One of the first original Star Trek novels written, "Spock Must Die" is a product of an entirely different era in Trek publishing. Veteran sci-fi writ...moreOne of the first original Star Trek novels written, "Spock Must Die" is a product of an entirely different era in Trek publishing. Veteran sci-fi writer James Blish famously adapted most of the original 79 episodes of classic Trek as short stories in a series of 12 collections. (For many fans, like myself, these collections were an essential part of our discovery of the original series in the days before we could watch any episode we wanted any time we wanted via video-tapes, DVD collections or streaming). Their success and fan letters encouraged him to try his own hand at crafting an original Trek story and the result is "Spock Must Die."
"Spock Must Die" is a far more philosophical novel than many of the Trek tie-ins published today. It's also a lot more sweeping in its scope than many of the Trek novels published today. And yet it weights in at just a mere hundred and twelve pages.
The central philosophical issue is raised on the first page of the story with McCoy (who is inadvertently called Doc instead of Bones due to an editing error at the time) debating Scotty on the implications of using the transporter. McCoy wonders if the person who steps into the transporter and is beamed down is the same person who arrives or if you're just a relatively close duplicate of a person who no longer exists.
The novel spends the next hundred or so pages trying to answer that question when a transporter experiment creates a duplicate of Spock. Unable to tell which is the original, Kirk and company wrestle with the morality of the situation as well as trying to ensure that one of the Spocks isn't a cleverly disguised Klingon agent. It's not helped by the fact that neither Spock can break the tie and one of them attempts to blackmail Kirk into killing the other and insisting he's the original.
All of this is set against the backdrop of the Organians disappearing and war erupting with the Klingon Empire. Blish's novel operates under the theory that space is really, really huge and that the Enterprise really is out there alone on the edge of the frontier. It's no quick jaunt back to Organia, but instead a six month voyage at high warp through hostile territory. That six month period gives a lot of time for debate, philosophical reflection and hand-wringing over what to do about the duplicate Spock problem and why the Organians are no longer enforcing their treaty that created the uneasy peace between the Federation and the Klingons.
There's even a section of the novel given to the debate over what makes Spock so attractive to women.
Written in a time before there were a zillion or other so tie-in novels and stricter rules on what one could and couldn't do in a Star Trek novel, Blish is allowed to take some risks that might not be available to writers today. For example, the novel's end finds the Organians returning and punishing the Klingons for their role in cutting them off from the universe (and their plans to impose a similar fate on Earth) in a way that's fairly far-reaching in scope and feels like it's intended to be the final word on the subject.
And while "Spock Must Die" helped pave the way for other writers to dabble in the Star Trek universe, I can't say it's one of the better tie-in novels ever written. Philosophical debates aside, Blish's portrayals of certain classic Trek characters doesn't ring entirely true. While it's admirable to see him put Uhura into the chain of command, it doesn't ring true that Kirk would put her in command of the ship at certain points of the story when Sulu is available. At least based on the evidence from the classic episodes.
The resolution to how we determine which Spock is which also seems a bit abrupt. I'm not sure if Blish was being kept to a page count or just didn't know the best way to write his way out of the dilemma he'd created for the story. Either way, the resolution and denouncement of which one is the copy isn't nearly as compelling or interesting as the events leading up to it.
In the end, "Spock Must Die" is a bit of a mixed bag. It's a harder sci-fi take on the original series, but it doesn't necessarily always get the characters right. Blish did a lot to help invent the sub-genre of Trek publishing and for that I'm grateful. I just wish his original creation for the line had been a bit better.
More and more these days, Star Trek novels tease me, offering great promise in the opening chapters but slowly falling back into the limitations of ti...moreMore and more these days, Star Trek novels tease me, offering great promise in the opening chapters but slowly falling back into the limitations of tie-in fiction in the waning pages.
With the franchise effectively rebooted by the movie series, it would seem the books could pretty much take some greater risks these days, exploring some new corners of the universe and offering up some compelling stories about the characters both major and minor we've met over the course of four decades.
And for the first hundred pages of "Cast No Shadow," I really felt like James Swallow was going to do just that. The story is set seven years after the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.. When Klingon ship yards are attacked by a terrorist vessel that is linked to the conspiracy from the earlier film, the only connection to the group involved is the disgraced Valeris. Serving out consecutive life terms for her role in the events surrounding Gorkon's death, Valeris is given the opportunity to wipe the slate clean legally.
Up to this point, Swallow's story is a compelling one as he weaves in not only a lot of classic Trek history but incorporates some of the elements from the DS9 reboot. The exploration of the implications of what Spock did to Valeris and how it has affected them both in the years since it one of the most compelling and interesting aspects of the opening chapters. Even the psychiatrist sent to study and try and understand Valeris is interesting, at first.
It's once Valeris agrees to be part of the mission to stop the terrorist cell from attacking again that things suddenly become less compelling. "Cast No Shadow" then falls into the standards tropes of the bulk of the tie-in Trek universe and makes the last two-thirds of the novel not nearly as interesting as they could be. There are a few flashbacks to how Valeris got tied into the group that offer some insight into the character and her growth, but they aren't enough to rescue the novel from being something of a disappointment. (less)
In the days before we had access to many of our favorite shows via DVD or streaming, one of the only ways to re-capture the feeling of enjoying an epi...moreIn the days before we had access to many of our favorite shows via DVD or streaming, one of the only ways to re-capture the feeling of enjoying an episode or two was via a tie-in novel. Most tie-in novels serve to remind me of why I like a particular show and serve as a nice bubble-gum type of book--enjoyable enough while chewing it, but not something I will necessarily recall long after I'm done.
Such is the case with Eureka: Road Less Traveled.
It's certainly not the worst tie-in novel I've ever read, but it's not the most memorable either.
Part of the problem is that Eureka is such an arc driven show--both plotwise and character wise--that a large portion of the first third of the book is spent trying to figure out what point during the series the novel is set. And while it's not Chris Ramey's fault that certain plotlines have moved forward since the book went to print, it did serve as a major distraction at times.
Not that a tie-in novel can't overcome these things. If they're willing to offer us something new or different or a unique perspective on things. Road Less Traveled doesn't do any of that and ends up being a light reading experience that I didn't necessarily hate but I didn't necessarily love either. (less)
David Fisher has never been thrilled with Terrance Dicks' novel adaptation of the four-part Key to Time story, "The Stones of Blood." And while the or...moreDavid Fisher has never been thrilled with Terrance Dicks' novel adaptation of the four-part Key to Time story, "The Stones of Blood." And while the original adaptation by Dicks isn't terrible, it's certainly not one of Uncle Terrance's stronger Doctor Who adaptations, reading as little more than a scene-by-scene retelling of the shooting script.
Years later, Fisher has been given the opportunity to correct this perceived wrong with the audio release of "Stones of Blood." Having read and enjoyed Fisher's adaptation of "The Leisure Hive" I admit I was both looking forward to and curious about the new version of "Stones."
Let's get the big question out of the way here--is it better than the Dicks version?
Yes and no.
Fisher isn't slavishly devoted to the original script, moving some scenes around for narrative flow and changing dialogue so it works better on the printed page. Fisher also provides some deeper character moments and background to his story, including giving names and a backstory to the campers that are killed by the Ogri in the third episode.
And while these additions and minor changes work well, overall I can't say this is a huge improvement over the original. Part of this is the limitations of the original script, which really started to drag in the third and fourth episodes. The Justice Machines seems like an interesting idea on paper, but they lose their appeal quickly and the later segments of the story can't quite match the interest and hook of the early segments.
On the audio book side, Susan Engel who played Vivian Faye in the original television production, delivers a solid reading of the story.
As a curiosity, this works well. There are certainly some improvements on the Dicks novelization, but there are also some things that the original novelization did just as well, if not better. (less)
Poll Doctor Who fans on what they consider to be the worst classic series story ever made and "The Twin Dilemma" will be at or near the top of that li...morePoll Doctor Who fans on what they consider to be the worst classic series story ever made and "The Twin Dilemma" will be at or near the top of that list.
In many ways, it's a bit unfair that "Dilemma" follows the instant classic "The Caves of Androzani." But the simple fact is no matter how matter how much you try and gloss over the limitations of the story, it's still one of the bigger misfires in the entire classic series run. A lot of that can be firmly chalked up to the fact that, in the end, it's the story of a giant slug trying to take over the universe with an incredibly ludicrous plan, even by Doctor Who standards.
Adapting the script to novel form, Eric Saward seems to understand this and tries to distract you from the script's shortcomings by beefing up Mestor as a threat, downplaying the titular twins and throwing in lots and lots of tangents and asides. The tangent and asides may be the best part of the story--one in particular that has the Doctor reflecting back on the fates of his companions was memorable for me at a young age, but that might be because it SPOILED the death of a major character--but like the script they can be hit or miss. The idea of the twins' father being scared of them is an intriguing one as is Saward's (controversial) attempt to explain the physiological reasons behind re-generation.
Unfortunately, those aren't all enough to save the story or somehow make the televised version any better in the final estimation.
But like most things associated with the sixth Doctor's era, the best part of this is the performanc of Colin Baker. Baker's reading of the story is spot-on and almost worth the price of admission alone. The only drawback is that his interpretation of Peri is pretty much a miss. But other than that, Baker's giving it his all. (less)
At times, it's difficult to figure out just what exactly Synthespians™ is supposed to be. Is it supposed to be a send-up up the popular television sho...moreAt times, it's difficult to figure out just what exactly Synthespians™ is supposed to be. Is it supposed to be a send-up up the popular television shows of the 80s? Is it supposed to be warning to fans about expecting too much for a returning TV favorite? Is it supposed to be an action/adventure story?
What you get is a novel that is all of these things and, unfortunately, ends up being less than the sum of its parts.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy Synthespians™. I did enjoy it while reading it, but it's just after I was done, I didn't feel completely satisfied by the experience.
A large part of this dissatisfaction is thanks to the front cover, I accurately guessed who the recurring villain/monster in the story would be long before the novel actually gets around to that revelation. Not that author Craig Hinton doesn't do his best to keep you entertained up until that point -- the first 100 or so pages of this novel are a great deal of fun to read as Hinton satirizes everything that is or was 80s television. But, it's once you hit the 100 page mark that things start to go awry.
The novel stops being a satire and becomes a standard Who story with the sixth Doctor and Peri battling an old evil that has brought them to this place. Here is where a lot of the motivation of the story begins to break down. The villain of the novel has been defeated by the Doctor several times before and, yet, brings him into the plan so that it can gloat. Honestly, I kept expecting something more in terms of motivation. Or else to find another old villain behind all of this (until the last page of the novel, I fully expected the Ainley Master to crop up, cackling all the way).
Alas, none of that come to pass. Hinton does a pretty good job of tying together some things from the Colin Baker era and making you consider them in a new light. He gives a new spin and motivation to why the Doctor is put on trial in The Trial of a Time Lord, but it's certainly not any better reason than the Doctor's interference on Ravalox.
As I said before, Synthespians™ was a fine enough story for what it was -- bubblegum reading. You can't really dwell on it too much. It is fun, though I will admit that the last 50 or so pages weren't the most compelling or the most page-turning. The first half of the book is funny, witty and entertaining. Then we meet the main villain in a huge cliffhanger-like reveal and the fun factor drops considerably. Part of that is the means of dispatching said villain comes out far too early and easily for my liking. It's almost as if Hinton painted himself into a corner and didn't quite know how to get out of it, so he came up with the solution he does.
All in all, Synthespians™ is trying very hard to be more than it is. For the first half, it works brilliantly. But the second half isn't nearly the equal of the first and ends up making the entire experience less than it could be.(less)
Lately I've been revisiting the Star Trek universe via a combination of DVDs, Blu-Rays and streaming video as well as listening to the great Mission L...moreLately I've been revisiting the Star Trek universe via a combination of DVDs, Blu-Rays and streaming video as well as listening to the great Mission Log podcast.
All of that, plus reading a few heavier books (both in terms of content and page count) put me in the mood for a light, fun palate cleanser tie-in novel. And so it was that after a year of languishing on my to-be-read pile, I finally decided it was time to give David R. George III's Allegiance in Exile a look.
Set in the final year of the original five year mission, the novel finds Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise discovering an apparently deserted planet that holds a deadly cache of self-defense weapons. After the ship and landing party are attacked (including the destruction of a shuttle or two), Kirk and company discover a way to detect and disable the installations.
While Kirk struggles with what the future could hold and the next step in his career (he's not ready to leave the bridge of the Enterprise just yet), Sulu meets and falls for a member of the crew, who was part of the landing party with him. Of course, this can only mean one thing -- the crew member in question's life span is reduced to about twenty or so minute (or in this case about 100 pages).
Before you know it, the crew stumbles across another planet with a similar weapon system in place and Kirk decides to beam down a landing party, including Sulu's new squeeze. The landing party is attacked and the only person injured is, of course, Sulu's new main squeeze. Sulu's reaction to this is one of anger at Kirk, including throwing a hissy fit in the turbolift and requesting a transfer because Kirk was the one who made the fateful decision, after being counseling by Dr. McCoy that maybe beaming down isn't such a hot idea.
This might be interesting if the romance between Sulu and his fellow female crewman felt in any way authentic and if it just didn't all feel like an excuse to try and insert some off-screen conflict among the original series crew as well as show Sulu that making command decisions somethings has unintended consequences.
All of that would be bad enough, but for some reason George uses the final third of the novel to tie events here into the larger Trek canon. I won't give away exactly what the big-time revelation is, but I can say it had my rolling my eyes and muttering, "You've got to be kidding" under my breath.
This is exactly the kind of novel I didn't expect from George. He's written some enjoyable, novels that tie together various continuity threads from the TV series and other novels. But it felt like he was trying too hard to bridge too many gaps and, unfortunately, things come up a bit short. He does a solid job of recreating most of the original series characters on the printed page, but his supporting cast is a bit lacking at times.
I also got the feeling that for a stand alone novel, this one was meant to tie-into other classic series novels as well. For example, Kirk meets the assistant of Admiral Komack and the two have a couple of flirtatious conversations and then it goes absolutely nowhere. I'm going to assume that George is attempting to make us understand why Kirk might accept getting to know her better as a perk of accepting his promotion and leaving the bridge of the Enterprise, but honestly it feels more like a dangling plot thread for another novel than anything else.
All of it adds up to a less than satisfying overall experience for Allegiance in Exile. I'm tempted to say I've outgrown tie-in novels, but then I'll come across one that really pushes all the right buttons like Doctor Who: The Harvest of Time or any Trek tie-in novel by Peter David and see that they can be both a welcome change of pace and a well done, entertaining story. I don't expect great literature, but I do expect not to want to fling the novel at the wall in frustration when I'm done reading it (or at several points as I did here).
I've got to give the tie-in line of Doctor Who novels credit -- at least the line is willing (once a year or so) to take a risk and give the fans some...moreI've got to give the tie-in line of Doctor Who novels credit -- at least the line is willing (once a year or so) to take a risk and give the fans something different from the standard tie-in novel.
First it was Michael Moorcock playing in the Doctor Who sandbox and now it's Stephen Baxter. And the line is even willing to allow the big-name sci-fi and fantasy authors to play with other Doctor/companion teams besides the ones currently seen in the latest batch of episodes. That alone intrigues me enough that I'm willing to put aside my preconceptions and at least give these annual offerings a chance.
In the case of The Wheel of Ice, I have to admit I wondered how Baxter's usual hard-SF style would fit with the less-than-hard-SF style of the classic series and, specifically, the second Doctor's era. For the most part, it's a successful hybrid. The result is a hard-SF based base-under-seige story in which Baxter comes closer than many other writers in the Doctor Who fold have come to capturing the second Doctor on the printed page.
The Wheel of Ice feels like a six-part Patrick Troughton era story, with all the strengths and weaknesses. The TARDIS trio of the Doctor, Jaime and Zoe come across well on the printed page and while the central dilemma and threat facing the TARDIS crew and a group of isolated humans is a bit more modern feeling, it all still works well enough to keep the pages turning. Baxter even throws in some continuity references to the second Doctor era to make fans happy.
All that said, the story isn't perfect. There's a lot of shuttling back and forth between various locations. And while that might work on the TV screen, in the novel it becomes a bit tedious. Add in that Baxter tries to translate Jaime's Scottish accent to the printed page and there were moments that the novel became a bit frustrating.
With what seems like hundreds of Star Trek tie-in novels published over the last forty-plus years, I understand that finding new, unexplored areas of...moreWith what seems like hundreds of Star Trek tie-in novels published over the last forty-plus years, I understand that finding new, unexplored areas of the "final frontier" can be a bit difficult. I also understand there are only so many ways you can tie together elements from the original seventy-nine episode run and have it still feel fresh.
Much of Devil's Bargain has the feeling of "been there, done that," to it for the crew of the starship Enterprise. In many ways, it feels like a third-season episode of the classic series and if you've watched the show, you know that isn't exactly a compliment.
The frontier world of Vesbius is facing destruction because a huge asteroid is bearing down on the planet. The population withdrew from the Federation years ago, but that doesn't mean the Federation is willing to let them all die in the coming catastrophe. They send Captain Kirk and company to try and evacuate the colony, but the colonists refuse to leave the planet. We eventually discover why they can't and won't leave as well as finding out that the population is a bit xenophobic. Ironically, it's Spock who comes up with a potential solution -- warp over to Janus VI and pick up a batch of Horta to mine the asteroid and break it up into chunks that will be more manageable for the Enterprise to take out or that won't cause as much damage upon impact to the planet.
Along the way, Kirk falls in love with the daughter of the planetary leader and spends a lot of time pondering this. There are entire passages in which one or the other reflect on their relationship and how its only going to be a limited thing, but by golly, they sure are in love. I can see what Tony Daniel was trying to achieve here, but the execution is a bit lacking.
Daniel's first Trek novel has some potential, but it never really all comes together.
Each time I pick up a new Trek novel, my memory is cast back to my teenage years when I couldn't get enough of the Pocket novels. I'm beginning to believe my memories of most of those books are better than the actual novels themselves. Or else my tastes have changed (in large part because of the output of one Peter David) and I don't find the standard, cliche ridden Trek novel quite as satisfying as I once did. Either way, I have to admit this one didn't so much disappoint as it's guilty of not living up to my memories and expectations. (less)
I gave trying to keep up with the extended chronology of the Star Wars universe a couple of years ago when I realized I was far too many books behind...moreI gave trying to keep up with the extended chronology of the Star Wars universe a couple of years ago when I realized I was far too many books behind to ever fully catch up.
That doesn't mean that every once in a while I'm not browsing the local library or bookstore and come across the latest Star Wars novel and I don't feel a twinge of wanting to spend some time with old friends again.
In many ways, reading the extended universe novels, I feel like that person who moved away from a group of friends but has dropped by again after a couple of years for a visit. I recognize them but I don't really know them anymore. They've continued to grow and have a certain code that I can't or don't understand simply because I wasn't there to experience things with them.
That's kind of how I felt about Star Wars: Crucible.
I recognized my old friends, but we'd grown apart. And while they were willing to fill me in on the broad strokes of what had happened since we last visited, there were still nuances I was missing. And that led to my not necessarily enjoying this novel as much as I could or should have had we kept up a bit better.
There's some interesting stuff going on here with Luke, Leia and Han all stepping in to help out Lando. But so much of the backstory went over my head that I got frustrated and ended up skimming large chunks of the novel. There are some nicely written action sequences and the story moves at a brisk pace. But I couldn't help but feel a bit left out of things.
I also am not sure how much of an incentive I feel to catch up on what's gone before now simply because I have a feeling a lot of this continuity will be tossed aside when the new movie opens in 2015. (less)
The latest collection of IDW's re-imagining of classic Star Trek episodes in the rebooted universe picks up right after this summer's Star Trek Into D...moreThe latest collection of IDW's re-imagining of classic Star Trek episodes in the rebooted universe picks up right after this summer's Star Trek Into Darkness left off and finds Captain Kirk and the crew of the starship Enterprise finally heading out for their historic five year mission.
I've read several of the previous collections from IDW and found the results of adapting original series episodes into the rebooted universe to be hit or miss. Occasionally the series does something interesting or different with these familiar (at least to me) stories. For the latest four-issue collection, Mike Johnson goes after two of the bigger episodes from the original series run "Arena" and "Amok Time."
Given that these two episodes are among my favorite from not only the original 79 but also the Trek franchise as a whole, my expectation level was high for them.
Which may be why I found the stories to be rather disappointing.
The "Amok Time" adaptation starts out well enough and puts some intriguing questions on the table, including the notion that with Vulcan gone, there are going to be complications for some under the influence of pon-farr. The concept that the blood fever and the urge to return home and procreate could drive certain Vulcan's mad when they can't return to their home world is a fascinating one and also one without an easy solution. Or at least that's what you'd hope would be the case.
However, instead of really delving into this issue in an intriguing or creative way, the writing team takes the deux ex machina route out, turning to the trasnporter as the solution to just about any solution. (It slice, it dices, it makes fries!) The concept of Spock being driven mad by the blood fever and possibly being off the ship for an issue or two was intriguing enough. Also of frustration is how Spock's need to return home to find T'Pring to help "cure" his blood fever and just how it doesn't really have a huge impact on Uhura and their relationship beyond this three-issue storyline. I'm hoping future issues may delve into this a bit and examine some of the consequences of this.
Also included in this collection is a one-issue storyline that borrows elements from "Arena." It's nice to see the Gorn updated for the modern page, but the story honestly feels like a throw-away more than anything else. And that's a shame given how good "Arena" was and some of the philosophical issues that episode raised. Little of that depth is on display in this installment. I will cut this one a bit of slack since it feels like this installment is picking up on a previous issue that I probably missed.
As for the artwork, I found the depiction of all the series regulars to be faithful and easy to identify. Given that one of my big complaints about the recent TNG/Doctor Who cross-over was (what I felt) was sub-par artwork, I'm glad to see that style isn't crossing over to the rest of IDW's Trek line.
All of this made me come away from this latest collection feeling a bit disappointed.
In the interest of full-disclosure, I will say that I was given an ARC digital copy of this collection via NetGalley. (less)
Following the success of several Whedon-verse series continuing their run in the pages of comics (Buffy, Angel and Firefly), it was probably only a ma...moreFollowing the success of several Whedon-verse series continuing their run in the pages of comics (Buffy, Angel and Firefly), it was probably only a matter of time until other comic publishers looked to other niche genre series from the same era. And with The X-Files celebrating its twentieth anniversary this fall, the time is ripe for special agents Mulder and Scully to return.
And so it is that we have the first collection of the new tenth season of The X-Files. The first five issues of the series is called "Believers" and it faces the unenviable task of trying to pick up the pieces of mythology from the final few years of the show and try to weave them into some type of coherent narrative.
Whether or not you think this collection succeeds probably depends on how you feel about the final years of the series. If, you're like me, and you felt the series limped to its finish line and overstayed its welcome once David Duchovny decided to pursue a movie career, odds are you won't exactly love the story presented here. If you were one of the die-hard X-Philes who found yourself yearning for more, even once the series killed off most of the interesting supporting cast in the final season, odds are you will probably eat this up with a spoon.
I'll admit I fall into the first camp and that my approach to this book wasn't helped by the fact that while convalescing from a broken toe, I took the chance to catch up a bit on The X-Files' fourth season. And while season four is when the wheels started to come off the wagon a bit in terms of the mythology, it was still at a time when the series was close to the top of its game and delivering consistently enjoyable, spooky and compelling installments.
"Believers" picks up the story after the last movie and feels almost like a two-part season premiere for the show. It's heavily mythology driven, focusing a great deal on William and his role in the overall alien arc. The storyline also does a lot of heavy lifting to bring back certain characters to the printed page -- characters who were led to believe were dead. Some of the explanations for how they survived I can buy, while others strained my willing suspension of disbelief.
Artwise, the comic is hit or miss. The characters are easy enough to identify, but they aren't rendered even close to photo-realistic. In fact, I'd have to say the art is one of the biggest distractions from this collection.
I will admit that after these five issues worked so hard to get Mulder and Scully back with the old gang, I'm curious to see if season ten will be all mythology or if we might get a monster of the week story or two tossed in there as well. If I get a chance I may sample again, but I'm not going to actively seek out future entries from season ten.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I got a digital copy of this collection from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. (less)