Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh, Volume Two, by Greg Cox

Khan cursed himself for failing to think three-dimensionally.
-Khan demonstrates a flaw in his tactical reasoning…not for the last time

We left off with the last volume with the Klingons having sabotaged the protective dome at Paragon Colony, leaving it to Kirk and McCoy to….

Heh.  That’s not what you want to hear about.  We wanna know about Khan.  So scrap the framing story out of your heads, and let’s get back to the real plot of this book.  We left them off with Khan finally ready to start his effort to conquer the world, ruled by himself and his chosen subordinates-all products of the Chrysalis Project.  He’s gotten a bunch of useful information from Gary Seven’s computer, and has used that information to build a weapon unlike any other-a satellite that rips holes in the Earth’s ozone layer.  Really, really big holes.  As he’s no dummy, though, he uses it much like the U. S. uses nuclear weapons-a deterrent against military conquest against him.

Of course, Khan still has a couple of irritants to deal with.  Seven and his ally Roberta Lincoln are still working against him-although only rarely coming into direct conflict.  As annoying as they are, however, they pale to the threat posed by a small number of other genetically enhanced people-whose agendas clash with Khan’s.  Each has a somewhat different outlook, from the Amazonian, to the militant American, to the fellow who believes it’s all foreordained by the “starfathers”.

In the meantime, while Seven and Roberta play their chess-like game against Khan’s ambitions, and Khan busies himself with getting ready to take over the world and surviving attacks by his brethren, a small group of people who have unwittingly (and in most cases, unknowingly) had contact with the future get together to design what will become the most advanced spacecraft of this time.  Characters who have shown up in episodes of the original Star Trek, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager all are represented here (I don’t think anyone was in Next Generation, but I can’t prove a thing).

This book really took me by surprise.  Volume Two, I’d expected, would be somewhat apocalyptic, far more overt than it actually turned out to be.  In many ways, I found it far better than my expectations; as with Volume One, it takes a very significant number of real life events and ties them to the war between Khan, his compatriots and Seven.  And make no mistake-while the warfare is not open, there are definitely large amounts of casualties justifying the antipathy Earth holds for the genetically enhanced even in the time of the Next Generation.

Khan is written totally in character…shifting between gentility and raw fury with equal ease, and every bit the master strategist you’d expect (except, naturally, for a minor tactical flaw as mentioned in the quote above).  His associates, Ament and Joaquin, balance him quite nicely-one a voice of reason, and the other the fanatic bodyguard who really hates it when his master puts himself in harm’s way.  Seven doesn’t get too much time in this one, as he’s gotten significantly older, and so plays the part of Roberta’s mentor more than before.  Roberta’s finally gotten out of some of her more annoying habits, which was a relief to me.

Aside from a very important plot point I figured out by chapter two (and most readers will probably catch it too), I found the journey of getting to Khan’s final destiny to be rather enjoyable.  Greg Cox is to be highly commended for putting together a pair of books that only peripherally touch on Star Trek as a whole; if you switched some names and removed the framing story, it’d stand out quite nicely as a science fiction novel on its own merits.  The fact that it is a Star Trek book, though, allows it to hit some rather nice touches that it couldn’t have done otherwise.  I highly recommend The Eugenics Wars to any fan of Star Trek, and especially to those who loved the original episode “Space Seed” and the movie “The Wrath of Khan”.

(Side note:  Cox once again includes a handy afterword with historic references…enough to make me wonder if Khan’s legacy isn’t still with us)

(Another side note:  I wonder if we can find a way to get Cox to write up the third world war mentioned a couple times in Trek…after this one, I think he’d be a natural)

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Dragon Precinct, by Keith R. A. DeCandido

 Lord and Lady, not another heroic quest.
I’m afraid so.  Dragon’s been told to keep a special eye on them.  Those types always get into brawls.
Or worse.  I remember that group that wiped out the Boar’s Head Inn.
I don’t know that inn.
You wouldn’t, boy.  Even if someone like you would be caught dead in a place like that, it got burned to the ground before you were born.
-Assorted officers of the Cliff’s End Castle Guard

I’ve reviewed books by Keith R. A. DeCandido before.  I’ve commented on how he manages to nail down the characters of every licensed property he’s been involved with, going back from the Marvel Comics novels, to Star Trek, to Farscape.  He’s become known for his IKS Gowron books of late, where Klingons seek out new life, new civilizations, and conquer them.  However, all of his books to date have been in somebody else’s playground.  Until now.

Dragon Precinct is a fantasy novel; however, it’s not about warriors, wizards, and priests going on a quest.  Well, actually, it is about warriors, wizards, and priests going on a quest-but those characters aren’t the protagonists here:  they’re the victims of murder.  The world-famous Gan Brightblade and his allies are in the city-state of Cliff’s End, at the behest of the priest Brother Genero; Genero has had a vision of a great evil returning in the form of the wizard Chalmraik the Foul.  Never mind the fact that the wizard was killed ten years ago.  Unfortunately for those heroes, someone-or something-has decided to have at these heroes before they get too far.

Enter the Cliff’s End Castle Guard.  Lieutenant Danthres Tresyllione and Lieutenant Torin ban Wyvald investigate a death in the Dragon Precinct-specifically, the death of Gan Brightblade.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much for them to find; there are apparently no clues, physical or magical, no apparent motive, and the crew Gan traveled with are unwilling to tell the truth about why they are in town.  Then, of course, there’s also the little detail that the rulers of Cliff’s End, Lord Albin and Lady Meerka, want this case wrapped fast (Gan was an old friend), before it gets out of hand-and their chamberlain, Sir Rommett, isn’t exactly the most helpful of people to the Guard.  Which makes life especially unpleasant when one of Gan’s companions ends up dead in the same inn….

DeCandido’s put together a pretty good setting; Cliff’s End is a smorgasbord of the people populating the land of Flingaria; the land itself has gone through some rough times, and the heroism of Gan and his crew was one of the main reasons why it has entered a peaceful period.  Magic is regulated by the Brotherhood of Wizards, in part because of past abuses by wizards such as Chalmraik.  Many elves see humans as lower life-forms.  There are also dwarves and halflings in Flingaria (and I believe trolls are mentioned somewhere as well).  The story itself, however, is contained within Cliff’s End, and there’s enough here to tell a great many stories; from the upper-class areas of Unicorn Precinct, the docks of Mermaid, the seedy Goblin, and Dragon-which seems to hold the middle-class.  Since there’s no map of the city, one could easily guess that there may be more regions in the city as well.

Dragon Precinct has a number of minor subplots rolling along too; Danthres and Torin aren’t the only detectives in the city, and we get a look at some of their workload as well.  But the bulk of the story follows Danthres and Torin in their investigation (with some aid from the M. E. Boneen; Boneen’s a Magical Examiner on loan from the Brotherhood).  Both characters have their separate backstory (Danthres’s is a bit more heavily explored here), which affects their actions during portions of the investigation.  They’re hampered by the fact that there isn’t a lot to go on-at least at first.

There aren’t a lot of books in fantasy that deal with general crime in a city.  The only ones that come to mind immediately are the Discworld City Watch books, which tend to be somewhat less than serious in tone; a pair of Joel Rosenberg books which wasn’t so much city crimes being solved; and I think one of Saberhagen’s Lost Swords books had a detective tone in it.  None of them quite hit the right flavor for a police drama in a fantasy setting, though-and that’s what Dragon Precinct has accomplished.  It’s got a good core of characters, a diverse city setting, and plenty of room to write more stories-not to mention a potential loose end that’s a little beyond a city guard to handle (it’d be a neat thing to follow up in passing in future stories though).  I believe I’d enjoy reading more stories set in Cliff’s End.

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Conquest, by Greg Keyes

But you back down from the fight, Master Skywalker.  You block and defend and never return the blow.  Meanwhile the blades directed against you multiply.  And you have begun to lose, Master Skywalker.  One opportunity lost!  And there lies Daeshara’cor in death.  Another slip in your defense, and Corran Horn is slandered as the destroyer of Ithor and driven to seclusion.  Again an attack is neglected, and Wurth Skidder joins Daeshara’cor in death.  And now a flurry of failures as a million blades swing at you, and there go Dorsk 82, and Seyyerin Itoklo, and Swilja Fenn, and who can count those we do not know of yet, or who will die tomorrow?  When will you attack, Master Skywalker?
-Kyp Durron, Jedi Knight

It’s Jedi hunting season.  The Yuuzhan Vong have made an offer to spare worlds, if only those worlds deliver to them the heads of any Jedi Knights they can get their hands on.  Unsurprisingly, in a New Republic well known for turning upon its heroes, there are a bunch of people willing to do just that-including an organization calling itself the Peace Brigade, which has hatched a plan to deliver a whole bunch of Jedi to the Vong-by stopping in at Yavin 4, at the Jedi Academy.

Meanwhile, the Jedi Knights are beginning to splinter.  Kyp Durron heads a faction of Jedi tired of waiting for the axe to fall on them, and are advocating an extremely pro-active stance against the Vong.  Luke Skywalker, on the other hand, continues to counsel helping where they can, acting as the shield for the New Republic.  Among the Jedi caught in the middle are the Solo siblings, Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin.  The three shrewdly guess the next move of the Vong (or the Brigade) in that the Academy is their next target, and tell their suspicions to Luke.  Luke sends for Talon Karrde, the former smuggler who had been so helpful against Grand Admiral Thrawn.  However, Anakin proves to be a bit more impatient…and heads to Yavin himself.

While Balance Point was a story of Solos, with an emphasis on Jacen’s moral questions, this one is purely Anakin’s. Conquest continues the process of a Jedi who-at sixteen-has seen more action than most Jedi might in their lives.  He also finds himself in the process of this story in the unusual position of being the adult minded individual among some of the students; among those students are Valin Horn, son of the Jedi Corran Horn, and Tahiri Veila, Anakin’s best friend.

The Vong aren’t as omnipresent in this book as they have been in previous books.  Yavin is hardly a major target for the Vong offensive, important only in the fact that a number of Jedi students are learning there.  This isn’t to say they aren’t present-they are, and we get further insights as to their character and motives-some of which throws a slight element of self-preservation into the mix-as well as some other strategies, represented by their Shapers.  And watch for Vua Rapuung-he’s a fellow who stands as a good example of the typical Vong warrior…even though he himself is anything but typical.

I do have one quibble with the ongoing storyline, though.  As unpleasant as it is to agree with an extremist, Kyp Durron has a good point-the Jedi have been reacting more than acting against the Vong.  While Kyp is nuts if he thinks that the Jedi alone can win this war, I think Luke has been far too passive in this whole thing.  My opinions are slightly colored, probably, by the movie The Phantom Menace, where we got to see the Jedi in their prime; I get the idea that the Old Republic Jedi wouldn’t just contemplate-they’d act.  Of course, the next movies may prove me wrong entirely….

The title Conquest is pretty misleading, as there’s precious little conquering going on (unless, of course, you count conquest over a person’s very soul-but I won’t go into any further details, since that might spoil some of the book).  Conquest is instead bringing the scope of the New Jedi Order from the battles for planets to the challenge of rescue and survival on a more immediate level.  And equally significantly, there is very little presence from who I would consider the Star Wars core characters (Han, Leia, Luke).  While hardly the first book without their presence, it continues the slow trend of passing the torch to the sons and daughters of the Heroes of the Rebellion.  Even Luke admits early in this book that it won’t be him or Kyp or any of the older Jedi who will bring this conflict to a conclusion, but one of the new ones.

Conquest is recommended for readers who have continued to follow the New Jedi Order saga, especially for fans of the Solo siblings.  For folks more interested in the continuing war, you don’t really need to read this one.  But to be fair, you’re missing out on the continuing growth of Anakin Solo as a person if you do.

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Sea of Swords, by R. A. Salvatore

Like old times?
We didn’t win many of the fights in the old times.
-A conversation between Morik the Rogue and Wulfgar

It’s been a few books, but R. A. Salvatore has returned to his most well-known character.  Sea of Swords is the fourth book in the “Paths of Darkness” series, the other books being The Silent Blade, The Spine of the World, and Servant of the Shard.  Although the book centers strongly on the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden, it is as much a story about the barbarian Wulfgar as it is Drizzt.

The book opens in Icewind Dale, where Drizzt, Cattie-Brie, Bruenor and Regis have once more settled.  Settled, however, doesn’t mean they’ve retired-in the process of dealing with bandits, they discover that their leader has a rather odd brand-one that matches a unique symbol inscribed on the magical war hammer known as Aegis-fang.  The companions decide to find out just how the hammer ended up in bandit hands, and at the same time, discover the fate of the man who had owned it.

That man-Wulfgar-is also looking for his hammer.  Having lost it a some time ago (to put it kindly), he’s joined Captain Deudermont on the high seas to find the pirate queen who has it-a woman by the name of Sheila Kree.  However, Wulfgar’s also having a bit of a moral crisis; unlike his previous problems, attempting to recover from the torture of the demon lord Errtu, he’s now having a problem determining just who he is-a barbarian warrior, or devoted husband and father.  That makes him a little dangerous to have around, according the ship’s mage.

Even as all this is going on, though, an elf named Le’lorinel is hunting for a hated enemy-an enemy named Drizzt!

All three trails are destined to come together….

For a long time, I was rather put off by Salvatore.  I enjoyed his books, but I found that the way he “killed” Wulfgar way back in The Legacy to be rather offensive-it was obvious to me he was trying to clear the way for a romance between Drizzt and Cattie-Brie, who at the time was going to be marrying Wulfgar.  I thought Salvatore was taking the easy way out.  I was gratified to see the barbarian return, though, which I felt righted that wrong.  What Salvatore did with Wulfgar afterwards made perfect sense-a strong warrior being tortured for years physically and mentally wouldn’t return to normal life without scars-and those scars made up most of the first two books in the “Paths of Darkness” books.  Now I’m really happy to see that he’s making more profound changes in this book.

As for Drizzt, it seems that some of the darkness of previous books has begun to lift; the inside cover of this book, which has one of the popular “Drizzt journal entries”, made it clear to me that the character is beginning to enjoy life again, fighting the good fight.  For those who enjoy his staunch morality, take note that there are some things that have not changed one bit!

One of the things that kept me intrigued throughout the book was the reasons behind Le’lorinel’s hatred for Drizzt.  I’m sure some readers will hit on it almost instantly, but I was kept uncertain due to certain minor details until the very end.  As for the pirate Sheila Kree, she has an organization in place that makes it very believable that she’s eluded capture or worse for so long.  She has a number of interesting allies, from wizards to ogres.

Readers of the continuing saga of Drizzt and company will be sure to find that Sea of Swords continues his run of good books in this setting.  In many ways, it feels like things have come full circle (which is reinforced by the last few pages), and it will be interesting to see if the next Salvatore books is a new chapter of “Paths of Darkness”; especially since it seems that the darkest times have past.  (Heh.  Not likely!)

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Immortal Coil, by Jeffrey Lang

Intuition.  Data has developed intuition.
-A realization reached by Jean-Luc Picard, Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise-E

One of the things that always baffled me about the Next Generation was the way people treated Commander Data.  It wasn’t that everyone seemed so surprised when they learned he was an android; that much I could understand.  What always threw me was how so many people in Starfleet seemed to consider it nearly impossible to create androids, when the Original Series had androids show up on it several times.  I didn’t really consider it something to bother me, but the thought has lingered there on and off over the years.

Well, Immortal Coil does a fair job in closing the gaps.  The time frame is deep in the Dominion War, which really doesn’t matter at all to the plot.  News comes to the Enterprise that Commander Bruce Maddox, a fellow who once wanted to take Data apart to see what made him tick, is working on a new project-one that will revolutionize artificial intelligence.  Unfortunately, some apparently doesn’t like it, and tries to blow him up.  The Enterprise is called to investigate.

In the meantime, Data’s “mother”, a Soong-style android named Juliana Tainer, based on Soong’s late wife and programmed to believe herself to be the real thing, has “died”, and Data experiences the emotions of despair, thanks to his emotion chip.  He comes to realize that barring fatal accidents, he will see each and every friend he has die of old age-if he’s lucky-and will likely feel the same emotions each time.  The distraction of dealing with the question of what Maddox was doing is a welcome one-as is an attraction to the latest security chief, Lieutenant Rhea McAdams-an attraction that is returned.

In the course of this book, Data will face certain truths about his own origins, and his ties to artificial intelligence in the Star Trek universe.  And there are portions of those origins that are bound and determined to stay mysterious.

I’m a sucker for Star Trek books that delve into the rich history that Trek has created-and there’s a lot to be had.  I really wish I could go into detail on one aspect, but it would really ruin one of the big moments of the book, and I can’t do that!  I will say, however, that it preserves the fact of Dr. Soong’s genius while making sense that certain events and individuals may have guided his steps-even if only slightly.  In addition, Immortal Coil is a pretty decent mystery, as the crew of the Enterprise tries to find out why Maddox’s work was blown up, and who was behind it.

But the best part of the book is the continuing evolution of Commander Data.  He’s dealt with death and love and everything in between before, but those were in days before he had his emotion chip installed.  Now, he’s experiencing them in a new light, because he’s feeling those emotions instead of simply understanding them.  And as the quote above indicates, he’s beginning to make decisions that are not totally based on facts.

Oh:  another part of the book that was enjoyable.  There are short portions between parts of the book detailing the journeys of Dr. Soong and a couple of associates, which ties into the events of this book-but I’ll leave that to the readers to discover.  All in all, Immortal Coil turns in a good performance, and is probably one of the better Next Generation books out there.  Definitely read this if you are a fan of Commander Data, or a Star Trek Chronology buff.

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Torment, by Ray and Valerie Vallese

The absence of your mortality not only removes your fear of the absolute end, but it seems to have cleared away the worries and emotions that encumber transient beings.  You have a clarity about your purpose that I, for one, could never achieve because my feelings invariably complicate matters.
Dak’kon, the githzerai

This is likely the final book that TSR will release based on its Dungeons and Dragons Planescape role-playing setting.  The reason I say that is due to the fact that they canned the setting last year, and from the few rumors I’ve heard are bound and determined to sweep it under the mat.  I view that as a shame, because I was a big fan of Planescape.

The setting is the Multiverse.  Every world, everywhere that we view as “normal” (at least for a fantasy setting) is set in the Prime Material plane.  This is where TSR has their Forgotten Realms, their Greyhawk, and their Dragonlance worlds placed.  However, the Multiverse also holds the Inner planes, which have realities defined by the four classical elements and a combination of each, and the Outer planes, realities defined by belief and morality.  Order and Chaos, Good and Evil aren’t just concepts on the Outer planes-they’re ways of life.  And in the center of it all (although characters of the setting would laugh at the idea of a place being at the center of it all), is a city called Sigil.  This is where devils and demons can be walking down the same street as angels and not get into mortal combat-although neither group is friendly to the others.  Sigil is unique because every door, every window, every arch, every bounded space could be a portal to somewhere else…if you have a key.  There are a large number of Factions that would like to claim they rule this city, but the real power is the Lady of Pain-an enigmatic being who controls the portals, and bars gods from entering-yet she is not a god herself (at least, that’s the theory).

Planescape books have really gotten mixed reviews from the role-playing community.  The Blood Wars trilogy wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on (I’m not going to review those-my review could be summed up in three words-“Don’t get them”-even if somebody’s giving them to you for free), and Pages of Pain was…well, interesting.  I’m not reviewing that either, unless there’s requests for it.  Others have probably beaten me to it, though, and you’d be better off reading those reviews.  So it was with some concern that I picked up Torment.

Torment is based on a computer game of the same name.  However, it has about as much in common with the game as the movie The Lost World had to do with Michael Crichton’s book of the same name.  The names of the characters are the same and perhaps the basic plot, but that might be it.  So if you’ve played the game, don’t expect the book just to be a recitation of the game.  I’m not going to point out the differences, since I review books, not games.

The protagonist is a rather unique individual in a city of unique individuals.  He wakes up in the Mortuary, where the folk of Sigil bring all the dead bodies.  He has no idea of his name, where he is, how he got here, and such.  His sole companion is a floating skull with attitude (at least to start with).  He does discover quickly, however, that he is an immortal.  He can die-but he doesn’t stay that way.  His mind, however, seems to take a beating when he does.  The story goes along as he tries to piece together who he is, how he became immortal-and why he’s wanted by the Harmonium, the city’s equivalent of the cops.

The cast of supporting characters are interesting, although we really don’t get to know them too much (I’ll address why I think so in a moment)..  Dak’kon is probably the most fleshed out of the group, as a humanoid githzerai, and an exile from his people and his Faction.  Morte, the floating skull, remains a mystery throughout the book, and Annah the fiendling is just kind of there.  I really want to say this was a great book…but I can’t.

The reason:  the pacing.  To be completely honest, the book seemed rushed.  I suspect this is because the authors tried to hit all the major points of the computer game-and it was a pretty long and involved game.  To put all that into a single paperback novel likely required some patchwork.  To add insult to injury, it did leave room to write a follow up novel-which will probably never happen, since TSR is scrapping Planescape.  (It makes me wonder if the novelization of Balder’s Gate read like this.  Hmm, maybe another review brewing….)

If fans of the Planescape RPG are hoping Torment will get the line resurrected, then they’d better think again.  Of course, reviews of the computer game are much kinder than this review, which might do the job.  If you’re given a choice between buying the book or the game, and all other things being equal…go with the game.  It has far more depth to it.  If you’re looking for a great Planescape book…better go with Pages of Pain.

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Surak’s Soul, by J. M. Dillard

I have reflected deeply on the situation.  The only way to properly maintain my Vulcan ethics is to return to the strictest original teachings of Surak.  For that reason, I cannot condone violence of any kind; and for that reason, I must inform you that I will no longer carry or use any type of weapon.
-Subcommander T’Pol of the starship Enterprise

Sometimes, there is nothing you can do.  You might not have the tools to fix a problem; you might not have the knowledge needed to help.  And sometimes, you’re just too late.  This is a lesson that Captain Jonathan Archer and the crew of the Enterprise are about to learn again.

Arriving at an alien world, after answering what Hoshi Sato believes is a distress call, the crew of Enterprise discovers that just about everyone on that world is dead.  The last ones die as the landing party tries to track down any survivors-and the last one assaults Hoshi, only be to stunned by T’Pol with her phase pistol.  However, his weakened condition isn’t up to handling that kind of hit, and dies from the blast.  This event (in combination with a couple references to an earlier episode in the series) causes her wonder if she has drifted away from the teachings of the most revered figure in Vulcan history.  This is the backdrop of the novel Surak’s Soul.

In spite of the title, the major plot of the book has little to do with Vulcan or Surak, although T’Pol’s crisis of conscience does color her attitude throughout the book.  The plot itself is driven by the crew’s attempts to discover exactly what killed the people of that world-and how to avoid that fate themselves, since the landing party had also exposed itself to whatever influences might have done the job.  They also pick up some aid from an alien life form that can only telepathically communicate through T’Pol; the alien may also have some insight on the fate of the inhabitants of the doomed planet.  Things are never as simple as it seems, however, as translations of the medical logs begin to point to a very dangerous conclusion.

Enterprise, I’ll confess, has been slowly losing my interest as a television series; certain storylines have irritated me greatly, and some of that may bleed over into reviews on the books based on this series.  But I’ve also liked Dillard’s novelizations of Star Trek movies, and that was a point in favor of Surak’s Soul.  Dillard has managed to capture the characters for the most part (more on that in a moment), as well as the feeling that Enterprise is, after all, the first human ship to go so far from Earth-and as such, every situation is a new one for them.  Interactions between the crew seem like they’ve come right out of the television series, especially in the conversations outside of “crisis mode”-and a couple make use of past events in the series.  It becomes a lot easier to write these novels when you have a better handle on the characters, and that only comes about after a number of episodes.

I did have a little bit of a problem with T’Pol’s problem, however; not so much that she was having this crisis-if there’s one thing the series has prepared me for, it’s seeing T’Pol acting a little too irrationally (for a Vulcan, that is).  As the quote above hints, T’Pol is quite unwilling to use any weapons, under any circumstances, to harm anyone-even in self defense.  While this is an admirable position in most circumstances, it’s not exactly what you want to hear from the person who is the second-in-command of your starship, who may easily be in a situation where she is to be responsible for a significant number of lives other than her own.  And the philosophy can be taken to excessive extremes (pointed out later in the book).  She also seems to be a little too trusting-where’s that healthy skepticism that keeps denying the existence of time travel in spite of several brushes with that phenomenon?  In spite of this, however, I rather liked a flashback while T’Pol is trying to work things out where a Vulcan Kolinahr master draws an interesting comparison between Surak and another man dedicated to peace (one who wouldn’t come to mind immediately on Vulcan).

All in all, Surak’s Soul seems like it would translate fairly well into an Enterprise episode, and likely would be one of the better ones (although not necessarily without it’s faults).  It’s not a deep novel, but it doesn’t have to be-Enterprise runs into a problem, a member of the crew undergoes a crisis, and some twists aren’t a bad recipe for a Star Trek book; and the fact that it isn’t a complicated plot makes it extremely easy to read.  Truth to tell, if someone were looking to start reading Trek books, Surak’s Soul would be a better choice than many.

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Ship of Ghosts, by David Bischoff

Hello?  Anybody here?
The modes of human inquiry constantly surprise me.
-John Crichton and Ka D’Argo

Well, it’s another crazy trip for the crew of Moya in the Uncharted Territories!

This book takes place earlier in the very first season of the Farscape series.  Probably a good thing; don’t have to worry about all the baggage characters develop in the course of a good series, and it doesn’t have to worry about dealing with the ongoing arcs that the series does so well.  The early first season episodes stood on their own with minimal interference from previous episodes.

Ship of Ghosts also opens on a scene that must have happened a number of times off-screen, but we’d never seen.  Commander Crais of the Peacekeepers has caught up with Moya, with her crew of escaped prisoners, and the man he believes cold-bloodedly murdered his brother…John Crichton of Earth.  However, it becomes clear that we’re seeing the tail end of their latest meeting, as Moya prepares to StarBurst away-and just before Crais fires off an experimental weapon towards Moya.  As a result, a Peacekeeper ship gets carried along, although not all the way.

Later:  Moya comes upon a distress signal from a ship of the Nokmadi, a race of navigators that may have maps to all of the crew’s homeworlds…possibly including Crichton’s.  Upon arrival at that ship, however, they discover that reality isn’t quite as it seems aboard; in part because of the fact that the Nokmadi don’t exactly live in the “material world”, and they want nothing more than to leave that existence behind.  And strangely enough, one member of Moya’s crew qualifies under their legends as the one to do the job.

Usually, I find that books are often better than movies and television; the imagination isn’t really restricted by budget, and you can really get in depth about the mindsets of each character.  This was not the case with Ship of Ghosts.  To be honest, I really didn’t like this book.  Even for a first-season setting, I found the characters to be “off” in almost every way (with maybe-just maybe-Crichton).  Events involving Rygel and the DRD’s pushed me over the edge.  I’d go into detail, but I wouldn’t want to inflict that on anyone else!  While I accept that a great deal of Farscape’s charm is in the casual goofiness that goes on, this book misuses it badly when it tries to imitate it.

This represents a disturbing trend for me.  The first Farscape book was very good, the second mediocre, and this last one hit the area of being awful.  Avoid Ship of Ghosts, and keep the fingers crossed that any future Farscape books go back into the opposite direction.

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By the Book, by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Everything about first contact seemed so clear when we left Earth.  Now nothing does.
-Captain Jonathan Archer of the starship Enterprise

The final frontier had to start somewhere….

In the days before the Federation was born, humanity finally got its act together enough (with perhaps a little Vulcan help…very little) to build a starship to meet their galactic neighbors.  That’s pretty much all you need to know about Enterprise.  The latest Star Trek franchise, it’s got a great premise-even Kirk had a Federation to defend, and knew of many alien races already.  Enterprise is a bit more pure in the fact that everything is new:  the technology, the aliens, and the crew.

By the Book is the first Enterprise original novel.  Knowing this, I will attempt to be kind.

Early in their maiden voyage (probably just after the second episode, although it isn’t explicitly stated, for those interested in continuity), Captain Jonathan Archer and his crew come upon a planet that has just managed to send up something with warp technology-which is a criteria that Vulcans have been known to use to open communications with a world.  Captain Archer, always interested in a new experience, is eager to initiate first contact with the race that sent up their test flight, the Fazi.  His science officer, the Vulcan T’Pol, advises against it, mainly because she feels that their incredibly structured society isn’t really up for handling an unexpected appearance by aliens.  Not surprisingly, Archer ignores the advice; the results are kind of predictable (hey, the back cover tells us it’s disastrous!  How blatant can they get?).

Complicating the issue is the existence of a second alien race also living on the planet, completely isolated from the Fazi; and considering the damage Archer’s already done with his first contact, he finds himself a little bit of a loss as to how to repair that damage, and find out more about the other race.

Okay:  the things I liked about this book.  While it might not jive completely with series continuity, I enjoyed seeing Archer begin to see that maybe the Vulcans had a point with their hesitance in aiding Earth get out into space and contacting strange new worlds.  I loved the use of the minor characters who have appeared in the series so far as well, and I hope other authors follow up on that concept (as I recall, there are plans with Pocket Books to go a step further with the Original Series sometime later this year or early next year).  I also liked the problems that the crew had in dealing with the Fazi and the other race; they haven’t exactly got a lot of experience at this, and seeing Archer flub things-while perhaps a little cruel-was rather fun.

Things I didn’t like:  I can sum this one up pretty easily.  A major, major portion of the book consists of the minor characters playing a role-playing game.  Now, I don’t have a problem with role-playing; I’ve done it in the past, and I have some rather amusing memories from doing so.  The problem is that it doesn’t translate well into fiction.  No, this isn’t a slam on role-playing game novels-they don’t go into the mechanics, and this one does.  Basically, it reads exactly like a session.  While I understand the reasoning about it in the book-it allows the participants to let off some steam-I think it took up way too much of the book, and when that kind of thing happens, I begin to think that it’s been included to pad the book.

By the Book is a decent first book, but not as good as others.  It beats Ghost Ship for the Next Generation, but it doesn’t come anywhere near The Siege for DS9.  The authors admittedly probably didn’t have much to work with, this early in a series, but even so, I feel that this book could’ve been better.

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Mort, by Terry Pratchett

What was your job again?
Ah, of course, of course, sorry, should have guessed from the clothes.
-Lezek speaking with Death

I’d been meaning to read some of Terry Pratchett’s books for a while.  It had begun in ’98 with a hardcover book with the simple title of Legends.  It was a bunch of short novels written by a number of the most popular fantasy authors today, based in their best known settings.  For George R. R. Martin, it was a story from the world in his ongoing series A Song of Ice and Fire.  For Stephen King, there was a tale of Roland from his Dark Tower books.  And for Terry Pratchett, it was a story of Discworld.  It hit my funny bone hard enough to get me interested, but I’d put off purchasing any of his books…until recently.

So, I finally picked up Mort.

Discworld is a strange world.  It’s a flat, circular planet resting on the backs of four elephants…who are standing on a very large turtle.  There are a number of kingdoms around, on four continents (details can be found in the back of the book, in a travel guide called Discworld on $30 a day).  Near the Ramtops mountains, there is a grassy area where a young boy-who perhaps isn’t the sharpest blade in the scabbard-is presented at the hiring fair in hopes of becoming somebody’s apprentice.  Near the very last minute, however, the boy-Mort-and his father is approached by the last person one would expect to be looking for an apprentice-Death.

In his apprenticeship, Mort is introduced to what Death calls The Duty, where he must be on hand for the deaths of important personages (or cats)-or as he puts it, “SPECIAL OCCASIONS”.  That isn’t all that surprising, really:  what is surprising is Death’s houseguests…an old man named Albert, and Death’s daughter, Ysabell.  And a horse named Binky.  We get introduced to some of the facts of death as Mort travels a bit with Death; then disaster strikes:  Death lets Mort perform the Duty on few people solo.  And that’s when things start to get interesting.

There were a significant amount of moments in this book that had me bursting out laughing-and it’s been a while since I’ve done that.  Death was at once an inhuman being and in some ways, all too human.  Mort undergoes a great deal of growth in this book, from the somewhat less swift to a very significant person in his own right…although he kind of has to grow up quickly.  There is a subplot running through the book involving a princess that Mort meets under the expected circumstances, and is a major cause of trouble in the book.  I also enjoyed the room with hourglasses measuring out every living being’s life, and a library that contains the book of every being’s life…works in progress, until the end.

I have to say, once I finished reading this book, I wondered to myself, “What the hell have I been waiting for?”  On my hitlist for future purchases-and soon-will be as many Discworld books as I can lay my hands on.  I haven’t enjoyed a good humorous fantasy book this much since Robert Aspirin’s Another Fine MythMort is a book I’d recommend to anyone who has a funny bone!

Categories: Discworld | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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