Monthly Archives: February 2013

Miracle Workers, by Assorted Authors


Mr. Duffy, did I ever tell ye what the most frightenin’ words I ever heard spoken on the bridge of a starship were?  Well, here they are:  “Mr. Scott, you have the conn.”.
-Captain Montgomery Scott

The second novelization of the e-book series involving the tech folks in Starfleet has an interesting range of stories this time around.  We get a conclusion to a two part story (from Have Tech, Will Travel), a surprise encounter aboard a Cardassian space station, and what could be considered a part murder mystery, part slash flick.

The first story on this one is “Interphase, Book Two”.  As with the first book, “Interphase” was written by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore.  When last we encountered the S.C.E., one team was aboard the Constitution Class U. S. S. Defiant, lost in the interspatial rift where it has been for over one hundred years.  The rest of the gang is aboard the da Vinci, dealing with Tholians who have inexplicably begun to attack.  This story does a decent job of balancing the action elements with the problem-solving ones, as Lt. Commander Duffy (second officer of the da Vinci) deals with the rather unfamiliar situation of commanding a starship in battle, while the team aboard the Defiant work to not only escape interspace, but deal with the revelations about how the Defiant got into this mess in the first place.

The second story is “Cold Fusion”, and this offering was written by Keith R. A. DeCandido.  This book actually takes place in between Deep Space Nine novels Avatar and Abyss.  The S.C.E. is called in to aid Deep Space Nine in repairing the damage done to it in the events of Avatar, and with the help of  Lieutenant Nog of DS9, they go to scavenge the fusion core from Empok Nor, a similarly built Cardassian space station long abandoned…or so they think.  We also get a look at a group of aliens called the Androssi, who are just as tech-savvy as the S.C.E., but are interested in profit (hm…techno-Ferengi….).  The story also shows that the S.C.E. had just as exciting a career before the time of these stories.

The final story was released as two e-books originally.  “Invincible” was written by David Mack and Keith R. A. DeCandido.  “Invincible” takes place at the same time as “Cold Fusion”, and centers on Sonya Gomez on the world of Sarindar; because of her experience and knowledge of subspace accelerators.  Unfortunately, between native superstitions and some ugly surprises, Sonya finds that she’s gotten more than she’s bargained for on this assignment.  Because this story was originally released as a two parter, it takes up the bulk of the book; I also found this to be the most interesting, as it focused only on a single Starfleet character, working under rather stressful circumstances (which I won’t go too much into here).  It also shows some of the usual blind spots that Starfleet officers have in this kind of situation.

Miracle Workers follows the same vein as Have Tech, Will Travel; while there were fewer stories in this book, they were substantially more interesting, hinting at a deeper history behind the characters and developing them further.  That really can’t be all that easy with the average size of the stories, but I find the pacing to be just fine.  One issue I did have with this book was the extra pages-nearly 100-dedicated to a minipedia detailing information from these two books.  To be honest, I’d have rather scrapped that and included another story (of course, I say this without any knowledge on which e-book followed “Invincible”, so perhaps it was the lesser of two evils).  I wasn’t fond of the minipedia for New Frontier books, and I’m equally unenthused about this one.  Aside from that detail, though, I found Miracle Workers to be a solid book, and worth a read.

Categories: S.C.E., Star Trek | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Morgawr, by Terry Brooks

morgawrIt will be dark in another hour.  After that, we won’t be so easy to track, especially once we get out over the water.
Maybe.  Maybe not.  The only time they had any real trouble was after you crashed.  That doesn’t sound like an evasion tactic you want to employ regularly.
-Redden Alt Mer, captain of the Jerle Shannara, and Hunter Predd, Wing Rider

Well, it sure looked as if the voyage was over.  On the one hand, Antrax was finished; the Elfstones recovered.  On the other hand, Walker’s mission-and perhaps his life-has ended in failure.  And just to add insult to injury, there’s a whole lot of airships making an appearance….

Morgawr brings the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara to a close, and does so in fine style.  The cast of characters are still somewhat scattered, but each has managed to achieve something meaningful.  Rue Meridian managed to capture the Ilse Witch’s airship, Black Moclips.  Quentin Leah managed to survive the Wronk sent to capture his sword (and possibly the arm attached to it).  The Jerle Shannara is once again in the Captain’s hands.  Ahren and Ryer recovered the Elfstones, and rescued Walker, although that victory had a terrible price.  Bek and Truls Rohk are trying to find the Witch, who has confronted Walker; and she has chosen to use the Sword of Shannara to discover the truth about Walker, the Morgawr…and herself.  That move, however, has rather potentially disastrous results; the Sword isn’t known for pulling punches when revealing truth.

The book doesn’t actually start there; it actually begins some months ago, just after the Ilse Witch began her pursuit of the Druid.  The Morgawr isn’t stupid; he knows that she’s planning to betray him, so he’s out to recruit a bit of insurance…and to make sure that all goes well, he plans to attend personally.  The Morgawr demonstrates why he should be feared early on, when he recruits the crew of those airships…and it isn’t a pretty picture.  In a way, I’m very glad that the Morgawr has Grianne figured out; you can’t have a major villain turn out to be as dumb as a turnip, after all.

Morgawr had to accomplish quite a few things to bring the trilogy to a satisfying conclusion:  it had to resolve the conflict between Bek and Grianne.  It had to deal with the conflict between Grianne and the Morgawr.  It had to bring together the crew in a manner that could be considered realistic.  And most important, it had to get the crew (or at least survivors) back to the Four Lands.  In my view, it did the job; the most difficult aspect was to get the crew together, but life is a lot easier when you have Wing Riders on your side.

Still, just because those things had to be accomplished doesn’t mean that was all there was to the book.  There’s the obligatory chase scene with Black Moclips, Jerle Shannara, and the Morgawr’s fleet; that in turn leads to a rather interesting evasion tactic which gets the crew into more trouble than it was worth.  Redden Alt Mer gets a fair amount of pages this time around, as he begins to wonder if his famous luck has finally run out on this trip.  On the other hand, he proves that he’s still got something going his way; that’s late enough in the book that I really can’t get into that for now.

There is a resolution to the story behind Truls Rohk as well, as Bek makes a decision that will change him for the rest of his life.  And the getaway isn’t destined to be quick and easy, as Ryer Ord Star and Ahren Elessedil get nabbed early.  I found myself feeling sorry for Ahren; he certainly got more than he bargained for on this voyage, and after being shot at by Castledown and hunted down to be used as a tool for Antrax, you’d think the guy would get a break….

Walker’s presence also makes itself known throughout the book, although readers of Antrax will understand that he’s not going to be a physical presence for long.  Walker does manage, though, to reveal that there is one goal that must be achieved, and it isn’t the books of magic that he sought (clever readers of Antrax, again, will recognize a parallel right out of the book Wishsong of Shannara; it had been a red flag for me when I’d finished that book).  I did regret, though, that the Druid had left much undone.

The final confrontation between the Morgawr and the crew of the Jerle Shannara is everything I could have hoped for; I especially enjoyed the use of knowledge gained in the previous books to set it up and bring it to conclusion.  Ordinarily, I would have been annoyed at the way the book ends (I’ll spare you details); however, I’ve got in on good authority that a follow-up series by Brooks in in the works, and will probably take care of some of those annoying loose ends.  Once again, I’m looking forward to it.  Until then, though, I’d say that Morgawr delivers on the promise of the first book, and wraps up the story arc in a satisfying manner.

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

Dark Journey, by Elaine Cunningham

darkjourneyI don’t wish to offend, but it’s a mystery to me that you managed to defeat the Empire.
We have our moments.  The Republic’s utter lack of direction is actually a clever ploy to confuse our enemies.
And that works?
Not that I’ve noticed, no.
-A conversation between Jagged Fel and Kyp Durron

Well, I’m going to presume you’ve read Star by Star, cause if you haven’t, I’m about to ruin a few things for you.  Be warned.

When last we left our heroes, they’d just been rather forcibly evicted from Coruscant, and a terrible tragedy has befallen the Solos (again!?).  Worse, yet, Jaina Solo and her merry band of Jedi from the last book are attempting to get back to the Republic after said tragedy-and she’s beginning to walk down a road all too familiar to those with Skywalker blood….

Dark Journey begins in the aftermath of the shattering events of Star by Star, and it centers primarily on Jaina Solo, who really hasn’t had much “screen time” in the New Jedi Order.  Her brothers have been the ones on center stage, as it were; between Jacen’s waffling as to how to deal with the Force, and Anakin’s desire to “make up” for Chewbacca’s death, Jaina’s kind of just been in the background.  But with this book, she is most certainly the central character, as she deals with the aforementioned tragedy of the last book, as well as another blow that occurs this book (which I am highly dubious about, and I’m sure most readers will feel the same).  In a stolen Yuuzhan Vong ship, she and the remnants of the Jedi team led by Anakin in the last book manage to reach Coruscant at the tail end of its fall; lacking anywhere else to go, they make their way to the Hapes Cluster, where Jaina gets entangled in the medieval style intrigue that goes on there.  However, she has her own plans, driven by a desire for (dare I say it?) revenge.

Reappearing in this book is the character of Jagged Fel, possibly the best non-Jedi starfighter pilot around, as he follows his father’s orders to seek out any weaknesses in strategy or tactics that may be exploited.  I find him to be a fairly interesting character in that he’s almost too military, and not really up on social niceties.  Of course, he was raised and trained by aliens, so it’s probably forgivable.  Also reappearing are the royal family of the Hapes Cluster; in fact, Prince Isolder and his mother, Ta’a Chume, are significant characters in this book.  And, to use his own words, “the blister that lets you know your boots don’t fit”, also known as Kyp Durron, is also in this book, although he appears to be mellowing somewhat.  (Don’t let the last sentence fool you:  the goals are the same, only the methods are evolving!)

I’ve always liked Elaine Cunningham’s books.  When she was writing books for the Forgotten Realms Harpers series, I thought her books were the best of the lot; I consistently ranked them up with Salvatore’s books.  So it’s a little painful for me to say that I didn’t exactly love this book.  Dark Journey has good parts to it-Jaina begins some psychological warfare with the Vong, and her very wobbly walk against the Dark Side is well detailed.  The problem I had with this book probably can’t really be considered Cunningham’s fault (I’m not sure how much control the authors have over the Big Picture for the New Jedi Order).  And that problem is Hapes.

I’ve never really bought into the Hapes Cluster, ever since The Courtship of Princess Leia.  I kind of think it’s seeing way too much time in these books, and I wish it would stop (maybe the Vong will visit soon).  I expect that Cunningham felt it closest to the type of books she’s more familiar with writing.  But the intrigue of the Cluster feels out of place for me with the Yuuzhan Vong knocking on everyone’s door.  It’s a gut reaction; I’m sure there are several fans of the Hapes Cluster, so I’ll end the rant here before I get folks really upset.

The other minor problem with the book is that it seemed to be a holding point.  Oh, there were events that will certainly have repercussions down the line.  But I feel as if very little was actually accomplished here.  Of course, regrouping could be seen as a pretty important point, but….

Well, even with its flaws, Dark Journey isn’t a bad read.  It’s got some great scenes (I loved the comment about Han:  it gets repeated by both Leia and Jaina, and it was perfectly in character), and it gives attention to a character who really has deserved more time in the spotlight.  I’m hoping that trend continues as the series progresses.

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

The Butlerian Jihad, by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

butlerianNothing is impossible.
-Cogitor Eklo

It was obvious from the original Dune book that a whole lot of stuff happened long before Paul Atreides came upon the scene.  A whole lot of time passed between what we refer to as the present and the days of the Spacing Guild, the Bene Gesserit, and CHOAM.  One of the most fascinating aspects of Frank Herbert’s universe was the aversion to computers.  If memory serves, one of the primary commandments of the Orange-Catholic Bible was “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind”.  It hinted at a Great Revolt against computers, conscious robots, and other thinking machines.  It quite literally shaped the universe that would be chronicled in all the Dune books.  Now, we get to have a look at just how it happened.

Thus, The Butlerian Jihad.  Taking place so long ago (yet definitely far ahead of where we’re at now), all of the institutions we are familiar with in previous Dune books do not exist yet.  In the days of the Old Empire, a group of human beings decided to overthrow their rulers, and take their place.  They upgraded a number of machines and their AI brains, and conquered most of the known galaxy.  As time went on, resistance formed; these humans had their brains removed and put into machine bodies, effectively giving them immortality; they took the name of Titans.  Then one of them screwed up; and just like that, the computers took over, spreading like a virus, and eventually the intelligence called itself Omnius, and the worlds it controlled were known as the Synchronized Worlds.

Humanity wasn’t dead yet, though.  And that’s where this story begins.

In spite of the title, we are not reading about the Jihad itself; what we actually get is the spark that lights the fuse, and it reaches the end near the book’s finish.  Since this is the beginning of a trilogy, that shouldn’t be surprising.  So, just what do we get?

Well, first, we get to see the heroism of Xavier Harkonnen.  Yeah, that’s right; the ancestor of the most contemptible characters in the series is about as good a guy as you could ask for.  We meet Serena Butler, a young politician in the League of Nobles who passionately believes that something must be done before the forces of Omnius overwhelms humanity.  We meet Tio Holtzman, the man who would become known for some amazing inventions that exist even in Dune’s time (and incidentally, we find that his reputation is overrated, and certain attitudes of his are somewhat reprehensible).  We meet Vorian Atreides, a trustee and genetic son of the Titan Agamemnon, who serves Omnius by transporting “updates” of Omnius throughout the Synchronized Worlds.

But there’s a lot more to it than just these characters.  We get an organization of women who may or may not be the precursors to the Bene Gesserit-the Sorceresses of Rossak, led by Zufa Cenva; these woman have managed to develop significant telepathic powers.  The Zensunni are prominent in this book as well, both as slaves and as the precursors to the Fremen of Arrakis; one of them, Selim, discovers how to perform one of the stunts that all Fremen will one day do.  Most importantly (a fellow who will be a major character in these books, I expect), is Erasmus, a robot who is more-or-less independent of Omnius, and who believes that there is something yet to learn about humanity.  Don’t think he’s a good fellow, though; his methods are something less than humane, and his schemes don’t always end as he expects.

There are a whole lot of other characters rolling around in this book, some of whom have greater importance than others.  Herbert and Anderson seem to be making sure they hit all the background to fit in with the original novels.  Part of the fun in this book is seeing places in their “original” incarnations; Salusa Secundus, famed for being a hell-planet in Dune, is a paradise here.  Giedi Prime hasn’t become a bleak planet yet.  Arrakis…well, it’s still Arrakis.  And, for the first time in the Dune Chronicles…the planet Earth, as seen under Omnius’s rule.

From attacks on Salusa Secundus and Giedi Prime, to machines experimenting on humans, to the spark that starts off a jihad that will reverberate throughout the known galaxy, The Butlerian Jihad has done an excellent job in setting the stage for the next books; it is a very different kind of book than the original Dune books, where politics and intrigues were the rule of the day; this is about the survival of the human race, and Herbert & Anderson do an excellent job on demonstrating that.  I don’t just recommend this to Dune fans; I’d recommend it to folks who have no familiarity with Dune (while some things won’t obviously tie in to the series, I expect, I feel that the majority of the book will be dealt with in-series).

Categories: Dune, Legends of Dune | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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