage

David R. George III’s latest novel, The Long Mirage, picks up exactly where his terrific DS9 duology Sacraments of Fire and Ascendance left off.  Religious unrest is spreading across Bajor with the discovery that the moon Endalla appears to have been artificially constructed as an anchor for the wormhole, casting doubt as to the divinity of the Prophets.  A Bajoran man, Altek Dans, has apparently been brought forward by the Prophets from thousands of years ago, in the past, but no one knows why.  Kira Nerys, thought lost in the wormhole, has also returned, only to discover that Altek is the man who fell in love with her when she was sent to the past by the Prophets (as seen in Revelation and Dust).  Why have both Kira and Altek been returned to Bajor at exactly this moment in time?  Meanwhile, Quark has hired an investigator in an attempt to locate Morn, missing since the destruction of the original DS9 two years earlier (at the end of Mr. George’s novel Plagues of Night), but now that investigator has apparently run off with Quark’s money.  So Quark sets out to track her down, and hopefully also locate his missing friend Morn, with Captain Ro along for the ride, just at the moment that Ro and Quark’s decade-long relationship has come crashing apart.  Finally, Nog’s attempts to restore the program of his holographic friend Vic Fontaine reaches a desperate hour, as Nog discovers he has only days before Vic’s program is corrupted and irrevocably lost.

David R. George III has, over the past few years, become the main story-teller of the continuing Deep Space Nine saga.  His recent novels — from Rough Beasts of Empire (part of the “Typhon Pact” series) to the duology Plagues of Night and Raise the Dawn, to Revelation and Dust (part one of the five-part crossover series “The Fall”) to the duology Sacraments of Fire and Ascendance, and now to The Long Mirage — all connect together to tell a thrilling, expansive Deep Space Nine saga that hopefully is far from over.  (Actually, Mr. George’s tale seems to have started all the way back in his contribution to the “Worlds of Deep Space Nine” series, the novella Olympus Descending.)

Mr. George has a mastery of the Deep Space Nine characters, and it’s wonderful to see the characters and story-lines from DS9, the greatest of the Trek TV shows, continuing on in such an engaging fashion in these stories set far beyond the events of the DS9 finale, “What You Leave Behind.”

In many ways, The Long Mirage functions as something of an epilogue to Mr. George’s past several books.  His recent novels have … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Daily Show (The Book)

May 10th, 2017
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It would be difficult to overstate my love for Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.  Week in and week out, for years, I turned to Jon Stewart and The Daily Show for edification and humor.  (It’s no coincidence that I continually kept putting The Daily Show atop my annual lists of the best television of the year.)  My first thought after most major news stories became: I can’t wait to see what Jon Stewart is going to do with this.  I know I’m not alone in that.  Mr. Stewart’s show was one of the most important television shows of the past several decades.  I don’t think I am exaggerating to state that not only did it shape the comedy world, but that it also helped shape our political discourse.  (There were plenty of times when I wish that Mr. Stewart’s point of view had been MORE impactful on the American political situation, but that says more about the sad state of our politics than it does about Mr. Stewart and his program.)

Chris Smith’s The Daily Show (The Book) is an extraordinary retelling of the history of The Daily Show.  The book begins with a prologue recap of The Daily Show’s conception and launch on Comedy Central, with Craig Kilborn as host and Lizz Winstead at the helm.  But then Mr. Kilborn signed with CBS, and the book picks up the story on page one with the courting and eventual hiring of Jon Stewart.  (Jon: “At the time, I was obviously making my mark in such films as Wishful Thinking and Dancing with Architecture, or Dancing About…  Oh, no.  They ended up calling it something else.  Playing by Heart, I think it was.”)  The book then meticulously charts Mr. Stewart’s subsequent eighteen years as host of The Daily Show. 

The book is told in an oral history format.  So rather than Mr. Smith’s summarizing his interviews in his own words, the book presents the commentary and recollections of everyone he spoke to in their own words, with only the very occasional piece of narrative connective tissue inserted to give some context to what is being discussed.  This format works spectacularly well.  Mr. Smith has done an extraordinary job, collecting new interviews with a staggering array of the men and women involved with The Daily Show over the years in all capacities.  We hear from literally every single person you would want to hear from in a project like this.  We hear from the correspondents, we hear from various guests, we hear from the writers and production staff, we hear from the leadership of Comedy Central, and on and on.  And, most importantly, at every point in the story, we … [continued]

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Star Trek: Headlong Flight

Seven years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis, and after the dramatic events of the five-book Trek crossover series “The Fall,” the USS EnterpriseE under the command of Jean-Luc Picard has set out on a new mission of exploration, investigating the area of uncharted space known as “the Odyssean Pass.”  While observing a nebula, they are astonished to discover the appearance, seemingly from out of nowhere, of an entire planet.  From the planet they receive a distress call from a group of aliens trapped on the surface, warning all ships to stay away lest they be trapped on the planet, too.  Meanwhile, years earlier, Captain William T. Riker and the EnterpriseD witness the incredible disappearance of a planet they had been studying inside of a nebula.  Of course, William Riker was never the captain of the Enterprise-D.  But this William Riker is, having assumed command after the death of Picard at the hands of the Borg several months earlier.  Meanwhile yet again, 100 years earlier, Romulan commander Sarith and her warbird Bloodied Talon are also drawn into the mystery.

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I love the complex web of continuity being woven between these post-Nemesis Pocket Books Star Trek novels, and epic crossover series like “The Fall” are always a ton of fun.  But I also enjoy reading done-in-one Trek novels whose main focus is on presenting a compelling new sci-fi mystery (hopefully wrapped around interesting character story-lines).  Dayton Ward’s previous TNG novel, Armageddon’s Arrow, was a wonderful yarn in that style, one that presented interesting new alien races and new mysteries.  This follow-up novel, Headlong Flight, is cast from a similar mold, bringing us another original story of “strange new worlds.”

I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery of the dimension-hopping planet, and the way Mr. Ward’s story developed across three different fronts — on board “our” Enterprise-E, on board the alternate-universe William Riker’s Enterprise-D, and also on board the Romulan warbird from Kirk’s era.  As the story developed, this three-pronged story took on an exciting momentum as we watched characters working together (and sometimes at cross-purposes) across multiple fronts.  This was a lot of fun.

At first, when it became clear that the Enterprise-D section of the novel was taking place in a never-before-seen alternate universe, I wasn’t that enthused with the idea.  Why were we wasting our time with this group of alternate versions of our main characters who we’d never seen before and would likely never see again, rather than continuing to develop and explore the actual main characters of the main-timeline Enterprise-E?  And yet, as I read Headlong Flight, I found that the Enterprise-D sections were my favorite parts of the novel!  I loved … [continued]

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Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown

Set during the latter half of the original Enterprise’s five year mission, Christopher L. Bennett’s novel The Face of the Unknown is a sequel to the Original Series episode “The Corbomite Maneuver.”  That episode introduced the diminutive Commander Balok and his enormous orb-ship, The Fesarius.  “The Corbomite Maneuver” is a terrific early episode of The Original Series, with a wonderful twist ending.  But by leaving the reveal of Commander Balok until the very end of the episode, we don’t actually learn much of anything about Balok or the people he represents, who call themselves The First Federation.  Enter Christopher L. Bennett and The Face of the Unknown.

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In the novel, reports of First Federation attacks on nearby planets send the Enterprise on a quest to locate Commander Balok’s mysterious people.  What Captain Kirk and his crew discovers is astonishing: the giant-headed puppet that Balok used in an attempt to intimidate Kirk and the Enterprise in “The Corbomite Maneuver” was in fact a representation of an actual alien race, gone for millennia but now returned to seek vengeance on those in the First Federation who they believe had wronged them.

As I noted above, “The Corbomite Maneuver” gave us only the barest of hints about the First Federation and Commander Balok’s people.  The episode was thus ripe for a follow-up, and Christopher L. Bennett has done an impressive job of exploring this alien society, fleshing out its people as well as its social structures and history.  I have always been impressed, in his novels, by Christopher L. Bennett’s attention to detail, and the way he is able to expand upon those small details to fill in backstory and to answer questions that I never even knew I had.  That talent is once again on fine display here in this novel, as he has used a variety of small references and suggestions from “The Corbomite Maneuver” to flesh out a fascinating new alien culture.  I loved reading about the First Federation’s hidden “Web of Worlds” (a vast, interconnected refuge for countless different alien races, hidden deep within a gas giant planet), and I enjoyed the way that Mr. Bennett developed several of the different races who make up this society.  The Web of Worlds is a fascinating concept.  It fits logically with what we knew of the First Federation from “The Corbomite Maneuver” while also expanding upon Balok’s people in fascinating new directions.  (I also enjoyed how the description of the Web of Worlds sounded, in a very clever touch by Mr. Bennett, very reminiscent of the interlocking dome design of the Fesarius, as seen in the book cover image above.)  I was even more taken by the very interesting idea that … [continued]

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Star Trek: Prey Book 3: The Hall of Heroes

John Jackson Miller’s Klingon-focused trilogy of novels, titled Prey — part of Pocket Books’ celebration of the 50th anniversary of Star Trek — wraps up with book three: The Hall of Heroes.  The menace of the Unsung, that cadre of discommendated Klingons, has mostly been resolved, but now a new and greater threat to galactic peace has emerged.  The Breen have stepped up their manipulation of their fellow Typhon Pact member the Kinshaya, tricking the Kinshaya into launching a full-scale invasion of Klingon space.  With Martok’s hold on power already weakened by the Unsung attacks and the manipulations of Lord Korgh, the would-be heir of Kruge (the Klingon commander killed by James T. Kirk on the Genesis Planet a century earlier), having threatened to tear apart the peace treaty between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, Captain Picard of the Enterprise, Admiral Riker of the Titan, and Captain Dax of the Aventine all find themselves scrambling to keep up with elusive enemies all around and a situation that threatens to spiral completely out of control.

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I loved John Jackson Miller’s first two Prey novels.  Click here for my review of book one: Hell’s Heart, and here for my review of book two: The Jackal’s Trick.  I did mention, though, in my review of The Jackal’s Trick, a concern that the plot-twists at the end of the novel felt a bit like an effort to stretch the story out needlessly into a third book.  By the end of book two, I’d felt that the story was mostly over and wasn’t sure there was really a third book’s worth of story left to tell.

I shouldn’t have doubted, because right from the start I thought The Hall of Heroes was terrific, and I was happy with the different directions in which Mr. Miller took the story in this third and final book.  I was not expecting the Breen and the Kinshaya to wind up playing such a major role in a story that had, through the first two books, been very Klingon-centric.  But I loved how Mr. Miller was able to expand the scale of his story, bringing in a number of new threats and challenges for our heroes.  This didn’t feel like plot-driven stretching, these new developments flowed smoothly out of what had come before, unexpected but logical ripple effects from Korgh’s plots and schemes.

Book 2 ended with the twist regarding the Orion, Shift, and I loved how Shift became a major character here in book three.  One of the nice aspects of this story’s being told over three books is that Mr. Miller has had the time to flesh out lots of fascinating nooks and crannies … [continued]

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Star Trek: Prey Book 2: The Jackal’s Trick

I really loved Hell’s Heart, Book 1 in John Jackson Miller’s new Prey trilogy of Klingon-centric novels.  Continuing Pocket Books’ expanding post-Nemesis Star Trek saga, Prey sees the Federation-Klingon alliance frayed to the breaking point.  Discommendated Klingons have banded together, calling themselves the Unsung, to strike out at enemies across the Klingon empire.  They are led by the man they believe to be the Klingon warrior Kruge (who fought Kirk on the Genesis Planet in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock), apparently returned from the dead.  When Klingon nobles under Starfleet protection are murdered by the Unsung, Starfleet is embarrassed and made the target of rage from other Klingons across the Empire.  Facing attacks from the Unsung and a loss of trust from the rest of the Klingon Empire, Captain Picard and Admiral Riker race to track down the villains, but they are continually several steps behind a centuries-long plot for revenge hatched by the Klingon Korgh, the heir of Kruge.

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I thoroughly enjoyed Book 1 of Prey, and Book 2 is just as enjoyable.  Mr. Miller orchestrates a vast story with multiple characters and multiple locations across the Alpha and Beta Quadrant.  Despite the book’s constant shifts around the galaxy, Mr. Miller’s story is always easy to follow and a joy to watch unfold.  Mr. Miller allows us to understand and follow Korgh’s complicated plot — as well as the plotting of other characters with competing interests as the story’s scale grows ever more vast — while still being able to enjoy a variety of twists and surprises as the book progresses.

For me, a highlight of the book was a spectacular action sequence, about half-way through the novel, as the Unsung attack Riker’s interstellar peace conference on the Klingon planet H’atoria.  Mr. Miller sets up the scene beautifully, describing a wonderfully unique location: the lava-surrounded island the Klingons calls “Spirit’s Forge.”  Mr. Miller cuts rapidly between multiple locations and multiple characters, allowing us to follow every step of the complex engagement as it unfolds.  This is riveting, page-turning writing, as exciting as the best action sequence in any filmed Trek adventure.

The novel’s climax depicts another complex, riveting space-battle as multiple factions (including the Unsung, loyal Klingon Defense Force ships, the team of con-artists manipulating events, the small ship crewed by Geordi La Forge and Lt. Tuvok chasing those manipulators, The Enterprise, The Titan, and Typhon Pact forces) all converge on a nebula known as Cragg’s Cloud and duke it out.  Mr. Miller juggles this huge assemblage of players with ease, rapidly cutting back-and-forth to allow the reader to follow multiple characters’ viewpoints as the chaos erupts.  It’s masterful story-telling and a tremendous climax to this … [continued]

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Star Trek: Prey Book 1: Hell’s Heart

I must confess that I didn’t start reading the first book in John Jackson Miller’s new trilogy of Star Trek novels, Prey, with great enthusiasm.  Mr. Miller has written some wonderful Star Wars novels, and while I enjoyed his first Star Trek adventure, the short e-book Absent Enemies, I didn’t at all care for Mr. Miller’s first full-length Trek novel, Takedown.  As for Prey, his new trilogy, I wasn’t enamored by the plot description that I’d read on-line — a rift in the Federation-Klingon peace felt like a step backwards for a Trek story, rather than a step forwards — and the cover to book 2 in the trilogy looked ridiculous, one of the worst covers I’ve seen to a Trek book in years.  With the previous Star Trek 50th anniversary trilogy, Legacies, having left me somewhat cold, I wasn’t expecting greatness for this second 50th anniversary trilogy of novels.

And so I must stand and doff my chapeau to John Jackson Miller, who blew me away with Prey book 1: Hell’s Heart, a magnificent Star Trek adventure that I tore through with enormous enjoyment.  This is a terrific novel, one of the best Trek books of the past few years.

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Legacies attempted to connect several different generations of Star Trek adventures.  (In that case, it was the era of “Number One,” who was first officer of the Enterprise under Captain Christopher Pike, with the later era of Kirk and Spock.)  Prey is structured with a similar goal in mind, one achieved far more successfully.  Mr. Miller’s story deftly weaves together multiple characters and story-threads from across a hundred years of Trek history.  Set in the post-Nemesis 24th century that Pocket Books’ interconnected series of Trek novels have been so skillfully crafting, Prey explores what happened to the house of the Klingon General, Kruge, who was played so memorably by Christopher Lloyd in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.  In this novel we meet Korgh, a Klingon who, while not Kruge’s son by birth, considered himself the general’s son and heir.  After Kruge’s death on the Genesis Planet, Korgh found his dreams for the future shattered.  For a hundred years, Korgh nursed his hatred for the Federation and developed a far-reaching plan to shatter the peace treaty that was forged in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and that, by the TNG era, had stood for almost a century.

As the book opens, while the newly-promoted Admiral Riker attempts to prepare for an important peace conference between the Khitomer Accord powers (the Federation, the Klingon Empire, and the Ferengi Alliance) and the Typhon Pact, Captain Picard and the USS Enterprise escorts a group of elderly Klingon … [continued]

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Star Trek Legacies: Purgatory’s Key

The Star Trek 50th anniversary trilogy of novels, titled Legacies, comes to a close with Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore’s Purgatory’s Key.  (Click here for my review of book one: Captain to Captain, and click here for my review of book two: Best Defense.)

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Eighteen years previously, when Captain Robert April commanded the USS Enterprise, he and the young Lieutenant Una (who would eventually become Captain Christopher Pike’s first officer on the Enterprise, as seen in the original Star Trek pilot “The Cage”) came into possession of a powerful piece of alien technology: a “transfer key” that held the secret of travel to another universe.  To prevent the key from falling into the wrong hands, April and Una hid the key on board the Enterprise, and passed the secret on to the Enterprise’s subsequent captains.  But now, Una has stolen the key and used it to travel to that other universe in an attempt to rescue her crew-mates who were banished there eighteen years before.  At the time she believed them lost forever, but now Una believes she can find and recover them.  Captain Kirk agreed to return to the point of transition between the two universes, the planet Usilde, after a set period of time to again use the transfer key to hopefully allow Una and her crew-mates to return home to their universe.  But Usilde is now a planet in disputed territory between the Federation and the Klingons.  Kirk decides to risk upset to the delicate Klingon-Federation negotiations and take the Enterprise into disputed space.  But with the Enterprise badly damaged following their battle with the Romulans in Best Defense, and multiple Klingon adversaries with competing agendas lying in wait for them, the mission seems hopeless.

Purgatory’s Key is a strong conclusion to the Legacies trilogy, and I think it’s the strongest of the three books.  The novel is jam-packed with plot and incident, keeping the story a very fast-paced, brisk read.  I think this book finds the best balance of the books in this trilogy between telling a plot-heavy story while also taking the time to explore all of the many characters involved in the tale.

This trilogy has explored a rich time-period in Trek history, following the creation of the Organian Peace Treaty in the Original Series episode “Errand of Mercy.”  In that episode, we saw the Federation and the Klingon Empire on the verse of war, but the deus ex machina of the powerful alien Organians put a stop to hostilities.  The resolution of that episode presented all sorts of questions for Trek fans.  How did the Organians ensure enforcement of the cease-fire?  How powerful were those aliens?  Could they truly … [continued]

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Star Trek Legacies: Best Defense

David Mack’s novel Best Defense is the middle book in a new trilogy of novels, entitled Legacies, intended to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek.  Click here for my review of the first book in this trilogy, Greg Cox’s Captain to Captain.

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Best Defense picks up a few weeks after the end of Captain to Captain. The alien “transfer key”, capable of displacing its victims into an alternate universe, has been stolen from where it had been hidden on board the Enterprise by Captain Robert April eighteen years previously.  Kirk’s attempts to track the Romulan spy who stole the key are cut short by the collapse of peace talks between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.  Summoned by Federation negotiator Ambassador Sarek to the planet Centaurus, Kirk tries to prevent the outbreak of a shooting war with the Klingons, while the Romulans use the power of the transfer key to wreak havoc.  Meanwhile, in the alternate universe to which the key permits access, Captain Una (the former Enterprise first officer nicknamed “Number One”, from the original Star Trek pilot “The Cage”) attempts to locate her friends and crew-mates who were banished to that desolate universe eighteen years earlier.

I feel about Best Defense very much the same way I felt about Greg Cox’s Captain to Captain. Like Captain to Captain, Best Defense is a fun, quick read. David Mack is a great writer, and man can he write a terrific action sequence. (This was clear from his previous books, and the climax of Best Defense doesn’t disappoint.)  But while I have enjoyed both Captain to Captain and Best Defense, for a fiftieth anniversary trilogy, so far Legacies feels surprisingly slight to me. It’s not telling a story that feels all that critical in terms of the larger Trek universe, nor does it dig that deeply into any of the characters.

Best Defense also suffers somewhat from a classic sort of “middle chapter” syndrome in that the story feels somewhat stretched in order to fill out this three-book trilogy.  Mr. Mack’s story throws all sorts of obstacles at Kirk and co., and brings back several characters from Trek lore.  While it is fun seeing all those characters, to me they didn’t feel all that integral to the story, more like writerly distractions and a way to stretch out this tale to a three-book length.

That being said, of course it is fun to see Ambassador Sarek and Amanda again (this story is set a short time after the events of “Journey to Babel”).  It’s interesting to see their relationship with Spock at this stage — the years-long feud between Spock and Sarek has been mended, but the … [continued]

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Star Trek Legacies: Captain to Captain

In celebration of this year’s fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek, several of the best of Pocket Books’ stable of Star Trek authors have collaborated on a fiftieth anniversary trilogy of novels called Legacies.

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The first novel, Captain to Captain, written by Greg Cox, is set during the five-year mission of Kirk’s Enterprise. As the story opens, Kirk and Spock are pleased to receive a very special guest to the ship: the woman nicknamed “Number One”, who was the ship’s first officer a decade previously, when Christopher Pike was captain of the Enterprise.  (“Number One” was the unnamed character played by Majel Barrett in Star Trek’s original pilot, “The Cage.”)

Ostensibly, Captain Una (the name Mr. Cox gives to “Number One”) is visiting the ship to confirm her suspicions as to the true fate of her former Captain, Christopher Pike. (In the episode “The Menagerie,” the two-part TOS episode that re-purposed footage from “The Cage,” Spock commandeered the Enterprise in order to bring the crippled Captain Pike back to Talos IV, where the powerful telepaths would enable Pike to live out the rest of his life unconstrained by his ruined body.)  But, in fact, Una’s visit to the Enterprise is a mission to steal a powerful alien object that the captains of the Enterprise had been hiding on board the ship for almost two decades. In a lengthy flashback, the story shifts back eighteen years previously to depict the fateful mission in which Lieutenant Una, serving on the Enterprise under Robert April (the Enterprise’s first captain), was involved in obtaining that powerful alien device.

Captain to Captain is an entertaining novel. It’s not that lengthy, and it is a very quick read as Mr. Cox’s crisp, clean prose zips along at a fast pace. Mr. Cox has a terrific grasp on the Original Series characters, particularly the Kirk-Spock-McCoy triumvirate.  I love the idea of a secret that has been shared between the three Enterprise captains (April, Pike, and Kirk), that’s a nice hook for a fiftieth anniversary story intended to honor the franchise as a whole. The character of “Number One” is an interesting and mysterious one, based on her single brief on-screen appearance, and so the idea of delving into her character and her past is also a great idea for this fiftieth anniversary trilogy.  I love that Mr. Cox chose to have her flashback set, not during the time of “The Cage” and Pike’s captaincy, but before that, during the time of Robert April, an era even less explored than that of Pike. (Robert April never appeared on-screen in any live-action Trek episode or movie, he was only seen once in a single episode of The Animated … [continued]

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Star Trek Titan: Sight Unseen

The 2013 five-novel “The Fall” reshaped the status quo in Pocket Books’ wonderful expanding series of Star Trek novels, which together have continued the stories of the 24th-century Trek adventures following the end of the official on-screen canonical adventures (in the Next Gen movie Nemesis and the series-finales of Deep Space Nine and Voyager).  Dayton Ward’s novel Armageddon’s Arrow updated us on Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise E as they left known Federation space to begin a new mission of exploration, while Jeffrey Lang’s Force and Motion checked in on some of the DS9 crew, specifically Chief O’Brien and Nog.  James Swallow’s new novel, Sight Unseen, circles back to the newly-promoted Admiral William Riker and the crew of the Titan.

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Whereas Picard and the Enterprise have been given a new mission of discovery, the Titan has lost theirs, with Fleet Admiral Akaar preferring to keep the newly-minted Admiral Riker and his former ship closer to home to help deal with the upheaval following the events of “The Fall.”  When a Starfleet ship that was helping an alien race called the Dinac, just taking their first steps into interstellar travel, goes missing, Riker and the Titan are called to investigate.  What they discover is terrifying evidence that seems to point to a new invasion of Federation space by the aliens from the season six Next Gen episode “Schisms.”

“Schisms” is not a particularly classic episode, but nevertheless its open-ended ending is one that feels ripe for follow-up.  I’ve been enjoying how so many of the recent Trek novels have been picking up dangling story-threads from various Next Gen episodes.  (Absent Enemies is a sort-of sequel to “The Next Phase,” while Force and Motion picks up the story of Captain Benjamin Maxwell from “The Wounded.”)  I really enjoyed the way Sight Unseen fleshes out those unnamed aliens from “Schisms.”  Mr. Swallow’s book does some enjoyable world-building, expanding upon the glimpses of those aliens that we got in “Schisms” to tell us more about their society, their methods and their goals.

It’s great having Mr. Swallow back writing another Titan novel.  I enjoyed his first Titan novel, Synthesis, and I loved his Titan-focused entry in “The Fall” series, The Poisoned Chalice.  Sight Unseen is another very strong installment of the continuing Titan series.  I love that, over the past decade, these Titan novels (exploring Will Riker’s first command after finally accepting the Captain’s chair of a Starfleet vessel following the events of Star Trek: Nemesis) have been such a consistent part of Pocket Books’ continuing series of interconnected Trek novels.  Following Riker’s promotion to Admiral in “The Fall,” I wasn’t sure if that meant an end … [continued]

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Star Trek: Force and Motion

Almost twenty years after the events of the fourth-season Next Gen episode “The Wounded,” (one of my very favorite episodes of Trek), Jeffrey Lang’s terrific novel Force and Motion catches up with the disgraced Benjamin Maxwell, former Starfleet Captain now working as little more than a janitor on an old, falling-apart space station in the middle of nowhere.  Captain Maxwell’s old comrade Chief Miles O’Brien decides to pay his former captain a visit, with Engineer Nog tagging along.  Of course, since perilous adventures seem to happen whenever the Chief leaves DS9, as soon as he and Nog set foot on board the station where Maxwell lives and works, many bad things start occurring in short succession.

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Force and Motion is a terrific novel.  It’s a wonderful idea to follow up on Captain Maxwell.  I’m actually somewhat surprised that it’s taken this long for a Trek writer to do so!  “The Wounded” was such a terrific episode, one of the first to really spotlight Miles O’Brien.  With the episode’s spotlight on O’Brien and the Cardassians (“The Wounded” was actually the Trek episode that introduced the Cardassians!), and also with it’s dark, ambiguous ending, “The Wounded” feels in many ways like a classic Deep Space Nine episode, and that’s a compliment.  Bub Gunton was incredibly memorable as Captain Maxwell, O’Brien’s former C.O., and so I was thrilled that this novel finally brought the character back and shed light on what happened to him after being removed from his command at the end of that Next Gen episode.

I also loved that Force and Motion brought Chief O’Brien back to the center stage.  Chief O’Brien has been mostly overlooked by the past decade of DS9 novels.  You’d really have to look back to the 2004 “Worlds of Deep Space Nine” novella The Lotus Flower, by Una McCormack, for the last time that O’Brien got a spotlight.  The post-finale DS9 books at first respected the plot point from the DS9 finale, “What You Leave Behind,” in which O’Brien revealed that he’d decided to leave the station, with his family, to return to Earth.  But after the destruction of DS9 in David R. George III’s fabulous DS9 duology Plagues of Night and Raise the Dawn, Mr. George brought O’Brien back into the fold as the Chief returned to oversee the construction of the new station.  Still, for the past few years worth of new Trek novels, O’Brien hasn’t been given much to do.  (We never even really got to see how he reacted to his friend Julian Bashir’s decision to abandon Starfleet in David Mack’s novel A Ceremony of Losses.)

I also enjoyed that this novel gave some attention to Nog, as well.  … [continued]

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Star Trek: Armageddon’s Arrow

At the conclusion of the galaxy-reshaping events of 2013’s five-novel crossover series, “The Fall,” Captain Picard and the crew of the USS Enterprise E embarked on a new mission of exploration and discovery.  In Dayton Ward’s excellent novel, Armageddon’s Arrow, Picard and his crew stumble into the middle of a war between two neighboring alien races, the Golvonek and the Raqilan.  The Enterprise encounters a gigantic, planet-destroying super-weapon, sent from the future by one side to annihilate the other.  While Captain Picard hopes that the discovery of this weapon might spur the two sides to come to the negotiating table and pursue peace, rather than this future of mutual annihilation, he instead finds a situation quickly threatening to spiral out of control as both sides seek to gain control of the super-weapon and its secrets from the future.  An already difficult situation is further complicated as Picard weighs his obligations to his oath of non-interference, his responsibility to protect the timeline, and his guilt at the Enterprise’s role in discovering the super-weapon.  Is there any way out of this impasse?

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While I was somewhat disappointed by the first stand-alone post-“The Fall” novel, Takedown, Dayton Ward’s Armageddon’s Arrow shows ’em how its done.  While Armageddon’s Arrow is (like Takedown) also a stand-alone adventure with a new sci-fi mystery/situation for Picard and his crew to unravel, it’s successful because not only is the new sci-fi situation rewardingly rich and complex as it unfolds, but because the novel also focuses deeply on the characters, exploring many of the crew-members of Picard’s Enterprise E and moving their stories forwards.

While familiar characters such as Captain Picard, Doctor Crusher, Worf and Geordi are very much front-and-center in the novel, Armageddon’s Arrow takes the time to shine a spotlight on many other members of the Enterprise crew, most of who have been created for Pocket Books’ post-Nemesis-set Trek novels from the past decade-plus.  We see the part-Vulcan first-contact specialist T’Ryssa Chen struggle with her feelings of uselessness on board a starship that has, for years, been engaged in local political struggles rather than exploring strange new worlds, and also with her conflicted feelings toward Lieutenant Commander Taurik (a character introduced in the TNG episode, Lower Decks who has been enjoyably fleshed out in these post-Nemesis novels) as well as the Betazoid security officer Rennan Konya.  We see the progression of Geordi’s relationship with the doctor Tamala Harstad, introduced back in Paths of Disharmony (she and Geordi have moved in together as the novel opens), and I was pleased to see Dr. Harstad also get involved in the story as more than just geordi’s love-interest, as she is a member of the way … [continued]

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Star Trek: Takedown

I am having a lot of fun getting caught up on the last year or so of Pocket Books’ Star Trek novels!

In 2013’s terrific five-novel crossover series, “The Fall,” a vicious assassination on board Deep Space Nine sends all of the major galactic powers — most notably the Federation and the newly-created alliance of many of their enemies called the Typhon Pact — on a collision course with one another.  I loved “The Fall”, and the conclusion of that series left me eager to see the new status quo of the Trek universe explored as the novel series moved forward.

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And so I was particularly looking forward to John Jackson Miller’s novel Takedown, first of all because this would be the first novel focusing on the newly-promoted Admiral Riker, and I was eager to see where the writers would be taking Riker next.  Would he remain Earthbound, of would he still be connected in some way to the ship, Titan, that he had captained through the past almost-decade’s worth of wonderful Titan novels?  I was also eager to see the crossover that this novel promised between Riker and the Titan characters , Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the Enterprise, and also Captain Ezri Dax and the crew of her ship the Aventine.

Unfortunately, I found Takedown to be a little disappointing.  I have written many times on this site about how much I hate mind control stories.  It always feels an excuse for “fake” drama, motivated by a character behaving in a manner that he/she ordinarily never would.  Sadly, very quickly in Takedown it became clear that this was one of these stories, as Admiral Riker attends a mysterious peace summit only to return changed.  (I would have vastly preferred had their been a legitimate reason for Riker, Picard, and Dax to be put at odds, perhaps an ethical dilemma without a clear right-and-wrong answer.  That would have felt like more genuine drama to me, and therefore more worthwhile.)

It’s unclear to me whether Mr. Miller intended Riker’s transformation to be a surprise for the reader when the truth of what happened to him at the peace summit is revealed about halfway through the novel.  It seems to me that this was likely WAS intended to be a surprise, because we don’t actually read in the novel the scene in which Riker is altered.  We just see him arrive at the peace summit and then, when next we see him, he is returning to Titan.  (Had Mr. Miller intended the reader to be in on what was happening, I suspect we would have gotten a chapter in which we saw Riker get changed.)  But it was painfully obvious to me … [continued]

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Star Trek: Absent Enemies

After enjoying the “Typhon Pact” e-book, The Struggle Within, I decided to move onto a more recent e-book, John Jackson Miller’s Absent Enemies.  This e-book was the first story to take place following the events of the five-book Trek novel crossover series “The Fall,” so I was eager to see how the Trek series would be moving fall following the dramatic, Federation-shaking events of those books.

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In this story, the newly-promoted Admiral Riker and the crew of the Titan are called upon to settle a seemingly intractable diplomatic situation, one that we learn (in flashback) even Captain Picard had found insoluble two decades earlier.  On the world Garadius IV, two groups of alien settlers, the Ekorr and the Baladonians, have been warring with one another on and off for years.  But when Riker and the Titan arrive, they find that the entire population of Ekorr has vanished.  They initially suspect that the Baladonians have been guilty of a genocide, but the truth turns out to be much stranger.

Absent Enemies is a short, enjoyable story.  It doesn’t feel all that significant in the greater Star Trek story that is being told in Pocket Books’ interconnected Trek novels, but it’s a pleasant yarn that winds up having a fascinating connection to the Next Gen episode “The Next Phase.”  That was a rather silly episode of Next Gen, but I enjoyed the way Mr. Miller uses this story to ask some pertinent questions about the plot of that episode, and even better, finds some great in-Trek-universe possible explanations for some of the weird events of that episode.  I also enjoyed the way the story shows us Riker’s early attempts at finding his way now that he is an admiral, and to avoid being one of the many useless, full-of-themselves Admirals that we have seen over the years in so many Trek episodes.

I like Mr. Miller’s writing style; Absent Enemies has a light, humorous tone that is still able to give the story sufficient heft when things turn more serious in the second half.  (My favorite moment in the e-book is a brief bit of business at the beginning, in which Christine Vale, in command of the Titan, remarks that Tuvok is beginning to learn all of Admiral Riker’s facial expressions.  Tuvok replies: “That one I learned from Kathryn Janeway. I call it ‘full stop.’”)

By no means essential, Absent Enemies is an enjoyable tale and I am eager to move on to John Jackson Miller’s first full-length Trek novel, Takedown.

Previous Star Trek novel reviews:

Star Trek – Unspoken Truth , Troublesome MindsCast No ShadowExcelsior: Forged in FireAllegiance in Exile

Star Trek: [continued]

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Star Trek: Typhon Pact: The Struggle Within

I enjoyed this summer’s solid-though-not-spectacular Star Trek Beyond, but for me, for the past decade-plus most of the best Star Trek has been of the unofficial kind.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed many of the Star Trek fan films that are being made (fan films that sadly remain threatened by Paramount’s draconian lawsuit against the fan-film Axanar), and I’ve also been eating up the Star Trek novels being published by Pocket Books.  Those novels have been weaving a vast, interconnected saga, taking the Trek characters and stories far beyond the last official on-screen adventures of Star Trek: The Next Generation (which ended with a whimper with 2002’s dismal Nemesis), Deep Space Nine (my favorite of the Trek series, which ended back in 1999), and Voyager (my least favorite of the Trek series, which ended back in 2001).  But I’ve fallen somewhat behind on reading the new Trek books, so much so that when I started to read one of the new ones, I found I had lost the thread of several of the stories.  So I decided to go back and re-read several of the Trek novels from the past few years, which has been a lot of fun.  While doing so, I also decided to read some of the Trek e-book novellas that I had skipped over originally.  My first stop was Christopher L. Bennett’s “Typhon Pact” novella: The Struggle Within.

Back in 2010, Pocket Books published a four-novel series subtitled “Typhon Pact.”  Introduced in Keith R.A. DeCandido’s novel A Singular Destiny, the Typhon Pact was an alliance of many of the Federation’s fiercest enemies: the Romulans, the Gorn, the Tholians, the Tzenkethi, and more.  The Typhon Pact four-book series explored this newly-created alliance, with each book fleshing out one of those just-mentioned alien races.  Over the course of those four books and the many novels that have followed, it’s been fun to see both the story of this anti-Federation alliance play out, and also to see these various alien races well-developed.  We already knew a lot about the Romulans, but the Gorn and Tholians were little-seen in previous official on-screen Trek canon — and the Tzenkethi have never actually been seen on-screen, they were only mentioned a few times on Deep Space Nine — leaving a lot of room for the writers to expand and elaborate upon them.

Christopher L. Bennett’s 2011 e-book novella, The Struggle Within, takes some time developing the Kinshaya, another race who had been mentioned as being a part of the Typhon Pact but who had not been explored by any of the previous “Typhon Pact” novels.  The book tells two parallel stories.  In the first, two characters from the post-Nemesis-set … [continued]

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Star Trek: Ascendance

I loved Sacraments of Fire, the first half of David R. George III’s new Star Trek: Deep Space Nine duology, and I’m pleased to say that the second book, Ascendance, is a strong conclusion to the story!

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Ascendance picks up right where Sacraments of Fire left off.  The crazed Iliana Ghemor (the Cardassian Kira Nerys look-alike from the DS9 episode “Second Skin”, who has been brought back as a major player in the post-finale DS9 novels) is leading the Ascendants, a fearsome race of interstellar religious zealots, in a crusade to destroy Bajor.  The planet’s only hope: the Jem’Hadar Taranatar.

Whereas Sacraments of Fire bounced back and forth around the timeline, this novel is presented in a more linear fashion.  The first half of the novel is set in what had been the missing years of the DS9 saga: after the events of 2009’s The Soul Key but before the events of David Mack’s Destiny trilogy.  The second half of the novel is set seven years later, in the “present day” of the current Trek novels’ continuity, taking place after the Federation-shaking events of last year’s The Fall five-book series.  It’s interesting that Mr. George chose such different structures for the two books in this duology.  I’m not sure which approach I prefer.  They both work for their respective books.

As I commented in my review of Sacraments of Fire, it is an enormous delight to see these novels finally go back to fill in the years of the DS9 story that got skipped when the entire Star Trek novel series jumped several years ahead of where the DS9 story was unfolding with David Mack’s excellent Destiny trilogy.  I had almost abandoned hope that the books would ever go back and fill in those missing years, so this two-book series was a delight.  (I detailed in my review of Sacraments of Fire the many old plot-lines from previous books that Mr. George so carefully picked back up and wove together in this wonderful new duology.)

I loved how these two novels carefully helped catch readers up on how all of the DS9 characters got to the places we saw them in Mr. George’s 2011 post-Destiny novel Rough Beasts of Empire.  Several years after that at-the-time-controversial novel (at least it was controversial to me, because of the very surprising places it took many of the DS9 characters), I have accepted and taken for granted many of those changes.  So it was an unexpected pleasure to get to actually see here, in this novel, just how and why Kira decided to leave military service to pursue a life as a Vedek (not to mention how she became friends … [continued]

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The Star Trek Saga Continues with Star Trek: Sacraments of Fire

We’re in the midst of one of the longest dry spells of new “official” Star Trek content since the decade between the cancellation of The Original Series in 1969 and the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979.  In the decade since the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise in May 2005, there have been just two official new Trek adventures released: the fun but flawed Star Trek reboot in 2009, and the catastrophically terrible Star Trek Into Darkness in 2013.  And yet, among fans, Trek has continued to flourish.  Despite Paramount’s ridiculous effort to shut down the production of Axanar (a kickstarter-funded fan-led effort to create a professional-quality Trek feature film, telling the story of the Federation’s Four-Years War with the Klingons that took place before the events of the Original Series), many fan-film productions have created wonderful new Trek episodes.  (My favorites are Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase II, and Star Trek Continues; both groups are producing extraordinarily high-quality new Trek episodes set during the classic Kirk/Spock “Five Year Mission” era.)  While those fan productions so ably explore Trek’s past, Pocket Books has continued to produce new officially-licensed Trek novels that explore Trek’s future.  Over the past fifteen years, the Trek novels have created a wonderfully complex and sophisticated web of stories that expand the saga and the characters beyond where we left them at the end of the Star Trek: The Next Generation film series and the Deep Space Nine and Voyager TV series.

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Being of the mind that Deep Space Nine was the best of the Trek spinoff shows, I’ve appreciated how central so many of the characters and story-lines from DS9 have been to this expanding Trek literary saga.  It was the post-finale-set DS9 novels, beginning with S.D. Perry’s Avatar trilogy from 2001, that brought me back to the Trek books after some time away.  And the success of that first wave of post-finale DS9 novels set the stage, I believe, for the more ambitious ongoing Trek story that has woven together characters and plot-lines from all of the many Trek series.  With no new 24th century-set shows or movies on the horizon to whose canonical continuity the novels would have to adhere, the Trek books have been free to play freely with all sorts of wonderful Trek characters and story-lines, moving the sage forward in exciting and surprising ways.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this last decade-and-a-half of Trek novels has been one of the very best sci-fi sagas in any medium that I have ever come across, sophisticated and a hell of a lot of fun.  This is long-form story-telling at its very best.… [continued]

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Josh Reviews the BBC Adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

April 11th, 2016

Over the winter I read Susannah Clarke’s magnificent novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.  I loved it, and highly recommend reading it.  The book tells the story of two magicians attempting to bring magic back to England in the late 1800s.  The novel is one of the best examples of fantasy world-building I have come across in years.  Clarke’s marvelously entertaining novel is rich in intricate details of this alternate universe England.

This compelling fantasy novel was ripe for an adaptation, and so I didn’t wait long after finishing the book to track down the BBC’s recent seven-episode miniseries adaptation.  First of all, thank heavens this novel was adapted into a miniseries rather than a film, as the seven-episode structure allows the story to breathe in a way a movie wouldn’t have.  (Even at seven episodes, the miniseries is very packed with plot and incident and struggles at times to tell the full story of Ms. Clarke’s sprawling novel!)

Overall I quite enjoyed the miniseries and highly recommend it.  Though let me be clear that Ms. Clarke’s wonderful novel is superior to the adaptation in every way.  If you’re considering diving into this story and this world, I strongly recommend reading the novel.

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The miniseries chiefly succeeds in the strength of its casting if the two leads.  I have often enjoyed the work of Eddie Marsan (who has appeared in both of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films, along with V for Vendetta, War Horse, and The World’s End), and he is perfectly cast here as the dour, bookish Mr. Norrell.  What a great pleasure it is to see this wonderful actor given a chance to shine in this leading role!  He is magnificent, keeping Mr. Norrell watchable as the lead while but never hesitating to show us this mousy little man’s many flaws.  As the miniseries progresses Mr. Norrell is both loathsome and very sympathetic, and Mr. Marsan’s strong work makes those shifts perfectly believable and compelling.

Equally magnificent us Bertie Carvel, an actor I had never heard of before seeing him here but who gives an astoundingly great performance as the second magician, Jonathan Strange.  Mr. Strange is the opposite of Mr. Norrell in almost every way, handsome and outspoken and charismatic, and Mr. Carvel absolutely commands the screen whenever he is present.  This is a triumphant performance and, I think, the best aspect of this adaptation.

The miniseries also, thankfully, features all of Ms. Clarke’s wonderful supporting characters.  Sir Walter and Lady Pole, Arabella, Drawlight and Lascelles, Childermass and Vinculus, John Segundus and Mr. Honeyfoot, they’re all here and lots more.

It’s interesting, this isn’t a case like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy in … [continued]

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Star Trek Deep Space Nine: The Missing

What a delight it is to have a new Star Trek novel that is officially titled as a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine book!!  Though characters and situations from Deep Space Nine (my favorite of the Trek TV shows) have played a major part in the last decade or so of Pocket Books’ wonderfully interconnected universes of Star Trek novels (particularly David R. George III’s Typhon Pact novels Rough Beasts of Empire and the spectacular Plagues of Night/Raise the Dawn duology), it has been many years since one of these novels has actually born the banner of Deep Space Nine.  I am glad to see that drought come to an end with Una McCormack’s new book, The Missing!

Giving this book that Deep Space Nine label is appropriate.  Though this book is set squarely in the continuity of Trek books following last years’ five-book The Fall series, The Missing is very much a stand-alone novel.  I love the tight continuity of Trek books and all the stuff about epic galactic politics, but having a small stand-alone story like this every now and then is a refreshing change of pace.

The Missing tells two parallel stories.  Firstly, Dr. Katherine Pulaski has assembled an interspecies civilian crew of scientists on the space-ship the Athene Donald, filled with scientists from across the members of the Khitomer Accords and even the Typhon Pact (the association of races who have long stood in conflict with the Federation), including a member of the mysterious Tzenkethi.  Dr. Pulaski’s hope is that these civilian scientists can learn to work together and thus set an example for their respective governments.  But this effort is disrupted by two events.  First, a Starfleet intelligence officer insists on being allowed to join the mission, and the Tzenkethi scientist takes offense, seeing this (correctly) as a sign that she is not trusted and that Starfleet as sent someone to spy on her.  Second, a large, technologically-advanced, alien vessel intercepts the Athene Donald and threatens their safety.  These aliens, who refer to themselves as The Chain, consider themselves vastly superior to the members of the Athene Donald.

Meanwhile, on Deep Space Nine, a small fleet of ships arrives at the station, containing a community of adults and many, many children from different species, who together call themselves The People of the Open Sky.  At first these friendly People are welcomed with open arms, but soon questions arise as to their history and motives, and Captain Ro must deal with a quickly-escalating situation.

The Missing is a fairly short book and a very quick read.  I quite enjoyed both stories, though both unfold fairly quickly and straightforwardly.  I wouldn’t have minded a few additional … [continued]

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Star Trek Section 31: Disavowed

One of the most intriguing story threads left hanging by last year’s five-book Star Trek The Fall series was the fate of Julian Bashir. Though Dr. Bashir was able to solve the Andorian reproductive crisis (a story-thread that has been running through the Star Trek books since the post-finale DS9 relaunch fifteen years ago), to do so he wound up disobeying his superiors and was discharged from Starfleet. This was an exciting development for the character, and I was very curious to see where his story would go next.

Luckily I didn’t have to wait long, as David Mack’s new book Section 31: Disavowed, focuses on Bashir, now on the outs from Starfleet and at something of a loss as to what to do with his life.  No surprise, Bashir is soon approached by Section 31, who have been trying (since the final seasons of the TV show) to recruit Bashir into their organization.  What unfolds is a game of spy-versus-spy, as Bashir and his girlfriend Sarina Hanfling enter the folds of Section 31 with the goal of undermining the organization from within.  Meanwhile, their handlers in 31 are fully aware of Bashir and Hanfling’s goals, but confident that they can keep the two under their control.

It’s interesting that this book has been published under the “Section 31” label.  Very soon after DS9 went off the air, Pocket Books published four “Section 31” books, but they haven’t used that label since.  One of those books, Abyss by David Weddle & Jeffrey Lang, was also a Bashir-focused story, and the events of that book have some relevance to this story.  Disavowed is also a direct continuation of the Bashir and Sarina developments that occurred in David Mack’s Bashir-and-Sarina-focused Typhon Pact novel Zero Sum Game, as well as everything that went down in the five-book The Fall series.  I love the way the stories of these books, published years apart and written by various different authors, fit together.  Mr. Mack has done a terrific job of pulling together various story and character threads and moving Bashir and Sarina’s tale forward, as well as that of their efforts against the mysterious Section 31.

To my delight, Disavowed also picks up the story of the Mirror Universe!  David Mack wrote several wonderful Mirror Universe-focused books, most notably The Sorrows of Empire (click here for my review) and Rise Like Lions (click here for my review).  Rise Like Lions felt like the triumphant conclusion of the Mirror Universe story-line, so I was not expecting to return to those characters.  Nevertheless, it was an absolute delight to check back in with the Mirror Universe, seven years after the Terran Rebellion emerged … [continued]

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Star Trek The Lost Era: One Constant Star

In 2003 Pocket Books published a six-book series called “The Lost Era” that told tales from the almost-century between the end of Star Trek VI and the launch of the Enterprise D in “Encounter at Farpoint,” the premiere episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Since then, there have been only two additional “Lost Era” novels published.  In 2007 we got Christopher L. Bennett’s book The Buried Age, which told what happened to Jean-Luc Picard in the decade between the loss of the Stargazer and his assuming command of the Enterprise D.  (Click here for my review.)  Then, earlier this year, Pocket Books published David R. George III’s novel One Constant Star, which tells a story of the Enterprise B under the command of Demora Sulu.

Star Trek: Generations introduced Hikaru Sulu’s daughter, Demora, as the helmswoman of the Enterprise B.  Several novels set in the years that followed have chronicled Captain Harriman’s years as captain of the Enterprise, and established that Sulu rose through the ranks to eventually assume command of the ship, many years later.  One Constant Star presents us with a Sulu who is already well-established as captain of the Enterprise.  During a mission near Tzenkethi space (these aliens were mentioned but never seen on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and recent Star Trek novels have fleshed out this race and developed them as an adversary of the Federation), an Enterprise landing party discovers a weird situation on the planet Rejarris II.  The planet shows signs of a pre-warp civilization, but there is no sign of life.  What happened to the planet’s inhabitants?

The first half of One Constant Star explores this interesting sci-fi mystery.  I found myself enjoying it, but wondering why this seemingly inconsequential tale warranted a return to “The Lost Era.”  This felt like a story that could have been told with any Trek crew in any era (the TNG crew, Riker’s crew on the Titan, etc.).  In the second half of the book, though, we discover the reason this story is being told, and why this mission was a significant moment in “The Lost Era.”

I think David R. George III is one of the very finest Trek authors out there.  His previous “Lost Era” novel, Serpents Among the Ruins, was phenomenal, one of my very favorite Trek books.  His Crucible trilogy for Star Trek’s 40th anniversary, as well as his recent Typhon Pact/Deep Space Nine duology Plagues of Night and Raise the Dawn are also absolutely spectacular and count among the very best Trek books I have ever read.  One Constant Star, unfortunately, was a bit of a let-down for me.

The preponderance of coincidences upon which this story’s … [continued]

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Star Trek The Lost Era: The Buried Age

I read Christopher L. Bennett’s novel The Buried Age back when it was originally released in 2007.  I remembered loving it, and I’ve been wanting o re-read it for a while now.  When the latest “Lost Era” novel was published recently, David R. George III’s One Constant Star, it seemed fitting to return to The Buried Age before reading Mr. George’s new novel.

“The Lost Era” was a six-book series of Star Trek novels published back in 2003 that chronicled some of the events in the approx. eighty years between the end of Star Trek VI and the launch of the Enterprise D in “Encounter at Farpoint.”  (I have reviewed several of these “Lost Era” novels: click here to read my thoughts on The Sundered, Serpents Among The Ruins, and The Art of the Impossible.) Several years later, in 2007, one additional “Lost Era” novel was published, Christopher L. Bennett’s The Buried Age.  That’s been it for the series, until the publication this year of One Constant Star.

The Buried Age takes place over many years, moving from the destruction of Captain Picard’s first ship, the Stargazer, in 2355, to his assuming command of the Enterprise D in 2364 just prior to the TNG pilot episode “Encounter at Farpoint.”  This is fertile grounds for a story, as Mr. Bennett has astutely realized that, though the Stargazer was destroyed many years prior to Picard’s assuming command of the Enterprise, almost nothing had been revealed about what Picard was up to during those missing years.

The book begins with the story of the final day of the Stargazer, and the Ferengi ambush that resulted in the ship’s having to be abandoned.  This is probably my favorite section of the book.  It’s a phenomenally compelling blow-by-blow chronicle of how everything went wrong on board the Stargazer.  Mr. Bennett has taken the hints we got in the first-season TNG episode “The Battle” and brilliantly worked backwards to reconstruct the full story, showing us how Picard could have been taken unawares by the Ferengi.  It’s tough to imagine the Ferengi — not a very threatening species, despite the intention that they would be back when they were initially introduced in the first season of Next Gen — could have possibly beaten Picard and the mighty Stargazer.  Mr. Bennett successfully constructs a scenario in which this seems plausible, while also sticking carefully to the continuity as established in “the Battle,” in which we see that DaiMon Bok was able to recover the Stargazer intact.

Even better than the story of the battle is the story of Picard’s subsequent court-martial, and the end of his relationship with Phillipa Louvois.  Here again, Mr. Bennett … [continued]

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Star Trek: The Light Fantastic

Last year, David Mack wrote a terrific trilogy of Star Trek: The Next Generation novels, under the subtitle “Cold Equations.”  (Click here for my review of book 1, click here for my review of book 2, and here for my review of book 3.) It’s a great trilogy that moved forward the continuing, post-Nemesis 24th century Star Trek story that has been ongoing in the Trek novels for many years now.  Most notably, Cold Equations repaired the biggest sin of Star Trek: Nemesis and (Careful!  Spoilers!  Spoilers!) brought back Data.

Interestingly, this major event in the Trek books was itself a direct sequel to a stand-alone Trek book from about a decade earlier, a book called Immortal Coil by Jeffrey Lang.  That novel introduced the idea of a secret society of android artificial intelligences and led to several fascinating developments in the life of Lt. Data.  (Click here for my review of Immortal Coil, a terrific book.)

And so I was delighted to see that now Mr. Lang himself has written a sequel to David Mack’s Cold Equations trilogy, a book focusing on the newly-resurrected Data called The Light Fantastic.  What a wonderful bit of full-circle perfection.  The Light Fantastic is a phenomenal follow-up to Cold Equations, thoroughly exploring Data’s new status quo following the events of that trilogy.

It is difficult to discuss this book too deeply without ruining some of the surprises of Cold Equations, so if you are reading this but you have not yet read Cold Equations, you might want to stop here.

Still with me?  The Light Fantastic picks up about a year following the events of Cold Equations.  Data and Lal, both newly returned to life, have settled into a quiet life on, of all places, Orion Prime.  (When Noonien Soong inhabited the new android body now possessed by Data, he used his intelligence to create something of a casino empire for himself, an empire Data now finds himself running, mostly as a way to keep that parto f his father alive in some way.) But their tranquility is shattered by the return of Moriarty, the holographic entity from “Elementary, Dear Data” and “Ship in a Bottle.”

I was thrilled to read of the return of Moriarty, a wonderful character from TNG and a terrific foil for Data.  I was also delighted by what Mr. Lang has done with his character.  The narrative of The Light Fantastic jumps around in time, often flashing back to show us what became of Moriarty and the Countess in the years after they we trapped in a holographic simulation back in “Ship in a Bottle.”  It turns out things have not … [continued]

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Star Trek Enterprise: Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel

Star Trek Enterprise was was an interesting failure as a TV show.  Its pilot episode showed great promise, but the show quickly fell into the trap of recycling familiar Trek story tropes.  Its first two seasons were very mediocre, and the show quickly shed most of the viewers who had watched the pilot.  Things took a sharp turn for the better in the third season, when the writers decided to tell a more complex, serialized story-line.  Things got even better in the fourth season, when the show finally embraced its concept as a prequel to the Original Series, we finally got to see the kind of show it could have/should have been.  And then, of course, it was cancelled, and that was that.

But Pocket Books’ series of Star Trek novels have been creating a phenomenal, inter-connected web of Trek stories moving beyond the finales of the various Trek TV shows.  They have not ignored Enterprise, and have boldly pushed the series forward into territory it might have explored had the show been allowed to continue.  (Click here for my review of Enterprise: Kobayashi Maru.)

I was at first delighted by the series of novels telling the story of The Romulan War, an event hinted at in The Original Series.  But in the end, I felt those books disappointed.  (Click here for my review of The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s Wing, and here for my review of The Romulan War: To Brave the Storm.)  When the Romulan War series was hurridly wrapped up (that’s how it seemed to me, at least, with Michael A. Martin’s planned trilogy shortened to just two books), I figured the post-Enterprise series of novels were over.

But, to my surprise, Pocket Books turned to a high-level Trek author, Christopher L. Bennett, to launch a new series of post-Enterprise novels, now subtitled “Rise of the Federation.”  These books take place following the end of the Romulan War and the founding of the United Federation of Planets.  The first novel, A Choice of Futures, followed now-Admiral Archer and all the other members of the former Enterprise command crew, now divided onto different ships, including the Endeavor, under the command of Captain T’Pol, and the Pioneer, under the command of Malcolm Reed.  I thought this first novel was a terrific read and a compelling exploration of just how the noble Federation of Kirk’s era came to be.  I was impressed at how thoughtfully Mr. Bennett examined many aspects of the Federation that Trek fans have taken for granted for fifty tears.  I loved the way he moved all of the Enterprise characters forward  into new situations, rather than having everyone … [continued]

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Star Trek Voyager: Protectors

I’ve had a fun over the last month or two, catching up with all of Kirsten Beyer’s Star Trek Voyager novels that take the characters of that show forward from the events of the TV series’ finale.  As I have repeatedly mentioned, Voyager is my least favorite of the Trek series, though I’ve quite enjoyed reading these novels.  Ms. Beyer has, in the four books I’ve read so far, given the characters far more depth and development than they got in the seven series of the actual show.  Click here for my review of Full Circle, here for my review of Unworthy, here for my review of Children of the Storm, and here for my review of The Eternal Tide.  I had some problems with the last book, The Eternal Tide, mostly centered on the decision to resurrect Captain Janeway, but over-all these books have been a very enjoyable ride and a great new sub-series within the broader Star Trek novel universe.

Having now arrived at Ms. Beyer’s fifth Voyager novel, Protectors, I have at last caught up with the story.  (Though there’s more to come, as Protectors has been described as the first book in a new trilogy of Voyager novels.)  Protectors splits its focus between two main stories.  The returned-to-life Kathryn Janeway has returned to the Alpha Quadrant, so that Starfleet Command can assess her fitness to return to duty, and so she can take stock of her life following her dramatic death and resurrection.  Meanwhile, with the continuing fate of the Full Circle fleet’s mission in the Delta Quadrant uncertain, Captain Chakotay casts about looking for a mission to prove the worth of their work in the Delta Quadrant.  Harry Kim pitches him on an idea to seek out the origin of an anomaly encountered by Voyager years before (in the second season Voyager episode, “Twisted”).  The conclusion of that episode raised the intriguing possibility that the anomaly was in fact a life form, trying to communicate with Voyager, but that idea was never followed up on.  Ms. Beyer’s story reveals that Kim has been working for years to decipher the anomaly’s attempts at communication, and that he believes he has pinpointed the anomany’s area of origin.  Voyager travels to those coordinates, only to discover a deep mystery: a vast area of space shielded by an enormous cloaking device; a planet made up of a variety of lifeforms that appear to have been harvested from other, now-destroyed planets in the system; and powerful wave-forms (versions of the anomaly encountered by Voyager) that just might be sentient.

Once again Ms. Beyer has crafted an intriguing new sci-fi story as a centerpiece for her novel, … [continued]

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Cerebus the Barbarian Messiah

Cerebus the Barbarian Messiah: Essays on the Epic Graphic Satire of Dave Sim and Gerhard is exactly what the book’s title promises.  It’s a collection of essays by different authors, attempting to take a serious, scholarly look at various aspects of Cerebus, Dave Sim & Gerhard’s 300-issue independent comic book masterpiece.  I found myself occasionally rolling my eyes at some of the overly verbose scholar-speak in the essays, but mostly I was delighted by this serious look at an important (albeit controversial) comic book work, and I found it a thrill to dive back into the deep, crazy waters of Cerebus.

For the uninitiated, Cerebus is a 300-issue-long black-and-white self-published comic book.  At first the series was written and drawn by Dave Sim by himself, but eventually he was joined by Gerhard as his partner on the art.  What began as a silly parody of Marvel Comics’ Conan series (illustrated at the time by Barry Windsor-Smith) evolved into an incredibly complex saga that dealt with politics and religion and male-female relationships.  If one were to sit down to read 300 consecutive issues of, say, Spider-Man or Batman or Superman, it would become quickly obvious that the stories, while having some continuity, couldn’t possibly represent events that could actually happen to a real character.  There might be the illusion of change, but ultimately all of these characters have to remain in a perpetual status quo.  Sim set out to do something completely different, to tell the story of the life a character — the titular Cerebus — in 300 issues, with the 300th issue chronicling the character’s death.  Over the course of twenty-six years, Sim and Gerhard did exactly that.

That alone would make Cerebus a jaw-dropping achievement.  I am hard-pressed to think of any example of long-form story-telling that can come close to matching this sisyphian effort of telling the story of Cerebus in monthly twenty-page installments over twenty-six years.  But there’s far more to Cerebus than just Sim and Gerhard’s endurance.  The story is at points hilarious and thrilling and infuriating.  It can shift from juvenile humor (when Cerebus is funny, it is VERY VERY funny) to incredible action-adventure to painfully sharp observations of marital discord.  The series features a wealth of fascinating characters and settings.  Cerebus is one of the most complex, fascinating examples of fantasy world-building ever made, rivaling J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Isaac Asimon’s Foundation, and George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.

The series also pushed the boundaries of comic book art farther than any other series I can think of.  Sim and Gerhard experimented gloriously with page-layout, with different approaches to the combination of words and pictures and the use of large … [continued]

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Star Trek Voyager: The Eternal Tide

This Star Trek Voyager novel, The Eternal Tide, is one I’d been dreading.

To my huge shock, I’ve found myself quite enjoying Kirsten Beyer’s post-finale series of Star Trek Voyager novels (click here for my review of Full Circle, here for my review of Unworthy, and here for my review of Children of the Storm).  I never much liked Voyager the TV show, but I’ve been intrigued by this series of novels, moving the Voyager characters beyond the universe-shaking events of David Mack’s epic novel trilogy Star Trek Destiny from several years back.  These Voyager novels by Kirsten Beyer have had a great mix of strong characters (Ms. Beyer has fleshed out the characters far more than they ever were on the TV show, and thankfully she has moved them all beyond the eternal-status-quo they were trapped in on the show) and some great new sci-fi stories and new concepts for alien species.  As opposed to the continuing series of post-finale Next Gen and Deep Space Nine novels, which have been written by a rotating series of authors, it’s interesting that Ms. Beyer has apparently been given full control (for now, at least) of the Voyager corner of the Trek universe.  Having one author write this series has given it a tight continuity and cohesiveness that has been particularly enjoyable for me, now, reading these books one after the other.

But while I’ve enjoyed the previous three Voyager books, I was not looking forward to this one.  Why?  Because of Kathryn Janeway’s face staring out at me from the book’s cover.

I adored the decision made, in Peter David’s Next Gen novel Before Dishonor (one of the books leading up to the big Destiny crossover) to kill off Captain Janeway.  It was a shocking move, one I did not see coming, and it was a thrilling raising-of-the-stakes as the threat of the Borg grew in anticipation of the massive Borg invasion of the Alpha Quadrant that occurred in Destiny.  More than that, the manner of Janeway’s death — her arrogance allowing her to wind up assimilated by the Borg Queen — seemed to me a support of everything I’d ever disliked about the Janeway character.

One of many reasons why I never took to Voyager was the character of Captain Janeway.  I like Kate Mulgrew.  She’s a great actress, and clearly capable of terrific work (just look at how amazing she is on Orange is the New Black).  So Ms. Mulgrew wasn’t the problem.  Nor did I have any issue with a female being the lead of a Star Trek series.  I love plenty of female-centric shows and movies, and the strong … [continued]

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Star Trek Voyager: Unworthy

In my opinion, Star Trek: Voyager was by far the weakest of the Star Trek TV series.  I felt that the show never lived up to its premise (of the difficulties one lone starship would face, all on their own eighty thousand light-years from home), and even more disappointingly, I felt there was almost zero character development over the course of the series’ seven years.  (You could watch a first season episode and then watch a seventh season episode and see little to no difference in the dynamics of the characters.)  I watched Voyager all the way through its seven years, but there are hardly any episodes I have ever re-watched.  (Whereas I have seen every episode of the Original Series, Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine many, many times… and I have even watched Enterprise through a few times over the years.)

Pocket Books has published some Voyager novels over the years, but I never bought any of them until Kirsten Beyer’s Full Circle in 2009.  (Click here for my original review.)  I am not sure what prompted me to buy a Voyager book.  Maybe the gorgeous cover image (Voyager has never looked so good!).  More likely I was excited to read any book picking up the pieces after David Mack’s incredible trilogy Star Trek: Destiny, a story that chronicled the long-feared Borg invasion of Federation space and all of the catastrophes that followed.  I was eager to see what happened to all of the Trek characters following Destiny, and I think I was also very interested in reading about the Voyager crew’s reactions to the death of Janeway (brutally killed off by Peter David in his TNG book Before Dishonor).

To my surprise, I loved Full Circle.  Kirsten Beyer’s lengthy book spanned several years of Trek continuity, catching up the Voyager crew with the events of the past few years of TNG novels.  I enjoyed the character arcs given to each member of the Voyager ensemble.  I felt that I got to know and care about the Voyager crew in this book far more than I ever did in the TV series.  Full Circle ended with Voyager leading a fleet of nine starships on a mission back to the Delta Quadrant, hoping to confirm what had happened to the Borg following the events of Destiny.  I was excited to see what happend next.

But then, though I bought the next several Voyager novels written by Ms. Beyer, I never read them.  I think that as the months went on, though I remembered enjoying Full Circle, my over-all dislike for Star Trek: Voyager reared its head, and I just never found myself interested … [continued]

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Star Trek: Peaceable Kingdoms

Since the summer, Pocket Books has been publishing an interconnected five-novel Star Trek series, “The Fall,” which has brought to a head many of the story-lines that have been running through the Trek novels for the past several years.  “The Fall” began with David R. George III’s Deep Space Nine-centric Revelation and Dust (click here for my review), in which a terrible tragedy pushed the galaxy once again to the brink of interstellar war.  The story continued with The Crimson Shadow by Una McCormack (click here for my review), a novel that brought together Captain Picard and the Cardassian Garak, a wonderfully unexpected combination of characters.  In David Mack’s spectacular A Ceremony of Losses (click here for my review), the Andorian fertility crisis (a story-line that began at the very start of the post-finale DS9 relaunch, a decade and a half ago) came to the head as Julian Bashir’s Starfleet career came to an end (at least for now!).  Then, in the fourth book, James Swallow’s The Poisoned Chalice (click here for my review), William Riker was recalled to Earth and promoted to Admiral, only to discover an enemy at the very heart of the Federation.

At the end of The Poisoned Chalice, I was left wondering whether these stories would be resolved in the fifth and final novel, Dayton Ward’s Peaceable Kingdoms.  Was this entire five-book series just a set-up for future stories to come?  Well, yes, in a way — the end of Peaceable Kingdoms certainly sets the stage for many more stories to be told in the Trek universe of novels.  But I was very pleased by the way in which Peaceable Kingdoms brought a definitive resolution to many of the story-lines that have been running through “The Fall.”

Over the course of the past few novels, we’ve read references to the Enterprise’s mission to Ferenginar (where apparently representatives from The Typhon Pact have been attempting to convince the Ferengi to break their alliance with the Khitomer Accord Powers and instead align with them).  I wondered if that would be the focus of this final novel, but the Enterprise’s business with the Ferengi represents only the very beginning of this tale.  This book picks up directly from the end of The Poisoned Chalice, with Riker and his allies attempting to root out the enemy they have discovered in the highest echelons of power in the Federation.

As the novel progresses, we follow many different characters across the quadrant.  The race to the election for President of the Federation is in its final days, and we spend some time exploring the politics of the situation as … [continued]

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Star Trek: The Poisoned Chalice

The latest series of Star Trek novels, subtitled “The Fall,” roars on with the fourth of five books, James Swallow’s The Poisoned Chalice.  “The Fall” started off strong with David R. George III’s Deep Space Nine-centric Revelation and Dust (click here for my review), and built with the terrific The Crimson Shadow by Una McCormack (click here for my review) and David Mack’s equally terrific A Ceremony of Losses (click here for my review).

Now, in the spectacular fourth book, James Swallow’s The Poisoned Chalice, everything starts to come together.  This novel was billed as focusing on Captain William Riker and his crew on the U.S.S. Titan, and indeed it does, but I was thrilled by how this book pulled together story-threads from the previous three novels and moved the larger story dramatically forward.

Following the tragic events that occurred during the dedication ceremony of the new Deep Space Nine, the Titan’s mission of deep-space exploration has been cut short, and Captain Riker’s ship has been recalled to Earth.  Upon arriving home, Riker is called before an array of admirals.  But while he fears reprisals from his handling of the Andorian situation (in Michael A. Martin’s Titan novel Fallen Godsclick here for my review), instead he is offered a promotion to admiral.  To my surprise, Riker accepts!

It is soon revealed that Starfleet Admiral Akaar (a frequent recurring character in the last decade or so of Trek novels) has been growing more and more concerned with the actions of Federation President pro tempare Ishan Anjar, particularly in light of the events that took place at Andoria (in the previous novel, A Ceremony of Losses).  He wants someone he can trust helping him navigate the increasingly treacherous political waters, and so he tapped Riker.

This of course over-turns the whole dynamic of the Titan series, and I was thrilled that Riker’s promotion to admiral and his new Earth-bound post still stands at the end of this book.  What that means for future Titan novels I don’t know, but I love seeing these stories move forward and the characters’ lives change.

In the meantime, this leads to a thrilling story in The Poisoned Chalice as Riker and a small cadre of allies work to determine what exactly is going on in the highest echelons of power in the Federation.  As the novel unfolds, we follow several connected stories.  Now on Earth with her husband, Deanna Troi has accepted a temporary post in the Starfleet Diplomatic Corps, and her first assignment winds up being trying to resolve a tense diplomatic standoff between the Andorian diplomatic contingent and President Anjar, … [continued]

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Star Trek Voyager: Acts of Contrition

As I always begin these Voyager book reviews by noting, I never much cared for the Star Trek Voyager TV show.  In my opinion it is by far the weakest of all the Trek TV shows.  But Kirsten Beyer has done the impossible and, with her series of post-finale-set Voyager novels, actually made me interested in stories of the Voyager crew!

It was David Mack who really set the ball rolling with his Destiny trilogy, which turned over the applecart of the Star Trek universe.  In that story, the U.S.S. Voyager was terribly damaged in battle with the Borg, during the Borg’s massive, apocalyptic invasion of the Alpha Quadrant.  I was interested in seeing what happened next, so I picked up Ms. Beyer’s lengthy novel Full Circle, which picked up the pieces from Destiny.  That was a pretty great book (click here for my review), and suddenly I found myself interested in where the story of these characters would go from there!  At the end of Full Circle, the Voyager was sent back to the Delta Quadrant, leading a fleet of starships on a mission of exploration and diplomatic contact (neither of which the crew of Voyager had much time or ability to do on their initial journey).  What followed were a series of new Voyager novels, all written by Ms. Beyer:  UnworthyChildren of the StormThe Eternal Tide, and Protectors.

Protectors began a new trilogy of Voyager books, of which Acts of Contrition is the middle chapter.  This new novel picks off immediately following the end of Protectors.  The Voyager fleet has suffered heavy losses, and is now left with only four ships, including Voyager.  They have discovered the existence of a new interstellar alliance, who call themselves The Confederacy of the Worlds of the First Quadrant.  Admiral Janeway would like to establish diplomatic relationships with this potentially friendly, powerful Delta Quadrant civilization.  But as Janeway and her team learn more about the Confederacy, doubts begin to emerge as to whether they would truly be a suitable partner for the United Federation of Planets.  Meanwhile, several of Voyager’s old enemies from their original Delta Quadrant journey have banded together and formed a new coalition of threats to both the Confederacy and the Starfleet vessels.  (How and why this diverse, inhospitable bunch of aliens were ever able to ally with one another remains unknown, though we get a big hint at the very end of the novel.)

While these large-scale dramas unfold, Acts of Contrition follows several other narratives begun in Protectors.  Tom Paris’ estranged mother has sued the Federation courts for custody of Tom and B’Elanna’s two children, so Tom … [continued]

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Star Trek: A Ceremony of Losses

In Revelations and Dust, book one of Pocket Books’ ongoing Star Trek novel crossover series, “The Fall,” the opening of the new, Federation-designed DS9 was marred by a shocking murder.  Then, book two, The Crimson Shadow, chronicled upheaval on Cardassia as the greatest challenge to their new democratic government emerged.

And so we have arrived at book 3, David Mack’s A Ceremony of Losses.  Julian Bashir, still reeling from the events of Revelations and Dust, is contacted by his old friend and colleague, the Andorian Shar.  Shar was a character introduced at the very beginning of Pocket Books’ post-finale series of DS9 novels, in S.D. Perry’s Avatar.  It seems that the reproductive crisis affecting Andor — a story-line that has been running through the novels ever since those early DS9 relaunch books from back in 2001 — is reaching a tipping point.  If a solution to the fertility problems affecting the majority of Andorians is not found within the year, it will spell extinction for the Andorian people.  Shar believes that the solution lies in the Shedai meta-genome, an incredibly-complex piece of alien DNA found by Starfleet a hundred years ago, but classified at the highest level for fear the genome could be used to create terrible weapons.  (This is a story-point from the Original Series era “Vanguard” series of Trek novels, and it was brought into the 24th-century-set Trek novels in the “Typhon Pact” novel Paths of Disharmony, in which the Andorians’ discovery that Starfleet had been hiding this information led to an upheaval in the Federation.)  Julian is drawn to help the Andorians, but doing so would involve his accessing the classified Shedai information, which would be a crime of treason against the Federation.

A Ceremony of Losses is an excellent book, one that not only presents one of our heroes with a meaty moral dilemma, but that also, in the book’s second half, turns into an edge-of-your-seat thriller as Bashir races against the clock, and against enemies on all sides, even those who were once his friends and colleagues, to do what he feels is right and try to save the Andorian people.

I was particularly excited that A Ceremony of Losses finally brings some resolution to the story of Andor’s fertility crisis, a story that has been running through the Trek books since 2001.  That’s a heck of a long time for that story-line to have been hanging, and I was thrilled to see this issue finally addressed head-on in this novel.  It’s also great to see Shar finally front-and-center again.  He got a lot of focus in the early re-launched DS9 books, but after 2004’s Andor story in Worlds of Deep [continued]

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Star Trek: The Crimson Shadow

As a humongous fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I am delighted by how central the DS9 storylines and characters have become to the continuing, interconnected series of Star Trek novels, in particular this new five-book crossover series, “The Fall.”

In the first installment, David R. George III’s Revelation and Dust, Starfleet finally brought on-line the new, Federation-designed and built DS9.  The celebration, though, was marked by terrible tragedy, an event that threatened to spill the tentative peace in the Alpha Quadrant back over into brutal interstellar war.  In the middle of the book, Cardassian Castellan (the head of their government) Rakena Garan was forced to depart DS9, in order to return home to deal with unrest back on Cardassian Prime.  She then dropped out of the book.  Una McCormack’s magnificent The Crimson Shadow picks up the story from there.

Ms. McCormack has become the go-to writer in Pocket Books’ stable of Trek writers when it comes to dealing with Cardassians.  One of her first major pieces of writing for Pocket Books was the Cardassian novella The Lotus Flower, in Worlds of Deep Space Nine back in 2004.  That was a terrific story, and ever since then most of Ms. McCormack’s works have focused on Cardassians, in particular her phenomenal novel The Never-Ending Sacrifice.

Like that book, The Crimson Shadow draws its title from a Cardassian novel mentioned on DS9 (and kudos again to Ms. McCormack for that wonderful little bit of continuity).  It’s hard to believe, but this book is actually set ten years following the series finale of DS9.  I knew that the Trek series of books was moving forward in time — that’ one of my favorite things about Pocket’s Trek novels from the past decade-plus, how they have fearlessly moved the over-all story forward beyond the finales of the 24th century-set Trek TV shows.  But I hadn’t quite realized how much time had passed in the books.

The Crimson Shadow is an engaging study of what has been happening on Cardassia in the previous ten years, following the defeat of the Dominion (and their final, great purge that laid waste to most of the planet and killed hundreds of millions of Cardassians).  With Federation aid, the Cardassians have slowly been rebuilding, both the physical structures of their cities (buildings, roads, etc.) and their very society.  Cardassia has been struggling with democracy, an entirely new concept for its citizens who had been ruled by the military for so long.  The road has been rocky, and Ms. McCormack’s story doesn’t gloss over the difficulties this new experiment in democratic self-government represents, nor does she cheat and give us overly-easy answers in the end.

The focus of … [continued]

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Star Trek Titan: Fallen Gods

Star Trek: Titan has been a continuing series of novels, for the past several years, chronicling the continuing adventures of Captain William T. Riker, following the events of the final Next Gen movie, Nemesis, and Riker’s finally accepting a captaincy of his own.  I have very much enjoyed the books in the series, not only for their development of the characters of Riker and Troi but also for their focus on telling stories focused on adventure and exploration, and the development of new alien races and scientific concepts.  The series has also been a big part of most of the major multi-novel stories of the past few years, from the Borg invasion of David Mack’s Star Trek: Destiny trilogy (click here for my review) to the recent “Typhon Pact” story-lines.  I have loved the way that the last several years’ worth of Trek novels have woven together into an incredible tapestry, freed from having to maintain the status quo of the TV shows or movies, and the Titan series has been a huge part of that.

The Titan book series was begun by Michael A. Martin, along with co-writer Andy Mangels, and after several years and several books written by other authors, I was excited for Michael A. Martin to return to the series with the latest novel, Fallen Gods.  But I will also admit to a little trepidation.  Together, Mr. Martin and Mr. Mangels have written some of my very favorite Trek novels, including that first Titan novel, Taking Wing (click here for my review) and their magnificent Captain Sulu epic Excelsior: Forged in Fire (click here for my review), a story that shed light on the backstory of Dax and Kor, Kang, and Koloth (the three great Klingons from the Original Series whose connection to Dax was the focus of the DS9 episode “Blood Oath”).  Their recent Enterprise series of novels, chronicling the post-finale adventures of Jonathan Archer & his crew, and finally telling the story of the Romulan War (an often-hinted-at piece of Star Trek back-story) started off strong but ultimately fizzled out and ended up as a big disappointment to me.  Possibly this is because mid-series their writing partnership seems to have broken up.  Mr. Martin finished the Romulan War series by himself, and I did not feel the same magic was there.

To my relief, Fallen Gods is far superior to those “Romulan War” novels.  It’s a very solid book, and a compelling new Titan adventure.  I will say, though, that the first half is far stronger than the second half, and there was a lot that frustrated me in that second half.  I’ll get into more details … [continued]

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Star Trek Enterprise: Rise of the Federation

I thought the post-finale series of Star Trek: Enterprise books was finished.

Written exclusively by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin (and, in the later books, by Mr. Martin solo), this post-finale Enterprise series had gotten off to a great start.  They cleverly undid the stupid, pointless death of Trip in the Enterprise finale (while also beautifully unravelling many of the continuity gaffes from that poorly-made finale).  Then they began a multi-book story-line to finally tell the untold story of the Earth-Romulan War.  But what began so promisingly quickly unravelled, and I felt the last two books fell off significantly in quality.  At the end of the last book, The Romulan War: To Brave the Storm (click here for my review), the last few chapters seemed designed to serve as a quick finale to the Enterprise story as a whole, with the ship decommissioned and her former crew scattered to the winds.  It seemed clear to me that this story was over.

And yet here we are, just a year later, with a new Enterprise novel that seems poised to be the start of a new series of post-finale Enterprise stories: Christopher L. Bennettt’s Star Trek: Enterprise: Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures.  (There are a lot of colons in that title.  I frankly wasn’t sure how to type it out.  But it seems to be that Enterprise: Rise of the Federation is the new title of this series, with A Choice of Futures being the title of this particular installment.)

This novel is set after the events of Mr. Mangels and Mr. Martin’s books, and it is very much in-continuity with those stories.  This new book meshes seamlessly with those books (and, indeed, Mr. Bennett makes some great choices to begin unravelling some of the problems with where the narrative had been left at the end of those books), but you definitely don’t have to have read those books to enjoy A Choice of Futures.  It is very successful as a new beginning for these post-finale Enterprise stories.

There are two main story-lines in the novel, both of which cleverly highlight the questions the newly-formed United Federation of Planets must face.  In one story, a Federation starship, the U.S.S. Essex, is negotiating with different factions on the planet Sauria (as in Saurian brandy — nice nod to the Original Series there) for trading rights to minerals on their planet.  As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that the involvement of these Federation officers has dramatically affected the balance of power among the indigenous peoples of the planet.  Should the Federation have stronger guidelines in terms of what they can or cannot do when contacting people … [continued]

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Star Trek Revelation and Dust

I have written often on this site about Pocket Books’ spectacular series of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novels, that continued the story of the characters from that great TV show (the best of the Star Trek series, in my opinion), beyond the series finale.  There were about a dozen novels published between 2001 and 2005, and they basically formed an eighth season of the show.  Together they were a spectacular series of books, brilliantly continuing many of the story-lines and character arcs from the series while also weaving in many rich new characters and stories.  But after a while, the series seemed to hit something of a snag, and several years passed without any new DS9 adventures.  In 2008, David Mack wrote his phenomenal Destiny trilogy of novels (click here for my original review), which featured characters from all the 24th century-set Trek shows (Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager).  That was an amazing story, and it lead to several more phenomenal novels that explored the Trek universe following the destructive events of Destiny.

I loved all those books, but I was a little sad to see the lack of DS9-centered novels.  Then came the “Typhon Pact” series from two years ago.  That crossover was pleasingly Deep Space Nine centered, with two of the books, David Mack’s Zero-Sum Game (click here for my review) and David R. George III Rough Beasts of Empire (click here for my review) focused on DS9 characters and story-lines.  Those books were followed by last summer’s duology Plagues of Night and Raise the Dawn, also written by David R. George III.  Those two novels were also published under the “Typhon Pact” heading, but they were unquestionably Deep Space Nine stories, as Mr. George masterfully pulled together countless DS9 story-lines that had been dangling — some of them for years — while also moving forward the political “Typhon Pact” story-line, in which the Federation found itself threatened with a new alliance of many of its deadliest enemies.  I loved those books when I read them last summer (click here for my review), and this past summer, I re-read Rough Beasts of Empire followed by those two books, and I found myself even more impressed by the rich, compelling Deep Space Nine story-line that David R. George III had written.

Very recently, Mr. George’s latest Star Trek novel was published: Revelation and Dust.  Like his previous books, this new novel did not appear with a Deep Space Nine heading on the cover.  Instead, this book was labeled Star Trek: The Fall, kicking off a new five-book series, with each book written by a … [continued]

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Returning to Star Trek: New Frontier (Part Three)

I have been having a great time diving back into Peter David’s terrific Star Trek: New Frontier series of novels.  Click here for my overview of the series, and here for my thoughts on several of Mr. David’s most recent New Frontier novels.  Having caught up with the New Frontier story, I was eager to move on and read the two most recent books that I had not yet read: Treason and Blind Man’s Bluff.

Treason — One of the earliest New Frontier story-lines involved the unlikely relationship between the hermat Burgoyne 172 and the Vulcan Dr. Selar.  That romance immediately turned sour, sadly, and in the background of the last decade-plus worth of New Frontier books we have seen the tension between the two characters.  Finally, with Treason, the Burgoyne/Selar story returns to the forefront.  Dr. Selar has become increasingly isolated and bitter due to her inability to solve the health situation of her son with Burgoyne.  The young Xy has been developing at an incredible rate, so that now at age four he is already an adult and the science officer on board the Excalibur.  But Selar knows that his rapid aging will soon, inevitably, lead to his death.  As her logic begins to crumble over her increasing rage at the hand fate has dealt her, Selar abandons the Excalibur in a desperate attempt to find a cure for her son.

Meanwhile, Robin Lefler has fled the New Thallonian Protectorate with her young baby, seeking shelter on board the Excalibur.  Captain Calhoun has granted her asylum, but things become rather more complicated when the spirit of Robin’s dead husband, Si Cwan, seems to inhabit and take control of Si Cwan’s sister, Kalinda, and Dr. Selar kidnaps Robin’s child, for reasons unknown.  This begins a frantic chase across the galaxy to a thought-to-be-uninhabited world, where the Excalibur and their sister ship, the Trident, will encounter a powerful new foe.

After a little shakiness with Missing in Action, Treason is a confident return to form for Mr. David.  I am loving the return to focus, in these recent New Frontier novels, on several of the side characters and sub-plots that have been in the background for the past decade-or-more of books.  The character-arcs of supporting players like Selar, Burgoyne, Xyon, Moke, etc. are compelling and very enjoyable.  The novel itself is tense and fast-paced, and as usual with Mr. David I found myself enjoyably clueless as to where the story was going.  I am not wild about the name of the new race of villains, The D’myurj (just say it out loud and perhaps you’ll see why this particular new alien race’s name was a little too on-the-nose … [continued]

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Returning to Star Trek: New Frontier (Part Two)

As I wrote about earlier this week, I have recently re-immersed myself in Peter David’s terrific Star Trek: New Frontier novels!

Stone and Anvil — This novel, published back in 2003, is one of my very favorite of Mr. David’s New Frontier novels.  It proved to be a wonderful culmination of the New Frontier story at the time, wrapping up a number of long-running story-lines while also bringing the series back full circle to tell the story of Captain Mackenzie Calhoun’s days at Starfleet Academy and his original romance with Elizabeth Shelby.  The book jumps back and forth between the two stories, with one chapter being set “Now” and the next being set “Then” (I always love the fun ways Mr. David structures the chapter headings in his books) and the strength of the novel is that each of the two stories is equally strong and compelling.  I never found myself, reading one of the story-lines, wishing that I was back in the other story.

In the present day, the book picks right up from the minute the brutal cliffhanger of the previous book, Gods Above, had ended: with Calhoun and Shelby discovering the brutally murdered body of Lieutenant Gleau in one of the ship’s turbolifts.  Gleau is a Selelvian (a race created by Mr. David) and over the previous few books Mr. David had been weaving a fascinating though unpleasant story in which Lieutenant M’Ress (one of two characters from Star Trek: The Animated Series that Mr. David has incorporated into New Frontier) felt that Gleau was using his race’s heretofore unknown mental powers in order to seduce her and then, when she turned down his advances, mentally torture her.  Of course, M’Ress is the first suspect when Gleau is found murdered, but the investigation quickly turns to another character, Ensign Janos, a huge, bestial, but fiercely intelligent character introduced by Mr. David several New Frontier novels back.  Mr. David has kept Janos’ background shrouded in mystery, though hints have been given that he is a Mugatu (one of the iconic alien monsters from the Original Series, seen in “A Private Little War”).  In Stone and Anvil we finally get Janos’ true story, and, well, it doesn’t end well.

Meanwhile, the very first New Frontier book had introduced us to the notion that Calhoun and Shelby (newly assigned as his first officer back in that first New Frontier adventure) had had a romance that had turned sour somewhere back in their past.  In the flashback chapters of Stone and Anvil, we finally get to see how they met, fell into a romance, and how that romance ended with their going their separate ways.  It’s a pretty sweet story, … [continued]

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Returning to Star Trek: New Frontier

About twenty years ago, I started reading the Star Trek novels published by Pocket Books.  At the time, Star Trek: The Next Generation was on the air, probably in the second or third season.  There were no other spin-off shows, and only four Trek movies.  I’d seen those four movies many, many times, and the new episodes of Next Gen weren’t enough to satiate my cravings.

When I discovered the novels, I was delighted.  Not only was there a big backlog of new Star Trek adventures to discover (each of which took me a lot longer to consume than an hour-long TV episode) but a new book was published almost every month.  As I recall, at the time the books alternated: one month there would be a classic Star Trek adventure (featuring Kirk/Spock/McCoy), and the next month a new Next Gen adventure (with Picard, etc.).

I enjoyed all of the books, but quickly there was one author whose work stood out to me.  One author who, when I saw his name on the cover, I knew to be excited because his name was a guarantee of a particularly entertaining book.  This author was Peter David.

Some of those Next Gen books that Peter David wrote back in the late eighties/early nineties remain my very favorite Star Trek books ever written.  There was Q-in-Law, in which Mr. David brilliantly combined Next Gen’s two most popular guest-star characters, Q and Lwaxana Troi, in a hilarious romp that was so much funnier and sexier and fun-filled than even the best Trek episode.  There was Imzadi — still considered by many to be the very best of the Trek novels — which not only told the story of Will Riker and Deanna Troi’s love-affair on Betazed, years before they would meet again on the Enterprise D in “Encounter at Farpoint,” but which also wove a terrifying alternate-universe story in which a premature end to that relationship lead to catastrophic consequences.  Then there was Vendetta — my personal favorite Trek novel — in which Mr. David told what still, twenty years later, stands to me as the ultimate Borg story.  Set just about a year after the events of “The Best of Both Worlds,” in which Captain Picard was assimilated and one Borg cube nearly succeeded in destroying Earth, the Borg return to Federation space, this time with three cubes.  It’s a ferocious, epic-scale but also deeply personal story that has never been topped by any of the canonical on-screen Borg stories we have seen in the twenty years since “The Best of Both Worlds.”

After writing so many great Next Gen books, in the early nineties Mr. David created his own spin-off series … [continued]

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Star Trek: The Next Generation Continues… (Part II)

Last week I wrote about the first two books in Pocket Books’ re-launch of the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel series, set after the final canonical on-screen Next Gen adventure, the (truly terrible) film Star Trek: Nemesis.  Here are my thoughts on books two and three of that re-launch!

Before Dishonor — when the early books in the TNG relaunch were originally announced, I was especially excited because it seemed that Pocket Books had assigned some of their best heavy-hitters as authors of the first wave of books.  Some of the very best long-time Trek authors (Michael Jan Friedman, J.M. Dillard, and Peter David) were being mixed with some of the very best of the newer Trek authors (Keith R.A. DeCandido and Christopher L. Bennett).  I was particularly excited for Peter David’s book, as Mr. David has always been one of my very favorite Star Trek authors.  (I mentioned in my last post that his magnificent Borg novel, Vendetta, might be my very favorite Star Trek novel of all time.). So I was very eager to read Mr. David’s book in this new TNG series.

Unfortunately, like the books that preceded it, Before Dishonor is rather a mixed bag.  There is a lot that I love about it.  As always, Mr. David’s prose is fantastic, very funny and very compelling.  I love that aspects of the book’s story are intended as a direct sequel to the events of Vendetta.  (Not only do we return to the great idea that the planet-killer seen in the Original Series episode “The Doomsday Machine” was originally designed as a weapon against the Borg, but the book also refences the storyline in Vendetta in which Geordi tried and failed to restore a rescued Borg woman to her individuality.  (It’s a story that is very similar in essence to what would, years later, be told on Voyager with Seven of Nine, just with a much less happy ending.  By the way, I have heard Peter David say that people at Paramount originally nixed his idea because they insisted that there was no such thing as female Borg, a ludicrous idea that Mr. David humorously references in this book.)  I love that Mr. David involved Spock in the story.  And I love love love the very controversial fate given to Admiral Janeway.  I could rant for days on how poorly Janeway was characterized on Star Trek: Voyager.  I love the idea of a woman captain, but I felt that Janeway as written was unbelievably arrogant and blindly stubborn.  I love that in this book her hubris finally catches up to her.  I know that Voyager fans were upset, but I loved it.

So what doesn’t … [continued]

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Star Trek: The Next Generation Continues… (Part I)

As readers of this site clearly know, I am something of a Star Trek fan.  Grin!  Ever since I was a kid, I enjoyed reading the various Star Trek novels published by Pocket Books, but over the past decade I have found the Trek books to be particularly enjoyable, and they have become my main avenue for consuming new Star Trek adventures.  Ever since the flop of Star Trek: Nemesis in 2003 and the cancellation of Enterprise in 2004, Star Trek novels have been pretty much the only way to enjoy new Star Trek stories!  Luckily, without having to worry any longer about having to maintain consistency with continuing TV series, the authors of the Star Trek novels have had the freedom to move their stories forward, shaking up the status quo in exciting ways.  The one-two-punch of a) that newfound fearlessness in breaking free of the old status quo of the TV series, allowing the characters to grow and change, while b) also establishing a very tight inter-book continuity between the novels, with characters and story lines continuing from book to book, has made the Trek book series particularly enjoyable to me.  I don’t read every new Star Trek book that is published, but I probably read six to eight new Trek books each year, and taken as a whole they form an enormous tapestry, an epic continuing adventure.  I love sagas.  I love them in any form, be they books (like Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, or Frank Herbert’s Dune, or JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings) or comic books (like Chris Claremont’s two-decade run writing X-Men from the late seventies into the nineties) or TV shows (like The X-Files, or Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica) or movies (the Planet of the Apes series, the Star Wars films, etc.).  One of the things I love about official, televised Star Trek is that aspect of the Trek universe being a cohesive whole, an expansive, ever-expanding saga.  Now, more than ever, that is also true of the Trek books.

Over the last several years, I have enjoyed writing about the various Star Trek novels I have read.  Recently, I decided to go back and re-read some of the old Trek books that I really enjoyed, such as as Excelsior: Forged in Fire and some of The Lost Era books (Serpents Among the Ruins and The Art of the Impossible).  I had fun doing that, so I then decided to go back and re-read some of the earlier books in the relaunch of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the new adventures of Captain Picard and his crew following the events depicted in Star Trek: Nemesis.  My recollection was … [continued]

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Star Trek: Allegiance in Exile

I have really enjoyed all of the Star Trek novels written by David R. George III.  Just a few weeks ago, I heaped enormous praise upon his “Lost Era” novel, Serpents Among the Ruins, that depicted “The Tomed Incident” and a story of the Enterprise B.  I also really loved his recent two-part Deep Space Nine-centric “Typhon Pact” duology, Plagues of Night and Raise the Dawn.  So I was eager to read Mr. George’s new novel, an adventure set during the original five-year mission of Captain Kirk’s Enterprise.

Allegiance in Exile is a very interesting, unusually structured Star Trek novel.  The book doesn’t just depict one adventure.  Instead, it is set over the course of the entire fifth and final year of the five-year mission. I really enjoyed that approach, as it allows Mr. George to tell a more expansive story than I had expected.

On the other hand, I had a hard time shaking the continuity implications of this novel taking up the full final year of the five-year mission.  Even before reading this book, I always found it hard to imagine that the events of all of the 79 original Star Trek episodes could have happened during the span of the five-year mission.  The Enterprise crew would have been on a new adventure in an entirely new and different region of space practically every week!  Wouldn’t there have been travel-time between adventures, not to mention time to prep for each new mission, and to repair the ship after each time they ran into trouble?  And that’s just thinking about the 79 aired original Star Trek episodes, not to mention all of the other books and comic books that depicted countless additional adventures set during the five-year mission.  It definitely stretches the imagination to think that all of those events could have happened within the span of five years.

But Allegiance in Exile muddies those waters even further, because this novel suggests that the final year of the Enterprise’s five-year mission was spent mapping a particular region of unexplored space.  That is logical, and it also makes sense that, rather than having a new adventure every few days, that weeks or even months might pass between new adventures with new alien life-forms.  That is the scenario as presented in Allegiance in Exile, in which year five of the five-year mission passes fairly uneventfully, with only a few adventures every few months (adventures depicted in the book, and which wind up connecting as Kirk and his crew attempt to solve a mystery).  That means that all of the other adventures of the five-year mission didn’t just happen during the course of five years, but rather during … [continued]

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Star Trek The Lost Era (Book 3): The Art of the Impossible (2328-2346)

After re-reading Excelsior: Forged in Fire (the story of how Hikaru Sulu became the captain of the USS Excelsior, as well as the backstory behind Kor, Kang, and Koloth’s connection with Dax as seen in the DS9 episode “Blood Oath”) and Serpents Among the Ruins (the story of “The Tomed Incident” with the Romulans, and the end of Captain John Harriman’s command of the USS Enterprise B), I was eager to continue reading the next adventure of “The Lost Era” (the years between Captain Kirk’s final adventure in Star Trek: Generations and the beginning of Star Trek: The Next Generation).  I remember loving the next book in Pocket Books’ “Lost Era” series of novels, The Art of the Impossible, by Keith R.A. DeCandido, when I first read it about a decade ago, and I was excited to read it again.

The novel is every bit as spectacular as I remembered it being, a real highlight of Pocket Books’ series of Star Trek books.  As opposed to the other novels of the “Lost Era” series, this novel doesn’t take place during one specific year — instead, it spans eighteen years.  I commented that the previous “Lost Era” book, Serpents Among the Ruins, dug deeply into geeky Star Trek lore.  Well, the event that forms the basis of this novel is even more obscure than the Tomed Incident and the Treaty of Algeron that were depicted in Serpents.  The Art of the Impossible depicts the Betreka Nebula Incident.  This event was only mentioned once, in a jokey (but very memorable!) exchange from the fourth season premiere of Deep Space Nine, “The Way of the Warrior.”  After getting beaten up by some Klingons, the Cardassian Garak remarks that he has no idea why the Klingons might not like him.  Doctor Bashir reminds Garak of something called the Betreka Nebula Incident.  “A minor skirmish,” Garak scoffs.  “That lasted eighteen years!” Dr. Bashir replies.  The whole thing is just a joke, for the punchline of Garak being so dismissive of some sort of conflict that lasted almost two decades, and it’s never mentioned again.

But in this novel, author Keith R.A. DeCandido takes that one little line of dialogue and expands it into an epic tale of interstellar intrigue, weaving together characters and references from across all of the many Star Trek series into a phenomenally entertaining novel.  A small conflict between a Cardassian ship and Klingon ship over the rights to the salvage of a crashed vessel on a planet in unclaimed space threatens to turn into a shooting war.  Diplomat Curzon Dax is brought in to mediate the conflict.  Drawing upon Federation history, and the technique the Organians used to mediate … [continued]

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Star Trek The Lost Era (Book 2): Serpents Among The Ruins (2311)

Well over a year ago, I re-read The Sundered, the first book in the Lost Years six-book series, published by Pocket Books about a decade ago, that set out to depict events of the “lost” seventy years or so between the last on-screen adventure of Captain Kirk and co. (the launch of the Enterprise B in Star Trek: Generations) and the beginning of Star Trek: The Next Generation (with the launch of the Enterprise D in the series’ pilot episode, “Encounter at Farpoint”).  After re-reading The Sundered, I had intended to go on and re-read the next several books in the Lost Years series, which I had remembered loving.  But I never got around to it!  Last month, though, after re-reading the Captain Sulu adventure Star Trek Excelsior: Forged in Fire, which was also set during those “Lost Years,” I decided to move on and re-read the Lost Years Book Two: Serpents Among The Ruins, written by David R. George III.

As with Forged in Fire, this novel is absolutely phenomenal, an exceedingly well-writen, epic saga that weaves together numerous strands of Star Trek history, hints and pieces drawn from many different sources from among the different Trek movies and TV shows, to create a sprawling, exciting adventure.  This novel, even more than Forged in Fire, is drenched in Star Trek lore.  This is exceedingly geeky stuff (and I love it!), as the novel draws upon a few very minor lines of dialogue from a couple of TNG episodes (“The Neutral Zone,” “The Defector,” and “The Pegasus” of something called “The Tomed Incident” and “The Treaty of Algeron” (which made the use in the Federation of a cloaking device illegal, and was the Federation’s last formal contact with the Romulans for almost almost a century) and creates from those two events a huge story.

The novel centers on John Harriman, Captain of the Enterprise B.  Peter David’s novel, The Captain’s Daughter, did a great job of rehabilitating Captain Harriman from his cartoonish, borderline idiotic depiction in Star Trek: Generations, and this novel builds strongly on that work (and indeed references it several times).  David R. George presents us in this novel with the strong captain that Harriman should always have been — a man deserving of captaining the Federation’s flagship, now a seasoned veteran, right smack in the middle of a flashpoint of conflict between the Fedeation and the Romulans, a conflict that, by the time of the events in this novel (2311, eighteen years after the events of Star Trek: Generations), has been boiling for years.  The novel also focuses on another member of the Enterprise B’s crew — Demora Sulu.  No longer the ensign … [continued]

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Star Trek Excelsior: Forged in Fire

Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels have, together, written some of my very favorite Star Trek novels (such as Taking Wing, the excellent attempt to pick up the narrative pieces left by the train-wrech that was Star Trek Nemesis that also launched the Titan series of novels, chronicling William T. Riker’s first command) and some of my least favorite (such as The Red King, their follow-up to Taking Wing, and the Kobayashi Maru/Romulan War series of novels that began with such promise but ultimately disappointed).  But one of their very best novels –if not THE best — was their 2008 novel Star Trek Excelsior: Forged in Fire.

Set mostly in the year 2289/2290, several years before the events of Star Trek VI, Forged in Fire tells the story behind the events of the Deep Space Nine episode “Blood Oath.”  That awesome episode brought together, for the first time, the three most well-known Klingon characters from the Original Series, amazingly played by the three original actors: Kang (Michael Ansara), Kor (John Colicos), and Koloth (William Campbell).  That episode revealed that the three Klingon warriors, along with Jadzia Dax’s forebearer, Curzon Dax, had decades ago sworn a blood oath to avenge the deaths of the three Klingons’ first-born sons (one of whom was Dax’s god-son) at the hands of a brigand known as the Albino.  Forged in Fire fills in the backstory behind that event.  In this book we see how the Klingons first crossed swords with the Albino, and how it came to be that a young Federation diplomat became so close to a group of Klingons that one of them eventually named him godfather to his first-born son.

Why did I decide to re-read Forged in Fire now?  Actually, I wanted to re-read it ever since re-reading the first The Lost Era novel, The Sundered, which also featured Captain Sulu and the USS Excelsior, and was also written by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels.  But life got in the way, and I hadn’t gotten to it until now.  But what a delight it was to re-read this terrific book!

Forged in Fire is gloriously drenched in Star Trek continuity.  I love how cleverly the authors fleshed out the vague hints of back-story    given in “Blood Oath” into an enormous tapestry, an epic asventure spanning many years (the dense novel cleverly hops all about in time) that turns out to depict a critical event in the history of the Federation’s relationship with the Klingon Empire, setting the stage for the rapprochement that would arrive following the events of Star Trek VI.

I love getting to spend time with Kor, Kang, and Koloth.  … [continued]

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Star Trek Cold Equations Book 3: The Body Electric

I loved The Persistence of Memory, book 1 of David Mack’s new Star Trek trilogy, “Cold Equations,” and I was a little more lukewarm on book 2, Silent Weapons.  Book 1 dug deeply into Star Trek lore, bringing Data and his creator, Dr. Noonien Soong, back front-and-center in the continuing Star Trek story.  The book followed up on many ideas begun in Jeffrey Lang’s novel from a decade ago, Immortal Coil, a story that referenced almost every single previous incident in Star Trek involving an android or any other kind of machine life, and that introduced the idea of a galaxy-spanning Fellowship of Artificial Intelligence.  Book 2 shifted the focus to the continuing Typhon Pact story-line, and the tense, ongoing cold war between the Federation and this new enemy alliance.

In book 3, The Body Electric, David Mack returns his focus to Data and the Fellowship of Artificial Intelligence.  Building directly on story-lines begun in Immortal Coil (which really should be considered book one of this four-novel story), we see that Data is still attempting to track down the Immortal (the man known as Flint, from the original series episode “Requiem for Methuselah”), because Flint has discovered the ability to repair android brains following a cascade failure.  That is what caused the death of Data’s android “daughter,” Lal (from the third season Next Gen episode “The Offspring”), and Data is convinced that the Immortal can bring Lal back to life.  With the Immortal captured by a violent offshoot of the Fellowship of Artificial Intelligence, Data has no choice but to allow himself to be captured, too, with the hope that he can free the Immortal.  While in their custody, he discovers the android woman, Rhea McAdams, with whom he fell in love (back in Immortal Coil), is also being held by these androids.  Meanwhile, Wesley Crusher has discovered an awful enemy feared by the Travelers — a planet-sized machine wreaking havoc at the center of the galaxy.  With entire solar systems being destroyed every minute, he appeals to his old allies aboard the Starship Enterprise to try to help him avert destruction on a galactic scale.

As always, Mr. Mack spins a ripping yarn.  (Though I will comment that his tremendous skill with maintaining tension seemed to fail him at a few points, in my opinion.  The early part of the book establishes that the machine is literally destroying whole solar systems every minute, yet as the book unfolded over the day or two that the Enterprise was dealing with the problem, I often felt that things were moving at a surprisingly slow pace considering any second it could be Earth being demolished.  For example, after bringing the … [continued]

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Star Trek Cold Equations Book 2: Silent Weapons

I really enjoyed The Persistence of Memory, the first book in David Mack’s new Star Trek trilogy, “Cold Equations,” so I was very excited to move on to book two.  In Silent Weapons, Captain Picard and the crew of the USS Enterprise find themselves entangled in a complex web of politics between the Federation and the Typhon Pact, the new alliance of many of the Federation’s enemies.  Federation President Bacco is engaged in a secret meeting on Orion with representatives of the Gorn Hegemony, members of the Typhon Pact.  A peace treaty between the two powers would drive a wedge amongst the Typhon Pact powers, but are the Gorn negotiating in good faith, or are they attempting to lure the Federation and Starfleet into a trap of some sort?  The already complicated situation is worsened when the peace talks are disrupted by an attempted attack by a Soong-type android.

In writing about book 1: The Persistence of Memory, I commented that while the book was set firmly in the continuity of Pocket Books’ 24th-century-set Star Trek novels, most of which have been dealing with the advent of the Typhon Pact and its repercussions on the Federation, I enjoyed that the book wasn’t focused on the Typhon Pact.  The novel didn’t have the “Typhon Pact” subtitle, it had the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” heading, and with good reason — the book delved deeply into Next Generation story-lines, focusing on trying up many dangling plot-lines concerning the seemingly-deceased Data and his cyberneticist “father”, the also-seemingly-deceased Dr. Noonien Soong.

Book 2, however, is very much a “Typhon Pact” novel.  While Data and Soong-type androids factor into the plot, they are not nearly as significant elements of the story as I had expected.  Instead, this book is really focused on the politics of the Typhon Pact situation — especially as concerns the Gorn and the Breen — and Federation President Nanietta Bacco’s attempts to find a diplomatic solution to the rising tension.  Silent Weapons is also very much a mystery novel, as Captain Picard and President Bacco attempt to sort out a byzantine scheme before their enemies can get the better of them.

Ever since his fantastic DS9 novel Warpath, I have always been impressed by Mr. Mack’s ability to build tension, and there’s a terrific sequence about mid-way through the novel in which it becomes increasingly clear that something really bad is going to happen at the peace talks.  The fifty-or-so pages leading up to the event are, together, probably my favorite part of the whole novel — it’s a real white-nuckle sequence.  And, when things do come to ahead, we see that once again Mr. Mack is pretty brutal … [continued]

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Star Trek: Immortal Coil

The Persistence of Memory, book 1 of David Mack’s so-far-great new Star Trek trilogy, Cold Equations, made repeated reference to events in a previous Star Trek novel: Jeffrey Lang’s 2002 book, Immortal Coil. Before continuing on to read book two of Mr. Mack’s trilogy, I decided to track down and read Mr. Lang’s book.  I am glad I did, because it is fantastic.

Set after the events of Star Trek: First Contact and during the time of conflict with the Dominion as told in the latter seasons of Deep Space Nine, the story of Immortal Coil focuses on Data, still struggling to adapt to the emotions given to him by the emotion chip installed into his system during the events of Star Trek: Generations. At the start of the novel, Dr. Soong’s wife (and Data’s metaphorical mother), Juliana Tainer (introduced in the Next Generation episode “Inheritance” and played by Fionnula Flanagan, so memorable to fans of Waking Ned Devine and Lost) has died.  This forces Data to confront the hard truth that he will likely outlive every one of his friends and ship-mates.  The prospect of seeing them all die, one by one, dooming him to an unending life of loneliness sends Data into an emotional crisis, one he finds himself ill-equipped to handle.  Meanwhile, it turns out that Commander Bruce Maddox (introduced in the classic second season Next Generation episode “The Measure of a Man”) has been continuing to work on creating another Soong-type android.  Partnering with the genius Emil Vaslovik and Reg Barclay (I love Barclay!), Commander Maddox has all but succeeded — until his lab is destroyed, Maddox is left in a coma, and their android prototype is stolen.  What follows is a terrific adventure/mystery, as Data seeks to uncover the truth about the android prototype, along the way learning far more than he ever suspected about machine-life in the galaxy as well as the past of his creator/father, Noonien Soong.

Immortal Coil is an absolutely marvelous book.  The book is deeply immersed in Star Trek continuity, but also totally compelling as a story in its own right.  In addition to picking up on myriad dangling story threads from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Mr. Lang’s story directly deals with the events from two classic Trek episodes: “What Are Little Girls Made Of” and “Requiem for Methusaleh.”  On top of that, Mr. Lang cunningly connects just about every example of machine-life ever seen in Star Trek, from the Exocomps from the Next Gen episode “The Quality of Life” to Norman from the Classic Trek episode “I, Mudd”  to, in one of my favorite moments in the book, the M-5 computer from “The Ultimate Computer.”  It’s … [continued]

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Joe Golem and the Drowning City

December 10th, 2012
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I’ve been a huge fan of Mike Mignola’s for over two decades, ever since I read Gotham by Gaslight (1991) as a kid and was first impressed by Mr. Mignola’s weird, highly-stylized artwork.  I started following his work, and when he branched into the realm of creator-owned comics with his creation, Hellboy, I eagerly followed.  For that very-first four-issue Hellboy mini-series, 1994’s Seed of Destruction, Mr. Mignola brought with him another writer, John Byrne, but after that Mr. Mignola took over the writing of his series.  As the Hellboy comic continued, with mini-series following mini-series, and as the Hellboy universe gradually expanded into other titles featuring other characters (the B.P.R.D., Abe Sapien, and more), Mr. Mignola’s work as a writer grew more and more confident.  I would now say that Mr. Mignola is as good a writer as he is an artist (and he is a VERY good artist), and these days he writes far more comic-books than he draws.

Mr. Mignola had stepped into the world of prose novels once before, with 2007’s intriguingly-titled Baltimore , or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, co-written with Christopher Golden.  I don’t know why I never read that novel — it’s been on my “to-read” list ever since it was released, but I’ve just never gotten around to it.  Nevertheless, I was immediately intrigued and captivated by the announcement of Mr. Mignola and Mr. Golden’s latest novel: Joe Golem and the Drowning City. That’s another fantastic title, promising all sorts of pulpy adventure fun, and if that wasn’t enough, there was Mr. Mignola’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous painted cover.  BEHOLD!  First of all, I wish I could draw that well.  Secondly, that title and that cover-image immediately captivated me with its mix of Jewish mysticism and Lovecraftian horror.

Let me say that this delightful novel is just as much fun as the cover promises!

Joe Golem and the Drowning City is a marvelously fun pulp adventure, with two-fisted heroes battling dastardly villains.  It’s style is nostalgic, but never at the cost of feeling dull or old.  The book is very much alive, shooting the reader along through the rich adventure story being told.

I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Mignola and Mr. Golden’s world-building, and as the story progressed I was intrigued to learn about the alternate version of 1970’s Manhattan depicted in the story, one in which a 1925 catastrophe has left much of the city sunk under-water.  The book is filled with colorful, fascinating characters, from the tender, elderly Orlov the Conjurer; to the ancient and part-mechanical occult investigator Simon Church; to the mad Dr. Cocteau, and finally to the two main characters in the book: Joe Golem himself and the young … [continued]

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Star Trek Cold Equations Book 1: The Persistence of Memory

David Mack’s 2006 DS9 novel Warpath made me a fan of the author’s forever (boy, I can’t believe that novel is almost a decade old!) and his epic 2008 trilogy Star Trek: Destiny (click here for my review) surely proved Mr. Mack to be one of the finest Trek authors working today.  That status-quo toppling trilogy has set the shape for all the Star Trek novel stories that have followed, as various authors (including Mr. Mack himself, in the novel Zero Sum Game) have set about to explore the wonderful chaos left in the wake of Destiny. The news of a new trilogy of Star Trek novels written by Mr. Mack had me very excited, and I am pleased to report that the first book in this new trilogy, The Persistence of Memory, is absolutely stellar. (I will refer to this novel as The Persistence of Memory, rather than its incredibly wordy actual title, which seems to be Star Trek: The Next Generation: Cold Equations Book 1: The Persistence of Memory. Sheeesh!!)

Set four years after the events of the final “official” on-screen adventure of Captain Picard and co., the dreadful movie Star Trek: Nemesis, Mr. Mack’s main purpose with this new novel seems to be to make right one of the worst mis-steps of that film, and let me say, it’s about damn time. (More details in the spoiler section, below!)

Most of the recent 24th century-set Star Trek novels (such as David R. George’s magnificent Deep Space Nine-centric duology Plagues of Night and Raise the Dawn, and Una McCormack’s recent Brinkmanship) have been focused on the story of The Typhon Pact, the new interstellar alliance of several of the Federation’s fiercest alien enemies (the Romulans, the Breen, the Tholians, etc.).   Intestingly enough, David Mack’s new trilogy appears not bearing the “Typhon Pact” sub-header, but rather that of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” While Persistence of Memory certainly moves forward the story of these post-Nemesis Star Trek novels, and the book does deal heavily with a Typhon Pact race, the Breen, I loved that this novel really was focused on the cast and story-lines from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

We get to spend some excellent time with Captain Picard, Geordi, and Worf in specific, as well as with several introduced-in-the-novels members of the Enterprise E’s command team. (With Will Riker and Deanna Troi off on their own ship and series of novels, Titan, Data dead as of Star Trek: Nemesis, and Wesley off exploring the universe as a traveller as per one of the final episodes of Next Gen’s TV run, they did need some new characters!)

And boy, … [continued]

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Star Trek Typhon Pact: Brinkmanship

Pocket Books continues to weave a tight continuity between their Star Trek novels, particularly those set in the post-Nemesis time-frame.  For the past year or so, all of these new 24th century novels have fallen under the “Typhon Pact” banner, named for the new alliance of bad-guys that threatens the Federation.  It’s neat to see a new, long-term, serious threat to our heroes being developed, and I’ve really enjoyed how liberally all of the Typhon Pact books have mixed characters from the various Star Trek series.  After David R. George III’s absolutely spectacular DS9-focused duology Plagues of Night and Seize the Dawn (click here for my review), I was eager to read the next installment in this continuing Star Trek saga.

In Una McCormack’s new novel Brinkmanship, the Typhon Pact’s Tzenkethi Coalition (who were so memorably developed in the afore-mentioned David R. George III’s Typhon Pact novel Rough Beasts of Empire click here for my review of that book) again step into center stage.  When they form an alliance with the (created-for-the-novel) Venette Convention to lease bases near the borders of the Federation, the Cardassians, and the Ferengi (newly allied as a result of the end of Seize the Dawn), the three allied nations immediately suspect that the Tzenkethi plan to militarize the bases to use against them.  So they launch a diplomatic initiative to convince the Venette to ally themselves with the Federation and its allies, rather than with the Typhon Pact.  When that fails, and the Tzenkethi send ships to deliver supplies (supplies that might be weapons) to their newly-leased starbases, the Federation demands the ships be halted before they can arrive at the bases, or there will be war.

It didn’t take me long to realize that Brinkmanship was Una McCormick’s Star Trek version of Thirteen Days, the famous story of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  It’s a clever parallel, and the idea of a cold-war story set in the Star Trek universe has a lot of potency.  (Certainly several classic Original Series adventures had strong Cold War parallels — I’m thinking of “Balance of Terror” in particular — and of course the final adventure of Kirk & co. in Star Trek VI was all about the post-Cold War world.)  I did feel that Ms. McCormack hit that nail a little more on the head than she needed to, as a slightly subtler approach might have worked better in my mind.  (When one character declares that the Tzenkethi must “turn those ships around!” I thought that was a bit too on-the-nose.)

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Ms. McCormack’s previous Star Trek novels, Hollow Men and the terrific Cardassian story The Never-Ending Sacrifice (click [continued]

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Star Trek Enterprise: The Romulan War: To Brave the Storm

The latest Star Trek: Enterprise novel, The Romulan War: To Brave the Storm, brings to a conclusion the finally-told story of the Earth-Romulan war that lead to the founding of the United Federation of Planets, and also serves as a finale to the series of five Star Trek: Enterprise novels written by Michael A. Martin (the first three of which were co-written by Andy Mangels).  I have recently written about the last two of those books: Kobayashi Maru (click here for my review) and The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s Wings (click here for my review).

To Brave the Storm is a frustrating novel.  There is a lot about the book that I really enjoyed.  It’s a very fast-paced read.  The story is exciting and gripping, and I tore through the book’s pages at rapid speed.  There are none of the digressions I complained about in Beneath the Raptor’s Wings (such as the lengthy chapters dealing with the two news-reporters Gannet Brooks and Keisha Naquase).  The story is galaxy-spanning, with the stakes extremely high: nothing short of the survival of Earth and the human species itself as the Romulans’ assault intensifies and the newly-formed Coalition of Planets (the alliance formed between humans, Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites in the final episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise) shatters.  I love how epic the story is in scope, and I appreciated that the book takes place over the span of over five years.  That gives the Earth-Romulan war a believable scale.  I’m glad this mysterious, much-discussed conflict in Earth’s past wasn’t depicted as having been resolved in just a few weeks.

On the other-hand, To Brave the Storm feels in many ways like the cliffs-notes version of what should have been a much-lengthier saga.  I read that this book was originally planned to have been books 2 and 3 of a Romulan War trilogy, but that for reasons unknown those last two books wound up being compressed into one novel.  It certainly feels that way.  There’s a lot of plot in the book, but little time spent fleshing out the characters of the story and how the galactic events effect them — which should, of  course, be at the heart of any good story.  Why don’t we get a single scene of Captain Archer’s grief at the disappearance of his former lover Captain Erika Hernandez and the Columbia (an event — key to the trilogy Star Trek: Destiny — that seems like it happened right at the end of the events of the previous book, Beneath the Raptor’s Wing)? Why don’t we get to see Hoshi Sato’s reaction to serving on Enterprise during wartime, something which she said in … [continued]

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Star Trek Enterprise: The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s Wing

After re-reading Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels’ Star Trek: Enterprise novel Kobayashi Maru (click here for my review), I started right into Michael A. Martin’s follow-up novel The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s Wing.  This is the first book of a duology chronicling the events of the Romulan War, a momentous event in Earth’s history referred to in the Original Series but never actually depicted on-screen.  In the fourth and final season of Star Trek: Enterprise, fans grew excited that the show seemed to be planting the seeds of that conflict, but the show was cancelled before they ever got to actually show it.  Luckily, the authors of Pocket Books’ Star Trek novels are here to pick up those tantalizing story threads.

Whereas Kobayashi Maru was mostly build-up, Beneath the Raptor’s Wing is “the good stuff,” so it’s not surprising that I felt this was a slightly stronger novel than the previous.  I’m not sure why Mr. Martin is no longer writing with Andy Mangels (with whom he had partnered on numerous previous Star Trek books).  When I saw Mr. Martin’s name alone on the book’s cover, I worried there would be a noticeable change in style, but I was pleased that this book flowed very smoothly from the previous novel.

As the novel opens, the newly-formed Coalition of Planets (the alliance between Earth, Vulcan, Andor, and Tellar) is being forced to deal with a threat to all their worlds.  The Romulans’ involvement in the attacks on their ships (under the guise of the Coalition planets attacking each other, because the Romulans had discovered a way to remotely take control of Coalition ships and use them to attack others, as seen in Kobayashi Maru) has been revealed, and the coalition is now embroiled in a shooting war with their unseen enemies.  Unfortunately, they still have no way to defeat the Romulans’ telecapture weapon, so the Coalition finds themselves defeated at every turn by the Romulans, who are able to turn the Coalition’s own starships into weapons against them.

Beneath the Raptor’s Wing takes place over a full year.  I like how the novel is stretched over a much longer time-period than Kobayashi Maru was — it helps give an epic feel to the dramatic interstellar events being depicted.  I also appreciated how one of my major complaints about Kobayashi Maru seems to have been addressed.  (In my review of that previous book, I commented that all of the planets in the story — Earth, Vulcan, Chronos, etc. — seemed way too close together, with Archer and Enterprise able to zip from one center-of-government to another in just days, whereas I would have expected … [continued]

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Star Trek Enterprise: Kobayashi Maru

The last of the Star Trek TV series, Star Trek: Enterprise, was over-all a disappointment but the biggest tragedy of the show was that it was cancelled just as it was starting to get good.  The series left a number of plot-threads unresolved.  Luckily, the authors of Pocket Books’ Star Trek novels have taken it upon themselves to pick up and resolve those dangling threads in a very entertaining fashion.  Christopher L. Bennett resolved the Temporal Cold War story-line (that had been an aspect of Enterprise since the show’s very first episode) in his novel Watching the Clock (click here for my review).  That novel was set in the 24th century, but Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels have been, in a series of novels, continuing the adventures of Captain Archer and the crew of the Enterprise NX-01 in the 22nd century, depicting the adventures we might have seen had the show gotten a fifth season.

In their novels Last Full Measure (which I haven’t read) The Good that Men Do (which I did read, and really enjoyed) and in Kobayashi Maru, which I have just re-read, Mr. Martin and Mr. Mangels have set about to do several praiseworthy things.  First of all, they have ret-conned the ridiculous, stupid death of Trip, the Enterprise’s chief engineer, that was seen in the series’ final episode “These Are the Voyages”.  Second, they have focused in on the story-line begun in the show’s fourth and final season of the first, tentative steps towards the formation of the United Federation of Planets with the creation of a new coalition between Earth, Vulcan, Andor, and Tellar.  I was fascinated by that story-line in the show, and in these novels Mr. Martin & Mr. Mangels dig deeply into the politics and struggles of this burgeoning interstellar alliance.  Lastly, with Kobayashi Maru in particular, they have begun telling the story that fans of Enterprise always hoped the show would eventually get to: the Romulan War hinted at in the Original Series.

I had read Kobayashi Maru when it was originally published a few years ago, but I hadn’t yet gotten to the two “Romulan War” novels written by Mr. Martin (no longer collaborating with Mr. Mangels, I’m not sure why).  Before reading those two books, I decided to go back and re-read Kobayashi Maru. It’s a solid though not quite spectacular novel.

My favorite aspect of the book is its focus on interstellar politics.  I love the glimpses we get into the discussions and debates between the ambassadors of the various Coalition planets, as well as the struggles and disagreements between the leaders of each individual world.  I love that Mr. Martin … [continued]

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Star Trek Department of Temporal Investigations: Forgotten History

I really loved Christopher L. Bennett’s first Department of Temporal Investigations novel (click here for my review) that fleshed out the Federation’s timeline-policing agency, first seen in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Trials and Tibbble-ations,”  so I was excited to see the release of a follow-up novel: Forgotten History.

This new book is a sequel, but really it’s a prequel, as the novel focuses on the origins of the DTI.  I love Mr. Bennett’s enthusiasm for asking the logical follow-up questions to aspects of the Star Trek shows.  In this case, Mr. Bennett was clearly intrigued by the idea of how an agency like the DTI (which was used for mostly comic effect in “Trials and Tribble-ations”) might have come to be, and this wildly entertaining new novel is his attempt to answer that question.

One of the DTI agents comments, early in the book, that the beginning of most time-travel stories somehow always seems to wind up back with James T. Kirk.  The origin of the DTI is no exception.  In the early part of the novel, probably my favorite part of the book, Mr. Bennett retells aspects of various Original Series episodes that involved time travel.  In the book, we see how Kirk’s early misadventures through time planted the seed for the necessity for a time-policing agency.  But more interestingly than that, I loved how, in re-telling the stories from those Classic Trek episodes, Mr. Bennett found a way to explain away the ridiculous fake-science and inconsistencies of every single one of those early time-travel episodes.

It’s an extraordinarily fascinating and entertaining feat, and I really delighted in reading Mr. Bennett’s explanation for why, for instance, Spock might have lost his emotional control when traveling back in time through the Atavachron in the episode “All Our Yesterdays.”  (The explanation given in the episode, that Spock had traveled back to before the time when Vulcans had mastered their emotions, hence he could no longer control his emotions, was totally ridiculous.)  Or, for another example, Mr. Bennett’s explaining of the opening of the episode (“Tomorrow is Yesterday”) which begins with the Enterprise having (seemingly with no effort) traveled back in time to the 1960’s to observe a pivotal moment of Earth’s history.  I also loved his willingness to address the totally-unexplained appearance of a duplicate Earth in “Miri” (a plot point that I still find unbelievable that it wasn’t really explained or much-discussed in that episode) or the Earth-like planet seen in “The Omega Glory” (in which the United States of America and the people’s Republic of China apparently formed just like they did on our planet, only thousands of years in the past)…

Forgotten History,[continued]

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Star Trek Typhon Pact: Plagues of Night & Raise the Dawn

After far, far too long a hiatus, the Deep Space Nine saga has come roaring back to the forefront of the Star Trek literary universe with David R. George’s magnificent, epic duo of novels: Star Trek: Typhon Pact Plagues of Night and Raise the Dawn.

It was the post-DS9 finale series of Star Trek novels that drew me back into the world of Star Trek novels well over a decade ago.  I have written many words on this site praising the extraordinary series of post-finale novels that picked up on the many story-threads and character arcs left hanging by the end of the television series (in my opinion the greatest of the Trek television series).  I have also written about how frustrated I have been by the way the DS9 series of novels has floundered in the years after David Mack’s fantastic 2006 novel Warpath.  We got a few short, sub-par DS9 novels (Fearful Symmetry and The Soul Keyclick here for my review), a great DS9 novel that was fairly disconnected by the main stories of the post-finale series (Una McCormack’s The Never-Ending Sacrifice —  click here for my review), and several novels set years later that featured some DS9 characters but felt separate from the main DS9 storyline (I’m thinking of Ezri Dax’s story-line in the Destiny three-parter — click here for my review — and the two recent Typhon Pact novels Zero Sum Gameclick here for my review — and Rough Beasts of Empire — click here for my review).  Rough Beasts, in particular, was a great novel and featured several meaty DS9-centric story-lines, but because all of those novels were set several years after where the DS9 series of books had left off, they felt weirdly disconnected from the DS9 saga I’d been following for so many years.  It was cool seeing DS9 characters involved in this new major series-spanning Star Trek story-line (the emergence of the Typhon Pact as a major new interstellar alliance threatening the Federation), but still somehow unsatisfying to me as a fan of Deep Space Nine.

Finally, though, FINALLY, the DS9 saga has returned in full force.  David R. George’s duology isn’t given the Deep Space Nine sub-header — the two books are instead both labeled as Star Trek: Typhon Pact novels.  This is appropriate, as these two novels connect and move forward the stories begun in last summer’s four-book Typhon Pact series.  Just like those novels, this duology features characters from many of the Star Trek series, both the different TV shows and the various series of novels from the past decade-or-so.  But make no mistake, Plagues of Night and … [continued]

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The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History

February 15th, 2012
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The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History, by John Ortved, is a look back at the creation and early days of The Simpsons. The book is told in the form of an oral history, with the story assembled by Mr. Ortved’s weaving together of interviews with the many people — super-famous and otherwise — connected to the show’s origins.

I love the use of the oral history device to tell these sorts of stories.  (The crown jewel example, for me, is Live From New York, Tom Shales & James Andrew Miller’s voluminous oral history of Saturday Night Live.)  To moderate your expectations, I have to tell you that Mr. Ortved’s history of The Simpsons is not as great as Live From New York. For one thing, it’s nowhere near as thorough.  Whereas Live From New York covers, within its lengthy page-count, thirty years of SNL history, Mr. Ortved admits right in the introduction that his book is not intended to be a history of he show’s twenty-plus seasons.  His focus is on the show’s beginnings.  That’s a perfectly understandable choice for an author to make, though it perhaps renders the book’s title, which bills the tome as a history of The Simpsons, a little inaccurate.

Still, Mr. Ortved’s focus on the early years of The Simpsons is deep and engaging.  I’m pretty well-familiar with the history of the show.  I’ve read articles about the show’s creation, I’ve watched the specials, I’ve listened to the DVD season-sets’ commentary tracks.  Despite that, I found this book to be filled with stories I’d never known.  And when I got to the “good stuff” — that is, the juicy, vicious in-fighting among the show’s creative forces that is the meat and potatoes of these types of books — I found Mr. Ortved’s recounting of events to be endlessly fascinating.  And it’s not as if the novel only focuses on season one.  Later chapters do indeed explore, in a decent amount of depth, some of the later seasons.  (There’s a particularly great chapter that compares and contrasts the different show-runners that The Simpsons has had over the years, allowing people to comment on their different styles and the different flavor that each individual show-runner gave to the seasons they oversaw.)

The book has two main flaws.  One, it’s pretty shockingly filled with typos.  This is definitely a manuscript that needed a copy-editor to have taken one more good look through it before being published.  Secondly, I think Mr. Ortved allows his narrative voice to overwhelm, at times, the oral history he’s compiling.  It’s not unusual in these sorts of books for the author to occasionally insert a few paragraphs of introduction of explanations of … [continued]

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The War For Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy

December 29th, 2010

Last week I wrote about Bill Carter’s seminal book The Late Shift, which chronicled the 1992-1993 struggle between David Letterman and Jay Leno over who would host The Tonight Show. Almost two decades later, NBC’s late-night terrain was unravelled by a very similar late-night war which resulted in Conan O’Brien’s ouster as host of The Tonight Show and Jay Leno’s return, following the failure of his 10 PM show.  Returning to chronicle that craziness is Bill Carter, and I was excited to read his new book, The War For Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy.

Before he can get to all of the insanity that went down during the two-week period after Jay’s 10 PM show was cancelled and Conan refused to allow The Tonight Show to be moved back to 12:05 so that Jay could return to an 11:30 time-slot, Mr. Carter steps back a full five years to begin the story with the events that he felt led, almost inevitably, to that showdown.  After an introductory chapter set at an uncomfortable NBC “upfront” presentation in 2009, the book moves back in time to 2004, and depicts the behind-the-scenes decision-making that resulted in NBC’s surprise move to promise Conan O’Brien that he would be installed as the host of The Tonight Show five years later, even though Jay Leno had been scoring great ratings and beating his rival David Letterman regularly for the past decade-and-a-half.  That announcement raised a lot of eyebrows back in 2004 (I remember it raising mine, even though I was thrilled to hear that Conan would be replacing Jay), and through the book we get a lot of insight into how and why that all went down the way it did.

The book then moves forward to 2008, when NBC is now faced with the imminent loss of one of its late-night stars, Jay, and is desperate to come up with a solution that will allow them to hold on to both Jay and Conan.  Shades of 1993, when NBC was desperate to find a way to hold onto its two big late-night stars of the time, Jay and Dave! Mr. Carter takes us through Jeff Zucker’s idea for the 10 PM show for Jay, and the middle chapters of the book depicts how and why that show quickly failed.  Then, at last, we get to those fateful weeks in 2009, when things came to a head and everything exploded in NBC’s face.

This is great, juicy material, and I was thoroughly engrossed in The War For Late Night.  As with his previous book, The Late Shift, Mr. Carter has done an enormous amount of research and … [continued]

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The Late Shift

December 22nd, 2010

Like many of you out there, I followed the news of NBC’s recent late-night craziness — the collapse of Jay Leno’s 10 PM show, the feud this caused between newly-installed Tonight Show host Conan O’Brien and the NBC brass, and Jay Leno’s return to The Tonight Show and Conan’s departure from the network to launch a new show on TBS — with great interest and a sort of morbid fascination.  I read quite a lot about the situation as everything was going down, but when I read that New York Times reporter Bill Carter had written a new book about the whole mess, The War For Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy, I immediately picked it up.

But before reading it, I thought that maybe the time had finally arrived for me to read Bill Carter’s earlier book about the Late Night wars: The Late Shift: Letterman, Leno, and the Network Battle for the Night.

Published in 1994, The Late Shift covers in great detail the dramatic behind-the-scenes story of the upheaval that followed Johnny Carson’s departure as host of The Tonight Show, and the battle between Jay Leno and David Letterman over who would replace him as host.  The book caused quite a stir when it was first released — I remember reading about it back then, and as I recall it was even made into a TV movie!  I’ve always been interested in the subject matter, but I’d never read the book until now.

For anyone fascinated by television and the inside story of how the networks work and how the shows that one loves actually get on the air (or don’t), The Late Shift is a must-read.  Mr. Carter writes with a concise, fluid prose that is easy-to-read, and the book is cleverly structured in the manner of  what’s almost a thriller.  Bouncing back-and-forth between the recollection of a vast number of participants, we watch the behind-the-scenes story unfold with building intensity, as the battle over The Tonight Show comes to a head.  Even though we all know who eventually won out, there’s a gripping intensity to the proceedings, as one wonders not so much WHAT will happen, but more HOW exactly did things turn out the way we all know that they did?

It’s also fascinating to get the perspectives of so many of the people involved in the proceedings.  The book is very well researched and fairly even-handed in its presentation of Mr. Leno, Mr. Letterman, and the other major participants in the behind-the-scenes goings-on.  Mr. Carter includes comments from a vast number of people involved in the saga, including Leno and Letterman and the key members of their … [continued]

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The View From The Bridge

November 29th, 2010
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In the introduction to my review of Time After Time, I wrote that the true reason for the supposed Star Trek odd-numbered movie curse (the phenomenon in which the even-numbered classic Star Trek films seem to be of a far higher quality than the odd-numbered ones) is because of the coincidence that Star Treks II, IV, and VI are the three films that benefitted from the involvement of Nicholas Meyer.  Being a long-time Star Trek fan, I have long-held Mr. Meyer in great esteem.  Even years ago, when I first learned of his roles as writer/director of Star Trek II and Star Trek VI (by far my two favorite Star Trek films — and that stands to this day) and as a writer of Star Trek IV (Mr. Meyer wrote all of the 1986-set portions of the film, while Harve Bennett wrote the framing sequences set in the 23rd century), it was clear to me that Mr. Meyer’s was one of the key creative voices behind GOOD Star Trek.

What little I knew of Mr. Meyer himself (mostly from interviews I had seen or read — including his lengthy comments in William Shatner’s much-underrated chronicle of the making of the six classic Star Trek films, Star Trek Movie Memories* — and also from his terrific commentary tracks on the special edition DVDs of Star Trek II and Star Trek VI) supported the conclusions that I had drawn from his work: namely, that Mr. Meyer was a bright, erudite fellow whose ideas about Star Trek, and about quality movie-making as a whole, quite mirrored my own.

That opinion was further supported by Mr. Meyer’s wonderful memoir: The View From The Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood.  This is a fascinating chronicle of Mr. Meyer’s years in the business, and it’s of interest to anyone fascinated by the nuts and bolts of how Hollywood works and how movies do (and don’t) get made, and of course of particular interest to anyone curious for tons of behind-the-scenes info on the making of the Star Trek films.

Mr. Meyer has an honest, hunorous writing style in evidence right from page one.  In these sorts of memoirs, I often find the early chapters (devoted to the subject’s youth) to be deadly boring.  As a reader I’m usually eager to get to “the good stuff” — that is, the subject’s adult work and achievements that were the reasons I picked up the memoir to begin with.  However, in this book, a) Mr. Meyer is bright enough to know what we’re really interested in, and so keeps those early chapters brief, and b) posesses such … [continued]

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Re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird in Honor of its 50th Anniversary

October 11th, 2010

This past summer marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.  That’s pretty amazing.  Although I’d read the book several times in my life, it had been well over a decade (probably closer to fifteen years) since the last time, so last month I decided to re-read the novel.

What could I possibly say about this magnificent work that hasn’t already been said?  Every couple of years I see that it has topped a list, put together by one organization or another, of the best novels ever written, and I can’t say that I disagree.

The elegant prose wraps you in its warm embrace right from page one, paragraph one.  Harper Lee’s writing contains all of the wistfulness of one’s recollections of a childhood now long-passed, while also maintaining a wonderful good humor throughout.  I’d remembered just how sad the novel was, in places, but I hadn’t quite recalled just how funny it is.  (I love, for instance, Scout’s gentle chiding of her father’s “last will and testament diction.”)

I was also startled, as I re-read the book, by how well I remembered it even though it must have been at least fifteen years since I’d read it last.  I can’t remember the details of books that I read two or three months ago, and yet scene after scene in To Kill a Mockingbird were as fresh in my mind as if I’d just read them last week.  I can only marvel at the power of Harper Lee’s story that it made such an indelible impression on my memory.

Time Magazine‘s 1960 review of the book noted that Harper Lee’s tale “teaches the reader an astonishing number of useful truths about little girls and about Southern life.”  Having grown up in Connecticut in the ’70s and ’80s, I can’t really vouch for the novel’s verisimilitude.  But I can say that it FEELS real to me.  Scout and Jem are wonderfully realized children, and Ms. Lee’s ability to put us right into their heads (or, to use an iconic phrase from the novel, to let us stand in their shoes and walk around in them for a while) is extraordinary, and to my mind it’s the key to the novel’s enduring success.  Yes, the book is filled with striking episodes (Atticus’ shooting of the mad dog has always been a favorite scene of mine), and of course the sad story of Tom Robinson’s trial gives it a potent message about racism in America.  But to me all of that pales before the way that To Kill a Mockingbird allows us, in a way, to step back into our own childhoods as … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Live From New York: An Oral History of Saturday Night Live

July 28th, 2010

My buddy Ethan has been pestering me to read this book for quite a while, and I am so happy that I finally followed his sage advice!

Live From New York is described on the cover as “an uncensored history of Saturday Night Live as told by its stars, writers, and guests.” The book is an oral history of SNL. There is almost no prose to be found in the entire 600-plus pages. Instead, the entire book is a collection of interviews with a dazzlingly dense array of the writers, performers, guest hosts, directors, producers, network executives, music coordinators, production assistants, and many, many more of the folks who worked on Saturday Night Live since the show’s inception in 1975.

Moving chronologically through the years, the books moves from one person’s recollections to another. The interviewed subjects’ comments weave in and out of one another as authors (perhaps they should almost be called editors) Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller piece together the story of the show.

And what a story. To say that Shales and Miller delved deep would be a dramatic understatement. It is staggering to see how many people they interviewed in putting together this book. The result is an incredibly revealing peek behind the curtain of how SNL got made – filled with stories of all the painful struggles and bitter disputes and moments of pure creative genius that have been going on at 30 Rock for the past 35 years.

I feel like I know a decent amount about SNL – I’ve read a lot about the show, and I’ve certainly seen many of the behind-the-scenes specials and retrospectives that have been made over the years (usually to mark one of the show’s anniversaries), but this book was filled to overflowing with stories both hilarious and heartbreaking that I had never heard before. It kicks off with a perfect opening line from Rosie Shuster (former writer for SNL, as well as former wife of Lorne Michaels) that sets the tone for the book perfectly – and things just go from there.

My personal favorite anecdote was Al Franken’s recollection of a terrible, terrible prank that he played on the women assembled for his wife’s baby shower. This page of the book had me literally howling with laughter.

The cover describes the book as uncensored, and it certainly is. Not so much in the sense of being raunchy (though it is at times!), but more to mean that this isn’t a white-washed, everyone-was-happy sort of corporate-approved history of the show. Quite the opposite – Shales and Miller seem to almost revel in all of the juicy stories of arguments and disputes and turmoil from over the … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the novel 3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke!

April 12th, 2010

Whew!  At last, today, we come to the end of my journey through the Odyssey series of films and novels by Arthur C. Clarke.  Over the past several weeks I have written about 2001: A Space Odyssey the film and the novel,  the follow-up novel 2010: Odyssey Two and its film adaptation, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, and the third novel in the series, 2061: Odyssey Three.

I mentioned in my review of Odyssey Three my recollection that, when I first read this series of novels around 15 years ago, I didn’t enjoy 2061 or 3001 nearly as much as 2001 and 2010.  I wondered if my opinions would have changed now, many years later.  That didn’t turn out to be the case with 2061 (which had some fun bits but that didn’t, I felt, add anything to the epic story begun in 2001 and 2010), but I had high hopes that I would enjoy the saga’s conclusion, 3001: The Final Odyssey, more upon my rereading.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

The novel starts out strong.  There’s an intriguing hook — the body of Frank Poole (believed to be long-dead as a result of his murder by HAL 9000) is found and resuscitated, and through his eyes we are introduced to the astounding developments of human society a millennia in the future.  I have commented before about how much I have enjoyed the scientific speculation that Mr. Clarke has woven into his Odyssey novels, in which he takes the time to explore his ideas about how science and technology might progress in our future, and how that can explain some of the sci-fi activities found in the stories.  Mr. Clarke goes to town during the first 100 pages of 3001.  As Frank learns about life in the year 3001, so too do we.  There’s a lot of fun to be had as Mr. Clarke fleshes out this world of tomorrow, and I relished all of the fascinating scientific speculation.

Unfortunately, all of that interesting set-up never leads to a story that goes anywhere.  In my review of 2061, I commented that I didn’t feel there was much significance to the goings-on in that novel — the rescue mission that provided the main thrust of the book’s plot paled in comparison to the cosmic story-lines of 2001 and 2010.  Sadly, 3001 has even less plot to speak of.  (I tried to keep things vague, but some SPOILERS are ahead, gang, so beware.)

I kept waiting for the book’s story to kick into gear, but every-time it seemed like something interesting was about to happen, things stopped cold.  After Book I (… [continued]

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Josh Reviews the novel 2061: Odyssey Three by Arthur C. Clarke!

April 7th, 2010

My journey through the Odyssey series continues!  Over the past two weeks I have written about 2001: A Space Odyssey the film and the novel, as well as the follow-up novel 2010: Odyssey Two and its film adaptation, 2010: The Year We Make Contact.

Only five years after writing 2010: Odyssey Two, in 1987 Arthur C. Clarke released the third Odyssey novel, 2061: Odyssey Three.  (This would prove to be the shortest span of elapsed time between the novels. 2001 was written in 1968, and Mr. Clarke did not release the final novel, 3001: The Final Odyssey, until 1997.)

Fifty years after Heywood Floyd and the crew of the Leonov‘s journey to Jupiter, and the cataclysmic re-ordering of the solar system that resulted from the wakening of the Monolith they encountered there (I am being vague here so as to avoid spoiling the wonderful ending of 2010), interplanetary travel has become, if not commonplace, at least much faster and more convenient.  Mankind has established colonies on several bodies in the solar system, including the Jovian satellite Ganymede, and the wealthy Chinese tycoon Sir Lawrence has created a fleet of luxurious interplanetary space-liners.  His newest and most elaborate vessel, Universe, has been tasked with an extraordinary maiden voyage: to rendezvous with and land upon Halley’s comet, making its regular journey through our solar system.  Sir Lawrence has invited a number of world-famous celebrities to make the journey on-board Universe, including a very elderly Heywood Floyd, aged 103 (still alive and remarkably fit due to a lifetime spent living in low-gravity environments).  But this scientific (and PR) mission is cut short when news arrives that another of Lawrence’s space-liners, Galaxy, has been hijacked and forced to land on the forbidden world of Europa (go read 2010 for the full story on why mankind is not supposed to set foot on the Jovian satellite Europa).  Now Universe must speed across the solar system in an attempt to rescue the crew of Galaxy, as its crew hopes to avoid another confrontation with the Monolith (and the mysterious entities responsible for their creation).

My recollection, from the first time I read through Arthur C. Clarke’s four Odyssey novels about a decade-and-a-half ago, was that I found 2061 and 3001 to be far inferior to the first two installments.  I was curious if I would still feel the same way, re-reading those novels now.

Sadly, the answer is yes for 2061: Odyssey Three.

Don’t get me wrong: 2061 is an enjoyable read.  Mr. Clarke’s prose is engaging and fast-paced.  Although the novel is filled with Mr. Clarke’s scientific ruminations (about the mechanics of interplanetary … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the film 2010: The Year We Make Contact!

April 2nd, 2010

On Monday I wrote about Arthur C. Clarke’s magnificent novel 2010: Odyssey Two.  After completing the novel, I couldn’t resist taking another look at Peter Hyams’ film adaptation, with the revised title of 2010: The Year We Make Contact.  (It’s a film I had only seen once, back in the mid ’90s on video.)

Somehow it seems acceptable to me for Mr. Clarke to choose to write a follow-up to his own novel (2001: A Space Odyssey).  Yet the idea of a movie sequel to Stanley Kubrik’s iconic and influential film — particularly a sequel helmed by another director, and one whose story would set out to answer many of the questions that Kubrik so pointedly left unanswered — seems almost sacrilegious.

2010 is not a film that should be any good.  It could have so easily wound up being Blues Brothers 2000.  And yet, somehow, while  it’s nowhere near as great as the novel, it is a far better film than it has any right to be.

Whereas Stanley Kubrik’s 2001 was slow and lyrical and notably short on any actual plot or character development, 2010 is more of an adventure film.  There is no shooting and there are no fist-fights, thank goodness.  But there’s solid narrative thrust throughout the film, as we follow Heywood Floyd (recast here as the wonderful Roy Scheider) on his odyssey towards Jupiter.  Once there, tension mounts as the mysteries deepen and an enormous potential danger is discovered.

I was very pleasantly surprised, rewatching this film, at how many talented and familiar faces make up the cast.  There’s Roy Scheider, of course, who makes a potent lead.  His Dr. Floyd is a man of great intelligence and integrity, and a bit more of an action hero than the rather administrative version of the character as played by William Sylvester in 2001.  John Lithgow plays the American engineer Walter Curnow, and he brings a lot of warmth and humanity to the role.  I was disappointed that the Indian character of Dr. Chandra, HAL 9000’s creator, was recast in the film as an American — but when that American is played by the terrific Bob Balaban, I really can’t complain.  Then there’s Helen Mirren — yes, THAT Helen Mirren — as the Russian captain of the Lenov (the vessel launched towards Jupiter in an attempt to rescue the Discovery and discover what happened to Dave Bowman).  She doesn’t have a whole lot to do in the film, but she’s great whenever she’s on screen.  It’s fun to see her in this type of sci-fi/adventure role.

While the visual effects of the film don’t quite hold up as well as those … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the novel 2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke!

March 31st, 2010

Last week I wrote about Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as the novel by Arthur C. Clarke!  I enjoyed both of those so much that I decided to continue onwards with the rest of the series of novels (as well as the film sequel).

2010: Odyssey Two is one of my very favorite science fiction novels.  It’s my favorite of Mr. Clarke’s Odyssey series, superior in my opinion even to the original novel 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The disastrous Discovery mission of 2001 gave mankind no answers about the mysterious Monoliths and the ancient extraterrestrial entities behind their creation.  So, after several long years of work, a new mission towards Jupiter is finally ready — a joint US/Russian endeavor aboard the Leonov (named after cosmonaut Alexei Leonov).  Their mission: find the Discovery, determine what went wrong with HAL 9000 and what happened to astronaut David Bowman, and find some answers about the enormous Monolith floating in space.

Aboard Leonov is a familiar character from 2001 (the novel and the film): Heywood Floyd.  As one of the architects behind the Discovery mission, Floyd has long felt responsible for the lives lost on that doomed expedition.  He hopes that his involvement in this follow-up mission will allow him to finally answer some of the questions that have been gnawing at him for a decade, since his first glimpse of TMA-1 on the moon, and to help in some way to set things right.

Leonov is crewed with an extraordinarily skilled mix of Russian and American officers, but their journey is complicated when they learn that the Chinese have also launched a mission to Jupiter, one that will beat them to Discovery by several weeks.  When the entity once known as Dave Bowman returns to Earth, and the Monolith in orbit of Jupiter begins to multiply, the successful completion of Leonov‘s mission might take a back-seat to the preservation of their lives.

2010: Odyssey Two is a ripping yarn.  It is a much faster-paced tale than 2001, one filled with a lot more narrative twists and turns.  In addition, I enjoyed Mr. Clarke’s increased emphasis on character development in this installment.  The Leonov has a large, diverse crew, and over the course of the novel I felt that we got to know each member of the team better than pretty much any character in 2001.  Also, 2010 is, I think, superior to 2001 in that it has a central protagonist, Heywood Floyd, who readers can invest in and follow through the tale.  Now, 2010: Odyssey Two isn’t a character study, that’s for sure.  It’s clear that Mr. Clarke’s interest lies far more … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke!

March 24th, 2010
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On Monday I wrote about Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

After re-watching that film last month, I was driven to pick up Arthur C. Clarke’s novel 2001: A Space Odyssey off my book-shelf to re-read that as well.

I had read all four of Arthur C. Clarke’s Odyssey novels many years ago, back when I was in college.  After so thoroughly enjoying seeing 2001 the film again, I was excited to take another look at the novel.  As Mr. Clarke explains in the introduction (to the 25th anniversary edition, which is what I have), the novel and the film were created simultaneously.  Neither was an adaptation of the other, which is pretty unique.  Instead, Kubrick and Clarke developed the story together.  Then, while Mr. Kubrick assembled his film, Mr. Clarke crafted his novel.

2001: A Space Odyssey is a terrific read.  It succeeds as an engaging creation in its own right, and also as a fascinating companion to Mr. Kubrick’s film.

The novel and the film share many similarities.  Since they were created simultaneously and in partnership, the basic structure of both tales is identical.  There are none of the dramatic revisions found in even the best film adaptations of novels, which is refreshing.  The themes and “tone” of both works are remarkably similar.

The novel also shares some of the film’s, er, more challenging aspects.  There isn’t a whole heck of a lot of “plot” that actually happens over the course of the tale.  And the somewhat episodic structure (in which the story is divided into several distinct parts, set in different locations and wildly differing eras of human history) is unusual, to say the least, and provides something of an obstacle to the narrative building up a full head of steam.  (Just when we’re “settling in” to one setting and group of characters, the story moves away from that location, never to return.)

There are also a number of interesting differences between the novel and the film.  In the film, Discovery‘s ultimate goal (and the location of Dave Bowman’s encounter with the Monolith) is Jupiter, whereas in the novel it is Saturn.  (Indeed, Mr. Clarke devotes a decent chunk of time towards describing the mechanics of Discovery‘s journey through the solar system towards Saturn.)  One of the film’s most iconic sequences, in which Dave and Frank discuss their concern over HAL’s increasingly erratic behavior while hiding in one of Discovery‘s small pods (in an attempt prevent HAL from hearing their discussion which proves fruitless when HAL reads their lips) never occurs in the novel.  There’s also a lengthy stretch of time, in the book, in between the final confrontation with HAL … [continued]

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The Deep Space Nine Saga Continues…

October 16th, 2009
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Deep Space Nine remains, by an order of magnitude, my favorite of the Star Trek series.  Not surprisingly, then, it was the terrific DS9 relaunch of novels set after the series finale (which I wrote about in depth here) that rekindled my interest in (and love for) Pocket Books’ Star Trek novels.

But after the publication of David Mack’s phenomenal novel Warpath in April, 2006, the DS9 relaunch series hit something of a snag.  Warpath ended on a brutal cliffhanger, bur for whatever reason the next installment in the series, Fearful Symmetry, wasn’t scheduled to be published until a year later.  Unfortunately, it was actually over TWO years until that next novel was finally published (written by Olivia Woods, a different author than the one originally announced) in July, 2008.  Fearful Symmetry wound up being one of the shortest DS9 novels published (in the relaunch series, at least), and then we all had to wait still another year for the next novel: The Soul Key, also written by Olivia Woods, released this past August.

Such a long a wait put a lot of pressure on The Soul Key.  Things were exacerbated even more (in my mind, at least), when, a few months ago, Pocket Books released their schedule of novels for 2010.  Only one DS9 novel was included, and according to the description it will be set several years after the events of the entire DS9 relaunch series of novels, so that it can be a part of next year’s “Typhon Pact” Next Gen crossover story.  That sounds like a cool novel, but one that will be much more about the post-Destiny Next Gen stories as opposed to all of the DS9-centric stories of the DS9 relaunch.  So it might be another two years at least before more actual DS9 proper novels are published.  All of that means that Ms. Woods’ two novels (Fearful Symmetry and The Soul Key) could conceivably be the only new DS9 relaunch stories published for FIVE years.

That means that The Soul Key would have to be really magnificent to live up to all of the expectation placed upon it.  Sadly, it is not.

Although not as short as Fearful Symmetry, The Soul Key is still a fairly short novel — and it feels even shorter than it actually is.  That might be because, while there is a lot of PLOT covered in this novel (we do, at last, get some resolution to several of the story-lines that have been running through the past several DS9 novels, which means the last several YEARS of my life), there doesn’t seem to be a whole heck of a … [continued]

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The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore

September 23rd, 2009
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Alan Moore is one of the undisputed masters of the comic book form, and that’s putting things mildly.  He has authored a quite astounding body of work, including V For Vendetta, From Hell, and, of course, the magnum opus that is Watchmen.

TwoMorrows Publishing has, for the past few years, been publishing a wonderful series called Modern Masters, in which they spotlight a variety of the greatest artists in the field: Alan Davis, George Perez, Arthur Adams, John Byrne, etc.  The format of those books (I suppose I should call them books — they are the size of magazines, but they are square-bound and much lengthier than your average magazine) is a lengthy one-on-one interview with the subject.  Through these series of in-depth questions and answers, the reader is taken on a detailed journey through the life and career of the subject, and is also given great insight into his/her style, approach, and techniques.

First published in 2003, The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore adheres to the format of the Modern Masters series.  The entire work is a lengthy interview with Mr. Moore, conducted by George Khoury.  But while the Modern Masters volumes are all in-depth, this work puts those volumes to shame, clocking in at a hefty 237 pages.  The new “Indispensable Edition,” which is what I have, was published a few months back, presumably with the intention of meeting the renewed interest in Mr. Moore’s work following the release of the Watchmen movie.  This new edition has a great new interview with Mr. Moore, conducted in 2008, that serves as a fine epilogue to the whole piece.

For anyone who has ever read and enjoyed any of Alan Moore’s amazing comic books, I cannot recommend this publication highly enough.  I thought that the early chapters, dealing with Moore’s youth and childhood, would be boring — but Mr. Moore’s wit brought great humor to those stories of his “early days.”  And once the story moves to his break-though stint writing Swamp Thing, the narrative really kicks into high gear.  The book is filled with behind-the-scenes stories of Moore’s time working on all of his seminal works.  I’ve read a good deal over the years, for example, about his run on Swamp Thing and the making of Watchmen, V For Vendetta, etc., but the stories found here quickly move beyond the familiar “legends” connected with those projects.  It’s endlessly fascinating to hear Moore’s thoughts on the development of those works, as well as his opinions about them now, looking back.  (I was quite interested to read about the reasons for his dislike, for example, of The Killing Joke, which — despite his feelings — … [continued]

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After “All Good Things” — Josh continues his review of The Sky’s the Limit!

July 10th, 2009
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Yesterday I began reviewing a collection of short-stories entitled The Sky’s the Limit, which was part of Pocket Books’ 20th anniversary salute to Star Trek: The Next Generation.   In my last post, I reviewed the stories set during the run of the Next Gen TV show.  Today I’ll turn my attention to the stories set after “All Good Things,” Next Gen‘s series finale.

‘Twould Ring the Bells of Heaven, by Amy Sisson — Set soon after the events of “All Good Things,” this tale finds Deanna Troi leading an away team assigned to help a group of scientists studying the ring system of a planet nicknamed Heaven.  There are some interesting scientific notions mixed into the story, which I enjoyed, and a nice sci-fi mystery.  It was a good idea to focus on Counselor Troi at this point in Next Gen‘s history, as she began stepping into more of a leadership role among the Enterprise’s command structure.

Friends with the Sparrows, by Christopher L. Bennett — The classic Next Gen episode “Darmok” introduced us to the Children of Tama, a race of aliens who speak only in metaphor.  With this story, Mr. Bennett really dives into many of the fascinating questions that a consideration of that episode would bring: How do the Tamarians teach their vocabulary to their children?  How do they communicate technical information?  How do they convey to one another the full stories behind their myths in the first place?  It’s hard to avoid asking those questions after having watched “Darmok” a few times, and I was tickled by Mr. Bennett’s attempts to provide answers and flesh out Tamarian culture.  This story also focuses on Data’s struggles with his emotion chip (from Star Trek: Generations).  That aspect of the story is a quite a leap beyond what we saw of Data in that film, but nonetheless works when you consider how many more challenges Data must have had to struggle with (beyond what we saw in Generations) in terms of adjusting to his newfound emotions.  (I should also mention that this story contains the best line in the entire collection: “Mirab-his-sails-unfurled factor what, sir?”  Brilliant.)

Suicide Note, by Geoff Trowbridge — After the Federation’s alliance with the Romulan Empire (to fight against the Dominion, as depicted in the later seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Captain Picard is finally in a position to fulfill a promise made long before.  In the excellent third-season episode “The Defector” (one of the first scripts by Ronald D. Moore), Romulan Admiral Jarok defects to the Federation in an effort to prevent the outbreak of war.  When he discovers that he … [continued]

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Twenty Years of Next Gen!! Josh Reviews The Sky’s The Limit

July 8th, 2009
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2007 was, believe it or not, the TWENTIETH anniversary of the launch of the very first Star Trek spin-off, Star Trek: The Next Generation.  The pilot episode, “Encounter at Farpoint,” is terribly clunky when looked at today, but as a kid watching that very first episode I was blown away, and hooked for life.

During 2007, Pocket Books released a number of great novels celebrating Next Gen‘s 20th anniversary, but one that I missed was a short-story anthology called The Sky’s The Limit.  I’m glad that I have remedied my oversight, because this collection is a delight.  The fourteen stories are presented chronologically, spanning the years between a time immediately before “Encounter at Farpoint,” and the time immediately after the last Next Gen feature film, Star Trek: Nemesis.

Meet with Triumph and Disaster, by Michael Schuster & Steve Mollmann — As Starfleet prepares for the launch of the Enterprise-D, the man who supervised her construction, Captain Thomas Halloway, is faced with a momentous choice.  One of the shortest stories in the collection, it’s a great introduction to the era of Next Gen, and a delightful fleshing out of a man only glimpsed very briefly in one episode.

Acts of Compassion, by Dayton ward & Kevin Dilmore — Beverly Crusher and Tasha Yar are tasked with seeing to the safe return of three Starfleet Officers who were captured in Cardassian territory.  Needless to say, the mission hits a few bumps along the way.  I was glad to see that Tasha was not ignored by the authors contributing to this anthology, and I really enjoyed this glimpse at the relationship between these two women.  I can’t think of any first-season episodes that gave us much information about how Tasha and Beverly interacted, but Ward & Dilmore do a great job in conveying the very different ways that these two officers viewed the world.

Redshift, by Richard C. White — Set during Next Gen‘s second season, this story focuses on the early days aboard the Enterprise of new Chief Medical Officer Dr. Katherine Pulaski.  Pulaski was an interesting character who, I feel, was done a disservice by the writers when she vanished off the show at the end of that season.  It’s nice to see her character fleshed out here, and White creates a crackling adventure scenario that keeps the story moving.

Among the Clouds, by Scott Pearson –A mishap in the lower stratosphere of a Jovian planet sends Geordi LaForge plummeting down through the clouds of ammonia ice to his certain death.  The story moves at a rapid pace, bouncing back and forth between the events that lead to Geordi’s situation and … [continued]

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News Around the Net

Click here for a terrific three-essay series that delves into the first three Indiana Jones films.  These are all really well-written pieces, filled to the brim with love for the cinematic adventures of Dr. Jones.

Clever tourists wrecking the world one monument at a time.  Don’t think — just follow that link.  You won’t regret it.

Click here for a fascinating list of the twenty best non-fiction books for people who think they hate to read non-fiction.  I need to get on this, having only read two of the items on this list!

I’m not exactly recommending this lengthy essay, because I disagree with it wildly, but it’s sort of bizarrely fascinating two see two individuals who really don’t seem to like Star Trek at all go on an enormous length about it as they revisit the first six Trek films.  (Well, one of the two authors seems to be a fan, but he doesn’t seem to put up much of a fight whenever the other one bashes the series.)

Speaking of Trek, here is a link to a lengthy, fascinating Q & A that’s been going on over at Trekmovie.com between Star Trek screenwriters Bob Orci & Alex Kurtzman and a number of fans who, like me, had lots of questions about elements of the new movie’s plots.  I really respect Mr. Orci for engaging with the fans in this way — though I feel most of his responses are pretty flimsy.  Check it out and see what you think.  (UPDATE:  Still MORE Q & A with Mr. Orci & Mr. Kurtzman can be found here!)

It’s pretty obvious that the new Star Trek movie was pretty heavily influenced by the action and dynamism of Star Wars.  But have you considered just how deep those similarities run?  Shocking!  (And hysterical.)

Let’s close with three intriguing trailers: Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Junior, the bizarre-looking Nine and (can you believe it?) Toy Story 3.

That should keep you all good and busy until tomorrow!  See you back here then!… [continued]

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Adventures in Hollywood!

October 9th, 2008
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After my lengthy series of posts about Star Trek novels from last month, I bet people think that’s all I read.  And, its true, sci-fi novels make up the bulk of my regular reading list.  But every now and then I do branch out, and I’d like to share several great books I’ve recently read that peak behind the scenes of Hollywoodland.

What Just Happened?, by Art Linson — Mr. Linson has been a producer in Hollywood for a few decades now, and this book covers a period of several years in the late ’90s in which he went to work for 20th Century Fox and proceeded to produce a large number of bombs.  Now, did these movies bomb because of bad luck and ridiculous studio politics and lack of support (as Mr. Linson contends), or is Linson just bereft of talent?  Well, I don’t know the man, so I can’t really judge.  But either way, this book is relentlessly entertaining as Linson takes us through the making of several movies that, to put it gently, did not do well.  Linson is a good storyteller, and in the book he focuses on anecdotes — putting the reader right in the middle of a series of hilarious (and painful for the people involved in them) situations.  We join Linson as he tries to deal with Alec Baldwin who, tapped to play the young and handsome photographer in the David Mamet-scripted The Edge, shows up to the set overweight and bearing an enormous mountain-man beard which he refuses to shave.  We see him trying to respond when studio head Tom Rothman asserts that they absolutely positively cannot cast Gwyneth Paltrow in Great Expectations because she has no chin.  We see him flummoxed the day he finds out that a central scene in that movie, that of a young man sketching his female paramour in the nude, is also a centerpiece of another soon-to-be-released Fox movie, James Cameron’s Titanic.  And we’re right there with him the first time he and David Fincher screen Fight Club for a room full of horrified Fox execs.  

If there’s any weakness to the book, its the framing device that Linson uses for these anecdotes — that of a series of lunches he has with a former studio head.  There are some funny interactions between these two, but each time the book cut back to their lunches, I kept thinking “let’s get back to the real stories!”  Despite this, Linson’s book is really engaging — and at less than 200 pages, you’ll breeze right through it.  Its a lot of fun.

By the way, this book is being adapted into a film starring Robert DeNiro.  … [continued]