science fiction

A fantasy book set in near future.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Publisher: TOR
Page count: 319

Six-year old Patricia Delfine finds a wounded little bird and it talks to her. It leads her to a Tree who tell her that she’s a witch and gives her a riddle. She can’t answer it and even soon forgets its wording but it haunts her. She can’t find the Tree again no matter how much she searches it nor can she do anything magical. She’s shunned at school, no matter what she does, and her demanding parents blame her for everything.

Laurence Armstead is a nerdy little boy who manages to build two second time machine watch. He loves science and wants to go and see a space rocket launch. But his absent-minded parents don’t allow him to go. So, he steals some money and goes by himself. There he meets scientists and can touch a real rocket until his parents take him away.

Patricia’s parents forbid her to go to the woods and Laurence’s parents keep sending him to nature camps against his wishes. They’re bullied at school and everyone blames them. Reluctantly at first, they team up against the world. Even though they’re very different, they feel that they can sort of rely on each other. Until Patricia manages to do real magic which scares Laurence.

Life takes them to very different places. Years later, they meet again. This time, they’re working at cross-purposes. Humanity is destroying Earth and they both are determined to do something about it. But very different things.

I liked most of this book a lot, especially the start. The school bullies rang a bit too true to me. I also really enjoyed the assassin who was surreal. One of the best things was Patricia and Laurence’s friendship. They really are very different. Patricia loves nature and she wants to use her natural powers to save it, not just humanity. Laurence loves technology and can build amazing things even at a young age. He wants to use technology to save humanity. They have different circles of friends and they both have things they can’t reveal to each other. Unfortunately, things don’t stay that way.

The characters are very human: they aren’t just good or bad but various shades of gray, doing what they think is right. They’re also very vulnerable.

Unfortunately, for me it lost a lot of its rareness near the end, which was really frustrating. I also didn’t like that all adults in child Laurence and Patricia’s are toxic, including, especially their parents. In the end, I wanted to like it more than I did.

Collects Captain Marvel 1-5 (2016).

Writer: Michele Fazekas, Tara Butters
Artists: Kris Anka, Felipe Smith

Marvel is clearly concentrating more on Carol and I’m happy about it. Carol’s life after Secret Wars continues as high-profile as before, but this time in space!

Alpha Flight is now serving aboard Alpha Flight space station and Carol has been asked to command the station. She was (mostly) happy to take a two-year assignment. She thinks that the job is mostly going to be a desk job. But she’s wrong: immediately she has to start being a diplomat and a combat leader. The diplomat role she’s happy to hand to Agent Abigail Brand while she leads the Alpha Flight into a battle against a mysterious space ship – which carries Carol’s Hala star. When Carol leads a small group to investigate the ship, it turns out to be organic. And that’s when the troubles start.

I’ve no idea why the Alpha Flight has become a space organization, or rather a part of it. Sasquatch, Puck, and Aurora are the only members left and none of them have powers usable in space. Instead, they use small space fighters. I also really enjoyed a new character Wendy Kawasaki who is the lead scientist on the station and she thinks her commander and job are very cool. Agent Brand I’m less thrilled about but she is a formidable character and of course we need someone to bring in friction, jump to conclusions, and challenge Carol all the time.

This is basically Star Trek: DS9 with superheroes. And for me, that a good thing! Pretty much the only thing I didn’t like was that Carol’s powers started to diminish. It’s such an old plot device and more often used on female characters. But hopefully that’s now done and we’ll see other adventures. The space station is Earth’s first line of defense against threats from space so there’s no shortage of possible plots.

The first book in a sci-fi series.

Publication year: 2008
Format: print
Page count: 350
Publisher: Tor

I wanted to like this book more than I did. It’s the book of the month for the Space Opera Fans group in GoodReads.

The January Dancer begins with a frame story: a nameless female harper in the Bar talks with a scarred man who tells her the story of the Dancer or Twisting Stone. They are on Jehovah, a planet which seems to be populated by religious humans who are against liquor but allow this one Bar to exist.

The Dancer is an artefact made by prehuman aliens (supposedly). We follow Amos January and his crew when they find the Dancer and three other prehuman objects. The others can’t be moved but January takes the Dancer. It seems that death and destruction follows the object because soon everyone wants it.

But January doesn’t have it anymore. He traded it to New Eireann’s planetary manager in exchange for repairs and promise of a percentage from future sale of the object to the director of the Interstellar Cargo Company. January and his crew are seen a couple of more times but we actually follow other characters.

Little Hugh O’Carroll is a former rebel leader, or the leader of the actual planetary government, depending on your point of view. But he’s in exile, at least until a mysterious figure calling himself the Fundir offers Hugh a chance to get his planet, the New Eireann, back without bloodshed. The Fundir is apparently an agent of much more powerful people.

The other POV characters are servants of na Fir Li. They are sort of policemen. One of them is an expert in moving without being seen and the other is the only woman POV character. She’s drop-dead gorgeous and uses sex as a weapon, leaving broken hearts in her wake (eye roll). Their boss sends them out for other jobs but they are drawn to the Dancer.

The setting is far into the future. Humanity has spread into the stars. The biggest powers currently are Confederation of Central Worlds and the United League of the Periphery. Something has happened to old Earth and a group of people, called the Terrans, want to return to it but can’t. They live in slums (called the Terran Corners) and the others look down on them. Also, apparently people don’t invent new technology anymore. Newton and Einstein are gods and science is religion.

Other human groups seem to be based on cultures from India and old Celts. Some of the cultural stuff I rather enjoyed and I would have want to know more about the setting and the prehumans. Unfortunately, the characters didn’t grab me at all and the plot felt needlessly complicated. Also, there are heavy infodumps when introducing Hugh and later the interstellar police. But on the other hand, some stuff is left (I suspect intentionally but frustratingly) unclear. And the characters speak in a variety of pidgin English. While most of it was clear, some of it was pretty hard to understand.

Interesting ideas and structure but it just didn’t fully work for me.

The new Marvel Star Wars comic, collects issues 1-6.

Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: John Cassaday

This story is set between “A New Hope” and “Empire Strikes Back”, in fact shortly after episode IV. The Empire has started to make deals with criminals, like Jabba the Hutt, to get supplies, and the rebels have decided to stop them. So, Princess Leia’s small team infiltrates Empire’s industrial complex at Cymoon 1. Han poses as Jabba’s envoy to get them in and blow the whole place up. Unfortunately for them, the Emperor’s negotiator is really tough and things don’t go as planned.

Later, Darth Vader deals with Jabba personally. Vader is looking for mercenaries to capture a particular rebel pilot. Meanwhile, Leia is trying to rally her troops for another mission. There’s even a Boba Fett subplot.

This one feels like Star Wars. It was exciting and funny. I could hear the actors saying the dialog and there’s a lot of big-screen action and humor. However, Empire having to deal with criminals for parts feels ludicrous, but in a Star Wars way. There’s even some character development for our heroes. However, I’m not too sure about Luke confronting Vader before receiving any Jedi training. And there’s a cliffhanger ending. Otherwise, very enjoyable.

The final book in the Star Trek: TNG series which returns to the beginning. And to Stargazer.

Publication year: 1999
Format: print
Page count: 276
Publisher: Pocket Books

The cover is misleading: Beverly isn’t in the book much. (Now that I took a good look at the cover on GoodReads I realize that it’s not the same cover! My cover has Beverly and Tuvok. GR cover has Beverly and some unknown white guy, presumably Jack Crusher. So, if you took a mash-up of the covers, they’d be right: Jack Crusher and Tuvok are in the book.)

This is one of the previous untold adventures of Picard’s Stargazer years. (So, still not a Next Gen book…) About a decade before Enterprise-D, (Wesley is just a little boy at this point.) Picard and his crew are about to investigate some very exciting, nearly unexplored ruins. But instead they’re ordered to stop a war between two species who aren’t Federation members. The Melacronites and Cordracites races have hated each other for generations but a Benniari diplomat, Cabrid Culunnh, has managed to avert a war before by creating a neutral place where their diplomats can discuss things. But now a wave of terrorism has swept over both species and they are blaming each other for it. As the nearest starship, the Stargazer is ordered to support the Benniari. Also, they are picking up a person who is familiar with the species and this sector of space. That person is Ensign Tuvok, who resigned from Starfleet decades ago but has recently rejoined.

The diplomat Culunnh suspects that a third party is responsible for the terrorism. Picard sends Ensign Tuvok and Lieutenant Commander Jack Crusher undercover to find the culprit.

The book actually starts with the machinations of the guilty party so we readers know who is responsible. We also know because that same person was behind the plagues in the previous books and was revealed in “Double or Nothing”. So, this is a “how he’s going to get caught” rather than a “who did it” mystery.

We follow Picard’s efforts in diplomacy and he’s fully in character. But the more fun (and funnier) part of the book is Tuvok and Jack Crusher undercover. Tuvok is very formal and cold but he seems to reach a little common ground with Jack through their families. Both have wife and children at home. But Jack’s style rubs Tuvok the wrong way very quickly.

Because this tale isn’t set in Federation space, we also get to experience bars and brothels which aren’t usual in a Trek novel. I can get those in almost any book, so it took away that Trek-feeling.

A decent read but not really necessary to the series, unless you’re interested in Picard’s Stargazer years.

The penultimate book in the Double Helix Star Trek: the Next Generation series. Captain Mackenzie Calhoun and the crew of Excalibur take over the book.

Publication year: 1999
Format: print
Page count: 276
Publisher: Pocket Books

Like previous books in this series, “Double or Nothing” doesn’t have much TNG content. It starts seven years in the past where a fierce Orion dancing girl named Vandelia has been kidnapped by a thug of a man, Zolon Darg, who wants her for himself. She’s rescued by Mackenzie Calhoun who is, in fact, undercover doing something quite else. Darg confronts them but when his base explodes around him, Calhoun and Vandelia leave him for dead. But he’s not. Instead he has a burning desire for revenge.

Seven years later, researches at Daystrom institute have found a way to use nanites to make a computer interface directly to the human brain. Unfortunately, the outpost is attacked by Darg’s forces and the prototype computer stolen. The USS Independence is taking Riker to a fancy celebration. It notices the distress call and comes to help the outpost but is too late – it can only chase the villains to Thallonian space. There the starship is surrounded by many Romulan warships led by Sela, Tasha Yar’s half-Romulan daughter. They attack and destroy the Federation starship. Riker and a some of the crew are rescued by Captain Calhoun and USS Excalibur.

Admiral Nechayev decides to keep Excalibur in Thallonian space, looking for a secret Romulan base. However, she has another assignment for Calhoun and Riker is appointed Excalibur’s temporary captain, much to the annoyance of Excalibur’s first mate, Commander Shelby (from the episode “Best of Both Worlds”). Calhoun is sent into an undercover mission.

This book reveals the big bad guy behind the virus plagues in the previous books. It starts as an action, or even a spy, movie and Calhoun’s plotline does feel like a spy movie. Calhoun even gets some specific spy equipment from a mysterious Professor character before he’s sent off. Riker’s half of the book is mostly comic relief when he gapes at the strange crew and their relationships. We also follow Zolon Darg and a mystery man named Kwint.

This was great fun but I had some trouble believing some of the happenings. For example, Nechayev knows that it’s quite possible that Calhoun will be recognized. That would most likely kill him. So why not send someone else? I had the same gripe about the other undercover agent. Also, the main bad guy came out of the blue. I had no idea who he was. Also, I rather liked Vandelia and she would have made a terrific recurring character. So, I was angry with what happened to her. Also, Sela’s fate was left open. She’s captured, mind raped (which was a horrific decision), and left comatose.

On the other hand, it was great to see a crew which is very different from our familiar crews and to see familiar faces from previous episodes.

The book has several alien races who I’ve never seen and they have apparently only been used in books. Thallonians, who are the main antagonists, seem to be from David’s New Frontier books. Some scenes are set outside Federation space which reminded me more of “hive of scum and villainy” than anything seen on TV.

Still, this was a good read and probably would have been better if I had read New Frontier books before. The next book will return us to the roots of the conflict with the main bad guy and to Picard’s previous command: Stargazer.

The first book in a YA science fiction/fantasy trilogy Feyland.

Publication year: 2012
Format: ebook
Page count: 319

I’ve enjoyed Anthea Sharp’s short fiction before so when I got a chance to try out one of her books (which seems to be still free on Kindle), I jumped up at it, even though the book is YA which I don’t usually read.

This is an interesting mix of science fiction and fantasy. The setting is near-future SF world where the people with money have all sorts of gadgets in everyday life, including homes with AI, and the poor people… barely survive. Jennet Carter is a game developer’s daughter. Her father gave her access to the latest fantasy full immersion simulation game, Feyland, which is still in development. But when she loses a game to the Dark Fairy Queen, she realizes that the Queen has actually taken her soul and she might die. Events in the game affect real world.

Her father has also been relocated to a very different part of the country and Jennet follows him to Crestview because she has to play again in the experimental game and try to get her soul back. Unfortunately, the Queen declares that Jennet can’t return unless she has a champion with her. So, Jennet goes into the unfamiliar school which has kids from both rich and poor families, and tries to find anyone who is good enough simulator player that he could save her. Luckily for her, Tam Linn attend the same school. Reluctantly at first, Tam agrees to play the experimental game with her, but soon he, too, is enchanted by the Feyland.

Tam Linn comes from a poor broken home. His mother is a drug addict who can’t be relied on and he has a younger brother who needs to be watched constantly. His only refuge from his terrible life is playing simulation games and he’s very very good at it. At first, he resents Jennet’s status but soon he starts to care for her, as well. However, he’s reluctant to show or talk about his life to her which puzzles her.

Tam and Jennet come from very different backgrounds but they have a common love: gaming. Tam can’t rely on his mother and his father is long gone. However, Jennet’s father is around but she doesn’t talk to him because she thinks it’s too difficult. I found this a bit hard to swallow but this is a YA book and if the adults get involved, the youngsters get sidelined. Also, Jennet doesn’t even think about helping Tam with his home situation. Granted, Tam is pretty tight-lipped about it but once Jennet sees his “home” she doesn’t think about helping him, even once.

Oh yeah, Tam and Jennet are definitely forming feelings for each other. Despite Jennet being in trouble, she’s as helpful as she can be in the game and isn’t just a damsel in distress.

I really enjoyed the very dark and moody Feylands with the appearance of a couple of creatures from fairy myths. I also liked the side character Marne, a fat girl who is Tam’s only friend (until Jennet shows up). Tam’s problems with his family were believable, in fact I bought them far better than Jennet’s inability to talk to her father.

The book has a clear resolution. A good read and I enjoyed the mix of SF and fantasy.

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