Star Trek TNG: Collateral Damage

ST TNG Collateral DamageStar Trek TNG: Collateral Damage by David Mack (Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaace! And Starfleet HQ in San Francisco

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 368 pp

Published by: Gallery Books (8 Oct 2019)

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

In this installment of the continuing adventures of the Enterprise crew, we find Jean-Luc Picard facing something like a military grand jury to decide whether or not to court martial him for his actions in coercing the Federation’s president to resign. So he and Crusher are on Earth, dealing with lawyers. Yaaay. Meanwhile, Worf is in command of the ship and they take off to answer a distress call from a research base. The base had been attacked by Nausicaans and the dome over the base is melting because of the extreme heat of the sun. Geordi and his engineers have to figure out how to keep the dome intact until the sun goes down, which happens every 6 days by Earth-standard. Throw in some Nausicaans with a planet-killing weapon and a major desire for vengeance, and a man from Enterprise’s past who seems to throw a wrench in every plan and you have yourselves a story.

So Picard is facing the music at SFHQ for his role in the events leading up to President Zife’s forced resignation and subsequent murder. Whoops! That wasn’t very friendly. Of course, Picard mostly gets acquitted, and his lawyer did a good job proving how Picard was not at fault for the actions of his superior officers. However, I had a weird experience while reading this that I never thought I would feel towards Picard. One of the charges against him is sedition. Even though this book was published in 2019, I just now got around to reading it. The sedition element made it more visceral for me, considering the insurrection of January 6, 2021 at the US Capitol. If Picard acted in a manner even remotely similar to the inbred, mouth-breathing, Trump supporting insurrectionists, then he deserves to have the book thrown at him and spend the rest of his life in prison. I cannot recall the events that initially led to him being charged, though I remember being somewhat bored by that particular book. Also, in a way, Picard is like the Trump of Starfleet – he often breaks the rules and sometimes an admiral will yell at him for it, but mostly he gets away with everything. I didn’t like realizing that similarity at all because Picard always acts in the best interest of others, and the orange guy never does. It is still an uncomfortable realization. However, Picard’s lawyer did a good job rehashing things to give a thorough background. It became clear that he was truly unaware of the actions and results of his superiors, that he had been used as a scapegoat, and was subsequently off the hook. But still, I am conflicted about the entire thing. It’s fucked up.

The storylines with Worf and Geordi were classic Trek and a great deal of fun. It shows how much Worf has grown as a person because there were several times when he wanted to rip someone’s lungs out through their spine but he refrained. He even put on his diplomat hat and got two separate peoples to agree to a mutually beneficial arrangement, even though they were bitterly opposed to both the agreement and each other initially. 

Geordi is always a fun character to focus on, and his subplot was no less fun. He gets to save 66,000 people by preventing them from melting! That alone is worth a read. No melting people! 

Throughout both Worf’s and Geordi’s storylines, we get reunited with Thadiun Okona, who made his debut in the TNG episode “The Outrageous Okona” in season two. He’s had an…interesting…couple decades between the events of that episode and the events of this book. Life takes you in some weird directions sometimes. Ask Okona about that. He can tell you. 

It’s been a long time since I read a Star Trek novel, so maybe I’m just out of practice. But this one felt almost like an old fashioned numbered MMP that they used to make for the literary Trekverse. I miss those days bad; each book was a standalone story similar to an episode, not one part of a giant story arc where you’re completely lost if you miss reading a book. I get really tired of that kind of story, to the point where I am thinking maybe I won’t bother buying new Trek books unless they really are standalones. I also think the books should be canon. When we’ve gone years and years without any new Trek series and all we had were the books, it is kind of jarring when the new shows don’t align with the stories we’ve been given in prior years via the novels. The authors are all extremely well-versed in Trek lore, they’re not just making up random crap, so it just seems like the novels ought to be considered canon.

Anyway, this was a pretty fun book and it was good to see some other characters who’ve made appearances in the Trekverse at one time or another. 

Ready Player Two

Ready Player TwoReady Player Two by Ernest Cline (Website)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: mid-21st century Columbus/ the OASIS virtual reality

I read it as a(n): I switched back and forth between audiobook and hardback

Narrator: Wil Wheaton

Source: my own collection / Xmas gift (hardcover)

Length: 370 pp/ 13:46:00 hours

Published by: Ballantine Books (24 Nov 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ready Player Two is the continuation of Cline’s earlier novel, Ready Player One. It picks up just a couple years after the end of RP1 and shows how Wade Watts (Parzival); his best friend, Helen Harris (Aech); Samantha Cook (Art3mis); and Akihide Karatsu (Shoto) have come along since Wade won the hunt for Halliday’s Easter Egg in RP1. The four are now the governing board of the company that created and runs the OASIS, the virtual reality software that basically everyone on Earth uses to get away from the shitty existence of reality. Added in to the mix now is a new technology hidden in Halliday’s inventory that makes it so there is no distinction between the OASIS and the real world. This time, however, flaws in the system have the potential to become fatal. Wade et al. are now on another quest to find another sort of Easter Egg that which will either bring everything back to normal or result in the deaths of millions of OASIS users. 

RP2, though not as good as RP1, was a fun read. I liked the way the four friends had grown and evolved since they won Halliday’s fortune. Not all was peachy between them. Wade and Samantha had fallen in love but then broke up prior to the beginning of this book. She felt he was going in a wrong direction and stuck to her guns and in the end, it wasn’t a relationship they could sustain. Wade was well on his way to becoming another Halliday – addicted to the OASIS, in VR far more than the real world, growing further away from his humanity. Aech and Shoto were still close with Wade but even among them, things were tense. 

In RP1, there was a theme of the benefits of technology. It could help people escape from otherwise unbearable lives, children could attend free virtual school in a safe environment, and it allowed the economy and trade to flourish. In RP2, we saw the other side of the coin. Yes, technology can be shiny. It can also ruin lives, friendships, and result in global catastrophe if it all goes sideways. I like that this aspect was explored in more depth. Our current plugged-in society could stand to pump the brakes a bit.

There was a fair amount of character growth, mostly for Wade. Of all the group, I think he was the one who was the most in need of some self-reflection and change. As I said, he was like a mini-Halliday – socially backward, hooked on tech, and possibly allowing his new wealth to change him in ways he never expected. It was good to see him get over himself. 

Samantha, too, grew as a person, learning how to go with the flow a little better and compromising when it was necessary. Before, she was more of a control freak and didn’t have a good ability to compromise, which made her character sometimes come across as shrill and demanding. She was right, though. 

There were still plenty of ‘80s references in RP2 to make people of my generation happy. Overall, it was a fun, fast read and I recommend it to other sci-fi fans and children of the ‘80s who are, like me, bitter that we’re not living on the moon by now.

Star Trek Picard: The Last Best Hope

The Last Best Hope (Star Trek: Picard #1)

Star Trek Picard: The Last Best Hope by Una McCormack (Website, Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaace!

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 322 pp

Published by: Gallery Books (11 Feb 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Last Best Hope is the story of the mission Jean-Luc Picard led to evacuate Romulans from their home world and nearby planets when their sun went supernova. It is the prequel that forms the foundations of the Star Trek: Picard series. On its surface, it is the story of how one of the most beloved figures in all of science fiction ended his career. Digging deeper, it examines some of the darker aspects of humanity that we all carry.

I confess that I didn’t like the first season of STP very much. I only watched the season once and didn’t care at all for, well, most of it. Not because it wasn’t just TNG rebooted. I neither wanted nor expected that. I think it’s mostly that I didn’t recognize the characters in it. They were too changed, too damaged. I went into this book hoping it would help me like the show better, especially since McCormack is one of my favorite Trek authors.

I suppose it did that. I can understand how it would completely fuck with you to be put in command of THE biggest humanitarian mission in history, only for it to fail. And to fail largely because of politics? Adding insult to injury. Star Trek has always been political. It’s one of the many things I love about it. The Picard series, and this book, are no exceptions. The difference this time is that the politicians here are truly awful, with not the remotest veneer of idealism that they portray in the series. The political leaders of the Federation in this book are concerned with optics, with PR, with the cost to themselves. Councilor Quest is repugnant. She represents, to me, the worst of certain American political parties. I won’t say which but it starts with an R and ends with -epublican. Nationalism and only looking after one’s own interests is such bullshit and yet it’s on the rise. This book takes a look at the potential impact of nationalism, distanced through the lens of sci-fi. There were lots of oblique references to the Trump administration, trumpism, and nationalism. I’m so fucking glad he’s out of office and fuck anyone who gave this book a lower review just because it rightly was critical of those kinds of politics. We should take care of everyone, not just those in our immediate circle.

Picard, in TNG, is an idealist and a compassionate man. But he’s tempered with logic and pragmatism as well. Picard here gets so involved in the mission to save the Romulans that he becomes pretty myopic in his determination to fulfill the mission. If millions and millions of lives were in my hands, I probably would be myopic about my job, too (Actually, no, you could just put me in a padded room and have done with it if that task fell to me). I know some readers felt this Picard was a bit too starry-eyed, almost naive especially with regards to political machinations, but I felt that he was throwing himself headlong into the ideals of what Starfleet stood for. His doing so is the only way I can see to really explain his utter disenchantment with the fleet when the Romulan star blows and he fails in his mission. If he hadn’t been so involved, maybe more of his pragmatism would have prevailed and he would have been able to remain in the service. He still would have been horrified and grief-stricken at the loss of life, but he could have taken that extra distance to realize it was a futile effort from the start and to celebrate the lives they WERE able to save. But he wasn’t, and didn’t, and so railroaded his career, thus setting up the premise for the TV series. 

I do wish there had been more detail from the planets. We got some, but it would have made the story more visceral if we had seen more scenes from Romulus, the effect the supernova had on the citizens. What scenes we do get felt rushed a bit, more told than shown. Not that I want vivid descriptions of dying and suffering people. But it would have been just that much more depth to the story. 

And, maybe not super relevant to the story, but I thought Maddox/Jurati was gross. I can’t remember how her character was in the show so maybe McCormack picked up on something from that and ran with it. But Jurati in this novel was like everything I wouldn’t want to be as a woman. Yes, it’s rad she has a doctorate in robotics and is whip smart. I love that part about her. But she acts like a submissive, insecure little mouse who is desperate for Maddox’s approval, which makes her come off as pathetic. It’s such a big dichotomy, and unlike most of the other women in Star Trek that McCormack has written, and I haven’t figured out why it exists. 

Rereading what I just wrote, it sounds like a negative review. It absolutely is not. I loved this book, but I hated a lot of the people in it. I think that’s a sign of good writing, to make me hate a thing about a figure I’ve loved for the majority of my life, or to hate elements of the society I grew up watching and hoping to achieve in reality. I unreservedly recommend this book, especially if you haven’t yet seen the Picard series. It fills in a lot of gaps in the Picard series. I think it will be a good book to help build the Picard series canon. 

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

  • He turned to the helm. 

“Lieutenant Miller…”

“Go on,” Raffi whispered. “They’re dying for you to say it.”

And why not?

“Engage!” (p 55)

  • The admiral shrugged. He had never seemed so French. “Better to ask forgiveness than permission, Raffi.”

“I’ll look forward to using that on you one day,” she said.

“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t.” (p 115)

  • “Who knows. An encounter with Beethoven might be the making of the man.”

“It might do something to him. Jeez, though, this might backfire. He might make us listen to Romulan indeterminate polyphony.” (p 130)

  • Mistakes are, after all, how we learn. (p 143)
  • “Warrior nuns. Romulan warrior nuns. You know, Raffi, I am grateful.”

“Grateful?”

“That the universe can still delight me.” (p 154)

  • “Story?”

“A fiction. A tale. Something made up.”

“A lie?” The boy looked puzzled.

“No,” said Picard gently. “A human way of telling certain truths.” (p 158)

  • “Tell a lie often enough, someone will believe it.”

“It’s worse than that, Kirsten. Tell a lie often enough, and it stands a good chance of becoming the truth.” (p 214)

  • Just a general comment that I thoroughly approve of Star Trek finally embracing the word fuck, as well as many others. To quote Tilly, this is so fucking cool.

Star Trek Discovery: Die Standing

STD Die StandingStar Trek Discovery: Die Standing by John Jackson Miller (Website, Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaace! And some alien planets!

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 403 pp

Published by: Gallery Books (14 July 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

***Probably spoilers for at least season 1 of Discovery, in case someone hasn’t seen it yet.***

Die Standing recounts the events and actions of Emperor Philippa Georgiou between season 1 of Discovery and season 2 where she shows up as a Section 31 agent. Now that she’s been brought into the Prime Universe – against her will by Michael Burnham – Georgiou needs something to do. She’s recruited by Leland for Section 31 after she escapes from Qo’nos, where she was kept by L’Rell after her role in ending the Federation/Klingon War. Turns out that threatening to blow up the entire planet a) had a peacekeeping effect and b) wasn’t well-received by the Klingons. Or the Federation. However, the mission Leland sends her on, which is to track down the source of a mysterious menace that kills indiscriminately, is a test to see how she will react under pressure and under orders. Do you think that went well for Leland? If you said no, you are absolutely right!

Georgiou learns that the thing she is trying to find, a cloud-organism, can be used as a superweapon. She decides to use everything at her disposal, including a doppelganger of her assassin in the Mirror Universe and a young Emony Dax, to attain the weapon for herself and recreate her lost empire. She’s having some difficulty accepting that Lorca’s rebellion overthrew her in her universe and now she has some things to work through. In the end, though, the Prime Universe is wearing off on her and Georgiou eventually works with Dax not only to contain the superweapon but also to stop a dangerous citizen from forming a small empire of his own.

So I love Emperor Georgiou. She has zero fucks to give and she’s not shy about telling you what she thinks. She’s ruthless and scary but sometimes she does the right thing, so she has a whole potential redemption arc available. I can’t wait for the Section 31 series. I suspect she will keep them on their toes.

It was cool to see a Dax in this story as well. Here, the Trill have not yet shared that they are a joined species. Emony actively seeks to hide the fact that she is host to a symbiont. That approach was taken for a couple Trek episodes, including TNG’s “The Host.” The Trill kept it secret for a long time and it was only later, in the 24th century, that it became widely known that many individual Trill are hosts to symbionts. Their secrecy was absolutely exploited by Georgiou, because of course she figured out that Emony Dax was a joined Trill. She knows things you don’t want her to know. So it was fun to see how that part of Trill society was hidden, particularly since many of us are so familiar with and fond of Jadzia Dax and Ezri Dax. 

The character of Finnegan was also a fun addition. In the MU, he was Georgiou’s favorite henchman. He’d been lobotomized and would kill on command for her. In the Prime Universe, he was a scrappy guy who enjoyed a good barroom brawl as much as anyone but was basically kind. Definitely not a killer type. He had a long history with Admiral Cornwell, who also made several appearances. I like her character immensely. It would be awesome if someone wrote a novel of her story, including her ties to Lorca. They clearly went to the Academy together and were friends with benefits. I’d love to know that whole story.

Anyway, the entire novel was interesting in that it played on the idea of personality and redemption. Can an evil MU emperor be good? Can a good person from the Prime turn evil? Under what circumstances for each? Examining moral ambiguity and the nature of humanity is a classic Trek pastime, and JJM did a fabulous job with it. He is becoming one of my favorite Trek authors. He really captured Georgiou’s tone throughout and was quite funny at times. More, please.

Star Trek Discovery: Dead Endless

ST Disco Dead EndlessDead Endless by Dave Galanter (Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: the mycelial network, mostly

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 342 pp

Published by: Gallery Books (17 Dec 2019)

Her Grace’s rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

**Spoilers abound!**

Discovery receives a distress call, which is not anything out of the ordinary for a Starfleet vessel. What is unusual is that it originates from within the mycelial network, the subspace domain Discovery can navigate briefly, but not endure for long, thanks to Lt. Paul Stamets and the spore drive he created. The crew responds to the distress signal and gets stuck in the mycelial network as a result. While there, the ship’s store of spores and the forest from which the crew harvests them disappears. Without the spores, there is no way for Discovery to return to normal space, and staying in the mycelial network will kill them sooner rather than later. The crew has to decide whether or not to trust someone who seems to be a human even though he was living in the network, or figure out if he’s an alien who intends to use Discovery’s spores to escape from the mycelial network at any cost.

This was a really unique story. At first, I was totally lost because the earliest references to “the captain” were vague. Is it Gabriel Lorca? Christopher Pike? It is only quite a bit later that we learn the captain refers to Michael Burnham. Of course, that sets off a whole other host of confusions because Burnham was never a captain, of Discovery or any other ship. Eventually, we learn that it IS Burnham but the setting is an alternate universe from either the Prime timeline or the Mirror Universe which we have seen in the show itself. I thought this was a great way to tell this story since it places the narrative within familiar territory – the ship itself with all the same characters – but in such a way that it doesn’t interfere with potential future canon. 

I enjoyed the mystery of how the spores were disappearing. Often, I don’t care one way or another for new aliens we meet in the books, but I really liked the Maligonq folks in this story. It was fun to see the Starfleeters knocked down a peg or two by being considered the far less advanced society of the two! 

Yes, a fun plot (once you figure out what the hell is happening) and fun aliens, but what really shines about this novel is the relationship between Stamets and Culber, and the interplay of those two characters with the rest of the crew. Galanter nailed their voices, especially Stamets’s. The whole idea of their relationship is beautifully written and shows a side of these men we can infer but do not always see in the show. It is a love story like any other, which is partly the point. In the future which Star Trek envisions, straight, gay, nonbinary, whatever is all fine, it just is love between people and that is all that matters. 

There is also an underlying theme about missed opportunities and the roads not taken. I thought it was so bittersweet that the Stamets we see in this story is NOT our Stamets in the Prime timeline. It IS Prime Culber who was trapped in the network, and who is eventually rescued in the show. But here, he encounters Stamets as he was early in their marriage, not a man who became bitter from watching his life’s work get conscripted into wartime use. The other Stamets is a kind and funny person, if somewhat irritable, partly because in his universe, there was never a Battle of the Binaries, no Klingon War. Burnham didn’t mutiny but instead became Discovery’s captain after Lorca moved on. Culber is trapped, he thinks, in this new alternate timeline and is torn because this new Stamets is more like the man he originally married and he wants to stay with him. But there is already a Hugh Culber in this timeline serving on another ship, and he feels too that staying with this Stamets would be the same as cheating on his spouse. Of course, Stamets recalls his universe’s Culber because their initial encounter with Hugh humming Casseelian opera ended with them calling each other an asshole and never meeting again. Stamets learns what he was missing out on for all those years he and Hugh could have been together. By the time he realizes it, it’s too late and Culber is drawn back into the network and is beyond reach. Like I said, missed chances. It ends on a very hopeful note, though, not as melancholy as it could have been.

I definitely recommend this one. It’s funny, too, that it is the first Discovery novel that’s actually set primarily on the titular ship. All the other ones before it were prequels and had nothing, if anything, to do with the ship itself. Those focused all on the characters, which is also just fine with me. The ship doesn’t have to be the setting to make a Disco novel, though I get why some readers were a little put off by that. ANYWAY. Read this book. Some of my favorite lines are below. It will be interesting to hear what some of your favorite lines are.

Favorite part/ lines:

    • On a scale of zero to Vulcan, it’s a Tilly, so…draw your own conclusions (10).
    • “Is sarcasm terminal?” “Yours is chronic” (36).
    • “You know,” Burnham said as they walked through, “my mother had a solution for tense situations. … She told me that there was nothing wrong with being nervous. Nerves remind us we’re alive. Nerves tell us we’re in pain, or when we’re experiencing pleasure, or when we’re in danger. It’s an important part of who we are” (78).
  • “I never want to hurt anyone. Like any living entity, I have instincts and I reacted.” “Do you know what those instincts are?” Chittering thoughtfully, Ephraim seemed uncertain. “I suppose only once they come into use.” “I guess that true of us all.” Ephraim’s mouth puckered and he radiated happiness again. “Then I am a people?” Smiling slightly, Culber nodded. “You certainly are to me.” 
  • “Is he pink?” Breytik asked Burnham. “He’s very pink.” He turned back to Stamets. “You’re very pink.” “Thank…you?” “I hope you feel better soon,” the Maligonq told him, just above a whisper.

***N.B.: As I was Googling to find the URL for Galanter’s various sites, I stumbled across an announcement from earlier this month. Galanter posted a long, beautiful, and sad note on his social media sites telling us that he was diagnosed a year ago with late-stage cancer of the bile ducts. His doctors now predict he has 3-6 months left to live, with the note that it is probably closer to three. This is supremely sad news and I wish Galanter and his family and friends a gentle time. For the full post, please view Galanter’s Twitter.

Star Trek Discovery: The Enterprise War

Discovery The Enterprise WarThe Enterprise War by John Jackson Miller (Website, Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaaace! 

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 420 pp

Published by: Gallery Books (30 July 2019)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

So you know how season two of Discovery says the Enterprise was ordered to sit out far away during the Klingon War? This story fills in what they were doing during that time. 

Christopher Pike and the crew of Enterprise are on a year-long mission to the Pergamum nebula, a dense cloud of plasma that wreaks havoc on the ship. While exploring, they encounter a ship called Boundless, which is run by a crew kidnapped from various species and forced to work together in the Boundless’s war against the Rengru. The crew of Enterprise is on a survey of a nearby icy moon when they are attacked. Enterprise is damaged and Pike orders an emergency saucer separation, leaving the stardrive damaged in space and the saucer spinning out of control to who knows where. The survey crews, thought to have been killed in the Boundless’s attack, are conscripted into military duty against the Rengru. Pike and Number One have to reunite their ship and then figure out how to reunite their scattered crew before they become victims of a war that is not their own.

This was a really fun Trek novel. Some of the novels lately, across all the various series, have been a little slow. This one read like an old fashioned Star Trek episode. Lots of exploring, plenty of humor, and Battles in SpaaaaaceTM. The way the Rengru were described made me think they were space-capable pillbugs. Kinda icky and with too many legs. The crew of Boundless and all her sister ships is like the Breen, one cohesive nation made up of disparate species. 

At its heart, this novel was an essential Star Trek story – the crew overcoming obstacles, learning new things, and helping others to attain peace and understanding. The chief engineer, who is decidedly not Scotty, is a genius on paper but an absolute moron in practice, so they’re kind of screwed when the ship gets wrecked. The commander of the Boundless has been fighting a war that she inherited from her forebears and they no longer know why. 

My only quibble is that the ending was a little too tidy, but it was just untidy enough to be acceptable. I also tend to vacillate between being super lenient and super picky about my Star Trek books; sometimes I expect them to be of the highest caliber and have complex plots dealing with a shitload of ethical issues, and sometimes I just want to be entertained by characters I know and love. This fell somewhere in the middle of that. 

Enthusiastically recommended!

Favorite part/ lines:

  • I LOLed at how stupid Baladon’s crew was. For example, “You are all equally incompetent. You function together as parts of a machine that does absolutely nothing. When the end comes, I will be able to say with pride: each crewmember aboard brought me to it.” Several on the bridge erupted in self-congratulatory cheers. 
  • “Need more torpedoes.” 
  • (After a nasty battle) Raden’s eyes opened a fraction. Woozy, he does Pike and mumbled, “Did…I leave…a mark?” “Your head will be fine,” Pike said. “We’ll get you help.” “I mean…did I leave one…on the bulkhead?”
  • “We don’t even tell our own people, because it’s too horrible. The Rengru inject feeding tube into the backs of their victims’ necks – and devour their brains. Then they implant their young in the empty skulls!” “Wouldn’t it make more sense if they implanted the young first and let them devour the brains?” Pike looked around to his crew. “I mean, I’ve heard some scary monster stories in my day, and what really sells them is logic. … Now, Vulcans – you’d think they’d be great at writing horror.”

Kindred

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Genre: let’s call it magical realism

Setting: 1976 and the antebellum South

I read it as a(n): kindle book

Source: my own collection

Length: 287 pp

Published by: Beacon Press (1 June 1979)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Dana is a modern young Black woman, married to a white man called Kevin, and they are both authors. They have recently purchased their first real home together and are in the middle of unpacking when Dana feels dizzy and falls to the ground. When the dizziness passes, she finds herself outside and hears a child yelling for help. Since Dana isn’t a dick, she rushes to help and ends up saving a young boy named Rufus from drowning. The boy’s father comes across them and, thinking Dana is trying to harm his son, aims a rifle at her. Dana is then transported back to her home, soaking wet and covered in mud from her rescue efforts. 

Over the next few weeks, Dana finds herself inexplicably called back to what she learns is the antebellum South, to a plantation with slaves. Somehow, anytime Rufus is in mortal danger, he pulls her back in time to him, completely unintentionally. Dana learns that Rufus is one of her ancestors and she has to keep saving him until he is able to father the child who is her direct ancestor. Each time Dana goes back, she stays longer and the trip is more dangerous for her. She eventually figures out that when she herself fears for her life, she is able to return to her own time, which is moving more slowly than the past. Dana spends hours, days, and months in the past and yet her own time period only moves forward by a few minutes or days even for her longest period spent in the past. Dana has to learn how to survive in a harsh past, retain Rufus’s trust enough that he doesn’t harm her himself just because he can, and keep her husband Kevin safe during her travels as well. 

This story was a difficult and yet un-put-downable read. Difficult because of the subject matter but a very fast and engaging read. Even though it was written in 1979, there was not actually much reference to technology so it didn’t feel dated. In fact, it could have been written this year and would have been hailed as a timely discussion on race relations and equality, given the ongoing protests surrounding police brutality towards Black people. It was a horrifying read as well because it explores topics such as slavery, which is to be expected from the book’s premise. What was worst, though, was Dana’s thoughts on how easy it can be to become accustomed to injustice. The discussion of racism was deep and explored some of the ways in which it has become institutionalized in America even today. Some scenes reminded me of part of Angie Thomas’s novel The Hate U Give where Starr and her brothers received “the talk” from their parents. Not the sex talk, but the talk about what to do and how to act if and when they are stopped by a police officer. The fact that such talks are considered a necessary part of parenting for so many people is heartbreaking, and Butler’s novel shows readers partly why that has come to be. 

Dana adapted fairly quickly to her new environment, not because she was somehow weak or didn’t resist hard enough, but because she had to adapt or die. Part of the discussion on how quickly Dana had to adapt to slavery conditions was also the sense of mutual obligation between many of the characters. They all tried to look out for each other and take everyone’s well being into consideration, even if it was sometimes to their own detriment. But parents, for example, would do whatever was necessary to spare their children and to keep them with them rather than being sold to different places far away. I can understand that; there is nothing I wouldn’t do to keep my daughter safe with me in those conditions. Despite Dana’s ability to adapt quickly to her new circumstances, she was not spared from being on the receiving end of some awful abuse, and she lived in constant fear of being sold to a plantation further south that was notorious for its truly brutal conditions. A modern person worrying about being sold – if that doesn’t absolutely horrify you, then you must be part of the problem.

Part of the discussion on adapting is, I think, the ways Dana and the other Black characters view Tom Weylin and Rufus. Tom initially appears to be brutal, every bit the worst of the stereotypical slave owner. As the novel progresses, how he is viewed doesn’t change so much to liking him as to seeing how he is more or less a fair man operating within the social constructs of his time period. He is a hard man and sometimes does cruel things, but he is doing what is allowed for him to do and doesn’t really step out of those bounds, as disgusting as they are to our modern sensibilities. Similarly, with Rufus, he seems to grow up to take after his father in most ways, except that he is in love with Alice, and his father never would have loved a slave. Use her body, yes, but love her, no. Dana is able to forgive Rufus for so many wrongs, and he actually seems to do worse things than his father ever did. He makes overt threats to Dana, lies about sending her letters to Kevin when he got trapped in the past, and is a volatile drunk. His father at least never seemed to let himself get out of control like Rufus does. In many ways, Rufus is a pitiable character, largely lacking in understanding, empathy, or willpower. To be fair, though, I’d probably be blind fucking drunk all the time if I had to live in the South at that time of history. In any case, the way Dana and the other Black characters view the Weylins very much makes me think of Stockholm Syndrome. Maybe they were just as awful as one thinks they were but the effect was lessened over the course of the novel by the psychological impact of being held against their will, malnourished, beaten and whipped, and worked until they dropped.

Normally, I don’t care much for first-person perspective in novels. But I think first-person is the only way this novel could be as powerful as it was. If Dana hadn’t been the narrator, if we had a third-person POV instead, it would have created a distance between the characters, events they went through, and the reader; the situations she went through would not have been as visceral an experience for readers and thus the discussions on various issues would not have been as effective.

The title itself is a stark reminder that being related to a person doesn’t always mean they are your family. There’s a big difference between relatives and family. Rufus and Dana are related to one another. They have a sense of mutual obligation to each other, though an admittedly lop-sided one. But they are in no way family as I would define it. So that makes an interesting contrast throughout the book, especially when you consider Dana and her husband’s relationship, and her relationship with the slaves. She seems much closer to them than to Rufus, her actual relative. Similarly, her marriage to Kevin is illegal in the past and, I would imagine, is seen as at least odd in 1976. I don’t think interracial marriages were very well tolerated at the time. 

In any case, this was a terrific read, if difficult at times because of the things that happened to people. I definitely recommend it to any fans of timeslip, sci-fi, magical realism, or antebellum history. 

All Systems Red (MurderBot Diaries #1)

All Systems Red MurderBot coverAll Systems Red by Martha Wells (Website, Twitter, Insta, Facebook)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a: paperback

Source: library

Length: 144 pp

Published by: Tor.com (pub date)

I read this as part of a reading challenge and was delighted by it. A group of scientists are on an unnamed and unpopulated planet to do surveys for possible future colonization. Per company policy, they are required to have a SecUnit with them, a sentient artificial life comprised of organic and mechanical components. Its job is to provide security to the humans in the group. When they discover that another survey group on the other side of the planet is not responding to communication, they take SecUnit with them to investigate. There, they learn that that group’s SecUnits have gone rogue and killed all the humans they were supposed to protect. What none of them anticipates is that the SecUnits were hacked by a group that wants the humans on this planet dead so they do not discover an area of huge importance. 

This was a super fun read. I LOVED SecUnit, who had secretly hacked its own governor software so that it was fully independent and sentient. It calls itself MurderBot, because that is what it thinks it is best at. MurderBot is totally introverted and socially awkward, so right away I bonded with it. I love that a robot or synthetic lifeform is anything less than perfect, and in such a realistic way. It hates talking face to face with humans and it just wants to be left alone when not on duty; when on duty, it just wants to do its job and also be left alone. Me, too, MurderBot. Me, too. 

This was really a story about what it means to be human. MurderBot is one of the most human characters in the story, and really in many other things I have read recently. 

I think I might have to buy these for my own collection rather than getting them from the library. I just really enjoyed it.

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

  •  Yes, talk to Murderbot about its feelings. The idea was so painful I dropped to 97 percent efficiency. 
  • I thought it was likely that the only supplies we would need for DeltFall was the postmortem kind, but you may have noticed that when I do manage to care, I’m a pessimist.
  • What was I supposed to do, kill all humans because the ones in charge of constructs in the company were callus? Granted, I liked the imaginary people on the entertainment feed way more than I liked the real ones, but you can’t have one without the other.
  • …Dr. Mensah, my favorite human.

Catch-Up Round: ALL the Star Trek

42853106._sx318_Star Trek Prometheus: The Root of All Rage  by Christian Humberg and Bernd Perplies 

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Alec Newman

Source: my own collection

Length: 08:57:00

Published by: Titan Books (22 Aug 2016)

In this second instalment, the Prometheus is still in the Lembatta Cluster, exploring the strange region of space that is home to the terrorist organization called the Purifying Flame. Something in the region is having a profound effect on the inhabitants there, including the crews of the Prometheus and the Klingon ship Bortas. Local radiation is causing crew members with telepathic abilities to lose their minds, and other crew are feeling hyper-aggressive. The Purifying Flame wants to start a galactic war, which the Federation is trying to prevent and the Klingons seem to desire. 

As with the first book in this trilogy, the second, The Root of All Rage, has some interesting elements to it. I thought it was a little more actiony in terms of Star Trek plotlines. However, it still dragged that plot out too long. There are very obvious analogies to modern-day terrorism that got a bit heavy-handed the longer the book went on. It also still employs a LOT of what feels like very racist language. People are judged based on what they look like and are called red-skin murderers and so forth. It is not in keeping with what Star Trek is about. Including things like that just to allow characters to overcome their prejudices is a lazy way to write and I expect better from Star Trek. 

 

42604905._sy475_Star Trek Prometheus: In the Heart of Chaos by Christian Humberg and Bernd Perplies 

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Alec Newman

Source: my own collection

Length: 09:59:00

Published by: Titan Books (19 Sept 2016)

In this last instalment, the crews of the Prometheus and Bortas are working to restore peace to the Lembatta region, which was impacted by a radiation that makes everyone violent. While the two crews work together, they are trying to trace a secret weapons facility but find instead that an old being from their past is behind the cycle of violence. Now they have to refocus their efforts to stop it from perpetuating violence throughout the quadrant.

Finally! The last book of this trilogy. I’m so glad it’s over. This whole story really didn’t need three books to be told. It dragged out way too long in places, and I think with better writing and editing, it could have been told in one long book, or perhaps a shorter duology. Honestly, I stopped listening to a lot of this since it was fairly repetitive. 

It got old real quick to have more famous Trek characters making cameos or having a role here at all. It felt like it was an afterthought, adding in things fans love because the rest of the plot was lacking. And as I mentioned in my reviews of the other two books in the trilogy, enough with the weird, racist comments. Constantly describing people solely by their looks – his bright blue skin, his jet black hair, his glowy eyes – got really tiresome. Yes, many being in the Trekverse are described by how they look, but in other authors’ hands, it is merely an observation and doesn’t come across as a character assessment based on those looks. 

I regret using Audible credits and my own cash to get these. I wouldn’t recommend it, and if you must read them, don’t waste your money – just pick it up at the library. 

 

41058420._sy475_Star Trek TNG: Available Light by Dayton Ward 

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as an: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 368 pp

Published by: Gallery Books (9 April 2019)

This novel continues the plot that has taken over most of the TNG relaunch books, and much of the relaunch books across Trek series overall. In the fallout from Ozla’s explosive reporting of Section 31 and the multitude of ways in which the rogue agency has influenced the events of the Federation, the President has ordered a complete dismantling of 31 and the arrests of its operatives. It is a far-reaching system and players include Admirals Ross, Nechayev, and Nakamura, as well as Capt Jean-Luc Picard. Attorney General Philippa Louvois is in charge of leading the investigation into the charges against 31 operatives. Meanwhile, exploring in the Odyssean Pass, the Enterprise crew encounters a massive, ancient spaceship. They are on board trying to discover where it came from when a ship full of basically space pirates comes along and claims the derelict ship as their own. This triggers the ship to come to life in some new and surprising ways, including taking Tryssa Chen and a boarding party from the pirate ship into the lost depths of the massive ship. 

It sounds a lot more interesting than it really was. I was about 75% of the way through this before I felt it started picking up the pace. Overall, it was an unexpected disappointment. I felt like the A Plot was too drawn out and, frankly, done before, and the B Plot was more interesting and should have been the A Plot. I saw one reviewer who commented that it felt like DRGIII had made a guest writing appearance, which isn’t a good thing. As it was, it was really truncated by comparison to what it could have been. Maybe the next book will have more on the 31 trials and so forth. Right now, the Trek books that are winning for me are ones by Una McCormack and the Discovery novels, mostly because Discovery is still new and exciting and hasn’t been done to death yet. 

Architects of Infinity

Architects of Infinity book coverArchitects of Infinity by Kirsten Beyer 

Her Grace’s rating:  out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as an: mass market paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 388 pp

Published by: Pocket Books (27 March 2018)

**Spoilers ahead!**

In Architects of Infinity, the Full CIrcle fleet is dying for some down time. When they discover a planet covered with biodomes and a wholly new element, Adm. Janeway decides this would be the perfect spot to give the crews some shore leave. Teams comprised of officers who normally don’t interact very much are assigned to the surface to do various experiments and research and still enjoy the pure and uncontaminated areas within the biodomes. The mystery of who built the biodomes and where they went is irresistible to the crews of the fleet. However, the mystery soon becomes rife with danger, placing every crew member in peril.

This was a fun and exciting story overall. I enjoyed seeing the interaction of the various ships’ crews who normally don’t interact a lot. I think that was a good idea for Chakotay to send them off in neat little groups like that. I think everyone learned a lot, which was the point. It was also cool that they discovered a brand new element and dubbed it Sevenofninonium. LOL. 

It was a little disappointing that we never figured out or met the people who created the biodomes were, not really. The whole point of that particular plot seems to have been that there are or were people out there even more advanced than the Federation, Borg, or Krenim, and that the Federation isn’t ready for this kind of tech. OK. That was a long book to read for just that. 

I did not like that a major plot point, the evolution of Starfleet officers as individuals and as units within the fleet, were really glossed over. A big component was that the lower decks crew often feel overlooked or devalued because they were not part of Voyager’s original crew that was stuck in the Delta Quadrant for seven years. I can see how that might happen, or how it might at least seem like it happens, but other than some grumbling amongst themselves, and one conversation about it to a command officer at the end, nothing at all is done to address this topic. Did Devi learn from her actions? Did the command staff figure out they need to let the junior officers learn and do things and receive the same respect as original Voyager crew? We didn’t get to find out. 

Also? I still hate, possibly even more so in this book than in the previous one A Pocketful of Lies, the whole Conlon/Kim pregnancy thing. As I said in the review for that book, it’s the 24th century. Can they not turn off their balls/ ovaries until they are ready to have babies on purpose? In this book, the pregnancy ends up being irrelevant anyway, except to add teenage kinds of angst to the story. Before, the pregnancy was needed to give a potential source of a cure for Conlon’s degenerative condition through fetal stem cells. But then they didn’t get enough and the stem cell harvest was irrelevant in the end. What purpose is there for this? Just a means to have some bizarre pro-life discussion since the fetus, after it gets transported to an incubator, is now a separate being with full rights? Why wasn’t it considered such before, if that’s the route the story’s going to take? Why isn’t it viewed scientifically as a thing with the potential for life but no separate life of its own yet? If it just needed to be swapped into an incubator instead of its mother’s uterus, why was it not a problem then that Conlon wanted to terminate her pregnancy? I find the entire logic behind that flawed in the extreme and badly written. This is not what I’ve come to expect from Beyer’s normally airtight writing at all. 

And then the whole pregnancy/baby/Kim/Conlon issue blows up in the end. Literally. It’s Star Trek, so I’m sure they aren’t really all dead. Maybe. They do kill off major characters aplenty, but I can’t tell if this is just a catalyst for future plot development or if the entire crew of the Vesta really did just flame out. In either event, it really doesn’t sit well with me, given all the drama surrounding Conlon and her illness and the rights of a fetus and whatnot. 

I DID appreciate the medical ethics involved in treating Conlon. I am always down for a good discussion on medical ethics and it was interesting to see how Dr Sal convinced Rhys to give blood, a taboo in her culture, to help find a cure for Conlon using the metaphasic cells in her body. Sal was apparently engaged somehow in ethically questionable practices when it came to Conlon’s actual treatment and based on a previous trauma Sal had experienced with a similar disease 30 years prior. She crossed a line, according to Farkas, the captain of Vesta. I am not so sure she did. She did not coerce Gwyn into donating blood, she didn’t force a treatment upon Conlon, and she told the truth to Gwyn as much as she could have while preserving doctor/patient confidentiality. The harvesting of the embryo’s stem cells also seemed fine. Sal got permission from the child’s father to do it, which is his right to grant since the mother was out of commission. Sal didn’t use the cells on Conlon and was going to wait for her to wake up to broach the subject. There is no real issue, I don’t think, in getting ready just in case Conlon changed her mind. It doesn’t mean it was a line crossed, and yet Farkas raked her over the coals for it. It’s like Star Trek: Snowflake, and I didn’t care for that at all. We can be enlightened and progressive and democratic without going around the twist about every little thing. 

Overall, I liked the exploration portion of this but did not like the actual character studies or commentary. It had potential but fell flat in a big way for me, and as I’ve said before, it is not what I expected from Beyer. Maybe she was stretched a little too thin because of her work on Discovery, which is so fucking cool. I’d prefer her to focus on that (and on bringing back/finding Prime Lorca, please) than on writing more novels if this is the way they’re going to go from here on out. 

Favorite lines:

  • We all have two lives, Counselor: the one we want and the one we learn to live with. I’m content with both of mine.
  • Past failures are not certain indication of future possibilities. If we worked together, imagine what we might learn and achieve in the process.
  • Young Tom Paris had made it his mission in life to taste every delight available from the Federation’s most exotic worlds: the fragrant fields of Artan, the soft packed snow on the mountains of Mons Tianus, the pools of tranquility on Sirangai, and an entire menu of delights on Risa. That day, Commander Tom Paris decided that the waters of an unnamed planet in the Delta Quadrant seen through his daughter’s eyes put them all to shame.
  • Some errors are essential to discovery.
  • “There might have been a time when I found mysteries comforting,” Farkas said. “But not that long ago, I lost hundreds of people to a mystery, and I’m not sure to this day I really comprehend why. The stakes are very real here. They are measured in the lives of those we command. We have a responsibility not to lead them into a false sense of security or complacency.”

“We all do,” Janeway said. “But we also have a responsibility to expose them to the mysteries and challenges that they will have to conquer as we progress in our understanding of the universe.”

  • I’ve always believed that attraction was attraction. I would have been open to finding a partner of either gender. 

 

  • That’s the difference, he decided, between leaders and followers. No matter what, leaders put themselves last.