BOOK REVIEW: Orion’s Hounds, by Christopher L. Bennett

click here for a full index of all my Star Trek reviews

orion.jpg

Era: Post-Nemesis

Series: Titan (#3)

Publisher: Pocket Books

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 379

Publication Date: 2006

Verdict: 3/5

 

Titan‘s journey takes it into the breeding grounds of the star-jellies first encountered at Farpoint Station. But where there are animals, there are hunters, and Riker soon finds himself torn between preserving an alien way of life, and preserving life itself . . .

The great strength of Star Trek has always been diversity, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. One of the unique things about this universe is the number of hands involved in its design. Yes, there were show-runners like Rodenberry, Berman, and now Alex Kurtzman, but dozen of directors, editors, and screenwriters had their time in the sun. In the literary realm, this is still the case. Back in the early days, famed authors such as James Blish and Joe Haldeman penned stories. In more recent years, the Litverse has cultivated a community of familiar names. While some series, most notable the Voyager relaunch, were helmed by a single author, Titan followed in the Star Trek tradition by opening its doors to many different writers. With Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin having kicked off the series, this third volume welcomes Trek stalwart Christopher L. Bennett to the fold. Followers of this blog will recognise Bennett from his stellar Enterprise: Rise of the Federation novels, and we’ll be seeing more of him in the months to come.

One thing Bennett has always excelled at is bringing together scattered parts of Trek history to create a more cohesive whole. This time around, his focus is on the cosmozoans, a term I believe he invented in this novel. Put simply, a cosmozoan is one of many various species of giant, space-faring life form. The star-jellies are a key part of this novel, but Bennett also works in the Crystalline Entity from The Next Generation, and numerous encounters in the Delta Quadrant from Voyager, putting Tuvok’s prior experience to good use. Bennett takes all these one-off space monsters and creates a thriving interstellar ecosystem. The delving into science behind such behemoths is easily the bets part of the book, and that’s before you get to moral quandaries over the rights of such creatures.

However, much as I enjoyed the content of Orion’s Hounds, I felt like the prose pulls the book down. I generally like Bennett’s work, but here the writing feels sluggish. Some of this is the change of pace brought on by a new author driving the same characters, but this feels like a book weighed down by its delivery. And while it didn’t bother me too much, readers looking for crew interaction may be disappointed. Here the focus is very much on the science problem of the week that Bennett handles so well. There are some fun moments with the crew, but not as much as in previous books. That said, the carnivorous Ree plays an important role, and his development is rapidly becoming one of the best character arcs in the series, even if it is early days yet.

With a lot of science and a side helping of character work, Orion’s Hounds is a pleasant little slice of Star Trek that will leave you wanting more. Happily, both Bennett and Titan are ready to provide.

BOOK REVIEW: Flesh and Steel, by Guy Haley

click here for a full list of all my Warhammer 40,000 content

flesh and steel.jpg

Publisher: Black Library

Genre: Crime/Grimdark

Pages: 312

Publication Date: 2020

Verdict: 5/5

 

Symeon Dymaxion-Noctis is a lawman hiding from his own noble heritage. Rho-1 Lux is a tech-priest investigating potential heresies. When a murder implicates the tech-priests of Steelmound in a conspiracy, Noctis and Lux become unlikely allies in their search for the truth . . .

Why? Why, why, why did I wait so long to start reading Warhammer Crime? Last year I loved the audio drama Dredge Runners (by Alec Worley), but for some reason I ignored the novels also set in the sprawling urban hellscape of Varangantua. One book in, I can confirm this was a massive mistake on my part. Flesh and Steel is a great novel that solidifies the Warhammer Crime range’s lofty position in my estimation.

As I’ve said countless times before, SF and Crime go hand-in-hand. Flesh and Steel is proof of this. Whereas the Warhammer Horror line faltered early on due to a disconnect between brand and overall franchise, Warhammer Crime blends setting and genre effortlessly. Focusing the Crime range on the events of a single city was a smart choice by Black Library, as it allows Varangantua to develop a personality of its own. In a universe as large as the forty-first millennium, having multiple stories in the same location is a nice change of pace. Varangantua shows the civilian side of life in the grim, dark future. While it still feels like a part of the larger setting, it’s distinctly it’s own thing. You can tell Warhammer Crime is intended to draw in new readers, not only due to the shift in genre, but because of the glossary at the end. Of course, the glossary is of use even to someone more familiar with Warhammer 40,000.

While Flesh and Blood is first and foremost a crime novel, it never forgets its grimdark origins. There is a scene set in a servitor factory that is quite simply one of the most grimdark things I have ever read. For those not in the know, servitors are essentially zombie cyborgs used as slave labour. You can imagine some of what a servitor factory entails, but the depth of Haley’s depiction is as brilliant as it is brutal. Something that really took me by surprise is the involvement of the tech-priests in this book. There’s not a whole lot of Adpetus Mechanicus content in Black Library, and what Haley provides here is one of the best explanations of the Mechanicus that I have ever come across. Having one of the main characters be a tech-priest is a useful window into the world, but though we get a look at their inner workings, there is still an air of mystique about them.

Just as Dregde Runners combined grimdark with buddy comedy, so Flesh and Steel takes the classic Lethal Weapon approach of throwing together an unlikely partnership. For most of the book, our narrator is Symeon Noctis. Nobles who turn their back on family are rarely my favourite characters, but Haley makes it work. Noctis’ background comes up a few times throughout the story, and there are hints scattered through the book about darkness in his past. We get a few answers towards the end, but the framing narrative makes it clear that there is more story here than just this one book provides. We also get few chapters from the perspective of Lux. Not-quite-human viewpoints can be tough to pull off, but again Haley does it with ease. These are both characters I would be more than happy to see get more outings, and the subheading of ‘A Noctis and Lux novel’ suggests that this could well be the case.

Flesh and Steel is a brilliant novel, both as a crime thriller and as a piece of grimdark literature. Highly, highly recommended.

BOOK REVIEW: The Red King, by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin

click here for a full index of all my Star Trek reviews

red king.jpg

Era: Post-Nemesis

Series: Titan (#2)

Publisher: Pocket Books

Genre: Social SF

Pages: 362

Publication Date: 2005

Verdict: 3/5

Flung across the Galaxy and beyond, Titan finds itself in the territory of a species known as the Neyel. But these are no aliens. The Neyel are an offshoot of humanity. And their home is tearing itself apart . . .

The Titan‘s second literary outing is a lot less successful than its first. We pick up in the immediate aftermath of Taking Wing, with Riker, Donatra, and their respective ships in an unfamiliar region of space. Unfamiliar that is, to all but Akaar and Tuvok. I would assume that the pair’s prior experience with the Neyel is covered in an earlier book (perhaps one of the Lost Era novels) but the brief comments they make about those experiences are of little relevance here.

My main problem with this book is the Neyel themselves. Their social backstory is as follows: Shortly before Zefram Cochrane’s first warp flight (as seen in the film First Contact) a group of humans found themselves thrown into deep space. There they had to genetically engineer themselves to survive, and now have tails among other features. The weird part is that they live and speak in a faux-medieval manner. So Earth becomes Auld Aerth and so on. The problem with this is that it makes no sense for them to be so backward. Yes, post World War Three Earth was a regressed place, but not to that extent. And there’s no reason given in The Red King for them to have changed in such a manner in the following three centuries. Again I wonder if context is given in another novel, because it’s certainly not on display here.

But this book doesn’t concern itself with the Neyel (though is enough happening there to fill a novel). We also have an apocalyptic event as a new universe crosses over into our own. This is a bit I did enjoy, as the notion of de Sitter space and emergent universe is exactly the sort of science problem I like to see Star Trek handling. The legends built around the Red King are also very well done, and i wish they’d played a larger part in the story. But there is still more to be wedged into this story. There’s Donatra’s ongoing redemption arc, and a smattering of Klingon politics. It all feels a bit much. It follows on naturally enough from Taking Wing, but there are simply too many elements to The Red King for any one of them to hold my attention fully.

On the positive side, the Titan crew continue to grow and develop. Now that we know the basics, the real character development can start, and Mangels and Martin excel at creating a crew as diverse as Star Trek‘s goals. I can already see a few potential candidates for favourite characters rising to the front, but for now everyone is on the same high level. There’s not a weak link in this chain, and the aliens feel alien without being alienating. Like all good TrekTitan has a cast of characters you want to spend time with, and learn more about.

The Red King is a bump in the road for Titan, but hopefully little more than a brief slump. And if this is as bad as it gets, then it’s still going to be a strong series.

BOOK REVIEW: Shards of Earth, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

shards.jpg

Series: The Final Architecture (#1)

Publisher: Tor

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 533

Publication Date: 27/05/2021

Verdict: 5/5

The Architects destroyed Earth, and nearly eradicated the human race. Idris helped end that war. A generation has passed since then, and now Idris is being sought by powers that want to use him as a weapon. There are some things you can’t run from forever . . .

From his roots in epic fantasy, Adrian Tchaikovsky has established himself as one of the strongest voices in modern science fiction. His SF output of the past few years has been incredibly diverse, from the post-apocalyptic Firewalkers, to hard Sf in Children of Time and Children of Ruinto the time-bending One Day All This Will Be Yours, and even a foray into the dying Earth genre with Cage of SoulsShards of Earth places a new feather in his cap as Tchaikovsky takes on full blown space opera. This is the first book in a new series, but the change of setting does not detract from Tchaikovsky’s hallmarks of pacing, wit, and big, concept-driven storytelling.

Where to being with the worldbuilding in this one? Tchaikovsky has always been good at writing the non-human, and here he introduces a half-dozen alien species and cultures. Whether it’s self-aware machine clusters, spacefaring locust swarms, or clams with an empire to rule, every species is unique and well-developed. None of them have the easy route of humanoid with different morality (and foreheads) but they all feel fully realised. Of course, we spend more time with some than others, but none of them feel like asides. Each species could hold a novel in itself, and bringing them together is gloriously messy for our characters.

But it’s not just alien cultures Tchaikovsky has developed. Oh no no.  Without Earth in the picture, humanity has split into new factions to. In theoretical control, you have the Council of Human Interests, abbreviated to ‘Hugh.’ As you’d expect, Hugh is oppressing the Colonials, who are ragtag settlers and spacers, and just so happen to include our protagonists. Then you have the Parthenon, who are a group of (mildly fanatic), artificially grown female soldiers. There’s an element of Warhammer 40,000’s Sisters of Battle about the Parthenon that I really enjoyed. I’ve used the word messy already in this review, and that’s what I like most about the politics of Tchaikovsky’s post-Earth future. Everyone has a different idea of how things should be done, and while war crimes abound and there’s no shortage of ethical debate, no group has a monopoly on evil. Sure, some of the groups are broadly sketched, but they’re never unified wholes. Everyone has an agenda.

On top of all this phenomenal worldbuilding, we have one of my favourite tropes. A ship and it’s ragtag crew take centre stage. Idris’s team of misfits and renegades could give anyone a run for their money. But even if they are rough around the edges, they’re not criminals as you often get with this trope. They’re just hardworking salvagers looking for a break. if I had to pick a favourite from the crew, it would be Kit, an enlightened capitalist who happens to be a an alien crab. In characters as in ideas, Tchaikovsky seamlessly blends the relatable with the very, very weird. We only get the PoV from a few of the characters, first alternating between Idris and a Partheni soldier named Solace, but at around the one-third mark the scope broadens a little to include other perspectives. Personally I’d have liked to have those other viewpoints earlier on, but that’s an insignificant complaint for a book that is otherwise a winner in every regard.

Shards of Earth is the best kickoff to a new series you could hope for, and shows just why Tchaikovsky has earned such acclaim.

BOOK REVIEW: Taking Wing, by Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels

click here for a full index of all my Star Trek reviews

taking wing.jpg

Era: Post-Nemesis

Series: Titan (#1)

Publisher: Pocket Books

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 359

Publication Date: 2005

Verdict: 5/5

 

William Riker is captain of the USS Titan, the first in a new class of exploration vessels. But Titan’s maiden voyage is not one of discovery, but of mercy. The Romulan Star Empire, reeling from the assassination of its senate, is in disarray, and only Riker and his untested crew are equipped to stop the crisis spiralling into full-blown war . . .

If any novel series is representative of Star Trek‘s shift from television to literature, it’s the voyages of Titan. With nine main novels, and many others that cross into series such as Typhon Pact and The FallTitan‘s journey mirrors the development of Pocket Books’ post-Nemesis timeline. Great standalone adventures, darker instalments, and crossovers with every crew imaginable. And it all starts with Taking Wing.

Titan takes full advantage of it’s literary nature right from the get go. Star Trek‘s history with aliens tends to go one of two ways. Rubber foreheads or energy spheres. these limitations are of course budget related, and while some species like the Cardassians still look good today, others don’t hold up. But with a book, the only limit is imagination, and we get a truly diverse crew for the new ship. Titan‘s doctor, for example, is a dinosaur in all but name. There’s an alien you never would have had in the 90s, but in Taking Wing, he’s not even the weirdest member of the crew. Titan‘s crew is in-universe acknowledged as the most diverse crew Starfleet has put together, and that diversity alone makes this a great piece of Star Trek.

But not all of the crew are new faces. Obviously you have Riker in the captain’s chair, and Deanna Troi gets far more to do in this single book alone than she did for much of her tenure on the Enterprise. First Officer Christina Vale is a name from the Enterprise relaunch novels, although I only know her from James Swallow’s Picard novel The Dark Veil, which shows a different canon for the Titan‘s voyages. Voyager‘s resident Vulcan Tuvok crosses over from Janeway’s command to Riker’s in a prime example of how the Litverse shuffled up crews to great effect. Deep Space Nine guest star Melora Pazlar also arrives in a fully-fledged role. The mix of new and familiar faces settles you in while still pushing new frontiers.

More returning faces come in the form of the Romulans. Some names are taken straight from Nemesis, while others such as Tomalak go further into Star Trek‘s depths. Taking Wing picks up directly after Nemesis, and concerns itself with the political fallout of Shinzon’s brief reign of terror. It’s particularly interesting to see Starfleet and the Federation sending an aid mission to Romulus now that the Picard timeline has played with similar ideas. Here it ends a little more happily, with the political manoeuvring taking a back seat to crew interactions for much of the book. With so many characters to (re)introduce, this is perfectly natural, but when the politics take precedence, there’s still a chance for all of the crew to show their colours. There isn’t a full resolution at the end of Taking Wing, because it’s a messy, complicated issue, and the climax sets up the next book with a not-quite-cliffhanger. In that, Titan begins with the time-honoured Star Trek tradition of the two-part season opener.

Star Trek  could not have had a better start to the post-Nemesis timeline than Taking Wing, and if the series continues at this rate, Titan will be name to sit alongside any Enterprise.

BOOK REVIEW: Dune Messiah, by Frank Herbert

-Click here for a full index of my Dune Saga reviews-

dune messiah.jpg

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Series: Dune Chronicles (#2)

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 293

Publication Date: 1971

Verdict: 4/5

 

Paul Atreides is Emperor of the known universe. But total victory has come at a terrible price. Billions are dead, worlds are in ruins, and through the power of prescience, Paul knows worse is yet to come. Can he steer humanity to a brighter future, or will Muad’dib’s legacy claim the man himself as a victim . . ?

In my opinion (which grows less humble by the day) Dune Messiah is the pinnacle of Frank Herbert’s original six Dune novels. Which is a very strange thing to say, because as an individual novel, it really shouldn’t hold together. Dune Messiah is the shortest book of the entire series, original or extended, and I have to say that when people refer to it as an epilogue to Dune, I’m tempted to agree. But it’s more than just a few extra chapters. It’s a bridge between Dune and Children of Dune, and for all its brevity it packs a punch with the core themes of this epic series.

Dune Messiah picks up twelve years into Muad’dib’s bloody reign. As readers of Paul of Dune will know, Paul’s attempts to limit the violence of the Jihad have been less than fully successful. Or maybe he has done everything he can. Though we only get the occasional glimpse of what Paul sees through his prescience, it’s clear that the alternatives to his tyranny are far worse, though at this stage in the series we don’t know what his plans are in aid of. A united and strong humanity yes, but to what end? Personally, I think that goal is a reward in and of itself, and I’m not wholly convinced Frank Herbert had planned ahead to the threat(s) revealed in later novels. For Dune Messiah, the question is a matter of the ends justifying the means, and while Paul thinks they do, he is alone in that opinion.

What I had forgotten from my first read is that Dune Messiah opens with an in-universe commentary on the events about to be portrayed. We know going into this book that Paul faces multiple conspiracies, and that they will fail. We know who the conspirators are and what motivates them. I have to say, it’s nice for an author to be so open like this. It also works better than Dune‘s habit of having villains monologue about all their evil schemes. yes, there are bits of Dune Messiah that fall into the same pattern, but Frank Herbert uses meta-commentary to far greater effect. This opening, the Dune appendices, and the epigrams before each chapter have all but convinced me Herbert was a better writer of nonfiction than he was of prose. Honestly, it’s the epigrams that make this series for me. Each one build the universe a little bit more, enriching the novel as a result.

Dune Messiah works because it is open about being a tragedy. Gone is the boyish adventure of the original. Here there is only loss and suffering. It’s a quietly brutal book, and even if I don’t empathise with Paul, the agony he endures is undeniable. Dune Messiah shows us a man who has brought the Galaxy to its knees. A man who has everything he could ever want. And then it strips away everything he loves. This book proves that one victory matters little in the grand scheme, and that committing to a path is often the only choice, but not always the best choice. Wonderful stuff.

The attentive reader will notice that this pinnacle of the series scores a 4/5 on my ratings. Up next is the Brian Herbert/Kevin J. Anderson-penned The Winds of Dune, but after that we’re deep in Frank Herbert territory. You’ll have to keep reading to see how that turns out. Spoiler alert: Be ready for a bit of a slog.

BOOK REVIEW: All That’s Left, by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore

click here for a full index of all my Star Trek reviews

seekers 4.jpg

Era: Post-The Original Series

Series: Seekers (#4)

Publisher: Pocket Books

Genre: Social SF

Pages: 369

Publication Date: 2015

Verdict: 4/5

An archaeological dig is the unlikely target of an unknown alien vessel. Rushing to the rescue, the crew of the Endeavour find themselves facing two puzzles. What happened to the planet’s original inhabitants, and why is this ruined civilisation now being attacked . . ?

The fourth and final volume of the Seekers series is another standalone adventure, this time focusing on the U.S.S Endeavour.  Like Long Shot, it very much feels as though it could have been a televised episode of Star Trek, and that is its greatest strength. While I don’t enjoy Ward & Dilmore’s style as much as David Mack’s, this is one of the strongest books from the pair, and it’s shame to see that there are no further books in the series. As a final outing for these characters, it has a lot in common with TOS finale ‘Turnabout Intruder,’ in that it provides a self-contained story that doesn’t feel like a conclusion to something bigger. I like that about it. In fact, I like it a lot. All That’s Left doesn’t set out to change the staus quo. It just gets to work and tells an enjoyable story of science, aliens, and spaceships.

With so few books under their belt, it’s the characters who prove a weak point in this book. Not because they are poorly developed or uninteresting, but simply because there are so many of them. The Endeavour has only been the star of the show for seven hundred or so pages (although it did of course play a role in the events of Vanguard) and with a full crew to introduce and detail in that time, we don’t really get a sense of who they are. And it’s not just one ship’s crew. In this book there is a second Federation vessel, a research team of civilian scientists, and a host of formidable aliens. It’s inevitable that some will get more page time than others, and it’s to their credit that Ward & Dilmore do as good a job as they do of holding the book’s diverse cast together.

One of the ways this book best emulates the feel of The Original Series is in it’s alien threat. There’s potential for spoilers here, so look away if that you wish. You see, the Lrondi are a classic low-budget alien. Everyone knows you can go one of three ways with Trek aliens. Rubber foreheads and noses, glowing balls of energy, or possessing members of the crew. All That’s Left goes for option three. The Lrondi are basically jellyfish that control a humanoid host, and it’s easy to imagine a human cast acting out of character as they have done so often in STar Trek history. Normally, alien possession is an unequivocally bad thing, whatever the aliens may have you believe. Stargate’s Tok’ra are an exception to this role, as are Trek‘s own Trill. But the Lrondi’s true nature had me guessing for a long while, and even at the end I’m not wholly convinced either way.

All That’s Left may not offer the most bombastic conclusion in Star Trek‘s history, but it’s a fitting send-off to a series that could have, and deserved to, go on a little longer.

BOOK REVIEW: Sabbat War, edited by Dan Abnett

click here for a full list of all my Warhammer 40,000 content

sabbat.jpg

Contributors: Dan Abnett, Graham McNeill, Robert Rath, Marc Collins, Matthew Farrer,  Justin D. Hill, Eduardo Albert, John French, Rachel Harrison

Publisher: Black Library

Genre: Military SF

Pages: 398

Publication Date: 19/06/2021

Verdict: 3.5/5

 

The Sabbat Crusade is one of the Galaxy’s most brutal conflicts. Here in the Sabbat Worlds, the forces of the Imperium clash with the Chaos-worshipping Archenemy. There are no heroes, only soldiers and those about to die . . .

I have a mixed history with Black Library’s anthologies. There are a lot of great short stories out there, but a lot of them tend to follow similar themes. Black Library generally gathers the stories by faction, or by common qualities, which hasn’t exactly helped the matter. To my mind, a good anthology should have diverse stories. Real blends of character, plot, and execution. Sabbat War falls somewhere in the middle of these anthologies. There’s no set theme, with the stories instead all taking place in the Sabbat Worlds. This allows for a range of stories, though some of the content is common across all of them. This is also a fairly unique anthology for Black Library, in that the editor is credited on the cover. Of course, this editor is Dan Abnett, and it would be odd to see a Sabbat Worlds story that didn’t reflect his involvement.

As an editor, Abnett provides one of my favourite parts of anthologies – introductions to each story. Short and sweet, they generally give some context as to where the story fits in the larger scale of the Sabbat Crusade, while also saying something about the author and their involvement in the anthology. But Abnett doesn’t just gather other’s stories here. He has contributed two original stories of his own. Both of these stories take place in the aftermath of Anarch, and show the lasting effects of those traumatic events. Not just on the Tanith First and Only, but on the world of Urdesh as a whole.

Abnett aside, Sabbat War gathers a mix of old and new faces. Graham McNeill brings in a solid entry, Matthew Farrer adds a murder mystery to the book, and John French fires on all cylinders with a horror-tinged tale of shipboard action. Justin D. Hill brings new life to Chaos, and leaves me eagerly anticipating the novels of his I have in my TBR tower.. These authors may be old hands, but they are still writing great material.

With regards to the newer authors, Eduardo Albert’s ‘Deep’ is a claustrophobic and brutal story of war in the trenches. Robert Rath and Marc Collins both write entries that leave me wanting more, and Rachel Harrison brings aerial action with ‘Indomitable Spirit.’ If you needed proof that the future of Black Library is in good hands, look no further than these four.

‘Deep’ and ‘Indomitable Spirit’ aside, the stories in this anthology are good rather than remarkable. As a book, Sabbat War is fine, but it represents something important: The opening up of Abnett’s corner of the universe to more stories. Yes, there have been two anthologies before this, but now we have novels coming by people who are not Dan Abnett. Farrer’s The Serpent and the Saint sits in my TBR, and Nick Kyme’s Volpone Glory is at most a few months away. Sabbat War proves that new authors can play in the sandbox without diluting the unique flavour Abnett has built up over the past two decades. Not that Abnett is going anywhere. A Gaunt’s Ghosts prequel had a limited release last month, and in this volume he confirms that he is working on a sequel to Double Eagle, as well as post-Anarch books featuring Gaunt and his men.

Sabbat War is a strong collection, delivering some wonderfully grim stories, and teasing more on the horizon.

SPSFC At Boundary’s Edge: Meet The Team

In defiance of all logic, I am a judge for the inaugural SPSFC. This is going to be a lot of fun, but it’s also a big responsibility. More, you might say, than one man alone can handle. Well, I’m not so sure about that, but I have nevertheless assembled a crack team of bloggers and reviewers to stop my head from exploding. We are collectively the At Boundary’s Edge team, but these fine individuals have their own takes on the genre. Diversity is the great strength of SF, and I dare say my new colleagues have been doing this longer (and potentially better) than I have. But that’s enough from me (for now). I asked each of the judges the same set of questions, and the answers are here for your perusal. Read on, and I’ll let the team introduce themselves.


JENN

Hiii, I’m Jenn.

I review books on my blog; Eternal Bookcase, which you can find here: https://eternalbookcase.com/ I also talk about meaningless gumph on Twitter! @Eternalbookcase

For genres, I enjoy many elements of science-fiction especially stories that crossover into the mystery and thriller categories. I’m a big fan of unique world-building, tragic heroism and, anything that’s considered ‘dark.’ But, I also enjoy a healthy dose of everyday drama too. I like reading books that challenge my perception of humanity, so anything that features sentient aliens or artificial intelligence, I’ll be most happy with.

I struggle with stories that are overly technical or ‘wordy’ so if there’s anything that comes across as bloated and confusing, I’ll not get along well with it. I also have trouble enjoying erotic fiction so if there’s little plot and a lot of bumping-uglies, I’ll be a hard-pass!

I first started enjoying Science-Fiction when I was a youngster. As well as enjoying Star Trek ToS re-runs on a Wednesday evening with the family and listening to my parents vinyl of Jeff Waynes War of the Worlds, I was introduced to Alien when I was just 9 years old in the form of the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter at Disney World, Florida – where I was both traumatised and given a morbid curiosity for all things Xenomorph. Since then I have moved onto series like Babylon 5 and Warhammer but do occasionally still enjoy the good old bug hunt!


RYAN

Hello! I’m Ryan, and I write reviews both for Before We Go (beforewegoblog.com) and Grimdark Magazine (grimdarkmagazine.com). I’m also fairly active on twitter at twitter.com/RyanHowse

I enjoy space opera, science fantasy, cyberpunk, steampunk, and horror. But more than anything else, I’m always looking for a book that does things differently. Tough sells for me are going to be alternate histories, extremely technical hard science fiction, and military science fiction. Also, zombies. I apologise in advance to anyone who wrote an alt-history with extremely technical military scifi folk hunting zombies.

I’ve been reading and writing science fiction and fantasy for, well, as long as I can recall. I love Frankenstein and Zelazny, Star Trek and Mass Effect. Heck, I built my own tabletop RPG system to facilitate my love of spaceships. I’ve participated in the SPFBO as an author a few times, and I’m looking forward to seeing the other side!


ALE

(they/them pronouns)

http://streetlamphalo.co.uk/ and on Twitter @wasteofpaint

What genres do you enjoy reading? All manner of speculative fiction, alongside literary fiction and nonfiction. In sci-fi specifically I’m an absolute sucker for sci-fi that deals with political conflict, exploration, found family and really interesting science (think Children of Time).

What genres/themes are going to be a tough sell? Military sci-fi that boils down to “ships shooting lasers at each other”. I don’t mind a big space battle (I read and loved Unconquerable Sun last year), but I need it to be more than just that.

I’m in my early 30s and live in London with my two cats. I’ve been reading sci-fi since I was about 12, when my dad pushed the Foundation series into my hands and insisted I read it. When I’m not reviewing books I’m an avid cook and I recently started getting back into art, primarily collage and digital photography. I’m also a keen runner, cyclist, powerlifter, OneWheel rider and amateur bassist!


ALEX

You can find my blog right here: atboundarysedge.com or follow me on Twitter @HormannAlex

My favourite SF subgenres are Space Opera and Military SF. I’m looking for books with an epic sense of scale, and if that can be a story told over a long period of time, all the better. Original scientific ideas and well-executed Hard SF are also going to score points with me, and I love infodumps.

Romance and/or sex-heavy stories will have to fight hard to not be an instant DNF, and outright comedy is also going to a very difficult sell. The only other genre I really struggle with is science fantasy, as I prefer the science side of SF to play an important role.

My introduction to SF was either Foundation, or Star Wars tie-ins. Honestly, it’s so long ago I can’t remember what came first. A decade and a half later, and with several hundred SF books read, I reached peak nerd by writing my MA dissertation on the role of empires in science fiction. I haven’t looked back since, and divide my time between reading, writing, and farming.

BOOK REVIEW: Long Shot, by David Mack

click here for a full index of all my Star Trek reviews

long shot.jpg

Era: Post-The Original Series

Series: Seekers (#3)

Publisher: Pocket Books

Genre: Social SF

Pages: 318

Publication Date: 2015

Verdict: 5/5

 

The USS Sagittarius stumbles across an odd energy reading, leading them to a planet on the brink of scientific revolution. But this new technology has side effects. Side effects that rewrite the laws of probability themselves . . .

This is an incredibly fun book. No question about it, Long Shot is my favourite book in either the Seekers or Vanguard series. It takes everything that makes Star Trek so great and distils it into a little over three hundred pages. A diverse crew, a scientific puzzle, a race against time, keen insights into humanity. This book really does have it all. And it manages to do all of this without the book ever feeling overstuffed or too crowded.

Almost all of my favourite Star Trek stories are about some unique scientific mystery, and Long Shot is no different. A pre-warp society is working on a new power source, but it ends up altering the rules of chance until the incredibly unlikely becomes an everyday occurrence, for better and for worse. I’m not going to pretend this is in any way plausible (and hey, maybe it is. I’m not a quantum physicist), but that doesn’t matter. Mack uses the original concept to weave a delightfully fun and interesting story.

My favourite aspect of Long Shot is the way we see the effects of altered probability on people from all walks of life. Yes, you’ve got the high stakes, life or death struggles of the Sagittarius crew, but in-between the main storyline we get interludes. Little snippets and slice-of-life chapters. Some of these are rooted in emotion (parents gambling on who gets custody of a child), while others are just plain hilarious (a chef trying to understand why no one wants to work in his kitchen). What all of them have in common is that they build a picture of a functional and lived-in society. This is, in all likelihood, a planet we’re never going to hear from again, but Mack dives deeply into the day-to-day life of its inhabitants. It’s proof that there is more at stake than just what the main characters see, and sets a nice, wide scope for the main story.

Having spent a two-parter introducing them, it’s here that the crew of the Sagittarius really come into their own. Even though we won’t get full seasons with any of them, they feel as well-developed as any TV crew. Taryl stands out as an example of why the Orions are winning me over as one of the most interesting Star Trek species, while Threx proves there’s more to Denobulans than just being benign doctors, all while building on the work laid down by Enterprise all those years ago. It’s just a shame that the one remaining Seekers novel focuses on the Endeavour, as I would happily read an entire series about the Sagittarius.

Long Shot slots right in with the classic Star Trek episodes of yesteryear, all while bringing slick modernity to the storytelling.