Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Star Trek: TNG--Vendetta (Peter David)

Star Trek: TNG--Vendetta (Peter David)

Rating: 3/5

Year: 1991

Genre: Sci-Fi

Read again: I don't know.

The Borg. The Ferengi. A planet-killer bent on destroying the Borg. Riker's beard. Foreshadowing via Picard flashback to his Academy days, foreshadowing via Geordi LaForge tilting at Holodeck windmills.

Ever wish you could wipe out the entire race of soulless Borg who eradicated your planet? All you need is a planet-killer--the enormous cornucopia of destruction from the Original Series' "The Doomsday Machine." It's indestructible, chops up planets for fuel, and someone bent on revenge has gotten ahold of one. Picard's foreshadowing has him studying the original Doomsday Machine in Starfleet Academy, hoping to find out where the mysterious ship came from.

Then there are the Penzatti, the latest victims of the Borg. Their planet gets wasted on their equivalent of Thanksgiving, the day where all Penzatti thank their gods for making them sooo much better than any other race. Apparently their gods are irrelevant.

Nitpick: The Penzatti planet is almost utterly demolished by the Borg; yet there's still enough of an atmosphere for the few survivors of the attack--and their rescuers--to survive. "Chunks" of atmosphere scooped away like so much ice cream. I'd like a bit better "sci" with my "fi."

On the Borg side, there's a woman, completely assimilated, playing Dulcinea or windmill for LaForge. He's sure she can be "saved" from Borgdom. Can she? David hits the reader over the head with her condition. After the first couple of times of reminding us that there's no "there" there with her, she's a blank slate, a zero, a cipher, an empty cup...all right, all right, I get it, dude. Just tell the story! That's the first point off. If I want hand-holding, I'll watch a George Lucas movie.

The rub for me is that this and so many other stories have something introduced at the beginning that gets echoed everywhere in the story. In this case, it's the tale of Don Quixote echoed in each of the main characters--Picard's Dulcinea (and his windmill?) is the woman who seeks to destroy the Borg. We have an unimaginative captain (an Academy rival of Picard's) who must be Sancho, yet he's obsessed with Picard, so he's got some Quixote, as well. The major moral is obvious: we all have our Dulcinea to be obsessed with, our own windmills at which to tilt, and our own Sancho moments. The Borg are, in this case, the ultimate unimaginative Sanchos. The rub is that the whole parallel to Don Quixote is forced to the point of numbness. A few threads, subtle references to the original, would have sufficed.

As with most of the other Star Trek books I've got, I haven't read this one in maybe 10 years. It's one of a few I've read 5 times or more. It's not as good as I remembered, and that's a shame, because Peter David was my favorite Trek author. If his stuff hasn't weathered well, I shudder to think of how bad the worst books will be. His style feels a bit clunky, or clumsy. Heavy-handed, and that's the second point off--which is a shame, because the story is a good basic concept. It could be so much _better._

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Amber 03: Sign of the Unicorn

Rating: 5/5

Date: 1975

Read again? Yes.

Man, the little blurb on the back of my copy seems to be about a different book, but everyone knows not to look at them, right?

Corwin has the throne of Amber, but he is not yet king. It's been a week since the end of "The Guns of Avalon." Corwin's been too busy trying to hold the realm together to bother with taking up the Crown.

Someone's killed Caine, one of Corwin's brothers, and suspicion has fallen upon him as the culprit.

Unknown agents have imprisoned Brand, another brother, in a tower in a distant Shadow.

There's the mystery of the Black Road, which leads from Amber through all Shadows to the Courts of Chaos, and upon which the Enemy might be riding even now to lay siege to Amber yet again.

And there's the realization of the true nature of Amber and the Pattern.

Farewell, My Lovely (Raymond Chandler)

Farewell, My Lovely (Raymond Chandler)

Rating: 5/5
Pub. Date: 1940
Genre: Crime
Read again? Yes


I've been a fan of Chandler's style since I first read "The Big Sleep" back in 2002. His writing is tight, economical, and about as sharp and subtle as a knife in the ribs.

Philip Marlowe is the smart-ass I've always wished I could be. It's one thing to be sarcastic; anyone can be sarcastic, but unlike me, Marlowe isn't afraid of getting his ass whipped when he cracks wise to a 6-foot-five-inch, 280-pound crowd-pleaser named Moose.

This isn't a book for the easily-offended. If you're one of those folks who tiptoes around racial issues and wants "Huckleberry Finn" banned because of a certain word, you'd best tiptoe along, because Marlowe's world isn't rose-colored, and you might get your feelings hurt. This book will slap you--and if you're gonna read it, you'll take the slap and like it.

Marlowe starts out looking for a barber who's gone missing. Somehow he ends up in front of a club, looking at Moose Malloy--and then he's in the club (Blacks-only) pretty much against his will (Moose was very persuasive). Moose wants to know where his girl is. Hasn't seen her in 8 years. Used to work in this club. He doesn't like the answer the bouncer gives. He doesn't like the answer the bartender gives. He really doesn't like the answer the club owner gives, so now it's murder.

The cops drag their feet going after Moose--it's only a "shine killing," as they put it. The press doesn't make a fuss, either--just a shine killing. Marlowe himself isn't overwrought about a dead black man, but that could just be Marlowe being Marlowe.

This being a detective story, the killing doesn’t end with one black man. Pretty soon there’s a rich guy who hired Marlowe to help him recover a stolen necklace, only to get his head ventilated. Then there’s a dead old lady who knew a few things and had to be silenced.

There’s the rich dame who has it all and wants more, the feisty redhead who doesn’t have much and wants Marlowe, the clean cops who have some leads and want Marlowe to stay out of the way, and the crooked cops who have some lead and want to give Marlowe a share.

Star Trek: TOS--Final Frontier (Diane Carey)

Star Trek: TOS--Final Frontier (Diane Carey)

Rating: 4/5
Pub Date: 1988
Genre: Sci-Fi
Read again? In another few years.

Billed as the "third giant Star Trek novel," the book follows George Samuel Kirk, father of 10-year-old James Kirk. George and his comic-relief sidekick Francis Drake Reed are nabbed from their Starbase, taken to an undisclosed location, and asked to help rescue a bunch of settlers whose ship has been disabled by Space Weather. The back of the book tries to play cagey and mysterious about the ship George and Drake are aboard, but it's pretty easy to figure out from Carey's descriptions--even though the ship is brand new and un-named. Isn't that unlucky or something? Or have the Trek folks moved past superstitious sailors?

We also follow James Kirk, some 25 years later, just after the events in "City on the Edge of Forever." Kirk is upset at losing the woman he loved (Edith Keeler), so he holes up in the barn of his family farm, reads 25-year-old letters from Dad, and ignores the hell out of everyone else, determined to feel sorry for himself just like dear old Dad was doing when he wrote those letters. McCoy and Spock show up in turn to try to help their friend and captain with his grief.

This being "Star Trek," there have to be bad guys. This time it's the Romulans--and they're curious about this unknown, un-named starship that suddenly drops right in their laps. It's a very Cold War story, with all the mutual suspicion and paranoia about the Evil Other. It's a precursor to the "Balance of Terror" episode of the original series in some ways. The episode marks the first "official" time humans and Romulans get a look at each other--but "Final Frontier" has George Kirk meeting a Romulan face to face. No idea whether this book's story line is accepted as canon among fans, but the way the meeting is resolved, it doesn't conflict with the show.

That said, I didn't like the wrap-up of the Romulan plot, so I gotta take a point off.

It's been maybe 10 years since I last read this one--and I've put off reading any sci-fi, any big series, and especially either of the Big Two franchises (Star Wars is the other one) because they wear me out--a lot of the books just plain suck. So anyway, it's been a decade. The book's an easy read and the three main plot threads are nicely braided together, but it will be a long time before I read it again, if only because of the other 1500 or so books I still need to look at.

Hellbound Heart, The (Clive Barker)

Hellbound Heart, The (Clive Barker)

Rating: 5/5
Pub. Date: 1986
Genre: Horror
Would I read it again? Yes

This short novel is what became the movie "Hellraiser."

This is the first of Barker's works I've read. I hope all of his writing is as tight and economical as this example! He doles out only as many words as needed to express a thought, to describe a mood, and not a syllable more. Even better, he doesn't lead you by the hand through his plot or hit you over the head: you are expected to work things out for yourself.

It's been more than 20 years since I last saw "Hellraiser," so I can't say how close "The Hellbound Heart" is to its cinematic offspring. We begin with Frank exploring an intricate puzzle-box. He's been at it for hours, dreaming of pleasures promised by the man who gave him the thing: wild orgies, sated lust, women used and discarded.

He opens the box. Wild orgies, sated lust? Nope, nothing he'd imagined. Frank gets used up--but not discarded--by the horrific creatures summoned by the opening of that box.

Eight months later, his brother and sister-in-law move into the house, not knowing that Frank was even there. Hell-raising ensues!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Amber 02: The Guns of Avalon (Zelazny)--no spoilers

Rating: 5/5
Date: 1972
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? And again, and again, and...

This is the second of the five original Amber novels.

Corwin travels to the land called Avalon, intending to raise an army, bring guns to Amber, and take the throne from his usurping brother Eric.

He fights dark things from a black Circle, is reunited with a long-lost brother, and encounters a mysterious black road that seems to cut through Shadow to threaten the very heart of Amber.

Amber 01: Nine Princes in Amber (Zelazny)--no spoilers

Rating: 5/5
Date: 1970
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Absolutely.

This is the first of the original five Amber novels by Roger Zelazny. All of these are written from Corwin's point of view, in a conversational style, as if you're sitting with this Lord of Amber in the castle library (a favorite haunt of his) over drinks.

The book opens with Corwin waking up in a private hospital room. Both legs are in casts, and he remembers a car wreck...but he can't remember who he is. He is certain, however, that it's time he left, though he's not sure why. Broken legs, internal injuries, a head injury--all close to healed, and it's only been two weeks, according to the hospital administrator.

What follows is a chess game between Corwin and a sister he barely remembers, where each move and countermove reveals a tiny piece of the puzzle surrounding him--family names, shared memories.

Who is Corwin? What is Amber? Who caused the wreck that sent him to that hospital--and who arranged to keep him prisoner there?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Quickie: Chronicles of Amber, The (Series; Zelazny, Roger)

Rating (series) 5/5
1. Nine Princes in Amber (1970)
2. The Guns of Avalon (1972)
3. The Sign of the Unicorn (1975)
4. The Hand of Oberon (1976)
5. The Courts of Chaos (1978)

Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes!

Gotta start with this series, since that's the one that grabbed me back in 1983 or so.

I got Volume 1 of 2 from my brother-in-law. The thick hardcover sat unread for a few months before I finally picked it up and opened it. From that point, it was difficult to put the thing down. Zelazny had a sharp, solid writing style that has become the major influence in my own muddling attempts at writing. All the Amber books are written in first person, with Lord Corwin, Prince of Amber, the man who would be king, telling us his life story. Several times--for as events unfold through the five Corwin novels, he is forced to re-evaluate his understanding of things.

There are many literary references, mostly to Shakespeare; and there is enough dealing and double-dealing in Corwin's family to give Machiavelli a migraine. But through all the back-stabbing and throat-cutting, all the intrigues and secretive alliances, through all things runs a single golden thread, the reason for all these things: Amber.

Amber is the archetype of every city, every civilization that has existed, does exist, or will ever exist. It is said that all roads lead to Amber: this is true, if one but knows the way. Amber represents Order. Her polar opposite at the far end of reality is the Courts of Chaos. Between these two poles--Order and Disorder--lies everything, including our own world, which is but a shadow of Amber.

Corwin and his family are granted certain powers by the Power that formed Amber itself, a mysterious glowing design graven in blue fire. This "Pattern" gives them the ability to walk (or ride a horse) away from Amber, working their will upon their surroundings, changing the sky, the land, the people until the world matches what they've imagined. They call these worlds "Shadows," little more than pale copies of Amber herself.

Their other big ability (and the one that I thought the coolest) lies in the Trumps. Basically a set of Tarot cards, with some added face cards representing each member of the royal family. If you have a Trump for a person, you just concentrate on the card, imagine that the person is actually there, and *contact* you're looking at them and talking to them. If you touch the other person, you can bring them through the link to wherever you are.

Who needs Warp Speed, with cool stuff like this?

Another bleedin' blog?!


A friend of mine got me thinking about doing this, because of his own blog:

He's a movie freak, in the truest sense of the term. He lives and breathes movies; has a database in his head of composers, directors, producers, and actors; and every weekend I'm over at his place watching stuff I'd never seen before. We've seen great, so-so, and utter crap all in the space of a weekend--and sometimes in one movie.

So. What he's doing with movies, I'd like to do with books. It'll span genres--horror, drama, spies, fantasy, sci-fi--and my favorite authors: Roger Zelazny, George R. R. Martin, Jim Butcher, Mercedes Lackey, Raymond Chandler, and more.

I don't want to just write about the books, though; I want to look at the worlds and "rules" their characters live in and with--how magic is treated, how it works, and like that.