Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Left Hand of Destiny, Book Two, by J. G. Hertzler and Jeffrey Lang

Sirella, I have survived countless battles, both in space and on alien worlds.  I was held prisoner by the Dominion for two years and forced to fight Jem’Hadar in order that they could learn how to kill Klingons.  And now I am facing vicious attacks from my mad son and his mad mother.  Despite all these things, nothing in the universe inspires as much dread in me as the words ‘We need to talk, my husband’.

The Klingon Empire is now in the hands of Morjod.  But the fate of the Empire is far from settled-still free from his control is the rightful chancellor, Martok, as well as a number of select allies-Worf and his son, Alexander; Martok’s wife Sirella and his gin’tak, Darok; the clone of the ancient emperor, Kahless; the Ferengi Pharh; and a recent recruit, Ezri Dax of Deep Space Nine (one of the more sane members of this assemblage).  As one might imagine, though, the fight for the future of the Klingon Empire is coming up.  But first, everyone needs a little background-and that kicks off the second part of The Left Hand of Destiny.

The book opens with a general meeting with the protagonists-a shock, really, when one remembers that Klingons aren’t all much for meetings-especially if they are the warriors and starship captains.  But it proves to be important, as it outlines just what Gothmara has been up to, and just how Martok came to know her-and also get some explanation as to how she’s managed to bamboozle just about every Klingon she’s come across (and it’s always interesting to see that there are some lines that Klingons won’t cross as a general rule for victory), as well as the rather gruesome origins of the Hur’q.  That explanation points to a rather obvious target for a strike against Morjod and Gothmarra; and Worf has a secondary plan to add to it, which falls into his own idea that Martok is-very likely-the leader of destiny to lead the Klingons into a new age.  But no plan survives contact, and this plan hasn’t even gotten off the ground before disaster strikes.  And as Martok demonstrated in the last book, he’s perfectly willing to do some things on his own.

A minor mystery is also unveiled involving Martok’s father; Kahless has discovered in his travels that Martok’s father was given a mysterious title-a title whose origins become a bit more clear in a vision.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this mystery crops up again later on in the book.  And it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that any victory does not come without cost-and in more than one manner.  The authors certainly aren’t shying away from upping the ante on Martok at every turn.

Hertzler and Lang continue to do a wonderful job with the characters.  Ezri is still dealing with a set of mixed emotions about the Klingons-a part of her (Curzon and Jadzia) feeling obligated to help them in any way possible, and the other part (Ezri herself) feeling that the Empire has been heading in this kind of direction for some time.  Worf demonstrates a fine sense of what the Klingons need right now-moreso than almost anyone-and knows that Martok is the best man to lead the Klingons, and that he also needs a potent symbol to aid him.  Kahless…well, if I’m comparing this to the Arthurian model, he’d almost have to be Merlin to Martok’s Arthur.  Pharh remains one of the rare examples of common sense-well, rare among Klingons, anyway; he’s also another example of an atypical Ferengi.  There’s also a set of characters that I have mixed feelings about; it makes sense that this grouping might exist where they are found, but it seems so…un-Klingon like.  In some ways, though, that’s the point.

On the whole, I found the book to be a satisfying conclusion to the story begun in the last book; the Klingons may-or-may not be heading towards a new era, but it isn’t because of any lack of quality in The Left Hand of Destiny.

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Dragons of a Lost Star, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Don’t worry, Conundrum.  I’ll fix everything.
-Tasslehoff Burrfoot, not knowing that those are usually the last words that associates of kender ever hear.

Dragons of a Lost Star kicks off with the leader of the Dark Knights of Neraka catching up on current events; and a lot is going on:  the great dragon Beryl is attacking both the elven nation of Qualinesti and the Citadel of Light; and a thorn in his side, a mysterious young woman named Mina has brought down the magical shield protecting the elven nation of Silvanesti.  Strangely enough, because of his rather delicate balancing act between Beryl and the dragons Malystryx and Khellendros, and the fact that he fears that Mina wants his job, none of this really comes as good news to him.

At the Citadel, the priestess Goldmoon-mysteriously restored to youth, at least in body-follows dead souls to an uncertain destination.  In Qualinesti, the Queen-Mother Laurana, King Gilthas, and Marshal Medan of the Dark Knights attempt to find a way to save as many elves as possible from the wrath of Beryl, and possibly find a way to do her in as well.  In Silvanesti, the new King Silvanoshei deals with accepting the “friendly” invading army of Dark Knights led by Mina, with whom he has fallen in love.  And Palin Majere and Tasslehoff Burrfoot, escaping the attack at the Citadel, find themselves in the presence of a dark wizard that neither has seen for a long time.

Now, shake thoroughly, and you get a continent embroiled in conflict.  It’s not as far reaching at first glance as the War of the Lance, where armies where marching all over the place conquering anything they came across.  On the other hand, its much more of a holy war than the original War.  With the gods having gone MIA in Dragons of Summer Flame, a woman wielding god-given power in the name of her One God, it isn’t hard to see how she gains such a profound following…even as she tends to convert with the sword.  (Carrot and stick in religious warfare….)

There are subplots galore here as well.  Gerard uth Mondar finds himself in a bit of a pickle when he tries to deliver to the Solamnic Knights a cry for help from Qualinesti…mostly because he returns with the appearance of a Dark Knight; he also runs into a very different kind of knight and is defended by the last person he wants to be associated with.  Medan continues to act against the Dark Knights and Beryl, because of his love for Qualinesti and a certain elven woman, and prepares a last stand in the city of Qualinost.  And the leader of the Dark Knights, Morham Targonne, has his confrontation with Mina at last.

Mina remains the most fascinating character of this series, as she should be.  I’ll freely admit that I was wrong about certain guesses I had about her (I was close, but “close” only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and thermonuclear weapons), but that’s my own problem…I’ll keep my day job….  Mina continues to be an extremely complicated woman, seemingly beneficent at some points, healing the sick and raising the dead; at other points, though, she’s coldly manipulative and treacherous.

There’s a number of revelations in this book:  Mina’s true nature, the truth behind the One God, the truth behind the great dragon overlords, and the fall of…well, let’s not ruin things too much, eh?

Weis and Hickman never disappoint; Dragons of a Lost Star keeps the pace of the previous book, and the last eight pages of the book deliver a hell of a payoff!  While I wasn’t sure if this was actually going to work as a trilogy for most of the book (there seemed a lot of things that still seemed hidden), that finale sets things up for a rousing conclusion for the next book…next year…!

(Oh, god, I’m never going to make it another twelve months)

The Dragonlance books (at least as written by these authors) continue to deliver a good read to fantasy readers, with a combination of romance, treachery, adventure, and all-out war.  Faithful readers of Dragonlance will enjoy this book, with both the standard humor and the bittersweet moments that are typical of the Dragonlance saga.  I expect I’ll be gushing again once we hit the final installment.

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To Reign In Hell: The Exile of Khan Noonien Singh, by Greg Cox

With time on my hands, and my future on hold, it is the past that occupies my thoughts.  Old decisions, and new regrets, haunt me, compelling me to embark on a solemn pilgrimage to the site of what may have been one of my greatest mistakes…..
-From the personal logs of Captain James T. Kirk

With the two books that chronicled the past of Khan Noonien Singh chronicled in The Eugenics Wars, the reader was left with one more major portion of Khan’s life left untold-the time spent between the episode of “Space Seed”, and the coming of the U. S. S. Reliant in “The Wrath of Khan”.  Well, the author of those books has written the untold story of Khan’s exile on Ceti Alpha Five.  To Reign in Hell is a very appropriate title, given Khan’s classical leanings (and more so given how the exile turned out).

This story, like that in The Eugenics Wars, has a framing story, taking place between the movies “The Voyage Home” and “The Final Frontier”.  While Mr. Scott is busy making sure that the U. S. S. Enterprise-A is ready for space flight, Kirk, McCoy, Spock and Sulu head for Ceti Alpha V to see if they can piece together just what exactly happened on this world that Captain Kirk marooned Khan and his followers on after their encounter in “Space Seed”.  Kirk wonders if he could have predicted what disasters would befall the doomed world of Ceti Alpha VI, and hopes to discover what drove Khan to his single-minded quest to see Kirk dead.  Fortunately, Khan has more than enough ego to record a journal for posterity.

When Khan and his followers-including Starfleet Lieutenant Marla McGivers, who had fallen in love with him-are marooned on Ceti Alpha V, he envisions building a new empire.  Even though Khan’s people have only rudimentary equipment (by Trek standards, anyway), he believes it’s only a matter of time before he successfully builds what he calls a superior society.  Of course, there’s a number of tiny issues that might interfere-such as the fact that some of his followers are thinking that Khan’s time as a leader is past, or the fact that some of them think that McGivers doesn’t belong with the rest of them, or the fact that the planet has a few predators that even genetically enhanced humans can’t withstand-including the infamous Ceti eels.

And all that is before Ceti Alpha VI explodes….

When I picked up this book, I had high expectations; that’s what Greg Cox gets for doing such a good job with the first two books chronicling the rise and fall of Khan back in the 20th century.  With To Reign In Hell, I’d say that Cox does a good job in meeting those expectations.  There’s a good supporting cast involved-such as Joaquin Weiss, who doesn’t speak much, but is very much a constant presence by Khan’s side; Zuleika Walker, who quickly makes it clear she isn’t fond of Khan’s choice of girlfriends, and Harulf Ericsson, who thinks that he would very much be the best leader for a new world.

The real gems, though, are Marla McGivers and Khan himself.  Marla is faced with a hostile group of super-humans, but is sustained by her love for Khan-a love that he returns; she proves herself to Khan to be a “superior woman”, even though she isn’t genetically gifted (well, not designed, anyway).  That isn’t to say that there aren’t some significant bumps.  She also demonstrates that her sense of ethics is still strong enough to make choices that she feels are right-even in the face of the wrath of Khan.  As far as Khan himself…well, would you believe I was actually rooting for him?  Okay, that might be putting it a little too far, but the challenge of taming Ceti Alpha V was something he was certainly rising to.  And although he maintains the harsh discipline he was known for, one has to admire how he was able to get his people to the point where they might have thrived-if not for that inconvenient explosion.  I did also find it rather interesting that on a number of occasions, Khan would wonder just when Kirk or Starfleet was going to look in on them to see what was going on; as time goes on, the silence from the stars has an effect on Khan, and it isn’t nice.

When Ceti Alpha VI explodes, things start going downhill; a large number of conflicts start reaching their climax, with both man versus man, man versus nature, and perhaps man versus himself.

As far as the framing story goes…naaah, we don’t really care too much about that, do we?  It’s a means to an end.  I will concede, however, that Cox does a credible job on explaining a few of the little details you’d think would’ve been accounted for in “The Wrath of Khan”  (such as, how the heck to you mislay an entire planet on a scouting mission).  All the same, To Reign In Hell is all about Khan, and is a fitting conclusion to his story and his legacy in Star Trek.  Fans of Khan and original series aficionados would do well to pick up this book.

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Deuces Down, edited by George R. R. Martin

Oh my God….  I haven’t seen this many possible suspects since the Democratic National Convention….
-Melissa Blackwood, a.k.a. Topper

Well, in many ways, the newest Wild Cards book has been a mixed bag.  It’s not really the book’s fault, though.

I was looking forward to the first wholly original Wild Cards novel in years the moment I found out about it.  A lot of time has passed since the last one, and I was hoping to see some old favorites again, or at least hints of what’s been happening in the interim.  There were a couple of loose ends from Black Trump that I wanted to see resolved.

Deuces Down doesn’t fulfill those hopes.  What it does do is once again take the reader on a trip through history, focusing on a specific batch of aces.  These are not the awesome aces like Fortunato, the Turtle, or Demise, though.  These center on the folks who ended up with less than impressive powers, which are hardly earthshaking, but still beat the odds of ending up a joker, or dead from the Black Queen.  (If these terms seem odd to you…why not read my review of the first Wild Cards trilogy?)  Like the original novel, and the book Card Sharks, Deuces Down takes us throughout Wild Card history, from the days after World War II to the near present (if not the actual present), and each story is a self contained story.  As such, we have a potential mixed bag stories to cover.

“Storming Space”, by Michael Cassutt, is the story of Cash Mitchell, an ace with the ability to lighten mass in proportion to his grip (often triggered by anger or other strong emotions).  He’s approached by a fellow named Tominbang to participate in a daring project-to make a flight to the moon!  I found this to be a nice story, which really centers on more of the human element than the powers element or the “to the moon” element.  I enjoyed the main character’s moral dilemmas as well, as he get approached by a local crime lord to sabotage the mission, even though he wants to participate in the mission!

John J. Miller, best known by Wild Cards readers as the creator of Yeoman, gives us a look back at 1969 and that year’s World Series…and the origin of the most loathed secret deuce of the present day-Tommy Downs in “Four Days in October”.  Tommy has a secret ace up his sleeve that he discovers-the ability to “smell” people infected with the Wild Card.  Tommy discovers that one of the players of the Brooklyn Dodgers is a secret ace!  The boy, working for The Weekly Gospel, decides to try to discover which player it is, and to expose him (for journalistic purposes, not nefarious ones!).  One of the rather interesting notes of Wild Card history is that one of the prominent players of the Dodgers is someone who took a very different turn in real life (but I won’t spoil that for anyone who doesn’t already know yet).

“Walking the Floor Over You” is written by Walton Simons (best known for Demise), and tells the story of a deuce whose power is to…well, become a puddle.  Bob Cortland runs a club in New York, and gets caught up in all kinds of things when an employee nearly gets kidnapped; it spirals into a blackout and the escape of the giant ape (which is a neat reference to Simons’s other character).  I have to give Simons credit for this one; it ain’t easy to find ways for puddling to work as a power, but he does it!  And I liked the banter between Bob and his fellow deuce, Carlotta DeSoto.

“A Face for the Cutting Room Floor” follows one of Melinda Snodgrass’s characters, Bradley Finn; he’s a centaur, and that makes him uniquely qualified to work as a cast member of Jason and the Argonauts.  Actually, casting jokers in this kind of movie makes a great deal of sense, since it cuts down the makeup budget!  Bradley finds himself dodging a fellow interested in making him a star of a somewhat less savory kind of movie, and becoming involved with a mystery involving Grace Kelley, who hasn’t aged a day.  It gives an iffy impression of Hollywood, though, as some of the things that go on in this story are rather cutthroat!  It’s an interesting look at the life of a joker who’ll become a respected member of the Jokertown Clinic in the future.

Daniel Abraham pens “Father Henry’s Little Miracle”, and it features Father Henry Obst, who fills in for Father Squid during the WHO world tour chronicled in the fourth book.  His deuce really doesn’t come into play in this story, except to establish what it is; the story involves Father Henry’s work during a mob war in New York.  It also features Demise, and the most interesting attempt to get around his killing power.  This one was more about saving souls than saving lives, but the two do not prove to be mutually exclusive.

Stephen Leigh covers a minor character in the Card Sharks books in “Promises”.  Gary Bushorn flew a pair of folks to Britain, and was lost in Ireland; he wasn’t really supposed to do that, though, and the authorities decide that instead of making a really public and unpleasant arrest in front of a number of jokers, they choose to make the entire town of Rathlin his prison.  Gary adapts to life in the town, but keeps trying to find a way to evade the authorities and escape back to the life he knew; it also has a fairly significant subplot as he becomes involved with a woman whose Wild Card is slowly killing her.  It’s actually rather touching.

My favorite of the batch, though, is “With a Flourish and a Flair” by Kevin Andrew Murphy.  This features an artist going by the handle of “Swash”, whose nails create ink that forms art.  He’s a bit involved in the goth culture, and becomes inadvertently involved with the ace Topper, whose hat has been stolen.  This wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that the hat is her ace “crutch”.  The pair try to follow the trail which leads to a goth club, with a feature band called “the Jokertown Boys”.  It also features a bunch of cameo appearances that many longtime readers will appreciate.

For the most part, Deuces Down can stand alone; the early stories certainly don’t require knowledge of the series, and even the later ones don’t truly depend on the original series.  While I was disappointed not to see the follow ups I’d hoped for, I found this book enjoyable, and certainly hope that the authors continue to write new Wild Cards books.

(2012 note: the funny thing about this review is that a site linking to the old Archive took a portion of this review and considered it a pan; clearly, they didn’t read the entire review.  My first time having my reviews taken out of context!)

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