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.

BOOK REVIEW: Xenos, by Dan Abnett

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

xenos.jpg

Publisher: Black Library

Genre: Grimdark SF

Pages: 370

Publication Date: 2001

Verdict: 4/5

The Inquisition is all that stands between mankind and its many enemies. Heretics, Demons, Xenos. All pose an existential threat to the God-Emperor’s people. Gregor Eisenhorn is one Inquisitor among thousands, but something has marked him for greatness . . .

Eisenhorn is one of those names that will be familiar to most Black Library readers. Along with Ibram Gaunt, Gregor Eisenhorn is a creation of the legendary Dan Abnett. The Eisenhorn trilogy (four books if, like me, you include the Magos collection of short stories) is one of the most famous series Black Library have ever put out. A little surprising then, that I’ve never taken the time to read it. I’m a big fan of Abnett’s work, particularly the Sabbat Worlds material. That being said, I didn’t enjoy his Ravenor trilogy all that much. Since Ravenor is the successor to Eisenhorn, perhaps it’s not so surprising Xenos has taken me this long to read. But with the upcoming rerelease of Pariah and the release of Penitent, I can’t hold of any longer, and Dan Abnett has once again pulled me back into the grim dark world of the forty-first millennium.

It’s a good book, I won’t argue that. Abnett’s prose is tight, his grip on characters and plot are great. A lot of the names are familiar to me by reputation, but there are unfamiliar ones too. Though I went in knowing the broad strokes of Eisenhorn’s tale, the twists and turns of Xenos kept me guessing. An entertaining way to spend a few hours. Like a lot of the earlier Black Library releases, there’s a very pulp sensibility to things. Blood splatters acros the page, characters snarl and bark. Larger-than-life figures lurch and lumber through implausible actions.

And yet. When a book is as famous as this, you can’t help but build up an image of it in your mind. No matter how good a book is, it’s almost impossible to live up to that reputation. Xenos, like many others, is a victim of its own success. At least it is for me. Short of goin into every book blind, I don’t really see a counter for a problem of this sort. But now that I have an accurate baseline to work on, I’m more excited than before for book two. It’s not that there was anything wrong with Xenos, it’s that my expectations were too high. Yes, it’s a tad unfair, but these things still have an impact.

If you’ve heard of Xenos, you’ve probably read it. If not, then dive right in. It’s a great little book, and one of the best jumping on points for the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

BOOK REVIEW: Rough Trails, by L. A. Graf

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

This review contains spoilers. Proceed with caution

 

 

Era: The Original Series

Series: New Earth (#3)

Publisher: Pocket Books

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 360

Publication Date: 2000

Verdict: 3/5

 

Belle Terre. The latest planet to be colonised by the Federation. This is the new frontier, and brings with it all manner of troubles. Chekov, Sulu, and Uhura are about to face these troubles, with nothing but their wits to aid them . . .

The six-part New Earth saga was always something of an enigma to me. It was that little series tucked away at the top of the bookshelf, touching the ceiling of the used bookshop. A series that said Star Trek on the side, but didn’t identify with any of the crews. there were no familiar faces on the front cover. Back in the day, I left well alone, but now a Christmas gift from a charity shop has brought the third volume into my hands, and I can finally unravel some of those decades-old questions.

New Earth: Rough Trails features the original Enterprise crew, though in a reduced capacity. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy don’t turn up until the very end, and so it’s the B-team of Chekov, Sulu and Uhura who get the bulk of the action. Perhaps more unusually, this book is entirely set on the surface of one planet, with the Enterprise itself never being seen. It’s very much a Western story, to the point where Mal Reynolds and his crew would not be wholly out of place. There are some handwavey explanations to cover the reduced level of technology, and they largely convince, but it’s clear that this is an exercise in genre mashing rather than any coherent logic. It’s an excuse to have Peacemakers, ranchers and saloons, but the mix of genres is generally quite fun, and a nice change of scenery for Star Trek.

This is book three of six, and as such there are elements that didn’t wholly make sense to me. There is mention of the Burn (no, not the Discovery one) and something called a Quake Moon, as well as some alien marauders later on whom we are presumably meant to be familiar with. These are of course reader issues rather than book issues, but they still made an impact. However, the main arc of Rough Trails easily stands alone. Like the bets episodes of Star Trek, it tells a complete narrative while weaving in aspects of the wider universe. You could pick this book up, read it, and never look at another Star Trek novel again, and you’d get a whole story. Or, like me, you coud immediately add the other five volumes of the series to your wishlist.

Though the Original Series is the part of Star Trek I am least familiar with, this was a good outing for the Enterprise crew, and a particularly good showcase for the usual side characters. Yes, it hits a whole load of Western tropes squarely on the head, but Rough Trails still feels fresh in the context of Star Trek, and holds a lot of promise for the rest of the series.

If you want a better look at some underserved classic Star Trek characters, or just want a change of pace from the usual space exploration narrative, then this is a series and a book you’re bound to enjoy.

Brave New Worlds: Upcoming SF in 2021

2020 was a rough year for most, but definitely for science fiction. A lot of industries ground to a halt, meaning that many of this year’s expected releases have been ushed back to 2021. On the plus side, that means next year is going to be absolutely packed with science fiction goodies. Here’s just a snippet of the things I’m looking forward to:

January 1: Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks – After the Doctor was arrested at the end of last series, this one-off special promises to reunite her with Captain Jack, while Earth faces (yet another) Dalek invasion. This will also be the last regular appearance for Toisin Cole and Bradley walsh.

January 2: Masterful, by James Goss – Celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Master’s first appearance, this audio drama unites all surviving Master actors (except for Sacha Dawhan for unfortunate licensing issues) as the Master throws a party for himself.

January 5: Star Wars: The High Republic #1: Light of the Jedi, by Charles Soulle – The start of a new series set centuries before the Skywalker Saga, this ought to be an interesting look at the glory days of the Jedi Order.

January 5: Star Trek Picard #2: The Dark Veil, by James Swallow – A Star Trek Titan novel set in the new canon? Don’t tell me more, just count me in.

January 7: Dogs of War #2: Bear Head, by Adrian Tchaikovsky – The sequel to Dogs of War, I’m intrigued to see where Tchaikovsky goes next with his enhanced animal soldiers.

January 22: Star Trek Lower Decks: Season 1 (Amazon Prime) – While the pesky Americans have already seen this, I’m looking forward to Star Trek’s delve into full-on comedy. Though I’m not crazy about animation, this should definitely be worth a look.

January 26: The Expert System’s Brother #2: The Expert System’s Champion, by Adrian Tchaikovsky – Tchaikovsky’s novellas are always interesting, and this sequel to one of his lesser-known works demands a reread of the first.

January 29: Planetside #3: Colonyside, by Michael Mammay – The concluding story of Mammay’s underrated military SF trilogy promises the same mix of military action and investigations as the previous books.

February 23: The Farian War #3: Out Past The Stars, by K.B Wagers – The Indranan War was space opera at its most fun, and I’m looking forward to being able to finish the follow up trilogy.

March 2: Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron #3: Victory’s Price, by Alexander Freed – Freed’s Twilight Company is easily my favourite book in the new Star Wars canon. Though I haven’t got round to reading the Alphabet Squadron series yet, I’m sure his take on pilots will be just as good as hs ground-pounding action.

March 2: One Day All This Will Be Yours, by Adrian Tchaikovsky – Another novella, this one a less than fully serious time travel adventure. I have no idea what to expect from this one.

March 4: Teixcalaan #2: A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine – The delayed sequel to one of my favourite books of recent years, if this can match the excellence of A Memory Called Empire, then we have a winner on our hands.

March ?: Master!, by Robert Valentine, Robert Whitelock, and Matt Fitton – Another Master-based audio drama from Big Finish, this time featuring Eric Roberts in the title role, alongside the return of Chase Masterson as Vienna.

April 6: Star Wars: Doctor Aphra (script), by Sarah Kuhn – I loved this audio drama so much, and am looking forward to having the script on my shelves.

April 27: Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy #2: Greater Good, by Timothy Zahn – Though I’ve fallen massively behind on my Star Wars reading, a new Zahn novel is always a cause for celebration.

May 4: Stolen Earth, by J.T. Nicholas – Nicholas’ Re-Coil was one of the year’s best surprises, and the prmise for his new book sounds equally interesting. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

May 4: Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir – I loved The Martian, and quite enjoyed Artemis too, so I’m eager to see what Weir has in store for his third novel. Hopefully his unique blend of warm humour and cold-hard science.

May 18: The Lost Fleet: Outlands #1: Boundless, by Jack Campbell – At long last, the story of John ‘Black Jack’ Geary continues. From what I’ve read, Boundless will weave together the Lost fleet and Lost Stars series, so this is easily one of next year’s most anticipated releases.

May 18: The Final Architects #1: Shards of Earth, by Adrian Tchaikovsky – This is the Tchaikovsky release I’m most looking forward to next year. A great big space opera and the start of a new series.

June 22: The Palladium Wars #3: Citadel, by Marko Kloos – This might be the last part of the series that started with Aftershocksbut I’m not sure. Regardless, it should be an action-packed slice of light reading.

June 29: Star Wars: The High Republic #2: The Rising Storm, by Cavan Scott – The second part of the High Republic. Even if I am behind, it’s nice to see Disney/Del Rey stepping up their release rate.

August 24: Light Chaser, by Gareth L. Powell & Peter F. Hamilton – While I’m not much of a Hamilton fan,Powell’s space opera is great stuff. I’m fascinated to see how their very different styles work together.

August ?: The War Master #6: Killing Time, by James Goss and Lou Morgan – Another outing for Derek Jacobi’s War Master, this also features the return of Katy Manning as Jo, a reunion I’m eagerly awaiting.

September 21: Caladan #2: The Lady of Caladan, by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson – Middle volumes can be a tricky thing, but herbert and Anderson have been working with Dune  for long enough that I know the sequel to The Duke of Caladan will deliver.

October 1: Dune – Delayed by the pandemic, Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation is still up in the air at the moment, but the trailers have me convinced that this is going to be brilliant.

October 28: The Expanse #9: Leviathan Falls, by James S.A. Corey – After a decade, the Expanse comes to a close. Wrapping up such an epic series is a tall order, but it looks like Corey has things under control. The TV adaptation will also wrap up with its sixth season, presumably out in 2021 as well.

December ?: Star Wars; The Mandalorian, Season 3 – It’s difficult to see where Din Djaren will go after season 2’s finale, but I am 100% here for his journey to continue.

December ?: Star Wars: The Book of Boba Fett – The first Mandalorian spin-off is weirdly about an established character. Oh well, it’s Boba Fett, so you know it’s going to be good, right?

No dates confirmed, but release anticipated:

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: Season 1 – I’m not all that confident of a 2021 release for this one, but an episodic Star Trek with the optimism that Anson Mountt brought to Pike will definitely be worth tuning in to.

Star Trek: Lower Decks: Season 2 – Though I haven’t seen the first season yet, the trailers give me enough hope for this show that I’m happy it will get a chance to find its feet and grow.

Star Trek: Picard: Season 2 – Production obviously affected by the pandemic, but I’m fairly confident of a 2021 release. More Jean-Luc will always be appreciated, and it sounds like we may be seeing more familiar faces too.

Star Trek: Discovery: Season 4 – Currently filming, so odds are good for a 2021 release. Season 3 has been a massive step up in my enjoyment, so I’m hoping Season 4 can build on that.

The Orville: Season 3 – Late 2021 if not the year after, but Seth McFarlane’s SF comedy is one of the most uplifting shows around, and I’m glad it will be back, whenever that may be.

Warhammer 40,000: Bequin: Pariah & Bequin: Penitent, by Dan Abnett – I really need to read Eisenhorn, but a new Dan Abnett book will always get my attention. The rerelease of Pariah should come fairly soon, and it’s nice to see some traction on the older Warhammer 40k series.

Tales of the Sun Eater: Volume 1, by Christopher Ruocchio – Book 4 of the Sun Eater (the ominously named Kingdoms of Death) has been delayed until 2020, but there will be a short story to tide us over until then. There won’t be a phsyical release, but I have my fingers crossed for audio.

Skyward #3: Nowhere, by Brandon Sanderson – This is an outside bet, but Sanderson’s output rate is legendary, and I look forward to more intergalactic dogfighting action.

New Albion Murder Mystery, by Paul Shapera – Exactly what it says on the tin this one. Shapera has promised less instrumentals and more lyrics, so I am very excited about this upcoming album.

Well that is a lot of Sci-Fi goodness coming our way, and as usual I’m sure there are plenty of releases I’ve forgotten. In particular, I’d like to pick up a few more debuts next year. Be sure to drop in recommendations and tell me what you’re looking forward to in the comments.

See you all in the new year!

THEY CAN’T ALL BE WINNERS: The Purpose of Bad Reviews

In the run up to Christmas, social media was filled with drama. This time, the debate was over whether or not a ‘Worst Books of the Year’ was an insulting idea. The past few days have seen the backlash in the form of more ‘Worst Books…’ lists. As always, the debate rages on, and will undoubtedly crop up again in a few months. But let’s ask it again now.  Is it a bad idea to talk about books you hate?

First of all: No. People are allowed to hate books, films, games, comics, whatever. You can hate something, and you can tell people that you hate it. As any Star Trek fan will attest, fandom is often united in what it dislikes as much as what it likes, for better and for worse. I don’t think many people will argue on this point. The issue people seem to be taking is one of attitude.

Now, I haven’t seen the whole Booktube video that kicked all this off (i tried, but it wasn’t for me), but my understanding is that it’s not so much the content as the presentation that has people irked. And that’s where there is an issue with negative talk. Comedy often has a target, and when you don’t like something, that thing becomes a target. It’s easier to tell jokes about something when you don’t respect it. There are sites out there that make money off comedic vitriol. The Tor.com watch-along of Under the Dome springs to mind. But this over-the-top hate, often embellished for comedic effect, has unfortunately pulled more innocent reviewers under the bus.

I read a lot of books. I don’t review all of them. Some of that is due to thsi site’s focus on SF rather than other genres, but a lot of the time it is a more individual decision. I made this site to be positive. To tell people about science fiction that I have enjoyed. But ultimately, I’m not a hype man. Much as I love the genre – because I love the genre – when a book disappoints me, I want to talk about that too. I didn’t enjoy Doors of Eden or To Sleep In A Sea of Starsas much as I hoped to. I still reviewed them. I still liked large parts of them. And more importantly, I felt like I had something to say about these books.

There are SF books I don’t feel that way about. I was hugely excited for Seven Devils, but it was probably the biggest let-down of the year. For me. Not in any objective sense, but just to me. It wasn’t the book I was hoping it would be. I didn’t click with the characters, found the plot poorly paced, and the writing just didn’t work for me. I’m currently halfway through Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, and it’s dry, sexist and more than a little dull. And that’s fine. It’s a best-seller. People love it, and I’m glad they do. Not everything has to be for me. Not everything has to be for you. Unless it’s for a series reread, I’ll not give a review unless I have something to say. Some morsel to contribute to the conversation. It’s why I may seem harsher on older works than debuts. Because there’s no point in saying ‘I hated this’ unless you can explain why.

Why? because reviews are for readers. You’re not there giving feedback directly to the author, though many authors do enjoy seeing their work appreciated. The point of a review is to tell people about a book. About its plot, or its characters, or its themes. About the reactions it triggers in the reviewer. When I see a good review, I don’t think it’s a good book. I think it’s a book the reviewer enjoyed. When I see a bad review, I don’t think the book is bad, I think it hasn’t found the right audience yet. You can learn as much about a book from negative reviews as from positive ones. Yes, some books are genuinely bad, but I won’t turn away from one just because of a less than favourable review. Furthermore, the mix of reviews build up profiles of review sites. People who read this blog will know I love technical detail, and not so much characters, and so they can find books that match those arbitrary criteria.

The line I draw is that there is no point getting angry for likes. Sure, there are things I hate. Found Families and Edgelords spring to mind, but those hates are not aimed at someone’s hard work. Making art takes time and effort. Blood, sweat and tears. You can hate ideas, and you can hate things, but when you turn that hate against the creator. if you find yourself encouraging random internet goers to pile on someone’s creation, that’s when you’ve gone to far. That’s when you’re the bad guy.

So yes, there is absolutely a point in ‘Worst of…” lists and negative reviews and rants against this, that, and whatever. So long as you’re adding to the conversation, not just trying to chuck in the last word.

BOOK REVIEW: A Hard Rain, by Dean Wesley Smith

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

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Era: The Next Generation

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Genre: SF Noir

Pages: 233

Publication Date: 2002

Verdict: 3/5

Dixon Hill is the greatest detective the city by the bay has ever known. He is also a hologram, the gumshoe alter-ego of Jean-Luc Picard. Yet when the Enterprise is struck by disaster, Dixon Hill may be the only one who can save the ship . . .

This is a weird book and make no mistake. If you like your Trek stories in a more traditional mold, then you’re in for a surprise. Were it not for the Captain’s Log interludes and the names of a few characters, you’d never know this was a Star Trek novel. That’s because almost every page of this slender volume takes place within the confines of the Enterprise’s holodeck. Picard is but a side character here, hidden within his persona of Dixon Hill, accompanied by Mr Data and the Luscious Bev. It makes for odd reading, but there’s a certain charm to it. This is as much a detective novel as it is a science fiction one, and Smith nails the hardboiled noir style in both content and tone. If this is the level of storytelling Dixon Hill’s cases have, it’s no wonder Picard finds them so appealing.

The holodeck has been a standpoint of Star Trek since The Next Generation first debuted, through both Deep Space Nine and Voyager too, as well as a few moments in Enterprise and Discovery. Of course, the majority of epsiodes featuring the holodeck derive their drama from technical malfunctions, and that is the case here too. The Enterprise is in danger, and only a MacGuffin can save them. Unfortunately, said MacGuffin is located in the holodeck, where the safety features have been knocked offline. As you can expect, there’s a ticking clock to race against too.

Holodeck epsiodes are traditionally an opportunity for the actors to wear silly costumes and maybe play a different role to usual. While there is an element of that here, with Data spewing cliched lines much to everybody else’s chagrin, some of the fun is missing when it’s words on a page rather than faces on the screen. Nevertheless, the pacing is good, and A Hard Rain provides a nice break from the heavier books I’ve been reading of late. Just like the holodeck episodes of old were used to break things up. It’d odd, really, that most of the Star Trek books I read are serialised narratives when it’s the epsiodic nature of the show that I love so much. In a way, A Hard Rain might be the easiest book to imagine as a TV episode yet. It’s a single story, well-told and having little bearing on anything else.

While I don’t think it’s going to appear on many readers’ favourite lists, there’s a lot to like about A Hard Rain. It might not have much meat on its bones, but what there is tastes amazing.

TV REVIEW: The Mandalorian, Season 2

Season 1 review located here

Starring: Pedro Pascal

Episodes: 8

Genre: Space Opera

Broadcaster: Disney+

First Aired: 2020

Verdict: 5/5

Look at social media and you’ll see a common theme emerging: The Mandalorian has saved Star Wars. Now, I don’t really think Star Wars needed saving, but there is no denying the popularity of Star Wars’ live action TV debut. It’s proved that there is an audience for Star Wars TV, and in Disney+’s massive slate of upcoming releases, at least three of them are tied into the Mandalorian’s saga in some way.  Like the vast majority of viewers, I love the Mandalorian, but I’m in two minds as to how things are going. I’ll get into that in a minute.

Starting with the positive, season two is a structurally better show than the first. It’s keeps the mostly episodic nature that is the show’s best strength, but fixes some of the flaws of the first eight episodes. One of my few complaints about season 1 was that every episode seemed to be setting something up, but there was never any real pay-off. That is not the case here. While some episodes are definitely setting up future events, we also get rewarded for paying attention to events and characters from the first season. There are familiar faces returning, most notably Cara Dune (Gina Carano), but also some that will likely come as a surprise to you, including one person I’d thought would be staying dead, naive fool that I am.

The overarching plot is to find a Jedi who can look after The Child (AKA internet darling Baby Yoda), and to find one of those, Din (Pedro Pascal) must find other Mandalorians. Minor spoiler: he finds his people, and I loved the development of the Mandalorians. I know they’ve been used widely in the animated series, but this is the most time I’ve spent with the Mandalorians this side of Canderous Ordo. These searches also take the show on a whistle-stop tour of the Outer Rim, showing the rocky transition from Imperial tyranny to New Republic governance. And the show isn’t afraid to shy away from the fact that the New Republic makes mistakes, and that even life under the Empire had its upsides. It doesn’t go into much moral greyness, but the white and black do now look more like a chessboard than before. While the first season largely used Star Wars as background, here events are much more closely tied to the larger narrative. And there, as they say, is the rub.

-MAJOR SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT-

There is almost nothing to tie this series into the main narrative, and that is its greatest strength.‘ – That is what I wrote about the first season, and is still true. The Mandalorian is at its best when it is allowed to be its own thing. Unfortunately, Disney appear to be taking a Marvel approach to things, and are integrating all of Star Wars into one story. Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), hero of the Clone Wars, makes an appearance that is clearly set-up for her newly announced series. I have no real feelings about Ahsoka, not being a Clone Wars viewer, but it was nice to see another Jedi. But then there is also the return of Boba Fett (Temeura Morrison). Again, this is wonderful. for the first time we get to see why this bounty hunter was the most feared in the Galaxy, and his every scene is a delight. But he too is getting a series, which will air alongside season 3 of The Mandalorian. The final moments of season 2 feature the return of a very familiar face in what must be one of the show’s greatest scenes. I won’t spoil who, even if the internet already has.

Taken alone, each of these moments is great. I love the easter eggs, the callbacks (Grand Admiral Thrawn!), but when there are this many, it takes away from the story. The Mandalorian was widely advertised as the adventures of a bounty hunter far from the main events of the Skywalker Saga, but that is no longer the show we are given. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a great show, but it is not currently the show I wanted to be watching. With any luck, the spin-offs will take the extraneous material, leaving Din free to hunt bounties and learn more about the way of the Mandalore, but I expect the series’ paths will cross in the near future. I’ll still be watching them, of course, and I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy them, but I can’t help but wonder what might have been had things been allowed to step out from the shadow of nostalgia.

-END SPOILERS-

At the end of the day, this is Star Wars made by the fans, for the fans. If you like the original films, you’ll love it. If you like the sequels, you’ll love it. If you like Star Wars in any form, then this is absolutely the show for you.

 

FANDOM, FILK & FUN: Carmen Miranda’s Ghost

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Last year, a friend shared a link to a song. “Carmen Miranda’s ghost,” the song began, “is haunting Space Station Three.” The quality was terrible, having originally been recorded from damaged cassette tape, but I was intrigued. When the playlist revealed an entire album of these weird songs, I was immediately hooked. The album had the same name as that first song: Carmen Miranda’s Ghost, but the songs were varied. Some of the tunes sounded faintly familiar, but each told a unique story. There was ‘The Bomber,’ a mournful song of world-destroying warfare, and ‘The Good Ship Manatee,’ a comical take on the weirdness of life in space. By far my favourite song was ‘Some Kind of Hero,’ a tragic tale with a sombre beat that I have stuck in my head to this day. The songs hearkened back to the Golden Age of science fiction, with ray guns and dashing heroes, but also wonderful ideas and characters you could almost believe were real. I did a bit of digging, as I always do when I find new music, and found the name of the performer: Leslie Fish. I also found the name of this weird genre: Filk.

Now, this was a word I’d heard before. Last year was also the year I first attended the LARP event Empire, and there filk is common. Modern songs twisted to incrporate elements of the game world. That to me, was all filk was. And I hated it. I hated the way it broke immersion. I hated how lazy it was, that people weren’t making new songs from scratch. And I hated how it coloured my perception of the game. I consigned filk to the dustbin of my mind, and fully expected it to stay there. And yet. . .

And yet this filk was good. It was catchy, it was real, and it was original. Filk wasn’t just boybands showing up in my quasi-medieval setting. Filk was – and is – the music of fandom. It’s a labour of love, and so I love it. Listening to these science fictional tunes is just like being at a convention. In a year like 2020, it’s the closest I’ve felt to the science fiction community. There’s more than just crackly old tapes. There are YouTube uploads, songs old and new available to the world. Some are wholly original worlds, others odes to favourite franchises. I don’t know if the boys from Jollyboat consider themselves filk, but the sheer joy of their live performances, and the community they’ve built, are exactly what filk is all about.

As I dived deeper and deeper into this rabbit hole, I found something surprising. Carmen Miranda’s Ghost wasn’t just a song and an album. There was an anthology too. released by Baen in 1990, it gathers a couple dozen stories based on Leslie Fish’s bizarre song. I hunted down a copy and read it cover to cover in a little over a day. Honestly? It’s not a very good book. I’d been hoping for stories about other songs on the album, but this was not to be. None of the stories on offer really clicked with me in the same way the music did, though it was as rich with ideas as any anthology, and the names there Anne McCaffrey, C. J. Cherryh and more, were rather more famous than I expected of this jokey little tome.

But even if this book wasn’t for me, I’m glad it exists. It’s self-aware about the silliness of it’s concept. It’s massively dominated by female authors, which came as a surprise to me. It’s stupid, it’s weird, but it’s incredibly fun. It’s a book that has no right to exist, but it does, and that is a testament to the science fiction community. We’re all just fans, and it never hurts to spread the joy around. So sing if you want, write if you can, and enjoy what the genre and its community have to offer.

BOOK REVIEW: Patterns of Interference, by Christopher L. Bennett

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

This review contains spoilers. Proceed with caution

Patterns_of_Interference_cover.jpg

Era: Enterprise

Series: Rise of the Federation (#5)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 351

Publication Date: 2017

Verdict: 5/5

As the young Federation grapples with the fallout of the Ware crisis, Jonathan Archer considers sweeping policy changes. Yet in the shadows, enemies are amassing. Alien dictators, enemy spies, and those who would see the Federation turned to their own sinister purposes . . .

All good things must come to an end, and Patterns of Interference serves as a finale to the saga of Star Trek: Enterprise. Though there are times when you’d barely recognise this epic novel series as the same beast that appeared on screens, this is a fitting end to the story, and a far better one than we got on television.

The Prime Directive is one of the defining features of Star Trek. A recognition that technological superiority is no excuse for interfering in the development of other cultures. Enterprise took place prior to the introduction of Starfleet’s highest law, but here we see the foundations of what will become policy by the time of Picard, Sisko and Janeway. (Kirk had General Order One, yes, but he also had all the subtle research techniques of a smash-and-grab robber.) Seeing Archer, the pioneering explorer, be the one to realise the necessity of such a rule is a fitting road for the character to take in the wake of the Federation essentially destroying another interstellar nation by removing the Ware. Having the Prime Directive emerge from such a calamity makes perfect sense, and embodies perfectly the identity struggles of the early Federation. Having some final scenes between Archer and Shran as opposing parties on the matter is just the icing on the cake.

On the other side of the coin we have the Section 31 material. I like the concept of Section 31, and DS9’s Bashir/Sloane episodes were always strong. That being said, I do feel they’ve become overused, both in this series and in Discovery. Seeing the darker side of the Federation is exciting and interesting, but works best in small doses. What works about the Section here is that they are not shown as the all-powerful shadow organisation they later become. Although we know they survive in some form, here they are essentially one man’s conspiracy, and seeing them facing exposure is gratifying, especially when considering the ideals of the Federation.

A few other storylines are wrapped up along the way. Maltuvis and the Saurian crisis come to a head, and ties into the ongoing story incredibly. So too the Orion Syndicate’s efforts to undermine the Federation. Less well integrated is Hoshi’s exploration of an alien world, which does very much feel like a B-plot put in to resolve her doubts about marriage. That being said, these sections are possibly the most Star Trek parts of all, and remind us of Starfleet’s purpose – To seek out new life and new civilisations.

At the end of the day, Patterns of Interference is a worthy end to an unfairly maligned period of Star Trek‘s history. Bennett, Mangels and Martin all deserve credit for providing a the literary conclusion that Enterprise deserved.

BOUNDY AWARDS 2020

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been quite a remarkable year. Most of the news has been on the negative end of the spectrum, but I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that. But while we have all been trapped indoors as a result of society collapsing around us, we’ve at least had science fiction to turn to. And as we celebrate the SF that has made life worth living, it’s time for the second annual Boundy Awards. As before, all winners were decided by a committee of one (me) and have been selected on merit, judged by entertainment value, objective quality and contribution to the genre. There are no trophies or rosettes (though if this blog becomes big enough that could one day change). So without further ado, let’s get to the winners.

Boundy Awards for Literature

BEST STANDALONE: Vagabonds, by Hao Jingfang (translated by Ken Liu) – An absolutely fantastic piece of social SF, and a fascinating examination of a future Mars.

BEST SERIES OPENER: The Duke of Caladan, by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson – It was a rough year for new series, but this new era for the Dune saga grabbed me from the first page.

BEST CONTINUATION: Demon in White, by Christopher Ruocchio – The middle book of the epic Sun Eater series continues to build on Ruocchio’s strengths, and cemented his place as one of my favoruite current authors.

BEST CONCLUSION: Light of Impossible Stars, by Gareth L. Powell – A fitting end to the voyages the Trouble Dog, this book surprised me at every turn and made the most of tropes I didn’t think I’d enjoy as much as I did.

BEST ANTHOLOGY/COLLECTION: Lord of the Dark Millennium, by Dan Abnett – An absolute behemoth of a book, this collection deserves praise for finally gathering so much of Abnett’s output into a single volume.

 

Boundy Awards for Visual Media

BEST INDIVIDUAL EPISODE/FILM: Doctor Who: ‘Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror‘ – In an incredibly uneven series, this episode stands out for bringing back the nostalgia I associate with the early years of Who‘s reboot.

BEST SERIES: Star Trek Picard: Season 1 – Patrick Stewart’s return to the iconic role of Picard did the impossible and made a show that is simultaneously the most and least Star Trek ever to hit our screens.

 

Boundy Awards for Audio Media

BEST INDIVIDUAL AUDIO: Star Wars: Doctor Aphra, by Sarah Kuhn – Proving that Star Wars works as well in audio as it does on the big sccreen, this fun and often irreverent take on a Galaxy far, far away was one of the big surprises of the year.

BEST AUDIO SERIES: The War Master: Hearts of Darkness, by David Llewellyn and Lisa McMullin – Twist-filled storytelling and fantastic performances from Derek Jacobi and Paul McGann make this one of Big Finish’s best releases for years.

BEST MUSIC: Space Ninjas from Hell, by Victorius – Part of me can’t believe I’m giving an award to a bunch of anime-loving edgelords, but there’s no denying that the combination of power metal and cheesy lyrics is infectiously fun.

 

Boundy Awards for Interactive Media

BEST COMPUTER GAME: Stellaris: Federations (DLC) – Most of my gaming this year has been fantasy-based, but the Federations expansion for genre stalwart Stellaris added a nice new touch to the sprawling game, finally bringing some political possibilities to the universe.

 

Boundy Awards for Non-Fiction

BEST DOCUMENTARY: The Delta Flyers (Podcast) – Presented by Garrett Wang and Robert Duncan McNeill (along with the odd guest), this ongoing rewatch of Star Trek: Voyager is easily one of the best things to come out of the lockdown era. Warm, funny, and unafraid to criticise past mistakes, this show reminds me just why I love Star Trek so much.