Monthly Archives: March 2015

New Frontier Omnibus, by Peter David

newfrontSometimes you simply have to assess a situation and say, “Dammit, it’s me or no one.”  And if you can’t live with no one, then you have to take action.
-Captain Mackenzie Calhoun of the U.S.S. Excalibur

Lately, it seems that Pocket Books has begun leaning towards Star Trek books that are more or less independent of the four main franchises (for those not in-the-know, that’s the Original Series, the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager).  According to the releases slated for this year, we’ve got a book that builds on the New Earth set of books, and the beginning of Deep Space Nine novels that take place after the series finale.  But these probably wouldn’t have been possible without the New Frontier books.

Peter David’s been writing Star Trek for a long time (at least as far back as the fifth original Next Generation novel), and has been regarded as a fan favorite.  That put me in a favorable frame of mind when there was the announcement that there would be a series of four books in 1997 that would take place with “a new ship, a new crew, and a new mission”.  With House of Cards, Into the Void, The Two-Front War, and End Game, readers were treated to the exploits of Captain Mackenzie Calhoun and the U.S.S. Excalibur.  These books were later re-released as a single collected edition.

The early portion of the book takes place in the past, showing the early life of the boy M’k’n’zy of Calhoun, on the planet Xenex, leading a revolt against a race called the Danteri; an incident on the planet Thallon with a Vulcan woman named Soleta and another Vulcan of considerable fame; and Dr. Selar (formerly of Picard’s Enterprise), returning home to Vulcan to deal with Ponn farr.  After that, though, we hit the present time-chronologically sometime shortly after the events of the movie First Contact.  A sector of space (221-G) has fallen into anarchy, due to the fall of the Thallonian Empire.  It is decided that the Federation should send a ship for humanitarian aid and exploration into Thallonian space.

The crew is a diverse one; Calhoun is a bit of a maverick, which is pointed out by a number of officers in Starfleet.  Elizabeth Shelby (seen in the Next Generation episodes “The Best of Both Worlds”) is a strict, by the book officer, but she has a past with Calhoun.  Zak Kebron is the Brikar security officer, who gets some of the best lines in these books, in my opinion.  Soleta and Selar get a fair amount of attention, due to a subplot that I wouldn’t want to ruin for anyone.  And these are just the characters who get the most time in these books, with a single, non-Starfleet addition, who just gets along quite badly with Kebron.

I had pretty high expectations for these books, and Peter David didn’t disappoint.  His past books have blended humorous moments with some deadly serious material, and for the most part he’s mixed them well.  He also has a reputation for exploiting the history behind the various Star Trek franchises.  He continues to do so here; this is probably what has contributed to the continuing success of the New Frontier novels (now up to 11 books and with at least one more scheduled in ’01).  But a word of warning:  this probably isn’t a series that should be started with someone who has no clue about Star Trek.  This is a series whose appeal is tied directly to the reader’s familiarity with the entire Star Trek line.

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Infiltrator, by S. M. Stirling

infiltratorHer peripheral vision caught a Jeep passing by outside.  The driver was male, no passengers.
Adrenaline kicked her heartbeat into overdrive and her stomach clenched like an angry fist; her breath stopped as though she’d been suddenly plunged into cold water.
Sarah froze with the sandwich almost in her mouth.  I can’t be having the DT’s, she thought.  I wasn’t drinking that heavily!
She could have sworn that she had just seen a Terminator drive by.
-Sarah Connor’s first glimpse of Dieter von Rossbach

If you thought blowing up the Cyberdyne Corporation was going to stop the Terminators, think again.

It’s amazing to me that a movie nearly twenty years old still works today.  Of course, Star Wars and Star Trek and others have done it, so why not this one?  For those who may not have seen the movies The Terminator or Terminator 2: Judgment Day, here’s a brief recap.  At some point in the future, approximately around the 2020’s, humanity has nearly become extinct; mostly because of an artificial intelligence called Skynet, which was originally designed for defense, and decided that humanity in general was a threat-so it started a nuclear war which did in most of humanity; then it constructed machines to kill the rest.  One of the most frightening machines were the Terminators:  built to look human, but were all machine.  Designed to infiltrate and destroy the pockets of human resistance within.  It wasn’t the best in the world at infiltration, but it was very good at killing.  And they were very hard to stop, even with futuristic technology.  Things were dim, until a man named John Connor managed to lead humanity to victory over the machines.

Almost.  In a last ditch effort to deal with the problem, Skynet sent back in time a pair of Terminators, one a highly advanced model, to attempt to kill John Connor before he became a problem.  Connor sent back two operatives to prevent that.  The Terminator tried to kill his mother, Sarah Connor; the second, John when he was a young kid.  In the process, the first operative fell in love with Sarah and managed to father a child-John (I hate time travel).  The second operative was a modified Terminator that helped Sarah and John destroy Cyberdyne, the corporation that built Skynet, before it could actually do so.  Having broken a large number of laws in doing so, they fled the country, secure that they had prevented that terrible future from ever happening.

It’s not that easy.  This is the basis of T2: Infiltrator.  In the future, prior to John Connor’s victories, Skynet begins a project to infiltrate humanity again-but this time, it does so using human embryos.  One of the first is called Serena, a model T950.  She’s close enough to human to even fool dogs (who have always had a knack for sensing the wrongness of a Terminator).  She infiltrates a human resistance cell, and is very, very close to getting at John Connor when Skynet recalls her.  It seems that something funny is occurring with time, and she is to be sent back in time to insure the birth of Skynet.  And if she should do in the Connors in the process, so much the better.

Meanwhile, in Paraguay, the Connors have managed to set up a life for themselves.  Sarah’s running a shipping/smuggling business, and John’s in a military academy.  However, their lives are shaken up considerably when their new neighbor arrives to start his own ranching business; probably because he looks exactly like the T101 Terminators sent to alternately kill and protect the Connor’s.  However, his own background is just as potentially dangerous to the pair.

A great deal of this book is setup.  It chronicles the early training of Serena and her infiltration of humanity-both in the future and in the present, and it chronicles the recent history of the Connor’s and the rebirth of Cyberdyne.  Once people start interacting, though, things start happening quickly.  There’s also a number of subplots going on at the same time-a character named Tricker, whose true identity and purpose remains secret, is influential in getting Cyberdyne back on its feet; a fellow named Ron Labane travels the country, who is fearful that one day, machines are going to be able to do without people.  While it seems that he’s got a good insight on the future, he’s also a fruitcake-a very dangerous fruitcake.

One of the things I was rather amused by was the fact that the voice of the familiar Terminator is not the voice of his look alike, Dieter von Rossbach; however, the fellow supplying that voice is in this book-the accent is written so perfectly that for a moment I thought this character was Dieter!  As for Serena herself, she didn’t really give me the same feeling of implacability as the original Terminators; those things just kept coming and coming.  On the other hand, what she lacks in quality, she makes up for in quantity; read the book, and see what I mean.

It’ll be interesting to see if T2:  Infiltrator matches up well with the rumored Terminator 3 movie that is bandied about the internet so often; after all, the rumor implies the next Terminator will be a woman…like Serena.  There’s apparently no connection between this book and the rumored movie.  It’ll be even more interesting to see what happens in the next book-because there’s a couple of gaping loose ends left hanging at the end of this one.  On its own, Infiltrator works okay, even if it seems like it has too many balls in the air at once sometimes.

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Cloak of Deception, by James Luceno

cloakA true Knight, Qui-Gon is.  Forever on his own quest.
-Yoda, Jedi Master

This is the third original novel written in the Star Wars universe set around the time frame of the Phantom Menace (one I’ve reviewed-Darth Maul:  Shadow Hunter; I never did get around to reviewing Rogue Planet).  Cloak of Deception takes place prior to the Phantom Menace, and quite probably roughly the same time.  If so, there’s a minor continuity problem, but it’s only a minor one.

The book opens with a group of terrorists striking against the Trade Federation (I know, I know; hard to feel sympathy for these guys).  Led by Captain Cohl, these people attack one of the Federation’s massive vessels to acquire a king’s ransom in aurodium ingots.  However, unbeknownst to them, a pair of Jedi are watching their every move, attempting to trace down who these terrorists are working for.

Things are further complicated as Finis Valorum, Supreme Chancellor of the Republic deals with the troubling requests of the Trade Federation requesting permission to augment their droid armies to protect against the Nebula Front terrorist group.  Matters are aggravated when assassins attempt to kill Valorum after announcing a trade summit on the Outer Rim-a summit recommended by Senator Palpatine of Naboo.  Add Jedi and mix.

Cloak of Deception delves into the politics of the Republic; we’ve got Senatorial corruption, we’ve got conflict between the Trade Federation and the Nebula Front, we’ve got troubles between the Core Worlds and the Outlying Systems.  We get a good look at Chancellor Valorum, and get a pretty good idea about why he seemed so ineffective in the Phantom Menace.  We also get a glimpse as to how Senator Palpatine managed to snag the Chancellor job at the end of that movie as well.

No less importantly, we get another look at the Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi.  To be honest, Qui-Gon quickly hit the top of my list of favorite Star Wars characters; noble as only a Jedi could be, living totally in the moment, and not afraid to be somewhat underhanded if necessary if it brought about greater good.  Luceno, the author, was true to the character-I could easily see the Jedi in this movie doing exactly as he does in this book.  The interplay between himself and Obi-Wan was also well written, I thought.

And then there’s Captain Cohl; he’s clever as hell, and demonstrates enough skill in adapting to unexpected circumstance that he can even elude Jedi Knights.  While he doesn’t get whole bunches of pages in the middle of the book, his work at the beginning and end makes up for it.  Cohl demonstrates that you really don’t have to be a Sith Lord to give a Jedi a hard time.

Speaking of Sith Lords…Darth Sidious indeed makes his presence known (although not to the good guys, natch), continuing to play everyone like puppets.  And there are a bunch of other cameos-several members of the Jedi Council demonstrate that they aren’t just symbolic leaders.  There are two characters who stand out for me as being wonderfully in continuity-a character who we’ve never actually seen (although we’ve met a twisted version of him); and a Jedi Knight who also appears in the New Jedi Order (specifically in a book “coincidentally” written by this author), which may go a long way to explaining a mystery in that book.  Also look for a mildly significant role by a future Grand Moff all Star Wars fans should be familiar with.

Of the three books set in this time period, I’d have to rank Cloak of Deception at the top.  Jedi are fun, and there’s plenty of them in this book.  Rogue Planet was more of a traditional “Sci-Fi” book, Darth Maul:  Shadow Hunter was heavy on chases.  This one has a good blend of politics and action, and works great as Episode 1/2.  Now, all we need is a book that centers on Amidala, as we’ve covered almost everyone else…!

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The Redemption of Althalus, by David and Leigh Eddings

redemptionI know these Arums, Em, so I know exactly what kind of story to tell them.  Actually, that was a very good one.  It had a threat of a civil war, a hero, a villain, and a quest fraught with danger.  What more does a good story need?
A little bit of truth might have added something.
I don’t like to contaminate a good story with truth, Em.
-A conversation between Althalus and Emerald

It seems odd to finally be reviewing a book that stands alone, as opposed to a part of a series.  It’s even more odd that it comes from David and Leigh Eddings.

The Eddings’s are best known for the stories of Belgarion the Rivan King and Sir Sparhawk, and I’ll confess that I’ve been a big fan of theirs ever since a friend of mine introduced me to them in high school (waaay back when).  I’d heard a rumor after they’d written their last book, Polgara the Sorceress, that it was all over for them with writing.  I remember being incredibly disappointed, but thankful for what they had already written.  So when I learned that this book, The Redemption of Althalus, was a new Eddings book…well, I wasn’t going to wait for this in paperback, that’s for certain!

The story begins with a young man named Althalus, who believes himself the world’s best thief.  Certainly, he believed himself the luckiest.  So when he gets bored with life on the frontier, he goes to civilization to see if he can steal even more money.  One of the best scenes in the book is when he actually passes by a vast amount of money, for reasons that’ll be obvious when you read that part.  A run of bad luck convinces him to take a job from a fellow named Ghend to steal a book from the House at the End of the World.  When he gets there, his life changes forever, as he becomes…well, not exactly a pawn, but certainly a foot soldier in a conflict with an evil god, where the battlefield may be all of time and all of space.

When the story began, I started to have doubts.  Having read the inside front cover, I’d had a bad feeling that I’d read a portion of this book before when I read Belgarath the Sorcerer.  Certainly, their origin stories and influence by deities seemed similar.  I began to get more concerned when the goddess Dweia is introduced, who seemed far to similar to the character Flute in the “Elenium” and “Tamuli” series.  I began to lose a great deal of faith when another character was introduced, a ten-year old boy named Gher, who is not overly bothered by scruples, and is unwholesomely intelligent (much like Talen from the two series mentioned previously).  Things were shaping up badly.

Fortunately, there is much else that sets this aside.  A priest, a witch, a soldier, a noblewoman are introduced as well, and I couldn’t easily draw any comparisons with them.  The villains are matched well with the protagonists (although it shouldn’t be surprising that they don’t get along with each other), and keep the outcome of some conflicts in doubt.  The one thing that sets this book apart from the Eddings’s other books, though, is the House at the End of the World, with doors that open up-for the right person-to Anytime, Anywhen.  The bad news, though, is that the antagonists have something similar, making battles a far more dangerous prospect for either side.

As with previous works, The Redemption of Althalus has a lot of great moments, both humorous and dramatic.  In many ways, its greatest similarity to the other books they’ve written is the ability of the heroes to stand up to the plans of deities, and make themselves count (sure, they’re aided by a deity themselves, but all the heavy lifting is done by them).  Besides the House, there isn’t an overabundance of magic in this story-Althalus learns a great deal of magic from a book, but he hardly uses it to the same extent as Belgarath or Sparhawk did in their stories.  Of course, when you work out of a House that transcends space/time, what more magic do you really need?

If you’re a fan of the Eddings’s previous books, pick this one up.  If you haven’t discovered them yet, well-why not start with this one?  I think this book would serve well as a great introduction to their storytelling style, and since it’s entirely self-contained, you can get a few nights of enjoyment and decide if you like it.  And if you do, then you can go after the significantly larger series of books that they’ve written.  I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

(Incidentally:  the cover shown at the top is supposedly a “limited edition” cover; this means that it’ll only be around for the first printing of this book.  You probably won’t be missing anything if you don’t get this cover, because a] it’s the exact reverse of the other cover, b] I wouldn’t count on too many printings for the hardback, and c] the first print run is probably so large that it’s not took likely to become a real collector’s item.  But then again, time will tell!)

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Tatooine Ghost, by Troy Denning

tatooineIt doesn’t surprise me that you find this holo so fascinating.
Sure, I love little kids.  Especially human kids.
Of course.  But the boy in this ‘cube is no longer a child.  It was taken when he won the Boonta Eve Classic, more than forty years ago.
Won it?  Look, don’t think you’re talking to a pair of nerf herders, here.  Even when Podracing was legal, humans didn’t have the reflexes to survive it-much less win, and especially not as kids.
-Han Solo and Leia Organa-Solo, and a vendor with a holocube of a figure from the past

It is a time before the Vong; the Thrawn trilogy has yet to occur, but the heroes Han Solo and Princess Leia Organa have been married for months.  And the Empire is not the remnant it is now, but still a powerful force that threatens the New Republic.  Leia has not yet quite come to terms with the idea of Anakin Skywalker’s redemption; Han hasn’t come to terms with being jerked around by the Provisional Council of the New Republic while he was “courting” Leia.  But somewhere in this time frame, something happened.

This is where Tatooine Ghost opens.  Han and Leia are making a trip to Tatooine, hoping to bid on a moss painting from Alderaan called Killik Twilight, a painting that once hung in the palace on that world.  It also has a bit of a secret-for within the painting’s circuitry, there is a code key for the Rebel Alliance, which can’t be allowed to fall into Imperial hands.  Fortunately, the Empire doesn’t know it is there.  Unfortunately, they run into a Star Destroyer on the approach to Tatooine-the Chimaera, Captain Pellaeon’s ship-and it quickly becomes apparent that they have an interest in the painting.  (Why would this be?  Well, think time frame again; who would be interested in such a unique piece of art….?  It embarrasses me that I didn’t figure it out right away.)

While this would probably be enough for a decent story, it gets kicked up a notch when you find out that the painting is being sold in Mos Espa.  A brief encounter during the auction leads to a plot line in the book that runs alongside the main one-because once upon a time, Anakin Skywalker lived in Mos Espa, before Qui-Gon Jinn took him away to meet his destiny.  And this means we get the first real interactions between the Episode I-III eras with the Episode IV-VI eras (not counting Vergere from the New Jedi Order; you don’t get the same feeling of “EVENT” off of that as you do with Anakin’s home town).  Denning does a good job in bringing out old friends of Anakin, who knew him long before he became a Sith Lord-and who show Leia a bit of perspective that the evil Jedi who had tortured her wasn’t always a seething cauldron of hate and malice.  This plot line also fills in a very significant blank in the time between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones-just whatever happened to Shmi Skywalker.

But don’t have the impression that it’s all about coming to terms with Vader’s past; there’s plenty enough going on in the main plot line; the auction itself-which not only goes about they way you’d expect, given the famous Solo luck, but also introduces a trio of Squibs, possibly the most avaricious creatures I’ve seen in the Star Wars setting (outside of Hutts and Toydarians, of course).  These guys are genuine weasels, but at least they stick to their contract…if you don’t mind tactics that tend to be a little more then you bargained for; and they’re about as persistent fellows that I’ve ever seen.  Throw in a group of Imperials who begin to actively hunt our Rebel pair, who show a distressing amount of competence that goes above simple brutality (again, if you followed the books, shouldn’t be all that surprising).

One of the threads going along in this book that I thought was a nice touch was Han and Leia’s attitude towards children.  Han wouldn’t mind having some-we get hints of an interest in being a family man in this book, which makes a great deal of sense considering his background.  Leia’s attitude also matches her background-her family has always been strong in the Force, and her father was the nastiest piece of work the galaxy had ever seen (except for the Emperor, of course); it’s not surprising that she feels hesitant about having children, for fear of what they could become.

I rather enjoyed this book; after all, it’s set at a good time for the setting-the Empire is still out there, the New Republic is still working on inventing itself, no hint of the really ugly events of the New Jedi Order on the horizon-and hey, it’s got Chewbacca!  It’s been too long….  Even so, though, I’ll admit my favorite portions of the book were the ones tying into the Old Republic era.  It was good to see what became of a number of characters on Tatooine that we’d seen in Episodes I and II, and it was better to see Leia discover these things (the Force is a wonderful prompter) and learn a little more about her father in times less dark.  It also kinda makes me hope we see a similar treatment whenever they finish making Episode III, because the novels are a great place to explore the “final” fates of a number of characters.

All in all, I think Tatooine Ghost was a good read, especially considering the nice continuity ties to both the events in the first two episodes and to the events that would soon take place (probably shortly after the events of this novel!).  It’s definitely worth a read for any Star Wars fan.

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Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

guardsYou, er, want us to attack him?
Of course, you idiot!
But, er, there’s only one of him.
And he’s smilin’.
Prob’ly goin’ to swing on the chandeliers any minute.  And kick over the table, and that.
-The argument with the Palace Guard, who are all-too-aware of the usual conventions

It’s astounding how quickly I’ve become sucked into the Discworld.  It wasn’t all that long ago that I’d picked up Mort, and now, I’ve picked up a small horde of these books!  One of the things I’ve noticed is that we’ve got perhaps four or five different settings (for lack of a better word) that Pratchett covers.  First off, there’s the stories about Death.  An interesting character, sure, especially for the big truths of Discworld (take that as you will); then there’s the witches led by Granny Weatherwax; then the most inept wizard on Discworld, Rincewind.  There’s a bunch of miscellaneous books.  But the ones that really got my attention centers on the City Watch (specifically, the Night Watch) of the self-proclaimed greatest city on Discworld, Ankh-Morpork.

It’s not exactly what you look for in fantasy cities.  The place is so corrupt that the law enforcement mostly relies upon the guilds to take care of offenses (it’s a bad idea to be an unlicensed thief, for example).  It’s a city without a king, but run by a Patrician named Havelock Vetinari, a schemer without peer.  However, there are individuals in the city who feel that maybe it’s time for a king to rule again-as long as the king is under their control.  And how better to find a “rightful king” than by having him slay a dragon?  Of course, the next trick to to get a dragon to the city.

Meanwhile, the tallest dwarf on the Disc named Carrot Ironfoundersson (he was adopted) is sent to the city by his father to mix a bit with his own people.  He’s steered towards joining the Night Watch, but he has far too noble an idea of just what the Watch is.  However, Carrot is just so filled with…well, righteousness that it doesn’t even enter his head to just do as the other officers do (all three of them).  And what a trio they are:  Sergeant Colon, a fellow who you could tell by looking would never promote any higher up; Corporal Nobbs, who barely qualifies as being human; and Captain Vimes, who runs the Night Watch half-drunk, but has a core sense of decency which hasn’t been let out nearly often enough.

Things start hitting the fan when the dragon makes an appearance….

This was a great book!  The secret society working to bring forth the dragon puts a new spin on crazy password rituals (not to mention demonstrating how low one can get in terms of intelligence).  Lord Vetinari is a fellow who thinks about twenty moves ahead of everyone (his dungeons are proof enough of that).  Nobbs is one of those folks who believes that if it ain’t nailed down, it’s his (and if he can pry it loose….).  But the characters who really stand out for me were Vimes and Carrot.  Carrot is one of those folks who just reek of being the Ultimate Boy Scout, but a little slow with metaphor; and Vimes is the classic hard-bitten detective (or he would be, if it were a different genre).

The city of Ankh-Morpork was also about as interesting as any of the characters.  One character observes that no invader has ever conquered the city, mostly because the city tends to absorb the invaders and make them its own.  It’s a place where laws are more of a guideline than an actual rule (although a certain character has a little trouble with that concept).  It’s a place where an orangutan could be a Librarian of the Unseen University for wizards, and know secrets that very few Librarians were permitted to learn.  And it’s a place where sometimes you have to work to get to the million-to-one chance…because it might just work.

The book is loaded with wit; finding a quote for this review was difficult because frankly, there were just too many good ones (like the one about the games the gods play, or the secret behind the dungeons, or the problem with throwing the book at a criminal).  Yet for all the humor, the plot of the book hangs together, and makes for an extremely satisfying read.  For anyone who felt sorry for and rooted for the men who, as mentioned in the book’s dedication, “rush into the room, attack the hero one at a time, and be slaughtered”, this one’s for you.

(2015 note:  last week, Terry Pratchett passed away.  RIP.)

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Remnant, by Sean Williams and Shane Dix

remnantWe have no intention of surrendering-not now, not ever.  You may win the occasional battle, Vorrik, but the Empire will always strike back.
-Grand Admiral Gilad Pellaeon of the Imperial Remnant

The New Republic is dead.  Long live the Galactic Federation of Free Alliances.  (What a cumbersome name)

The war against the Yuuzhan Vong continues in Remnant; and for a change, it looks as if the good guys are beginning to get an edge.  The Vong are now in the position of finding themselves spread pretty thin, and the Galactic Alliance is beginning to take advantage of that; at the same time, the Chief of State is concerned about overextending his forces for fear of being put in the same position.  But the events of Destiny’s Way have convinced Luke Skywalker that there is an alternative to winning the war-an alternative that won’t involve genocide.  While he remains unaware of it, it involves a world which his father visited, long ago-Zonama Sekot.

Our heroes, as a result, split off to perform two different missions.  Han and Leia, along with Tahiri, Jaina, and Jag (along with a squadron of fighters) head out to fill in some communications gaps, to find out the state of the rest of the galaxy.  Luke, Mara, Jacen, Danni Quee, and some Jedi head off to the Unknown Regions to see if they can find Zonama Sekot; but first, they want to make a couple of stops; the first of which involves attempting one more time to ask for an alliance with the Imperial Remnant.  Meanwhile, Nom Anor is stuck on Yuuzhan’tar, a little bitter about his fall from grace (as it were); he quickly falls into a group of Shamed Ones, who have started a cult with a most surprising object of veneration.

To be honest, I didn’t find the Nom Anor portions of the book to be all that engrossing until the very end; he’s working to find a way back into positions of power, but I couldn’t really get a handle on how he expected to do that.  However, his plan is typically self-serving, and audacious enough to have a chance-and it’ll really irritate the Supreme Overlord and just about everyone else.  If there’s one aspect of this trilogy I’m really looking forward to, it’s seeing of Anor can pull the rabbit out of the hat and come up with something really insane!

Han and Leia’s mission illustrates the continuing dangers of the Yuuzhan Vong; while the Alliance is doing all right at the moment, worlds are still in terrible danger-illustrated when they visit the Koornacht Cluster, site of the Black Fleet Crisis (one of the less thrilling trilogies, in my humble opinion), a place that holds bad memories for Han.  The parts of the mission which made me pay the most attention, though, is the change in the character of Tahiri; she hasn’t been quite the same since Anakin’s passing, but now she’s having problems that she can’t quite explain (or won’t), and they may have to do with Anakin, and they may have to do with the experiments that physically changed her.  It’s an open question how this will all pan out-but early indications aren’t looking too good.

But the title of this book is Remnant, and it’s Luke’s mission that encompasses the greater part of the book.  The Imperial Fleet is literally kicked out of their capital planet of Bastion as the Vong hit the Empire hard, including a serious injury to Grand Admiral Pellaeon.  This means that the Jedi have to deal with the Moffs without Pellaeon’s help; Jacen reveals that he has a decent talent at diplomacy, although the Imperial Moffs aren’t exactly rational and receptive individuals.  The heroes are drawn into the coming battle at Yaga Minor, which contains shipyards and is the retreat location of the Fleet.  In spite of the danger, it also turns out to be a great opportunity to draw the Remnant into the Galactic Alliance as well.

Remnant proves to be a pretty solid start to the Force Heretic trilogy, with enough subplots rolling around the major plot that make me feel that the next couple of books will be just as good.  The Galactic Alliance is beginning to find itself (it’s not there yet, but getting there), even though I mildly hate the name; and the heroes of the Star Wars saga are all on board with the story.  And seeing that the end of the New Jedi Order books is coming up in November (well, at least the Vong war, anyway), I think we are in for a wild ride.

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Mordant’s Need: Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through, by Stephen R. Donaldson

Please don’t judge Mordant by me, my lady.  The need is real.  And it’s urgent, my lady.  Parts of the realm have already begun to die.  People are dying-people who don’t have anything to do with Imagery or kings and just want to live their lives in peace.  And the threat increases every day.  Alend and Cadwal are never exactly quiet.  Now they’re forming armies.  And King Joyce doesn’t do anything.  The heart has gone out of him.  Wise men smell treachery everywhere.
But the gravest peril doesn’t come from the High King of Cadwal or the Alend Monarch.  It comes from Imagery.
-Apt Geraden of Domne explains Mordant’s Need to Terisa Morgan

This pair of books is probably the oldest batch I’ve reviewed to date.  I can’t recall when Captains Outrageous came out, but these were mid to late ’80s.  I doubt they can be found in the traditional bookstores, although I do believe Amazon at least still carries them.  And I’m certain they can be found in used bookstores.

It’s a safe bet that I wouldn’t be reviewing books written that far back if they weren’t any good.  The fact of the matter is, I thought these books were extremely good.  Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through both contain a great deal of story, but don’t have so many characters that you have to worry about losing track of who’s who.  Longtime readers of Stephen Donaldson will see nothing unusual from the two protagonists.  From the other books I’ve read of his (his Thomas Covenant books and the Gap series), I’ve seen a pattern of heroes who at least start out in a psychologically shaky state.

Here’s the synopsis in a nutshell.  Terisa Morgan is a young woman who works in a mission (in what we laughingly refer to as the real world); she tends to keep to herself and often has bouts of wondering if she even exists.  To that end, she surrounds herself at home with mirrors so that she can reassure herself of that fact.  Things get interesting when a young man named Geraden appears through one of her mirrors, and turns her life upside down.  He brings her to a troubled land called Mordant, ruled by King Joyce, who seems to have lost all interest in retaining the kingdom he had built.  The timing of his disinterest could hardly be worse, as the neighboring nations are looking to take the land for themselves, and there are Imagers-wizards who work magic through mirrors-who are working to destroy Mordant from within.

While Geraden tries to convince Terisa that she’s the champion that will save Mordant, it seems that very few others in Mordant believe it.  Castellan Lebbick is a rather…coarse individual who thinks she’s an enemy of the king.  The master Imagers Gilbur and Eremis have conflicting opinions-one considers her a waste, while the other is attracted to her.  The king’s closest friend, Adept Havelock, is insane.  Terisa spends a fair amount of time in the first quarter of the book trying to figure out what’s going on, when nobody will help her out.

Once she does begin to understand, all hell breaks loose.  I can’t really go any further without spoiling things, but rest assured that every character in the book serves a purpose (well, all the named ones, anyway).  The books take Terisa all over Mordant, and we get a fair amount of insight on how the two neighboring nations view things; it isn’t as black and white as it seems.  The book also has a considerable amount of intrigue behind it.  I think that any book that involves itself with the royalty almost has to involve treachery and intrigue as a requirement!  There’s also a strong undercurrent of romance in these books, which drives some characters to do some pretty dangerous (as in potential lethal) things.

I was also impressed with how Donaldson handled magic.  Mirrors are the big thing in Mordant, because an Imager can translate an image from the mirror into reality.  They can even translate people-although it can only be done safely through a curved glass, because translation through flat glass drives a fellow insane-Havelock is the proof of that.  And worst of all for Terisa, it is said that to observe one’s own reflection in flat glass is to go catatonic, a victim of a translation that goes nowhere.  How she deals with that blow is an important part of her development in Mordant’s Need.

Donaldson put together a good pair of books here.  If you can find them, either in a bookstore or in a library, they’re well worth the time it takes to read them.  They aren’t what you’d call heavy in the action department, but it is plot-heavy and character-heavy, and it’s got a great story with twists and turns.  What more can you ask from a book or two?

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Lesser Evil, by Robert Simpson

mgamma4I just wanted to thank you for your vote of confidence in me.  But I’m confused about what you said regarding my Starfleet status.  My commission was always supposed to be temporary.  I resigned it when I returned from Cardassia after the war.
Did you?  We must have lost the paperwork.
-Colonel (Commander?) Kira Nerys of DS9 and Admiral L. J. Akaar of Starfleet

Lesser Evil is the grand finale of the Mission Gamma books.  But is it truly grand?

On Bajor, things have gone to hell.  A major figure has just been assassinated, and it looks like someone in the Federation’s to blame.  At a time when Bajor was dead certain to be joining the United Federation of Planets, a bold move has derailed the process.  Needless to say, Kira Nerys is not happy with seeing the bright future that was opening up near the end of the last book go down the toilet.  For that matter, the Federation ambassadors aren’t too thrilled by it, either-and when a cloaking signature is found heading away from the station is detected, a Starfleet ship is dispatched to pursue, with a Bajoran officer (hm, wonder who) tagging along to help.  Ro Laren, on the other hand, isn’t at all certain that all is at it seems; and as chief of station security, she takes it very personally….

In the meantime, the mission in the Gamma Quadrant is reaching conclusion.  The previous books only have touched upon some of the highlights, as chapter one shows that they’ve made a bunch of new friends, some new enemies, and essentially done a pretty good job on fulfilling Starfleet’s charter to explore strange new worlds, and seek out new life and new civilizations.  But the Defiant stumbles upon something that isn’t at all new, and potentially very, very dangerous-and for Commander Elias Vaughn, something very personal-something that overrides his better judgment, but something he can not ignore.

And in a bit of a subplot, Joseph Sisko, father of that famous captain, is recovering physically from a collapse, but emotionally he’s a wreck, dealing with not only the loss of his son, but possibly his grandson as well.  We get to meet Ben Sisko’s sister (I didn’t know he had a sister; I guess I don’t qualify as being a serious Trekkie, I guess!), who seems to have a good head on her shoulders, but can’t figure out what to do about her father.  Luckily, her sister-in-law has a desperate idea that might help.

Of the four Mission Gamma books, this one certainly had the smallest page count; it also was the least impressive.  If this were an episode on television, I’d say this was a filler episode.  The encounter in the Gamma Quadrant seems contrived (even given the way the Orbs affected Vaughn, this stretches coincidence way too far); while I don’t have a problem with certain aspects of it (and I hate having to tip-toe around it, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise), the personal aspect makes little sense to me.  I also have a problem with the way it all turns out in the end.  This isn’t to say that there weren’t good points to it-because it does fill in some gaps in Vaughn’s background, which is good; and I did like the reasoning behind the reasons why the Defiant detected the signal leading to this encounter (although I refer to the personal reasons, not the coincidental nature of it).

On the Alpha Quadrant front; well, I didn’t see this one coming.  My predictions foresaw a certain shadowy organization (although I won’t rule out their involvement completely-they can make a guy paranoid!) behind all this.  However, the explanations create a nice tie between DS9 and the Next Generation-and explain a bit on just what was going on with Shakaar Edon before it all hit the fan in the last book.  Ro gets a chance to show off a bit, with a little help of the local Jem’Hadar soldier (nice to see him being useful again instead of scaring the locals).  I was also happy to see Kira getting a chance to show off a bit too, joining the Starfleet pursuit-especially when certain truths become known, which are setting things up for a very different kind of conflict that won’t necessarily be fought in space.  I’m also a bit cheered to see a little bit of the maverick in Admiral Akaar; “lost the paperwork”, indeed!

While Lesser Evil itself didn’t leave me with the same feeling as the rest of the series had, it did manage to put together a passable story (well, at least in the Alpha Quadrant); and we get to see the return of a number of characters-including the most tortured man in Starfleet, the slimiest character in the Dominion, and the-well, heck, I’ll leave the last couple as a surprise (and no fair peeking at the inside back cover).  It does advance the main storyline of Deep Space Nine, but it didn’t have the same “meat” to it as the other books had.

In closing, the Mission Gamma series seems to be pretty good; while it often seemed that the goings-on at Bajor overshadowed the Defiant mission, it did manage to blend the continuing storyline that fans of DS9 enjoy with the episodic stories that characterized the other Star Trek series.  We got insight on the most mysterious of the current cast, closure on some storylines, movement on the strange relationship between Quark and Ro, and a peek at the potential future for Bajor and the Federation.  All in all, I’d say Mission Gamma was a very respectable series.

So far, the Deep Space Nine relaunch continues to gather steam!

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

Insurrection, by Thomas M. Reid

insurrectionYou could have trusted us.  We gave you no reason not to.
You are a dark elf.  That alone is enough for me not to trust you, but beyond that, if you think we’re going to trust anyone in this cursed city, you’re the biggest fool I’ve met in a while.
-Halisstra Melarn and Pharaun Mizzrym

Ingredients:  one underground city.  Add a population of dark elves, complete with slave races and their own tendency for backstabbing and betrayal.  Add a distinct lack of communication with their goddess.  Stir until the nature of the dark elves start them looking to take advantage of each other, and the slave races start looking for payback.  Finally, add a small group of powerful dark elves from another city into the mix.  Shake well.  That pretty much sums up the plot of Insurrection, the second of the War of the Spider Queen books.  Don’t consider this a bad thing, though; I’ve omitted some of the secret ingredients that would spoil the book.  But let’s see where things are at now.

After Dissolution made a general mess out of the city of Menzoberranzan, Thomas Reid brings us the drow city of Ched Nasad, and makes a bigger mess.  Triel Baenre has sent off her sister, Quenthel, to find out if Lolth’s silence extends beyond Menzoberranzan, and to “reclaim” some trade goods there that are “rightfully” theirs.  Sent with her are the pair Ryld Argith and Pharaun Mizzrym, a draegloth demon called Jeggred (who has some really vile eating habits) and Valas Hune, a mercenary scout with an unparalleled talent for stealth.  The final member of their little crew is Faeryl Zauvirr, who is at last going home.

Sure sounds like a simple mission, doesn’t it?  Of course, it’s never that easy.  First, they have to get to the city-and they are harried through the caverns by an alu demon and her small army of orcish-like servitors.  It doesn’t help that Quenthel is always keen on asserting her authority, ignoring even good advice (nothing like a little ego).  While they’re trying to reach the city, an army of duergar dwarves have quietly infiltrated Ched Nasad, with help from one of the Houses there, to prepare for a little of the usual treachery that marks the time in a drow city.

I rather liked the descriptions of Ched Nasad.  Unlike Menzoberranzan, which always struck me as a city like many others, if you got past the underground part of it, Ched Nasad is suspended among giant web strands (earning it the nickname of “The City of Shimmering Webs”), with buildings being built from what look like egg sacs.  It also makes you wonder what spun those webs; you don’t want to know….  Still, the city does have some commonality with Menzoberranzan-the place is beginning to get nasty, as the knowledge of Lolth’s silence begins to spread, and anarchy begins to fall upon the city.  By the time our protagonists arrive, things are just about ready to really get out of hand.

Believe it or not, roughly half of the book concerns getting out of Ched Nasad.  While this may seem like a bad thing, Reid does a creditable job on keeping things moving quickly and in an exciting manner.  I won’t go into much detail about why the characters are leaving, but if you’ve got a handle on drow psychology, it’s not hard to figure out.  Let’s just say that it’s an object lesson as to the kind of things that happen when you don’t think your plans through 100 percent.

On the character front, Pharaun continues to be the break-out character; it’s amazing that he’s lasted so long in a society that does not encourage wit (or sassing off to a priestess who holds the power of life and death).  Overly clever, confident, powerful, and possessed of a sharp sense of humor, it makes him stand out from almost all the other drow that we’ve seen in other Forgotten Realms books (except for Jarlaxle in Salvatore’s books; but that character’s an exception in many respects).  I was taken by surprise by some of Faeryl’s actions, even though it seems obvious in hindsight; we also get a pair of additions to our merry band, which may end up causing some friction down the road (as if there wasn’t enough already!).  And the major plot is advanced as well, as we discover just exactly how universal Lolth’s silence is, and the possibility of another nose being poked into this whole business.  And the one-page prologue sure hints at really, really bad things for the Realms if I’m interpreting it right….

Insurrection continues the War in high fashion, and it’s quickly becoming apparent that it’s not a war in any conventional sense; it’s not even totally a civil war.  Rather, it’s a war for the survival of an entire culture, and so far, it’s failing pretty badly.  But then, it’s still very early in the series; in many ways, the fun’s just starting.  This book continues the quality of the first book, and I find that I’m regretting picking up this series less and less.  I’m happy that I had that empty slot….!

Categories: Forgotten Realms, War of the Spider Queen | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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