BOOK REVIEW: The Farther Shore, by Christie Golden

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Rating: 2 out of 5.
  • Book Two of the Homecoming duology
  • Part of the Litverse
  • Focuses on the Voyager crew
  • Published by Pocket Books in 2003
  • A domestic Space Opera
  • 275 pages

A virulent Borg plague spreads across the Earth. With corruption at the heart of Starfleet, only Janeway and her crew can save the planet. But they are scattered. Imprisoned and deceived. Not even the timely arrival of Commander Data may be enough to see them through this crisis . . .

Homecoming set up a lot of plot threads, some of them more interesting than others. Sad to say, it is the least interesting that take precedence in this second volume of the relaunch. As I noted in my review of Homecoming, Borg stories are in abundance, and if you’re not going to do something new with them, you’ll struggle to hold my interest. Now, Voyager had more than its share of run-ins with the cybernetic foe, across five seasons of television. there’s plenty of material to be mined there if you do want to bring the Borg back into play. What frustrates me about The Farther Shore is that the Borg threat is tied directly to First Contact. That, coupled with the involvement of Data, make the book feel more like a problem for Picard and his crew rather than Janeway and hers. In the end, it all feels rather generic. Hardly an auspicious start to the Voyager relaunch.

To make matters worse, the most interesting thread is all but abandoned. Book one set up a revolution for hologram’s rights to personhood. This becomes the B-story here, and aside from a few rather grim references to the holograms involved in seedier programmes, the horrors of sentient technology being treated as slaves is rarely addressed. It’s all swept under the rug in favour of more Borg.

There is another story here, which is so memorable, I forgot to mention it in my previous review. B’Elanna is separate from the crew or almost the entirety of this two-part. Rather than having an engineer alongside the rest of the crew, the story has B’Elanna seeking out her Klingon mother. This involves a trip to Boreth, and a lengthy spiritual voyage in search of a lost family member. This storyline is at least something that makes the most of Voyager – B’Elanna’s split heritage, specifically – but all it really achieves is a prolonged reunion that stretches even more thinly than the first half of Homecoming. Klingon spirituality has never been a favourite of mine, and The Farther Shore continues the trend of it dominating all Klingon character arcs.

In Golden’s favour, she has her actual writing. As you can tell from the page count on these books, it’s short and punchy. The action scenes are where she really excels, which is particularly noticeable in the all guns blazing final confrontation between Janeway and the Borg. It’s not necessarily what I want in my Star trek books, but it is very well done. These books are very quick reads that don’t tax you too much. In that, they hearken back to a simpler time, as the Litverse was just beginning. And while it may have got off to a rocky start, the best is yet to come.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you might also enjoy:
Greater Than the Sum, by Christopher L. Bennett
Full Circle, by Kirsten Beyer
Blood and Fire, by David Gerrold

BOOK REVIEW: Homecoming, by Christie Golden

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Rating: 3 out of 5.
  • Book One of the Homecoming duology
  • Part of the Litverse
  • Focuses on the Voyager crew
  • Published by Pocket Books in 2003
  • A domestic Space Opera
  • 262 pages

Captain Janeway has achieved the impossible. After seven years in the Delta Quadrant, she has brought her ship and her crew home safely. But the home they left is not the one the return to. In the post-war Federation, nothing is as it seems . . .

Talk to Star Trek fans about the novels of Voayger, and you’ll hear a lot of praise for Kirsten Beyer’s Full Circle relaunch. But Beyer was not the first to continue Janeway’s voyages after the events of ‘Endgame.’ There was an earlier, and arguably less successful relaunch, penned by Christie Golden. Homecoming is the first of these, and takes place in the immediate aftermath of Voyager‘s final episode.

As a brief aside, ‘Endgame’ is my favourite Trek finale. Few Star Treks end in a wholly satisfying way. The Original Series and Animated Series both end with just another episode. The Next Generation has a great finale, but one that ends with more ‘business as usual’ for the crew. Deep Space Nine mixes satisfying plot arcs with disappointing thematic conclusions. And Enterprise caps off eighteen seasons of Trek far better than it does its own narrative. But Voyager? Voyager set out with a gaol. Get the crew home. And in the end, it succeeded. The final shot of Voyager and Earth is one of the show’s best.

With all that in mind, there aren’t many dangling plot threads to pick up on. Which makes this overstuffed book even more perplexing. The first half is all about the crew adjusting to life at home after a long absence. Think of episodes like TNG’s ‘Family’ and Enterprise‘s ‘Home’ and you won’t be far off. It’s a nice little denouement to go alongside the debriefings and celebrations as families are reunited, but it’s ultimately not that engaging. Especially when time is dedicated to all of this that would have been better spent developing the three plotlines that fight for dominance in the novel’s second half.

First, we have the classic corruption within Starfleet. Being lost in the Delta Quadrant for so long, Voayger didn’t have a chance to face the antagonistic admiral cliché, but that’s addressed here. This thread also brings back Harry Kim’s former girlfriend Libby, who is now a spy for Starfleet Intelligence, in a character move that makes very little sense, but also provides a charming reunion.

Next we have a Borg virus outbreak on Earth, blamed on the Voyager crew. This is an interesting idea, but it does run into one major problem. The Litverse has a lot of Borg stories. And I mean a lot. Picard ran into them on in almost all of the early TNG relaunch novels, and it all culminated in the Destiny trilogy. Unfortunately, there’s not much to distinguish this story from any of those. The Borg are a great idea, but one that definitely became overused.

Thankfully, there is another thread. Holographic rights. This is fascinating for two reasons. The obvious one is that it ties directly into Voyager‘s crew (The Doctor), but above that it’s just a fascinating concept. Holograms demonstrably can become sentient with prolonged use. Yet they are treated as objects. You don’t get much more Star Trek than a moral dilemma like this. being only the first half a story, Homecoming doesn’t go too deeply into this, but it’s easily the part I’m most interested in seeing more of.

Homecoming is a very rocky start to the Voyager relaunch, but it is at least a uniquely Voyager story. And as we all know, one should never judge a Star Trek by its opening act. It’s only in part three that the ball really gets rolling.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you might also enjoy:
Full Circle, by Kirsten Beyer
Resistance, by J. M. Dillard
Inferno Squad, by Christie Golden

SPSFC At Boundary’s Edge: Finalist Gut Reactions 1-4

These are my personal initial impressions of the SPSFC Finalists. These reactions are not necessarily indicative of the team’s overall rating, and are subject to change as I take a deeper look at each book. Full reviews and final team ratings will be posted once every judge has had the opportunity to read and discuss the book. As always, readers are encouraged to read the books themselves and make up their own minds.

Duckett & Dyer: Dicks For Hire, by G. M. Nair

This book was in our semi-finalist allocation, and received a gut reaction of 7/10, which you can view HERE. The final team rating was 7.50, and you can find my co-judge Ryan’s full review HERE.

A Star Named Vega, by Benjamin J. Roberts

This book was in our semi-finalist allocation, and received a gut reaction of 8/10, which you can find HERE. The final team rating was 7.50, and you can find my full review HERE.

Steel Guardian, by Cameron Coral

6/10

This book is an odd mismatch of tropes I really enjoy, and ones I very much don’t. It starts off in an apocalyptic wasteland, and follows a robot who becomes the unexpected guardian (hence the title) of a human infant. Now, I don’t much care for human infants, either as characters or as people, but robots? Robots are something I can very much get behind. However, most people want a protagonist they can relate to, and so our robotic hero feels just as human as the flesh-and-blood characters. The book itself is one of the best written in the contest, and it absolutely flies by, but the protagonist feels to me like a missed opportunity.

Iron Truth, by S. A. Tholin

4/10

I don’t have the exact statistics to hand, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Iron Truth is the longest book in the competition. It certainly feels like the longest. This is a book that, on paper, sound like it has everything I enjoy. A crashed spaceship, a lost colony, a military squad with a mission. But it never gripped me. The military SF side of things is pretty good (and it’s about time we got some of the genre in the contest), but the horror elements did nothing for me, and it was the latter that soon came to dominate the narrative. To me, it all felt a bit muddled. And if a book isn’t working for me, having that book be so long is only going to make things worse.

I’ll be back in the near future with my Gut Reactions to the remaining three finalists, and we should be getting to our full length reviews any day now. In the meantime, there are more judges than just me in the SPSFC, so you should definitely check out what they’ve been saying.

TBR & BEYOND: June 2022

As we hurtle towards the half-way point of the year, it’s time to re-examine our TBR stacks and decide what to read in the month of June. I’m making good progress on my various reading goals, so this month I might shake things up a little. Let’s talk TBR.

TBR

Aw, look at the poor little diminished TBR. It’s only 21 books large now, which means I’m finally winning my epic struggle. That said, there are some pretty thick books in there. Books I plan to tackle this month.

There has been a Star Trek book on my TBR since December 2020, so my priority this month is reading all the Star Trek in this picture. These four Christie Golden Voyager novels fill in the gaps in my Litverse knowledge, and I’m probably going to read each pair back to back. They’re all on the short side, so I don’t expect them to take too long. I’ll probably have the first review up by the weekend.

Another series I plan to complete is Ben Bova’s Moonrise duology. Both of these books are fairly chunky, but Bova’s prose is easy reading, so they probably won’t take up as much time as you’d think. This also makes them perfect for long journeys, and I plan to read them on my middle of month train journey.

Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Eyes of the Void and David Wellington’s The Last Astronaut were both on last month’s schedule, but got bumped down the list by the unexpected loaning of the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy. As such, both of them have found their way into this month’s TBR instead.

In order to keep my Warhammer 40,000 TBR under control, I plan to read the two short novels Huron Blackheart: Master of the Maelstrom and The Triumph of Saint Katherine. If I have time, I’ll read Catachan Devil too, but don’t count on it.

Depending on timing, I’m going to use June to clear out some of the odds and ends from my TBR. By which I of course mean Brian Daley’s Fall of the White Ship Avatar and H. Beam Piper’s The Fuzzy Papers.

That’s a lot of books, but a lot of them are pretty short. This gives me a June schedule that looks something like this:

  • Homecoming, by Christie Golden
  • The Farther Shore, by Christie Golden
  • Eyes of the Void, by Adrian Tchaikovsky
  • The Last Astronaut, by David Wellington
  • Old Wounds, by Christie Golden
  • Enemy of My Enemy, by Christie Golden
  • Moonrise, by Ben Bova
  • Moonwar, by Ben Bova
  • Huron Blackheart: Master of the Maelstrom, by Mike Brooks
  • The Triumph of Saint Katherine, by Danie Ware
  • Fall of the White Ship Avatar, by Brian Daley
  • The Fuzzy Papers, by H. Beam Piper

AND BEYOND

I’m actually watching some science fiction television this month. Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi is off to a cracking start, and the remaining four episodes come out on Wednesdays (which is today). There’s also a fair bit of new SF heading my way this month, so let’s get straight to it.

13th – Cthonia’s Reckoning and Lupercal’s War. These two anthologies are sorely tempting me into the murky depths of the Horus Heresy. I’ve stayed away for a long time, but these look to be perfect introductions for newcomers.

22nd – Paramount+ launches in the UK at long last, meaning I can finally start watching Strange New Worlds. Which is nice, because I have heard only good things about it.

28th – The Lost Fleet: Outlands: Resolute, by Jack Campbell. John ‘Black Jack’ Geary’s interstellar adventures continue as the military SF series returns. This is a series that just goes from strength to strength, and I look forward to each new volume.

28th – Star Wars: Shadow of the Sith, by Adam Christopher. Luke and Lando is a combination that we haven’t seen nearly enough of, even in the old Expanded Universe. That alone has piqued my interest.

30th – Sands of Dune, by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson. The second Dune short story collection is a bit of a mystery to me, as I have no idea of its contents. Still, it’ll be interesting to see where the saga is headed next.

As always, I’m sure there’s something I’ve missed. Let me know what you’re looking forward to this month in the comments.

MONTHLY ROUNDUP: May 2022

What a month it’s been. May was a good month both for general reading and the blog more specifically. I’ve had a record amount of posts, and a record number of views. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get straight to it.

BOOK HAUL

I bought a couple of books this month, but thankfully not as many as I read. Here’s the haul:

  • Moonrise, by Ben Bova
  • Huron Blackheart: Master of the Maelstrom, by Mike Brooks
  • Homecoming, the Farther Shore, and Old Wounds, all by Christie Golden
  • Foundation’s Friends, edited by Martin H. Greenberg
  • The Triumph of Saint Katherine, by Danie Ware

IN TRANSIT

No pre-orders this month, and everything I’ve bought has arrived.

READING

May was a mega-review in terms of books read, to the extent that it’s been a little tricky reviewing them all.

And in non-SF reading:

  • Dawnshard, by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Legion, by Simon Scarrow
  • Praetorian, by Simon Scarrow

AUDIO

I spent a large part of this month listening to Gene Kranz’ autobiographical Failure Is Not An Option, and am now approaching the end of Justin D Hill’s Necromunda novel Terminal Overkill. The review of the latter will be along in a few days, but in this month I caught up on my audio drama backlog, with reviews of the following:

TV

I’m not watching much SF TV at the moment, but I did make time for the (somewhat underwhelming) second season of Star Trek: Picard.

ARTICLES

My goal of increasing the number of articles I write is going rather swimmingly, as I managed four this month. I’m keeping the topics varied, so let me know if there’s something you think I should write about.

SPSFC

It’s all hands on deck with the SPSFC as we hurtle towards finding our winner. As well as announcing the finalists (and reviewing two of them), we also caught up with the semi-finalists earlier in the month.

WRITING

This section of the roundup makes its triumphant return after too many months away. I’ve only managed a few thousand words in the past few days, but that’s already more than I’ve written in a long while.

SITE UPDATES

A record number of posts (27) has led to an equally record-breaking number of views. I’ve breezed past the three and a half thousands mark, and it feels pretty good at these lofty heights. Stay tuned in June for more of the same.

BOOK REVIEW: Stolen Earth, by J. T. Nicholas

Rating: 4 out of 5.
  • A standalone novel
  • Published by Titan Books
  • First published in 2021
  • A post-apocalyptic space opera SF
  • 397 pages

Old Earth has been destroyed. The ruins ruled over by unfettered Artificial Intelligences. Only an array of satellites prevents these deadly machines escaping into the Solar System. But while nothing comes out, one ship is about to go in. Because Grayson Lynch and his crew have a job to do, even if it kills them . . .

In a genre full of trilogies and longer series, standalone science fiction novels often feel like a throwback to the past. But when we get a standalone, it’s often a book of the intellectual variety. A book that delves deep into thematic territory, or blows your mind with its worldbuilding. And these books tend to be of the chunky variety. So much of science fiction’s rich history comes from slender standalone tomes, it’s always nice to find a quick read to revisit those simpler times. Stolen Earth is a sub-400 page story of action and adventure, and coming off the back of more complex tomes, it is an absolute joy.

There’s not a whole lot of original ideas going on in Stolen Earth, but that’s no bad thing. All the familiar elements are executed competently. And even if the plot is fairly predictable, that’s fine too. Stolen Earth is comfort reading. If it were a film, you’d enjoy it with a big bucket of popcorn. If it were a TV show, you’d binge it in a week. As a book, you’ll probably be done in a few days at most. Even when we’re dealing with a ruined wasteland inhabited by malign artificial intelligences, there’s no real sense of peril. Things move at a breakneck pace, but the ride is a smooth and calm one. It’s not so much exciting, as pleasant.

This is a book about a ship and a crew. It’s a winning formula, but one that lives or dies on the strength of the crew. In this regard, Stolen Earth is a mixed bag. There are five members of the crew, and we get the viewpoint of three of them. Grayson Lynch is a typical military type. The leader of the band, but ultimately rather flat in terms of character arc. There’s a sense that the important part of his life occurs between the prologue and the first chapter. Much better served are Laurel and Rajani. Laurel is the newcomer to the group, so through her we get a fresh set of eyes on events that the more jaded members of the team barely react to. Rajani has the strongest arc of the book, and is by far the most interesting character. Her relationship with artificial intelligences gives a unique angle on much of what happens later in the book, and her arc offers the suggestion of a sequel further down the lien, should Nicholas revisit this world again.

Less well served are the two non-viewpoint characters. That’s to be expected of course, but it’s still a shame. Bishop is rather flat and lifeless in the way supporting casts often are, but he gets off lightly compared to Federov. Federov is a rather unfortunate gun-toting, broken English-speaking Russian thug. A stereotype that is well and truly tired by this point. It’s not actively offensive, but it does come across as rather lazy.

In spite of a few missed opportunities with its characters, and a plot that will surprise precisely no one, Stolen Earth is a very fun book, and another strong standalone thriller from J. T. Nicholas.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you might also enjoy:
The Cruel Stars, by John Birmingham
Embers of War, by Gareth L. Powell
Re-Coil, by J. T. Nicholas

BOOK REVIEW: Lesser Evil, by Timothy Zahn

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Rating: 5 out of 5.
  • Book Three of the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy
  • Published by Del Rey in 2021
  • A Space Opera novel
  • 548 pages

The Chiss Ascendancy teeters on the brink of civil war. The enigmatic Jixtus prepares to lead an invasion of zealots intent on ‘enlightening’ the Chiss. In their path stands one officer: Thrawn. The odds are against him, but Thrawn will risk everything to preserve his home . . .

Like so many expanded universes of tie-in fiction, the literary canon of Star Wars is more than just one series. In this Disney era, that is more true than ever. Whereas once there was a simple trilogy, now there are three, plus two standalone films. Then there are the TV offerings, each telling a complete story while forging part of a broader whole. In the days of the old Expanded Universe, there were myriad series running simultaneously, from the derring-do of X-Wing pilots, to the apocalyptic New Jedi Order. Thrawn was at the centre of one trilogy, but his legacy had a duology of its own, and the character appeared in or was referenced in many other tales. With the clean slate offered by Disney, there is a chance for a more cohesive whole. Or maybe a repeat of what has gone before, for better and for worse.

Thrawn Ascendancy is a complete story, and it’s a very good one. For the first time, we have the full origins of Mitth’raw’nurodo, from the day he joined the Mitth family, to his eventual exile. And no, that’s not a spoiler for how this series ends, because its role as a prequel is explaining how he came to be discovered by the nascent Galactic Empire. In that respect, the series is a total success. I already want to reread the previous Thrawn trilogy to recall what happens next. Perhaps most remarkable of all is the way Zahn satisfies all manner of fans, from the newly inducted to the old grumps. How? By writing a story set far enough in the past that it can be slotted into both the canon of the Disney era and the now-discontinued Expanded Universe. With a web as complex as the one woven here, that is no mean feat.

Taking a step back from its role in the larger continuity, Lesser Evil is a wonderful conclusion to this arc of Thrawn’s story, and a strong story all by itself. All the build-up of the previous two novels is paid off in spades, with both the external threat of Jixtus and the internecine squabbling of the ruling families coming to a head. The smaller scale affairs reach their climax too, with character arcs neatly concluded to either end a journey, or to set up the next one. Thrawn, as the lynchpin of this saga, naturally has a starring role, and his genius, both in universe and in concept, is on full display. But this isn’t a story of Thrawn running away with victory. Yes, he achieves his goals, but there is a high cost to them. And those goals are only realised because of the supporting cast. From Thalias to Qilori, Zahn has crafted a corner of the galaxy rich in memorable faces, and it’s a shame our time with them is so limited.

Or is it? Because while there is a conclusion here, it’s not the end of Thrawn’s story. Leaving aside those volumes which already exist, there is plenty of room in the new canon for a Grand Admiral. Rumour suggests he will make a live-action appearance sooner rather than later. With the write actor, and writing team that includes or can match Zahn, Star Wars looks set to have another success story on its plate. But only time will tell what manner of meal it becomes.

For now, we have Thrawn Ascendancy, an origin story fit for a Chiss of Thrawn’s stature. And for now, I am a very contented reader.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you might also enjoy:
Thrawn, by Timothy Zahn
Outbound Flight, by Timothy Zahn
Choices of One, by Timothy Zahn

BOOK REVIEW: Greater Good, by Timothy Zahn

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Rating: 4 out of 5.
  • Book Two of the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy
  • Published by Del Rey in 2021
  • A Space Opera novel
  • 410 pages

General Yiv has been defeated, and the immediate danger to the Chiss Ascendancy is over. But in the shadows, a new evil is at work. Because the mysterious Jixtus is not yet finished in his mission, and not all enemies come from outside the Ascendancy’s borders . . .

There’s a phenomenon much discussed among readers of genre that is often referred to as a ‘sophomore slump.’ Put simply, it’s the idea that the the second book in a series, particularly a trilogy, will be weaker than the first. There is some logic to the idea. In theory, an author has endless time to work on their first novel, while the second is written under a great deal more pressure (at least in terms of deadlines). In more general structural terms, the middle volume in the trilogy has to not only build on what has gone before, but also pave the way for the grand finale. It’s no wonder a lot of people deem middle books the weakest as independent novels. So, maybe sophomore slumps are a thing. Then again, maybe not. It could be that I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in my reading. Or it could be that my opinion of what constitutes a good story is different to a lot of other readers’. Whatever the case, I often find that it’s the middle act of a trilogy that is my favourite. Often, but not always. Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good lands as an exception to my usual delight at a second volume.

It’s not a bad book by any means. As it happens, it’s a very good one. But coming off the back of the phenomenal Chaos Rising, it does feel less than what I hoped to find. The reason for this is simple. While the characters, worldbuilding, and writing are all up to the standards you’d expect from Timothy Zahn, the plot develops in a rather unexpected way. From the last book, we know that General Yiv was being guided by an unknown being called Jixtus. In this book, Jixtus sends another enemy against the Chiss Ascendancy. Jixtus’ motives remain unclear, but his methods are intriguing. Rather than another military strike, this time Jixtus sends in the Agbui, an empathic species who seek to undermine the Chiss by sowing discord among the ruling families.

It’s all very clever, actually, and pulls on some of the strongest elements of this series. Zahn has put a lot of work into making the many families of the Chiss Ascendancy, not to mention their twisted web of relations and entanglements. Of course, this does come with a problem. As Mitth’raw’nuruodo would tell you, Chiss names can be quite long. Because each individual takes the letters of their family name, this leads to a lot of similar names. And while I can remember the differences between major characters like Thrawn, Thalias, and Thurian, all the members of the Xodlak family soon blended into each other. Thankfully, there is a dramatis personae, but at a single page it can’t contain all the characters in this twisting, turning book.

While its not quite on the same level as its predecessor, Greater Good is a strong entry in the new Star Wars canon, and another reminder of why Zahn and Thrawn keep coming back for more. Long may their voyages last.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you might also enjoy:
Revenger, by Alastair Reynolds
Thrawn, by Timothy Zahn
Outbound Flight, by Timothy Zahn

BOOK REVIEW: Chaos Rising, by Timothy Zahn

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Rating: 5 out of 5.
  • Book One of the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy
  • Published by Del Rey in 2020
  • A Space Opera novel
  • 383 pages

For generations, the Chiss Ascendancy has been an island of calm in a chaotic region of space. But now an enemy has set their eyes on the Ascendancy. Rising through the ranks, one Chiss is thrust into the spotlight in this pivotal time. His name is Thrawn . . .

Outside of the big names like Luke, Leia, Han, and Darth Vader, there are few characters in Star Wars as iconic as Grand Admiral Thrawn. Or to give him his full name: Mitth’raw’nuruodo. The blue-skinned alien first appeared in Timothy Zahn’s Expanded Universe-founding Heir to the Empire, and has featured in a dozen books since. And if you need proof of his popularity, how about this? Though he started off life in the Expanded Universe, Disney brought him back in their new canon. That new lease on life is seen in Rebels, and also Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy. But now Zahn is going into uncharted territory, in more ways than one. Because now we’re leaving Known Space behind, and taking a trip back in time to Thrawn’s formative years.

Chaos Rising is technically set during the Clone Wars, but with the expectation of one encounter with a Jedi, this book has nothing to do with the rest of the Star Wars continuity. And that’s greatest strength. It’s very rare (especially in this day and age) for an author to be able to explore a new region of the Star Wars universe. Yet filling in the gaps in established lore is what tie-in fiction is for. Even in the behemothic Expanded Universe, the Chiss Ascendancy was never really explored. Outbound Flight came close, but nothing on the level we see here. The removal of so many familiar Star Wars elements really works to Thrawn Ascendancy‘s strength. The Ascendancy feels truly alien, in a way not seen since the days of the Yuuzhan Vong. And if you’re not a die-hard fan of a Galaxy far, far away, then this is a brilliant space opera in its own right.

As many fans will know, the greater events of Thrawn’s life are still to come, so what we see here is something on a slightly smaller scale. But while the fate of the Galaxy may not be at stake, the future of the Ascendancy is very much imperilled. It might be odd to see Thrawn dealing with solitary pirate vessels rather than rebellious fleets, but everyone has to start somewhere. It’s actually quite refreshing to have an adventure not centred on Jedi and Sith rivalries, and the absence of familiar faces means you’re never quite sure who you can trust. or who will live.

As always, Zahn’s writing is superb. It’s direct, balancing both intrigue and action well, with touches of introspection here and there. We get to see Thrawn’s legendary tactical mind, and his love of art, in full force, and this is the book where the link between the two actually starts to make sense. Zahn also deserves praise for including a large number of flashback sequences in a manner that is separate from the main story, but never intrusive when we do take a break from the present. These snippets of Thrawn’s past give us a bit moreinsight into the great leader. And if you’ve come this far down the Star Wars rabbit hole, those insights are probably what you’ve come here to read.

A great space opera on it’s own terms, and an intriguing reintroduction to one of Star Wars’ most interesting antagonists, Chao Rising sets up what looks to be a most excellent trilogy.

AUDIO REVIEW: The Terra Nostra

Rating: 4 out of 5.
  • A Big Finish production
  • Full cast, including Michael Keating, Sally Knyvette, Abigail Hinton, and Karl Howman
  • Written by James Kettle, Peter Anghelides, and Robert Valentine
  • Approximately 3 hours
  • Released in December 2021

In a Federation rife with corruption, there are few groups as insidious as the Terra Nostra. Weapons, drugs, lives. There is nothing in which they will not deal. And when it comes to the crew of the Liberator, the Terra Nostra have old scores to settle . . .

Sinister criminal organisations are a staple of science fiction. Star Wars has the Black Sun (among many others), Star Trek has the Orion Syndicate and the Emerald Chain. And Blake’s 7 has the Terra Nostra. When we saw them on screen, they were trading in shadow, a rather nasty drug that gave them sway over entire cities. The boxset of audio dramas that shares their name takes us deeper than before into the inner workings of the Terra Nostra, with more than a few familiar faces. And not just the ones you’re expecting.

Battles between good and evil grow tiresome after a while, and the moral greyness of Blake’s 7 was always a big draw for me. It should then come as no surprise that The Terra Nostra is their strongest boxset to date. It’s a great dive into that murkier side of the universe where allegiances shift like sand, and you’re never quite sure if you can trust anyone. The Terra Nostra is full of larger-than-life characters, best shown by Robert Valentine’s ‘Entrapment,’ which throws Vila Restal into the middle of a classic heist scenario. It’s backstabbing criminals galore as the rogues’ gallery try to one-up each other. And that’s what sets this boxset apart from some of Big Finish’s other offerings – It has a real sense of fun about itself. Blake’s 7 had great drama, but it also wasn’t afraid to have a sense of humour. The Terra Nostra is the closest non-Liberator story to the feel of the original series.

As usual, the voice cast is phenomenal. Michael Keating continues to be stellar in his recreation of Vila’s unique mix of charm and cowardice. Sally Knyvette is on her usual top form – the brief post-Blake reunion between the two is a nice touch. But the unsung hero of the Worlds of Blake’s 7 is Abigail Thaw as the elusive and manipulative Hinton. If ever an antagonist were to steal Servalan’s throne, it ought to be Hinton. I have a suspicion Hinton’s role may be building up to something larger down the line. If so, I am one hundred percent here for it.

The Terra Nostra is the best Big Finish Blake’s 7 boxset I’ve listened to so far, and bodes very well for the future of the range. If you want more audio space opera in your life, then you absolutely need to start listening.