The purpose of this blog is to have a little fun. It is NOT to start arguments. I don't profess to be an expert on Sci-fi, nor do I aspire to become an expert. You are welcome to comment on any and all content you find here. If my opinion differs from yours, as far as I am concerned, it's all okay. I will never say that you are wrong because you disagree with me, and I expect the same from those that comment here. Also, my audience on the blog will include some young people. Please govern your language when posting comments.

Posts will hopefully be regular based on the movies I see, the television shows I watch, and the books I read as well as what ever strikes me as noteworthy.

Spoilers will appear here and are welcome.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fluency - A Fresh Story by Jennifer Foehner Wells - Excellent Story From A New Author

Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells.

A few months ago, I cannot remember how, I learned about a new author, Jennifer Wells, was working on a new novel that was based on space travel.  I followed her on Twitter and friended her on Facebook in hopes of getting some idea on what the book was going to be about, and when it might be released.  A few weeks ago, I learned that the book had been released and immediately put it on my Amazon wishlist with the intention of reading it yet this summer.  A few days ago, Jennifer mentioned that her book was available for the Kindle at a very reasonable price so I snagged it since I was getting to the end of another book I was reading.

So I purchased Fluency on Monday and finished it this morning, Wednesday.  It isn’t because the book is short, it is about an average length, but when it comes to quality, in my opinion, it is well above average, especially for a new author.

A NASA craft called Providence is on a mission to Mars with a crew of five.  At least that is the story for the public.  Actually, the crew is on a mission to a huge spacecraft that was discovered in 1964.  It seems that most of the U.S. space program has been geared toward studying this mysterious ship that is just hanging, apparently not functional, in the asteroid belt near Mars.

The story revolves around one astronaut on this mission in particular; a linguist named Jane Holloway.  Jane is at the top of her field and was at the top of a very short list of linguists that NASA considered for the mission.  Being someone who can quickly understand languages, spoken or written, it is her job to act as an ambassador to whomever may be residing on the “Target” as the ship is called.

After a year of travel from Earth, the crew of the Providence reaches the Target.  Suddenly the heretofore thought to be a possible derelict ship comes to life.  Jane is inundated with images of her past as a child and soon hears a voice in her head from the navigator of the ship, Ei’Brai the last sentient inhabitant of the craft.  The remainder of her the Jane’s crew worry that she is being manipulated by the voice of the ship.  Some want to leave immediately while others want to stay and learn as much as they can.

As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that Jane is being groomed by Ei’Brai for an adventure that no human has ever experienced before.

Jennifer has written one of the strongest female characters in science fiction, since Ellen Ripley of Alien fame.  Jane’s character is compassionate and maintains her humanity while establishing herself as a hero.  Jane doesn’t use violence as her tool for being heroic, but rather uses her intellect and wits to analyze and resolve the obstacles that are thrown her way.

Another prominent member of the crew, Alan Bergen is an engineer/astronaut that tries to aid Jane along the way.  Bergen believes in jane and somewhat reluctantly follows her lead to keep the rest of the crew on track.

Ei’Brai, the ship’s navigator was one of the most interesting characters written because as I read, I felt that at some points he was benevolent, while at others he was the real enemy to be feared and beaten.  It isn’t until the end that we find out which.  This was one of the most fun parts of reading Fluency

If there is a weakness to this story, it might be that the author, while doing an awesome job of developing her main characters, but I personally would have liked to known a bit more about the other members of the crew, particularly the motivations behind Walsh, the mission’s commander.

This story is a tapestry of action right from the opening lines. It never lets up with exception of some interludes and images of flashbacks caused by the ship’s navigator in the minds of some of the crew  The situation on board becomes desperate and seemingly hopeless a few times, but thanks to Jane, Ei’Brai, and Bergen’s level-headedness many of the situations are solved in some very interesting ways.

This story is very open-ended and would seem to be begging loudly for a sequel, which would be fun, but I personally think this story stands very well alone.  I wonder if Jennifer didn’t intend for the reader to use their imagination to continue the story.

Fluency is a real page-turner; I really hated to stop reading and found that even though I had other things I should have been doing, I kept drifting back to see what happens next.

I recommend this story for sci-fi fans that enjoy a good book that deals with humanity and how we might behave during an encounter with an unknown.  Jennifer has a good grasp on how a situation such as what is in the story might shake out.  I am very much looking forward to her future work

Well, there it is…


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

John Scalzi's REDSHIRTS - Good, But Not Great.

Redshirts by John Scalzi – 2012

Over the past couple of years, I have been hearing about Redshirts, mostly good.  There were those that said it was a fun book, others said that it was hilariously funny.  A Facebook friend of mine started reading it and posted about it a couple of times, so I thought I would give it a try.

First, what is a “redshirt?”  As a long time Trek fan, I know that they are the people from The Original Series that would beam down to the planet with Kirk and sometimes wound up getting killed in the opening minutes of the show.  Apparently, the title has been given to anyone on any television series, book, or movie that suffers the same fate as those in the early days of Trekdom.

In Redshirts, we follow a group of junior officers that have been assigned to the Intrepid, the flagship of the Universal Union.  One ensign, Andy Dahl, takes the lead as he sees that on every away mission from the ship, some junior officer meets an ill fate, while it seems that the senior officers, who are in the same danger, always seem to come out unscathed, with the exception of one.  The one senior officer that gets injured in some way always pulls through, usually through some heroic measures that are taken on his behalf.  Dahl notices all of this and begins to investigate what might be taking place.

With the help of others, Dahl determines that there is some sort of warp causing an old television show from our current reality to intrude on the Intrepid’s reality.  A junior officer named Jenkins has made this assumption based on statistics that he has compiled and by comparing his findings to science fictions shows that have aired in the past.  Dahl determines that he must go back in time and stop the production of the television show so that his reality is no longer being influenced by it.

Sounds kind of like Star Trek in the Twilight Zone doesn’t it?  That is what I was thinking whlile I read Redshirts

I have to admit that it took me quite a while to get through this story.  I would read a chapter and set it aside for a few days, and then I would read another chapter, and again set it aside.  At a few points, I would think about reading, and then find something else to do.  I did this until I hit about the half-way point of the book when the story really picks up in pace and gets interesting.  Before that, I seriously considered setting it aside for good; from that half-way point on, I finished the book in an afternoon because it was that engaging.

I think that my problem with Redshirts was that it seemed like the exposition was never going to come to an end.  The characters in that first half were slogging around trying to avoid being killed and the reason for the problem seemed to take forever to get to, then the solution to the problem took even longer.  But once it was determined what had to be done to resolve the dilemma, and the plan was put into action, the story moved at a rollercoaster pace, and was well worth the wait.

The author includes three “codas” that tell more about three of the characters in the story.  I found these last three appendices to be amongst the best part of the book.

Scalzi surrounded this story with a lot of dry humor that one might expect to find taking place in the midst of any group of people working together in jobs that are otherwise routine in nature.  Some exchanges are quite funny and unexpected, and would never appear in a television show.  It is the story of what might take place behind the scenes away from the main cast of a series such as Star Trek or other space opera.  While I would say this is a good book, I wouldn’t call it a great book.  It is worth the time to read, but don’t expect too much beyond it being good, fun entertainment.

Well, there it is…


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Captain America: Winter Soldier - It Won't Leave You Cold - Awesome Entertainment From Marvel Studios

Captain America: Winter Soldier – 2014

The SPOILER light is on for this one.  Read on at your own peril.

Way back on June 15th of 2013, I reviewed Man of Steel and stated that it was the best superhero film I had ever seen.  I stated that it had set the bar pretty high for that particular genre.  I stand by that statement, but I have to admit, happily I might add, that Marvel came back and not only met the standard set by Man Of Steel, but actually has raised the bar even higher with Captain America: Winter Soldier.

The film opens with Steve Rogers and his friend, Sam Wilson going for a run together, well kind of together.  While Sam is struggling to get one lap around the Capital, Steve does three laps passing Sam numerous times.  When they stop running, Steve and Sam talk about how Steve is managing to cope in modern society.  He actually seems to be doing quite well educating himself on the ins and outs of being a man decades out of his own time.  Steve then receives a message calling him to a mission to rescue a number of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents being held hostage on an agency ship.  Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow, arrives shortly after to join Steve on his mission. 

During the hostage rescue, Steve finds that Natasha has another mission to extract information stored on the ship’s computer and return it to Nick Fury.  Steve confronts Fury about this and is briefed on Operation Insight.  Insight consists of three helicarriers that are linked by satellite to be a preemptive measure against threats to national security.  Nick unsuccessfully attempts to access the information that came from the ship causing him to be suspicious of Insight.

While Fury is on his way to meet with another agent, he is ambushed by a multitude of hit men being led by a masked assassin known as the Winter Soldier.  Fury is shot, but manages to escape to Steve’s apartment, where fury gives him the flashdrive and tells him that shield has been compromised, so he should not trust anyone.  Steve is then called to meet with Secretary Alexander Pierce, part of a council that works to insure world security.  Pierce asks Steve to tell him what information he received from Fury.  When Steve refuses to tell him anything, he tags him a fugitive and orders his arrest.  Steve manages to escape and contact Natasha.  The flashdrive direct them to a bunker in New Jersey.  In the deep subbasement of the bunker was an old computer that surprisingly has a flashdrive interface.  When they plug the flashdrive in, it activates a supercomputer that contains the disembodied consciousness of Arnim Zola, who as you should remember was the scientific assistant to the Red Skull.

Zola explains that after World War Two, an organization called HYDRA whose sole purpose is to create chaos all over the world to the point that everyone is willing to give up their freedoms in favor of security.  He further explains that HYDRA has infiltrated all levels of every government, including S.H.I.E.L.D.  Not only has HYDRA infiltrated governments, but it has also gotten their man in on the World Security Council in the person of Pierce.

Even with the spoilers I have mentioned above, there are still many surprises, twists, and turns.  Some that made me want to stand up and cheer right there in the theater.  This is a great movie.
It was a great pleasure to see all of the elements come together in this film to make something very special in Winter Soldier.  The script and the cast really was artfully blended by the director to make a film that didn’t go over the top.  While Captain America was the center of the attention and the action in this film, all the other parts played very well developed and strong roles.  There was humor in the script, but just the right amount for enjoyment while not calling undue attention to itself.  There were some very poignant moments where one could feel the emotion of the characters.  The visual effects were stunning while, again, not overdone and complement the story and do not become the story.

It was probably put best to me on Facebook from my good friend Hank Davis of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Podcast when he said, “They humanized a super soldier in my opinion. This movie could have been done without any superheroes at all. I loved the theme of the movie!”  One doesn't need to be a comic fan to appreciate this film; you might be a little out of the loop as far as character background is concerned though.

A real treat for the fans of Marvel movies was the introduction of the character Sam Wilson; the Falcon.  Brilliantly played by Sam Mackie, I am hoping to see him in many future films in the marvel universe.  He is very easy going and I liked him from the first moment he was on the screen.

I really enjoyed was seeing Robert Redford on the big screen again in his role of Pierce.  Redford was a really hot property during the 1970’s and 80’s playing many different roles in several hit films.  It has been said that his role in Captain America was in homage to his film Three Days of the Condor.

And what of the character that has his name appear in the title, Winter Soldier?  It is revealed who the character is and how he came to be, but this film is not the end of his story.  I'm not going to reveal who he turns out to be, but please be sure, if you aren't familiar with the comic book Captain America, that you at least see the first film in the C.A. Saga, Captain America: The First Avenger before you see Winter Soldier.
Well, there it is…


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Kirk Meets Seven Of Nine In No Time Like The Past - A Crossover Novel By Greg Cox

Star Trek: No Time Like The Past by Greg Cox

If you enjoy Star Trek crossover stories that involve lots lots of fast moving action and time travel, then you are going to love Greg Cox's No Time Like The Past.  Greg imagines what might happen if Seven of Nine from Voyager were to be unwillingly be sent back to the 23rd century to meet Captain Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise in a story that careens through time and space at breakneck speed.

The events of No Time Like The Past mostly take place about two years after the events of the third season episode, "All Our Yesterdays," in which Kirk Spock and McCoy are sent back into the history of the planet Sarpeidon.

The Crew of the USS Voyager, still in the Delta Quadrant, encounter a Starfleet distress signal from a small planet.  When an away team beams down to investigate, they discover a giant likeness of James T. Kirk carved into a cliff.  There is an opening and when the away team enters, three of them, Janeway, Tuvok, and Neelix are injured and Seven finds herself in the middle of a battle between Kirk and a group of Orions that are disrupting a diplomatic mission on the planet Yusub.

Seven left three injured Voyager crew members behind when she jumped through time and needs to return to her own time to rescue them, not to mention that she also needs to be near her alcove to regenerate.  Her time is limited and she has to find a way to return to her own time soon.  Kirk and the crew agree to help, but there are others who see an opportunity to exploit Seven's knowledge of the future including, the Orions and a Federation ambassador who has an axe to grind with them.

The only clue for how to return Seven to her own time is imprinted on a fragment of some device that Seven brought with her into her past.  On this fragment, Seven finds a stardate that refers to a past mission of the Enterprise that starts her, Kirk, and the crew on a quest that spans space and time to find three remaining fragments that when joined together will allow Seven to presumably allow Seven to return to her own time.

While this should have been a simple mission, there are many turns that keep getting in the way of the quest; a spy on the Enterprise and the Orions keep getting in the way until Kirk has enough of their interference and is forced to deal with them in a most clever way.

For me, one of the most compelling aspects of No Time Like The Past was the way that the author weaved old stories into this new one.  Along with the All Our Yesterdays episode of TOS, he also included references
to "The Apple" from the second season and "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield."  One of the best parts of the story is when Greg speculates on the history of the events that lead to the annihilation of the people of Cheron, the planet of Lokai and Bele; he take us right into the thick of what finally purged the population of the planet while the two characters from the episode were on their chase through the galaxy.  There is also a reference to another books series that I have not read yet, The Yesterday Saga novels which chronicle the aftermath of the events resulting from the relationship between Spock and Zarabeth in "All Our Yesterdays."

Any TOS fan will enjoy this story because it has everything we love in a Kirk-era story should have.  The pace is quick, the characters are larger than life, but yet remain human, there are space battles and phaser fights, and Scotty remains a miracle worker.  There is a great deal of the "final frontier" flavor that us TOS fans have come to expect in our stories.

In short, this is a good one!

Well, there it is...


Friday, March 14, 2014

Dayton Ward Ties Up All The Loose Ends In Star Trek: The Fall: Peaceable Kingdoms

Star Trek: The Fall: Peaceable Kingdoms by Dayton Ward

         Dayton Ward was tapped to wrap up The Fall series of Star Trek novels that were released this past year.  His task was to take all of the loose ends that were presented in the previous four books and bring them together to form a complete picture.  He did so quite expertly, as those of us who enjoy Trek novels have come to expect from Dayton.  He does not disappoint.

         Up to this point in the series, the Federation has fallen into some times where corruption is being discovered at the highest levels of government.  The president of the Federation, Nan Bacco has been assassinated, a member race of the Typhon Pact is suspected at first, but it is later discovered that a Cardassian faction called the True Way was actually guilty of the deed in order to disrupt improving relations between Cardassia and the Federation.  Captain Riker of the USS Titan is promoted to Admiral and charged by Admiral Akaar to get answers on what is happening at the highest levels of the Federation government.  Dr. Julian Bashier took it upon himself to find a cure for a disease that was threatening to make the Andorian race extinct; for that, he may have to face charges of treason.  Andor rejoins the Federation.  Riker turns to one of the only people he can trust to aid him in his endeavor, Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

         Deceptions abound in Peaceable Kingdoms.  While DS-9 is without a medical officer, Dr. Crusher is sent there to take over until a replacement for Bashier is found, however She actually goes on her own secret mission to discover the identity of remains of a living person.  Riker and Akaar are trying to find Presiden Pro Tem Ishan’s aid to learn about his complicity in Bacco’s death.  Some Federation officials believe that they should be taking a harder line in dealings with other races and factions.  And all leads to a discovery that someone is not who they appear to be while on a power-grabbing quest to hold the highest office of the Federation.

         Peaceable Kingdoms is a typically (at least in my experience) fast paced fun ride in the Trek universe from Dayton.  He leaves no stone unturned as he guides the reader through all the deception that takes place in the entire series.  While one might suspect they know the answers as they read, there are surprises to be found.  The story is solid and satisfying while at the same time leaving the doors open to future questions that hopefully will be answered for those of us that enjoy reading the continuing story of the characters we have come to know, and the new ones that are introduced as time goes on.

         For me as a reader, one of Dayton’s strongest gifts in writing for the characters is his ability to capture the essence of the characters personalities so that one can actually hear the voices in the dialog and in their thoughts.  He never disappoints.

 On The Fall Series In General

          If you have not already read the series, you should read them in order to avoid spoilers.  The series includes the following books:

Revelationand Dust by David R. George III

The Crimson Shadow by Una McCormack

A Ceremony of Losses by David Mack

ThePoisoned Chalice by James Swallow

Peaceable Kingdoms by Dayton Ward

         All-in-all, a fine series that together tell a great story of political maneuvering and corruption at the highest levels of Federation government. 

 I do have one minor nitpicky complaint though.  In the first book, there was a thread that never seemed to be picked up that perhaps might appear in a future novel.  In Revelation and Dust, there was a long subplot that involved Kira Nerys who had become a Vedek and entered the Wormhole and was being given visions of Bajoran history.  That thread never was really picked up in the rest of the series and as a DS-9 fan I would be interested to know where that was heading.  Just a thought.

I have always been curious about the creative process and found myself even more curious about the creative process when it comes to writing in a collaborative situation such as it take place in a series of books that are penned by numerous authors, as it is in the fall.  Every now and then, Dayton Ward opens his blog, The Fog Of Ward, up to questions from the public.  A few days ago he did and I took advantage of the opportunity to ask about writing a complete story with others. I asked:  

"Having just completed The Fall series, I find that I am curious about the group writing process. How close are the collaborations? Do you ever find that someone has written you into a corner that is difficult to write your way out of? Is there a master plan of what direction a series is to take? Do you ever thanks heat for maybe not going in a direction that a previous writer might have wanted you to take?”

Dayton answered:

         “Yes, to all of the above.

         When it comes to collaborations, there’s always going to be varying degrees of “give and take,” and what sounded good at the outset when the “master plan” was laid down might not end up working so well once it’s time to execute the story (or a given part of a larger story). If everybody is working toward the same goal, the story and telling it in the best possible way is the primary goal. Opinions will differ on the details from time to time, but the key there is to not take such things personally, regardless of which side you’re on for any given “differences.” 

         Just my $.02.”

            I should mention that after I contacted Dayton asking for permission to post this on this blog, he pointed out that his answer was about collaborative writing in general and should not be taken as any specific reference to the writing of The Fall.

Well, there it is…