STAR TREK DAY 2020: Why You Should Watch Star Trek

It’s been 54 years since Star Trek debuted on televison, and it has been with us in one form or another pretty much solidly since then. But for those who aren’t yet invested, a franchise with almost a thousand episodes can be daunting. Don’t worry though, because almost every episode can be watched with very little prior knowledge. That’s the joy of Star Trek, and here are some simple reasons to watch the show in any of its various guises:

STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES: The groundbreaking original. Yes, it’s dated. the sets are wobbly, the CGI terrible and the sexism rampant. But where else can you see William Shatner wrestling a lizardman? Or William Shatner wrestling a robot? or William Shatner wrestling a Nazi/ If you want to see William Shatner wrestling anything that comes his way, this is the show for you. It’s also chock full of campy adventures and intriguing ideas.

STAR TREK: THE ANIMATED SERIES: Okay, I haven’t seen this one myself, but it has generated enough memes and gifs that surley you wnat to take a look. Right?

THE NEXT GENERATION: Jean-Luc Picard. there’s your reason to watch right there. While Kirk was the action hero, Picard is the statesman. Not an episode goes by without a profound and immensely quotable speech. With Geordi la Forge, Data, and even Wesley, Next Generation has some of the best characters in the franchise. Besides all that, it’s just nice to see some optimism in the world.

DEEP SPACE NINE: The best of the bunch, DS9 takes Trek to the world of war and politics. This is the one where stories are driven by characters as much as ideas, and where the optimism is peppered with moments of tragedy. It has the best character growth of any Trek, and doesn’t shy away from the harder facts of life on the frontier. Also, Quark. Quark alone makes everything watchable.

VOYAGER: Take the optimism of Next Generation, and throw a crew halfway across the Galaxy. Voyager is at its best when it lives up the danger of its premise, though it also has an episode where people turn into lizards because they travelled too fast. Voyager at its peak shows the risks of clinging to your humanity in a Galaxy that wants you dead. At its worst, it’s still hilarious.

ENTERPRISE: Enterprise takes a step back to show the early days of the Trek universe. Meet a crew who make mistakes, and don’t always learn from them. But while it takes a darker turn than a lot of the others, Enterprise is still a show about the pereverance of the human spirit. It’s final season also has some of the best serialised storytelling Star Trek has ever engaged in.

STAR TREK (2009): The silver screen reboot shows an alternative timeline for Kirk and his crew. If you want an action-driven, explosion filled film trilogy, this is the one for you.

DISCOVERY: Discovery brought Star Trek back to the small screen with a bang, and threw itself headlong into modern storytelling. Though it’s not always consistent with other parts of the universe, there’s no doubt that it’s a great slice of science fiction. Season 2 also delivers Anson Mount’s Captain Pike, for which all other sins are forgiven.

PICARD: A return for Star Trek‘s most famous captain, Picard takes a slower pace, taking its time to fully explore the morality of the situation. It’s got its share of action too, and may just be the most Star Trek Star Trek yet.

LOWER DECKS: I ahven’t seen this yet. You should, and then you should tell me about it. Okay?

And if, like me, you’re still hungry for more Star Trek after devouring all of this, then there are hundreds of novels to sate you while you wait for the next season. With any luck, I’ll be back to tell you about some of those in the very near future.

BOOK REVIEW: Second Foundation, by Isaac Asimov

-spoilers for the entire Foundation universe-

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Publisher: Harper Voyager

Genre: Social SF

Series: Foundation (#3)

Pages: 240

Publication Date: 1953

Verdict: 5/5

The Foundation has fallen, conquered by the superhuman Mule. But the Mule cannot be content with his victory, for somewhere out there is the last threat to his power: Hari Seldon’s Second Foundation . . .

Second Foundation marks the end of the original trilogy formed of Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ short stories. As with Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation is formed of two novellas, set several decades apart.

The first act follows on directly from the events of the second book, with the Mule triumphant and now on the hunt for the Second Foundation. Again the Mule proves to be one of Asimov’s greatest characters. A truly sympathetic antagonist, he is largely kept off the page this time around, but the shadow he casts is a long one. This first act is also odd in that very little happens. We get viewpoints from various inconsequential characters, and much of the story piece consists of seemingly inconsequential dialogue. Now, while there is a conspiracy afoot and an active plot, there’s no real sense of threat to proceedings. I suppose that’s only to be expected, when Hari Seldon and his Foundations have everything planned out ahead of time.

The second act introduces Arcadia Darrel, descendent of the protagonists of Foundation and Empire‘s second half. I’m not going to claim that Asimov was a master of writing teenage female characters, but she is definitely one of his most memorable characters, largely because she is so far removed from the statesmen and scientists his work largely revolves around. This act also has its climax in a true Asimov setpiece in which a half-dozen theories are put forwards and knocked down in turn until the true answer is revealed. It’s similar to the end of his Robot novels, and in terms of the future history is a nice callback.

One thing that stands out about the Foundation trilogy is its use of extracts from the fictional Encyclopaedia Galactica. These appear in the prequels too, but are absent from the final two books of the universe. I’m a big fan of epigrams and extracts in general, though it is in Foundation and Dune that these are put to best use. Firstly, they provide useful pieces of information, often setting the scene for the chapter to follow, without characters needing to resort to expositionary infodumping. But even more than that, they convey a sense of a setting with real history. Asimov’s fairly acedemic style of writing only enhances this. There are times when the series feels less like a work of fiction, and more a text from another history.

In terms of plot, Second Foundation relies quite heavily on coincidence. As some of you may know, I’m not a huge fan of overarching conspriacies that cannot be defeated, and there is definitely an element of this trope to the Second Foundation. Their unbeatable nature is tolerable here only because it does not drive the story. Rather, it’s just one more puzzle for the charatcers to unravel. The real conflict happens elsewhere.

Second Foundation is a fitting end to Asimov’s greatest trilogy, and one that still holds up today, even if a few elements are now rather dated.

AUDIO REVIEW: Dredge Runners, by Alec Worley

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Genre: SF Crime

Publisher: Black Library

Runtime: 61 minutes

Cast: Kelly Hotton, Emma Noakes, Paul Putner, Jon Rand, David Seddon, Andrew James Spooner

Release Date: 08/08/2020

Verdict: 5/5

 

Baggit and Clodde, two abhuman former guardsmen, now make their living as petty criminals in the great city of Varangantua. When a deal goes wrong, they find themselves in more trouble than they could possibly have imagined . . .

Following on from Warhammer Horror, Warhammer Crime shows Black Library’s committment to diversifying the kind of stories they tell about the grim, dark future of the 41st millennium. With a new subsetting in the form of Varangantua, Alec Worley’s tale is a perfect introduction to the seedier side of the Imperium of Man, and a cracking tale to boot.

Right from the start, it’s clear that this is no regular Warhammer story. The deep an sonorous tones of a morning benediction are common enough, but then give way to a church-sponsored advert for lho sticks, the Warhammer equivalent of cigarettes. It’s such an odd moment that I burst out laughing, and this hybrid of straightfaced Warhammer with flashes of comic genius really sets Dredge Runners apart from all the other audio dramas out there.

The story is fairly simple a sthese things go, and little about it immediately screams ‘grimdark future.’ Two rogues find themselves in over their heads and are forced to work for a bigger, smarter crime boss. In the course of their escapades they come into conflict with enforcers of the law and are soon faced with a choice of getting filthy rich or doing the right thing. It would be a brilliant story just as a reguar piece of noir, but festooned with the trappings of Warhammer, it edges into something a little more. None of the SF bits are really essential, they simply make for some wonderful scenery,a nd proide on eor two excellent set pieces. As an introduction to a new setting, it’s a pretty seamless blend of the familair and the new.

Baggit and Clodde are both great characters, played with a clear amount of fun by the actors. A ratling and an ogryn make for an odd pairing, but one that works marvellously. The differences between the two really come across in the dialogue, and the banter flies quick and thick. More than a few times was I chuckling to myself over their antics. The cast is filled out with criminals, law enforcers and the voice of the city’s regular intermissions. This could be a radio play from the 1940s, with the styling, but the acting and productions have all the hallmarks of the slick modernity we have come to expect from Black Library.

Dredge Runners manages to be funny, charming, dramatic, and tense all in the smae hour of listening. With this, Alec Worley has secured his place as my favourite wirter of audio for Black Library, and I look forward to whatever he does next. Hopefully, this will be more Baggit and Clodde, as the pair surely have many stories left in them, but I’ll be picking up his next 40k release regardless of what it is.

 

If you want more Warhammer, this is a no-brainer. But even if you just wnat a solid slice of SF crime, Dredge Runners is worth the price of entry.

BOOK REVIEW: Vagabonds, by Hao Jingfang

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Translator: Ken Liu

Publisher: Head of Zeus

Genre: Social SF

Pages: 600

Publication Date: 14/04/2020 (this translation)

Rating: 5/5

Earth and Mars. Two planets with a shared history, but very different visions of the future. Returning from an exchange trip to Earth, a group of Martian students comes home. The world they left has changed, but perhaps not as much as the sudents themselves . . .

Once again, Head of Zeus have absolutely knocked it out of the park in the field of translated SF. Their output has impressed me so much that I now pick up their Chinese-to-English translations without paying much attanetion to the sort of book I’m getting, and it is really paying off for me.

On the surface, Vagabonds looks simple. A group of young adults who have spent the past five years on Earth return home to Mars, only to find that their experiences have changed them. As the old saying goes, ‘You can’t go home again.’ But right from the start there is so much more going on here. This is a work of Social SF the likes of which I haven’t encountered in the English language. In a way, it’s almost old-fashioned. The long conversations on the nature civilisation are reminiscent of Asimov at his finest. There are times when the characters feel like mouthpieces for ideas rather than fully fleshed out humans, but in a way that I really like. This isn’t a one-sided political manifesto disguised as a novel, don’t worry. This is a slow and thoughtful meditation on the balance between society and individual. Every word is well-placed and serves a purpose. It’s simply amazing.

Ken Liu’s translation really helps move things along. His writing is always clear, often lyrical, but no matter how stunning the prose, it never gets in the way of the story. he writes with a clarity that works brilliantly for this sort of story, while still catching the spirit of the original. Having read Liu’s translations of novel-length work from four authors, as well as his original works, I am astounded at how versatile his writing is. I can’t speak to any of the original Chinese prose, but each work he translates retains its own individual character.

Though the focus is very much on the political and social side of things, Vagabonds brings a strong vein of Hard SF to the genre. Set around two centuries into the future, both the future Earth and the colonised Mars are vividly depicted. The growing role of media in politics is reflected in Earth’s scenes, but with holograms and virtual reality taking centre-stage. The inhospitability of Mars strikes a stark contrast to all this, with everything being carfully planned and controlled.

Vagabonds is a book with a lot to say about a lot of things,  but never at the expense of telling an interesting story. It has intrigue, heartbreak, violence and romace, all wrapped up in some of the best SF I’ve read this year. Hopefully this is just the first of many Hao Jingfang books headed to the Anglophone world, because I already want more.

BOOK REVIEW: Foundation and Empire, by Isaac Asimov

-spoilers for the entire Foundation universe-

 

Publisher: Grafton

Genre: Social SF

Series: Foundation (#2)

Pages: 240

Publication Date: 1952

Verdict: 5/5

The Foundation has stood for two hundred years. and is on course to complete Hari Seldon’s plan. But not everyone is happy with the Foundation’s expansion, and the greatest threat to its existence is lurking on the horizon . . .

Like Foundation before it, Foundation and Empire is a fix-up of earlier Asimov short stories. In this case two novellas, set a few decades apart. The larger size of these two sections lends a stronger overall story arc to the book, while still playing to Asimov’s strengths as a short story writer.

The first section is where the book derives its title from, as the Foundation comes into conflict with the remnants of the Galactic Empire. This is where the series’ roots in the fall of the Roman Empire. Imperial General Bel Riose is clearly modelled on the historical Belisarius. For historians, this can spoil the book a little, as both men’s lives follow parallel paths. Regardless of this, Riose’s story is a compelling one. Even on a reread, I enjoyed spending time with the military genius. It’s a hard archetype to write, and Asimov pulls it off by keeping the tactical matters off the page.

The second act is the more important one from a series standpoint, because it’s the one where we are introduced to the Mule. Here is a character who stands alongside Seldon and Olivaw as one of Asmiov’s most fascinating characters. Whether it’s the rumours he spreads regarding his identity, or the time he spends disguised as Magnifico the clown, he is an utterly compelling villain, and one of Asimov’s most detailed characters. The role he plays in the Foundation’s history spreads across both this book and the next, but here he is largely an oppresive shadow looming over the protagonists.

These protagonists are stronger than in the last book too, though ironically less memorable. They lack the mythic quality of Hardin and Mallow, but in exchange gain a more realistic feel. Ebling Mis may be yet another Asimov scientist, and his exclamations of ‘ga-LAX-y’ do grate a little, but aside from that, he seems a lot more human than the supermen of the previous book. Bayta marks one of Asmiov’s best female characters in the series. Admittedly, there is not much in the way of competition there, and I’m sure many would find the gender stereotypes irritating at best, but she does provide a rare emotional core for the series. That’s something not seen much in this stage of Asimov’s career, and makes her stand out all the more.

In both character presentation, depiction of war and technology, Foundation and Empire has aged just the same as its predecessor. But none of that gets in the way of the story, which has a stronger drive than Foundation, and sows seeds that will carry on into the next volume. Though it has been mentioned before, this is where the idea of the Second Foundation really comes to the foreFor a book put together from short stroies, the narrative is remarkably strong.

Though it lacks the legendary status of its predecessor, Foundation and Empire very much marks Asimov at the top of his game.

BOOK REVIEW: Uncompromising Honor, by David Weber

-Major spoilers abound for all books in the Honorverse. Click here for a full index of reviews-

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Publisher: Baen

Series: Honor Harrington (#14)

Genre: Military SF

Pages: 1106

Publication Date: 02/10/2018

Verdict: 3/5

 

Honor Harrington has been at war for almost her entire life, and she’s finally had enough of it. As the Solarian League steps up its campaign against Manticore, Honor readies for a decisive strike. One that will end either the war, or her own life . . .

So this is it. The fourteenth and final Honor Harrington novel. After two decades and over twenty books, the Honorverse finally reaches something close to a conclusion. The setting has had its ups and downs along the way, and there were times when I thought it had outsyaed its welcome. While Uncompromising Honor is nowhere near the heights of the series, it’s also a long way off the worst entries. It has much of what is wrong with the series, but also a fair deal of what drew me in in the first place.

For much of its thousand plus pages, Uncompromising Honor doesn’t feel terribly climactic. But it is dramatic. The Solarian League’s fall from beacon of civilsation to war criminals is fascinating, and worryingly understandable. I’ve had a few problems with the overall plot of the later books, but thankfully the Mesan Alignment plays a largely backstage role in this book. The focus is very much on Honor and the Solarian League.

In fact, I don’t think there’s been a book so focused on Honor in some time. It’s nice to see the series’ main character brought back to the front, and many familiar faces are by her side for one final battle. Refreshingly, there are essentially no new main characters introduced here. A surpise, yes, but a welcome one. It gives the reader time to enjoy seeing the conclusions of many characters plotlines.

Not everything is wrapped up though. While this book wraps up the Solarian-Manticore War, it does not fully resolve the threat of the Mesan Alignment. Weber’s afterword hints at more books to come, though they will not be a direct continuation of the main series. Still, the amount of wrapping up done here is astounding. Dozens of seemingly inconsequential matters from earlier on in the series are referenced here, to various degrees of importance.

As an aside, I was also astounded to see Weber make reference to Llandovery, the closes town to me. Seeing a tiny Welsh town mentioned in an American military SF is something I never expected to happen. I was tempted to give the book five stars for this alone.

Now that the Honor Harrington series is over, I can finally look back at it as a whole. there are still two prequels to read, and two more books confirmed for release, but this is a satisfying place to take stock for a while. The series starts of well, and I’ve no problem recommending those early books on their own merits. But the drag in the middle and the varying quality of the spin-offs mean I can’t recommend the series without a few caveats. Definitely a series worth looking into, but don’t be afraid to back out if you lose interest.

BOOK REVIEW: The Indranan War Trilogy, by K. B. Wagers

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Publisher: Orbit

Genre: Space Opera

Books: 3

Published: 2016-2017

Verdict: 4/5

Hail Bristol is just another gunrunner. Or so she wants people to think. When her family is attacked, she is ofrced to return home and embrace her birthright as the next Empress of Indrana. She’s not entirely happy about the prospect, and neither are her many enemies . . .

If books were food, then the Indranan War is the chocolate cake of the space opera genre. It’s got all the right ingredients for a winner. A heroine as quick with her quips as she is with her guns, a small crew of loyal friends, espionage and intrigue in the court, a brewing war between two interstellar empires. Pretty much everything I look for in the genre. It doesn’t rewrite the rulebook, it doesn’t put to much strain on the imagination, and the entire trilogy is a bit much to digest in a single sitting, but it’s fun and it’s enjoyable. So. Chocolate cake science fiction at its finest.

What sets The Indranan War aprt from the hundreds of other space operas out there is the strength of its female characters. Now, female characters are abundant in the genre, and many of them are strong. But the Indranan War has both strong characters and a variety of them. This is probably the first space opera series I’ve read where the female characters so clearly outnumber their male counterparts. Which is only natural, as Indrana itself is a staunchly matriarchal society. This little piece of worldbuilding is enough to set Wagers work apart from that of their colleagues. What I particularly admire is that at no point is the matriarchal socity presented as superior, or really all that different, to a patriarchal one. At the end of the day, they’re all just people.

This is a series where characters wear their hearts on their sleeves. The identities of traitors and frineds are usually obvious from their first interaction with Hail. This isn’t a bad thing. Subtlety isn’t really the name of the game here, and its refreshing to see people who are genuinely heroes and villains. This also means that when the heroes have to make hard choices, it hurts them all the more. The protagonists are all a likable bunch, well-oiled and with great interactions. There are points when the dynamic morphs into a >shudder< found family, but generally speaking I liked the mixing of bonds of friendship and dutiful loyalty. Hail and Emmory in particular make a great double act.

There’s an almost pulp like senibility to proceedings here, as once the pace picks up it rarelys lows down. Momentum is sustained across the enture trilogy without let up. The middle volume was the strongest for me, but all three make for great reads. If you’re looking for some frantic, action-packed adventure, this is definitley one to pick up. The Indian/Hindu influence to the worldbuilding is also a mark in its favour, as it’s a setting I haven’t come across very often in SF. There’s another trilogy set in the same universe that’s almost complete, and I know I’ll be picking it up.

The Indranan War is as fun and adventurous as fun adventures come, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy taking a bite.

BOOK REVIEW: Foundation, by Isaac Asimov

-spoilers for the entire Foundation universe-

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Publisher: Grafton

Genre: Social SF

Series: Foundation (#1)

Pages: 234

Publication Date: 1953

Verdict: 5/5

The end of the Galactic Empire is nigh. After millennia of stability, the Galaxy is slowly declining into a new age of barbarity. One man, Hari Seldon, has aplan to preserve civilisation. This is not his story. This is the story of those who come after him . . .

So here it is. The big one. An absolute classic of the genre and one of the first SF books I ever read. There’s next to no chance of this review being in any way objective, I raise my hands to that. But then, is any review objective? Probably not. With that in mind, on we go.

Foundation has just about everything I love about science fiction, particularly science fiction from the so-called Golden Age. First up, we have the sense of scale. Foundation doesn’t just cover an entire sector of the Galaxy, it tells a story that takes the best part of a century. One of the chief characters, Salvor Hardin, is born, reigns, and dies during the scope of the novel. Not all of it on the page, but the length of the narrative is far greater than the short page count would suggest. Part of this is of course due to the fix-up nature of the story. it’s not really a novel, but a collection of short stories packaged together. In a way, there is no central narrative beyond ‘this is the story of the Foundation.’ There is no main character, no complex plot. It’s nothing more than a series of events which happen to a group of planets. And it is brilliant.

Let’s consider the worldbuilding. The fall of the Galactic Empire is explicitly based on the decline of the Roman Empire. In that regard there are no surprises. The inevitability of the new dark age carries a real narrative weight, however, and the sense of decline is palpable.  Terminus, Trantor, Anacreon. The names of planets are simple yet evocative. This isn’t a cut-and-paste Galaxy with the swamp world, the desert world and so on. Trantor is a single city, but that is dealt with realistically. Each planet retains its own distinct identity, even when the descriptions are quick and light. Much of the heavy lifting is done by quotes pulled from the Encyclopedia Galactica, offering not only facts about the worlds, but opinions on them too. It’s a simple tool, but it works brilliantly.

Asimov’s prose gets a lot of criticism. To be honest, yes. Yes it is dated. There’s no flourishing, no beautiful metaphors or linguistic trickery. What it does deliver, howveer, is a clear image. And that’s an art that is in short display these days. The clarity, not to emntion the brevity, with which Asimov writes has an elegance all of its own. There’s not a word wasted, and everything serves to further the story. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it is to mine. There are a few passages written in dialect which are a little harder to read, and whether they are intended to be dramatic or comedic is difficult to tell. The dialogue in general is not very naturalistic to a modern speaker, but it never feels out of place. In twenty thousand years, maybe we’ll all be speaking like that. Who’s to say?

With it’s lack of plot, exposition-heavy dialogue and near total absence of female characters, Foundation certainly shows its age. It’s entirely possible you’ll hate it, and you’re certainly under no obligation to give it a try. But if, like me, you find it in a used bookstore, there are far worse books to pick up. Who knows? It could be the start of a whole new adventure.

AUDIO REVIEW: Doctor Aphra, by Sarah Kuhn

-This review contains some minor spoilers. Proceed with caution-

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Genre: Space Opera

Publisher: Penguin

Runtime: 5hrs 35m

Release Date: 21/07/2020

Cast: Emily Woo Zeller, Jonathan Davies, Sean Patrick Hopkins, Sean Kenin, Nicole Lewis, Carol Monda, Euan Morton, Catherine Taber, Marc Thompson

Verdict: 5/5

Dr Chelli Lona Aphra is used to living dangerously. After all, the life of a planet-hopping archeologist is hardly a safe one. But when she becomes entangled in the scheming of one Darth Vader, even Aphra may have bitten off more than she can chew . . .

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra has to be one of the most fun Star Wars releases I’ve ever experienced. It’s also one of the most accessible. I’m not familiar with the comic series from which this derives, but I don’t need to be. If you have even a passing familiarity with Star Wars – and if you’re picking this up I have to assume you do – then you’re in safe hands. This is a complete tale, brilliantly written and flawlessly narrated, that opens up new avenues for what the Star Wars universe can be.

Right from the start, it’s clear that this is more light-hearted than the previous audio offering Dooku. In terms of the films, think more Solo than Revenge of the Sith. It’s got the same sort of feel, the same pure joy and excitement. There are weightier moments, of course. You don’t spend nearly five hours in the presence of Darth Vader and expect it to be all rainbows and sunshine, but this is one of those tales best described as a romp. It’s quick, funny, and engaging. In a way, it remind sme of the old Tag and Bink comics, though slightly more serious than those scoundrels were.

The main reason Doctor Aphra works, aside from the scriptwriting and general excellence of production, is in the narration. Emily Woo Zeller takes on the titular role with gusto, and it’s clear she’s having just as much fun as the listener. Full of knowing winks, off-hand jokes and fourth wall-scratching comments, Aphra’s account of her experiences makes for addictive listening. It’s long by the standards of audio I listen to, but with it’s quick pace and lively narration, it never slows down. Accompanying Zeller’s lead role, the rest of the cast bring us voices both new and familiar. Darth Vader’s heavy breathing does much of the heavy lifting, but you wouldn’t know Marc Thompson from James Earl Jones with all the gravitas the former brings to the role. There are also appearances from the original generation of heroes, all now re-voiced of course. In particular, I was pleased to hear Catherine Taber stepping out from my childhood hero Mission Vao to pull a stellar turn as a certain Alderaanian princess.

Taking place in the gap between episodes 4 and 5, Doctor Aphra does an excellent job of telling a new story with familair peices that doesn’t just fill in gaps in what we already know of the era. It’s esactly what an expanded universe should aim to be, and gives me hopes for more to come. The Indiana Jones-esque adventures, coupled with a character who’s far from the tragic villain/noble hero divide we’ve seen a lot of lately, make for a fun and funny way to spend a few hours.

This is the perfect listen for a Star Wars fan who wants something a little different, but it could easily be an introduction to the franchise. I don’t know if there are plans for more, but I sincerely hope there are.

BOOK REVIEW: Shadow of Victory, by David Weber

-Major spoilers abound for all previous books in the Honorverse. Click here for a full index of reviews-

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Publisher: Baen

Series: Saganami Island (#4)

Genre: Military SF

Pages: 1158

Publication Date: 2016

Verdict: 2/5

 

War rages across the Galaxy, and no world is spared. As the Solarian league and the Star Empire of Manticore fall into an all-out shooting war, the Mesan Alignment continues to operate behind the scenes. But with their plans about to be exposed, the conspirators grow ever more desperate . . .

As long-time followers of this readthrough will know by now, I have been less than impressed with the Saganami Island series. And even though the sub-series has now well and truly been folded into the narrative, I still treat it as a separate entity. Sadly, this fourth and final volume continues every disapoointing trend of the series so far.

The main problem with Saganami Island has always been a lack of focus. When a series starts off with the promise of focus on the next generation of heroes, there’s an obvious problem when those characters are quickly and comprehensively overshadowed by characters from the main series crossing over. There’s no single plotline either. Each book is something different, and not in a good way. The fact that they all overlap with other books certainly doesn’t help, as scenes and chapters are robbed of the tension they should have. The first half of this behemoth of a tome suffers extensively from this. In fact, the main characters don’t really turn up until this point.

And that’s the biggest issue with this, the Honorverse’s longest book. It is incredibly bloated. Convsersations are circular. Battles are repetitous. The constant backstabbing and politicking just drags by for chapter after chapter after chapter. For the prelude to the series finale, this book is the one thing it shouldn’t be possible to be. It is boring. I read a fair few books of similar length across SF and Fantasy, and they are enjoyabe because they are page turners. the only manner in which Shadow of Victory is a page turner, is that I was desperately turning through the pages in the hopes that something – anything – would happen. And time after time, I was disappointed.

The saving grace of Shadow of Victory is that it moves the plot forwards, albeit only a little. The last few Honorverse books have really felt as though they were building to something, rather than being that something in their own right. This is certainly true here. With the next book being both the final volume in the series and a mainline Honor Harrington novel, I hope that it will prove a satisfying conclusion to the series. But I have to admit, those hopes are as high as they were just a few books ago. It seems to me that Weber’s magnum opus has lost steam, and it remains to be seen if it can get going again in the thousand pages it has left.

If it weren’t a necessary read to understand the series, I wouldn’t recommend Shadow of Victory to a friend. But if you are going to read it, be warned that it may not be all you hope it to be.