Star Trek Crew Builder: Captains

Welcome to the last in a series of articles wherein I attempt to build the ideal crew for a ship, using characters from the many variations of Star Trek. To be a candidate, all you need is to be a series regular on one of Star Trek‘s TV incarnations, from The Original Series onwards. Now that we’ve assembled our crew, we need someone to lead it. So let’s choose our captain.

Candidate 1: James Kirk

Kirk’s reputation as a rulebreaker is undeserved, but his gung-ho attitude and hotheadedness make it an understandable misconception. The sort of leader to get down and dirty with his work, Kirk’s habit of leading away teams in person is a dangerous habit, and responsible for some of the more notorious incidents to occur under his command. There have been multiple deaths under his command, though he and the senior officers generally emerge unscathed.

Candidate 2: Jean-Luc Picard

Picard is a stickler for the rules, going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that the Federation sticks to its principles. He work ethic and passion for exploration are undeniable, but he does come across as an aloof figure, isolating himself from his crew. Sometimes this is for the best, avoiding any romantic complications, but it makes him a difficult man to know. And that dedication to the rules? Sometimes a little more leniency could be of use, especially where the Prime Directive is concerned.

Candidate 3: Benjamin Sisko

If you want to win a war, follow Sisko. Sisko has endured a lot of hardship in his life, but still pushes on. he has experience leading both starships and space stations, and regular exposure to innumerable alien cultures. It’s one of these that poses a slight issue. While we must of course respect other cultures, Sisko is the messiah of an alien religion, and this does interfere with his work. Whether he is guided by Prophets or manipulated by atemporal alien entities, Sisko’s judgement must be brought into question. Yes, things have worked out well so far, but what will the Prophets ask of him next?

Candidate 4: Kathryn Janeway

I’m conflicted on Janeway, and the disclaimer must be that her captaincy took place under highly unusual circumstances. To her credit, Janeway brought her crew home, seamlessly joining Starfleet and Maquis together, and dealing sever damage to the Borg in the process. However, her track record is one of impulsive and often reckless decision-making. An alliance with the Borg and an interdimensional war against Species 8472 is the most egregious example, but there are many more. Janeway got the job done, but at what cost?

Candidate 5: Jonathan Archer

If you can look past Archer’s hostility towards Vulcans (which he does eventually grow out of), Archer is one of the better captains to serve under. He barely loses a crewman, is cordial and even friendly with many of his crew, and approaches exploration with a true sense of wonder and optimism. However, this approach makes him woefully unsuited for active service, as the Xindi crisis shows. During this period, Archer loses nearly a third of his crew, and commits multiple war crimes. One can’t hep but wonder if times of war required a change in captain.

Candidate 6: Gabriel Lorca (Mirror)

By all accounts, Gabriel Lorca is a skilled an popular captain. this man, however, is an imposter. Hailing from an alternate universe where tyranny and murder are a way of life, this Gabriel Lorca should not be allowed anywhere near the command seat of a starship.

Candidate 7: Christopher Pike

In may ways, Pike is the natural successor to Archer. He commands with kindness, taking the time to get to know his crew. However, he handles himself a lot better under pressure. Suddenly being reassigned to an unfamiliar ship that has every right to be paranoid, and caught in the aftermath of a devastating war, Pike fares better than anyone had any right to expect.

Candidate 8: Saru

The calm voice of reason and scientific enquiry, Saru had a long route to the captain’s chair. Despite the long journey, however, he may not be well suited to it. Saru is a man to takes his time, investigating a problem from every possible angle. For a scientist, this is wholly understandable. But for a captain, these delays can spell disaster. It is a job that calls for decisive action. And action is far from Saru’s strong point. This is a man better suited for an advisory position than the commanding role.

Candidate 9: Michael Burnham

With a history of taking the universe’s problems on her shoulders, it was only a matter of time before Burnham took the captain’s chair. It’s early days yet, but to her credit her endeavours thus far have been successful. With a solid crew to back her up, it seems there are no limits to what she might achieve. However, she has a tendency to put herself at the front of the action, taking on roles better suited to others. Along with a hefty saviour complex, one has to wonder how long Burnham will last before she burns herself out.

Candidate 10: Carol Freeman

Freeman has a tough gig, commanding one of the most anarchic ships in Starfleet. Leaving aside allegations of nepotism, she does a good job of keeping a dysfunctional crew together. However, her current command has seen her relegated to a supporting role in Federation affairs, and while she performs well under pressure, it’s impossible to know how she’d perform under different circumstances. At the time of writing, there are also some very alarming allegations being levelled against her concerning the Pakled homeworld.

Final Verdict

With one obvious exception, I’d happily serve under any of these captains. Really, the problem is choosing a good all rounder. My instinct is to choose Archer, but while he may be the peacetime leader, his leadership falls apart as soon as war breaks out. And with the number of threats the Federation poses, war often seems inevitable. With that in mind, the best captain, based on what we know so far, is Christopher Pike. He’s amiable, competent, and doesn’t crack under pressure. truly, one of Starfleet’s greats.

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BOOK REVIEW: Nexus + Other Stories

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nexus

Publisher: Black Library

Genre: Grimdark SF

Pages: 641

Publication Date: 2020

Verdict: 3/5

 

Welcome to the grim darkness of the forty-first millennium. A time when humanity is besieged by xenos, and eaten away from within by heresy. Where battles rage on countless worlds, stars burn with anger, and the future promises only war . . .

As you can probably tell from that little red triangle on the front cover, Nexus + Other Stories is intended to be a gateway into Black Library (and Warhammer Lore in general) for new readers. It doesn’t begin with the usual sombre statement of intent, but instead a not directed at the reader. It’s welcoming, which is a nice touch. Any franchise thrives on new lifeblood, and with how staggeringly complex some parts of Warhammer can be (does the term Horus Heresy ring any bells?), having an obvious entry point is a smart idea. Just as the starter kits get people into the modelling side of the hobby, so Nexus + Other Stories will get people into the fiction of the game. As such is has a much broader scope than a lot of Black Library’s recent anthologies. In fact, there’s a story for pretty much every faction and army in the game. How much you enjoy these stories depends entirely on your feelings towards those factions.

Space Marines have always been the poster boys of Warhammer 40,000, so it’s natural that they get the lion’s share of the pages here. The opening novella from which the collection takes its name runs us through a gruelling fight between necrons and Ultramarines. It’s the first of two Thomas Parrott stories in here, the second one telling of the Dark Angels. There’s also stories about Blood Angels, Space Wolves, and a Deathwtach squad. Now, if my race through Black Library’s offerings in 2021 has taught me anything, it’s that Space Marines and I do not get along. The stories themselves are fine, but I do find the Marines as a concept to be quite bland. They’re superhuman warriors who are loyal to the God-Emperor. And that’s about it. I get that this isn’t the place to be playing with bigger ideas, but a little variety could have gone a long way.

The other Imperium offerings are much stronger. Rachel Harrison’s ‘The Darkling Hours’ is a story following Severina Raine and the Antari Rifles, characters who deserve so much more than the single novel we’ve got so far. ‘Lightning Run’ by Peter McLean is yet another piece of evidence that Warhammer needs more Imperial navy stories, and Dan Abnett’s ‘Missing in Action’ is a typically stellar piece of Inquisition fiction. There’s nothing mind-blowing about any of these stories, but they’re all solid offering and strong examples of what a new reader can expect from Black Library.

Then we come to the xenos, who I dare say have received more love from Black Library in the past two years than they have in the preceding twenty. Mike Brook’s twisted comedy ‘Where Dere’s Da Warp Dere’s A Way’ breaks through the more serious stories around it with a big orky grin, and makes me even more intrigued to start Brutal Kunnin. Rob Rath (of The Infinite and the Divine fame) dabbles with necrons once again in ‘War in the Museum,’ continuing to build his weird and surprisingly deep corner of the grim, dark future. I’ve been meaning to get to Phil Kelly’s Farsight novels for a while now, and his entry here ‘Redemption on Dal’yth’ suitably whet my appetite for a longer offering. Alas, still no tyranid PoV story.

And that’s the whole point. All of these stories are mere teasers. Little nibble to build up an appetite. At the end of each story are a pair of recommendations on where you should go next, either a novel with the same characters where appropriate, or a novel about the same faction when the story stands alone. A lot of them are among the more popular Black Library offerings, but then Gaunt’s Ghosts is a good place for military SF fans in general. I’d already read a fair few of the suggested reads, but there are some recommendations I’m keen to follow up on. There’s also a handy checklist of some of the major series to start.

 

Being an introduction to Warhammer 40,000, some of the stories here do come across as a little too neat, a little too cookie-cutter clean compared to the novels Black Library have been putting out recently. But as a starting point, Nexus + Other Stories does exactly what it sets out to do.

BOOK REVIEW: Inferno! Presents The Inquisition

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inquisition.jpg

Publisher: Black Library

Genre: Grimdark SF

Pages: 375

Publication Date: 2021

Verdict: 4/5

 

The armies of the Astra Militarum and the might of the Space Marines may be the vanguard of humanity, but not all threats can be defeated by superior force. Some dangers are more insidious, and to combat them the Imperium requires Inquisitors . . .

Inferno! started life as a magazine of short stories earlier in the life cycle of Warhammer, and was resurrected a few years ago as a series of anthologies. Unlike most Black Library anthologies, Inferno! covers all aspects of Warhammer, both Age of Sigmar and 40,000. It’s something of a proving ground for newer authors, as well as a spotlight on the shorter fiction of some of Black Library’s heavy hitters. That resurrection now has six volumes, and has spawned a seventh in the form of this anthology. The Inferno! Presents label suggests this will be the start of a new series, each highlighting one particular aspect of Black Library’s expansive universes. As you’ve probably guessed, this one is about Inquisitors. And it’s probably the best anthology Black Library have put out in years.

There’s a real mix of authors in this one, from familiar faces to newcomers. And while Dan Abnett’s name might be the biggest on the cover, the real draw is the authors you haven’t heard of. Because by now we all know Abnett, and ‘Lepidopteraphobia’ is as brilliant a story as you’d expect. David Annandale makes an appearance too, with a short story that ties into the events of Ephrael Stern: The Heretic Saint, while up-and-comer Robert Rath puts the legendary Inquisitor Greyfax front and centre in a story with more than a few links to his novel The Infinite and the Divine. But the true joy of anthologies is not the stories you know you’ll enjoy, but the ones that take you by surprise. the ones that introduce you to a new author and send them straight onto your must-read list.

One of these new authors is Noah Van Nguyen, who I first encountered in Broken City. His entry here – ‘The Last Crucible’ –  is even stronger than the first, and if any of these stories inspires a full-length novel, I hope it’s his. Also returning from the bleak world of Warhammer Crime is Victoria Hayward. ‘The Carbis Incident’ is one of the more horrifying entries in this anthology, and one of the strongest as a result. In his debut for Black Library Rich McCormack proves that we definitely need more Imperial Navy stories, while Rob Young and Tom Toner both bring stories that prove humanity is far from a beacon of light in the grim darkness of the far future.

The most surprising aspect of this anthology is just how fresh each story feels. I’ve written countless times about how anthologies built around a single idea run the risk of repetition, but the first Inferno! Presents doesn’t suffer from that at all. There’s an odd moment of predictability in a few of the entries, but that’s the result of a lifetime spent reading stories rather than a narrative fault with the individual stories. Yes, there are certain tropes that come with being an Inquisitor in the forty-first millennium, but each of these stories delivers something unique, fulfilling or subverting expectations according to the author in question. Honestly, this is a rare anthology where I enjoyed all of the stories, and that’s something as rare as a trustworthy xenos.

 

If Inferno! Presents The Inquisition is anything to go by, then in both pool of writers and editorial choices, the future of Black Library is in very safe hands.

BOOK REVIEW: The Lady of Caladan, by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

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

caladan.jpg

Publisher: WordFire Press

Series: The Caladan trilogy (#2)

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 531

Publication Date: 21/09/2021

Verdict: 4/5

 

Returning to Wallach IX in disgrace, Jessica finds herself at the centre of a philosophical rift that could tear apart the Bene Gesserit. On Caladan, the young Paul struggles to fulfil his duties. And on Kaitain, Leto Atreides begins to question the value of the honour he has clung to all his life . . .

Taking us back to the year prior to the original Dune, the Caldan trilogy continues with a book that puts Jessica front and centre. For a character so important to the overall story of Dune, it’s remarkable that she has received so little attention. perhaps only The Winds of Dune makes full use of her story. That’s an oversight being corrected for by both The Lady of Caladan and the 2021 film adaptation of Dune. Jessica is a pivotal player in the upbringing of Paul Atreides. One of people who most informs his sense of personal responsibility and moral duty. It’s about time she had a book of her own.

The Bene Gesserit have been a major player in almost every book in the Dune canon (expanded or otherwise), and here we get to see some of the inner workings. It’s all very tense and gripping in the moment, but from a wider perspective the most fascinating part is the toll the Kwisatz Haderach breeding programme is taking on the Sisterhood. Yes, it’s everything they’ve been working towards for hundreds of years, but that doesn’t mean the Sisters are united in their goals. There’s plenty of infighting, and even with the best intentions, disputes are inevitable. But when you’re a society of superhuman warriors, disputes can easily turn murderous. And when the intentions are far from the best? Well that’s when things get downright bloody.

There is of course more to this book than a character study of Jessica and an analysis of the Bene Gesserit. Paul’s own journey is complementary to his mother’s, paralleling the theme of duty and obligation that runs through the book. The Imperium says everyone has their place in society after all, even if noble houses are encouraged to vie for those positions. Knowing where Paul’s story is headed, his formative experiences here are laced with foreboding. Perhaps the heaviest foreshadowing is his search for the girl in his dreams, and even if Chani doesn’t make an appearance in this book, her importance to Paul is all the greater for her elusiveness.

It’s Leto’s arc that falls short of the others. Thematically, it is perfect. Like the rest of his family, he grapples between his own sense of honour, a duty to the Imperium, and a moral obligation to give his son the best head-start in life that he is able to provide. This brings him into contact, and conflict, with the Noble Commonwealth – a terrorist movement aimed at increasing the power of the noble houses at the expense of the Emperor. It’s this connection that is lacing any real bite. Knowing how close we are to the status quo established in Dune, we know that the Commonwealth will come to nothing. It’s a problem that comes whenever a prequel is written. You know where we’re headed, and the prequel should make sense of the journey rather than adding false leads. If the Commonwealth were established as an obvious-to-fail uprising, then it could have carried the same tragic weight as the rest of the book, but as it stands, the tension Anderson and Hebert build ultimately goes nowhere.

 

Nevertheless, The Lady of Caldan is another fine outing for the Dune saga, and will appeal to fans of both book and film alike. And if anything can bring those two groups into harmony, who am I to complain?

Star Trek Crew Builder: First Officers

Welcome to the second in a series of articles wherein I attempt to build the ideal crew for a ship, using characters from the many variations of Star Trek. To be a candidate, all you need is to be a series regular on one of Star Trek‘s TV incarnations, from The Original Series onwards. Out here in space, you’re going to need a good officer by your side, whether that’s a first officer, an executive officer, or some other title. Those who have joint roles (which most often seems to be science officer) have been discounted from the running, as we have discussed them elsewhere. Likewise, those who have been promoted to captain will be discussed in a future article.

Candidate 1: William Riker

William Thomas Riker is the opposite of a career officer. Having reached the position of first officer, he is content to stay there. Studying and learning until he is ready to take on the mantle of captain. But that’s not to say he is not confident. Riker is willing to throw himself into any situation, whether it’s leading an away team or joining a Klingon crew. This love affair with alien cultures is a great benefit to any explorer, but does also lead to a well-deserved reputation as a ladies’ man.

Candidate 2: Kira Nerys

Kira Nerys comes with one glaring problem. She is a terrorist, and an unrepentant one at that. Assuming she clears background checks, however, an extensive background of resistance does make Major Kira a vital asset for any military commander. Like many Bajorans, Kira has a deep relationship with her faith, and is as likely to follow the strictures of belief as she is lawful orders. In spite of these flaws, Kira is highly competent, and her skill-set is easily turned to any task.

Candidate 3: Chakotay

Seriously, what is it with Starfleet and putting terrorists in positions of authority? Despite a background in the Maquis and an anti-Cardassian philosophy, Chakotay is in many ways the opposite of Kira. He’s a quiet, reassuring presence, and any complaints are likely to be dealt with in private. Chakotay is a man of absolute principle, which can lead to heated debates. But these debates will be held behind closed two doors, because Chakotay will go above and beyond to hold the crew together, even if he disagrees with a course of action.

Candidate 4: Sylvia Tilly

Look, Sylvia Tilly is a bright young officer with a lot of potential ahead of her. But she is woefully unready for the role of second-in-command. That is likely to change with a little more experience, but the jump from ensign to XO is not one that should not be made.

Candidate 5: Jack Ransom

Take William Riker, dial him up to eleven, and you have Jack Ransom. Ransom’s rampant enthusiasm for exploration makes him a danger to both himself an others, and his ‘bro’ attitude can be off-putting. Yet his outward bravado masks deeper insecurities, and he clearly cares more for his crew than he would ever admit.

Final Verdict

This is a fairly easy choice. In a field filled with former terrorists and inexperienced officers, Thomas Riker is the obvious pick for first officer. He has the experience, the determination, and the enthusiasm that the position requires. A solid all-rounder, and the perfect choice for any crew.

 

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BOOK REVIEW: Chindi, by Jack McDevitt

chindi.jpg

Series: The Academy (#3)

Publisher: Ace

Genre: Hard SF

Pages: 511

Publication Date: 2002

Verdict: 2/5

 

Are we alone in the universe? It’s a question that has plagued mankind for thousands of years. And by the twenty-third century, it seems like the answer is yes. Until a mysterious satellite is found at a remote star . . .

This review starts with a big caveat. When I picked Chindi up in a charity shop, I didn’t realise it was the third in a series. ironically, the first book in this series was right next to it, but worn labels and a better more enticing blurb led to me choosing Chindi as my first Jack McDevitt read. Only later on did I realise my mistake. That being said, these stories are fairly independent of one another. An episodic approach to a series that I honestly wish was used more often. there are a handful of references to previous events, and I suspect character relations develop over the course of these six books, but Chindi‘s storyline stands on its own. With that preamble out of the way, let’s talk about Chindi.

I didn’t enjoy this book. I’ll get that admission out of the way early on. despite everything about the blurb screaming ‘this book was written for you!’ at me, I found it a real slog to get through. And there’s two reasons for that. the first is an issue of pacing. I mentioned above that the series appears to be episodic. Well, so are the chapters of this book. We spend a few chapters in each location, face a problem, resolve the problem, then follow a a lead to another location. Rinse and repeat. Chindi feels like a relic of an older time, when novellas and short stories were routinely fixed together to make longer novels. part of me wonders of Chindi was written with serialisation as a possible route to publishing, but I think it’s more a question of McDevitt’s style. And it’s the other part of his style that put the final nail in Chindi‘s coffin. McDevitt’s prose is heavy. Heavy and oh so dense. Now I don’t mind dry prose. Isaac Asimov is, after all, one of my favourite authors. But McDevitt’s writing ultimately feels as lifeless as the galaxy he portrays.

And that’s a massive shame, because the ideas McDevitt is playing with are incredibly interesting. He’s one of few authors who truly appreciates the massive scope of space travel, both in distance and duration. Even with hyperspace, it takes weeks to get everywhere. Characters talk about events occurring imminently – in a few thousand years. If you want a book to make you feel small and insignificant, Chindi is definitely worth a look. The encounters with nonhuman entities tread that very fine line between hard science fiction and cosmic horror. Because let’s face it: aliens are scary. They should be, because they are literally inhuman. McDevitt gets that, and uses the horror of the unknown, perhaps even the unknowable, to great effect. And it’s not just in face-to-face encounters.  Even the remains of alien civilisations carry their own trauma with them. Chindi is a book laden with tragedy, both personal and societal. That ever-present theme of loneliness is driven home by the epigrams, a mix of real and invented extracts from books and poems spanning centuries. It’s a bleak world McDevitt portrays. I just wish the actual presentation had been a little more engaging.

 

In the end, Chindi feels like a missed opportunity. I love so many parts of it. The ideas are next-level, and thematically, McDevitt nails it. It’s just a shame that these elements aren’t held together by something a little stronger.

BOOK REVIEW: Cytonic, by Brandon Sanderson

Hold up, this is a sequel! You can find my review of Starsight by clicking here.

cytonic.jpg

Series: Skyward (3)

Publisher: Gollancz

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 409

Publication Date: 27/11/2021

Verdict: 3/5

 

Fleeing the Superiority, Spensa has arrived in the Nowhere, a realm beyond the physical universe. Stranded and alone, Spensa must find a way home. But this new universe holds dangers of its own . . .

I’m a big Brandon Sanderson fan. Have been since I first picked up The Way of Kings. He’s a writer with a seemingly limitless imagination, and a work ethic to match. So far as I’m concerned, the man has not put out a bad book. But Cytonic is certainly not one of his best. There are a couple of reasons for that, some of them unique to this book, and some that are true of the wider Skyward series. Let’s look into that.

Like most of his books that don’t fall under the broad umbrella of epic fantasy, the Skyward series is intended for a Young Adult audience. With the caveat that Young Adult is, like pretty much all genre labels, a marketing tool more than anything else, it is intended for an audience that I am no longer part of. Yes, YA can be enjoyed by readers of any age, just as young adults can enjoy books intended for more mature audiences. But a lot of the tropes associated with YA novels no longer appeal to me. Truth be told, a lot of them never did. In particular, I am well-past enthusiasm for coming-of-age stories, which is one of the fundamental building blocks of YA storytelling. Skyward, along with Susan Dennard’s Witchlands, is one of only two YA series I am still reading, and both of them are set to finish very soon. In some ways Skyward is a hanger-on from an earlier phase of my reading experience.

That said, there’s been a lot to like about this series. Ever since the days of X-Wing, I’ve loved tales of fighter pilots, and Skyward is one of the few series to feature these squadrons. Even if they’re wrapped in tropes I’m not overly fond of, Sanderson’s action scenes continue to be excellent. There’s also a nice thematic continuation of the series in Cytonic, as Spensa joins a ragtag band of pilots trying to survive in the Nowhere. In the first book, she fought for a place in the defenders of her world, in the second she went undercover in an enemy squadron, and here we have a third interpretation of what it means to be wingmates. You could argue that there’s a repetitive side to this, but for me it worked. Variations on a theme, and all that jazz.

Unfortunately, thematic continuation is the only only sort of continuity we get. With Spensa in a different universe, Cytonic understandable feels disconnected from the first two books. Aside from a few interludes in which we glimpse Detritus, Spensa and M-Bot are the only characters to carry over from previous books. Yes, we get more insight in the history of the universe. And yes, we learn a lot about the Delvers. But so much of the work done in Skyward and Starsuight is set aside for this. So many story arcs are not advanced. And that’s frustrating. I have confidence in Sanderson. he’s written so many books that I enjoy, that I am certain he can pull things in the final volume (Defiant, hopefully released in 2022). But the simple truth is that Cytonic often feels like a distraction from the main story, rather than a key part of it.

 

It’s inevitable that a prolific author will put out a book that doesn’t work for me, and Cytonic is the closest Sanderson has come so far. That being said, Cytonic is still a fun read, even if it doesn’t do everything I hoped it would.

BOUNDY AWARDS 2021

2021 is almost at an end, and it’s the third anniversary of At Boundary’s Edge, which can mean only one thing. That’s right, it’s time for the third annual Boundy Awards, in which I select the year’s best science fiction. Attentive readers will note that the awards for best interactive media and best non-fiction have been removed from the Boundy Awards, and that a Best Podcast award has been added. We are still in the formative years of the Boundy Awards, after all, and as my journey through science fiction continues, so too does the content I feel comfortable giving awards to. As always, there are no physical awards, but if you close your eyes and imagine *really* hard, I’m sure you can come up with something.

Boundy Awards for Literature

BEST STANDALONE: The Apollo Murders, by Chris Hadfield

The debut adult novel from retired astronaut Hadfield is a truly stunning piece of alternative history. Seamlessly blending real history with fictional events, this crime/espionage thriller absolutely blew me away, and hopefully marks the start of a brave new career for Hadfield as a novelist.

BEST SERIES OPENER:  The Lost Fleet: Outlands #1: Boundless, by Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell is one of the most reliable names in military SF, so it’s no surprise that the start of his new Lost Fleet series has his trademark mix of tactical space combat and firm grip on military matters, this time with the addition of all-too-real politics and xenophobia. If you are not reading Campbell, you are missing out.

BEST CONTINUATION: Minka Lesk #2: Traitor Rock, by Justin D Hill

Proof (if any were needed) that tie-in fiction can stand head and shoulders alongside original works, Traitor Rock secures itself not only as the best middle volume of the year, but as one of the strongest Warhammer 40,000 books to date. Bloody, brutal, and brilliant, this is action that makes you think.

BEST CONCLUSION: The Expanse #9: Leviathan Falls, by James S. A. Corey

There weren’t many finales in 2021, but the ones we got were truly monumental, and grandest among these is the much-awaited climax of The Expanse. Leviathan Falls had a tough gig, but pulled off the impossible. As a novel, it’s great, but as the finale to a saga ten years in the making, it’s almost perfect.

BEST ANTHOLOGY/COLLECTION: The Lesser Devil & Other Stories, by Christopher Ruocchio

Ruocchio’s first short story collection was also the debut publication for Anderida Books, and proves that both author and publisher have opened at the top of their game. A fascinating insight into the deeper world of Ruocchio’s Sun Eater series, this is perfect as both an introduction, and a refresher course for veteran readers.

Boundy Awards for Visual Media

BEST INDIVIDUAL EPISODE/FILM: Dune: Part One

More than worth the year-long delay, Dune captures all the best elements of Frank Herbert’s famous novel, while trimming it down to size for the silver screen. Delicately balancing smart science fiction with the needs of a blockbuster release, Villeneuve’s adaptation more than fulfils its promises.

BEST SERIES: Lower Decks Season 2

Lower Decks brought fun back to Star Trek, and Season 2 honed that humour to a fine art. A show more than comfortable in it’s own skin, Lower Decks continues to offer action, comedy, increasingly likeable characters, and some of the most obscure Easter eggs you’re likely to come across.

Boundy Awards for Audio Media

BEST INDIVIDUAL AUDIO: The Autobiography of Kathryn Janeway, by Una McCormack

In a memoir independent of Litverse canon, McCormack takes us on a trip through Janeway’s life, from her childhood to her triumphant return to Earth. Together with Kate Mulgrew’s narration, Janeway’s voyage has never been more insightful, nor as comforting.

BEST AUDIO SERIES: The War Master: Killing Time, by James Goss & Lou Morgan

Derek Jacobi continues his Big Finish reign of villainy, this time tormenting familiar faces from Doctor Who’s past. Worth the listen for Jacobi’s performance alone, this series showcases the Master at his most despicable. because sometimes the danger is closer to home than we’d like to imagine.

BEST MUSIC: Viribus Unitis, by Dragony

What do you get when you cross power metal, the Habsburgs, and magic? You get an album of fist-pumping, singalong anthems that manage to put a smile on your face even as they tell of the horrors of war and death. Viribus Unitis cements Dragony’s place at the forefront of musical storytelling.

BEST PODCAST: The Pod Directive

The official Star Trek podcast pulls in guests from all walks of life, unified only by a relationship with Star Trek. This year’s season featured Trek show-runner Alex Kurtzman, scientist Dr. Erin Macdonald, actress Michelle Yeoh, and many more. Celebrating Star trek whilst acknowledging its faults, this is a must-listen for any Trekkie.

Star Trek Crew Builder: Science Officers

Welcome to the seventh in a series of articles wherein I attempt to build the ideal crew for a ship, using characters from the many variations of Star Trek. To be a candidate, all you need is to be a series regular on one of Star Trek‘s TV incarnations, from The Original Series onwards. Furthering science is one of the reasons we’re out here, so let’s choose our chief scientist.

Candidate 1: Spock, Son of Sarek

Like the modern major general of old, Spock has mastery of all things chemical, biological, mineral, and just about everything else. The broadness of his experience is no sign of a hobbyist though, and Spock is dedicated to his work, and manages to balance his scientific research with his role as first officer. Oustide of the lab, however, he is an intensely private man, and though a loyal friend, is not the easiest man to get to know. This is a man who neglects to mention, even in passing, his father being an ambassador, his half-brother, and his adopted sister, until face-to-face with them. One can’t help but wonder what else he is hiding.

Candidate 2: Jadzia Dax

With the knowledge of several lifetimes to back her up, Jadzia is a more than accomplished scientist. With personal experience in the far reaches of the Gamma Quadrant, Jadzia Dax can boast of experiences that few others can lay claim to. She is is also perhaps the most sociable of these candidates, effortlessly sliding not only between social circles, but between cultures. Granted, her extensive history and actions of past Dax hosts may be problematic at times, but overall, Jadzia Dax is a science officer you can rely on.

Candidate 3: Seven of Nine

This liberated Brog drone brings with her the entire knowledge of the Borg Collective, which is an invaluable resource for any explorer. However, having been a Borg for the best part of two decades has left its mark on the woman born Annika Hansen. Seven of Nine lacks in both social skills and respect for the chain of command. While the former can lead to awkward encounters, the latter is a more serious problem. All the knowledge in the world is little use if you’ve been thrown in the brig. With a little training and discipline, Seven of Nine can be a key part of any team, but all too often she is more of a loose cannon.

Candidate 4: T’Pol

If T’Pol deserves praise for one thing only, it’s spending several years working in a workplace that was prejudicial at best, and openly racist at worst. However, there is more to T’Pol than simply keeping her cool in a hostile environment. She has training not only in the realms of science, but in command and combat as well. It is perhaps ironic that T’Pol’s greatest weakness is her own biases. Her low opinion of humans is understandable, but on a more scientific basis, she refuses to acknowledge the possibility of time travel even when directly confronted with evidence. Hardly the mark of a good science officer.

Candidate 5: Agnes Jurati

Let’s not beat around the bush here. Agnes Jurati is a murderer. And while the death of Bruce Maddox may have been the result of a psychotic break, that hardly makes her a safe coworker to be around. While her skills as a scientist are undeniable, Jurati is best left working from behind bars, where her contributions to science may be made safely.

Honorable Mention : Samantha Wildman

Voyager‘s resident biologist is one of many officers to go about their routines without drawing attention to themselves. Though Wildman’s career is something of an unknown, she deserves credit for successfully raising a child while working under incredible pressure for several years.

Final Verdict

There are surprisingly few candidates on this list for a Starfleet based on the principles of scientific exploration. Nevertheless, the candidates we do have are a strong bunch. While Spock puts up stiff competition, my pick for science officer is Jadzia Dax, whose interpersonal skills just give her the edge. As an aside, this means I now have two hosts of the Dax symbiont in my picks, which does raise some continuity issues.

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BOOK REVIEW: Leviathan Falls, by James S. A. Corey

leviathan.jpg

Series: The Expanse (#9)

Publisher: Orbit

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 514

Publication Date: 02/12/2021

Verdict: 5/5

 

The Laconian Empire is in disarray after the loss of their leader. But Duarte is far from dead, and the disparate factions of humanity may yet face even greater dangers. For humanity has caught the attention of something ancient, and powerful beyond belief . . .

Over the past decade, The Expanse has quite rightly come to be recognised as one of the best modern science fiction series. It’s spawned a massively successful television adaptation, a role-playing game, and more. Now, with this ninth volume, the saga that started it all comes to a close. And it’s a finale laden with expectations. Which of humanity’s factions will emerge triumphant? Will the Rocinante‘s crew emerge unscathed? And will the mysterious aliens who wiped out the ring builders return to do the same to humanity? Leviathan Falls pulls on thread from across the previous eight novels, and some of the short stories, and in a little over five hundred pages, wraps it all up. Mostly.

As with previous novels, the action is split between a number of viewpoints, and Leviathan Falls has more than any of the previous books. Some familiar, some new. In fact, there are characters in this book I hadn’t been expecting to make a comeback, but they certainly are welcome ones. There are a few chapters that break this pattern, however, with interludes for ‘The Dreamer,’ and then there’s ‘The Lighthouse and the Keeper’ which is one of the most interesting chapters in the entire saga. But even though they do break the established rules of PoV chapters, it all makes sense in context. Trust me on that. More to the point. trust Corey. They know what they’re doing.

Of all the characters in Leviathan Falls, my personal favourite is Laconian officer Tanaka. Adding in a completely new PoV this late in the game is a risk, but with Tanaka it pays off. It’s important to have a character who has not been intimately involved in the events of other books, some one who, though more than capable and worldly, is naive when it comes to protomolecular matters. In many ways, Tanaka is the human embodiment of Laconia. yes, she’s doing what she thinks is bets for humanity, but she goes about achieving that goal in the most ruthless and brutal of ways. That coldness is a strong counterpoint to the warmth of the newly reunited Rocinante crew, who are of course their usual, excellent selves. A special mention should be made of Alex Kamal, who here gets the fitting send of that the TV adaptation is unable to do. In fact, every character gets a proper resolution, which is no mean feat when there are so many of them.

The strange thing about Leviathan Falls is that for most of the book it doesn’t feel climactic. To use the local parlance, it’s a slow burn. Those expecting an explosion-fuelled final battle are likely to come away disappointed. The same goes for those seeking answers, and Duarte’s promised war in heaven. The nature of humanity’s alien enemy is left fairly mysterious. At the end of it all, we know what they are, and why they do what they do. But they are a threat rather than a feature of this story. The focus, as it always has been, is on humanity. It’s telling that the final scenes are not about war and death, but about relationships, and the bonds we make between each other. For a long period in the middle of this book, I thought the story was going down a route that left me disappointed, heading for one of my most hated tropes. But in the end, I felt nothing but satisfaction.

 

Leviathan Falls is a fitting capstone to one of the finest science fiction sagas ever put to print. Yes, there have been bumps along the way, but if this is where we leave things, then the journey was truly worthwhile.