TV REVIEW: The Mandalorian, Season 2

Season 1 review located here

Starring: Pedro Pascal

Episodes: 8

Genre: Space Opera

Broadcaster: Disney+

First Aired: 2020

Verdict: 5/5

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

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

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

-MAJOR SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT-

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

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

-END SPOILERS-

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

 

FANDOM, FILK & FUN: Carmen Miranda’s Ghost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This review contains spoilers. Proceed with caution

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Era: Enterprise

Series: Rise of the Federation (#5)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 351

Publication Date: 2017

Verdict: 5/5

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOUNDY AWARDS 2020

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

Boundy Awards for Literature

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

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

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

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

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

 

Boundy Awards for Visual Media

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

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

 

Boundy Awards for Audio Media

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

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

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

 

Boundy Awards for Interactive Media

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

 

Boundy Awards for Non-Fiction

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

BOOK REVIEW: Live By The Code, by Christopher L. Bennett

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

This review contains spoilers. Proceed with caution

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Era: Enterprise

Series: Rise of the Federation (#4)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 372

Publication Date: 2016

Verdict: 4/5

Hunting for the origins of the alien technology known as the Ware, Captain Reed and the Pioneer crew find themselves in territory claimed by the Partnership, an alliance of worlds for whom the Ware is not a threat, but their only means of survival . . .

Carrying on almost directly from Uncertain LogicLive by the Code continues to explore the early years and struggles of the Federation. More specifically, it follows through on the previous book’s teasing of the full extent of the Ware crisis. And this is where the spoilers begin.

I noted in my last review that the Ware have a few similarities with the Borg, and indeed Archer himself makes this comparison, albeit limited by the 22nd century’s limited Borg contact. However, this book shows just how different the two threats are, for all their similarities. Whereas the Borg are akin to locusts – a swarming, faceless threat that strips away everything – the Ware are a uniquely science fictional idea. You see, they’re not actually as malicious as first appears. Yes they are dangerous, and require organic components to function, but they are not actively evil. The revelation of their origins as mere consumer technology is wonderfully done. These are machines that exist to serve, and have simply followed their programming to its logical conclusion. It’s hard to say if they have any real intelligence, but its certainly one of my favourite takes on artificial intelligence, particularly in Star Trek canon.

Seeing how the Partnership has formed a symbiotic relationship with the Ware provides the perfect moral dilemma. Let it continue, and the Ware expand to threaten others. But end the relationship, and the Partnership worlds will be left without any technology at all. It’s the perfect needs of the many versus needs of the few situation, with a healthy dose of do the ends justify the means thrown in for good measure. Particularly admirable is the way that Bennett shows the messy resolution for what it is, continuing Enterprise‘s tradition of allowing its heroes to make the wrong choices, and for successes to come at a price.

Sadly, the other plotlines can’t quite bring the same level of interest. Phlox finally gets some strong material of his own, and it’s nice to see Denobula in all its soggy glory, but much of the book is taken up by Klingon politics. This is a field that has been ploughed time and again on page and on screens both small and large. To be honest, I’m not sure there’s much left growing in it at this point. It’s not actively bad, but there are only so many times I can read ‘honour’ and ‘glory’ before tuning out. There’s definitely an audience for the Klingon sections, but I am not it.

Nevertheless, Live by the Code is worth reading for the Ware alone, which is a worthy addition to the Star trek universe.

HALFWAY THERE: An Update From The Author

NaNoWriMo 2020 has come and gone, with all its usual emphasis on wordcounts and getting things done. As has become tradition for me, I’ve used the pressure of social media to galavanise myself into hammering away at the current project. Last year I managed the full 50,000 words. This year my monthly total was only 39,000. Luckily that was all I needed to finish what I’ve been working on since mid-September. At 90,175 words, The Engines of Eden is in completed first draft form.

For the whole project, this is my highest average words per day rate, at 1200. There were only a few days I didn’t get a chance to write, and overall I think I’ve found my stride in terms of raw time spent at the keyboard. It’s a good speed to get things done, allowing for distractions and side projects (there have been three short pieces written at the same time) and its not so intense as to burn me out. I’ll admit, some days were a struggle, but never an insurmountable obstacle. My approach to planning has also met a happy middle between absolute adherence to a plan that doesn’t work, and being utterly lost as to how to get from A to B.

For The Engines of Eden I purposefully focused on characters, knowing this would come at the expense of plot. The plot’s not bad, but it definitely has more holes than I would like. In terms of character work, however, I can happily say this is my best work to date. I think I’ve finally cracked how to get those precious interactions while keeping my usual themes and style relatively intact. I’ve definitely learned a lot from writing this, and I’m sure these lessons will inform my work for a long time to come yet.

Those ninety-thousand words mark the crossing of another threshold. Since graduating from university, I have now written 500,000 words of novel-length fiction, unevenly distributed across five distinct projects. Half a million words is a lot, and though there have been a few stumbles along the way, the general trend has been upwards in terms of quality. The Engines of Eden is a country mile better than Run red the Stars, although there are segments and ideas I would happily pluck from all of my previous works. Reuse, Recycle and Rewrite.

The Engines of Eden will now sit by the wayside for a few months, and then I’ll likely look at revising it. None of my projects have yet made it beyond a first draft, but this is one that has real potential. In the meantime, I’ll be moving on to something new. Something bold and exciting and shiny. I’m not entirely sure what that something is yet, but I’m already making the necessary notes.

Five hundred thousand words is enough to convince me that maybe I can get something out there for the public. Probably not a career, at least no a full-time one, but that dream is edging closer to becoming a goal. Maybe once I double that, I’ll have something worthy of an agent’s attention.

BOOK REVIEW: Uncertain Logic, by Christopher L. Bennett

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

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Era: Enterprise

Series: Rise of the Federation (#3)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 384

Publication Date: 2015

Verdict: 5/5

As the Federation grapples with a growing crisis on Vulcan, Captain Malcolm Reed of the Pioneer is called to invetigate a mysterious new threat on the Federation’s borders, an automated enemy known as the Ware, whom Reed has encountered before . . .

By this point in the Rise of the Federation series, readers will know what they are in for. Bennett delivers his usual heady mix of political wrangling and space operatic adventure, weaving together threads old and new, faces familiar and unfamiliar. The characters are written so well it is easy to imagine Dominic Keating or Scott Bakula delivering them in person, and more than ever before this really feels like a Star trek story.

The Archer section of the book builds on years of what has gone before, both narratively and on a meta level. Vulcan’s role in human development drove much of the conflict in Enterprise, and once again rears its head here. At the same time, Bennett pulls on decades of established lore about Vulcan culture and society to show how the more aggresive Vulcans of Enterprise  became the people they are in later series. Reading these sections was particularly interesting given recent developments on Star Trek: Discovery, and again I must say that these two polar ends of the franchise complement each other extremely well.

Good as the Vulcan material is, the real meat of this book is the Ware. Taking the one-off horror-themed ‘Dead Stop’ as his starting point, Bennett creates a threat to the Federation that is as chilling as it is innovative. I love non-humanesque Artificial intelligence storylines, and this is a brilliant one. On the face of it, the Ware have certain similarities with the Borg – a networked mehcanical entity that relies on organic components to endure. However, the way in which they operate could not be further from Borg methods. The Ware are insidious, presenting themselves as humble automated repair and trade stations. They are also widespread, and it’s wonderful to see how various civilisations (at varying stages of technological development) have adjuested to life with the Ware. The lengthy sections spent on an almost Earth-like world could easily be a Hollywood tech-thriller, but never lose the core of what Star trek is about.

Alternating these sections allows Bennett to cut out on some of the weaker material of the earlier books in the series. Here, even the minimal Section 31 presence is subservient to the ongoing story, rather than seeming like a diversion. There are a few, almost off-hand, chapters following the ongoing Orion story arc, but this is a book you could easily read outside of the main series and still understand. As a middle book, there isn’t a whole lot of resolution herein, but with the threat of the Ware, this series has really found its footing.

Uncertain Logic is the strongest Enterprise novel yet, and hopefully heralds great things yet to come. Absolutely worth the read.

AUDIO REVIEW: Hearts of Darkness, by David Llewellyn & Lisa McMullin

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Series: The War Master (#5)

Genre: Space Opera

Publisher: Big Finish

Runtime: 4hrs 31m

Release Date: 31/10/2020

Cast: Derek Jacobi, Paul McGann, Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo, Colin McFarlane, et al.

Verdict: 5/5

 

The Master and the Doctor. Two of the Time Lord’s most infamous sons, and two of history’s greatest rivals. At the height of the Time War, these former friends find themselves caught in a desperate bid to seize control of the universe, but who can really be trusted with such power . . ?

Derek Jacobi appeared on-screen in Doctor Who for all of forty minutes, and for only five of them did he really play the Doctor’s most famous enemy. Yet in that brief time he established himself as one of the most memorable incarnations of the evil Time Lord. It’s only fitting that Jacobi’s Master receive the Big Finish treatment. I loved the first four volumes, and the complete circle they brought to the character. Like so many other fans, I assumed that was it. But Big Finish in their wisdom have brought the War Master back for a fifth volume, which again sees him pitted against Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. And what a return it is, for Hearts of Darkness may be the best War Master story to date.

It’s hard to go into details here without massive spoilers, because there is a twist at the end of the second volume that really does turn everything on its head. What I can safely say is this, Hearts of Darkness combines the mature storytelling that Big Finish does best with the maniacal, childish glee that Jacobi brings to the titular role. This is a master who revels in destruction and chaos. One who is genuinely and undeniably evil. It’s incredible to me that he remains such a compelling character to follow when no one in their right mind would root for him, and to the credit of Llewellyn and McMullin that they can still bring new facets to the character at this stage. Evil can often become two-dimensional, but the masterclass performance and excellent writing keep things as fresh as they were in Only the Good.

As for Paul McGann, I’ll admit to being less than familiar with his take on the Doctor, especially this version of him. I’ve seen the TV Movie, and Night of the Doctor, and I have of course listened to Rage of the Time Lords, but that is the limit of my exposure to him. On the strength of his performance here though, that’s a mistake I’m sure to rectify as soon as I can. Like Jacobi, McGann is clearly enjoying himself in the role, and the two play off each other brilliantly. Truly, there’s not a bad performance in the batch, from the cover stars to the supporting roles. The post-show interviews show that the whole cast was having fun, and aslso provide an insight to the production process.

Hearts of Darkness showcases exactly what I love about Big Finish, and the War Master. A wide and breathing universe beyond what you can fit in a single episode, and thousands of stories waiting to be told. There’s at least one more War Master audio on the way, and I’m very much looking forward to it. And of course hoping that more follow. Regardless, this level of quality is exactly what I want in any audio drama, and everyone involved deserves to be commended.

If you’re not already following the War Master’s journey, you should start as soon as you can. It’s dark, it’s dangerous, and it’s absolutely delightful.

BOOK REVIEW: Tower of Babel, by Christopher L. Bennett

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

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Era: Enterprise

Series: Rise of the Federation (#2)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 348

Publication Date: 2014

Verdict: 4/5

The Rigel system is as diverse as the Federation, and as troubled. Hoping to gain new allies, Jonathan Archer leads the mission to bring Rigel into the Federation. But not everyone is so keen on the idea, and Starfleet’s Admiral is about to discover just how dangerous politics can be . . .

Tower of Babel continues the strong work started by its predecessor, showing the early struggles of the Federation while also continuing the personal growth of the Enterprise crew. Bennett again proves that he has a good handle not only on the characters, but on the ethos of this era of Star Trek. One of the best things about Enterprise wa sthat it allowed its characters to fail, and often to make terrible choices. That is very much continued here. The Federation is still determining what sort of nation it wants to be, and the few morals it has agreed upon are put to the test here. However, don’t think this is some House of Cards political drama. The sense of hope and optimism that defines Star Trek is very much front and centre.

This is an Archer-centric novel, with Reed and T’Pol playing the major supporting roles. The split viewpoints do excellent work dividing the book between intrigue-laden politics and the more space opera stylings that Enterprise readers have come to expect from the Pocket Books continuation. Archer’s arc is powerful stuff, as Earth’s greatest explorer finds himself well out of his depth when it comes to negotiations. Bennett shines a light on Archer’s driven nature, continuing previous writers’ – not to mention Scott Bakula’s – work of making him one of Star Trek’s most human, and most flawed, captains.

Looking at the Rigel system as a whole, Bennett collects various and often contradictory pieces of established lore and blends them to create a unique and vibrant culture that serves as a perfect parallel to the Federation. The messy infighting and internal politics make a nice change from Trek’s frequent moncultures. I’m particularly grateful for the afterword in which Bennett lists the various episodes he has drawn on for his depiction of Rigel. It’s fine stuff, and I always like seeing how the sausage gets made, so to speak.

If I had a complaint about the book, it’s that some of the ongoing plotlines don’t appear to be going anywhere very quickly. The Orion manipulations in the background work well, building an adversary that I expect will feature more heavily in upcoming books. But the rise of Maltuvis and the Saurian sections of the narrative, while showing the many problems the Federation is facing, don’t contribute much to the oveerall narrative. At least not yet. There is also the fact that section 31 and Trip are still hanging around, which does sometimes feel like an inclusion just to complete the Enterpise crew roster.

Overall though, this is another strong novel in the Enterprise line, and it’s nice to see the book series establishing an identity, even if it won’t last for very long.

BOOK REVIEW: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, by Christopher Paolini

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Publisher: Tor

Genre: Hard SF/Space Opera

Pages: 825

Publication Date: 15/09/2020

Verdict: 3/5

As humanity expands into the universe, it finds evidence that it is not alone. Nor is it the first species to come this far. First contact leads to a galactic war, and one woman finds herself caught in the middle of events she cannot possibly understand . . .

To get the obvious out of the way, Christopher Paolini is an author best known for his fantasy works. Now, I was the exact target audience for those earlier works, and it’s in no small part due to Eragon that I became such an avid fantasy reader. As you can expect, I was pretty excited when I learned that Paolini’s next project would be a science fictional work, and I’ve been following updates for what feels like years. This is a book that has been in the making for a very long time, and I will say right off the bat that this really feels like the product of over a decade’s work. It’s well-researched, it’s intricate, and the world feels fully realised. Unfortunately, I’m not the target audience for a book like this, and large parts just didn’t work for me.

Clcoking in at over eight hundred pages, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a behemoth of a book. It’s a standalone, but sets up something Paolini is calling ‘The Fractalverse.’ This is an approach I love. Individual stories in a shared world rather than a single story being dragged across multiple volumes. Truth be told, I’ll likely pick up the next Fractalverse book, even though this one didn’t hit the right notes for me. Because the setting is a very interesting one. It’s not often that I find a book that balances scientific rigour with the more action-driven stylings of space opera. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time series is one of the few examples of this, and now I can add the Fractalverse to that short list. Paolini’s new novel deals with relativity, fuel economy and the realities of space travel in gratifyingly intricate detail. On a larger scale, it has plausible aliens and an exploration of the Fermi Paradox. Sometimes this does get side-lined in favour of action, but the basis is there, and it’s a strong foundation to build on in future books.

So, you may ask, if all this is so good, why didn’t the book work? You see, I’m not a character-driven reader. Characters exist to propel the plot and reveal the world, and for me, they’re only interesting in what they do and what happens to them. That is where To Sleep in a Sea of Stars falls short of the mark. For the entire book, we follow the same character, and while I have nothing against Kira, this does limit the narrative. The sheer scale of events is difficult to express through just one pair of eyes. In the first person, this could have worked to the book’s advantage, but I found that the single, third person perspective wasn’t up to the task at hand. I had a few other issues with the varying genre style and tone in the early section of the book, but a lack of cohesion was the real issue. if you read books for the characters, I’m sure you’ll get a lot more out this book than I did.

All told, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a book with a lot of promise. Though it didn’t work for me, it might do for you, and I’m still interested to see what Paolini delivers next.