Wednesday, 19 June 2013
Title: Into Darkness
Author: Alan Dean Foster
The Book Depository
“Into Darkness” by Alan Dean Foster is a novelisation of the recently released Star Trek movie of the same name. I suspect most people reading this review will have seen the movie, but for those that don’t know the plot basically follows Kirk and his crew as they attempt to hunt down a man known as John Harrison who has committed an act of terrorism in London. Their hunt takes them from Earth to the Klingon home world and unearths a secret that some in Starfleet would rather be kept hidden.
As with the Foster’s novelisation of the previous movie the writing is competent enough and adequately captures the events seen on the screen without overloading the reader (who will normally have already seen the movie) with unneeded extensive descriptive details. I don’t feel I can really say much on the plot as Foster didn’t really have much of a say in it but the action, fast pace and fun are still there for the reader to enjoy.
However, there is very little new here and I can’t really identify any definitive reason why you should read this if you have already seen the movie. Yes, some of the conversations are expanded in a manner that better explains some aspects of the story such as transwarp transporting, the reason behind the abandoned sector of Qo’nos and how one volcano could seemingly be a threat to an entire species, but overall this is mainly just window dressing.
To be honest, the nature of novelizations does sometimes make it difficult to review books like this because whilst it is a well written and enjoyable story, it didn’t really inspire me to keep reading and I therefore found it very easy to put it down and do something else. There is another review on TrekLit Reviews by Dan Gunther that I think really captures the issues and potential positives with novelisations and would advise that people go give it a read.
Overall, “Into Darkness” is another competent movie novelisation by an expert in the field. Everything is captured well and there are at least a few sections of extended dialogue that helps refine the readers understanding of why certain things happened. However, I am not sure there is enough new here to make it a must buy for those who have already seen the movie. I suppose Foster will have been forced to work within the guidelines he had been set but I would have loved to see some additional elements to try and enhance the experience.
Saturday, 15 June 2013
Title: Judge (The Wess'har Wars Book 6)
Author: Karen Traviss
The Book Depository
“Judge” by Karen Traviss is the final book in her science fiction series known as the “The Wess'har Wars”. If you haven’t read the previous books in the series then I do advise that you avoid reading this review as some of my commentary is likely to spoil some aspects of the previous books. If you are interested in this series then please go and read my review of the first novelwhich is entitled “The City of Pearl” and can be found here.
The story follows on from the previous novel with the Eqbas fleet finally arriving on Earth to undertake a massive environmental cleaning campaign. Shan and her two life mates have travelled with them even though they all carry the parasite that makes them virtually immortal. This is because she feels that she should be involved in the attempts of the Eqbas to deal with the various governments and ensure that the environmental damage can be reversed without the need to wipe out humanity for good.
I have to be honest and say that I was a little bit disappointed with this final entry in the series. Traviss’ writing is still competent enough but the entire plot was quite simply rather dull. There is no doubt that things get resolved, but it was all done with a whimper rather than a bang. For example, the Eqbas fleet finally arrived at Earth which is something I have been looking forward to for ages, but there was no real conflict here. After thirty years of forewarning, humanity hadn’t bothered trying to improve their defences, they just rolled over and accepted their fate. This lack of excitement isn’t helped by the way in which Traviss uses the time period that passes during space flight to jump the story forward. It results in the reader getting to skip to the end and rely on an aging Eddie to give both the main characters and the reader a brief of what has happened.
In addition there are the various plot points which had been built up in previous books but went nowhere such as the threat of the Skavu, the antics of the Bezari, humanity’s attempt to get C’naatat or Esganikan’s self-infection. These aspects were all touched on during the novel, but I was expecting so much more in relation to these aspects and I felt let down by what I did get. It just feels like Traviss has intentionally tried to avoid any aspect of conflict within the novel which leads to a rather disappointing conclusion to the series.
It isn’t until the final third of the novel that I really began to get some enjoyment out of the story as I witnessed Shan, Ade and Aras return to F’Nar and attempt to put their lives in order. This section of the story was at times very emotional and it highlighted how much I appreciated and liked these characters. The way in which the relationships, friendships, desires and difficulties were resolved was handled very well. It was specifically interesting to note that by the end of this novel, Shan turned out not to be that important after all, she was side-lined and shown to be no more than any other person. It was quite brave of Traviss to do this to her main character and I appreciated that this tied in nicely with the overall theme of the series in that we as individuals and as a species are not the be all and end all.
Overall, whilst this isn’t the most exciting book in the series if you have made it this far then you surely have to finish. I think that Traviss has missed the chance to create a truly enthralling novel and finish the series in style. However, she does at least give the characters some form of emotional send-off which was nice to see after watching them grow and change over the previous books.
Wednesday, 12 June 2013
Title: Soldier/Geek: An Army Science Advisor's Journal of the War in Afghanistan
Author: Glenn Dean
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“Soldier / Geek” is an edited version of Army Major Glenn Dean’s journal he wrote during his time spent out in Afghanistan in 2009. Dean’s job in Afghanistan was basically to go out and liaise with the soldiers out there and identify both new technologies and improvements that could help them fight the war. During his six month tour he travelled to remote bases, encountered various people and worked the Army bureaucracy to try and get things moving in a way that would help in getting equipment into the field.
I found this book to be a very interesting read, with Dean relating his time in Afghanistan via both his work related tasks and the more mundane day to day activities. Dean saw no combat during his tour so the book doesn’t go into any detailed military actions but at the same time it was still an eye opening experience to read about and understand some of the behind the scenes work that goes on in the military, especially during combat operations.
One thing I really appreciated with the journal were the various additional editorial comments that worked well in both helping to translate some of the military speak and giving the reader a little bit more information on the situation being detailed. It just ensured that the reader could understand the contexts of what was occurring and how things have changed or at times haven’t since then.
As someone that works in the defence industry I found various aspects of the story rather enlightening on a personal note. For example seeing the logistical maze that needed to be worked through to get equipment out to the field highlighted to me about why at times things seem to take so long for ourselves when dealing with the military/government. In addition, on a lighter note I couldn’t help but smile as I got to see the similarity between the company I work for and the military in regards to the truly ridiculous quantity of acronyms that are used. I am glad Dean included a reference section at the back of the novel as I did find myself having to use it quite a lot.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this journal and as someone who works in the defence industry I personally found it both interesting and informative but I don’t think its appeal will be limited to just people in my line of work. If you are interested in current affairs, technology or the military then there is probably something in this book that you will find enjoyable.
Saturday, 8 June 2013
Title: The Icarus Transformation
Author: Scott Rhine
I have read a couple of books now by Scott Rhine and thoroughly enjoyed both of them as can be seen in my reviews for “The Scarab” and “Foundation for the Lost”. Therefore when I noticed that “The Icarus Transformation”, one of his earlier novellas was available for free on Smashwords I jumped at the chance to pick it up.
The story follows PJ, a man who helps plug leaks in computer programs and networks who arrives at work one day to discover the office network having issues due to a large download that has appeared on the server. As he investigates PJ finds that the download is the remnant of a cryptic email from one of his friends, a scientific genius named Nick. PJ notices various other recipients of the email and decides to track them down and see if they can explain it, however before long he realizes that national security agents are trying to track him down and he has become embroiled in something both dangerous to himself and the whole world.
The amount of plot that Rhine has compressed into this novella is impressive; especially when you consider that he has also managed to keep the story coherent and enjoyable due to competent writing and a fast pace. There is one minor issue with this in that at times I would have rather seen the story slow down a little so that I could catch my breath and really take in what was happening. Therefore I have to say that I think that this story really would have benefited from an expansion into a full length novel to bring out the story more but don’t get me wrong, it does still work as a successful novella.
Another issue that some people may have is the hard science fiction elements within the story. Rhine throws in a lot of technical details into the novel which may confuse or bamboozle some readers if they are not used to it. Personally, it didn’t bother me but then again I studied Physics at University so I have read some detailed technical books in the past that could make your hair curl.
Overall, this was an entertaining novella that takes hard science fiction and successfully integrates into a fast paced adventure. It didn’t feel as polished as some of Rhine’s other work but based on how long ago he originally wrote it I was not surprised. I recommend this book to fans of Science Fiction that enjoy both the hard elements of the genre but also love thrills and fast pacing.
Wednesday, 5 June 2013
Title: Where Sea Meets Sky (The Captain's Table Book 6)
Author: Jerry Oltion
“Where Sea Meets Sky” by Jerry Oltion is the sixth novel in The Captain’s Table series of Star Trek novels. However, as the story chronologically takes place prior to the other novels in the series I am reading it first which does produce one minor issue I will discuss later on in the review. For those of you who don’t know the premise behind The Captain’s Table series is that there is mystical bar that captains of all races and times can enter and enjoy socialising and reminiscing with each other.
This novel in the series is based around Captain Pike visiting the bar and discussing a previous adventure of his whilst he was captain of the Enterprise. The story he recounts follows the Enterprise investigating why a species of warp capable creatures that are utilised by an alien race known as the Aronnians as a form of interstellar blimp have not returned from their annual migration. The investigation explores the relationship between these “space whales” and the various star systems they inhabit.
Don’t be fooled by the synopsis above as the story is not as cerebral as it may imply. There is actually a fair amount of action and an incredibly fast pace that results in the reader being whisked around the galaxy from one dangerous scenario to the next. However, whilst I found Oltion’s writing to be competent, the plot itself felt a little ridiculous at times. I just couldn’t take these “space whales” seriously and some of the events that occur were just plain silly. I am still incredulous about some of the crew riding one of the creatures at warp in just their space suits and don’t even get me started on the killer eggs from space.
One aspect of the plot I enjoyed however was the framing story which followed Pike as he engaged with captains from other time periods within the bar. It was specifically interesting watching his interactions with a Klingon female from a future time period that dropped hints at what was awaiting both Pike and the Federation. The only slight issue I have with the framing story is that it just doesn’t gel with me as really belonging to the Star Trek universe. I am sure there must be some regulation that these Starfleet captains are breaking by talking to people from other timelines, especially those from earlier in Earth’s own history.
As with other stories covering this time period, the real plus point of this novel is being able to witness some of the escapades of Pike and his crew. Whilst, I am not sure we learn anything new from this novel in regards to the way in which the crew works together, I did find that Oltion seemed to capture the individual characters well and they came across as I have previously envisioned them.
My final point is in regards to the final twenty or so pages that didn’t make any sense to me. It turns out that these pages are linking this story to the first story in the series to try and create a complete loop. To be honest it doesn’t actually matter a jot to this specific story so you can read this book without reading the others but if you do then you should probably just skip the final pages.
Overall, I can’t say this was a favourite of mine due to me finding the storyline to be rather silly. However, if you can ignore that or you think I am being overly picky then you will probably find this novel to be a fun and fast paced story full of action and adventure that explores a period of Star Trek rarely seen.
Sunday, 2 June 2013
Title: Water For Elephants
Author: Sara Gruen
Genre: Historical Romance
The Book Depository
As part of the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge I was required to read a New Adult novel which was a label I had never heard of before. After some research I discovered that New Adult fiction is that which utilises protagonists in the 18-25 age bracket and tends to focus on issues such as leaving home, developing sexuality and the negotiation of further education or a career. So after searching a list of New Adult novels on Goodreads I decided to read “Water For Elephants” by Sara Gruen.
The story focuses on Jacob Jankowski whose parents died in the 1930s when he was 23. This tragedy resulted in him dropping out of veterinary school even though he only had one final exam left to complete. He therefore finds himself with no idea of what to and without a penny to his name, and so he jumps onto a passing freight train in the hope it will lead him somewhere new. He gets more than he bargains for however when it turns out the train he has jumped aboard was transporting a circus. Before long Jacob is offered the job as a circus vet and becomes fully involved in the life and politics of the circus. There is violence and cruelty aplenty that Jacob must face in his new life, none of which is helped by his attraction to the wife of an abusive animal supervisor.
One thing I really enjoyed with this novel was the way in which it highlighted circus life as it would have been during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The poverty, brutality, hard work, wonder and even beauty were all portrayed exceptionally well. In addition, I appreciated witnessing some of the way in which the social dynamics functioned during this period, with segregation, racism and the care of the elderly all touched on at various points. I felt that Gruen did exceptionally well in delving into all these elements without making me feel overwhelmed.
Unfortunately the romance elements of the story left a little bit to be desired as I found Marlena, the female love interest to be rather bland and uninteresting. I just couldn’t understand what exactly it was that Jacob found attractive enough to risk both his job or and life for. In addition, the story felt like it was more melodrama than drama which was a bit disappointing to me as I really would have liked to have seen something more real and gritty considering the setting of the story.
To be honest, the rather bland characterisation wasn’t limited to just Marlena and I found many of the characters to be rather one-dimensional which of course resulted in some of the melodramatic feel I mentioned above. For example, August the animal supervisor and Marlena’s husband suffered from being portrayed as the stereotypical mentally ill violent person who was the blatant villain. Then there was Al, the circus owner who was basically a capitalist caricature that only cared about money. I think the only character who added real depth beyond Jacob himself with Walter a cantankerous dwarf who slowly begins to befriend Jacob and reveals that there is a kind and thoughtful person beneath his gruff demeanour.
As a final aside, I would have appreciated some footnotes in regards the elements of the story that utilised polish dialogue. It didn’t stop me following the story but it still would have been nice for me to actually know what was being said.
Overall, despite some of the issues above that I have highlighted I did really enjoy reading “Water For Elephants” as I appreciated the interesting narrative on life within a 1930s circus. However, if you are looking for a decent romance story or clever and realistic drama with complex characters then there is no doubt that you may be disappointed.