A Pocketful of Lies

A Pocketful of Lies book coverA Pocketful of Lies by Kirsten Beyer

Her Grace’s rating:  2 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as an: mass market paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 381 pp

Published by: Pocket Books (26 Jan 2016)

I read this ages ago and forgot to post it here. Derp.

Huh. OK, I have some Thoughts about this one. There are spoilers, so consider yourself warned.

First, there were a lot of things that I really liked about this book. Honestly. It had rather a lot of action and adventure and meeting new aliens and all the things we love about Star Trek. I continue to really like seeing the development of people like Seven and Icheb, and I think Liam O’Donnell is just quirky and cool and a very believable character. 

I also am enjoying the continuation of the exploration of the Delta Quadrant. It is like coming home in many ways, but bittersweet, too, since you can’t go home again. 

This novel was…not my favorite, though, because for starters, it was just too busy. Some of the various plots felt rushed. I kind of want more time with O’Donnell and the Nihydron, for example, perhaps fleshed out better in a separate novel, rather than trying to cram it all into one. 

Also, I’m kind of tired of multiverse problems. Like, cool? I know it’s a thing? But maybe let’s not have another Kathryn Janeway who was horrifically tortured and now has essentially Stockholm syndrome because she loves her captor. Ok, to be fair, she didn’t know he was her captor but still. It seems contrived. 

And of COURSE they had a child together. What IS it with Trek characters having babies now? First Picard and Beverly in the TNG relaunch books and now Janeway? I know she’s the Janeway from the “Shattered” episode, but still. DEAR STAR TREK AUTHORS: WOMEN DO NOT NEED TO HAVE BABIES TO BE COMPLETE. Please read Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids by Meghan Daum. Honestly, what the fuck? At this point, it’s just getting out of character. People can like, or even love, babies without getting all achy in the ovaries and needing to reproduce one of their own. 

Which leads me to my other major peeve with this novel. Nancy Conlon, Harry Kim’s girlfriend, gets pregnant accidentally. Really? REALLY? Are you really saying that these people can travel in spaceships that go faster than light, but they can’t manage to figure out how a rubber works? Or, like, turn their ovaries off until they actually want to make a baby? Come ON. I can’t even. I have a kid. I love her more than anything. But enough with the babies in Star Trek. People don’t have to have babies if they don’t want to, there is nothing wrong with just wanting to have a career you love and friends you love without children, nor are they missing out on anything as Tom and B’Elanna suggested at one point in this book. Frankly, that is offensive. There are many other ways to live a fulfilling life than by getting married and having kids. I really hope the authors – all of them – get over the baby thing soon

Enigma Tales (Deep Space Nine)

Enigma Tales DS9Enigma Tales (Deep Space Nine) by Una McCormack (TWITTER)

Her Grace’s rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a: mass market paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 350 pp

Published by: Pocket Books (27 June 2017)

Fan favorite Elim Garak is now castellan of the Cardassian Union. Part of his plan is to open enquiries into Cardassia’s war crimes against the Bajoran people, which may well turn the military against him and is making for some very awkward and tense situations. Enter Katherine Pulaski, who can, and does, make already tense matters into an interstellar incident. She is on Cardassia to accept an award on behalf of her and the team of doctors who solved the crisis of the Andorians’ fertility. The team had included Julian Bashir, who now lives on Cardassia under Garak’s supervision, trapped in his own mind from his previous encounters with Section 31. At the same time, a new head of academics at the University of the Union is to be appointed and the frontrunner is Natima Lang, a darling of the public eye and one of the rare genuinely innocent Cardassians. However, a document uncovered by a researcher may expose that Lang is hiding some of the worst crimes of all.

So, Una McCormak now ranks right up there for me with authors like Peter David for favorite Trek authors. I’m not always a fan of DS9 but McCormack’s books are always really fun and the writing is at an actual adult level. I loved seeing more of the inner life of Garak. He was my favorite recurring character in DS9, as I think he was for many people, so it was great to see lots of him and get inside his head a bit. Really, I think I am not out of line to suggest that ONLY Una McCormack be allowed to write Garak. 

I never liked Pulaski – I was too much a P/C shipper to welcome her onto the show – but in this book, she was a lot of fun. Salty and utterly unrepentant, Pulaski had plenty of moments to shine here, both in diplomatic situations (oh hai, let’s make a diplomatic incident!) to quick thinking and bravery when kidnapped (if she hadn’t been a fraction of a second too slow, she would have totally kicked that guy’s ass), to helping rescue someone else (she WILL hunt you down and find you). She was really a fun element to the story, and for me, it was a very pleasant surprise.

I loved the somewhat more minor but vital plot with Natima Lang. I loved seeing how she stuck to her guns and fought for what she wanted, even going toe to toe with Garak, even though it made her shake to do so. I think his plans for her are putting her talents to much better use than her previous ideas. I hope to see more of Lang and Garak in future books. 

Beyond just the delight of getting to know Garak and Pulaski better, the overarching theme was how societies can recover from the ills of their past and set to rights the wrongs they had done previously. The message rang through strong and clear that no one is above the law, not castellans, not presidents, no one. All the quotes scattered throughout about how literature reflects a society and can lead the way to the cure is really spot on. They reflected the Cardassian Union here, but of course reflect the problems plaguing modern society as well. I thought all those quotes were perfectly timed.

Highly recommended!

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

    • There is nothing quite to compare with arriving on a new world. … Questions form in the mind: What will I see that is new? Will I learn something? Will I be surprised? Will my visit here change me in some small but significant way? 
    • “Popular culture,” said Garak portentously, “can tell us a great deal about a society.”
    • Monstrous behavior speaks for itself.
    • “They’re [genre fiction stories] more interesting than that,” Lang said. “They offer a microcosm for society and, I think, the means to diagnose its ills – and, perhaps, the method to bring about its cure.” “I think you see more deeply than the average reader,” said Parmak. “But I have come to believe that this is what literature always does – reflects back some part of the reader. You see a means to reform society.”
    • “A free and open society,” he said. “It’s the ideal toward which we aim, isn’t it? Even if we don’t always manage it.” “Hey, mister,” said Pulaski. “I think we do pretty damn well.” She looked around the room. “And you know what? I think these folks are doing pretty damn well too.” Parmak raised his glass and clinked it against Pulaski’s. “I’ll drink to that,” he said. Land and Alden raised their glasses. “To the ideal,” said Lang. “Elusive, and perhaps ultimately unattainable. But always worth the effort.”
    • T’Rena tasted the tea. “Not unpleasant.” “Mostly harmless,” said Garak. She looked up at him calmly. “I beg your pardon?” “It’s a quotation from a human classic,” said Garak. Rather a flippant one. He tried to get a grip on himself. 
    • Don’t assume cleverness when a cock-up is the more likely explanation.
    • Newscasts, broadsheets, channel upon channel – there is too much. It keeps a lot of people very busy. Still, I foresee some difficulties ahead. The proliferation of material means that people might start to become selective about what they consume and, if my instincts are correct, they are likely to read only that which confirms what they already know. This means they will never have their ideas tested. I worry that as a result, people will form tight groups around those who confirm their biases, mistrusting those whom they encounter who think differently. 
    • She found that she completely admired [the Cardassians]. They had guts, grit, and determination. To come through this hell, to keep on digging deeper into themselves to find the place where hope lived and to keep drawing from that well, to keep on trying and building and healing. That, she thought, was worthy of her respect.
    • [H]e thinks that “on balance you add greatly to the gaiety of life.”

 

  • Do no harm was a good rule to live by, but Do good with everything you have? That was a great deal better…

 

  • “I admire them [humans] for how far they’ve come. But in one respect they fail. They continue to be convinced of their superiority. But not us.” Garak shook his head. “We will never – I hope – tell ourselves such lies again. And perhaps that is what we have to offer.” 
  • Sometimes, Garak thought, one did not need a confessor. One simply needed to sit and examine one’s conscience alone.

 

 

Star Trek Prometheus: Fire with Fire

Star Trek Prometheus 1 coverStar Trek Prometheus: Fire with Fire by Bernd Perplies and Christian Humberg 

Her Grace’s rating:  1.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Alec Newman

Source: my own collection

Length: 11:02:00

Published by: Titan Books (28 Nov 2018)

After several terrorist attacks claim the lives of thousands, Starfleet sends the ship Prometheus to the Lembatta Cluster, from where the attackers hail. The region is already unstable and the crew of Prometheus are tasked with stopping further attacks and potential galactic warfare. 

I really wanted to like this book. I thought it was rad that an original Trek novel was written in a language other than English at last. But damn, it read like fanfiction. I mean, I suppose all of the novels are fanfiction, but they don’t act like it. Other Trek novels are better written and more engaging. The crew of Prometheus are, frankly, kind of boring. There really aren’t any stand-out characters for me. I kind of wonder if the authors recognized that, weren’t sure quite how to fix it, and so brought in a shitload of cameos by other characters to make up for it. The Klingons were more interesting, which is saying something coming from me since I’ve never been that interested in the Klingons. 

Parts of this also came across as almost…racist? I’m not sure it is that blatant, but the way in which some of the characters were described or spoken to just put me off. If someone said things like that to me or in front of me, I would have told them off. I can’t even think of an example of it anymore – I listened to the audiobook rather than reading it where I could make notes on the pages – but some phrases just set me on edge and not in a good way. Maybe it was a translation issue, I don’t know.

The audiobook thing is another issue. Normally, I love audiobooks. I have never listened to a Trek audiobook, though, since if it’s a book about, say, Lorca, I want Jason Isaacs to narrate it. Or Patrick Stewart for a Picard-centric book, Michelle Yeoh for Georgiou, etc, etc. Since this book isn’t set in one of the actual series with the characters I know and love, I figured it wouldn’t make me mental to have someone who isn’t Jason Isaacs/ Patrick Stewart/ Michelle Yeoh narrating. And in that regard, I was correct. It didn’t bother me that the narrator didn’t sound anything like them. He has a pleasant voice, in fact, and I would probably listen to more of the things he’s narrated. However, it drove me nuts at how many words he mispronounced. It wasn’t a dialect thing, either, or a Britishism. It was just wrong. Like ‘hegemony.’ Got it wrong every time. A few other actual words I can’t think of now. And even words specific to the Trek-verse were wrong. I know, I know, they are made up and not real but even so, can you at least pronounce them like they are in the various series? It’s TAL shee-AR’ not ‘tal SHY-er,’ ‘KIT-o-mer’ not ‘kit-OH-mer.’ … It’s levi-OH-sa, not levio-SAR. I mean, it’s the little things, you know? 

Overall, this is a solid ‘meh’ for me. I like a new Trek book, but this one fell short for me. 

The Way to the Stars (Star Trek Discovery)

The Way to the Stars (Star Trek Discovery)The Way to the Stars (Star Trek Discovery) by Una McCormack (Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 276 pp

Published by: Gallery Books (8 Jan 2019)

Sylvia Tilly is the youngest Starfleet cadet to be accepted into the Command Track program. As she prepares to start her first day in the training program aboard the USS Discovery, she has hidden reservations about her qualifications and ability to do well. This leads to a night of her telling her history to Michael Burnham, starting from her teen years being bullied by a domineering mother and missing her father while he is on a deep space mission. 

McCormack nailed Tilly’s voice in this novel. We see how Tilly has grown into her role on the show, although she still has a long way to go. But this novel shows readers a glimpse into her life before Starfleet, some of the reasons why she is so unsure of herself despite being one of the most promising officers in the fleet. 

Lorca is still my favorite character, but Tilly comes in a close second. I love getting to see her history. Her mother is awful. I think we all know someone like her in some way, and they’re just as awful in person as Tilly’s mom is on the page. Her dad is a good guy but he’s absent when she needs him the most, which is irritating to see just because I know how sensitive Tilly is and it made me feel bad for her. 

Personal growth and evolution from a child to a young adult is always painful, and Tilly really fucked up a few times but she learned from her mistakes and used them to become a better person. She’s a diamond in the rough with the best possible future ahead of her. As Stamets said, Tilly is incandescent. I can’t wait to read more books focusing on her.

Forward: Stories of Tomorrow

Forward: Stories of TomorrowForward: Stories of Tomorrow Edited by Blake Crouch (website, Twitter), written by Veronica Roth, Blake Crouch, NK Jemisin (Twitter), Amor Towles (Twitter), Paul Tremblay (Twitter), and Andy Weir (Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrators: Evan Rachel Wood, Rosa Salazar, Jason Isaacs, David Harbour, Steven Strait, and Janina Gavankar

Source: my own collection

Length: 08:24:00

Published by: Brilliance Audio (8 Oct 2019)

This short story collection features six stories on the future state of society. Most are dystopian or post-apocalyptic settings, and others are scary in how recognizable they are. 

I like short story collections written by a variety of authors. There is something for everyone in those kinds of anthologies and, though it’s not typical to like every story included, generally there are a couple gems that make the entire collection worthwhile. I found that to be true for Forward as well. There was really only one story I truly didn’t care for, but the rest, even the ones I didn’t love, all put in a solid showing.

“Ark” by Veronica Roth was maybe my favorite story in the collection. It is a surprising look at a handful of people and their lives in the last days before a world-destroying asteroid is due to hit Earth. I enjoyed the exploration of what makes a place “home” as well as the remarkably hopeful ending.

“Summer Frost” by Blake Crouch was one of my least favorite in the collection, mostly because I don’t care much about AI or gaming. Even so, it was an interesting topic and very well written, which made up almost entirely for any lack on my part. It dealt with themes of identity and awareness as well as what makes us human.

“Emergency Skin” by NK Jemisin was also maybe my favorite story in the collection. It is told from the point of view of an AI embedded in the brain of a man who is sent to Earth to collect vital samples. Earth isn’t what the man was led to believe, and it raises excellent questions about what makes an advanced civilization advanced. 

“You Have Arrived at Your Destination” by Amor Towles is a really intriguing think-piece about what ramifications there might be when we choose the kinds of children we have. It also makes the main character, as well as me, think about his own choices in the past. 

“The Last Conversation” by Paul Tremblay. This was easily my least favorite of the lot. I thought it dragged on and on. It was a story about consciousness and ethics. 

“Randomize” by Andy Weir was a look at the function of the future of computers and they ways in which they can be misused. Set in a relatively benign setting – Las Vegas – it took apart ways people can use technology to do criminal things. It was interesting, but I wasn’t sure it really felt very “future” to me. Other than the quantum computers, there wasn’t much that struck me as being sci-fi or dystopian or post-apocalyptic at all, but it was a recognizable setting that brought an immediacy to the story. 

Favorite stories (in this order):

  • Ark by Veronica Roth. Who knew the apocalypse could be so hopeful? (Tied with Emergency Skin)
  • Emergency Skin by NK Jemisin. What a cool twist! (Tied with Ark)
  • You Have Arrived at Your Destination by Amor Towles. Who hasn’t thought about designing one’s own children?

Favorite narrators (in this order):

  • Jason Isaacs (Emergency Skin). Though I expect nothing less from him, Jason Isaacs delivered a thoroughly riveting performance. He does tons of accents flawlessly and made the point of view character who narrates the story sound utterly disgusted with its observations. Disgusted, but still funny in that dry manner the Brits pull off so well. I hope Audible uses him as a narrator a LOT more.
  • David Harbour (You Have Arrived at Your Destination). He’s just reading the story, but he puts feeling into it. Nothing overacted or melodramatic, but just a super entertaining narration. 
  • Janina Gavankar (Randomize). Gavankar elevated what I thought was one of the weaker stories in the collection and made it a lot more interesting with her skillful narration. As with Jason Isaacs, she had a broad range of accents and inflections that really brought the characters to life.

Drastic Measures (Star Trek Discovery)

Star Trek Discovery Drastic MeasuresDrastic Measures (Star Trek: Discovery) by Dayton Ward (website, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 400 pp

Published by: Gallery Books (6 Feb 2018)

***I’m not even going to pretend this post doesn’t have spoilers. It has all the spoilers.***

Drastic Measures takes place about 10 years prior to the Battle of the Binary Stars in Discovery, and focuses mainly on Gabriel Lorca with Philippa Georgiou playing a large key role. Set on Tarsus IV, Lieutenant Commander Lorca is in command of a small outpost on the colony planet. When a large group of colonists from another world are relocated to Tarsus after a natural disaster on their own planet, Tarsus finds itself suddenly infected with a spore which destroys nearly all the colony’s food supplies. Help is weeks away, by which time the colonists will mostly have starved to death. Lorca and his small team at the outpost give all their uncontaminated food to the colonists, hoping to buy some time. But a lack of strong leadership in the colony’s government results in the ouster of the governor Gisela Ribiero, who is replaced by Adrian Kodos, known to the Trekverse as Kodos the Executioner. 

Kodos’ plan is really a final solution. Gathering up those colonists he has deemed to have less value, he and his supporters slaughter 4,000 unarmed citizens in an attempt to save the rest of the colony from starvation. The colony, reeling in shock and grief, is relieved only days later by the arrival of the starship USS Narbonne, bearing Commander Philippa Georgiou and a team of doctors and scientists ready to help the colonists. With medical and food aid now available, Lorca is free to head up the hunt for Kodos, which he takes up with a vengeance because he also suffered a personal loss during Kodos’s “Sacrifice.” 

This entire novel was a nice homage to TOS with the inclusion of a teenage Jim Kirk. The TOS episode “The Conscience of the King” referred to a tragic event in the past life of Kirk. This is that story, but it is solidly anchored in the Discovery cast with Kirk only making a very small cameo in this nice. I thought that was very deftly written. It also fills in a couple continuity gaps from a hazy past event in Federation history deserving of more notice.

Some of the writing seems a little out of character. For example, the massacre on Tarsus IV didn’t really appear to affect Lorca all that much. This is not Mirror Lorca, he’s Prime Lorca. He should have been horrified, maybe even in tears, over the thousands of deaths, especially since his girlfriend was among them. He could probably still do his duty as an officer but it didn’t seem believable that he could just shake it off like that, or compartmentalize things so thoroughly. He is still human, and not from the Mirror universe, which would make more sense with his reactions. There was a lot of telling rather than showing that Lorca was upset, and because of that, it didn’t seem genuine. It was only near the end that we saw him act in a manner that might be consistent with the behavior of a grieving man. Throughout the novel, a lot of the things Lorca said or did were inconsistent with a Prime universe Starfleet officer, which is disappointing because it may not be at all the way Prime Lorca would act if he were to appear in the show. Ahem. I think this is an excellent argument in favor of bringing back Lorca in the series; we only ever saw Mirror Lorca in the show, so we really don’t know who the “real” Lorca is. I would very much like to. I mean, I’d be cool with it in real life, too. Hello, Jason Isaacs…*drool*

B&W Jason Isaacs
Oh, hai there! Image credit: Brian Higbee, Interview Magazine, https://www.interviewmagazine.com/culture/jason-isaacs

I thought Ward did pretty well with his portrayal of a younger Georgiou. She was not a captain yet, was clearly not as seasoned or wise as she is in the show, which makes sense. She only made a couple witty jokes, which is sort of a trademark for her in the show. But we could see in this story that she had the potential for that woman we get to know later, and it is always fun to see characters grow into their roles over time. 

I don’t mind that this is a Discovery book only in that there are two characters in this book who are also in the series. It’s called a backstory for a reason. All the characters in any series have a history, if it is a well written and complex world; none of them spring fully formed into the people they are in whatever TV show. So I think some of the lower ratings this book received are unfair and unrealistic. Was it a perfect book? By no means. It had plenty of flaws, perhaps even more than the average Trek novel. Yes, it dragged a bit in parts. Yes, the characters seem off. But I am going to give it the benefit of the doubt because it was likely in the process of being written as season 1 of the show was unfolding. Ward’s portrayal of Lorca as kind of a dick in places seems justified, since that is what we knew for most of season 1. We still didn’t know the characters well yet, and I think Ward did a good job incorporating what we did know with what he wrote. 

But! PRIME LORCA!! PRIME LORCA IN THE MIRROR UNIVERSE!! Who else could it be at the very end there if not Prime Lorca?? OMG please let there be a forthcoming book (or, preferably, books) about Prime Lorca and his stories in the Mirror Universe! Where can I preorder it? Shut up and take my money!

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

  • “It won’t be easy,” said Georgiou. 

“Nothing worth doing ever is.”

  • Lorca said, “Utopia’s easy when everything works and all your basic needs are met. We tend to think we’ve traveled this long path toward peace and prosperity, but take away the necessities of living and it’s a short walk back to our baser instincts.”
  • “Upholding a set of ideals can be difficult, and sometimes it’s damned cruel. Being able to do that, especially during times of adversity and crisis and even great personal tragedy, is the true test of anyone privileged to wear this.” Reaching up, she tapped her chest to indicate her Starfleet uniform. “We’re bound to uphold and defend those ideals, but the harder job is living up to them.” 
  • “…Shannon, don’t you have something for Commander Georgiou?”

Instead of replying, Shannon held up the doll in her right hand. The stuffed Andorian companion now sported two antennae thanks to Georgiou’s repair efforts, and she noted that it had been cleaned since she last saw it. 

“I want you to take him. Maybe he can bring you luck now.”

The simple gesture was enough to elicit tears, and Georgiou reached up to wipe her eyes. “Thank you, sweetheart. I promise to take good care of him.”

  • The paper resting in the palm of his hand, Lorca studied the words it contained. 

Hate is never conquered by hate. Hate is conquered by love. 

 

The Ghost Brigades (Old Man’s War #2)

17201685The Ghost Brigades (Old Man’s War #2) by John Scalzi (website, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: William Dufris

Source: my own collection

Length: 10:25:00

Published by: Macmillan Audio (11 March 2008)

The second in the Old Man’s War series, The Ghost Brigades focuses on the section of troops within the Colonial Defense Forces that are bred purely for fighting. Jared Dirac is something of an exception. He is a hybrid of the superhuman CDF soldiers and Charles Boutin, a notorious turncoat. The idea had been to transplant Boutin’s memories into a CDF clone of himself, but that failed and so Jared was given to the Ghost Brigades. Eventually, Jared’s ability to access Boutin’s memories works and he and his fellow soldiers go to hunt down the real Boutin before an alien alliance can devastate all of humanity. 

I think this is my least favorite Scalzi novel so far. It isn’t badly written or boring, but I felt it was a little long on discussion and a little short on action until near the end. To be fair, it would be hard, I think, to improve upon the titular novel in the series, Old Man’s War, which was one of the best sci-fi books I’ve read in years. Ghost Brigades wasn’t a sequel so much as a standalone novel set in the same world as OMW. I like standalone books and get weary of series that go on forever. 

Overall, this was fun and well worth the time to listen to it, but my favorite Scalzi is still Redshirts. 🙂 

Fear Itself (Star Trek: Discovery)

37542594Fear Itself (Star Trek: Discovery) by James Swallow (website, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 290 pp

Published by: Gallery Books (5 June 2018)

Lieutenant Saru is a Kelpien, a species that is the prey of an apex predator species on his homeworld of Kaminar, and the only one of his kind in Starfleet. It is his nature to be fearful of everything, because he knows that the universe is a harsh place and fear can keep you alive. But on a rescue mission to assist an unaligned vessel in distress, Saru decides to try to overcome his fearful nature and steps out of protocol. As a result, he finds himself in command of an away team on a hostile ship that is then overtaken by a separate species. Saru’s next steps could either resolve an escalating situation between two belligerent races or be the first salvo in a war. 

On the show, Saru is basically everything Starfleet stands for. He is smart and honorable and can, when necessary, step past his fears and rise to the occasion. That said, he is still not one of my favorite characters. However, this book went a long way to remedying my thoughts on him. We get a back story that helps to explain the officer he is today and why he might act in certain ways. I would have liked to get more of Saru’s history in general – why did he get asylum in the Federation, what was his life like immediately after coming to Federation space, etc., and maybe we will get that in a future novel – but overall, the author captured the Saru from the show really well, aged him down a few years, and gave an entirely credible portrayal of a less-experienced officer. 

I really love the way Georgiou is such a mentor to all her officers. She could have busted Saru down to ensign. She could have tossed him in the brig and shipped him off for court martial. She could have yelled and screamed and dressed him down like anything. But she didn’t. She let him squirm a while, then she asked him what he learned from the experience. She asked him if he would make the same mistakes again in the future. She let him know that, while his actions were not acceptable, they aren’t insurmountable and taught him that even when everything goes sideways, there is learning to be had from it. 

I also like the way we see Saru and Burnham’s relationship and learn it was always a bit antagonistic. She had a fairly minor role in this novel, which makes sense since it’s Saru’s story, but I really like that, actually. Star Trek is often such a collaboration that there really isn’t just one main character. It is nice to get novels focusing on just one person or another, at least on occasion. I really hope future novels will be able Stamets and Georgiou or even the less central characters like Detmer or Owosekun. I am delighted that the next book is about Lorca, my new massive crush, though I inadvertently read these out of order and that should have been the second Discovery novel. 

Overall, a fun new addition to an awesome new Trek fandom. 

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

 

  • You always expect the worst, Saru. Yes, he had replied, but I always hope for the best.

 

  • That’s the thing that separates a good officer from a great one, knowing when to bend and when to be firm. … If you want to command a starship one day, you need to learn when to make those calls. When to show boldness and when to use restraint.
  • Saru’s certainty that danger and death awaited him did not shade his life in morose tones. It made him all the more determined to live it, down to the very last second.
  • Violence will not change the facts. You cannot coerce reality into re-forming itself to your needs with a destructive act. 
  • “We are the sum of our natures. We’re all on the path that our birthright set out for us.” “I’m not sure if I agree,” [Saru] replied, taking another sip of tisane. “I took a different path from the one I was born into.” “Did you? Ejah smiled again. “Or did you just follow the way to the path that had been right for you all along?”
  • Compassion is not weakness. Enduring is not living. And belligerence is not strength. 
  • Now, as he had then, he pushed back with all the strength he could muster, struggling to free himself from the inexorable gravity of the terror. If he could just stop himself from giving in to the burning fear for a second more, for ten seconds more, a minute, then he could hold it back. I am afraid, he told himself. But it shall not rule me

 

Desperate Hours (Star Trek Discovery)

32841842._sy475_Desperate Hours (Star Trek Discovery) by David Mack (website, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 384 pp

Published by: Gallery Book (26 Sept 2017)

I’m super, super, remarkably behind on reading the newest Star Trek novels. Like, I think I have 15 or so I haven’t got around to yet, so I’m a good 2 ½ to 3 years behind. This is a project I am looking forward to correcting.

Anyway. Desperate Hours is the first Star Trek Discovery novel, and it was terrific. This is set about a year before the Shenzhou’s mission to the binary stars and the star of the actual show. Michael Burnham is promoted to acting first officer when Captain Philippa Gregory’s previous exec officer left for his own command. But if Michael wants to keep the job, she has to prove that she deserves it. The opportunity for her to do just that presents itself in the form of a colony under attack. Burnham learns to think outside the box while still adhering to Starfleet protocols, and in the process, attempts to avert a disaster created by Starfleet’s own rules. 

This read just like an action-packed episode. I like the self-contained story line; I get very tired of multi-book story arcs or series that go on forever and you have to read each book in order or you don’t have a clue what’s going on. I actually really miss that about the old numbered Trek books. One book = one story. 

The characters were really well done in this. Mack has a terrific handle on them and they seemed like themselves as they are in the series. I did notice a couple minor things that made it obvious that this was written before certain episodes, like calling Saru’s homeworld Kelpia. Just a couple things that were explained later or in different detail in the show, but nothing that detracted from the overall quality of the novel. 

Michael’s character was the best; she is very much like she’s portrayed in the show, but it is obvious that she’s younger, less experienced, and not just because the book says she’s younger. It’s a testament to Mack’s writing skills that he could craft a thoroughly credible version of a character many of us already know and love well. 

Very much looking forward to reading the rest of them, and all future Discovery novels as well. I hope we get a lot more with Lorca. Ye gods, that man is fine. 

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

  • This was everything she had feared Starfleet would be when she had first been courted to its service by Sarek and Captain Georgiou: reactionary, shortsighted, blinded by a knee-jerk impulse to seek security at the expense of knowledge. Then the advice of Sarek echoed in her memory: If that is what you find, it is up to you to change it for the better
  • “Nondisclosure contracts?” Pike wondered for a cynical moment what century he was living in.
  • …the essential nature of life and the universe is impermanence: everything changes, and everything ends. Trying to resist that truth is the root of all suffering. 
  • “Most of them will never know how close they came to nearly losing everything.” “That’s probably true for all of us, at one time or another,” Georgiou said. 
  • “Don’t give up hope,” he said. “Selfishness will go away once the universe runs out of sentient beings.”

 

Suspicious Minds (Stranger Things #1)

40535559._sy475_Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond (website, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: sci-fi/fantasy/horror

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 301 pp

Published by: Del Rey (7 Feb 2019)

*SPOILERS BELOW!*

Set in 1969, this first official Stranger Things novel focuses on Terry Ives, Eleven’s mother, and how she becomes entangled with Dr Martin Brenner and his MKUltra experiments. An ad in a local paper promises $15 (around $100 today) for each week a person participates in a top secret experiment. Terry joins the group and is subjected to Brenner’s work which involves loading up test subjects with LSD and other stimuli, including electroshock, to see if any specific combination will bring forth special powers. Terry and her friends – a motley group of people from various backgrounds – quickly figure out that Brenner is operating under the radar to perform morally compromised tests. The group struggles to find a way to escape Brenner’s control while also striving to bring him down and free a child who is trapped in his grasp.

This is a difficult review to write. On the one hand, I was delighted to read a Stranger Things novel. On the other hand, it was kind of a hot mess. If I didn’t pay attention to anything but the story, it was an ok read. But ONLY ok. If I pay attention to writing, plot holes, and lack of answers, this is a terrible book.

Let me first say this is in no way a personal attack on the author. However, what the fuck was Netflix thinking in hiring an author who, previously, has exclusively written YA?? Stranger Things is most definitely NOT a YA show, nor is it appropriate for children to watch. The books should similarly reflect the darkness and danger of the show. But this book barely touched on most of what we have come to love about the show, and is written in a very simplistic style, which one might expect for a YA novel or younger. 

I had hoped to get some answers that we missed in the show, such as more about Brenner himself. That was entirely missing from this book and Brenner remains as mysterious as ever, but not in a good way. The other people who joined Terry in the lab experiments – Gloria, Alice, Ken – were all very flat characters overall, as was Terry’s boyfriend Andrew, and even Terry herself. None of them seemed to have much depth. Terry even had a thought early in the book about how Andrew actually ended up having an interesting personality, opposite what she had experienced before with boyfriends, and yet we don’t get to see said interesting personality. He is vaguely anti-Vietnam, and yet he doesn’t hesitate when he’s called up for the draft and goes off to war with only a little backward glance. His draft lottery being pulled up was manipulated by Brenner, and then he dies in Vietnam. Everything about him is just too easy and convenient. The other people of the group are delivered to us as instant friends once Terry meets them, a pretty tired YA trope (insta-friends, insta-love, insta-hate, etc.). They aren’t developed enough as characters for me to care about them, not even when it’s discovered that one is being electrocuted in the lab. I didn’t even care about Kali, and she is just 5 years old in this novel.

In short, all the characters were just a facade with no depth, character growth, or personality traits to make them seem like real people with whom readers can form attachments. 

Nothing is really shown to us; we are told about things, emotions characters are feeling, etc, but it falls flat since little actual emotion goes into it. Terry was filled with rage. How do I know? Because the text says, ‘Terry was filled with rage.’ There are no indicators otherwise, such as clenched fists or stiff posture, to indicate her anger. Telling us she was filled with rage might work fine for a YA audience, but for most adults, this isn’t sufficient. We get beaten over the head that this is set in the 60s – yes, I know, there’s the moon landing; I know, there’s Woodstock; I know, there’s Vietnam and the draft – but there is very little feeling of the 60s about this novel. We want to be shown, not told. 

Brenner is the biggest letdown of all. He was not the creepy, dangerously calm man we see in the show. He was hardly even competent in this book. He was tricked into letting Terry join the experiment, even though she was found out to have switched spots with her roommate early on, and he appears to have little control over his staff. The plot to rescue Kali/008 was half-assed and yet it fooled Brenner quite easily. Yes, he still retains control in the end, but the fact that he was tricked at all by a bunch of mediocre undergrads doesn’t mesh with what we know of him. He didn’t get any of his back story filled in at all, which was kind of implied this book would focus on heavily. Also, holy lack of security on your top secret experiment, Batman! If it’s so top secret, why were any of the participants allowed to know each other? Why were they able to sneak out of their rooms and go gallivanting about whenever they wanted? Why weren’t they isolated and locked in their rooms each time at a minimum?

Also, I get that this was supposed to be a different time and people didn’t talk about pregnancy and/or birth control like we do now, but honestly. How does a woman not know she’s pregnant for seven months? Even if you don’t show a lot, you’ll show some, and there are other changes that might trigger normal women to at least see what happens if they pee on a stick. You don’t notice that your boobs hurt, that you are breaking out like a teenager, the crushing fatigue? This must be written by someone who has never had a baby and didn’t think to research the common signs of pregnancy. Similarly, why didn’t the scientists at the lab notice that the subjects were remarkably lucid and check that they had actually taken the LSD? Didn’t they monitor them for things like pupil dilation or other autonomic responses that can’t be faked? Why didn’t they stay with their assigned subject the whole time they were there each week to monitor things and make sure they didn’t OD or something? Worst scientists ever. 

If you want to read this purely because you’re a huge Stranger Things fan, like I am, and just want to read a Stranger Things book no matter what and don’t plan to read too deeply into the story, you’ll probably be moderately entertained by this. If you expect something actually good that answers questions you have from the show, and you can’t overlook the glaring plot holes and other problematic areas, get ready for disappointment.