Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dresden Files 01: Storm Front (Butcher, Jim)

Rating: 5
Year: 2000
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yup.

This'll be my third time through the Dresden series, and it's a pleasure--more so because of the rash of crappy "Star Trek" I recently ingested. You'll find most of them listed in the "2/5" category. Just make a note of the title...and don't read 'em. I'm like the bookish Jesus--I suffer so you won't need to!

Chicago's Harry Dresden is a modern-day take on Phillip Marlowe or Sam Spade: a hard-boiled wise-ass detective who's just good enough at his job to get by. Only...Dresden is a wizard for hire. Lost your car keys? Need a ghost removed from your attic? Dresden's your guy!

He gets hired to find a wayward husband. Guy's been gone three days.

He also gets a call from Lt. Murphy with the Chicago Police. She brings him in on a double-murder: a couple in the midst of bumping uglies were targeted by evil, hateful magic, their hearts exploded.

The man was an employee of "Gentleman" Johnny Marcone, Chicago's resident crime boss. The girl was a high-high-high-high-end hooker prostitute whore escort employed by Bianca. A vampire.

Marcone wants Dresden to sit this one out. He wants to get the killer himself.

The Dresden books are fun as hell. Butcher's treatment of magic is logical, realistic, practical-seeming. Dresden is powerful, but limited in how he can use his power. He's very young for a wizard, barely past being an apprentice. On top of that, he's on parole with the White Council for killing his mentor in a to-the-death duel: one wrong move, one violation of the Laws of Magic, and he is dead. Dresden comes across as a stand-up guy who wants to do what's right, but fumbles pretty badly when it comes to dealing with people.

All he's got do do is find the killer, find the missing husband, keep a vampire from killing him, keep the cops from busting him, and keep from being the killer's next victim!

Characterization is excellent, the plot romps along, and it's well-paced. There's wicked humor, plenty of little pop-culture references for sci-fi and fantasy buffs.

I'd recommend reading the books before trying to watch the Sci-Fi channel's TV adaptation from a few years ago. The show is different enough in some important ways as to be entirely unrelated to Butcher's books.

Star Trek--TNG #06 Power Hungry (Weinstein, Howard)

Rating: 2
Year: 1989
Genre: Sci-Fi/Star Trek
Read again? Nope.

This is somewhere in Next Generation's second season--hottie Troi, Riker and his beard, and bitchy Dr. Pulaski. It's a time when Data still hadn't figured out that he could link to a slang dictionary so he could stop interrupting conversations for the obligatory comic relief.

It should be noted that Troi and Riker are prominent on the book's cover...but Troi barely figures in the story.

The Enterprise is escorting five cargo drones in a relief mission to the planet Thiopa. This planet's not part of the Federation or any of the other big political groups, so the Federation's hoping to ifluence them by sending food and medicine to the near-starving, badly-polluted world.

When they arrive, they find that Thiopa is bitterly divided between the polluting technocrats and the nature-worshiping Sojourners.

This is a very linear plot; Thiopa is essentially Ethiopia, right down to regular people being starved while the ruling class (warlords, in their case) feast and live well and demonize the Sojourners as terrorists.

The book drags--and most annoyingly, it just ends. The two rival leaders are given a chance to talk, work things out--but not even face-to-face, just by visual teleconference. They bicker back and forth, so Picard just divvies up the relief supplies and leaves, leaving a good bit of unresolved plot behind without any significant diplomatic effort. One would think that such an important planet would have rated some effort.

Let me summarize the entire story:

"Your world is an environmental wreck. We want to help you, but you have to work together."


"Okay. Here's some rice and grain for you to plant in your polluted ground and arid desert, to be watered by your acid rain. You're farked. 'Bye."

The end. I just saved you almost THREE HUNDRED pages of suck. Characterization was so-so. I could have done without the Data-hasn't-heard-this-figure-of-speech-yet gags. The most wasted character, however, was the so-called ambassador in charge of delivering the cargo to the Thiopans. He wasn't much of a diplomat, really, spending most of his time being an ass to just about everyone, including the people he's supposed to be helping.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Star Trek--TOS #45: Double, Double (Friedman, Michael Jan)

Rating: 3
Year: 1989
Genre: Sci-fi/Star Trek
Read again? Eh. I don't know.

At some point after the Trek episode What Are Little Girls Made Of?, the USS Hood receives a distress call from supposed survivors of an expedition. The ship is quickly taken over by androids designed to replicate the crew.

The androids are led by a replica of James Kirk--and while he wants to finish the work of his creator, Dr. Korby (to establish an android colony), he also wants revenge on the real Kirk for his interference in Korby's work.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise is mounting a rescue mission. A swarm of asteroids is about to conveniently wipe out an entire civilization of aboriginal people on an island. The swarm's inconveniently large and fast, so there's no shooting or pushing them around. With minutes to spare, Kirk rescues a kid who went foraging for eggs. Beamed up in the nick of time, and all that.

It turns out that the kid's people have a life-debt thingie where the kid's got to stay with Kirk for a year, or until the life-debt is paid off, whichever comes first. So the kid (conveniently an empath) comes along (hint: androids don't have feelings).

There's also trouble with the Romulans.

Pedestrian. Few surprises in the plot and plenty of things that could have been tightened up. The book doesn't drag, but I really wish it had been more fun. I should have taken more points off for having so many pat plot points--and I should send Friedman a bill for doctor visits to fix rolled-eye muscle strains.

The big "pro" for this book is that there are no Space Animals--no anthropomorphic cows, wallabies, sheep, mice, cockroaches, snot puddles, or any of the other things that populate some Trek books.

The big "cons": stuff Friedman got wrong (I hope he eventually learned his "Trek" stuff, since someone kept giving him work):
--Romulans use disruptors and plasma--not phasers and photon torpedoes.
--Spock is a touch-telepath (can read thoughts, if he's touching you), not primarily an empath.
--The characters are 2-dimensional and stock: the emotionless Vulcan, McCoy the a-hole, Kirk the amiable hero.
--(spoiler) The Enterprise crew isn't killed after replication the way everyone else was.

Star Trek--TOS #39: Time for Yesterday (Crispin, AC)

Rating: 3
Year: 1988
Genre: Sci-fi/Star Trek
Read again? In a few years.

This sequel to Yesterday's Son takes place just before "The Wrath of Khan."

Stars are dying. Time is running too fast and making them burn out! Kirk, Spock and McCoy--three of only a few people in the Federation who know what the Guardian of Forever really is--are sent to try to find out why it's suddenly wreaking havoc with the galaxy's time-stream.

They take a psychic Space Wallaby, the best candidate for talking to the Guardian. It zaps her brain, so there's only one thing to do: go back 5,000 years, find Spock's son Zar (who once talked psychically to the Guardian), and bring him back to the present! Great Spock!

There's a snag. For Zar, it's only been about 15 years since the last time he saw them. He's been using the time to build a little kingdom in a pleasant valley. But he's surrounded by enemies! When they find him, Zar is marshaling his forces, preparing to die in battle.

A much better book than its predecessor. More twists and turns, better characterization. But the science sucks, even for a "Star Trek" novel.

"When a star burns all of its hydrogen, it dies." (page 33). WRONG. Stars aren't really "burning" hydrogen--they're doing nuclear fusion, where hydrogen atoms are fused into helium atoms and energy. If it's a sun-sized star, once it has "burned" through a certain amount of its hydrogen, it expands to become a red giant (there's more to it than that, but dammit, Jim, I'm a book reviewer, not an astronomer!).
Crispin's got stars going nova all over the place and uses that as the "ticking clock" gimmick that's supposed to push the plot...but they've got a freaking TIME portal they could use to minimize that problem.

One point off for the sucky science--and another for the Space Wallaby.

Star Trek--TOS #8 Yesterday's Son (Crispin, AC)

Rating: 3
Year: 1983
Genre: Sci-fi/Star Trek
Read again? In another decade

The book starts off with a weak premise: Spock & Dr. McCoy are playing chess; a new girl comes over, asks Spock about Sarpeidon, the planet where Spock & McCoy went back 5,000 years in time (and Spock nailed Mariette Hartley--"All Our Yesterdays"). She's got pictures of some of the relics of Sarpeidon's lost civilization, including a recognizable Vulcan painted on one cave wall, where no Vulcan had gone before!

Here's the weak part: the Vulcan's so recognizable that Spock knows it's not himself--therefore it must be his son.

Of course he's going to use the Guardian of Forever to go back there. McCoy and Captain Kirk tag along. Poof! They go back and find Zar, now in his mid-twenties, living alone in the icy wilderness. He's a proficient hunter and survivor, but he's been lonely for years since his mother died. He willingly agrees to go back to the future!

This is a much better book than Diane Carey's Battlestations! and Dreadnought!; characterization is reasonably good, but the plot's very linear. There have to be Bad Guys, so Crispin brings in some Romulans who wonder why the Federation is spending so much time trying to keep the Guardian's planet a secret. Big fight, of course. Zar goes back to his own time--pretty much has to.