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.

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…


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Aztlan: Michael Jan Friedman's View Of A Modern Aztec Society

Imagine for a minute what it might be like if a long dead civilization had actually survived to modern times.  Say, for instance, the Aztecs.  What would it be like if the Conquistadors under Cortez had never arrived in ancient Mexico, or if they had what would it be like if the Aztecs had successfully defended themselves against the Spanish conquerors?

Michael Jan Friedman of Star Trek novel fame as well as numerous other projects put his imagination to work and came up with two independently published novellas that take a look at criminal activity in the Aztec city of Atzlan.

The first of the two works, Aztlan: The Last Sun (and Mike recommends that you read them in order because there are spoilers in the second book that point events in the first), introduces us to Maxtla Colhua, an investigator for the Aztec Empire that stretches across a large part of the Americas.  Maxtla is a former athlete that played an often brutal game that seemed to be a mix between American football and basketball.  

While enjoying a meal with his aunt, Maxtla is called to the scene of a murder that is much like those from ancient times.  It is up to him to determine who is responsible for that murder and a series of murders that all follow the same pattern.  His investigation reveals numerous distractions and misdirection to stop him from finding the truth.  But his keen senses keep him on track as he discovers corruption in his own department, as well as problems at the highest levels.

In the second of the two novellas currently available, Aztlan: The Courts of Heaven, We once again follow the adventures of Maxtla as he learns more about his department’s corruption, and investigates the murder of the greatest athlete to play the game.  Maxtla has to find the answers again as he is lead through a confusing trail of leads that go nowhere, and with the most popular player of the game turning up dead, he has to get it done before the devoted fans rip the city to shreds.

I have always had a fascination with ancient civilizations, which is why I decided to read these two stories.  I thought I would give the first one a try and found myself hooked within the first few pages and couldn’t stop reading until I had finished both stories, finding myself wanting more.  Maxtla is a very interesting character that cares a great deal about the traditions of his department.  He is a patient, plodding detective that can use his wits to get to the bottom of a case, no matter what deceptions are thrown in his way.  He takes a lot of punishment in these two stories, but is like a devoted bloodhound, able to glean the truth and make sense of nonsense.  He is not a larger than life hero, just a man doing his job for the Empire.  He has a great sense of humor that manifests itself in the form of a dry wit.  If I had to compare these stories with another idea, I would have to say that it is much like NYPD Blue set in a world with a very different culture than what we know today.

I was able to contact Mike before writing this post to ask him a few questions about Aztlan.  He graciously responded to my questions, for which I extend my sincere thanks…

Q: Would you consider the Aztlan stories Science Fiction, Alternate Reality, or perhaps Speculative Fiction?  None of the above?

Mike: “Great question. I once described the Aztlan series to an editor at Random House. She said she loved the idea but she could never buy it because no chain book store buyer would know where to put it in his stores. It's certainly an alternate reality, but not what you might call an alternate history in that the point of divergence--the failure of Cortes to conquer the Aztecs--is hundreds of years in the past as compared to when the stories take place.”

Q.:What possessed you to resurrect a long dead civilization?

Mike: “I've always been fascinated by the Aztecs, I guess. As the end of the Mesoamerican calendar caught the public's imagination with its end-of-days flavor, I started thinking more and more about what that end would look like if the Aztecs were still a thriving civilization today--an isolationist empire that stretched from what we call Baffin Bay to what we call Tierra Del Fuego. The concept just grew from that point on.”

Q: Obviously, you were well researched in the culture of the Aztecs, what was involved with that?

Mike: “As I say, I'd been interested in the Aztecs for some time so I wasn't starting my research from scratch. Still, I took out books from the library, surfed the net, and so on until I felt comfortable in the world I was creating. Believe me, there's a lot of research that will never make it into the stories but you always have to know more than you'll tell the reader if you want to create a believable setting.”

Q: Can we Expect future installments of Aztlan?

Mike: “I've got more stories in mind, sure, but a couple of other projects are a somewhat higher priority right now--one of them being my new young-adult superhero novel I Am The Salamander, which was the subject of a successful Kickstarter and will be out in June.”

Q:   If every character is a part of you, which part is Imperial Investigator Maxtla Colhua, the protagonist in the Aztlan stories?

 Mike: “Maxtla is like me in a lot of ways. He's devoted to his work, he has a sense of humor, and he's a romantic. Of course, he's also a political conservative, as I was when I was very young, but he's learning more about the world around him and is becoming more open-minded as a result. He's growing in a way that I think is very plausible and very exciting, sort of like the Jack Nicholson character in Chinatown.”

Mike is part of an independent publishing company called Crazy 8 Press; a group of authors that that, along with Mike, includes such names as Robert Greenberger, and Peter David and many others.  While many of the authors are part of mainstream publishing, especially many of the Star Trek novels, they needed an outlet for their other works that the mainstream may not wish to take chances on, or as Mike explains it:

“The publisher of the Aztlan tales, Crazy 8 Press, which I co-founded, is dedicated to getting quirky stuff like the Aztlan stories out to readers. These are tales traditional publishers can't afford to take a chance on because they're suited more to the discerning reader than to the masses. However, we at Crazy 8 Press don't have to sell tens of thousands of copies to make the effort worth our while. All we need to reach is that consumer who has seen the same story a dozen times and wants something different for a change.”

Those of you that read this blog on a regular basis know that it is by and for fans of science fiction, but every now and again, I find that I have a need to read something that is outside of the strict scifi realm; I just need a break once in a while.  I came upon the Aztlan books through posts on Facebook from Mike promoting these stories, and found them to fit the bill of a diversion perfectly.  Both books are under 150 pages each and can easily be read in one sitting giving a complete story in each.  If you, like me, need a break from your usual fare, I highly recommend Aztlan to broaden your horizons a little.

Well, there it is…


Friday, March 7, 2014

Science and Science Fiction Mix To Make A Great Story - The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir

Over the past several years, several personalities have taken us on their adventures on television.  They get dropped off in remote places with little or nothing to survive except their wits and resourcefulness.  One such personality that I particularly enjoy is Les Stroud; his show, Survivor Man.  The thing is he always makes it out with a chopper awaiting him at the end of seven to ten day trips.  He knows when and where he will be retrieved at the end of his ordeal.

Now, imagine yourself as the lone and unintended inhabitant on another planet such as Mars.   Everything is against you.  It’s extremely cold, you cannot grow food, the water is frozen under the surface, the air is unbreathable, and the list goes on.  Space is a dangerous place.

Andy Weir explores this scenario brilliantly in his novel.

Ares 3, the third manned mission to Mars is in its sixth SOL, or its sixth Martian day on the surface.  A day on Mars is about a half hour longer than a day on Earth.  The crew of six astronauts are going about their business on the surface of the planet when they receive a warning from NASA that there is a storm approaching their location.  At first, it is determined that this storm doesn’t seem to be a threat to the mission.  The storm rapidly intensifies and the crew is ordered to abort their mission and get off the surface.  A communications dish is then blown off of the Hab (Habitat) and hits astronaut Mark Watney and the wind carries him a long distance from the site.  With very little time left, the mission commander tries to locate Mark, but the ever worsening conditions make it impossible to find any trace.  Another member of the crew saw Mark hit by the dish.  Mark is presumed dead and the five remining crew members launch.

Mark awakens, surprised that he is alive.  His suit has been breached, but the breach was sealed with his own blood.  With a lot of effort, he manages to return to the landing site and finds that he is now all alone.  The single inhabitant of a planet stranded without communications and facing impossible odds, but he is determined to survive somehow.

Other than the communications, the Hab is in good shape, he has two rovers, equipment, and supplies that were intended to keep six people alive on Mars for a month.  The only possibility of rescue that he knows of is four years away when the Ares 4 mission is due to arrive 3200 kilometers from his present location.

Everyone has given up Mark for dead.  Back on Earth, all of the usual ceremonies are taking place.  Speeches commemorating Mark as a hero are made and speculation begins about the efficacy of future missions to Mars.

Meanwhile, back on Mars, Mark goes about the business of surviving in an environment that seems to be trying to kill him at almost every turn.  He figures out how to stay alive with the equipment he has on hand, and even figures out how to extend his food supply for a long time.  He even has entertainment, but in the form of 1970’s television shows and disco music (much to his chagrin).  He also has his training, his education, and most importantly, his sense of humor, and he refuses to lose.

Thanks to the observations of a sharp-eyed tech at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, it is soon learned that Mark did indeed survive and efforts to reestablish communications and plans for rescue ensue.

I enjoyed this story so much, I read it in only four days, reading every spare minute that I could find.  Almost every page had me on edge wondering what was going to happen next to pose a threat to Mark.  But the most impressive thing about The Martian was how seemingly accurate it is.  While I am no expert on NASA protocols involving survival on hostile planets, everything that Mark did to seemed plausible to me, from how he was able to make oxygen by splitting water atoms apart, to how he used his own waste and Martian soil to make a potato farm to help extend his food supply.

Another aspect of this book was the sense of humor that Weir injected into the story.  The hero definitely has a great sense of humor.  He pokes fun at himself and the situation he finds himself in.

I did almost put this book down though.  Mark’s account of his time on Mars was in the form of log entries that chronicle his activities.  The first five chapters of the book follow this format, by the end of the first chapter it was getting a bit tedious reading “today I did this” and “I am planning to do that” and so on.  I did consider setting it aside.  In chapter 6 though, the NASA part of the story was introduced and from there it was a nonstop solid science/scifi story that any fan of the space program, or reality based science fiction fan should enjoy.  I am glad I stayed with it.  The author really did his homework for this one.

I give this novel my highest recommendations as one of the best stories of its kind that I have ever read.

Now, if only someone would pick this one up and make a film.

Well, there it is…


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Back From Hiatus - Reality Gets In The Way...

If there are any regular readers of this blog, you have perhaps been wondering what happened and why it has been two months since my last post.  Or perhaps you haven’t been wondering.  Either way, I feel the need to render an explanation to those who may think that I have given up the blog.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  I have really missed writing my reviews and other things.

In short, reality has gotten in the way for a while.  As a public school music educator, we were in the third quarter which is always an interesting time with at least one, or sometimes two pep-band gigs a week.  There are wrestling tournaments, Chrissy’s activities, and on top of all of that, becoming involved with two projects that are taking some time.  Add to that a few minor health issues, and as you might guess, I needed some rest.  But I am hoping that the hiatus is over now and I will be once again posting more regularly.

One thing that has taken up a lot of my time is preparing for The Dune Saga Podcast.  If you aren’t familiar with this podcast, it is a once a month show.  David Moulton and Scott Hertzog of the SciFi Diner Podcast are reading ALL of the Dune books in chronological order and releasing three shows connected with each book.  So far, we have read and reviewed the Legends of Dune series, and have begun reading the Prelude to Dune series.  A new episode is due for release on March 7, 2104.  We take a close look at Dune: House Atreides by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson.  Along with that, David summarizes the entire book in ten minutes or less in his Dune In Ten segment.  Finally, we found that we were getting a lot of listener feedback, too much to include in the regular show, so we started the Dune Saga Listener Feedback show.  Just follow the links to listen to our work.

In honor of the 20th anniversary of the release of Babylon 5, Raul Ybarra and I are working on another podcast called The Babylon Project Podcast.  We have actually recorded some shows and are hoping for a release of regular episodes soon.  Watch this space for announcements of our upcoming project.

Over the next few days, I am hoping to post about the books I have been reading since going on hiatus.  That is, other than the Dune books that have taken up a bunch of my time.  I did read Dayton Ward’s wrap up of the Star Trek: The Fall series titled Peacable Kingdoms.  I also read two novellas by Michael Jan Friedman which will appear here soon.  I also just finished reading an outstanding story by Andy Weir called The Martian.

In any case, this blog is back from hiatus, hopefully.

Well, there it is…