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Happy Birthday Star Trek

50 years ago today yesterday, the first episode of Star Trek (now known as ‘The Original Series’) aired.  Sci-fi fandom hasn’t been the same since.  Hundreds of episodes of TV across five decades, scores of books and comics, big budget movies, video games, copycats and parodies, Trek holds a special place in our pop culture.  Star Wars may have the cool laser swords and planet-exploding superweapons, Star Trek – for all the added fistfights – made you a better person.

The Original Series was the first show I ever watched that dealt with real social issues which despite the show’s 1960’s roots, were still relevant.  Star Trek made you think about the consequences of the action, even as they had to shoehorn in a ridiculous fight with papier-mâché rocks to try and stay on the air.  Sure, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” may have been heavy handed, but for ten year old me this was the first show that dealt with racism in a way I understood.  I came for the Frank Gorshin, but left asking my parents why those two men thought they were so different.

But the best part of Star Trek was how it brought my family together.  My dad, I think, was the driving force, he loved TOS due to the “Wagon Train to the stars” aspect.  I can still remember us gathering to watch Encounter at Farpoint together.  Looking back, it wasn’t the greatest premiere episode, but it still had a sense of wonder about it that captured my attention.  It didn’t hurt that it had John de Lancie mugging for the camera as Q.  Most likely I hit The Next Generation at exactly the right time – young enough to forgive the inconsistency of the first few seasons, but then maturing with the show as it truly hit its stride a few years in.  That led into Deep Space Nine, which remains one of my all-time favorite shows, and the one that best continued the Trek legacy of examining real-world issues through a sci-fi lens.

I am looking forward to the new Star Trek: Discovery show, as it looks like it may be a return to form for Star Trek after the uneven, action-oriented ‘Kelvin-verse’ movies.  And if it doesn’t, there’s always “The Squire of Gothos”, “The Trouble with Tribbles”, “Inner Light”, “The Visitor”, “In The Pale Moonlight”…

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Books Review

Book Review – The City Stained Red (Bring Down Heaven #1) by Sam Sykes

I became aware of Sam Sykes mostly via Twitter, and his interactions with Myke Cole, Daniel Abraham and other authors I followed.  He was funny, and when the first book in his new series was discounted, I took a shot.  The City Stained Red, book one of the “Bring Down Heaven” series, follows an adventuring band led by Lenk, which resembles your favorite D&D group’s mismatched murder hobos as they attempt to enter the city of Cier’Djaal to get money owed to them.  Lenk wants to settle down and stop all the killing, you see, but if you know how things go for adventuring groups, things go sideways in a hurry.

I enjoyed the book enough that I’m seeking out the rest in the series.  It’s funny but not afraid to have a few serious bits, and while most of the characters aren’t particularly likable, they ARE interesting.  My main complaint is that the book sort of stops instead of ends.  It’s a hard balance for an early book in a series – to end in a satisfying way, yet set up the next book – and Sykes came up a hair short of that on this one.  Still, it’s a worthwhile read.

 

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Books Review

Book Review – Archivist Wasp

For months, one of my online friends has been recommending Archivist Wasp to pretty much everybody.  It was on my list to check out some day, but when it went on sale a few weeks back she decided to just gift the book to a few of us and be done with it.  I’m very glad she did.

At first glance, the world seems like a typical fantasy realm, where you take a medieval setting and add something weird (ghosts, in this case).  ‘Wasp’ – not her real name – is the Archivist, one of a group of young women marked at birth by a goddess, and taught to catch and study the ghosts that linger all around the landscape.  It’s a brutal life, as the role of Archivist is won through, and held onto, via knife fights to the death versus ‘upstart’ challengers.

Even that life is turned upside down when Wasp meets a special ghost – one that has no problem communicating with her.  He shows her worlds never glimpsed by normal people, and shakes the foundations of everything she was raised to believe.

Archivist Wasp is a quick read that you’ll want to finish in one sitting.  If there’s one flaw, it’s that it relies a bit much on flashbacks to the ghost’s previous life.  But I was dying for that information so it didn’t bother me.  Felt like the flashbacks to the island on Arrow in that way.  Anyway, check the Kindle preview below and buy it, you’ll be glad you did.

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Books Review

Book Review – Firefight (Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners #2)

I enjoyed the first book in the Reckoners series (Steelheart) despite some silly YA trappings that felt like they were there just to check a box on a form (let’s have some new slang for the kids!) but I’m a sucker for some good comic book action, and I like the hook here.  In Sanderson’s world, anyone who gets powers (which started after an event called Calamity, a red star appearing in the sky), turns evil.  Firefight is a very good middle novel of a trilogy, as it both delves deeper into the question of WHY that happens, as well as amps up the danger for David and the other Reckoners heading into the final chapter.

In Firefight, David and Prof head to what once was Manhattan to seek out the Epic Regalia, who has been sending Epics to Newcago hunting them.  The intrigue only increases as it becomes clear Prof and Regalia had some history – possibly even before becoming Epics themselves.  David is also looking for Megan/Firefight, who he believes is the key to his understanding the link between Epics, their powers turning them evil, and their weaknesses as well.  Oh, and he loves her.

It’s a quick read, and it manages to both have a solid cliffhanger ending and not feel like it just cut off halfway through a story.  If you don’t mind the YA trappings, it’s worth checking out this series as a palate cleanser between your latest massive high fantasy series or space opera.

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Books Review

Book Review – Star Wars: A New Dawn

Are you watching the new Star Wars cartoon, Rebels?  Do you want to know more about Kanan?  Well, it takes quite a while to get interesting, but A New Dawn is your jam.  There’s insight into Kanan (then under his real name) and his training as a Padawan before Order 66, the first meeting with Hera, and a cyborg efficiency expert as the villain.  Okay, only some of those things are cool.  At the end of the day, that’s what keeps this book from getting out of mediocrity – John Jackson Miller seems convinced that all of the particular world he’s built and the political junk between the villain and the guy trying to take over his position are much more interesting than finding out more about a hidden potential Jedi.  Still, enjoyable enough.  Thanks to NetGalley for the chance to read it.

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Books

Book Review: Star Wars – Tarkin

Remember how strange it was in Ocean’s Twelve when it was revealed that Danny and the boys had won because they had outsmarted the bad guys off-screen? Yeah, pretty much what you have here.  We begin Tarkin, by James Luceno, with an attack on a station Moff Tarkin is familiar with, so Palpatine (now the Emperor as the book is set not long after Episode 3) sends Tarkin and Vader to go check out what happened.  BUT!  It turns out it was a ploy to get Tarkin out there, as Rebels steal his badass stealth ship to go rampaging.  It’s up to Tarkin and Vader to get it back.

Unfortunately, ‘getting it back’ mostly involves Tarkin being outsmarted at every turn, and Vader mostly being there as a threatening presence.  How many of you buy a book about the bad guys on the threat that Vader might force-choke a dude?  Tarkin spends most of the book getting outsmarted and relaying to Vader barely-related stories from his childhood, until the end when it’s revealed that no, I meant to lose all along.  He and Palpatine had a plan to ferret out some traitors in their midst and deal a blow to the barely-formed Rebel Alliance.  But we are really only told about this as an after-the-fact taunt.

Tarkin is really hard to justify.  Grand Moff Tarkin was a great villain in part because of the mystery.  We have the amazing Peter Cushing on screen for a few minutes, he orders a Princess tortured, snarks at Lord Vader, and blows up a whole damn planet because it makes a good example.  If you are removing the air of mystery surrounding a character like that, you would do well to make them a heck of a lot more interesting than this.  As always, thanks to NetGalley for the chance to check this out.

Amazon link: Tarkin: Star Wars

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Books Review

Book Review – Half a King, Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King is my first book of his, and it’s great, if not ground-breaking.  It follows young Prince Yarvi, who has a withered arm, content to step away from the throne and dive into a life of books and study.  Not strong enough to fight, he hones his mind, but everything changes when his father and brother are killed and the throne is thrust back upon him.  It goes from bad to worse when he is betrayed and left for dead.  What follows is a quest for vengeance, and to retake the throne he didn’t even want.

Joining Yarvi are a cast of odd crooks and malcontents, forming an uneasy alliance while fleeing captivity.  Undoubtedly a YA novel, it’s not nearly as dark some of Abercrombie’s other work from what I’ve seen, but the book serves as a great palate cleanser between heavier reads.  There’s action and humor and twists you may or may not see coming.  The book is available now via Amazon or B&N.  Thanks to NetGalley for the copy.

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Books Review

Book Review – Shadow Ops: Control Point

I came to Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops series via Twitter, but not from a recommendation.  He tweets often with James S. A. Corey and seemed like an interesting guy, and the premise of “Black Hawk Down meets the X-Men” was right up my alley.  What it really feels like is what would happen to Marvel’s mutants if there was never any Xavier or even Magneto.  These Latents can be extraordinarily dangerous, and our hero, Oscar Britton gets a first-hand look at it when he flies in with some Supernatural Operations Corps officers on a mission to take out a couple of teens who manifested their powers violently at school.

Britton is incensed at how little the SOC operators seem to want to let the kids surrender, and that feeds his decision to run instead of turn himself in when he himself manifests a prohibited power (the ability to create portals from place to place).  It goes poorly for him, and he gets rounded up and pressed into service as a ‘contractor’ for the SOC.

It is definitely a first novel, but it raises some interesting questions about power versus control, and freedom and the cost of doing good versus following orders.  There are some slow spots and rough patches, but it’s got me looking for the second book.

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Books Review

Book Review – Star Wars: Honor Among Thieves

As soon as I heard James S. A. Corey (the Sci-fi pen name for writers Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham) had signed on to write a Star Wars novel, I was all in. Even better was the fact that most SW novels get put on Netgalley so I can read them early review them for you.  This is actually the second of three books in the ‘Empire and Rebellion’ series (though they are not interconnected), which has books that follow each of the three primary protagonists of the original trilogy in a new story set during the Rebellion.  The first, Razor’s Edge, focused on Princess Leia.  Honor Among Thieves is all about Han.

The first thing I’d point out is the only thing you need to know about the Star Wars universe to enjoy this book is just the original trilogy.  That’s great, as some of the other books are deep into the Expanded Universe nerdery (and much of that may be getting swept aside as Disney tries to make it one big happy universe).

This story follows Han and Chewie after the destruction of the first Death Star, as they try and reconcile being scoundrels who dislike any and all governments with working for the Rebels, whose stated goal is to replace the Empire with a new Republic.  I really enjoyed Han’s internal struggle – he likes and trusts Leia and Luke, but doesn’t (yet) want to join the team.  This plays well against the new hero we meet in Scarlet Hark.  Han and Chewie go on a simple mission to extract the Rebel spy, but thing don’t go exactly according to plan.  But hey, do they ever?  What it kicks off is a race between the Rebels and the Empire for a long-lost superweapon that adds a very Indiana Jones feel to the Star Wars universe.  The use of Leia and Scarlet as a choice between the independent life of a smuggler and the legitimate government agent works well to build the character of Han into the man we know later in Return of the Jedi as well as in Zahn’s books.  If I had any complaints – and they’d be very minor – it’s that the plot contrivance of a superweapon created by a long-lost race seems a bit played, but it didn’t take my enjoyment away at all from the rest.  There’s a few EU lore bits that stuck out as being off, such as a Noghri appearing (and Han knowing what it was) but again, doesn’t cause a problem for the story.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in what happened during the Rebel years, or who enjoys Corey’s Expanse series.  Honor Among Thieves will be on sale 3/4.

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Books Review

Book Review – Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

I keep an eye out on NetGalley for books that may some day interest my kids, and I became curious about Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee when I saw it was one of the most requested books on the site.  What I found was a fast-paced reimagining of the Snow Queen story that the intended audience will love, but doesn’t quite reach the level of all-ages classic.

 Ophelia is the sort of quirky girl that is the star of books like these – she has asthma, she pulls on her braids when nervous, and she has no time for fantasy.  She’s all about science.  That is contrasted with the story of the Boy, whose name was taken for safekeeping when he was picked as the child of prophecy to take down the evil Snow Queen.  Giant owls, magic swords, eternal winters – you know the drill.  He has to find the ‘One Other’ to help him, and if you are like me you already know where this is going.  But for the 9 to 12 year old set, it should work.

As I was reading this, I kept thinking that it felt a lot like one of Gaiman’s adult tales edited down to be palatable to 10 year olds.  I don’t mean that as a negative.  I can see easing your kids into Neil’s more brain-melting works by starting here.

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Books Review

Book Review – Maul: Lockdown

It was with some trepidation that I started this latest Star Wars novel, Maul: Lockdown.  Kindly provided via NetGalley, it had several warning signs.  First, it’s about a prequel trilogy character, one that barely qualified AS a character.  Maul was red and black, and had a saber-staff.  He got killed by Obi-Wan, which has to be kind of embarrassing, honestly.  This had “retroactive badass” written all over it.  That’s my term for a character that’s a throwaway or unimportant who later (in subsequent movies or ‘Expanded Universe’ stuff) gets turned into the most awesomest guy EVAR.  Boba Fett is your poster child.  The second knock against the book is the author, Joe Schreiber – his catalog is mostly supernatural horror, of the Eli Roth variety.  The third knock was the completely unoriginal ‘prison/gladiator fighting ring’ plot.

There are some positives here though.  The story does move at a solid clip, and the fights are the well-described brutality one might imagine of a prison fighting ring.  Maul is sent to the prison to find an arms dealer who has been hiding there for years, and has a secondary mission of acquiring a weapon that Palpatine will use for his own nefarious purposes.  The ending feels very abrupt, with things that seemed important earlier sort of glossed over.  I kept trying to page past the end for more but there was none.

Maul: Lockdown wasn’t terrible by Star Wars EU novel standards, and if you are more of a horror fan it may be worth your time.  For everyone else, it’s probably a pass.  Here’s the link to check it out.

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Books Comics Review

Book Review – Runaways, Volume 1: Pride and Joy

What would you do if you found out your parents were supervillains?  That’s the basic question answered in Brian K. Vaughn’s (Saga) Runaways series.  Each year, 6 families come together for a meeting – the kids are told it’s to plan out charitable giving for the year.  “Good deeds should be done in secret, with no expectation of reward” Alex Wilder is lectured sternly before the guests arrive.  The other teens, and one pre-teen, cover the bases of typical kids, with a jock, a goth, nerdy girl, and so on.  There’s somebody for everybody to identify with.  Like any children surrounded by entertainment options, they get bored and decide to spy on their parents.  Things go south when they see their parents murder a young prostitute in some sort of dark ritual.  They just manage to avoid being spotted while spying, and decide together to try and find a way to stop their parents from doing whatever it is they are planning.  Seems like a tall order until they discover they all have some secret power of their own.  Gert has a telepathic bond with a dinosaur pet, Karolina is actually an alien with a superpowered physiology, Nico has magical abilities, Chase stole some high-tech gear from his parents, Molly, the pre-teen, is a powerful mutant, and Alex is a strategist.

If you think you know what’s going to happen from that, you don’t.  That’s the great thing about Runaways – there are some solid twists, and this first volume ends with a reveal that one of the kids is helping the Pride.  DundunDUNNNN.  Adrian Alphona’s art seems sunny and cheery, without the excessive details or heavy shadows of some modern comics, though you can feel the menace from the parents as they realize their kids know the secret of the Pride.

This volume covers the discovery of the Pride, their powers/gifts, and a daring rescue.  It’s a great starting point, and a good gift for a teen who has shown an interest in comics.