Book (and other stuff) Reviews

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Red Storm Rising - Tom Clancy

I was in the mood to re-read this wonderful epic thriller. It was written a couple of years before the Soviet Union collapsed, so it dates itself a bit, but it is one of the best stories of an all-out conventional (non-nuclear) war in the modern age. It begins when the Soviet Union looses one of its three primary petroleum refineries to a Muslim terrorist attack. Faced with an economic disaster, the Soviet Politburo decides to attack NATO in a surprise offensive, drawing them away from their true target - the Persian Gulf oil fields. This thick novel has the strategy and adrenaline of war, using the technology of the modern age, told from dozens of different perspectives. A fun and yet thought provoking novel.

Aftermath - Levar Burton

I have been a bit curious about this book since I first saw it as a hardback in the stores. I love a good apocalyptic story, and this seemed to have at least some of the elements. The fact that it had a Star Trek actor as the author, though, made me decide that I was willing to wait until it hit paperback before reading it. However, I found the book for less than half its cover price at a used bookstore, and picked it up. It was a pretty good read. The depiction of an economically destroyed United States is fairly realistic, and it has an interesting story to tell. Nowhere near the best story of this type I've read, but a fun read anyway.

Starship Troopers - Robert Heinlein

I read this classic book again for an obvious reason - the movie will be coming out in a few months. I first read this book about a year ago (I know… a strange thing for a sci-fi nerd like me not to have read this until then). I went to Worldcon in Los Angeles with some friends, and managed to see some test footage from the movie. It floored me (they had to play the 30 second clip three times for the crowd), and I went directly afterward to the dealer room, to find a copy of the original source.

This is a wonderful story. It shows a young man from boot camp to space marine during an interstellar war, with some thought provoking social commentary along the way. It is also one of the first (and best) times the concept of powered armor suits was used in sci-fi, which makes it unfortunate that the budget of the upcoming movie didn't allow for the powersuits. However, even if the movie has nothing to do with the source material, its special effects look increadible, and I love cool special effects. I have no doubt that I will have fun seeing the movie - I am just curious how close it will come to the social themes and tone of the classic novel.

Day of the Dragonstar - Night of the Dragonstar- Dragonstar Destiny - David F. Bischoff & Thomas F. Monteleone

A fun trilogy of books. In the near future, a giant artifact is discovered orbiting our sun - a giant cylinder 350 kilometers long. When an Earth crew manages to enter it, they find something unexpected - a perfect duplicate of a Mesozoic world. Unfortunately, the team is immediately eaten by some predatory dinosaurs (with properly realistic and gruesome descriptions), leaving two humans trapped inside with the dinosaurs. As Earth sends rescue teams, the two trapped people (after surviving for weeks and falling in love) discover that one species of dinosaurs has evolved....

This is how the first book begins, and it is hard to go wrong with the combination of elements. Mix alien artifacts with dinosaurs, and throw in a bit of romance and a little sex, and you get a good adventure with a decent hard science background. A definite fun read.

The second book continues the saga, with the Dragonstar now parked in Earth orbit. A big media event is being staged to introduce the Saurians (the intelligent species of dinos) to the world. However, problems arise, and during the broadcast, some of the Saurians go berserk and eat some people. Eek - talk about bad publicity. Anyway, as chaos reigns, the Dragonstar abruptly takes off on its own, sealing the dinosaur preserve and humans inside.

The third book is the weakest of the three, though it does a decent job of wrapping up the trilogy. It seemed a little rushed (and was barely half the size of the other two - still fun, though). However, I was glad I managed to find this book. After re-reading the first two books in the trilogy, I wanted to finish it, and I managed to finally find it in one of two all-sci-fi book stores here in San Francisco.

Stargate: Retribution - Bill McCay

I really enjoyed the original Stargate novel, which I read about a week before the movie hit the theaters (and was written by the guys who created the movie - Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, who are also responsible for Independence Day and the upcoming Godzilla movie). It was a great action/adventure sci-fi story, with a good dose of Egyptian archaeology thrown in (another hobby of mine - I love archaeology). As a side note, the novel was nominated for a Hugo award. Amazingly, the movie almost lived up the story presented in the novel. I was even happier when Bill McCay wrote the first Stargate sequel (Rebellion). It filled in a lot of interesting details about the universe, yet maintained the fun tone of the original story. As this first book turned into a trilogy, I became even happier.

In Retribution, the third and final book in the trilogy, Hathor finally comes to Earth…. The Earth Stargate is shut down, but Hathor has The Boat of a Million Years, Ra's original starship, and is on her way to Earth. Much of the book revolves around the USA and world preparing for her arrival. Taking place mostly on Earth, it has less character and background development than the other two, but if you have read the other two novels, you don't need them anymore. It is a good conclusion to the series, but it leaves enough threads open that I am hoping for another (we still have not seen Skarra's dream of finding and liberating the rest of Ra's slave worlds, and there are other human "gods" left, including the engineer Ptah, back at Tuat the Moon).

Trials and Tribbulations - Diane Carey

The Deep Space Nine episode that returns back in time to the original Star Trek tribble episode is on this week (the first re-run since it premiered). I happened to find the novelization while looking in my boxes of books for another title, so I decided to re-read it. It is a short book, and a read worth a few smiles - complete pulp, but in a way that pays homage to the best of past pulp. As a side note - two days later, I had several people over for a "tribblethon" - we watched the original Star Trek "Trouble with Tribbles" on laserdisc, then the re-run of the DS9 episode on local syndication, rounding out with the animated Star Trek "More Tribbles, More Troubles" (also on laserdisc). Then, for good measure, we threw in the cartoon episode "The Slaver Weapon" (a script Larry Niven re-wrote for the episode from one of his classic "Known Space" short stories). A good time was had by all, despite a minor mix-up by the pasta dinner delivery guys.

Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson

I just started this. A friend I work with handed me this book a couple of years ago. I'm not sure why, but I put it down after only a few pages. I guess I just wasn't in the mood for Samurai pizza delivery-men at the time. I don't know why, since I finally decided to try again, and I'm hooked after only those same few pages. I'll add more after I finish it.

Dilbert - Seven Years of (something - A co-worker now has the book) - Scott Adams

I took a break from Snow Crash upon finding the latest Dilbert book during a lunch break. This book is organized with each chapter dedicated to a different Dilbert character (Dilbert, Dogbert, The Pointy Haired Boss, etc). In addition to Scott Adam's comments about the character at the beginning of each chapter, he adds handwritten comments to the majority of the cartoons displayed in the book. A fun book for Dilbert fans (and only the second Dilbert book I've bought... having friends who have all of them).

Snow Crash (continued)

I just got back to it. I have about a third of the novel left, and this novel keeps tugging me in different directions, which makes it a fascinating book. I was just sitting here trying to define what to write about this book so far, and when I realized I had spent ten minutes thinking about it, I discovered that I really like this book. Unlike some books, this one has been a bit "slow" to read. There are times in this novel when I feel a little lost (which is annoying, since many of those passages relate to another passion of mine - archaeology and ancient history). However, every time I think the novel is getting profoundly cerebral, suddenly I find one of the main characters running out of a rest stop, after using his swords to decapitate someone (in defense). It keeps switching gears on me, and now that I am trying to define what I think of it, I realize I'm having a good time trying to understand everything that is going on. This book is making me think, making me work for my participation in the story, but is doing so in a way that still keeps me coming back for more.

I also had a shock about a quarter of the way through the story. That was when I finally realized that the entire story was told in the present tense ("he does something", rather than "he did something"). The fact that the story absorbed me enough that I didn't even notice until then proves that this book is fascinating. I'll have to re-read this one - the only sure sign of a good book.

Jumper - Steven Gould

This is one of my all-time favorite books. The first time I read it, I stayed up till four in the morning (when I had to be up for work at seven) to finish it. I literally could not put the story down. This will make the fourth or fifth time I've read it in the two years since.

Jumper is a written in a very direct style. The story is told from the perspective of a seventeen year old abused boy who suddenly discovers he can teleport himself at will. This is not a new idea, but Gould pulls it off beautifully. Davy (the main character) becomes one of the most believable characters I've read, because the author does not hold back. You see Davy's fears and insecurities, you come to understand the effect years of abuse can have on someone, and yet at the same time you have a fun romp while watching Davy explore the possibilities of his newfound power. I highly recommend this book, and not just to sci-fi fanatics. This is a wonderful story for anyone, providing laughs, action, chills, and some great characters.

Wildside - Steven Gould

After reading Jumper for the umpteenth time, I decided to pick up Gould's second novel for the second time. This one, I managed to buy originally in hardback (I'd love to find a Jumper hardback, but I don't know if any exist). This book has much the same tone as the first, though the characters and plot were different. It was once again a fun and intelligent story that is difficult to put down. Neither of these books has a lot of complexity, but the characters are so convincing, and the plot so much fun, that more is not needed. Another enjoyable adventure.

In Wildside, Charlie has a secret. He has a portal to another universe in his barn. And during the summer after the end of high school and the beginning of the rest of life, he and three friends are going to use it to make themselves some money…. They start by selling some extinct passenger pigeons to American zoos (they still exist on the wildside, which has never seen the hand of man). However, this is just the beginning.

If you enjoyed Jumper, you are sure to enjoy Wildside as well.

I recently discovered Steven Gould's website. It would appear that he lives in my home town of Albuquerque (maybe he can send me some green chile).

Consider Phleabas - Iain M. Banks

The first time I read this book, it was on the suggestion of a friend, who loved Banks' books. Although it is an interesting story, and I enjoyed reading it, I didn't think it was as amazing as my friend built it up to be. However, as most good books will, it remained in the depths of my mind, and I found myself re-reading it a few days ago. I think I enjoyed it more this time.

The story is the first in the "Culture" universe that Iain M. Banks has been building. The novel follows the exploits of Horza, a humanoid changeling, who can change his form to look like anyone he wants (given a few days of preparation). He is a spy for an alien race who is at war with the Culture, an empire built on the power of technology, and the story follows his exploits through the galaxy. In all, a fun romp, though some of the adventures the main character ends up in during the plot seem a bit disjointed. I do think that I will need to search for the rest of the Culture novels soon, though.

Come Closer, Roger, There's a Mosquito On Your Nose - Bill Amend

I've been waiting for weeks for the latest "Foxtrot" collection of comics. Yet another great series of giggles over the antics of the Fox family. I love this comic strip. This is actually the first Foxtrot book which included comics I have seen before - up till now I've never read Foxtrot in the paper, but a year ago I found the website, which follows the papers by two weeks.

Star Wars Young Jedi Knights - Jedi Bounty - Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moestra

Okay… I know that this series is written for a younger audience, but I read a lot, so I'm always looking for something new. The authors of this series are both accomplished writers, and though the stories are a little predictable, all eight or nine of these books are fun. Hey… it's Star Wars! The series does a great job of following the adventures of several young Jedi Knights through the Star Wars universe, and it is completely canonical with all the other novels.

In this one, we find out more about the Diversity Alliance, who believes that all the alien races need to unite against humans, who repressed them during the Empire. Lowbacca the wookie has gone to Ryloth to learn more about the Diversity Alliance, taken by his long-lost friend Rabba. However, the Solo twins, Jacen and Jaina, discover that once you reach Ryloth, the Diversity Alliance never lets you leave! The search for Bornan Thul (and the hyperspace coordinates he carries) pauses a bit while the Jedi Knights try to rescue their comrade.

X-Files: Antibodies - Kevin J. Anderson

This just came out in hardback, and I decided to pick it up, based on how much I enjoyed his previous X-Files book Ruins. Anderson's first X-files book was a fun story that fit the X-Files show perfectly, and yet revolved around another passion of mine… Mayan archaeology, which probably explains why I was sure to enjoy it. This one didn't disappoint, either.

Mulder and Scully head off to Oregon, where a cancer research facility has been burned to the ground. In its wake, a security guard who was keeping kids off the unstable ruins is discovered dead - covered in tumors and growths. If you like X-Files on TV, you will enjoy this book, and it manages to deal with an issue we may need to deal with sometime in future - nanotechnology.

A fun book.

Babylon 5 Book #3 - Blood Oath - John Vornholt

About nine months ago, I dug through my boxes of books, and pulled out all my Bab5 books. I knew that a few new books were going to be coming out, so I wanted to re-read the first six. These books, while not high literature, are enjoyable for fans of the television show. JMS (the creator of Babylon 5) has stated that the first 6 books are not strictly canonical in his universe, and the flaws he saw were why he retained tighter control of the next three. However, there are some interesting tidbits and character developments in the first six. Book #4 (Clark's Law) in particular captures the tension of the show's second season perfectly.

However, while going through my boxes, I couldn't find #3. Then I stumbled across it when searching for Consider Pleabas. I remember this one distinctly, since it gives a huge amount of depth and detail to the Narn Homeworld (at least as it was before the Centari bombarded it). I have no idea how much of the author's descriptions of Narn deviate from JMS's vision, and there are a couple of glaring slip-ups (such as telepath Talia Winters scanning a Narn without his permission). This was a quick read - mostly pulp, but enjoyable pulp.

Freedom's Landing - Anne McCaffrey

As a huge fan of the Dragonlady's "Pern" series of novels, it was easy to pick up this book when it came out in hardback This book is a fun read, though it does not have the power of my favorite McCaffrey stories (such as the early Pern books, and The Ship Who Sang). The Cattini, an alien race of conquerers, have a practical method for checking if a planet is worth colonizing - they drop a bunch of slaves on the planet, and come back later to see if any survived. Unfortunately, the most recent world the Cattini enslaved was Earth. The plot revolves around a group of humans and aliens who have been dropped on a newly discovered planet. With them is a single Cattini, stranded on the planet as a punishment, and our heroine (to her surprise) begins to fall in love with him…. Meanwhile, it appears that the planet is not as uninhabited as everyone thought!

I picked this book up for the second time because I just bought the sequel, which recently came out in hardback.

Freedom's Choice - Anne McCaffery

This book picks up right where Freedom's Landing ended. I really enjoyed this sequel - it continued the universe created in the first, while expanding on some elements and explaining others. However, it is obvious that more books are coming… the story ends with far to many plot threads uncompleted.

In Freedom's Choice, the nine thousand humans and aliens that have been dropped on the planet they named "Botany" by the Cattini and their masters, the Eosi, have knitted themselves into a community. Using parts taken from the automatic farming machines they found on Botany, they have even managed to recreate some limited technology. Zainal, the lone Cattini trapped on Botany, has hatched his own plans - he reveals that the Cattini race, though blamed for enslaving Earth and other worlds, are actually the puppets of the Eosi, a race of energy beings who need Catteni bodies to live through. Even though the Cattini have prospered under Eosi rule, Zainal desires freedom as much as the others around him.

Meanwhile, a probe from the Farmers (as the mysterious creators of the machines that farm the planet have become known) appears above Botany, and for the first time the Eosi see technology that is more powerful than their own, something inconceivable for creatures who have ruled an empire unchallenged for thousands of years.

This book is one of the best McCaffery has put out in a while. I've always enjoyed her work, but this book is reminiscent of her classic storytelling. I had a great time reading this one, and I'm looking forward to the next.

Timecop - the Series (series pilot)

This was pretty bad. I rather enjoyed the movie, even to the point of adding it to my laserdisc collection, so I had some hope for this show, but it didn't live up to it. The premier episode had the main character (a timecop, of course) traveling back in time to stop a psychopath who has killed and replaced Jack the Ripper. The story was fairly predictable, even to the point of the villain escaping at the end for future episodes.

[added note - the series was cancelled after only about 4-5 episodes… no great loss]

Stargate SG-1

As long as I'm talking about television shows, I thought I would talk about the best new television series this year. Showtime is up to the seventh or eighth episode now, and the stories keep getting better. For example, the most recent episode started with the discovery that a previous team of scientists in the 1950's managed to get the Stargate working - once. Jackson violates orders by talking to Katherine Langford, the woman who ran the Stargate project in the movie (and who is the daughter of the archaeologist who uncovered the Stargate). While watching the ancient film of the one time they got the Stargate to open, Katherine discovers that the man who was lost on the other side of the vortex is none other than her long-lost fiancee, who she was told died in a lab explosion. Ms. Langford finally gets the fulfillment of a dream - to go through the device her father discovered in Eygpt, 1929.

The actor who portrays the lost man gives a wonderful performance as an old man who has been alone for decades. His confusion, his need to relearn how to communicate with others, are portrayed quite believably.

The series stars Richard Dean Anderson (a.k.a. MacGyver) as Jack O'Neal, and I am glad that Showtime has guaranteed at least two seasons of the series, and I hope it goes beyond that. It is also showing in Canada a few weeks behind Showtime, and has been picked up by the Fox Network or next year, so those of you without Showtime will be seeing it soon. The show has also been nominated for two Cable Ace awards, including "Best Dramatic Series."

Charon's Ark - Rick Gauger

While looking through my boxes of books for the second Dragonstar novel (see somewhere above), I came across this book. Since it also involved dinosaurs, I pulled it out and set it aside for rereading later. I finally picked it up.

This is an enjoyable book, though the dinosaurs end up being only a minor part of the story. In fact, the story would be mostly unchanged if the dino were dropped all together. However, the rest of the story has some interesting hard sf ideas, and some good adventures.

A chartered flight of high school kids are kidnapped by an alien spacecraft, and taken to Charon (the moon of Pluto), which they learn is actually an artifical construct that was populated with dinosaurs millions of years ago. Now, the ancient alien personalities want the human kids to take over the care of the massive ark.

The Postman - David Brin

David Brin has written some very good novels other than this one (Startide Rising, for one). I've had this book for a while, but for some reason I was a little reluctant to read it, so it sat on my shelf for quite a while. I finally picked it up, to discover that it is one of the best books I've read in a long time.

In a post-apocaliptic world sixteen years after a nuclear war, a lone traveller trying to survive finds a mailman's old uniform. Somehow, the symbol of the uniform begins to bring hope to the places he travels to.

This is an extremely powerful story. Except for a few minor elements, the story is not really scifi - in fact, the entire story takes place in a world where very little technology has survived. The plot is tight and doesn't let you quit until you finish, and along the way it pulls every emotional string the reader has, and finally makes the reader THINK.

This book is a must-read.

As a side note… a week after writing this, I was drivng home from work when I noticed a poster on the side of a bus… a poster for Kevin Coster in a movie version of The Postman. How's that for timing?

Armageddon 2419 A.D. - Philip Francis Nowlan

This book is one of the all time classics of pulp science fiction. First published as two novellas in Amazing Stories Magazine (Armageddon 2419 A.D. in 1928, The Airlords of Han in 1929), this novel has had a huge impact on science fiction in the years since.

The story follows Anthony Rogers, who is knocked unconscious by a strange gas in a cave, and wakes to find that nearly five centuries have passed. The America he remembers is long gone, and in its place the remnants are hunted fugitives, living in hidden clans while trying to avoid the occasional raids by the Hans, who are the descendants of the Asian people who have conquered the world.

If some of this sounds a little familiar, it is because a year after the first novella appeared, the author was asked to help write a newspaper strip based on his story. However, the publishers of the comic strip decided that the main character needed a shorter and more marketable name... thus was born the legend of Buck Rogers in the Twenty-fifth Century. For the first few years, the comic followed this novel fairly closely, but that soon changed, and by now the character and stories of Buck Rogers have no relation to the original story (beyond the idea of a modern man waking up 500 years in the future). For example, the modern Buck Rogers spends most of his time in outer space, dealing with aliens. However, Armageddon 2419 AD is entirely Earth-bound, with the enemy being another race of humans, the Hans. These two novellas started one of the most enduring characters in all of sci-fi.

The original book version also has several very interesting elements that have not carried into the future Buck Rogers. One of the best of these are the Jumper belts, which are belts made of a substance called "inertron," which is repelled by gravity rather than drawn to it. Thus, a wearer of one of these Jumper belts will weigh very little, and can make huge leaps and jumps. This substance is used in a number of innovative ways through the novel.

In some ways, the story does date itself (for example, the author goes into some detail describing for the reader what a "rocket" is, knowledge that would be taken for granted today). For the most part, these elements are rare, and the story is every bit as readable and enjoyable as it must have been when originally published. When I first read this book (at about age ten or twelve), it instantly became one of my favorites, and by now my frequently re-read copy of it is falling apart. It is a quick read, but well worth the time for anyone who is interested in classic sci-fi.

The Multplex Man - James P. Hogan

I picked this book up on a whim, when I saw it in the bargain hardbacks section of a bookstore. I've read some of Hogan's other work, and have enjoyed them. This novel was another enjoyable read from this author.

When Richard Jerric, a mild-mannered school teacher, wakes up from a medical procedure he was undergoing, he finds that something has gone very wrong. Seven months have passed since his last memory, and nobody he knows recognizes him. Furthermore, he finds out that Richard Jerric died of a stroke six months before. Finally, he is being chased by people who want information from him he does not have.

This is an exciting novel, because it keeps flipping around, changing underneath the reader, while maintaining a plausible future world in the background of the story. The story takes place in a near-future America, where political-correctness and environmentalism have destroyed most of the freedoms we take for granted... a country that is strongly reminiscent of the former USSR in its stranglehold over its population. People are told where they can live, and what they can eat, and are indoctrinated from a young age to believe in conformity and their duty to the state. Ironically, it is the independent states that were formerly behind the iron curtain (and the recently formed off-world colonies on the moon) who have become the new lands of the free.

The Multiplex Man is a fun and interesting read, since it creates a tense situation of a man trying to discover his own identity, often told from the perspective of someone who believes the propaganda of the social system he lives under.

How Much For Just The Planet? (Star Trek #36) - John M. Ford

This is one of the funniest books I have ever read. A federation scout craft discovers a planet rich in Dilithium (the energy crystals used to power spacecraft) at the same time that a Klingon cruiser also stumbles across it. However, under the treaty forced on both sides by the Organians, they cannot fight each other, so the Klingons and the Enterprise crew must each prove to the planet locals that they are the ones best suited to exploit the planet's dilitium deposits. Add in insane computers (who seem to love peppermint milkshakes), inflatable starships, a colony of people who frequently break into song like a bad Gillbert&Sullivan revival, and combat golf, and you have a slapstick comedy that keeps you laughing right to the end.

Strangly, the author actually manages to make all this stuff even make sense by the end (at least, as much sense as any Star Trek novel… or for that matter, an average Voyager episode). If you like Star Trek, and want a good laugh, this is the book to read!

Highlander: Zealot - Donna Lettow

This is a good addition to the Highlander series of novels, based on the television series. In this book, Duncan MacLeod runs into an old friend, a Jewish immortal who he fought with to save the Jews in World War II. Avram Mordecai became immortal for the first time when the Romans overran Masada, 2000 years ago. In the centuries since, he has repeatedly fought for the Jews and their way of life. However, as the years have gone by, Avram has become more and more fanatical. In the modern world, he has become a terrorist, fighting against the peace process he believes will take away land and rights his people deserve. Unfortunately, his old friend Duncan is falling for a Palestinian woman who is one of the delegates to the peace conference.

This book does a good job with the characters, making Avram a real person who is fighting for what he believes in, rather than the generic "evil" immortal that often seems to show up in the Highlander television series. Duncan's self torture as he is torn between his need to protect the mortal woman he is falling for and his respect for his old friend is poignant and interesting. If you like Highlander, this is a good read.

The Gap Saga - Stephen R. Donaldson

(The Real Story, Forbidden Knowledge, A Dark And Hungry God Arises, Chaos And Order, and This Day All Gods Die)

This series is wonderful. The first book starts off slow, and in the short essay at the end of The Real Story, Donaldson tells that this book was originally written as a solo piece, which he decided not to publish. However, when he later combined the characters of The Real Story with a larger epic concept he had been sitting on for a while, the series exploded. The original book tells the story of Morn Hyland, an ensign with the United Mining Company Police (the police and military force that watches over human space), and Angus Thermopyle, a murderer and criminal.

Morn is on her first mission, straight from the academy, when her starship stumbles across Angus. Unfortunately, as the ship goes into heavy gravity maneuvers to catch Angus, she discovers that she has "gap sickness" - a disease that causes a small percentage of people to act irrationally after traveling between the stars using the "gap drive". In Morn's case, however, the sickness is a unique form, which is only triggered by heavy gravity.

As she hears the universe talking to her, she sets the auto-destruct on the ship, which her father (the ship captain) manages to halt, but not before the ship is severely damaged. Angus uses this confusion to slaughter the few remaining crew members, and enslaves Morn, using a "zone implant" that he implants into her brain so he can control her body, bypassing her mind. Angus proceeds to use and abuse Morn, and due to her horror over what she did to her father and crew, she begins to accept the punishment.

Once you get to the second book, though, the series begins to open out into a much broader canvas. By the end of the first book, Morn is now in the hands of another illegal by the name of Nick Sucorso, and Angus is in jail. Thermopyle should have been put to death (for the crime of using a zone implant on someone), but Morn made him a devil's deal... she would not turn him in if he gave her the control to her zone implant. Her brief career in the UMCP destroyed, she allows herself to become more and more dependent on her zone implant.

Meanwhile, we start to learn that there is much more going on behind the scenes. The director of the United Mining Company and the director of the UMCP are playing dangerous games with humanity, games that will eventually include the one alien race Earth has ever discovered, and will end up focusing around Morn, Angus, and Nick.

This series does a brilliant job of keeping the reader on his toes. Every time you think you understand what is going on, you soon find out that you only have a facet of the real story. It is a series of incredible depth, while still retaining a good amount of tense action and mystery. Furthermore, the characters are extremely believable.

One of Donaldson's hallmarks seems to be characters at the edges of despair. Like Thomas Covenant, the main character of Donaldson's excellent fantasy double trilogy, the main characters in the gap series are rich with angst and horror. Morn spends the entire trilogy desperately trying to survive after being raped and abused, and then abandoned by the police she was a part of. Angus ends up becoming a pawn of the UMPC, turned into a cyborg with his own set of zone implants to keep him in control.

This entire series is brilliantly written... pick it up if you haven't yet.

Star Strike - W. Michael Gear

I found this book on a stand in a gift shop in Harrah's casino in South Lake Tahoe, where I went for weekend vacation recently. The interesting thing about looking for books in places like gift shops is that the limited selection often forces you into buying something you would bypass when faced with a wider selection. This book, while not necessarily a classic, had a very interesting concept, so I decided to pick it up.

The aliens finally showed up at Earth. However, they did not make their presence known to the populace at large. The aliens put the world's entire arsenal of nuclear weapons in stasis, and then tells the leaders of a few countries to gather their best soldiers and military tacticians, which the aliens take with them. The planet left behind, not knowing the truth of the aliens, begins to slide into global warfare.

Meanwhile, the aliens reveal to the abducted military people that Earth is an interdicted star system, due to the level of violence humanity displays. "Civilized" races do not go to war against each other, much less against their own race. However, this particular alien commander has a use for the warlike humans... he wants them to cause a devastating attack on another alien race that has been taking over resources from his race. He needs some mercenaries, and he tells the humans abductees that he is holding their planet for ransom.

Elements of the American, Soviet, and Israeli militaries must get past their distrust of each other if they are to save themselves and their planet.

This ended up being a very fun book. The characters ended up being more than just cardboard cutout heroes, and the novel maintained a high level of tension from start to finish. If you are looking for a fun read with an interesting premise, this is a good choice.

Star Wars: Specter of the Past - Timothy Zahn

The author who started the rage of Star Wars novels with his best-selling trilogy is back with a new hardback, the first of a two part series that builds on the foundation of his previous books.

It would appear that Grand Admiral Thrawn, killed at the end of the previous trilogy, may have survived. The remnants of the Empire, which have been steadily shrinking for years, may have finally found a rallying point to revitalize their empire, while the New Republic is starting to come apart at the seams.

This is a fun book, with a lot of the same style as Zahn's previous foray into the Star Wars universe. If you like Star Wars, this is a must read.

The Running Man - Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman)

This short novel was originally part of a collection of novellas, but I guess recently it was re-released as a separate book. I was looking for something to read, and stumbled across this, and thought it would be fun to re-read it.

If you've seen the Ah-nold movie version, you have a general idea of the basic plot. However, the book version is much better. Ben Richards is a poor, down-and-out man who is desperate to feed his family and provide medicine for his sick infant daughter. As a last resort, he goes where everyone goes when they have no other choice - he goes to the Network to play one of the television game shows. However, in the future the game shows are much more violent. Contestants compete in games that humiliate, hurt, maim, or even kill them, all on national "free-vee". The government is run by the television network, and it is a law that every home must have a government provided television. Ben Richards ends up on "the Running Man," the most popular of all the violent shows.

Ben can go anywhere he likes in the world, and for every hour he remains alive, his family gets a hundred dollars. If he remains alive for 30 days (which no contestant ever has), he wins the big prize - a billion dollars. However, not only does he have the hunters after him, but (in the spirit of participatory gaming) anybody who sees him and helps get him killed gets some prize money as well.

This book is violent and a bit disturbing (like much of Stephen King), but it is one of his classics. It is worth reading if you are a fan of King's work.

Star Trek TNG: The Devil's Heart - Carmen Carter

I found this hardback book in an outlet store while on my way home from the above mentioned trip to Lake Tahoe. For four bucks (which is less than the book would cost in paperback), I decided to pick it up. This book isn't anything spectacular, but like most Star Trek novels, it is reasonably entertaining. The story revolves around an ancient artifact from Iconia, which has played a part in the history of a number of races, including the Vulcans, Romulans, and Klingons. The legends say the Devil's Heart can provide great powers to whoever possesses it, but other legends say it will betray whoever uses it. After a Vulcan archaeologist finds the gem after years of searching, she and her team is killed, and eventually the gem ends up in Picard's hands....

The Official Guide to J. Michael Straczynski's Babylon 5 - Sierra On-Line CD-ROM

I ordered this from the Sierra web-site the instant I heard about it. So far it is a good guide with lots of info, pictures, and video about the series. It has descriptions and video for all the various races in the series, including many of the minor ones we have rarely seen. It includes video and details about most of the ships, and even includes pictures and info about many of the locations you can travel to on the Bab5 station. If you want a good source of info about the television show, this is a good product.

It also came with an enhanced music CD that includes highlights from all seven of the music soundtracks, as well as two new tracks written for the upcoming Sierra Bab5 game. The enhanced portion of the CD includes interviews with JMS and a few others about the game.

Starship Troopers (the movie)

Over a year ago, I went to Worldcon (the largest annual Sci-fi convension in the world) in Los Angeles, where I ended up seeing a test clip of the special effects for this movie. The clip showed a poor army grunt running for his life, two warrior bugs on his tail. He stops to pick up a machine gun from some dead soldiers, and hoses one of the bugs until it falls to the ground. The second bug then leaps on the man, tearing him apart just off-screen. Needless to say, this excited everyone in the auditorium, and they had to play the clip two more times before we were satisfied. I went out immediately after and bought the Heinlein novel in the dealer room, finishing the book before I got back home to San Francisco two days later.

I have anxiously awaited the movie since. Luckily for me, the movie does not disappoint. Now, I expect that some of the die-hard fans of the original story are a bit annoyed. Although the basics of Heinlein's society and philosophy are in the movie, they are largely glossed over to give room for more warfare. Also, the book's powersuits (one of the first uses of powersuits in sci-fi, long before Japanese animation came along) were dropped from the movie.

What is left, though, is one of the best special effects spectaculars ever produced. The movie is a fun and adrenalin pounding ride, despite a high level of very graphic warfare, and the special effects are the best ever produced. Both the spaceships and the bugs are crafted magnificently.

As a sidebar to the movie… tonight I managed to go to a talk hosted by several of the people who work at Phil Tippet Studios, who did all the bugs in the game, most using computer graphics. Not only did I get to see a lot of details about how some of the effects shots were created, I also got to see that original 45 seconds of test footage that got me interested over a year ago!

Alien Resurrection (movie)

I went to see this movie the first day it hit the theaters. Although it does not have quite the power of the first two Alien movies, it was quite enjoyable, and was definitely better than Alien 3 (though I have to admit I don't mind #3 as much as most people). The production design on this movie is wonderful, and Ripley is portrayed quite interestingly. Throughout the movie, particularly near the beginning, the cloned Ellen Ripley is obviously a touch insane, which adds an interesting element to the movie.

Also, the CGI aliens, particularly the underwater scene, are nice, if not anything spectacular (Not quite up to "Jurassic Park: Lost World" status on CGI quality, but good)

The Last Day - Glenn Kleier

As I've mentioned before in these pages, I love apocalyptic fiction, which is why I picked up this hardback. However, unlike most of the end-of-the-world stories I've read, this one is not about AN apocalypse, but instead is about THE Apocalypse... as in the belief in the coming of a new messiah held by many of the world's religions, occurring in a time of great strife. This ended up being one of the most interesting and thought provoking stories I've ever read, as well as being a well-written and thrilling adventure. Not only is this book a real page-turner that is hard to put down, but it also makes you THINK. It is not often that a novel can manage one of those qualities, but this book is one of those rare special events that accomplishes both brilliantly.

On December 25, 1999, a meteor destroys a secret research facility in Israel. Only one person survives... a young woman who was one of the test subjects. At midnight on New Years Eve, as the world braces itself for the coming of the new millennium, this girl re-appears in Bethlehem in the middle of a freak storm and an earthquake. The story actually revolves around a news reporter who finds himself frequently in a position to report about this ethereal woman. As people begin to claim miracles of healing and knowledge from her, and her message of tolerance and peace spreads, the world begins to degenerate into violence, while various factions claim she is either delusional, a prophet, the antichrist, or the coming of a new messiah.

I can't say much more about this amazing book without giving away the story, and much of the impact of it comes from not knowing who and what this girl really is. This book is brilliantly written, and is guaranteed to make you think. I expect that it will offend many of the devoutly religious, because it directly questions the foundations of the organized religions on our world, so if you are easily angered by people who hold different religious views than you do, you will probably hate this book. However, I think you should read it anyway, because I believe that one of the most important abilities human beings have is the ability to question their own beliefs, to learn how and why other people believe what they do, and let that knowledge refine your view of the world around you.

I'm not a particularly religious person. This book, however, forced me to look at my beliefs (or lack of them) from a different perspective, and that is a magical quality to find in a story. Pick up this book. Of all the books I've reviewed here, I would place this one on the top of the "must read" list. Go out now... don't wait... and read it.

Babylon 5 - In The Beginning - Peter David, based on the screenplay by JMS

With the fourth season of Babylon 5 finished, and fans like me waiting for the switch to the TNT cable network, this book appearing on the shelves was a happy find. This is a novelization of the first Bab5 show that TNT will be showing - a TV movie that stands as a prequel to the entire series.

The story revolves around the Earth-Mimbari War, which takes place over a decade before the beginning of the series, though it is frequently referenced by the Bab5 story arc. It details how the first contact between these two races ended in disaster and the near genocide of the human race that follows.

This is one of the best Bab5 books yet. It is well written, and JMS's story is wonderful. If the TV movie has half the details the book has, it will be one of the best shows on television yet. If you like Bab5, this is a very enjoyable novel.

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