Star Trek: Voyager – Her Klingon Soul by Michael Jan Friedman Book Review – 3.5 Stars

Her Klingon Soul

A lot of the Star Trek tie in novels are nonsense, but some are fun nonsense, whilst others are just bad.  When done correctly they can throw off some of the burden of being on TV and be a fun adventure that would cost too much to shoot.  ‘Her Klingon Soul’ by Michael Jan Friedman is a prime example of when they get it right.  Yes the story is silly, but at least it is great fun.

B’Elanna Torres has always been caught between her Human side and her Klingon side.  It annoys her no end that people assume that she is a certain way, therefore the Klingon Day of Honor is always going to make her blood boil.  The crew of the Voyager think that she wants to celebrate it, but B’Elanna just wants to be left alone.  Perhaps a stint on a prison planet will help?  This is where B’Elanna and Harry Kim find themselves once captured.  Can the Klingon/Human use both sides of her personality to survive the radioactive mine?

‘Soul’ is part of a wider series of Star Trek books called ‘Day of Honor’.  They all purport to have links to the Klingon holiday, but most times this is tenuous.  This particular outing is really just another adventure that happens to be set on that day.  You get a little bit of to and froing from B’Elanna about how the day feels, but there is little reason that her thought processes could not have happened another day.  She is constantly aware of her dual personality.

With the shackles of the Day of Honor loosened you are provided with a fun action story.  The main thrust of the book is B’Elanna and Kim on a prison planet.  It is here that B’Elanna is able to study her two sides.  Can she lead the prisoners in a rebellion?  Friedman does a good job of creating a believable prison planet and has some dastardly villains.  The various fights, riots and escape attempts make for some entertaining reading.  We do learn a little bit about the Day of Honor, but it does not interfere with the action.

‘Her Klingon’ soul is not the greatest piece of science fiction ever written, but it certainly one of the more fun Star Trek tie in books.  The action is breezy and a lot happens over a short space of time.  Out of all the books in the ‘Day of Honor’ series, it is the most fun and possibly the best.

3.5 Stars

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The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly Book Review – 2.5 Stars

Great zoo china

With some books it is hard to avoid what inspired them.  The number of Harry Potter or Da Vinci Code rip offs that flooded the shelves showed that there was money in homage.  One author who inspired more than a few tech thrillers was Michael Crichton whose untimely death left a huge hole in the market.  Books like Jurassic Park, Sphere and Congo certainly had an effect on me growing up and also author Matthew Reilly.  Reilly is an author known for high stake thrills that borders on silly abandon, but with ‘The Great Zoo of China’ he released his obvious homage to Crichton.  The book even says Jurassic Park with Dragons on the cover.

Dr Cassandra Jane is one of the world’s leading experts on reptiles and when she is flown first class to China she thinks she is going to see some new developments in the research of this area.  Writing up her report for The National Geographic, she is in for more than she imagines when these reptiles turn out to be dragons.  Can the Chinese’s ambitious plan to open the world’s greatest zoo work?  What could possible go wrong containing hundreds of winged monsters?

Books by Reilly should have a clear sign on the front that says all readers should abandon their brains before entering.  From his Scarecrow books to his Jack West books, they have all been epic in scale and as daft as a bag full of brushes.  ‘Great Zoo’ does nothing to reverse this trend, but for a while it seemed to be a legitimate science fiction thriller.  Reilly’s slight obsession with the Chinese being a big threat is apparent in this book again as we are introduced to the politics that surrounds the zoo.  How can China really take over from the US?  They can be richer, but when all the media is from America, they will always be second.  Coke, Disney, the Chinese need their own killer brand.  This is the zoo.  This mix of technology and political wrangling is intriguing, making you think you are in for some geopolitics.  Not really the case, as Reilly sullies things slightly by having a dig at the Chinese appropriating everything and not creating anything of their own – European scientists and architecture in the zoo.  Race also links to the order of deaths – where are you from?  This could determine if you live or die.

With the political thrills being a little off, it is up to the action to deliver and here Reilly really hits the reader.  Over and over again like you are a 90lb dweeb taking on the heavy weight champion.  Once the action starts, it is relentless.  This is good as it is fun, but Reilly’s writing style takes some getting used to.  He uses lots of exclamation marks and has the habit of saying the same thing twice.  He also uses the word literally several times – he is literally writing the word literally in a piece of literature.  I find this annoying and naïve, but also a little endearing.  There is no one quite like him that I read.

There is no denying the links between this book and Jurassic Park, the execution is very similar; a group of characters trapped in a theme park like place, being chased by dinosaur like creatures.  Reilly’s characters even admit this is the case and mention the film/book a couple of times.  It is nice to see that Reilly states the link, but it does drag you out of the story each time it happens.  ‘The Great Zoo of China’ is a naively written book that steps a little too much on Jurassic Park’s toes, yet it remains good fun throughout.  If you can embrace the dodgy writing and dubious action, you are in for some brainless entertainment.

2.5 Stars

Armageddon Sky by L.A. Graf Book Review – 2 Stars

Armageddon Sky

The Klingons are one of the core races in the Star Trek universe and also one of my least favourites, which is a shame as they crop up all over the place.  The ‘Day of Honor’ series of books all concentrated on the one day of the year that Klingons are meant to respect the honour of their enemies.  The unfortunate thing about Klingon honour is that it seems to be used to do pretty much anything; it was honourable to murder them all could easily be it was honourable not to murder them all.  Some of the books in the ‘Honor’ series have been fun science fiction thrillers, but ‘Armageddon Sky’ by L.A. Graf highlights what can be wrong with the Klingons.

The books starts off at a pace and does not stop.  The vast majority of important crew from Deep Space Nine have set off on the Defiant to investigate some Klingons trapped on a planet that looks like it is about be destroyed.  With a Klingon ship in orbit preventing any people from being beamed off the planet, can the crew help planet side?  Also, can they deal with the frankly ridiculous nature of Klingon honour that means the people trapped are seemingly happy to die?

I have been impressed with how many of the ‘Honor’ books have managed to make Klingons actually make sense, but Graf fails and instead falls into all the traps that make them one of my least favourite Star Trek races.  Their stubbornness for honour can often just be stupid.  The trapped clan would rather die than make some simple effort to save themselves.  Rather than follow the Prime Directive and leave them to kill themselves, for some reason the crew of DS9 get involved.

‘Armageddon Sky’ has two settings – musing and action.  You flip from talking about honour and then an action set piece, back and forth.  The problem with this is the honour bits are boring and you don’t really mind if the aliens are doomed, they want to be.  It also seems very odd that Captain Sisko would seemingly empty out his entire Space Station of experiences personnel.  The difference between DS9 and say Next Gen was that the crew were in a static environment.  Danger coming to them is one thing, but heading out to it is another.  There is no explanation why Sisko would put in danger so many major officers.  Leave most behind and as the Captain you should stay with your station.

I like a Star Trek tie in novel, but when reading them you have to be prepared for a very varied standard.  ‘Armageddon Sky’ falls into the weaker category.  A daft idea with daft Klingons, with Sisko putting in danger a daft number of high value crew members.  A better story would have allowed you to suspend your disbelief, this is Trek after all, but the weak motive of the Klingon sense of “Honor” means that all the problems glare.

2 Stars

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline Book Review – 2 Stars

Raedy

For a book to be truly great it must have a strong idea that is executed well.  Many great authors write well, but produce books that are samey and a little dull.  More common is the debut author that arrives on the scene with a fresh and exciting idea, only to have a writing style that lets their work down.  In ‘Ready Player One’, Ernest Cline had a winning idea that caught the zeitgeist of online computing and virtual reality mixed with pop culture and social media.  With this book he had the world of science fiction at his feet, so why did he write it for 12 year olds?

Wade Watts lives in the type of dystopian future that seems increasingly en vogue in science fiction.  Life is miserable, except for the select few.  Wade is not one of these few and instead he spends his days living in the Matrix like world of OASIS, an online environment were anything can happen.  The inventor of OASIS died and left his fortune behind to anyone who could unravel his riddles.  Wade sets out on a quest that will see him compete against the entire world, including a shadowy organisation.

You will find ‘Ready’ in the adult section of any bookstore and it has sold very well, although it reads like juvenile literature.  The book is popular enough that the Steven Spielberg film is being released soon.  The studios probably needed to get Spielberg on board as without him I imagine that he would be suing.  The world of ‘Ready’ is all about repurposing IPs and in this day of pirate streaming videos a book that takes IPs willy-nilly works.  Large parts of the book owe a great debt to 80s culture; the films, TV, books, games, RPGs of the time.  This is deliberately put to the forefront by Cline, but at what point do his ideas cease to actually exist?

Take one quest that Wade finds himself.  He is in the film ‘War Games’ playing the Matthew Broderick role.  To win he must play the part exactly right.  Cline is taking the goodwill and in built history of this film and using it for himself.  This happens over and over again.  The actual ideas that Cline brings to the table are not always that good, but the constant syphoning of 80s culture is.  Is there no copyright within fiction?  Did Cline get consent from the countless IPs his book vampirically borrowed from?

If you are a fan of all things 80s, ‘Ready’ will be a fun read.  You probably need to know quite a bit if you are going to get a lot of the references.  When Clines own ideas come into play, they are a mixed bag.  His future world is an arresting one and sections set in towers of caravans and multinational conglomerates work well.  However, his characters do not.  There is a naivety to Wade and the other online gamers that is not appealing.  They find themselves in life or death scenarios, but act like they are 10.  The emotional heart of this book is a little embarrassing and makes you think that you are reading a ‘Sweet Valley High’ book.  Perhaps this level of innocence was meant to be in keeping with the 80s stylings of the book, but it just felt mawkish.

Nestled somewhere amongst the harvested ideas and poor characterisation is a reasonable science fiction adventure.  It feels like Cline became too wrapped up in 80 nostalgia that he forgot to keep what was new at the forefront.  Perhaps he, or someone close, saw that the 80s angle was onto a winner, but I for one would like more 2010+ in my books and will stick to watching the original classics of the 80s.

2 Stars

The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts Book Review – 2.5 Stars

Real Town Murders

If you had the choice would you live your life online?  In the future this may be possible, with the development of full realised virtual reality you may feel that the online world is more real than your own.  Even today we spend hours each day looking at phones or checking statuses.  The only thing is that with most people online, some of us will have to stay in the real world to deal with unexpected events – such as a real town murder.

Alma is a Private Investigator who works exclusively in the real world, this means that she refuses to enter The Shine – an online ecosystem that the vast majority of the population have given themselves to.  She is tasked with solving what appears to be the impossible murder of a man whose corpse has been found in a newly manufactured car.  Nothing that strange about that?  Except the fact that the car was made in a fully automated factory that cannot allow humans to enter.  So how did he get in the trunk?

‘‘The Real-Town Murders’’ by Adam Roberts is the type of ideas science fiction that comes up with some thoughtful scenarios, but does not execute them brilliantly.  There is a real issue in science fiction of trying to create both an interesting futuristic premise, but also write an entertaining story.  With this in mind, the PI is a very popular science fiction mash up – these crime stories are often quite linear and allow you to drape your dystopian ideals around it without destroying the central story thread.  However, whilst crime fiction may be easy to write, good crime fiction is not so easy.

Roberts introduces some great concepts from the very beginning.  The idea of a real world and a virtual world is not new; ‘‘The Matrix’’ and ‘‘Surrogates’’ spring to mind, but setting the entire story in the real world is.  Alma finds herself walking around empty streets only interacting with robots and AI.  The only humans to be seen are those locked into The Shrine who have sent their bodies out in mech suits to prevent their muscles atrophying.  There is also the clever use of Alma’s partner as a timing device as she is suffering from incurable disease that only Alma can treat every four hours.  This means that whatever actions Alma takes, she knows she has to be home soon.

It is not the science fiction elements of the book that let proceedings down, but the crime and action.  For some reason an intelligent book devolves into a series of action set pieces that are a bit dumb and a bit dull.  One scene even has our hero hiding in the nose of a famous bard.  In the right book this scene would have worked, but in ‘‘Real-World’’ it just feels a little cringy as the tone was off.  These tonal issues also reflect in Alma’s attitude at times.  She is a fast quipping PI, even when she is suffering from a possibly fatal case of nanobot stomach.  Alma seems to pay no heed to her impending demise and waffles on as normal.

Roberts has undertaken what a surprising number of science fiction writers have attempted before and that is to splice their normal genre with crime.  Like many of these other authors, it has been the crime element that has let the side down, it is not as easy as some make it seem.  Good sci fi and crime can be intelligent, but Roberts decides that more action is needed to spice up the crime case.  All this does is produce meaningless scenes that detract from what is a very interesting central conceit.  Original review on thebookbag.co.uk

2.5 Stars

 

 

Change Agent by Daniel Suarez Book Review – 3 Stars

Change

I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I had blue eyes, I wish, I wish, I wish.  In the genetic lottery that is our lives we are given a selection from our mother and our father to work with.  However, although they may be over six foot, you could still end up being shorter.  You can’t currently choose what coding you get, but what if you could cherry pick the best aspects of your family traits?  It would be a great way to save people from hereditary disease, but would we end up with a world full of identikit humans all following the latest genetic fashions?  In the future someone would need to be in charge of stopping science going too far.

In the year 2045, Interpol Agent Kenneth Durand is one such person.  His computer analytic skills have allowed him to pinpoint where illegal genetic labs are and he has managed to close hundreds down.  Unbeknownst to him, his success has been noticed by the shadowy Huli Jing cartel who are willing to splice Durand’s very DNA if it will stop his work.  With Durand no longer living in the skin he was born with, will anyone believe that he is not a ruthless gangster, but the missing Agent they are looking for?

Science Fiction is often a genre of ideas, but you need to blend these with a compelling narrative.  Daniel Suarez has a history of some great ideas; an evil scientist downloading his mind into the internet, or a prison made up of people who invented things that the government did not want to announce.  However, he also has a spotted history when executing these ideas in a way that does them justice.  Whilst [[Influx by Daniel Suarez]] was intelligent and action packed, [[Daemon by Daniel Suarez]] was just action packed.  His latest effort, ‘‘Change Agent’’ tries to balance the two sides of the author, but does not quite succeed.

There are some great concepts in ‘‘Change’’.  The world building is effortless and in no time you are in a believable world in which the richer middle classes will gladly go to illegal gene banks to improve the chances of their child.  This seems all too believable in today’s world of paid schools that this could happen.  All the elements on genetics and computer algorithms are treated intelligently by Suarez and make for compelling reading. Why then does he decide to make the book descend into a series of worldwide chase scenes?

The book stops exploring what it is that makes us human and becomes a sort of action packed sequel to ‘‘Face Off’’.  Durand runs from country to country, leaving dead bodies in his wake, just hoping to get home to his own body and family.  His character is very odd; one minute a sensitive family man and computer engineer, the next the ex-Navy knife expert.  It is almost as if Suarez realised that his mild mannered hero was too soft for all the action he wanted, so sellotaped some military background onto him.

Action should be a force for exhilaration and fun, but often in book form it is just empty hyperbole.  That is the case here.  When the book slows down it improves.  We glimpse moments of intelligence and a future dystopia that is worthy of reading about.  However, Suarez is bent on throwing the reader around in yet another empty headed action sequence as if he had the movie rights in his mind when putting pen to paper.  There is an excellent science fiction book trying to escape ‘‘Change Agent’’, it’s just that the author drowns it in action.

3 Stars

Star Trek The Next Generation – Ancient Blood by Diane Carey Book Review – 3 Stars

Ancient Blood

The Klingons are not my favourite Star Trek species, they bang on about honour so much that it hamstrings their entire existence.  Like with so many concepts on the Trek, they seem to use honour as it suits them; I want to fight, I don’t want to fight – honour permits it.  The concept is so ingrained in the species and Star Trek Lore that a series of books all about it where written called ‘Day of Honour’, all of which told a tale surrounding the annual event in the Klingon calendar where they really get into the minutia of what honour means to them.  ‘Star Trek The Next Generation – Ancient Blood’ concentrates on perhaps the best known Klingon of them all – Worf.  Oh and his annoying son Alex.

The Day of Honour is upon the crew of the Enterprise once more and this is a special year for Worf as he wants to show his son what honour truly means.  However, intergalactic politics have other plans and Worf is instead needed to travel to the remote planet of Sindikash to try and uncover corruption at the very highest level.  It is up to Captain Picard to teach Alex about honour in the form of a holodeck adventure about one of Alex’s ancestors.  The concept of honour will permeate with both Alex and Worf when their actions have real consequences.

‘Blood’ starts off in one of the most intriguing ways I have ever read in a Star Trek book; it is bloody with a capital B.  The crew are tasked with finding two witnesses who are going to testify against the incumbent leader of Sindikash.  Instead they find a ship in which everyone is dead, tortured by Klingons in a grisly manner.  These opening violent scenes are a shock to a Star Trek fan as the books are usually full of people getting offed, but normally in a 12A way.  Perhaps this would be a Trek novel that is a little different?

Any hope of this are short lived as the book soon returns to a normal format as the crew once again bend the Prime Directive.  When should they interfere with the politics of a sovereign planet?  When the outcome to an election may affect the Federation. This entire book should really be 20 pages long as Picard should have said that Sindikash is a planet free to make its own errors.  However, this being The Next Gen, they cannot help but force the will of the Federation onto others.  Although written in the 90s, this book has parallels in the politics of Britain today.  I found this very interesting, but perhaps not what author Diane Carey was thinking about when writing.

Running parallel to the story of Sindikash is Alex’s coming of age story.  This is unfortunately set on the holodeck, the worst location on any Starship.  What you essentially have is two stories; an action adventure with Worf on a planet and an action adventure with Alex during the American War of Independence.  Flipping between the two can be jarring, especially when the Worf story is superior by far.

However, as the book progresses, things start to come together.  The choices that Worf makes due to his honour puts him up against Alex.  The outcome is not as warm and fuzzy as you may expect from a Trek novel, but quite dark.  Far from being a lazy reason to tar Klingons with the same brush, Carey actually uses the concept of honour to pose some interesting questions.  There is enough friction in this book to make it an interesting read for Trek fans and the action scenes with Worf are good.  As matters are so bogged down in all things honorific, it is not a book that non-trek fans should seek out.

3 stars