Star Trek: Section 31: Control

30753665._sy475_Star Trek: Section 31: Control* by David Mack (website, Twitter, Facebook)

Her Grace’s rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 352 pp

Published by: Pocket Books (30 May 2017)

Section 31, the unethical and ungoverned shadow branch of the Federation, has a longer history than previously known. Dr Julian Bashir and Agent Sarina Douglas uncover a deeply held secret that has followed 31 for its entire existence, some 200 years. They realize it is their best chance to bring down the organization and hold it accountable for the multitude of sins it has committed over the years. With the help of Ozla Graniv, a brave investigative reporter, and a few select old friends, Bashir and Douglas embark on their most dangerous mission to date, determined to bring to an end the unseen agency and its mastermind, a being known only as Control.

This was everything a good Trek novel should be – action, fighting against the odds, a little romance, and plenty of fun technobabble. It’s been really nice seeing the development of Bashir and Douglas over their last few missions and this was a grand culmination of everything they’ve sought to do. I loved seeing Garak again – he’s always a favorite – as well as Data and Lal. I confess I don’t actually like Lal all that much, but she was integral to Bashir’s mission this time and she did a good job with it. I shall have to reread the Cold Equations books again now. 

The exploration of artificial intelligence, though it has been done before, was still interesting in this novel. What was really the best about it is that it digs deep into the utopia of the Federation and destroys it. This was definitely not a terribly feel-good book; it was dark and gritty and felt very real. But, it IS a Star Trek story, so it also had a kernel of hope in the end. I also love that the ending is left open to more exploration of this story line without being a cliffhanger. I don’t think this is it for Bashir. Or I certainly hope it isn’t! 

Overall, this was a fun and fast-paced read that got me through a very long flight with minimal discomfort because it sucked me right into the story. 

Favorite lines (There ARE spoilers!):

  • To excise this cancer from your body politic, all you need to do is kill the body, burn it down to ash, and then resurrect and rebuild it with wiser eyes and a sadder heart.
  • Beliefs are dangerous things, Julian. Once we invest in them, it can be hard to challenge them without invoking cognitive dissonance. 
  • ‘Are you still with me, my dear doctor? … Are you blind to the sight of me? Deaf to the music of my voice?’ … There was naught left for Garak to do now but keep his friend safe, in a clean and well-lit place, and give him whatever time he needed to heal himself – or at least to die in peace, with his last measure of privacy intact and jealously guarded by someone who loved him. [*wibble*]

The Long Mirage

30753726The Long Mirage (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)* by David R. George III (Facebook, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 386 pp

Published by: Pocket Books (pub date)

***Spoilers for this book and previous ones below***

In The Long Mirage, Quark has hired a private investigator to track down Morn, who has been missing for 2 years, since just after the original station Deep Space 9 blew up. Quark would have everyone believe that he misses having his best customer around, and Morn is certainly the 24th century equivalent to Cheers‘s Norm, wordplay on names and everything, but the truth is that Quark just missed his friend and is concerned about him. When the investigator he hired takes off with his latinum, Quark scrambles to track down the investigator as well as Morn. He’s joined by Captain Ro Laren, who is doing some soul searching, deciding whether it is time for her to move on or stay at DS9. 

At the same time, Nog is trying to figure out what is wrong with Vic Fontaine’s holo program, which was saved from the wreckage of DS9 but has been unusable for the most part since. Nog is worried about Vic because the last time he was able to enter the program, he witnessed Vic being kidnapped. Knowing that Vic is self aware and that the program continues running even without anyone else in it, Nog worries that Vic will come to a bad end in the 1960s Las Vegas program. He also has to work against time because he fears not only will the program erode beyond repair, but also there are some who want to fix it by reinitializing the entire program, a move that would reset it back to original specs and wipe out all of Vic’s memories, effectively killing him. Nog’s friend and fellow officer, John Candlewood, helps him sort out the mystery of Vic Fontaine. 

Then there’s Kira Nerys who comes back from the wormhole after being lost and presumed dead for the last two years. She’s been living a whole other life in Bajor’s distant past, but now she’s back with information that could rock Bajor to its core.

I don’t usually care much for the books written by David R George III, and this one was essentially the same. But it was the next Trek book in the stack so I tried to approach it with more of an eye for overarching themes than plot points. That helped, though DRG3 is just not my favorite Trek authors. I don’t know why, it’s just something about his writing I don’t like. In any case, this novel was full of themes of friendship and love, in all their variations. Ro and Quark reflect on their relationship over the past decade and come to a decision a long time in the making. Nog and Candlewood also reflect friendship in the best way – Candlewood simply doesn’t think that Vic is sentient and sees no problem with resetting the program, but he knows Vic is important to Nog, so he does anything he can to help his friend. Quark hands over piles of latinum, something he never thought he would do, to find Morn and make sure his friend is safe. No theme of love would be complete without a triangle of some kind, and we get that as well with the Altek-Ro-Kira saga. No one end up super happy with that one, which is at least believable and realistic.

There is also lots of self reflection and self evaluation throughout. Characters seem unusually able and willing to view their own actions and come to a realization, whether it paints them in a good or bad light, with somewhat unbelievable frequency and ease. I like that some of them do this, but basically every point-of-view character does a lot of navel gazing and figures out things about their own actions which have been less than ideal. I think it was a little too much, though I applaud anyone taking the time to evaluate themselves and make changes to their behavior as needed. I think the debate on Vic’s sentience was rather unnecessary, as well. The sentience of “inanimate” objects, for lack of a better term, has been gone over and over and over with Data, Moriarty, and the Doctor. We get it; they’re sentient. Having that element didn’t add anything and kind of dragged it out more than necessary.

I enjoyed the debate / crisis of faith on Bajor, which resulted from the discovery years before of a new set of holy texts and a hidden temple. These things caused some Bajorans to have a crisis of faith, others to shrug it off, and others still to believe the newly discovered beliefs rather than traditional beliefs. In this, the book mirrored a lot of actual history, recalling elements of the Reformation as well as conflicts between major religious groups. It highlights a lot of politics and religion today, and I thought some of the best sections of the book were included in these discussions.

Overall, I enjoyed this DRG3 novel more than previous ones. Whether I would have anyway or if it’s because of my revised approach to reading it, I don’t know, but I’d say it was a decent addition to the DS9 novels. 

Favorite lines (potential spoilers!):

  • “Debates are loud, and sometimes shrill, with a great deal of talking and very little listening. People demonize each other for differing beliefs. It is both turbulent and disquieting. … I am sad because of what all of this turmoil reveals – namely that there are many believers whose faith is so weak that they fear the falsework because they perceive it as a threat to the foundations of their lives. There is no room in their worldview for growth. They cannot abide change, whether for better or worse.” (135-138)
  • “In my experience,” Altek said, “people are never so threatened as when facts disagree with their deepest held beliefs – religious or otherwise.” (211)
  • “Wanting to cling to my convictions in the face of evidence to the contrary is the product of ego, or arrogance, or possibly just fear.” (215)

*Amazon affiliate link.

Big Damn Hero

38464992Firefly – Big Damn Hero* by James Lovegrove

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 334 pp

Publisher: Titan Books

Year: 2018

Big Damn Hero is the first of a new series of novels based on the awesome and tragically short-lived sci-fi show Firefly. This first book focused primarily on Captain Tightpants himself, Malcolm Reynolds. As always, Mal and the crew of Serenity are hustling for work and they take a job from Badger, their sometime ally and mostly opportunistic small-time crime boss on Persephone. They are to ship some very hinky and hazardous cargo for him. Mal also gets word of a possible side job they could take that is on the way to the drop off point for Badger’s cargo. Being something of an opportunist himself, he goes to meet the contact for this job, only to find it was a set-up and he gets abducted by a band of fringe lunatic former Browncoats. The rest of the crew have to figure out where he is before the Browncoats string Mal up as a traitor to their cause, deliver Badger’s cargo, and evade an Alliance patrol which is suddenly very interested in who might be traveling with Serenity.

This was a very fun book, like being in an episode of Firefly. It had all the shiny slang and random bits of Mandarin thrown in, the same action we have come to expect from the show, and the author clearly is a fan because he nailed all the characters’ voices just about perfectly.

I loved getting some of Mal’s backstory from his growing up years on Shadow. He always said he grew up on a cattle ranch on Shadow but not much more about it than that. I’m a sucker for a good backstory, and while this novel was not that, it still provided a nice glimpse into some aspects of his life that we never really got from the show, with just a couple exceptions. Adding more to the overall mythology of Firefly is always a good thing.

I think the only thing I didn’t care for was how neatly the ending was tied up, but many of the episodes were as well, and I will be a good fan and take Firefly in whatever way I can get it, so the ending didn’t bother me too much. I do think the Browncoats were a little too zealous in their bloodlust and might have given more pause to some things, but then there wouldn’t have been much of a story. I hope so gorram much that there will be books for each of the Serenity crew. It looks like there are books coming up focusing mainly on Jayne (Firefly – The Magnificent Nine) and River (Firefly: Generations), so one can only hope that we get books for Zoe, Wash, Kaylee, Book, Simon, and Inara as well. Especially Zoe because besides River, Zoe is fucking awesome.

There were several lines I loved, but my favorite was in the beginning: Is it a good life or a bad one? The answer doesn’t matter. It’s the only life we have.” Ain’t it just?

*Amazon affiliate link. Help a gal out, eh? 🙂

Headlong Flight

30753771Headlong Flight (Star Trek: The Next Generation)* by Dayton Ward

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 333 pp

Publisher: Pocket Books

Year: 2017

**There be spoilers below!**

Back to their mission of exploring uncharted space, the Enterprise-E is checking out a nebula in the “Odyssean Pass” when they encounter what appears to be a rogue planet. This planet seems to be shifting between dimensions – and scans show it has life signs on it. A message from the planet warns the crew to stay away for their own safety, but Captain Picard wants to help them, so he sends Worf and an away team to the surface to investigate. Of course, because it’s Star Trek and the Enterprise crew is incapable of having a normal day (and there would be no story otherwise), the planet chooses that moment to disappear with Worf and friends on the surface. Whoops. Now Picard and the rest of the crew have to figure out where the planet went (hint: not only is there inter-dimensional traveling, but time traveling as well!), but the planet has attracted the attention of the Romulans, too, who think this would make some shiny technology to bring back home. Only, which time/dimension does this lot call home? I don’t know, it’s a mystery!

This was just a good old fun Star Trek story. It was not a tie in to anything else. It wasn’t part of a grand, multi-novel story arc that you had to read a hundred books before to understand the plot. It didn’t have any bullshit social or feminist issues that make me want to scream like some of the newer Voyager novels. There was a mystery, some technobabble, an away mission gone wrong, and Romulans oh noes! I loved it. I wish all the Trek novels would go back to being just standalone, fun novels, like they used to be waaaaayyyyyyy back when they were still numbered books. I could pick one up and read it and it was like its own episode.

This had everything a good Star Trek book (or episode) should have. Action, a little mystery, and sciencey technobabble. There were parts that made me laugh, and one or two parts that made me nostalgic and a little teary, not gonna lie. Those were wonderful, heady days on the Enterprise-D.

It was interesting to see the differences the Other Enterprise-D took in its timeline. Tasha Yar didn’t die, but instead, Picard himself was lost to the Borg at Wolf-359. Riker was the Enterprise-D’s captain, but his experiences turned him from the confident and happy XO we knew to a somber, self-critical man who constantly second-guesses himself and his worth as captain. It was nice to see how he went from that back to a man more familiar by the end of the book. Similarly, it was also nice to see how Yar might have turned out, still vivacious and brave but more seasoned, if she had lived. It made her death hurt all over again because we got a glimpse of what might have been.

It was also good to see how the two Enterprise crews not only worked together but also with the Sidrac to fix the trans-dimensional shifting and time traveling. In true Starfleet tradition, they even managed to play nice with the Romulans, who initially really did not have any interest in playing nice at all.

Overall, just a fun book, very enjoyable. I wish more of the Trek relaunch novels were like this, just a standalone book.

*Amazon affiliate link. Help a gal out, eh? 🙂 

Fuzzy Nation

12605487Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Wil Wheaton

Source: my own collection

Length: 07:19:00

Publisher: Audible Studios

Year: 2011

Humans have scattered across the galaxy and on the planet Zarathustra, they are mining for sunstones, incredibly rare gemstones. Jack Holloway, independent surveyor and contractor for ZaraCorp, has just discovered a giant seam of sunstones when he accidentally blew the face off a cliff at a survey site. Because of issues with his contract and legal maneuvering, it is unclear whether Holloway or ZaraCorp owns the seam, though the law is leaning in Holloway’s favor. ZaraCorp lawyers and owners are now out to bribe the hell out of Holloway to get him to play nice with them, even though they are willing to do anything to get their hands on that seam, including sabotaging his vehicles and putting his life in danger. If the legal machinations weren’t complicated enough, Holloway encounters adorable, fuzzy creatures on his property. Promptly naming the the Fuzzys, he contacts an old friend of his, who drops the bomb that the Fuzzys may actually be sentient beings. If true, it would mean that ZaraCorp and Holloway himself are invaders on a sovereign planet.

See, here’s the thing that I love so much about good sci-fi. You can read it on its surface, and it’s just a fun story. Fuzzy Nation is a fun story. It has action and creatures and bad guys and good guys (well, they’re all right) and it’s set on not!Earth and all the things the tick the boxes for fun sci-fi. But if you read even a little more deeply, this is also about so much more than just a fun story. There’s corporate greed, environmentalism, racism, and colonialism. Those are just the big ones. I’m sure there are dozens of other issues I could pick out, legalities or the way evidence is handled, for example. But this book tackles corporate greed head on. It shows how so often, giant corporations only seek to increase their own profits and don’t care a thing about the people or communities they disrupt or destroy. Money is the only thing that matters to them. The people in charge see the effects of their actions and decisions and make the decisions anyway, opting for more money instead of morality.

Environmentalism ties in to that, because in their desire to make more and more money, ZaraCorp twisted itself into Gordian knots trying to get around or find loopholes in environmental laws so it could continue to extract the gems. Their nod to keeping the environment healthy is to plant a few puny saplings when they leave a site. To some people, that might seem adequate, rather than leaving a place alone and not mining for a thing that isn’t a necessary commodity in the first place.

The major issues come when the Fuzzys show up. What determines sentience? What makes someone a person? Holloway recognized their intelligence right away, and his friend Isabelle realized they were likely sentient as soon as she saw them. But of course, ZaraCorp and its lawyers and LEOs argued otherwise. They don’t look, act, or, most importantly, talk like humans, so how could they possibly be people? History is riddled with examples of colonization being justified because the invaders were bringing civilization to the savages, who were of course not recognized as fully human because they didn’t look, act, or talk the same way as the invaders did who brought “civilization” with them. What a load of bullshit. But it is the course so much history has taken, and once humans make it to the stars, I can easily see the same thing happening with smaller, less advanced races like the Fuzzys. It will be the Long Walk or the Middle Passage all over again, because humans basically suck.

As a long-time Scalzi fan, I thought this was a terrific read. One of his best? Maybe not. But fun, certainly, and covering a lot of relevant topics. I never read Little Fuzzy, so I can’t compare the two, though in the intro, Scalzi said something about how that book was a product of its time and he wanted to update it. Yay, I guess. I get a little tired of rebooting old things, but since I never read the original, this was new to me so I’m not worn out on it. Whatever, I liked it and thought it was fun and thought-provoking, which is how I like my sci-fi anyway.

Trail of Lightning

36373298Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World) by Rebecca Roanhorse

I read it as a: paperback

Source: library

Length: 287 pp

Publisher: Saga Press

Year: 2018

The ice caps have melted, causing the Big Water. The continents are completely reshaped and billions globally have died. On what’s left of the American continent, the Dine nation has survived, and the gods have returned to the land and walk among humans again. Someone is also creating monsters who are roaming the land, killing innocent people and wreaking havoc and terror. Enter Maggie Hoskie, monsterslayer. She is able to draw on ancient, powerful skills of her tribe, a rare gift, or curse, depending on who you ask. Maggie’s particular skills make her very good at killing, which she uses to kill monsters and Bad Men alike. She soon gets swept up in a job for the trickster Coyote to find a tool that is being used to create the monsters, destroy the person who has it, and prevent the tool from being used to make any more monsters. Maggie is aided by Kai, a young medicine man who has powers far beyond anything she can understand. Maggie has to decide if her skills are the gift Kai says they are or the curse she’s been taught, and whether she is destined to roam the world alone or if perhaps there is room for someone to love a monsterslayer.

NATIVE AMERICAN SCI-FI, you guys!!

This was such a fun book! More than that, it was terrific to see such a rich mythology woven into science fiction. The creation myth of the Dine tribe has been completely reimagined so that the world we live in, the fifth world, is being destroyed and recreated into the sixth world. I loved that Roanhorse used Native mythology in this way. I am somewhat familiar with the Navajo creation story because I teach world mythology, but even if I hadn’t known it, reading this book would have given at least a very brief overview of it, which is great. Various characters from mythology make appearances, most notably the trickster Coyote.

Maggie is an interesting character. She is damaged and uncertain because of her past. She is confident in her skills, but she hates having them. She feels unworthy of being loved, whether as a lover or just as a friend, yet she makes an excellent and loyal friend. Kai is, in many ways, a stereotypical pretty boy – confident, manipulative, and kind when it serves his purpose. Yet he is also complex because his kindness is actually genuine, his confidence is a bit of a disguise, and his manipulation comes at a price. Throughout the novel, the question arises – who are the real monsters? The ones Maggie hunts or is she one of them?

A couple things I do wish the book had are a map with the new continent borders. We get descriptions, but it’s always nice to see it as well. A glossary of the Navajo words would also be super helpful. Mostly, you can figure out the word based on context, but there were a couple that I couldn’t get. Having a glossary is nice to be able to flip back to. A pronunciation guide, if possible, would be even cooler.

I loved this book and can’t wait to read the second one in the series!

Star Trek: Prey: The Hall of Heroes

29430792Star Trek: Prey: The Hall of Heroes by John Jackson Miller

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 387 pp

Publisher: Pocket Books

Year: 2016

The final installment in Miller’s Klingon trilogy was a great read. In this, Korgh’s plotting of nearly 100 years is unraveling around him and he scrambles to keep his plans intact. Starfleet is working closely with an old enemy, Ardra, to find the truthweavers, the illusionists who are responsible for misleading the Unsung as well as a variety of other races. They have also brought the Kinshaya to the brink of war with the Klingon Empire because of Shift, an Orion woman now working with the Breen. Enterprise, Titan, and Aventine and their crews are all working to track the Unsung as well as Korgh’s Phantom Wing, of course not knowing about Korgh’s involvement in any of it. Worf and Kahless are working with the Unsung to help them understand the Klingon way, an act that ultimately brings about redemption in ways none of them anticipate.

This was a fantastic finale to this trilogy. There was a ton of action – space battles! Chases! Hand to hand combat! There was intrigue – Korgh did it! No, Shift did it! Wait, is that Ardra? Maybe she did it! The plot throughout the trilogy was pleasingly complex but not overly convoluted, which I think is a difficult balance to strike. Miller managed it beautifully.

I really loved the theme of honor in this one. It was woven throughout the trilogy, of course, but it came through strongest in this final novel. Is honor something you can really take away from a person? Can you earn it? If someone says you are without honor, can you still act honorably? Is honor something that is innate, regardless of dogma or inculturation? How do you learn about honor if no one is there who can teach you? These issues and more are up to Worf and Kahless to decide as they try to guide the Unsung on a new path to redeem themselves for their past acts.

I had kind of hoped that Sarken would stay with Worf, but the resolution to that was perfect and appropriate. And the last line of the book was killer! I loved it.

On a side note, I eyeball read this but I might pick up the audiobook versions just to show S&S/Pocket Books that there IS a market for full-length Star Trek audiobooks. I’m glad they are starting to get their act together and put out the newer ones but I really wish they’d go back and do some of the older ones in an unabridged edition. If the need a narrator, I volunteer as tribute!

Old Man’s War

51tnlj8xnbl-_sx342_Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: William Dufris

Source: my own collection

Length: 9 h 58 m

Publisher: Macmillan Audio

Year: 2007

In the future, the Colonial Defence Forces don’t want young people with no experience to join up. They are too green, too excitable, too likely to do something stupid. Instead, the CDF takes recruits when they turn 75. They give them a shiny new, genetically enhanced body, teach them how to be soldiers that would be the envy of the most badass Marines or SeALs, or astronauts ever. And then they send them off to the front, where they will do battle with all the aliens in the galaxy who surround all the human colonies, and who want to kill humans, often for food. Neat!

This first entry in Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series is some of the finest sci-fi I’ve read in years. It was full of action, excitement, adventure, and a shit ton of sarcasm. Scalzi is one of the funniest writers around at the moment, and his humor colors nearly every page, from boot camp to even the goriest of battles. Who knew it could be hilarious to read a scene where an entire unit dies but one man, who gets his jaw ripped off and kicks himself in the uvula in the process? I wouldn’t have thought that, but indeed I laughed out loud. It’s either excellent writing, or there’s just something wrong with me. Jury’s still out on that one, I reckon.

The narrator for this was also excellent. I am used to Wil Wheaton narrating Scalzi’s books, but this was read by William Dufris. It was a good choice because he sounds older, or made himself sound older at any rate, than Wil is. He was able to do some terrific crotchety old fart voices, and had a bunch of different voices and accents and overall just really played up the already terrifically fun story.

I have universally loved all of Scalzi’s novels so far, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the Old Man’s War series.