BOOK REVIEW: Hereticus, by Dan Abnett

-Click here for a full index of my Black Library/Warhammer 40,000 reviews-

hereticus.jpg

Publisher: Black Library

Series: Eisenhorn (#3)

Genre: Grimdark SF

Pages: 412

Publication Date: 2002

Verdict: 4/5

 

Gregor Eisenhorn has spent his life chasing heretics in the name of the God-Emperor. Now he faces his greatest challenge, as a threat from his past resurfaces. Will Eisenhorn prevail, or will he give in to the temptation of the Ruinous Powers . . ?

After two novels that suffer from the grandness of their legacy, Dan Abnett’s third Eisenhorn novel (for the longest time, it was the finale of the series) proves why Abnett is so highly regarded, and delivers in almost every regard. While a lot of the beats of the story will be familiar to anyone who has read an Inquisition novel before, here it is the delivery that matters.

I’ve written before that Warhammer 40,000 can suffer from repetitive storytelling. Eisenhorn’s moral wrangling over the ethics of using daemons to fight heretics may have been original at the time, but nineteen years later, dozens more have followed in Abnett’s footsteps. Especially having already read Ravenor and various short stories, some of the drama a first-time reader should experience is taken away. Though not in detail, I went into this story knowing roughly how it would end. Usually, knowing the ending of a story is a killer for me. I read to be surprised (the occasion reread notwithstanding), and yet Abnett had me turning pages all night, desperate to see what would become of Eisehorn and his companions. Truth be told, it could well be these companions that are the reason I enjoyed Hereticus so much, because although I know Esienhorn’s future, those of his companions are less familiar to me. And by the end of this book, there is quite ahigh body count.

One thing the Eisenhorn series has always done better than its successors is showing the inner workings of an Inquisitor’s mind. While others have fallen to darkness, we’ve always seen it at some remove. Abnett’s incredibly tight first-person narrative gets us in close to every tough decision Eisnhorn must make, showing us every justification he makes on his slippery moral journey, and the novel is all the stronger for it. There are some moments where Eisenhorn brushes the fourth wall, seeking answers from the reader as to how they would have acted in his place. It’s hardly deep philosophy, but it’s a fair bit more than most Warhammer 40,000 books take us. By showing the constant doubt and internal debate that Eisenhorn has, his progression from loyal son of the Emperor to radical, and possibly into the outright heretical, is etched out in detail.

Building on the events of the past two books, Hereticus brings back familiar faces both good and decidedly evil. Ravenor plays a key role, hinting at the events of his own trilogy, and all of the Inquisitors’ staff get their moment in the spotlight. The daemon Cherubael also gets a lot more to do this time around, establishing itself as one of the more nightmarish of Abnett’s creations. Anyone familiar with his Malus Darkblade series from Warhammer’s fantasy line will know just how well he can write the inhumanly evil, and Cherubael is another fine example.

Though I’ve arrived at Eisenhorn too late to view it as the masterpiece others see it to be, it is certainly one of the stronger series in the Warhammer 40,000 canon, and one of the best entry points for a new reader.

BOOK REVIEW: The Eternal Tide, by Kirsten Beyer

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

this review contains major spoilers

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Era: Post-Voyager

Series: Voyager: Full Circle (#4)

Publisher: Pocket Books

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 385

Publication Date: 2012

Verdict: 3/5

 

Fourteen months ago, Kathryn Janeway gave her life to save the Federation from the Borg. Now, as Voyager continues its expedition into former Borg space, Admiral Afsarah Eden must face difficult choice of her own. Even in the Delta Quadrant, no one is free from the ghosts of the past . . .

This book is impossible to discuss in any detail without going into spoilers, but since that spoiler can basically be guessed from the front cover, let’s just dive right into it: In The Eternal Tide, Kathryn Janeway comes back from the dead. I have not yet read Peter David’s Before Dishonor, the book in which she was killed off, but my understanding is that it was pretty unambiguous. Janeway was assimilated by the Borg, killed, and in an epilogue it was hinted that her ‘soul,’ for want of a better word, had joined the Q Continuum. Obviously that last part leaves the door open for her return, because if Trip Tucker has taught us anything, it’s that Star Trek deaths rarely last forever. I’m firmly of the opinion that resurrections undercut the narrative strength of major characters’ deaths, and Janeway’s return does feel like a backward step, especially when the last three books have focused fairly heavily on Chakotay moving past her loss and stepping out from her shadow. The fact that Afsarah Eden is written out in this book, and Janeway essentially replaces her, only compounds my feelings here.

As well as bringing back Janeway, The Eternal Tide also shines a light on the Q Continuum. Now, Q episodes tend to fall into one of two categories. Outright comedy, or thought-provoking drama. Just compare The Next Generation‘s ‘Qpid’ with Voyager‘s ‘Death Wish.’ Right from the outset, Q-centric stories have been held together by John de Lancie’s phenomenal acting. Stripped of his comic timing and flair, Q’s appearance here can’t help but feel muted. Q’s son (who surely should have been called Qnior, but I digress) is much better portrayed. Obviously, it’s hard to write a character when they are so identified with a single actor, but the Q sections of this novel, and there are a lot, simply don’t make for very compelling reading.

Lest I appear overly negative, the side plots here are actually very interesting. By this point it’s pretty clear that the Borg truly are gone, but Chakotay’s following-up on leads brings the sense of exploration that much of Eden’s story is lacking. And while I don’t particularly like Janeway’s return to the land of the living, the crew’s reactions are as convincing as they are diverse. Of course some would be happy to see her, but the suspicion of others is only natural after all they’ve seen and been through. More than any other series, Voyager always seemed to convey that Starfleet officers were used to encountering the bizarre. The calmness with which they tackle this book’s potentially multiverse-ending events speak highly of their professionalism, and Beyer captures each character’s essence marvellously.

With everything that goes on, The Eternal Tide feels like the ending of one stage of Voyager‘s latest journey. And while it’s definitely the weakest book in the relaunch so far, I am intrigued to see where that journey goes next.

STAR TREK: The Top 1%

With the completion of Discovery‘s third season, Star Trek as a franchise now has a whopping 801 episodes of television and film. That’s a number that takes into account, The Original Series, The Animated Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, Discovery, Short Treks, Picard, Lower Decks, and every film from The Motion Picture to Star Trek Beyond, with still more to come. As with any landmark occasion, this is a time to look back and reflect. So it’s time to hop on that bandwagon and choose my top 1% of Star Trek on the screen. I’m yet to see The Animated Series, Short Treks or Lower Decks, but everything else is fair game. Without further ado, in no particular order, here are eight epsiodes that encasulate my love of Star Trek:

1 – Blink of an Eye (VOY:6×12)

Probably my favourite Star Trek episode of all time, this is the one I’d show to anyone who wnats to know what the show is about. Voyager investigates a planet where passes at an extraoridnary rate, watching it go from a feudal era to the space age over the course of several days. A great sci-fi concept, some nice character work for Seven of Nine and The Doctor, and a guest appearance from Daniel Dae Kim make this epoisode almost flawless.

2 – Twilight (ENT:3×08)

I love the idea of ‘the road not taken,’ and this epsiode is one of the best. A glimpse of a possible future in which the Enterprise crew fail to prevent a second Xindi attack on Earth, this bleak look at a refugee humanity is possibly the best epsiode that ends with ‘but it didn’t really happen.’ The interplay between T’Pol and Archer is at it’s finest,a nd Reed gets a strong look-in too.

3 – Q Who (TNG:2×16)

When Q turns up, you’re in for something special. John de Leancie’s gleeful performances can elevate even the weakest of scripts, and this script is one of the best he has to work with. To illustrate the dangers Starfleet faces, Q throws the Enterprise into a confrontation with a mmysterious enemy: The Borg. The Borg here are at their most terrifying, and it’s a gripping hour os television. Also, Whoopi Goldberg is in it.

4 – The Magnificent Ferengi (DS9:6×10)

Deep Space Nine is usually remembered as the darker, grittier Star Trek, but it was also great at comedy. here, Quark puts together an elite team to rescue his mother when the Dominion capture her. It’s an hour of genuinely laugh-outy-loud hilarity, with endlessly quatable lines and a few genuinely heartfelt moments too. A perfect break between hevaier episodes, this also stars Iggy Pop.

5-6 – In A Mirror, Darkly (ENT:4×18/19)

As Dscovery has shown, the Mirror Universe is an idea that has to be used with caution, but Enterprise‘s two-part crossing is easily my favourite evil counterpart episode. Showing only the Mirror versions of the crew, this two-parter tracks the warship Enterprise as it brings terror to the Galaxy. Two hours of pure entertainment and some great acting from all involved, this epsiode also deserves credit for its tributes to The Original Series with appearances from the Gorn and Tholians.

7 – Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy (VOY: 6×04)

Another episode that shows the fun side of Star Trek, this one has The Doctor’s daydreams causing chaos as he looses the ability to diferentiate between reality and fiction. An opening musical number and some brilliant comedic moments come together for a Robert Picardo masterpiece that isn’t quite as consequence-free as it first appears. Certainly one of Voyager‘s most unusual episodes.

8 – Star Trek: Insurrection (Film 9)

Insurrection is the most Trek of the Next Generation-era films. Though there are phaser-fights and ship-on-ship action, it’s fairly light on explosions, favoruing a more personal drama. With ties to the Dominion War, Insurrection is a morailty play on that timeless question ‘do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?’ Filled with wonder, ethical debates and a smattering of soft jazz, this is what a Star Trek film should look like.

TV REVIEW: Star Trek: Discovery, Season 3

Starring: Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp,  Mary Wiseman, David Ajala, Michelle Yeoh, Wilson Cruz, Emily Coutts, Patrick Kwok-Choon, Oyin Oladejo, Ronnie Rowe Jr., Sara Mitch, Blue del Bario

Episodes: 13

Genre: Social SF, Space Opera

Broadcaster: Netflix (UK)

First Aired: 15/10/2020 – 08/01/2021

Verdict: 4/5

It’s no secret that the first two seasons of Discovery were rocky. The acting and character work was some of the best Star Trek has ever had, and the CGI naturally superior to almost everything that went before, but the storytelling was lacking. Wedged into prequel territory and beset by behind-the-scenes production issues, it never really seemed sure what sort of show it wanted to be. I’m not one of those frothing maniacs who insists that the show isn’t Star Trek (I mean, it has Star Trek right there in the name) or that it’s an insult to Rodenberry’s legacy, but it wasn’t my favourite show, and it never quite settled in the region of what I expect, and really want, Star Trek to be. So when Season 2 ended with the crew jumping nine-hundred-plus years into the future, I was excited to see what would happen next. While it does have a few issues, this was the clean slate the show needed, and happily Discovery makes the most of this golden opportunity.

The future, it turns out, is not a great place. After a mysterious event called ‘The Burn’ essentially wiped out warp travel, the Federation has all but collapsed, retreating to a shell of its former self. Meanwhile, the Andorians have joined the Orion Syndicate in creating the Emerald Chain, a criminal empire that now rivals the Federation. It’s a setup that could easily have pushed Discovery into even grimmer territory than Lorca’s captaincy did. Wisely, the show doesn’t dwell on the darkness. instead, it shines a focus on the remaining points of light. The first few episodes show our crew grappling with the new reality. After that it’s a half-and-half split between the Discovery bringing a bit of hope back to the Galaxy, and Burnham’s personal quest to uncover the origins of the Burn.

One of my issues with the past two seasons was the heavy serialisation. Star Trek has always worked best in a more episodic format, and Discovery‘s third season embraces this. There are still overarching storylines and character development, but the individual episodes are much stronger as semi-standalones. ‘Unification III’ is a prime example of this. A trip to the future Vulcan provides a key piece of information, but the majority of the drama there is self-contained. This episode also provides a neat follow-up to the ‘Unification’ two-parter from The Next Generation, showing Spock’s legacy and the result of his efforts to reunite the Romulan and Vulcan people. It also ties in nicely to the worldbuilding done in Picard. On the whole, this season does a far better job of employing the long legacy of Star Trek‘s fifty-four years on the screen, without relying on nostalgia to bring in viewers. The nods and hat-tips feel natural, never forced.

Discovery has always been a more character-focused show than its predecessors, for better and worse. As always, Sonequa Martin-Green and the prosthetic-laden powerhouse that is Doug Jones excel as the leads, but the rest of the crew gets far more to do this time around. Wilson Cruz comes into his own as Doctor Culber, finally given material with weight to it. Mary Wiseman’s Tilly continues to a beacon of Federation ideals. The bridge crew get more to do in these thirteen episodes than they did in the past two seasons, be it Detmer’s battle with PTSD or Owekesun’s pivotal role in the finale. Blue del Bario’s ground-breaking Adira is never less than wonderful. These are the characters that keep pulling me into Discovery, and I hope their role only grows in the next season. The only real weak-link is Michelle Yeoh’s Georgiou. Yeoh is fantastic in every scene, but there is little to justify her presence on the ship, let alone the series. Nevertheless, her much-hinted-at spin-off definitely has me intrigued.

The guest stars too are on fine form. Odad Fehr’s Admiral Vance is a perfect counterbalance to the gung-ho attitude of our leads, a calm voice of reason in the middle of all the chaos. Janet Kidder’s turn as Osyraa is one of the best villains Star Trek has ever had, all the more so for her reasonableness and the fact that she actually has some very good points. Neither Ian Alexander or David Cronenberg get much more than a few key scenes, but I would love to see more of both. And of course Tig Notaro’s recurring role as Jett Reno leads to some of the best dialogue in the show.

Discovery isn’t going to topple Voyager or Enterprise as my favourite Trek, but this last season has been wonderful to watch. Yes, there are some elements I don’t like (TARDIS-like elevator shafts, for one) but Star Trek has hardly been perfect. What makes this series so good is the growth its shown in such a short span of time. If it can keep growing like this, then the next season is looking very promising indeed.

BOOK REVIEW: Koko Takes A Holiday, by Kieran Shea

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Series: Koko (#1)

Publisher: Titan

Genre: Cyberpunk

Pages: 332

Publication Date: 2012

Verdict: 3/5

Koko has given up the life of a mercenary in favour of running a brothel in the utopian island chain of The Sixty. But her new boss, who is also her old boss, has other ideas. Ideas that involve Koko’s immediate death . . .

I read a lot of books, and my tastes lean towards more complex worlds. I’m heavy on worlds, low on characters. For me, science fiction should have some level of intelligence to it, be it technological or philosophical. All that heavy reading can weigh down on you though, and sometimes you want a book that you can just turn your brain off and be carried away by. Koko Takes A Holiday is that book. It is phenomenally trashy, and has the feel of a late night SyFy TV movie about it, but it’s undeniably a lot of fun too.

The back cover blurbs may call this cyberpunk, but it definitely leans more heavily into the punk than the cyber. It’s loud and flashy right from the start, and the noise rarely lets up. Barely a page goes by without someone being shot or something exploding. The body count is extremely high, and everyone is either drunk or a drug addict. There’s no real sense of consequences to anything that happens, but it’s fun enough to carry you along if you don’t think about it too hard.

In spite of Shea’s light touch, there are some great little nuggets of SF in here. State-sponsored mass suicide for the terminally depressed is horrific and hilarious in equal measure, in no small part to Shea’s depiction of media coverage. The world of capitalism run amok is bursting with ideas, far too many for one novel to explore. But exploration is not Shea’s approach. Amid memory wipes, medical drama and dystopian visuals, the focus is never off Koko and her helter-skelter fight for survival. There are times you can almost see the lens flare, and smell the gunsmoke.

While the overall effect is incredibly cinematic, Shea’s actual writing employs a real kitchen sink of literary devices. Some chapters are presented as scripts or newsfeeds. Most is in the present tense, but alternates between first and third person, while flashbacks are in the past tense. Characters speak in lingos and jargons and lisps to the point where everything becomes a dazzling blur of ink on the page. It never quite reaches the point of feeling disjointed, but the flow of Shea’s prose is such a scattershot one that fully immersing yourself in Koko’s world is all but impossible. But you don’t really need that immersion, because the world is fairly shallow. Like Koko, the reader is left to skim across the surface, glancing at the rich ideas as they stream past. It’s far from what I’d usually be after in a book, but it definitely provided that break I’d been seeking.

There are two more Koko books, which honestly seems like two more than we need, but if they’re anything like this, I’ll be reading them fairly soon. It’s not going to blow any minds, but Koko Takes A Holiday is the perfect palate cleanser between heftier reads.

BOOK REVIEW: Children of the Storm, by Kirsten Beyer

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children of the storm.jpg

Era: Post-Voyager

Series: Voyager: Full Circle (#3)

Publisher: Pocket Books

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 405

Publication Date: 2011

Verdict: 4/5

 

The Children of the Storm are one of the more enigmatic species the federation has encountered. Powerful, secretive, and brooking no intrusion into their space. Yet Voyager must now journey to their territory in order to uncover why Starfleet vessels have been attacked . . .

Now that the new status quo has settled in, the Voyager relaunch series (a label that is literal as well as narrative) can get back to investigating the mysteries of the Dela Quadrant. The first mystery on their list is the titular Children of the Storm, first seen in David Mack’s phenomenal Destiny trilogy. When an alien species introduces itself by blowing up millions of Borg before kindly asking Starfleet not to bother them, you know there’s something interesting going on. On that note, I must say it’s unusual that the Federation so readily ignores the threats of violence from this isolationist people. When Starfleet goes to talk to the Children, it doesn’t seem to be for a reason other than ‘because we want to.’ While the Children’s response is excessive, I’m pretty much on their side from the outset. Starfleet’s actions are questioned, but no one ever gives too much thought to the needless risk taken here.

The Children of the Storm are what Star Trek does best: a unique alien species that seems beyond human comprehension, but ultimately has something to teach humanity about ourselves. There isn’t heavy-handed metaphor here, though. More like a natural pairing of storylines as we’ve seen so many times through the franchise, and here it works very well. While the Children are at first beyond understanding, on Voyager the crew are learning to understand each other. For Seven of Nine and Harry Kim, there may even be love in the air, and Beyer is doing excellent character work in general, not just with familiar faces, but with newer ones too.

Children of the Storm is split across two timelines, only two weeks apart. And that’s where the book falters a little. While the present day section sees Voyager tracking missing vessels, the flashback chapters (they alternate for much of the book) shows what happened on the ill-fated starships. This results in many present-day chapters feeling more like recaps than I would have liked. Had the time difference not been made so explicit, I don’t think it would have bothered me as much. Even as it stands, it’s a niggle rather than a problem. But it does rob these scenes of tension, and Voyager‘s actions feel less consequential when there is no race against time.

Though there are a few ongoing threads here, this feels much more of a standalone than the previous two books. The character arcs are a continuation, and there is a mystery or two left unresolved by the novel’s end, but the main body of action – the mystery of the Children of the Storm – is neatly wrapped up by the final chapter. It’s the perfect balance of long- and short-form storytelling, at least so far as novels go. With Voyager as a TV show having a clear purpose of getting home (even if they took a rather meandering route) it’s interesting to see how Beyer turns their return to the Delta Quadrant into a more traditional Star Trek tale of exploration.

All in all, this is a classic Star Trek idea, and even if I’m not entirely sold on the presentation, it’s definitely worth a read.

Are YOU a Book Snob?

Something I’ve seen coming up time and again, though moreso in recent months, are articles about elitism and snobbery in the world of books. Now, i’ve been on the receiving end of this snobbery myself. Through several years of university, I had (well, chose) to fight back against academics who thought genre fiction wasn’t worthwhile. A quick look at newspaper book reviews will tell you that Science Fiction barely gets a look in. And when it does, it’s ‘transcending genre,’ as if SF is a limiting factor on how good a book can be.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. Even within the genre, there is elitism. Spades of it, and to be quite honest with you, I’m probably a part of it myself. And maybe you are too. That’s why I’ve created a quick quiz to see: Are YOU a Book Snob?

Do you read hardbacks:

Yes, absolutely. As someone who loves books as objects as well as ways of consuming stories, it’s hard to beat a hardback. They look great on shelves. They feel good in your hands. And, more to the point, it means you’re getting the story as soon as it’s available, at least most of the time. Who doesn’t like a story with an exoskeleton?

Do you read paperbacks?

Yes, of course. Paperbacks are the bread-and-butter of my reading. Be it a snazzy new trade paperback, or a foxed and battered mass market, I try and have a book near me at all times. Paperbacks are great for travelling too, because they’re a fair bit more portable than hardbacks. They’re also considerably more durable, and a lot more affordable.

Do you read ebooks?

No. No I do not. While the existence of a few digital-only releases has on occasion tempted me, ebooks are a line in the sand I will not cross until I have no other choice. For some people with medical reasons, I understand why ebooks are better, but I don’t wnat an entire library on a piece of plastic. When I think of a book, I think of a physical object. Something with real weight to it. Ebooks just do nothing for me.

Do you listen to audiobooks?

No, not really. I’ve given them a few tries, and almost always come away disappointed. I’ll listen to audio dramas and exclusives, but a full book in audio I just can’t do. Somewhere after the five hour mark, my attention wanders. As a fairly quick reader, having someone slowly speaking the story just takes too long, and if you speed them up they become incomprehensible. As an aside, I am one of those who don’t think listenening to the book counts as having read it. It’s literally having someone else read it to you. It is a perfectly vaild way of consuming media, but it is not reading.

Do you read books from major publishers?

Yes. Kind of hard to avoid this one. Harper, Gollancz, Simon & Schuster, Orbit, Tor. All are good names with strong records. When a publisher puts money behind something, it means the story is good in some objective way. Subjectively, I might not like it, but at least it will be professionally produced. There’s also the reality that I only hear about books if people market them, and if there’s one thing big publishers do well, it’s marketing.

Do you read books from small presses?

Yes, but not that many. Head of Zeus, Baen, WordFire, Saga and NewCon Press are all what I would classify as small presses, though I’m sure others will disagree. Small Presses are often where I get my fix of short stories and translated work. They take more risks, it seems, which obviously means that they have a lower rate of success when it comes to me liking them. The higher price can be offputting, but often its worth it.

Do you read self-published books?

No. At least, not unless I know I can trust the author. There are a few authors who now use hybrid publishing, having contracts with publishing houses while also putting out side projects independently. Christopher Ruocchio is one example, but as with all the others, he is an author I only know about through traditionally published releases. I won’t take risks on a completely unknown self-published author.

Do you read outside your preferred genre?

Yes. About 70% of my reading is Science Fiction. A further 20% Fantasy, and the remainder Historical Fiction, Crime, and Weird. I’m heavily skewed towards SF, but I dabble in other areas. I used to read a lot more Fantasy, but got burned out a few years ago. I started this blog as a result though, so it’s not all bad.

Do you read tie-in/IP fiction?

Yes, and lots of it. I was a huge fan of the Star Wars Expanded Universe back in the day, and tried to keep up with the new canon, though have fallen way behind. I’m not a Warhammer 40,000 player, but I read a fair few Black Library books. Last year I also got back into Star Trek novels after a few years out of the loop. And let’s not even talk about the boxes of Doctor Who novels in the spare room. Tie-In fiction is great stuff, especially when it builds on TV universes, telling stories that a visual medium couldn’t achieve.

So those are my answers. There are some things I won’t touch, which probably makes me a snob. Truth be told though, I’m fairly easy to please.  I’m the guy who like both Rise of Skywalker and The Last Jedi, after all. And the thing is, even if they’re not for me, things are enjoyed by other people, and that’s exactly how it should be. If you answered ‘No’ to any of these questions, then there will be people who call you a snob. But unless you look down on the genre as a whole, you’re all right in my book. be sure to let me know how you score, and let’s keep the conversation going.

BOOK REVIEW: Malleus, by Dan Abnett

-Click here for a full index of my Black Library/Warhammer 40,000 reviews-

 

Publisher: Black Library

Genre: Grimdark SF

Pages: 431

Publication Date: 2001

Verdict: 3/5

Gregor Eisenhorn has spent his life eradicating the heretics who threaten the Imperium. Now he hunts a deadly foe, one who lurks within the ranks of the Inquisition itself. And beyond the world of Mortals, something is watching Eisenhorn’s hunt . . .

Dab Abnett’s second Eisenhorn novel is, sadly, not an improvement over the first. Although a lot of the pressure that comes with being part of such an iconic series is reduced, Malleus still suffers from its competition. With so many books in the Warhammer 40,000 universe focusing on Inquisitors, coming back to this early work is filled with a sense of deja vu.

Malleus is a story of subterfuge and mystery, with the finger of suspicion being pointed all over the place as Inquisitors wonder who the guilty party is. There is factional squabbling, petty politics, and the bleak depiction of how Chaos worms its way into the heart of even the most loyal servants of the Imperium. I can only imagne how much people enjoyed it at the time, when these ideas were fresh and new. The problem is that I am reading them twenty years later. I’ve read a fair few Inquisition-centric stories, and a lot of them follow the same arcs. Share the same themes. John French’s Horusian Wars series (and the associated audio dramas) spring to mind as a fine example of this. But a lot of the ground I’m seeing here has been covered elsewhere. How many Inquisitors have been tempted by the Ruinous Powers? How much corruption has spread through the Imperium? Too much to count, is the answer.

In addition, I found the pacing in Malleus quite jarring at times. It’s a book that spans years, but the time is skipped over awkwardly in the middle of chapters, and I don’t think there’s much that would have been lost by a contraction of the timeline. When Eisenhorn flees his enemies, he spends years on the run, but it’s glossed over in a matter of a few pages. What should read as a grueling exile instead comes across as a mere bump in the road. On a related note, this book makes it clear that the Eisenhorn saga takes place over the course of more than a century. In theory, I should like this. Long-scale stories are a love of mine ever since I read Foundation. But here the time doesn’t seme to matter. A century passes, yet nothing really changes. On the one hand, the cultural stagnation of the Imperium is evident, and one of the franchise’s best features, but the characters hardly change. Bequin still reads as an inexperienced young woman, Eisenhorn himself is no different to the last book. I suppose its possible that a longer lifespan would slow down maturation and personality devlopment, but that’s not how it comes across here. Hopefully these are the marks of a younger writer, and Abnett’s work will soon reach the levels of his more recent work, but for now I am unconvinced.

For all its faults, Malleus is still a decent read, though perhaps one that would benefit with even less familiarity with the grim dark future than I have. I still have hopes for the rest of this series, but they are not as high as they once were.

BOOK REVIEW: Unworthy, by Kirsten Beyer

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

unworthy.jpg

Era: Post-Voyager

Series: Voyager: Full Circle (#2)

Publisher: Pocket Books

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 370

Publication Date: 2009

Verdict: 5/5

 

Voyager returns to the Delta Quadrant, this time spearheading a fleet tasked with exploring this distant region of space. Their first priority is to seek out traces of the Caeliar, the enigmatic species who defeated the Borg. Yet not everyone has the same agenda, and secrets could tear the fleet apart before the mission truly begins . . .

Full Circle was a weighty novel, not just in pages, but in content. For a lot of the Voyager crew, it was their lowest ebb. A very good book, but not a terribly happy one. Nowehere was this more apparent than with the character of Chakotay. At the end of Full Circle, Chakotay turned down a chance to retain command of Voyager, and resigned his commission. Along with Seven of Nine, Chakotay remianed behind as the fleet left for the Delta Quadrant. Torres too was not part of the fleet, but snuck along for the ride in order to desert with husband Paris. It was a lot of interesting set-up, presenting a real shake-up of the Voyager series.

Unworthy is odd, because it almost immediately undoes a lot of that set-up. Or at least it doesn’t go the way I expected. Chakotay, Seven and Torres are all aboard Voyager fairly swiftly, and though the status quo is not precisely restored, the Voyager we leave at the end of this book is a different one to what we see at the beginning. But none of this feels like a betrayal of concept. It’s nice to see the crew back togather, albeit in a slightly altered form. The sense of familiarity is a return to that classic Voyager feel, just like being back with old friends. After a pretty bleak opening to this new era, Unworthy rekindles that optimism that defines Star Trek.

Of course, there is more to Unonworthy than just reestablishing character relationships. The return to the Delta Quadrant brings Voyager into contact with an alliance of species called the Indign. This cooperation of species worships the Borg, though fundementally misunderstands what they represent. One of my favourite features of Voyager was the detail it gave to the Borg, and Beyer continues that work here. Seeing how the Borg have affected species by means other than pure assimilation is really interesting to read. It’s original, it has issues, and it presents a Prime Directive condundrum. In short, it’s the perfect Star Trek puzzle.

On the whole, Unworthy does a stellar job of balancing the episodic ‘problem of the week’ approach that Voyager  employed so hevaily on television, with the detailed and ongoing character work that novel series tend to be better at. There are callbacks to prior plotlines, both novel and televised, and acts that are clearly setting up something further down the line. Though it’s not the first Voyager novel, not even the first in this arc, Unworthy does feel like a new start for the series. It shakes things up enough to be interesting, but also feels like coming home again. Yes, it relies on a fair few established plot points, but it just might be a better jumping on point than Full Circle.

Beyer’s Voyager novels are rapidly proving to be everything I want from Star Trek and more. A real must-read series for any fan.

BOOK REVIEW: Tales of Dune (Expanded Edition), by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

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

tales

Publisher: WordFire Press

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 213

Publication Date: 2017

Verdict: 4/5

Eight stories that span the distance and chronology of the Dune Saga, from the time of the Butlerian Jihad to the chaos following the Scattering. . .

As a general rule, I prefer long novels to short stories. Only in novels can you fully explore stories, worlds and universes. That being said, I have a real soft spot for short story collections and anthologies set in a single universe. These offer a chance to explore worlds beyond the scope of main narratives. Tales of Dune does just that. The eight stories found here cover over ten thousand years of history, and show parts of the Dune universe both familiar and new. For someone familiar with the novels, it’s a chance to revisit old favorites, while for newer readers it teases things to come. And while there are spoilers for the rest of the saga, I think this is a good book to read at the start, particularly on a reread. Think of it as a trailer for the saga as a whole.

As you might expect, Tales of Dune is skewed towards the earlier era of the Dune universe, towards the prequels written by Herbert & Anderson. Some of these stories are in fact deleted scenes from those prequel novels themselves. Now, a lot has been made of the Herbert & Anderson contributions to the saga (not all of it positive) but these shorts are the perfect way to sample their writing and decide for yourself. These earlier stories paint a very different picture of the universe to Frank Herbert’s original series, but they are also a perfect way in. Herbert & Anderson’s style is incredibly readable, and far more accessible than Frank Herbert’s can be. Yes, some of the philosophical depth is lacking, but the action scenes are clear and vivid, and the universe itself is as rich as ever.

Covering such a large period of time, especially in a saga as intricate and complex and Dune, is difficult for short stories. As you can imagine, these are side pieces rather than the main affair. The result of this is that the collection feels slightly unfinished. Many of the stories are slices of life, or extended scenes. Only a few have a full plot and satisfying resolution. This does leave you wanting more, but as an individual piece of literature, some of the stories can fall flat, and feel incomplete when not taken in context. Nevertheless, the hints at a larger story to come do their job. This is a story collection that will leave you wanting to read more, and thankfully there is plenty more to be read.

With almost two dozen full novels still to go in this reread, Tales of Dune gets the Dune Saga of to a great start. It whets the appetite and teases at so many of the great moments, characters, and ideas that are still to come. For such a famously daunting series, this also stands as proof that it’s not as overwhelming as some might suggest. Though it by no means essential reading, Tales of Dune is a great starting point for any reread.