Monthly Archives: March 2013

A Time to Be Born/A Time to Die, by John Vornholt

timetobeborn timetodie

Captain, they will be in close range in fifteen seconds.  The Enterprise will never be in greater danger than it is at this moment.  I urge you to fire upon them.
I’ve never fired at another ship first-without provocation.
In another ten seconds, I and every system on this ship will be inoperable.  It is your decision, Captain.
-Commander Data and Captain Jean-Luc Picard, U. S. S. Enterprise


Between the movies “Star Trek Insurrection” and “Star Trek Nemesis”, a great deal happened in the Star Trek franchise.  The big highlights included the end of the Dominion War; the transition of the Starfleet officer, Worf to the ambassador to the Klingon Empire, Worf; and the epic return of the U. S. S. Voyager from the Delta Quadrant.  And sometime in the offscreen time, other things seem to have happened:  Data seemed to be emotionless again; Jean-Luc Picard began taking orders from Admiral Kathryn Janeway; Will Riker and Deanna Troi were ready to be reassigned to the U. S. S. Titan; Doctor Crusher was to return to Starfleet Medical; and Worf and Wesley Crusher showed up wearing Starfleet uniforms.  Clearly, a whole lot happened between movies, and fans were left wondering just how this all came about.

Fortunately, we can usually rely on some books to fill in the missing spaces.

A Time to Be Born and A Time to Die are the first pair of books in a 9 book cycle that will answer many of those questions.  This story starts out deceptively simple-at the largest mass graveyard of the Dominion War.  At the Battle of Rashanar, every ship had ended up destroyed-both Starfleet and Dominion vessels.  This is an unlikely event at best, and Captain Picard and the Enterprise are dispatched to investigate the mystery, while also driving off scavengers who see opportunity.  Picard is also curious about a number of spatial anomalies that seem to be infesting this region.  At the same time, though, he must work with another captain who has spent far too much time trying to bring out the dead of the battle, and with a race only nominally in the Federation-a race that remain a mystery to the Federation (and only really got invited in because of the situation with the Dominion).  Unbeknownst to Picard, however, there are dangers beyond simple scavengers lurking in the region of space the locals have come to call the Boneyard….

At the same time, the reader gets to catch up with the newest inductee to the mysterious beings known as Travelers-Wesley Crusher (once best known as the Trek character most requested to be tossed out an airlock-funny how life works sometimes…).  In a vision that is to be his greatest test, to see if he can maintain the detachment of the Travelers, he sees a chilling sight-the Enterprise undergoing the final countdown to self-destruct, and the ship’s destruction at the end.  Wesley must make the choice to let things unfold as he has seen, or act against the philosophies of the Travelers and act.

The choices made will lead to a number of serious changes for some of the Enterprise crewmembers, and not necessarily for the better.

I picked up these books with anticipation; I was really looking forward to reading about what happened between movies.  I came out of it with mixed emotions.  There were aspects of these books I really enjoyed-the appearance of the Androssi (familiar to S.C.E. readers), for example-gotta love their taste in ships; and the fact that Picard seems to be heading to the end of his career (or is at least perceived by some that way-and their opinions have weight).  I was also impressed with the truths behind the anomalies (which I’m not going into) and the method used to deal with those truths (which I’m also not going into-but it was damned clever).  On the other hand, I felt I was reading about some of the early episodes of the television series, due to the actions of “Ensign Brewster”, which I was iffy about.  It’s to Vornholt’s credit, though, that he has Picard understand the trouble of relying on assets that could vanish at any time.

There’s enough character bits for fans of almost every character; Riker gets to show off his leadership skills, Data is forced to make some tough decisions about himself (and some of those are imposed upon him), and Doc Crusher gets to demonstrate why she’s the worst poker player on the Enterprise.  Picard, though, is the one who gets to go through the ringer; he’s the captain, and anything that goes wrong falls squarely on his head-and a whole lot goes wrong.  His interactions with a Starfleet counselor in many ways leads to the meat of the second book.

The events in A Time to Be Born and A Time to Die fit their titles well, and while it may not be the strongest Star Trek effort I’ve ever read, they do a respectable job in opening this particular chapter in the careers of the captain and crew of the U. S. S. Enterprise.  Looking forward to the next pair.

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Dragons of a Vanished Moon, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

vanishedmoonI have looked into the night sky and seen the dark moon, and I have thrilled to know that my eyes were among the few eyes that could see it.  I have heard the voice of the god Nuitari and reveled in his blessed touch as I cast my spells.  Long ago, the magic breathed and danced and sparkled in my blood.  Now it crawls out of my fingers like maggots swarming from a carrion carcass.  I would rather be that corpse than be a slave to one who so fears the living that she can trust only servants who are dead.
-Dalamar the Dark


Hang on to your hats…it’s gonna be a helluva ride…!

Dragons of a Vanished Moon takes up about two minutes before the end of Dragons of a Lost Star; however, it begins from a different perspective, as Palin and Dalamar witness the final confrontation between Goldmoon and Mina…and share equal horror as they discover the truth behind the One God.  (Since they didn’t spoil it on the inside cover of the book, I’m not gonna spoil it here…even though if you’re reading this review right now, you probably already know!)

Things start coming together early on.  On one front, the blind silver dragon Mirror (formerly of the Citadel of Light) teams up with the blue dragon Razor (formerly dragon-mount to Marshal Medan) to find out the full story behind Mina and her One God.  The Knight Gerard infiltrates Mina’s army to learn her plans, while the Knight Odila is out to find more about the One God (amazing how many people want to know that, eh?).  Gilthas is busy leading the Qualinesti across the plains towards Silvanesti, not realizing that they’re dealing with their own problems at the moment…including a leader who’s gone missing (although certain elves-and most readers, undoubtedly-know where he’s gone).

And then there’s Tasslehoff, once again playing with toys that he probably shouldn’t, whose activities gather the attention of…well, let’s just say they’ve been looking around for a long time now.

I was glad to see that Galdar the minotaur, who didn’t get all that much time in Dragons of a Lost Star, gets a great deal more time in this one.  A certain former archmage also makes a couple of appearances, where least expected.  And thanks to Tas, we get a chance to see again other important characters from Krynn’s past, including (in my opinion), the most feared being to ever walk the face of Krynn.  There’s also a wonderful cameo appearance by a group from the other Dragonlance books that Weis has been associated with.

The big question, though, is:  does Dragons of a Vanished Moon deliver on the great promise of the previous two books?  There’s been enough mystery building up, and a lot of questions answered, but a few still outstanding…does this book take care of them?  Well, I’d have to say it certainly does!  The big outstanding questions all get answered, which I felt was important.  Equally importantly, we get a mix of moral dilemma (if the One God is evil, but still is a god, what to do?) and action (such as the awaited battle between the dragon overlord Malys and Mina).  We get further insight on the relationship between Mina and her god, which shows that the One God is most certainly not a kindly one.  And even in all of this, we still get some humor along the way.  And when all is said and done, there are a couple of significant sacrifices that will change Krynn forever (what, again?).  And just in case everything goes by a little too fast, there’s a nice in-character afterward that explains in a nutshell why

It’s safe to say the conclusion of the War of Souls sets up a new status quo for the Dragonlance saga, as Weis and Hickman have shaken everything up just as badly as they had with Dragons of Summer Flame.  They also close the book on just about all the original Dragonlance characters in one way or another, leaving the slate clean for any characters they wish to develop for the future (or characters from other authors; I’m not sure what’s next for the Dragonlance franchise). Dragons of a Vanished Moon does not disappoint in reader satisfaction and I highly recommend this book (and indeed, the War of Souls as a whole) to any fan of “high” fantasy.

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Rebel Dream, by Aaron Allston

rebeldreamI have to say, this sounds like the worst idea in a thousand generations of bad ideas.
You haven’t heard all our ideas.
-Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master, and Bhindi Drayson, of Wraith Squadron


The Republic is reeling from its most devastating blow yet.  Coruscant has fallen, and our heroes are on the run.  An assault let by General Wedge Antilles allows Republic forces to set up a base in the nearby Pyria system, on the same planet that the fledgling New Republic once launched their own assault on Coruscant against the Empire.  The situation for the Republic is grim; a visit from a number of councilors demonstrates to Wedge and our main characters reinforces his belief that the surviving senators from Coruscant have already given up the Republic as lost, and are preparing to accept a Yuuzhan Vong victory.

Wedge, however, doesn’t accept that so easily.  He’s used to fighting impossible odds, as the former commander of Rogue Squadron-an elite squadron of X-Wings-and he’s quite prepared to do so again.  And the only way he can see to do it is to return to the earliest days of the Rebel Alliance, and operate separately-and secretly-from the Republic.  While he still answers to the Republic from a technical standpoint, he recognizes that everyone in the Pyria system have been left to die.  But it is also a strategic location to aid survivors and refugees from Coruscant, so he plans to hold on to it as long as possible.

The characters definitely start looking at things with a somewhat different point of view in Rebel Dream, the first part of the two part Enemy Lines arc.  I also had high expectations for this book, because of Aaron Allston.  Allston wrote the Wraith Squadron set of X-Wing novels (as well as Starfighters of Adumar), and all of those books were highly enjoyable.  So when I learned he would be writing a pair for the New Jedi Order, I was hoping for something equally enjoyable.

He does not disappoint.  The heroes start working proactively for a change; Han and Leia are out to start learning who to rely on in this new resistance; Jaina Solo makes use of the reputation that the Vong have given her, continuing psychological warfare against them with the aid of Jagged Fel and Kyp Durron.  Wedge organizes the defense of the world Borleias with the aid of his longtime comrade Tycho Celchu.  And Lando Calrissian prepares to insert a number of Jedi-including Luke and Mara Skywalker-secretly into Coruscant, with the aid of the Intelligence commandos of Wraith Squadron.

One of the hallmarks of Allston’s writing (at least in the Star Wars universe; haven’t read any of his other works) is the humorous side of Star Wars.  I wasn’t sure how I’d handle it, given the darker nature of the New Jedi Order series, but I found it to be a welcome return.  This isn’t to say the book is a laugh riot-it’s not-but it’s easy to forget that Han has a fairly sharp wit, and it was great to see some of the folks from the Wraith Squadron books again (laughing at danger in many ways is a hobby with them, I think).  The only part that gave me some problems was the glossing over of Jaina’s flirtation with the Dark Side of the Force.  I can overlook that, though, because he shows some great insights about why she’s having her emotional problems, and helps continue to develop the relationship between herself, Kyp, and Jagged.

Lest I forget, however…the Yuuzhan Vong don’t get shorted for time, either.  Viqi Shesh, who will undoubtedly go down in Republic history as its biggest traitor, manages to keep herself alive in the face of Warmaster Tsavong Lah-by exposing certain suspicions as to why his hand graft (well, claw anyway) has been giving him so much trouble.  The political picture gets a little more complicated as well, as he puts his father in command of a war fleet to crush Borleias.  And to keep matters even more interesting, there is a traitor put among the folks at Borleias as well….

Allston has done a nice job with Rebel Dream, managing a number of characters that could become unwieldy (a problem that this series is beginning to develop).  It likely helps that this is spread over two books, because there is a lot happening.  I’m looking forward to reading his next one soon.

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The Sandman: Book of Dreams, edited by Neil Gaiman and Ed Kramer

bookofdreamsEven the Lord of the Dreaming shouldn’t ignore a child’s nightmares
-A child’s doll


In the Beginning, all things had a Destiny.  Because they had a destiny, they would also be forced to accept Death.  In order to push away that dread certainty, we make creations out of Dream.  All things that are created, though, eventually face Destruction.  Destruction brings about Despair, and we Desire to recapture them.  In doing so, we experience Delight (or Delirium, depending on circumstance).  In my own clumsy way, I’ve described beings that existed before the gods, which will continue to do so until even gods die.  They are the Endless.

Neil Gaiman wrote a comic book series some years back called The Sandman.  It was a comic geared towards older readers, because the subject matter was most definitely not for immature minds-it had elements of serious horror, and all kinds of other disturbing things.  But it was also filled with Big Ideas.  The centerpiece of it all was the being known as Dream (aka Morpheus, the Shaper, the Prince of Stories, etc.).  While Dream was not always a main character in this set of comic books, he was always involved in some way.  One of the things I was firmly convinced of was that The Sandman would do well translated into novelized form.

Whaddya know?  Not a work of Gaiman, but perhaps the next best thing-a collection of short stories written by luminaries such as Gene Wolfe, Tad Williams, and Barbara Hambly.  Each story about the Prince of Stories, or at least situations and characters that had populated the comic book.  While knowledge of that comic would certainly be helpful, it didn’t strike me as being absolutely necessary; even the stories that are mixed deeply with the comic book’s events stand pretty well on their own.

Many of the stories in here are excellent.  I’d like to point out especially “Stronger than Desire” by Lisa Goldstein, where a mortal man has a very interesting wager with one of the Endless; “Each Damp Thing” by Barbara Hambly, where one of Dream’s servants, Cain, is forced to ‘fess up to taking something that he really, really shouldn’t have while Dream was away; “Valosaga and Elet” by Steven Brust, where a pair of Endless are cast in the roles of adversaries (and they’re not the ones you’d expect!); and “The Mender of Broken Dreams” by Nancy A. Collins, in which the Mender tries to understand his own origins, and Dream shows him just who is capable of such things.

My two favorites are about as different as can be; “The Gate of Gold” by Mark Kreighbaum, where a child’s doll attempts to find out why Dream afflicts little children with nightmares; and “Splatter” by Will Shetterly, in which an author finds himself unexpectedly attending the famed “Serial Killers Convention” in one of the comic story arcs.  Wonder what that says about me…?  (Heh.)

While some of the stories were not as good in my opinion, I recognize they’ll fit other readers’ tastes.  Even so, the bulk of the stories are more than good enough for me to give it a strong recommendation.  And if you find that you really, really like this book, you might consider reading the collected Sandman trade paperbacks; sure, they’re comics, but they’re at least as good as some of the fantasy novels out there-and like as not, better than most.  So go pick up The Sandman:  Book of Dreams.  It’s a great read.

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Gauntlet, by Michael Jan Friedman

gauntlet

Thank you, Number One.  I was beginning to actually feel capable of commanding a starship for a moment there, but you have managed to completely disabuse me of that notion.
-Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the U. S. S. Stargazer


Before Captain Picard took over command of the Enterprise, he had been the captain of another starship.  That starship was Stargazer. Stargazer has been visited before in novels, and on each occasion it was visited by Michael Jan Friedman; previously seen in The First Virtue and Valiant; the crew is seen again in the “present” day of Next Generation in Reunion.

Now, Friedman is writing about the adventures of that crew-with a significantly younger Jean-Luc Picard-in an ongoing series called, appropriately “Stargazer”.  Gauntlet is the first book in this series.  Captain Picard is given a task by Admiral McAteer-to recover a cargo stolen by the pirate White Wolf; and if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, catch the pirate, too.  Picard soon learns, however, that he is being set up:  due to political games in Starfleet, McAteer hopes to embarrass a rival admiral by making his protégé fail in his mission.  Even so, Picard is determined to prove that he can complete his mission-even where other captains before him have failed.

Making matters even more interesting, Picard gets saddled with a number of new crew members each have what could be considered fatal flaws.  Personally, I can’t imagine how some of these folks got into Starfleet in the first place.  You’ll see what I mean.  Luckily, his regular crew is still together, and are actually almost normal in comparison with the newer characters; of note are the human twins Gerda and Idun Asmund-humans who had been raised as Klingons, and one of whom is involved with a strange flirtation with the ship’s doctor; and the chief engineer, Phigus Simenon, a Gnalish with a cranky disposition.

On the plus side for Gauntlet, I rather liked the fact that Picard continues a habit seen much in the Next Generation-the conference with senior officers to figure out how to solve a problem.  The pirate White Wolf is an interesting character as well, although there was a twist or two that wasn’t as shocking as perhaps it should have been (I’ve been reading too many books, probably).  And the interstellar obstacles in the Stargazer’s path to get to the Wolf are just fun-an area of space that I’d hate to try to navigate.

The minus side, though, kind of overbalances it a bit.  I realize that it’s becoming the “in” thing with Star Trek authors to crew a ship with the most eccentric characters they can come up with.  It’s gotten very annoying.  Of the new crew members, only two or three of them look as if they belong in Starfleet-and that’s only because their little quirks aren’t as obvious.  Worse yet, though, is the fact that there is very little plot to this book, as it spends a great deal of time on the characters and how they interact with each other.  Ordinarily, I’m okay with over-balancing in favor of the characters.  I tend to like the characters to drive the plot a bit.  But in this particular case, all it did was make me wonder why some of them had gotten into the fleet, much less how they didn’t wash out of the Academy (I do blame Peter David for some of this; it seems he’s pioneered the habit of making odd characters Starfleet officers).

The biggest problem I have, though, isn’t really Friedman’s fault.  Between the Challenger books, New Frontier, DS9 relaunches, Original Series “Below Decks” launch, the new Enterprise books, and a future Voyager relaunch waiting in the wings, I can’t help but think that Pocket Books is over-saturating the Star Trek market.  Do we really need a Stargazer series?  It’s getting to the point where books on a favorite series is going to come out on a yearly basis more than a monthly.  Maybe I’m a dino, but I miss the days when one month had a Next Generation book and a Voyager book, and the next had an Original Series and a DS9 book.  It’s a trend that I’m not sure I like, and I hope that Pocket Books does some serious thinking about how much further they’ll go with this.

(2013 note:  things seem to have swung in the other direction now; the over-saturation comment seems to have been prophetic at this time.)

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2010: Odyssey Two, by Arthur C. Clarke

2010Good morning, Dr. Chandra.  This is Hal.  I am ready for my first lesson.
-Hal 9000 computer, upon reactivation


I am going to make a very basic assumption in this review:  that those reading this will have either read 2001:  A Space Odyssey, or seen the movie.  As far as 2010:  Odyssey Two goes, either one will be suitable background for this book.  Arthur Clarke admits that there are some inconsistencies between the movie 2001 and his novel, and he tries to work more with the movie; to be honest, anyone who gets offended by that is missing out on a pretty good book-and in my opinion, better than its predecessor.

The book opens with Dr. Heywood Floyd, who was the main man behind the events (well, most of the events) of 2001, being informed by a former counterpart (as the good doctor left his former job after the Discovery disaster) that the Soviets are nearly ready to send their own expedition to Jupiter, to examine the massive monolith there and to salvage the derelict Discovery.  Equally unsettling is the revelation that Discovery‘s orbit is unstable, and that Discovery 2 will not be completed in time to get to Jupiter before bad things happen to Discovery, not to mention before the Soviets.  Floyd is, however, made the offer to accompany the Russians on their ship Cosmonaut Alexi Leonov with Dr. Chandra (a shortening of his name, because I’m not up to copying it right now) who designed the Hal 9000 computer that ran Discovery, and Walter Curnow, who is the engineer who will bring Discovery back to life.

The journey is not an easy one:  not only will Leonov have to perform an unprecedented act of astronomical mechanics to get to Discovery, but they also have to deal with a surprise complication-one that leads to a revelation that will rock the scientific world.  And all that is before they reach Discovery…and the monolith some of the crew take to calling “Big Brother” (referring to its comparison with the original monolith in the Tycho Crater on the moon).

Like 2001, 2010 is not for impatient readers.  Unlike 2001, however, this book has considerably more action…well, perhaps action isn’t the right word.  Perhaps dramatic tension may be a better phrase.  While there are many quiet moments (well, these are scientists!  They study things!), there are considerably more tense moments than in the previous book.  Clarke also expands the role of the monolith-it altered human evolution on Earth…what could it be doing in Jupiter orbit?  We are also treated to a pretty good look at the being that was once David Bowman, after his own encounter with the monolith.

Needless to say, as with the previous book, this book was written well in advance of the actual year 2010.  There are some relics here, most notably the existence of the Soviet Union; written almost twenty years ago (!), it built on the information of 2001; it was impossible to predict where technology would be.  Of course, at that point, it was probably obvious we wouldn’t be sending spaceships to Jupiter.  Then again, this is a science fiction novel; don’t get hung up on time.

In spite of the out-of-date nature of some of the more true-to-life info, there are still a number of things that still hold true (for example, some newspapers a couple of years ago trumpeted news about the moon Europa that Clarke postulated in this book; I couldn’t figure out why they thought it was news, as I’d been under the impression it was already known).  And while I don’t recall if the movie 2010 is based on the book, or the book is based on the movie, I do think that people who enjoyed 2001 will enjoy this novel.  For that matter, I also think if 2001 bored people to death, they should give 2010 a try; it’s fairly self contained, and will keep the attention far longer from beginning to end.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to check to see the gray hairs on my head…can’t believe it’s been almost 20 years…!

(2013 note:  been even longer than that now….)

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