Big Damn Hero

38464992Firefly – Big Damn Hero* by James Lovegrove

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 334 pp

Publisher: Titan Books

Year: 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Headlong Flight

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

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 333 pp

Publisher: Pocket Books

Year: 2017

**There be spoilers below!**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuzzy Nation

12605487Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Wil Wheaton

Source: my own collection

Length: 07:19:00

Publisher: Audible Studios

Year: 2011

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

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

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

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

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

Star Trek: Prey: The Jackal’s Trick

29865636Star Trek: Prey: The Jackal’s Trick by John Jackson Miller

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 384 pp

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Year: 2016

The second installment in JJM’s Klingon trilogy. The action picked up right where it left off in the previous book. Korgh has taken control of the ancient House of Kruge and, in rather Trump like fashion, is now taking every opportunity to attack the longtime allies of the Klingon Empire and weaken its ties to the Federation. Someone claiming to actually BE Kruge is whipping the Unsung into a froth of rage against traditional Klingons who haven’t been discommendated. And it’s all linked to an old Enterprise foe from nearly 20 years ago who was never what she appeared to be.

This was a fun and action packed novel. I could read it just on its surface but, rather unlike the first in this Klingon trilogy, it seemed a bit deeper, dealing much more closely with complex themes of honor and duty. Worf really gets put through the wringer in this one and he’s not done yet. I have hopes for a thing to happen with him in the final novel in the trilogy that began in this novel. A good thing about being so far behind on my Trek reading is that I don’t have to wait for the next one to come out to find out if I’m right! A thoroughly enjoyable read! ‘Qapla!

One random thing – that cover. Who the fuck is the Klingon demon supposed to be on the front, and why is he apparently punching himself in the face? It doesn’t fit in with the story, other but than one small and fairly irrelevant scene with Geordi and Tuvok, and doesn’t matter much to the overarching plot. That’s just the weirdest cover image I’ve seen in a while.

Star Trek: Prey: Hell’s Heart

29865635Star Trek: Prey: Hell’s Heart by John Jackson Miller

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 383 pp

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Year: 2016

In this first entry into John Jackson Miller’s Klingon trilogy, the Enterprise-E is helping Admiral Riker and the crew of Titan bring Klingon nobles to the former site of the battle of Gamaral, where the House of Kruge once fought against the Empire and, it turns out, suffered a humiliating defeat. The crews of the two starships are working together to conduct a ceremony for the nobles, each of whom is a legitimate heir to the House but rather than fight for their right of inheritance, they opted to share the rule of the House and keep peace. When they get to Gamaral, assassins in black strike and annihilate the entire House, with only one survivor. In the slaughter, Worf and the Emperor Kahless are kidnapped and taken to the assassins’ stronghold, hidden on a planet deep in a nebula. To understand the assassins’ motives and escape, Worf and Picard discover a surprising link to a prior Enterprise first officer, Spock.

This was a fun, if pretty dark, first entry in this trilogy. I would say “new trilogy,” but I’m super far behind on my Trek books and it’s a couple years old now. This was some sweet, sweet brain candy, though, much needed. I’m mentally exhausted and a good Star Trek novel is just what I wanted to read. I don’t often care much about the Klingons – they have never been my favorite aliens – but I do love Worf and the story was fun. This one wasn’t one of those Trek books that makes you think or that discusses social issues or anything. It was just a straightforward romp through space, and that’s totally fine with me. I’m jumping right into the next one, which is a benefit of being so behind on my reading. I don’t have to wait for the next instalment!

Old Man’s War

51tnlj8xnbl-_sx342_Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: William Dufris

Source: my own collection

Length: 9 h 58 m

Publisher: Macmillan Audio

Year: 2007

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

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

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

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