BOOK REVIEW: Children of the Storm, by Kirsten Beyer

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children of the storm.jpg

Era: Post-Voyager

Series: Voyager: Full Circle (#3)

Publisher: Pocket Books

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 405

Publication Date: 2011

Verdict: 4/5

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are YOU a Book Snob?

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

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

Do you read hardbacks:

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

Do you read paperbacks?

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

Do you read ebooks?

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

Do you listen to audiobooks?

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

Do you read books from major publishers?

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

Do you read books from small presses?

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

Do you read self-published books?

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

Do you read outside your preferred genre?

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

Do you read tie-in/IP fiction?

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

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

BOOK REVIEW: Malleus, by Dan Abnett

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Publisher: Black Library

Genre: Grimdark SF

Pages: 431

Publication Date: 2001

Verdict: 3/5

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

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

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

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

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

BOOK REVIEW: Unworthy, by Kirsten Beyer

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Era: Post-Voyager

Series: Voyager: Full Circle (#2)

Publisher: Pocket Books

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 370

Publication Date: 2009

Verdict: 5/5

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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tales

Publisher: WordFire Press

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 213

Publication Date: 2017

Verdict: 4/5

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

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

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

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

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

BOOK REVIEW: Xenos, by Dan Abnett

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

xenos.jpg

Publisher: Black Library

Genre: Grimdark SF

Pages: 370

Publication Date: 2001

Verdict: 4/5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This review contains spoilers. Proceed with caution

 

 

Era: The Original Series

Series: New Earth (#3)

Publisher: Pocket Books

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 360

Publication Date: 2000

Verdict: 3/5

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brave New Worlds: Upcoming SF in 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No dates confirmed, but release anticipated:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you all in the new year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOK REVIEW: A Hard Rain, by Dean Wesley Smith

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Era: The Next Generation

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Genre: SF Noir

Pages: 233

Publication Date: 2002

Verdict: 3/5

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

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

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

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

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