Monthly Archives: December 2012

Section 31: Abyss, by David Weddle and Jeffrey Lang


A word of advice.  Don’t try to be a hero.  Don’t think for a moment that you’re going to be able to find evidence you can use to expose Thirty-One.  Just go in, do the job, and come home.
-Commander Elias Vaughn, first officer of DS9

One of the more controversial things to hit Star Trek was the introduction of a shadowy organization called Section 31.  It wasn’t that it was another secret-police style organization-it was the fact that it was apparently sanctioned by Starfleet.  Section 31 was empowered to use any and all means necessary to insure the security of the Federation.  It came to light when it attempted to recruit the genetically-engineered chief medical officer of Deep Space Nine, Julian Bashir.  Bashir was outraged at this, and refused.  He has since dealt with the Section on two different occasions:  once when the section discredited a Romulan ally for one more tractable; and once when it was discovered that Section 31 created the plague that was killing all of the Founders of the Dominion at the height of the Dominion War.  Each time, the Section walked away unscathed (although Bashir’s contact man, Luther Sloan, did kill himself in an attempt to keep Bashir from discovering the cure for the plague-he failed in that, at least).

In spite of any controversy, though, the Section seems to have become a rather popular idea to work with; recently, Pocket Books released a set of four books, set in each of the televised shows, centering on the activities of Section 31.  I am not going to go into the first three here, although Trek fans may be interested to see how the Section fared with Kirk, Janeway, and Picard.  I will, however, go into Abyss.

Abyss takes place after the finale of Avatar.  The station is crippled, now lacking even a main power supply.  Luckily, the Ferengi Lieutenent Nog has a brilliant solution (which may seem obvious to folks familiar with the series; I missed it, though).  The repairs require a good portion of the population to leave, including nonessential personnel-such as Bashir and former-counselor Ezri Dax.  They plan to visit Earth, but that plan gets derailed before it even begins by a gentleman named Cole, a member of Section 31.  He wants Bashir to track down a rogue operative named Dr. Ethan Locken, who also happens to be genetically enhanced.  This visit kicks off the story.

Unsurprisingly, Abyss offers a look at Julian Bashir as the man apart; even among his friends, he had led a life of secrecy, since the Federation (Earth in particular) has a dim opinion of genetic enhancement (Khan Noonien Singh comes to mind-as I touch upon in another review).  The only others he’s dealt with who have been enhanced are a few sandwiches shy of a picnic.  Locken can be seen more as an equal; or a dark reflection.

While Bashir is certainly a major portion of this book, the rest of the cast is by no means neglected.  Ro Laren and the Jem’Hadar “observer” get a fair amount of time, and we get a pretty good look at how the observer feels about being sent to the Alpha Quadrant and DS9.  Kira deals with the aftermath of Avatar, both in her personal life and in a professional capacity.  The crew also discovers that Jake Sisko didn’t exactly go to Earth as advertised.

For the most part, I liked Abyss.  Bashir has been a favorite character of mine from the series even before he was revealed to have been enhanced; while he was irritating early in the series, the arrogance he portrayed faded and he became more likable.  On the other hand, there are some disturbing trends in this book:  Vaughn is getting annoying in that he seems to know lots more than he should, even as a commander in Starfleet for over half a century.  I hope this gets explained sometime, because I think the character has loads of potential.

As a final note, I have noticed some people mention on the ‘net that they didn’t like the fact that there were things that seemed to be happening outside the novel; that it isn’t fully self contained.  I, personally, enjoy this fact.  Of course, I like the New Frontier series as well for the same reason.  Abyss is just another episode of DS9; it picks up from a past “episode”, and lays the groundwork for the next one.  And fans of the movies, take note:  we get a little surprise from “Insurrection” in the book too, which makes perfect sense when you think about it.

I’m rather looking forward to the next book in this “series”, which (unfortunately) will be a part of yet another multiseries story.  But Abyss has helped insure that my interest remains intact.

Categories: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

House Corrino, by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

corrinoWhat can I say about Jessica?  Given the opportunity, she would attempt Voice on God.
-Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam

One of the first observations of the last book was that it didn’t quite feel like a book about House Harkonnen.  I can say without any hesitation that I don’t have that same feeling about the finale of this trilogy, Dune:  House Corrino.  While the Houses Atreides and Harkonnen are most definitely present, it’s the activities of Shaddam IV, Emperor of the Known Universe-and equally importantly, his plots-that drive this book.

Shaddam is a little uneasy on the throne, of late; firstly, he’s still very eager for a plot on the world of Xuttuh, formerly known as Ix, where production on an artificial substitute for the miracle spice melange is finally beginning to reach fruition.  Secondly, he learns that his father managed to father another son, who could conceivably be a threat to his throne.  And of course, he still wants sons from his wife (not realizing that his wife, a Bene Gesserit, will never give him one).

His plans may be thwarted in an unexpected manner, however.  Grief-stricken from the events of House Harkonnen, Leto Atreides decides to make a point that he hasn’t become weak by his losses-and one of his plans involves aiding his longtime friend, Rhombur Vernius, in his goals of freeing his world of Ix from the Tleilaxu; an expedition consisting of Gurney Halleck and the mentat Thufir Hawat is sent to speak with the rebel C’tair Pilru, who has made a pest of himself there for the last couple of books.

To make matters even more interesting, Baron Harkonnen has no clue that the Emperor is planning to make his fiefdom of the planet Arrakis obsolete; he is aware, however, that the Emperor is beginning to act against Houses stockpiling the spice, and that makes him just a bit nervous; in addition, he is becoming aware that his last strike against the Atreides hasn’t gone quite as well as he’d hoped for the long-term, and is looking for a way to recoup his own influence.  I’ll say right now that if any reader doesn’t shudder at the thought of the Baron and the Beast taking lessons from an etiquette advisor, they really don’t know the characters!

The Fremen of Arrakis are also moving forward with the vision of Liet-Kynes; Kynes himself attempts to convince Shaddam that Arrakis could be made a relative paradise, with the Imperium’s help-not to mention putting a leash on the Baron.  This doesn’t really fit in with Shaddam’s plans, though, so Kynes returns with a clear message for his people.

Finally, Jessica, Leto’s concubine, is with child, and is sent to the Kaitain, the Corrino world, by the demand of her Bene Gesserit masters; of course, they don’t realize she’s not carrying the daughter they demanded; the Bene Gesserit also have to figure out how best to get rid of the no-ship technology used so effectively in the previous books.

If you get the impression that there’s a lot of plots rotating within each other here…well, that is the hallmark of the Dune novels.  It amazes me how well it holds together, especially given my long-standing prejudice against Kevin Anderson.  Incidentally, I’ll take a moment to admit that I have been impressed with his writing for this entire trilogy.  He’s blended together the bits that were known about this period, and managed to pull off a story well worthy of Frank Herbert.  Also, I don’t want to neglect Brian Herbert; I really don’t know how the division of labor went in this book, but the pair have managed to recapture the magic I enjoyed years ago when I first read Dune.

Dune fans should find this novel to be very satisfying, and there’s enough “easter eggs” that old readers will enjoy spotting.  They really can’t go wrong with this series; and new readers would do well to read this series, and then hit the original books.  As I recall, the original plan was to write the final book of the Dune series, a sequel to Chapterhouse:  Dune.  I’ve also heard rumors of a new trilogy of prequels.  I’m not sure what will come next, but with this pair of writers, I’m eager to find out.

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Rebirth, by Greg Keyes


The old Jedi order died with the Old Republic.  Then there was Luke, and only Luke, and a lot of fumbling to re-create the Jedi from what little he knew of them.  He did the best he could, and he made mistakes.  I was one of them.  His generation of Jedi was put together like a rickety space scow, but something new has emerged.  It’s not the old Jedi order, nor should it be.
We, Jaina, are the new Jedi order, and this is our war.
-Kyp Durron, Jedi Knight

While the last book was an Anakin Solo showcase, this one is more of an ensemble.  The entire Solo clan, the Skywalkers, and even Threepio get time in Rebirth.

On one front, Anakin and Tahiri return to the location of the rest of the Jedi students, on Booster Terrik’s Errant Venture.  Anakin is learning to fight without using the Force, in an effort to deal with foes who still mysteriously exist outside the Force.  However, when Corran Horn asks for his help on a simple supply run, Anakin jumps at the chance-as does Tahiri, who’s coming to terms with what was done to her by the Yuuzhan Vong.  To nobody’s surprise (at least on the reader’s end), it’s never that easy.

Luke and Mara spend time beginning to take a more active role, setting up safehouses (or safeworlds, really) for the Jedi, in a response to the hunting of Jedi; of course, it might also have something to do with the fact that Chief of State Fey’lya has ordered Luke and Mara’s arrest.  Luke also decides to try to contact Kyp Durron, in an attempt to get some clue what he’s up to, and he sends Jaina Solo (still on a leave of absence from Rogue Squadron) to do it.  She tracks him down at the broken world of Sernpidal, where the Jedi Knight has discovered something very, very unpleasant.

Han and Leia, with Jacen and Threepio, are also working on gathering supplies; I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but I want to say that Han and Leia are in rare form, and while Jacen seems to backslide into his moral morass, he doesn’t wallow in it as much as in previous books.

And on the other side, the Vong Nen Yim is attempting to find a way to heal a dying world-ship, and isn’t afraid of using what the Vong consider heretical means to do so….

I can’t help but wonder why Greg Keyes named this book Rebirth; for that matter, after having read this book and the previous one, I can’t figure out why this pair of books were labelled as “Edge of Victory”.  Things aren’t that close to resolution for one side or another.  Still, there was at least a fair amount of movement on the greater war; and two subplots are wrapped up in a permanent manner.  One subplot, the continuing fragmentation of the Jedi, seems to be speeding up with Luke’s actions.  Kyp, on the other hand, seems to me to be inching his way to the Dark Side; to be honest, while some of Kyp’s ideas are dead on, his methods are definitely questionable for a Jedi Knight.  If this is a subplot by the Star Wars authors to create a credible Dark Jedi, then I have to admit they’re doing a great job of it-why should a Jedi fall in the span of a simple trilogy? (okay, Darth Vader is an exception!)

The Vong also get a bit more depth, continuing to explore the role of the Shapers, and a bit more of the politics/religion that permeate the Yuuzhan Vong.  Events seem to be occurring behind the scenes which should have an impact in the ongoing saga; it remains to be seen just how much of an impact.  We also get a little more info on the reasons why the Vong act as they do, and see the impact that the Jedi have made on some elements of the invaders.

Things are looking like they’re beginning to escalate further, and Rebirth does a good job in getting all the players in place, and it closes with a couple of surprises (some good, some not-so-good).  While the stated theme of the latest books seems a bit off, Rebirth is still a pretty good read, especially for the fans of the original heroes like me!

Categories: New Jedi Order, Star Wars | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Antrax, by Terry Brooks


I wouldn’t put finished to the Druid if I saw him dropped six feet underground; he has more lives than a cat.
-Truls Rohk

We left the crew of the Jerle Shannara in a really bad spot.  The crew is scattered, having been sliced to pieces by the defenses of Castledown, and the Ilse Witch has captured the Jerle Shannara itself.  And that is where the story of Antrax begins (not to be confused with another word that’s been in the news lately).

Heh.  As I look at my last review, I am forced to take back my assertion that the story didn’t have much more room to go.  Trust Terry Brooks to make me eat my words.  It also seems that his time in writing the Knight of the Word books seems to have given him a decidedly more horrific bent, as this books certainly steps into darker territory than has previously been explored in any of the Shannara books.

Bek Rowe confronts the Ilse Witch, revealed to have been his sister.  While he tries desperately to convince her of the truth of their heritage, she seems quite bent on believing that this is a trick by the Druid, Walker.  However, he is quickly removed from her path by the mysterious shapeshifter, Truls Rohk.  Taking with him one of the major talismans of the Four Lands, the two attempt to elude the Witch, who abandons her hunt for Walker and the secrets of the magic at Castledown to solve this mystery.

In the meantime, Quentin Leah and a group of survivors from their airship, as they attempt to locate the missing members of the ground expedition come into contact with natives of this land, who speak of a terrible evil that takes parts of the dead and incorporates them into things called Wronks…an evil called Antrax, a thing of the Old World.  Worse yet, it is looking for Quentin and his group.

In Castledown, Ahren Elessedil is dealing with almost paralyzing fear after the slaughter there, and is joined by the seer Ryer Ord Star; the two aid each other in an attempt to locate Walker, not realizing that each step leads to the truth behind Antrax.  And on the Jerle Shannara itself, the imprisoned Rover crew decide not to stay prisoners….

There’s a lot of things happening on a lot of different fronts, and each of them seem to have a theme going through them.  Ahren and Ryer’s, for example, tend to hit a slightly horrific bent, as they are the ones who get to deal with Castledown’s secrets.  On the other hand, Quentin Leah’s has a feeling similar to that of the Terminator movies (which will be apparent as the book continues).  While Ilse Witch focused heavily on the beginnings of the journey and the journey itself, Antrax is all about the truth behind Castledown and the magic that both Walker and the Ilse Witch covet.

A strong portion of the story also is around Bek Rowe and his attempts to convince the Ilse Witch that she has been long misled by the Morgawr.  Bek still seems to be a bit of an innocent in this, as only a fruitcake would think that a simple conversation would convince the Ilse Witch of his sincerity.  Yet I was satisfied that she was affected enough to start questioning herself; not enough to believe that she is wrong, but enough to make her want to learn the truth of Bek, and by extension, Walker and the Morgawr.

It also became apparent as I hit the midpoint of the book that my early supposition that the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara would be two books was also wrong.  By the end, I hated the fact that I’ll have to wait another year for what I presume will be the finale of this series.  Certainly, the events that occur at the end will certainly surprise some readers, although I strongly expect that not all is as it seems; one major event certainly seems to echo a scene way back in Wishsong of Shannara.

Antrax continues the Voyage in style, and I was not disappointed.  Can’t wait for book three; the last two pages of this book have certainly gotten me curious as to what happens next.  Heck, the entire last chapter is full of moments of truth, and I’m eager to see the resolution.

Categories: The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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