Book (and other stuff) Reviews

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Blade Runner - PC CD-ROM game

If you have any appreciation for Ridley Scott's brilliant film, this game is a true delight. I have barely played it yet, but it has already captured the essence of the movie's dark and textured world perfectly. Every detail is perfect. This is, by far, the best interpretation of a movie into a game in history.

One of the defining moments of the game so far (and I've barely played it yet) was walking out onto the balcony in my apartment. Suddenly, you are standing outside, on the side of a tall building, with the city spread out behind and below you. Spinners (floating cars) occasionally zip by underneath, and sometimes you can hear faintly the sound of the giant advertisement blimps proclaiming the wonders of the "off-world colonies." In the background, Vangelis' haunting soundtrack plays. In other words, the atmosphere of the game is every bit as detailed as the movie, and it was glorious to watch. This may explain why I haven't been much further in the game yet… the couple of times I've popped the game in my CD-ROM drive, I end up spending most of my time studying the artistic details.

Once I've played it a bit more, I'll add more detail to this review.

Lost World, Jurassic Park - Playstation game

I first played a demo of this game in a Toy's R Us store a few months back. I was immediately impressed by the level of detail and animation in the dinosaurs, which, like the movie, are the star attractions of the game. When I first played the game, I could pick up the controller for the first time and be the T-Rex, stomping down a path eating random people as I walked. The T-Rex looked perfect, and it moved well, even when the player set the controller down.

Well, I got a Playstation for Christmas. Unlike the version I played in Toy's R Us, the real game starts with the player controlling a Compy… a chicken sized scavenger. I was a bit disappointed, because I was looking forward to stomping around some, and instead discovered was going to have to work to get there. However, the animations on the compy quickly lifted my interest again. The little creature was always moving, even when the player dropped the control pad, and the various attack, jump, and feeding anims looked perfect.

The game is actually very little more than a classic side-scroller. Travel is constrained to two dimensions (though the scenes are beautifully rendered in 3D), and the levels are fixed, so once you learn the patterns of where the enemies and powerups are, you can finish each level. This game is not notable for its gameplay innovation… it is similar to thousands of games all the way back to the original Super Mario Bros. However, it is one of the best of this type I've ever seen in the level of atmosphere. The dinos and background look great, and it is a reasonably fun game to play.

Colony Wars - Playstation game

When I asked for a Playstation for Christmas, this was the game that finally made me decide I wanted to get one. In fact, I was planning on buying one for myself until my parents called and asked me what I wanted for Christmas. Usually, I don't have a clue what to ask for, which tends to make my family a bit miffed, and I thus end up with some sweaters and other bits of clothing. Since I usually need the clothing (being terrible at fashion myself), that is actually a good thing. However, it was nice having something specific to ask for.

Anyway, I went out today and bought it, as well as searching half a dozen stores for an analog joypad to make sure I could play the game in the best possible way.

When I say I'm a little annoyed at this game, you have to take that as a good thing. This is the closest I've seen to competition to the N64 game I'm working on. Though Colony Wars is not a full flight sim, it has many of the elements, including a full 3D field of movement, and lots of big and small ships to fly around and fight. It also has some very nice effects. I intend to make as many people at work as I can to sit down and play around with this game….

The missions are set up with the "Wing Commander" method - if you succeed in a mission, you get a different next mission than if you failed. This provides a lot of directions the game can go depending on how well you play.

In addition to the gameplay, the game has a ton of background information. You can access databases about any ships and planets you have seen so far, and some of the database entries take a minute or more to run through their speech. The information, though usually not directly tied to the gameplay, adds a level of depth to the game, since you can find out when each planet was colonized and various statistics, as well as finding out tidbits about the various ships used in the game.

This is a well though out and executed game, and is one of the best I've played in a while.

Final Fantasy VII - Playstation game

I've heard all the hype, so this was one of the games I asked for when making my Christmas list. Since I just today finally got a memory pak to save games, I haven't allowed myself to get very far in the game. However, I can so far that it is essentially a standard RPG, but with some very nice graphical touches. It looks and sounds great, but it is mostly still a typical RPG. You wander from place to place tracking clues, and get into random battles against monsters.

This is only the second Final Fantasy game I've played, and the first was an old Gameboy version that I got bored with quickly (being a busy game programmer, it takes a lot to keep me interested enough to finish a game). This game has enough to keep me interested for a little while, so I'll talk about it more later.

Goldeneye - N64 game

For the most part, I've gotten bored with first person shooters, since that and fight games seem to make up the vast majority of the games that have been released over the past few years. This one, however, ended up being a very good example of the genre. I bought it mainly because it was an N64 game, and since I am working on an N64 title, I try to buy most of the games that come out, for research and ideas. However, once I started playing, I ended up spending a lot of time on it. The levels are nicely rendered, and I love the fact that every bullet that hits a wall leaves a bullet hole, which will remain as long as you are playing the level. In fact, on more than one occasion, that is how I figured out that I had traveled in a circle… there were bullet marks on the wall.

The best part of the game, though, is multiplayer. My roommate and I have frequently put in a hour or two in the evenings beating each other up with grenade launchers. He seems to have a knack for bouncing the things off walls right into me, which is truly annoying.

Dune (the movie, laserdisc)

In 1984, David Lynch directed a big-budget theatrical version of Frank Herbert's classic science fiction novel. However, the movie found itself in a strange position... it was a bit to complex for the average viewing public, and yet it was impossible to live up to the depth of the original novel. Thus, the public didn't understand it, and the Dune fans were mostly disappointed.

As the years have gone by since, though, the movie has slowly grown to be appreciated. The beautiful production design and detailed story capture the essence of the book, and provide some of the most stunning visuals seen in a movie. The casting, as well, is brilliant, and included a number of actors who have since gone on to stardom (Kyle McLauchlan, Patrick Stuart, and Sean Young, to name a few). The artistry of the movie, the set designs and visuals, capture the feel of the Herbert's novel perfectly, though Lynch did take a few liberties with the story to create a more cohesive movie. The wonderful musical score by Toto is perfect.

The movie recently was re-released on video and laserdisc, and I was one of the first to pick up a laserdisc copy. The picture quality is good, and the AC-3 Dolby Digital sound is wonderful (for example, when one of the characters uses "the Voice," you can hear the eerie vocals echoing all around you, bouncing from front to back).

There is actually two official versions of this movie. The first is the original theatrical release, which is what was recently released on video. However, there is an extended version (at about 3 hours long) that includes a number of deleted or altered scenes. This version (often called the "Alan Smithee" version, since Lynch had his name removed from it) was compiled by the studio for use as a mini-series. In all, the theatrical version is much higher quality, and fits together much better. Many of the scenes added to the Smithee version were outtakes that were removed by Lynch because of quality or story flow reasons, and in a number of cases the studio used stock footage from other parts of the movie to bridge awkward gaps. However, the extended version is still interesting, since it allows the viewer to see scenes that are very important in the original novel, but were cut from the final movie.

Dune - Frank Herbert

This novel is perhaps the best piece of literature ever written under the genre of "science fiction." Like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, it is based on a complex depth of fictional history that is only touched on in the novel, yet the sense of the past and the expansiveness of the universe permeates the entire story. It is a story that works on a number of levels, following themes of ecology, economics, politics, the power of religion, human nature, and human potential.

The novel takes place far in the future. Long ago, humanity spread out across the galaxy, colonizing thousands of planets. Then, a massive war, known as the "Butlerian Jihad" came. Mankind finally managed to create machines that could truly think as men could, and they rose up against us. The legacy of this at the time of the novel (ten thousand years later) is that there is a moral proscription (similar in scope to a biblical commandment) that complex machines cannot exist. Instead, humanity found ways to fill the technological gaps using the human mind. Human computers exist in the form of Mentats - people trained from birth to function as data processors, who can sort and correlate information like a computer, but then apply human reasoning and abstraction to it. The Bene Gesserit, on the other hand, study the details of the human condition. These specially trained women can read the smallest twitch of muscle, the tiniest detail of the environment around them, and can use this to tell truth from lies, and to bend others to their will. Their understanding of the human mind and body is unparalleled. For thousands of years, they have been following a special breeding program, aimed at creating a super-human - a man who would be a combination of a super-mentat and a Bene Gesserit - a man who could process data to such a level that he could actually see the future (or possible futures). Finally, there is the Spacing Guild, who pursues pure mathematics, and who holds an absolute monopoly on space travel.

The most important planet in the universe is Arrakis, commonly called Dune. It is a desolate world of sand and rock, where precipitation is totally unknown. Water is wealth on Arrakis. Dune is the only place in the universe that has the spice "melange." The spice can extend life... it can expand consciousness. Breathing spice gas is what gives the Spacing Guild navigators the ability to fold space, thus permitting travel between planets without computers, though it has mutated them over thousands of years of use. The spice is the most precious commodity in the universe.

The story follows young Paul Atreides, the son of Duke Leto Atreides, the head of one of the galactic Royal Houses. When the treachery of the Duke's enemies, with the help of the Emperor of Known Space, defeats his House, he turns to the local hidden population of Arrakis, the Fremen, for shelter. The Fremen live a harsh existence in an environment hostile to human life, a life among the wastes of rock and sand dunes, where the giant sandworms roam, and the mind expanding spice is in everything. They have a prophesy that one would come from outside their world, a messiah, to lead them to greatness, to lead them on a holy war against the rest of the galaxy. As the Bene Gesserit begin to think that Paul could perhaps be their super-human come a generation early, the Fremen wonder if Paul could be this messiah.

Dune is a novel I would compare with the greatest literature ever written. Its complexity, scope, and depth, its insight into the nature and potential of humanity, propel it above the vast majority of the fiction I have read. At first it is a difficult book to read, but it is a story that becomes more meaningful each time I read it. This makes the fifth or sixth time I've read this novel, and once again I am finding levels of meaning and details I never saw before.

Dune is actually the first novel in a series of six novels that cover the next several thousand years. Although the rest of the series is interesting and thought provoking, Dune is the real achievement. I'll review each of the other books as I go through them.

Titanic (movie)

I've been a fan of James Cameron movies for a while. His first big hit was Terminator, which has become one of the classics of sci-fi movies. He then wrote and directed Aliens which was easily the best sequel of all time, taking Ridley Scott's creepy Alien in a wonderful new direction. Then he created The Abyss, which proved that he could do a very human oriented story, though still in a sci-fi setting. Finally, he created Terminator 2, an enjoyable sequel to his previous movie. However, some of the best Cameron work has been done on laserdisc - most of the movies mentioned above have special director's cuts on laserdisc, which not only have extra scenes added back into the movies, but also include some of the best supplemental materials ever. The Abyss in particular is a much better movie with the addition of a half-hour of extra footage, which gives much of the movie a context that was missing in the original theatrical release.

Now Cameron has tried his hand at a non-scifi movie, and in the process has created the most expensive movie ever made (at a final budget of around $200 million). I went to see this movie, not knowing what to expect from a love story set against the backdrop of one of the most famous disasters in history… from a director known for a very different genre of movie. I ended up being wonderfully impressed.

The movie begins with shots of the actual Titanic, from dives down to the wreck funded by Cameron and the movie studio. The story is told through the eyes of an elderly woman, who is recalling the events from the Titanic while seeing the submarine footage of the wreck. When she was on the Titanic, she was a young woman from a wealthy family, trapped in an engagement to a snobbish and rich man. However, while on the maiden voyage of the so-called unsinkable luxury liner (the largest structure ever built by humanity at the time), she meets a young and poor artist, who won his ticket on the famous ship in a poker game. Over the next few days, as their love grows for each other, he shows her how to live life away from the trappings of high society… the prim and proper world she had been bred into. In turn, she then saves his life, and they both struggle to survive as the ship hits the famous iceberg that causes the ship to begin flooding.

This movie did a magnificent job of showing the scope of that famous disaster. The effects of the ship slowly sinking, eventually breaking in half and then slipping under the waves - people falling off into the freezing water as they can no longer hold on to the tilting decks - are mesmerizing. You get a true sense of the terror of the event, as well as both the baseness and bravery of humanity as they struggle to survive or at least help others to survive. By the end of the movie, there were tears in my eyes as old woman finally finishes her tale.

This is a movie that is the best of pure, big-budget Hollywood. It tells a grand story of disaster, desperation, and sorrow, through the viewport of a story of forbidden love. The casting is perfect - Leonardo Di Capri is wonderful as the young artist, and Kate Winslow plays the young woman with charm and dignity. Cameron manages to tell the story without getting trite or melodramatic, instead imbuing the characters and events with dignity and humanity.

This movie is worth every penny Cameron put into it.

Dune Messiah - Frank Herbert

In Dune Messiah, the reader sees the consequences of the actions of Paul Muad'Dib and the empire he has set up. In the twelve years since he became Emperor, billions have died across thousands of worlds as his Fremen troops lead the jihad through the known universe. This book is much more political than Dune, following the intrigues within the seat of power of the religious empire Muad'Dib rules, and showing Paul's dissatisfaction with the death and destruction he brought. This novel also introduces the concept of the ghola - a clone of a dead person. The Atreites warrior Duncan Idaho, killed in Dune, is given new life, and given as a gift to the Emperor.

Children of Dune - Frank Herbert

Nine years after the birth of Muad'Dib's twin children, when Paul disappeared in the desert to die, Alia now rules the empire. Alia, a child born with the full knowledge of a Bene Gessrit Reverend Mother, has given in to the other memories she was born with, becoming possesed, while the deserts of Arrakis are slowly shrinking. The two children of Muad'Dib, born with the same genetic memories that destroyed Alia, are comming into their own power, despite being young children physically. Leto sets himself on the path even his father, Muad'Dib, would not travel, seeing the only way to fix the damage Muad'Dib's prescience unleashed on the universe.

God Emperor of Dune - Frank Herbert

Three and a half thousand years have passed since Leto made his choice, and Arrakis has become a paradise of forests and rivers. Only a tiny, carefully maintained desert remains of the vast sand that once covered the planet. Leto, the God Emperor, has ruled over the universe for thousands of years, as he slowly metamorphisized into a sandworm. During that time he has given the human universe what they always thought they wanted - peace. However, under his enforced peace, humanity has stagnated. His enforced peace is meant to be a lesson humanity will never forget.

Throughout the ages, the God Emperor has revived Duncan Idaho as a ghola many times, using the techniques discovered in Dune Messiah to recover Idaho's original memories.

Heretics of Dune - Frank Herbert

It is a thousand years after the end of the God Emperor's reign, and the mass of humanity that exploded outward from the known worlds when he died is beginning to reappear. Arrakis, returning to desert with the appearance of a smarter sandworm becomes a focal point for the Bene Gesserit trying to combat the Honored Matres, a deadly offshoot of their own trainings removed and returning after a thousand years. A young girl is discovered on Arrakis, a woman who can speak to and control the deadly sandworms. At the same time, the Bene Gesserit are using an Idaho ghola, modified to be more like modern humans, to attempt an experiment of their own.

Chapterhouse: Dune - Frank Herbert

With Arrakis now destroyed, and the Bene Gesserit hunted throughout the known galaxy by the Honored Matres, the Bene Gesserit must find a way to survive.

This was the last book of this brilliant series. Though Dune is the best book of the series, the rest propel the reader forward through four thousand years of galactic history, building a fascinating commentary on the nature of humanity in the process.

Star Wars Young Jedi Knights - The Emperor's Plague - Kevin J Anderson and Rebecca Molestra

Though designed for a younger audience, this whole series is a lot of fun to read. This book completes the second series following the adventures of the Jedi Knights in training. As a huge battle rages between the New Republic and the Diversity Alliance, the young Jedi Knights must find and destroy the human-killing plague before the Diversity Alliance can unleash it on the galaxy.

The Practice Effect - David Brin

Though not one of his more memorable books, this was an enjoyable read. Physicist Dennis Nuel finds a way to probe into another universe, and once he crosses over into it, he discovers that the laws of physics are different there.

He finds himself in a world where he is considered a wizard, and is caught between a beautiful woman with strange powers and a power hungry warlord. A little predictable in places, but the basic premise of the "Practice Effect" this new universe runs on is wonderful.

Primary Crullers (a Robotman book) - Jim Meddick

I first saw this comic strip in Colorado while in college, and I loved it. However, I haven't seen it since I left college, until I recently looked it up on the internet. Once I found out that there was a book collection of some of the comics, I ran out and grabbed it. If you like wacky comic strips, this is a great book.

Acts of Conscience - William Barton

This is a very interesting book, because it holds nothing back. The main character is a construction worker who ends up earning a fortune on a stock deal when the first faster-than-light spacecraft is designed. He uses the money to buy himself one of the prototype ships, and the novel follows his travels as he visits several of the human occupied worlds and gets to know some of the alien races that co-exist with humanity.

This novel is rather disturbing, though, because is shows humanity as we really are, rather than as we wish we were. The main character gives into his primitive urges for sex and violence throughout the novel, and yet in the end you cannot hate him, because deep down the seeds of those behaviors are in us all. This story shows clearly the behaviors of real people, complete with their good points and their really nasty thoughts and actions. The fact that the author makes characters that are so real is what makes this story so disturbing.

Its also why I recommend this book, even though I can't decide whether I really enjoyed it or not. It makes you think about the realities of our lives, rather than painting us the way we want to be.

Stargate - Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich

I recently re-watched the director's cut of Stargate, and found myself in the mood to re-read the extremely fun novel version. Although I can't prove it, I've heard from several sources that this novel was nominated for a Hugo award, and given the level of enjoyment and adventure of the novel, I'm not surprised. I first read this book about a week before the movie hit the theaters, and I've read it half a dozen times since.

When a down-and-out archaeologist decodes the symbols on an ancient coverstone, he finds himself on a military team going through a stargate, an ancient transport system that takes him across the universe to a planet where the gods of ancient Egypt are real.

If you've seen the movie, then not much of the novel will surprise you. It was written by the creators of the movie, and thus follows the movie very closely. However, the book version adds a lot of detail to the characters, giving the reader a more detailed look into the motivations driving them. It also fills in some of the gaps, and adds a few scenes (some of which were also filmed, and have been added into the director's cut of the movie).

Stargate: Rebellion - Bill McCay

Based on notes from Emmerich and Devlin, McCay continues the adventures started in Stargate. With Ra destroyed, the Earth humans decide to come back through the stargate to establish a mining operation for the nearly magical quartz the Abydos natives mined for Ra. Meanwhile, far across the universe, the seat of Ra's power is in conflict. With Ra missing, the various human "gods" who ruled Ra's empire under him have begun fighting each other for control of the empire. Fearing the end of the empire is at hand, Thoth (the stork masked accountant of the gods) wakes an ancient legend - Hathor, the cat god, who was put to sleep by Ra eight thousand years ago after she covered a rebelling planet of slaves with their blood. Ra felt she was too dangerous to keep around, but felt he might need her again someday, so he put her to sleep.

Meanwhile, back on Abydos, tensions begin to appear between the Abydos natives and the Earth mining people. At first, the Abydos miners worked for the Earth people out of friendship and for supplies and medical help, but the Earth corporation now running the mine begins to try to work them harder than even Ra did. When the mining company starts to send mercenary troops through the stargate, it seems that fighting will soon break out, with Daniel Jackson caught in the middle.

Then Hathor shows up, in a pyramidal warship that makes Ra's destroyed palace look small.

This book maintains the excitement and adventure of the original novel, while continuing the story in a very believable way.

Stargate: Retaliation - Bill McCay

Though the combined might of the Earth military and the Abydos natives barely managed to fight off Hathor, they were left with a prize - a partially functional starship. The original scientists from the Stargate project on Earth are reassembled on Abydos to try to decode the technical hieroglyphics and learn how to replicate the starship's systems. Jack O'Neil returns with a present for Daniel, the gold medallion he wore for luck during their first expedition to Abydos.

Meanwhile, Daniel Jackson's marriage to Sha'uri is falling apart, as tensions rise between the Nagadan miners and the outlying farming communities that supply food for the Abydos population. Though Daniel desperately tries to hold the people together, he just ends up making things worse.

Hathor finally returns, having brought Abydos to its knees by destabilizing the local population, and kidnaps Jackson and the medallion he wears. Hathor recognizes the medallion from the First Days when she was one of Ra's favorite minions. She uses the medallion to trigger a secret stargate combination, which takes her to Ra's massive original starship, The Boat of a Million Years. Daniel manages to escape back to Abydos, but barely in time to warn the people before Hathor appears in the skies once again.

This novel is interesting, because it adds details about the daily life of the people of Abydos, explaining how their society works.

Stargate: Retribution - Bill McCay

(NOTE: I reviewed this novel before, but since I just re-read the entire series, I thought I'd add some new notes)

With Abydos destroyed and Hathor on her way to Earth in the Boat of a Million Years, it is up to Daniel Jackson and Jack O'Neil to convince the world to prepare for invasion, while trying to find a place for the Abydos refugees to live. This book branches out a bit from the original characters, as we watch Earth use both modern technology and the new quartz crystal to build a defense against Hathor in the year they have till she arrives.

Though this book finishes the Hathor trilogy, there are enough threads left hanging that there is room for further books. Though Hathor is now gone, the various gods on Tuat the Moon (the seat of Ra's empire) still exist, and Skarra's dream of liberating the rest of the slave worlds of Ra is still unfinished. Though it seems unlikely there will be further Stargate novels by Bill McCay, I can always hope!

Star Wars X-Wing #5 - Wraith Squadron - Aaron Allston

This is the first X-Wing book to be written by someone other than Michael Stackpole, and Aaron Allston does a wonderful job. In this book, a new squadron takes shape under the watchful eye of Wedge Antilles. This squadron, made up of down-and-out pilots on the edge of being kicked out of the New Republic military, provides some very interesting and dynamic characters who become heroes despite themselves. This was a very fun read, with intriguing characters and great battles.

Stargate SG-1 (television series)

I already reviewed this series before, but I thought I'd add some new notes, because the series, though already good, has been extordinary over the last few episodes. In the episode two weeks ago, the team wakes up on a planet, only to find that the sole inhabitant of the planet keeps telling them how he has made them "better." Upon returning home, though, they discover that they are no longer flesh and blood, but inhabit robot bodies. They eventually learn that they are copies of the true SG-1 team, and Richard Dean Anderson gives a wonderful performance as a man coming to grips with the fact that he is a robotic copy of the true Jack O'Neil, despite feeling no different.

This stellar episode was followed by another whammy. Daniel Jackson returns to Earth through the Stargate after getting seperated from the rest of the SG-1 team, only to discover that nobody on Earth knows who he is. Furthermore, the Guo'ould aliens have invaded Earth, having destroyed a fifth of Earth's population in only a few days. Once Daniel realizes that somehow he has traveled to a parallel dimension, he must convince the people around him to squander their one chance at activating the Stargate to send him back, so he can warn his Earth that the Guo'ould are probably on their way.

Next weeks episode follows up on this one. It looks like a power-hungry senator will try to close down the Stargate program, just as the Guo'ould show up at Earth.

This series just keeps getting better....

Masterharper of Pern - Anne McCaffery

This makes the fourteenth novel in the Dragonlady's world of Pern. Now, it was a forgone conclusion that I would be buying this hardback the instant I found it, since Pern is one of my favorite places to visit. However, the last couple of Pern books, though still enjoyable, were not quite up to the standards of the previous novels in the series, and I was expecting the same from Masterharper. I assumed that the author, after three decades of writing about Pern, had become too familiar with it, and thus had lost some of the freshness that characterized many of the earlier books. I was thus wonderfully surprised when this book grabbed me from the first pages, and pulled me through the story effortlessly. This is a wonderfully enjoyable book.

The story follows the early years of one of the most beloved characters in the Pern series - Masterharper Robinton. The story begins at his birth, and follows his life as he grows from child to adult, eventually becoming the leader of the Harper craft hall and one of the most influential people on Pern. Along the way, the reader finally gets to see the details of the events that led up to be beginning of the original Dragonriders of Pern trilogy. We see the young Fax begin to expand his influence, eventually invading or scheming his way into the control of a number of the major holds. We also see the final stages of the problems that lead to the disrespect the people of Pern hold for the last dragon Weyr. The story ends by showing us a different perspective on the fight between F'lar and Fax that opens the original trilogy.

If you have never read any of McCaffery's Pern novels, this is a good one to start with, and if you are a fan you have no choice but to read it!

Star Trek Voyager - Mosaic - Jeri Taylor

I had no intention of reading this novel until I found it in a book outlet store. The hardback version of the novel cost me less than the more recent paperback would have, so I picked it up on a whim. It then sat on a shelf for about six months. I finally picked it up after running out of things to read. Despite my for this novel, I ended up enjoying it. Unlike a lot of people, I've actually enjoyed Star Trek Voyager, though for quite a while it didn't seem to be doing anything new or innovative. This novel, however, gave the reader an interesting story, while using that plot as a device to really tell the story of how Captain Janeway became the woman she did. While dealing with a crisis, you get into Janeway's mind, and learn of her school years, her time at Starfleet Academy, and her early adventures. Unlike much of Star Trek, her past is not nice and friendly. Janeway has a number of personal demons and closet skeletons that help drive her forward.

The novel was written by Jeri Taylor, who is one of the producers and creators of Voyager. As such, it certainly makes sense that she would have more insight into Janeway than most.

As a side note, based on the picture on the back flap of the hardback cover, Jeri Taylor and my mother could be sisters....

Star Trek TNG - The New Voyages #5 - Martyr - Peter David

When I first saw this series, I picked it up because I saw one of my favorite TNG guest characters gracing the cover of one of the books. It ended up being a very enjoyable series as Star Trek books go. Other than one or two brief cameos in the beginning of the series, none of the main Star Trek characters appear in the series. Instead, it gathers several of the guest and reoccurring bit characters into a new series, on a new ship. Under the command of a gung-ho scarred new captain, the series includes Shelby (the borg specialist who wanted Riker's job) as first officer, Doctor Selar (the Vulcan doctor occasionally seen in the background of the Enterprise sick bay), and Robin Lefler (who was played by Ashley Judd in one of her first acting roles, and was one of my favorite guest characters). The first four books told the story of Captain Mackenzie Calhoun and his new command of the Ambassador class ship USS Excalibur, as he returns to the Thallonian Empire where he was the hero of his race in his youth, and where the empire is falling apart currently.

This new book follows up on the events of the first four novels, as Mackenzie heads to a planet whose inhabitants believe, based on the recent events in the now collapsed Thallonian Empire, that he is the religious messiah they have been waiting centuries for.

As usual, Peter David does a good job at telling a story, and unlike a lot of Star Trek, this book does not hold back. It includes sex, warfare, and a main character who doesn't always tow the Federation "be kind and happy with everyone" attitude.

Area 51 - Robert Doherty

This book takes all the various conspiracy theories about the USA experimenting with captured alien technology, throws in some "Chariots of the Gods" style archaeology, and creates a very fun thriller. The novel doesn't really have an incredibly innovative plotline, but the writing style is tight and filled with thrilling adventures. This is a book I had a hard time putting down.

Years ago, the United States government found several ancient and buried spacecraft in the desert of Nevada. For fifty years, they have been researching the technology, and while they still have no understanding of how the craft work, they have learned to fly the smaller ones. Now, however, they have finally managed to get inside the massive mothership, and the hidden forces behind the project are rushing to turn it on. The scientists, several of which are old Nazis brought illegally into the USA by the government after WW2, think that trying to launch the ship could be disastrous... not just to the facility, but to the entire world.

Meanwhile, an Egyptian archaeologist begins to unravel the mystery of a pre-heiroglyphic language know as "high runes" which are found all over the world. He discovers that the Nazis found something astounding inside the Great Pyramid at Giza during WW2, which begins to lead him towards Area 51 and the mysteries it contains.

Area 51, The Reply - Robert Doherty

This is the first of two sequels to Area 51, and continues the adventures of the first admirably.

After the public revelations about the existence of Area 51 and the discovery of the ancient alien computer on Easter Island, the world is in shock. However, within only a few days, a reply comes back to Earth to the signal sent by the alien computer. The aliens are coming!

As most of Earth prepares for the arrival of benevolent alien visitors who visited Earth thousands of years ago, a few people start asking questions as they begin to discover other ancient and hidden alien installations around the world.

Earth 2 (television series)

I managed to miss this entire series (at least, the single season it lasted) when it was first on, but I had heard some good things about it. After several years of wondering about the show, it is finally showing on the SciFi channel, and it is every bit as interesting as I heard. In the five episodes I've seen so far, I have become completely hooked.

The story follows a small group of people marooned on an Earth-like planet they came to colonize. As the advance scouts, they came two years ahead of the main colonists to set up the colony, at which time most of the construction people would leave. However, something went wrong, and they crashed on the planet half a continent away from their intended colony site and the supplies that were dropped there. As they slowly work their way across this new world, they encounter several alien races and learn that the government they left has been using this world as a penal colony for dangerous humans.

It is a fascinating show with dynamic characters and a story arc that reveals itself a little more each episode, inside the main stories about the needs of survival on a new planet. Though I wasn't watching it at the time, I realize now that it was a tragedy that this show was cancelled.

Space: Above and Beyond (television series)

Despite the fact that it only lasted for a single season, this was a superb science fiction/military drama. It focuses on a squadron of five marines during Earth's first interstellar war with aliens. It is hard-hitting and does an excellent job at showing the emotional and physical effects of warfare. Like Earth 2, it is currently being run on the SciFi Channel.

One of my favorite episodes was on last week. I don't recall the name of the ep, but it follows the Wild Cards (the nickname of the squadron) down to a hotly contested planet, where humanity has been losing a lot of its soldiers. When they arrive, they are immediately fired upon by fellow marines, and are then hit with some form of radiation. You then watch as they begin to tear themselves apart, as the radiation seeps into their minds and brings their deepest phobias to the surface. This episode, despite never once seeing an alien, is as creepy as the best X-files.

Igniting The Reaches - David Drake

Over the years, I've heard good things about David Drake, so I finally picked up one of his books. Perhaps, after all the praise I've heard, I was expecting to much, but this book wasn't as thrilling as I though it would be. It was still an enjoyable book, but it didn't stand out.

The story takes place a thousand years after a large human empire collapsed, almost bringing down humanity in the process. The only place technologically advanced humans survived are on Earth and Venus, and they have only started reaching back out to the stars in the past few decades. The Earth Federation holds claim to most of the one-time empire planets and the technology left behind on them, but the story follows a group of traders from Venus, who use piracy and violence to get the trade goods and technology their Venesian society requires.

This book is the first in a trilogy, so I will be picking up the rest of this series soon. Though the novel did not live up to my expectations, it was interesting, and the combat scenes were vivid.

Earth 2 - Melissa Crandall

I was wandering around, and stumbled across two Earth 2 novels, which I ordered on the spot. The first is a tie-in to the two hour pilot episode, and though it doesn't cover a lot of new ground, it does give each of the characters a lot more development, and adds a few scenes here and there.

Two hundred years in the future, Earth is a polluted wasteland, and humanity lives on a number of space stations. Though life on the stations is of a high quality for most, a growing number of young children are contracting a mysterious illness, which slowly kills them over the first decade of their lives. Though no cause is evident, some doctors speculate that the disease is caused by living for generations on a sterile space station, without fresh air or sunshine.

Devon Adair, a powerful and rich woman whose family designed many of the space stations, has almost accomplished the impossible for her sick son - she has found a new planet to colonize, and is taking several hundred families to establish a new colony on an Earth-like world 22 light years from Earth. She and a small group of colonists and construction personnel head out ahead of the main colony ship to land two years in advance, so they can set up the basics of the colony on New Pacifica.

However, when they get to their new planet, something goes wrong. Everyone on board the advance ship are forced to eject in life-pods, and when they land on the planet, they find that they are halfway across a continent from the colony site and most of their supplies. Thus begins their trek across this new world, a world that is more populated than they expected....

The television series this book comes from is one of the best I've seen in a while, and this novel captures the pilot episode perfectly.

As a side note - I also ordered a CD I found at, called "Earth 2", but when I received it, it wasn't the soundtrack I hoped for. I was hoping that the CD was music from the show, since I really like the opening theme, but the CD actually was a series of relaxation songs that had nothing to do with the series. I'll be sending it back in the next day or two, though I am a bit tempted to listen to it instead, just out of curiosity....

Earth 2 - Puzzle - Sean Dalton

Unlike the previous Earth 2 novel, this one does not reprise an episode of the television series. It creates a totally new story, set about halfway through the one season the show lasted. I really enjoyed this novel.

As the motley crew travels across the planet, they begin to run out of water. However, they have another problem - their maps of the terrain seem to be wrong. The major river they were traveling towards doesn't seem to exist. Just as things begin to look bleak, though, they get readings of water somewhere across a wide valley. As they start across, though, one of the Terrians appears and tells them not to cross the valley, which they discover is currently the location of a major migration of buffalo-like animals.

Desperate for water, they ignore the Terrian warnings, and end up finding a large underground city, abandoned thousands of years ago... a tomb the Terrians appear to consider a holy place.

The author writes the various characters perfectly, and generates an interesting story that adds to the mysteries of Earth 2 wonderfully. Though I have yet to see the second half of the series, this is the first time I know of that we see any alien architecture... any evidence of advanced construction by the natives of the planet.

Star Wars, The Han Solo Trilogy - Rebel Dawn - A. C. Crispin

Telling the story of Han Solo's adolescence and life before the first Star Wars movie, this trilogy has been a very fun read. This final book of the series begins with Han winning the Millennium Falcon from Lando Callrisian in a sabacc tournament, and (somewhat predictably) ends with Han and Chewie in the cantina on Tatooine, as they first meet an old man with a light saber and his young moisture farmer companion. Along they way, you learn how Han looses Jabba the Hutt's shipment of spice, and in the process learn far more than you ever wanted to know about the Hutts.

If you like Star Wars, this is a very fun series to read.

Polymorph - Scott Westerfeld

This is a wonderfully creative and fresh novel. Lee calls herself a "polymorph", a person who can alter their physical form at will. Ever since she was a child, she could change her features, her skin color, even her gender. The process is painful and draining, but it gives her (or him) the ability to constantly re-invent herself (himself) in the dirty slums of near-future New York City.

Then, one evening in a club, Lee meets another polymorph. Suddenly, she learns that she is not alone, that there are others of her kind in the world. However, this first of her kind appears to be psychotic, and much better at the skills of changing than she is. He is the only link she has to others of her kind, but she can't let him accomplish his plans to gain wealth and power....

I picked up this novel because it sounded a little bit like a story idea I've had in the back of my head for a while. It has an interesting plot, and some wonderfully innovative ideas... a very enjoyable first novel from this author. I'm already looking forward to his next one!

The Neutronium Alchemist Part 1: Consolidation - Peter F. Hamilton

The long awaited continuation of the epic begin in The Reality Dysfunction book pair finally continues, and it is ever bit a good as the first part. In the Reality Dysfunction, Hamilton created a complex and detailed future universe that would make and sci-fi writer envious. He then took this universe in a completely unique and unexpected direction.

Now, in the third book in the series, the dead are possessing entire planets across the human universe, while the living are desperately searching for ways stop the invasion. Meanwhile, an exiled scientist who managed to escape her watchers is now on her way to find a weapon of ultimate power to exact a thirty year old debt of vengeance.

This series is without a doubt the most expansive and intriguing epic to be written in years. If you haven't picked it up yet, do so right now. The fourth book is supposed to be out later this year, and the series will be completed with a fifth and sixth book in 1999.

Star Trek TNG - The New Voyages #6 - Fire On High - Peter David

Almost on the heels of book 5, number six appeared in stores. As with the previous books, this one is another fun read.

In Fire On High, we meet Robin Lefler's mother, who Robin had believed dead for a decade. As the USS Excaliber searches for a devastating weapon, Robin must deal with the sour feelings the return of her mother forces her to face.

One thing I like about this series that sets it apart from other Star Trek novels is that this series continues to build on the characters and situations. In the television series based novels, the end of the story always must reset the plot and characters back to the status quo, so as not to conflict with the television adventures. Peter David has no such limitations. Thus, even though books 5 and 6 tell individual stories, the character relationships and dynamics continue to develop through the novels. Relationships started in past books come into conflict in later stories, and the characters change as the series continues.

Eternity Road - Jack McDevitt

This is a brilliant and enjoyable book which takes place hundreds, maybe even thousands of years after our modern society self-destructed in a massive plague. The cities of America are nothing but rusting ruins, and the society of the times is just beginning to recapture the basics of industrialization.

The story begins as a young woman receives a priceless book - a copy of Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court." It leads her and a small band of travelers into the wilderness beyond the boarders of her home in the Mississippi valley, in search of a mythical Haven which is supposed to have preserved the history and literature of the dying world of the "Roadmakers" (as they call their high-tech ancestors).

Along the way, they encounter pirates, animals, and bits of ancient technology that is still active (and which they perceive as ghosts or spirits, rather than human built technology). In fact, much of what makes this book a fun read comes from watching this bank of people try to understand the ancient treasures they stumble across.

Stargate: Reconnaissance - Bill McCay

I was expecting McCay's third Stargate book to be the last, but I was delighted to stumble across a new one. I picked it up and finished reading it by the next day. The novel saga continues!

Using the stargate coordinates Daniel Jackson found at the end of the last book, Daniel manages to find a new planet to settle the several thousand refugees who survived the destruction of Abydos. However, political pressures rush the establishment of the colony, and Jackson is once again stuck between the various factions.

Things get much worse, however, when a small group of deadly cat-like aliens attack the colony while trying to escape through the stargate the colony cut them off from. Furthermore, Jackson and O'Neil find evidence that shows that the cat aliens were one-time servants of Ra's race, long before they began to die out and Ra discovered humanity.

This book builds directly upon the story elements of the previous novels, and the ending of the book leaves no doubt that more books are coming (Yeeha!)

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