Monthly Archives: July 2008

To Be Read Challenge June books

Star Trek: Titan – Sword of Damocles by Geoffrey Thorne

Star Trek novels used to be about whatever crew you were reading about showing up at a planet, finding something wacky and then spending the novel solving whatever crisis they stumbled across.   You could jump in and out of the Trek novels without much knowledge of prior events beyond which characters you were reading about this week.  Rarely did the novels build on one another and create some type of overall cohesive storyline or continuity.

Then came New Frontier and changed the equation.  Now it seems as if every Trek novels wants to tie-in to either an on-going series or the entire novel line as a whole.  And as with all things Trek, there are some that do it well (New Frontier, DS9) and some that just don’t quite spark my interest (Voyager).  Somewhere in the middle are the voyages of the Titan, a spin-off from Next Generation featuring the adventures of Captain William T. Riker and his crew.  The Titan is an explortion vessel and after spending the first three books dealing with the fall-out of Nemesis, “Sword of Damocles” finally feels as if it’s the first official stand-alone episode of this new series.

Not that you can’t or shouldn’t have read the first three to get everything that’s going on here.  There are some subplots that will be richer if you know the background, but on the whole this is the first truly independent Titan novel and the best of the series to date.  The Titan explores a region of space that disrupts the ability to generate a warp bubble and power the ship. Finding a nearby planet is the culprit, Titan sends a shuttle (they work out some technobabble way to get there) to investigate and ask the planet’s inhabitants to cease their experiments in order to allow the ship to go free.  The storyline opens up some real-world implications in the application of the Prime Directive that are far more compelling than a lot of the standard Trek episodes that look at if a captain and ship have the right to interfere or not.  The argument that it’s a nice policy until it bites you out on the frontier is fascinating.

The story does involve time travel, paradoxes and the notion of fate and destiny.  However, in a story that could easily have been muddles under the weight of its various eras, paradoxes and solutions, the story stays straight-forward and it’s easy to figure out where the characters are and what is happening.  The only bad part is that solution becomes fairly evident early on in the crisis and plays out pretty much as you’d expect for a Trek novel.

That’s not say it’s a bad thing. There’s a comfort in the obvious solutions of Trek novels at times and this one is no exception.

Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik

The fourth installment in the Temeraire series starts off slowly but ends with a bang and on a cliffhanger than almost made me glad I waited so long to read this one. (The fifth installment hits bookstores next week).

Lawrence and Temeraire reutrn from China to find Britian’s dragon population suffering a terrible plague that is weakening and threatening to kill them.  The problem is complicated by Napolean’s attempts and threats to cross the channel and invade the heart of the British Empire.  

Temeraire, back from China and having seen the attitude show toward dragons there, comes back wanting to generate more respect for his dragon brothers and sisters.  Lawrence’s family induces him to use his new-found celebrity becuase of his work with Temeraire to become the front man for an anti-slavery movement with the British empire.  Lawrence is not happy about this and only reluctantly agrees, seeing that the way the slaves are treated is much as how dragons are treated in his own country.

Temeraire is immune to the disease, leading to the hope that the African contintent contains a cure.  Lawrence lead an expedition to find a cure and save the British fleet before Napolean invades.

And that’s just the first half of the story.  The first half of the novel seems a bit slow until you get to the second half and Novik begins reap what she’s sown in the first half of the story.  The last half of this book flew by in one sitting as Lawrence and Temeraire are forced to make a series of choices based on their conscience, leading to a lot of jaw-dropping moments and a genuine series-changing decision in the final hundred or so page.  The book also ends on a cliffhanger, which Novik says was just where the story told her to stop and wasn’t an attempt to sell more of her next story.   I believe her because the central conflict of this story is over and to rush the consequences of decisions made here would be to short-change readers and fans.

It does, however, make for one of the best cliffhangers to a book I’ve read in a long time.

After two novels that while good, weren’t quite as great as His Majesty’s Dragon, Empire of Ivory is a return to form for this series. 

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Filed under fantasy, review, science fiction, Series Challenge, TBR challenge

Tuesday Thingers

From Boston Bibliophile:

Here is the Top 100 Most Popular Books on LibraryThing. Bold what you own, italicize what you’ve read. Star what you liked. Star multiple times what you loved!

I hope all the American participants have a great Fourth of July weekend!

1. Harry Potter and the sorcerer’s stone by J.K. Rowling (32,484)
2. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6) by J.K. Rowling (29,939)
3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5) by J.K. Rowling (28,728)
4. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Book 2) by J.K. Rowling (27,926)
5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Book 3) by J.K. Rowling (27,643)
6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4) by J.K. Rowling (27,641)
7. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (23,266)
8. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (21,325)
9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7) by J.K. Rowling (20,485)
10. 1984 by George Orwell (19,735) * Continue reading

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Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Child 44 is a novel that’s hard to figure out where to place on the bookshelf.  It’s a political thriller, a murder mystery and a horror story all in one.  Combining those elements alone would have been enough, but first-time novelist Tom Rob Smith takes is further, setting his story around the time of the death of Stalin in the former Soviet Union.   Smith recreates the atmosphere of paranoia, doubt and suspicion of the time and place with ease, adding an extra layer of tension to his story.

On the surface, a story about someone serial killing small children would be brutal and horrifying enough.  But add in that under the Soviet system that the government was creating a worker’s paradise in which crime can’t and shouldn’t exist and you get a further twist on the serial hunter genre.  If there is no crime, then surely such brutal crimes can’t be occurring, adding to the complications as our hero, Leo, investigates the killings.

And it’s not that Leo doesn’t have more than a few obstacles in his way.  He starts the novel as high-ranking official in the MGB, a rising star whose job it is to find all those who are oppose Mother Russia.   Along the way, he’s had successes and has made enemies, including one who sets him up.  Leo is forced to choose between betraying his wife, who is accused of being a spy, to save his own skin or siding with her.  Leo makes the choice and his entire world shatters.  He’s humilated publically, his family’s status is removed and he finds out that his romantic notions of his marriage are an illusion.  Demoted and sent to a remote region as the lowest of the low in the police, Leo comes across evidence that an earlier crime he investigated may tie into killings in the region.  Leo risks everything to investigate the crime.

Smith’s novel is compelling and page-turning.  Smith is an aspiring screen-writer and there are moments in the story that he paints scenes in a movie-like way. But to dismiss the novel as one of those “ready to be adapted for a movie” would be a mistake.  Smith’s ability to re-create Russia in the time of Stalin is compelling as are the characters of Leo and his family.  There are horrors here and not just those committed by the serial killer.  Leo is certainly no innocent victim and yet, you will find yourself rooting for him as the pages go on. (He’s not the most likeable character when you first meet him).

A great debut by Smith and I can see why this has already been optioned for a big-screen adaption.  But I will recommend that this is one of those cases where you will definitely want to read the book first.

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