Saturday, 28 December 2013

Star Trek: Vanguard: Harbinger - David Mack

Title: Harbinger
Author: David Mack
Genre: Sci-Fi
Published: 2005
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

“Harbinger” by David Mack is the first novel in the Vanguard series, a collection of novels set in the Star Trek Universe around the same time period as the Original Series. This series of novels does not utilise Enterprise or its regular crew beyond the odd cameo, instead it uses a whole new cast of characters and is set on Starbase 47 aka Vanguard.

Anyway, the events of this novel take placed just after the TOS Episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before" and features the Enterprise heading to Starbase 47 for repairs following the events contained in that episode. However the Commander of Vanguard and his crew have more to worry about than just assisting with the repair of the Enterprise as they have colonists to support, ships to prepare and two other spacefaring Empires right on their doorstep who may not appreciate the Federation’s presence.

I am going to come right and say that the most difficult aspect of reading this book was trying to appreciate all the new characters. As this is a whole new crew I didn’t know anything about any of them and it took me a bit of time to get them all straight in my head which did lead to some confusion. Also, the limited time given to each of them means you can’t fully appreciate who they really are yet. In the end however, I realised that I had just had to treat this as the pilot episode, it is mainly here to introduce you to these new characters and at least give you some basic appreciation for who they are. I fully expect future novels to enhance the characters and give them greater depth.

Despite the negatives highlighted above in regards to the large ensemble cast I have to say that Mack has created a group of characters who feel realistic with their flaws and imperfections quite clearly showcased. In addition, I appreciated their variety as we get to see civilian points of view in addition to Starfleet and even the Starfleet crew are varied with a legal officer included for example which felt rather different. I basically found myself warming to most of the characters quite quickly and I particularly enjoyed following the antics of Cervantes Quinn a trader/smuggler who despite his criminal leanings, had elements of compassion within his persona. A final thing that struck me as the various characters were introduced is that Mack has realised there is a multitude of ethnicities within humanity itself and has tried to include a nice prominent mix within the novel which was nice to see.

In regards to the story itself, well of course people are going to compare this with DS9 or Babylon 5 as the similarities are quite obvious. I really did feel the influence of these shows quite strongly with the frontier space station, flawed characters and an overall mystery which could result in various spacefaring empires going to war. The only issue is that the book itself doesn’t really contain a standalone story, there was lots of set up with some good plot twists and action sequences but there was no real heart to the novel itself. It wasn’t a big problem for me as I am jumping straight into the next novel but as a standalone book “Harbinger” itself didn’t really leave me feeling that satisfied.

Overall, this book has the feeling of being a setup for the series in that it introduces the characters and gives us a taster of some overall mystery that is going to be uncovered as the reader progresses through the other novels. It was without doubt a nice introduction but I do wish that there had been at least some sort of decent standalone plot element as there was no real satisfying conclusion to the novel itself. In the end, this initial glimpse of the characters and the overall story arc were more than enough to get me hooked on the series which is without doubt its aim, so on that front it is a success.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The Helpers - Suzanna E. Nelson

Title: The Helpers
Author: Suzanna E. Nelson
Genre: Thriller
Published: 2010
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

“The Helpers” by Suzanna E. Nelson is an interesting and complex thriller which follows the attempts of a secret organisation’s attempts at maintaining control in the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, when an American reporter unexpectedly uncovers elements of their latest plot she is drawn into a dangerous game which puts her own life at risk.

Without doubt this is a fun thrill ride of a story with a complex plot that takes the reader across three continents and through a multitude of characters. The story does start off quite slowly but the pacing quickly ramps up and the plot begins to whip the reader from one element to the next. In the latter half of the novel I really enjoyed watching Lance, one of the French Intelligence agents travelling around the world trying to expose the villains as it was exciting, fast paced and entertaining.

In regards to the cast of characters, I really enjoyed seeing Nelson create a broad tableau of different people here who crossed various different national, racial, and gender lines. She also managed to avoid creating the usual archetypes seen in this type of thriller, there were no infallible spies or fearless reporters in this book. I basically found myself believing that these people could be real because most of them had their own flaws and hang-ups which were there for everyone to see.

There are some issues however with the novel which became pretty clear very early on. For example, the number of characters itself can make it quite hard to fully grasp what is going on as the narrative jumps between them all. I found that this along with the slow initial pacing to the novel meant I struggled initially to really get into the novel. The other major issue I had is that the conversation between the characters just didn’t flow naturally. It was all very formal and stilted which didn’t feel right in many of the situations we witnessed.

The only other stand out observation for me was in regards to the romance plotline. I just didn’t get it to be honest. I don’t know if this stemmed from the stilted dialogue I mentioned earlier but personally I didn’t see any natural or obvious sign of attraction to each other. They just appeared to talk together a few times and then suddenly decided they had feelings for each other. It almost felt like the author believed there should be some sort of romantic element to the story and forced it in.

Overall, this was an enjoyable and entertaining thriller which explores a part of the world I never normally read about. There are some weak elements to the novel in regards to the dialogue etc. but if you are after a complex conspiracy based thriller then you may find that this novel does a good job at passing the time.

Monday, 23 December 2013

2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge

Runs from January 1, 2014 - December 31, 2014
Hosted by Book'd Out

Last year I took part in Book'd Out's 2013 Eclectic Reader challenge and thoroughly enjoyed the experience as can be seen here. I read several books I probably would have never picked up if it wasn't for the challenge and I do think that it helped to widen by appetite for different genres of stories. Therefore, I am jumping at the chance of taking part in the 2014 Ecelectic Reader Challenge and look forward to seeing what enjoyable books I get to read this time.

The 12 categories that have been chosen by the hosting blog for the challenge are:

  • Award Winning
  • True Crime (Non Fiction)
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Alternative History
  • Graphic Novel
  • Cosy Mystery Fiction
  • Gothic Fiction
  • War/Military Fiction
  • Anthology
  • Medical Thriller Fiction
  • Travel (Non Fiction)
  • Published in 2014
There appears to be a nice range of stories included here and can't wait to get stuck in.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Star Trek Memories - William Shatner & Chris Kreski

Title: Star Trek Memories
Author: William Shatner & Chris Kreski
Genre: Biography
Published: 1994
Formats: Hardback/Paperback

Available at:
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

“Star Trek Memories” written by William Shatner and Chris Kreski is not really an autobiography but is actually a recollection of the Original Series itself. It is written chronologically taking the reader from the initial creation of the series right through to its cancellation.

Shatner basically covers the three seasons of “Star Trek” detailing what he remembers about the episodes, guest stars and other escapades that occurred throughout the Original Series production run. However he doesn’t just rely on his own memories as he supports them via commentary gleaned from interviews he held with other cast and crew members. I liked this as it enabled him to provide some added details that he may have been unable to provide if he had just relied on his own memories.

Don’t let this fool you however; the book still does have a Shatner slant which can bother some people as the guy does have an ego and can be a bit of a ham, all of which does come across at times. Personally, I like Shatner’s sense of humour so I found myself enjoying his commentary and the manner in which he recollects the various events despite his ego. In fact, I was actually quite impressed by some of Shatner’s honesty in that he does admit early on that he was at times blinded by his own thoughts and didn’t really appreciate how his actions affected his crew mates.

One minor issue I did have with these memoirs is that there is a lot of time dedicated to the first season but as we move onto the second and then the third the amount of detail reduces. In fact, I think more time was spent detailing the campaign to save Star Trek for a third season than was actually spent going over the events of the season’s production. Whilst I understand he maybe wanted to concentrate more on the good than the bad, it did make the book feel a little bit lopsided.

A final point I wish to make is that whilst Shatner describes various events, technical details and production issues he doesn’t really capture the relationships between everyone. I felt that this was a shame as I knew a fair few of the known facts already and had been looking for a bit more about how the various cast and crew members interacted.

Overall, I found this to be a decent look back at the history of the television show which includes a look at the cast, crew and even some of the technical aspects. Yes it would have been nice to get a little bit of a deeper look at the relationships between people but in the end I suspect Shatner’s own strong viewpoints may have skewed this anyway.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Challenge Complete - 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge

To try and push my reading experiences even further afield into genres and book styles I may normally have avoided. Check out my pre challenge post here!

Read 12 Novels that fulfil the requirements defined in a list of sub-genre detailed on the host blog.

I did it, and I have loved every minute of the journey!

I've read-

Translated fiction
Historical Mystery
Romantic Suspense
Made into a Movie
New Adult
Urban Fantasy
Action Adventure
Published in 2013

I really enjoyed the quite extensive variety involved in this challenge. There were a few books I was a bit apprehensive about but still found everything enjoyable enough to read.
This was the only challenege I took part in this year and I enjoyed the different styles and genre that it introduced to me. There is no doubt that I will be signing up again for 2014!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Oranges are Not the Only Fruit - Jeanette Winterson

Title: Oranges are Not the Only Fruit
Author: Jeanette Winterson
Genre: General Fiction
Published: 1985
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

“Oranges are not the only Fruit” by Jeanette Winterson is the final book I read as part of a 2013 Eclectic Reader challenge. I ended up choosing this book to fulfil the LGBT requirement after my wife suggested it to me as she had enjoyed reading it when she was in her teens.

The story itself is semi-autobiographical and follows Jeanette as she grows up amongst a devout Pentecostal mother who is raising her to be a missionary and Jeanette herself believes from an early age that she is meant to serve God. However, as Jeanette grows into a teenager she begins to explore her sexuality with a close friend called Melanie which is discovered and demonised by the church community. Jeanette therefore struggles to come to terms with her own sexuality, her love for God and her relationship with a community she has grown up with.

To be honest, the sexual elements of the story didn’t really strike me as being overly important and it kind of took a backseat to the real thrust of the novel which was to criticise the rather strict and unyielding dogma of her family’s religious community. This criticism is all supported by the way in which we can witness the clash between different generations and Jeanette’s difficult journey to find some sort of truth and self-acceptance even though it goes against the way she was brought up.

In regards to the writing style, I found that the disjointed sentences, short paragraphs and quiry comments helped to drive home the feeling that I was following a young girl. The only issue I had was that this writing style continued as Jeannette grows into a sixteen year old rebel who has lesbian experiences at least twice. The cute, almost innocent feeling of the style which worked with Jeanette was a nine year old just didn’t feel right as she grew into an adolescent. Also, whilst some of the comments made by Jeanette were quite humorous and witty on the whole it did feel rather dry and lacking in any real emotional punch as if it was being told very factually.

One element of the novel I really couldn’t be bothered with was the way in which the story was interspersed with fantasy/fairy tale sequences which were rather surreal. When the first one appeared I found it rather strange but as they kept on coming I found myself finding them rather irritating and soon just skipped them altogether. I am sure that someone can tell me of a reasoning and deep meaning behind them but for me they just interfered with the real life tale of a young woman coming to terms with herself.

Overall, I did find this to be an interesting look at a young woman’s attempt to find herself in the face of a strict religious upbringing. Given the novels strong LGBT portrayal I was surprised that the sexual element was actually very subtle and was used to criticise the way in which a strict upbringing can affect a child to the point that they struggle to understand and accept themselves rather than just criticising an anti-homosexual viewpoint. This was definitely a new experience for me and I am glad my wife recommended it as it was enjoyable enough even if some of the writing style didn’t work for me.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Star Trek: S.C.E. #64: Distant Early Warning (What's Past Book 4) - Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore

Title: S.C.E. #64: Distant Early Warning (What's Past Book 4)
Author: Dayton Ward
Genre: Sci-Fi
Published: 2006
Formats: Ebook

Available at:
Amazon UK

So “Distant Early Warning” by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore is my first experience of the Starfleet Corps of Engineers Ebook series and I would it to be a rather interesting if rather quick experience. Whilst the majority of these books focus on the 24th Century, this book takes a look at the crew of the USS Lovell in the 23rd Century and appears to be a prequel to the Vanguard series of novels which I am about to start reading.

The year is 2265 and Starfleet has fast-tracked the construction of Starbase 47, also known as Vanguard although the reason for such a rush to get it built is being kept secret by Starfleet Command. Unfortunately, there are various technical problems plaguing the Starbase and so the USS Lovell is called in with its Starfleet Corps of Engineers team ready to help. However, it soon becomes obvious that this isn’t just teething troubles and there appears to be something much more mysterious causing the issues.

The first thing that did impress me about this story is that even though I haven’t read any SCE or Vanguard novels I found it to be accessible and understandable. With such a large collection of new characters and a limited page count I was pleasantly surprised by this as I was worried that I would struggle to follow it. The fact that the authors didn’t try and link the story into the regular 24th Century SCE crew also helped to ensure the ebook was fully concentrating on the plot and the characters of the 23rd Century.

The story itself was entertaining and attention grabbing although some elements of the plotting didn’t completely work for me. Basically, I was a little bit disappointed that the two main plot lines seemed to have no relevance to each other. I just didn’t understand why the authors felt the need to try and cram both elements into novella like this when there was no actual link between them. I suppose having both plot lines did keep the action and excitement levels up but I think I would rather have seen a bit more exploration of the characters.

Overall, this was an enjoyable novella that has given me a decent introduction to both the crew of the USS Lovell and Vanguard. The story itself had a fair amount of action alongside some intriguing mystery which helped to ensure that I completed it in no time at all. Now, I am just looking forward to picking up the first book in the Vanguard series and finding out more about the mysteries of the Taurus Reach.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Night Eternal (The Strain Book 3) - Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan

Title: The Night Eternal (The Strain Book 3)
Author: Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan
Genre: Horror
Published: 2011
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

“The Night Eternal” by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan is the 3rd and final book in the Strain trilogy and follows on a couple of years after the evens of the second book in the series entitled “The Fall”. If you haven't read the previous books then I do advise that you avoid reading this review as some of my commentary is likely to include some spoilers.

Since the events detailed in “The Fall” humanity has suffered brutally with the world having fallen under the control of the Master and his vampire horde. Most of the remaining people have accepted their new life under the ash filled skies either as an underclass of society or as cattle held in camps where they are bred and bled as a food source for the vampires. A handful do still try to fight back such as Eph, Fet and Nora who were entrusted with a silver bound book called the Occido Lumen which supposedly contains the manner in which they could finally defeat the Master and perhaps give humanity some hope for the future. However, with the Master still hunting them and many humans helping him, their chances seem slim.

Once again the authors have packed some decent enjoyable action sequences into their book. However, these were interspersed amongst some slower paced and at times rather dull character driven elements. The problem here is that I have struggled to really engage with the characters and therefore anything focussed around them failed to really enthuse me. This wasn’t helped by some of the developments thrown into the book such as a new romance between Fet and Nora, Drug addicted Eph and more importantly his son Zack whose brain washing led me to really disliking him. I basically found myself not caring about any of the characters so their sacrifices and choices didn’t bother or interest me.

Whilst on the whole the characters were a let-down for me I did appreciate the exposure given to the mysterious Mr Quinlan who is revealed here to actually be a son of the Master. Whilst he wasn’t around much in terms in page quantity, this solemn and interesting character has an important role in the overall story and it was nice to see his own personal story revealed here and given some room to shine.

There are also some other nice touches to the book such as the dark, depressing and brutal world that the authors have created. Bleakness and a lack of hope pervade this book and to be honest I am not sure the ending could really be classed as a happy one either. This is then all supported by the Vampire creation story which is finally revealed in this book. I won’t go into much detail here as I don’t want to ruin in for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet but it was an interesting take on the mythology and I enjoyed the way in which it linked into biblical stories.

Overall, whilst I have enjoyed reading this book and the series in general I do think that this book has again highlighted one of the real flaws and that is the characters. They just aren’t engaging enough to carry the slower sections of the story and I think this has really reduced the overall impact of this novel in particular due to its elements of sacrifice. In the end, if you have made it this far in the series then you really should read it if only to see how it all began with the vampire creation story and how it all finally ends.