Bipolar disorder, mania, depression, anxiety. I'm only just discovering what those words mean for my well-being and the shattered pieces of my life. The "work in progress," it turns out, is me. Expect an exploration of my thoughts, my feelings, and my journey. And hopefully some fun stuff like my opinions on comic books, movies, and books to name a few.

Old "archive" posts remain if you want to get to know me further.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Star Wars: The Truce at Bakura by Kathry Tyers

Because I’m not enough of a nerd with the Star Trek, it was only a matter of time before I turned my attention to the Star Wars books and gave them a try. So here I am, starting at the beginning of the post-Jedi timeline with Kathy Tyers’s Truce at Bakura, the first in the long developing timeline that expands beyond the movies. While there was enough here to keep me interested—and several things that shined—this was an uneven outing for me to start an expanded universe journey.

Truce at Bakura is very much a Luke story. When the story is firing on all cylinders, you have some great introspection of a very young man who is straddling a line between wanting to rebuild a quasi-religious order and performing the functions of an officer in the Rebel military—because that’s what he’s become. Luke struggles when put in command—a skill he’s going to need to learn to develop even though he intends to use it in another arena entirely. He reacts awkwardly—in his thoughts—to Han and Leia because he had moments of flirtatious notions that the sudden revelation of his family rendered impossible. He is at a loss to reconcile how he came to view his father—and his father’s ultimate redemption—with the vision all his friends and comrades have of him single-handedly destroying Darth Vader and the Emperor. These are all great moments within the book and made me like Luke a little more.

Then there’s the rest.

The romantic story between Luke and one of the Bakurans comes off as forced and, for me, lacked dimension or feeling—and Luke himself seemed entirely too desperate. The recklessness with which he pursues a formerly brainwashed and tortured force adept as an apprentice made me think he didn’t pay much attention to everything Yoda taught him—or what Yoda thought of him in the beginning. For too much of the book, this feels like the impassioned, reckless Luke of Empire and not the calmer, more reasoned Luke of Jedi.

The other major character piece involves Leia accepting Darth Vader as her biological father. While I get what Tyers is shooting for, I can’t say it did much for me because there wasn’t really much of Leia processing so much as yelling. After a little while it blended together.

Truce at Bakura’s a quick read, and what Tyers is aiming for with Luke is a goal worth aiming for. Though I wonder if, for as high stakes as the plot was and the size constraints of this kind of book, she tried to tackle too much.

I gave this book three stars on Goodreads.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Star Trek Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire by David Mack

Despite the engineered tragedy residing at the story’s heart, David Mack’s Star Trek Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire is a fun romp for one reason: it has nothing to do with the main Star Trek timeline, so anything can happen.

This book bridges the original series episode “Mirror, Mirror” and the Deep Space Nine episode “Crossover” and mainly follows Spock as he attempts to reform a violent, conquest driven empire toward democracy and freedom. Mack’s portrayal of Spock is the winner throughout the book. This is a Spock built on almost pure audacity who suggests radical social engineering (and inevitable defeat and slavery) as casual as most would discuss the weather. And it’s a good thing that Spock is so interesting because this book is very Spock-centric. There are diversions here and there with mirror characters—Matt Decker, Empress Sato, Carol Marcus, Saavik—but ultimately none of them are as intriguing as Spock.

The central premise, of course, is built on a tragedy. We know from the episode “Crossover” that the Terran Empire is doomed to be conquered. Mack’s story turns this into a central part of his story; Spock concludes that true freedom will only be obtained by forcing his people to fight for it. Expecting to lose a war shortly after his reforms are enacted, he creates the seeds for an eventual revolution. This turns what could otherwise be a flaw in the story—knowing the story’s end—into a strength since the inevitable conclusion is advertised well in advance and the reader is invited to be curious about how that conclusion will reached.

In the end, Mack has created a very entertaining read. It is perhaps a more casual, more popcorn book—by that I mean fun, lighter reading—than most Star Trek novels because it has no impact on the main story or the “real” characters. In this case, though, that may be the book’s greatest strength.

I gave this book four stars on Goodreads.

Star Trek The Fall: Peaceable Kingdoms by Dayton Ward

Star Trek The Fall: Peaceable Kingdoms on Goodreads.

It’s hard to offer anything concise about Dayton Ward’s Star Trek The Fall: Peaceable Kingdoms. As the last book in a five part series, it has the unenviable task of catching all the balls that the previous four books threw up in the air.

Ward’s book is an interesting read, and it benefits from the momentum that has been built leading up to this finale. That so much of the story is Beverly Crusher centric was surprising if only because Crusher is so often a back burner character. I also enjoyed some of the back and forth morality subtext between Crusher and Thomas Riker as they were forced to do all they could to stay alive and find the evidence they were searching for. And while the scenes aboard Enterprise played with a certain sense of routine, the look at Picard as a husband worried about his wife is a fun note that isn’t overplayed—it’s the suggestion of Picard going over the edge rather than the fact of it that makes for the more compelling read in this case. Ward also makes several attempts to show us who the villain Ishan is—from his own point of view—and attempts to paint a rationale over his behavior.

Ultimately it is the revelation of the Ishan mystery that feels so underwhelming. Ward’s efforts to make him credible come too late in a series where Ishan was portrayed, for much of it, as almost a total black hat. While Ward’s portrayal of Ishan is credible and might stand up on its own in a vacuum, it cannot overcome the certainty built up by the previous installments that he is a villain and soon to be defeated. And while the revelation of Ishan’s real identity is both credible and—thankfully—free of some grand conspiracy that would lead to another series of books about war in the Star Trek universe, it is wholly underwhelming.

The book’s closing moments—with Picard talking a little truth to power—improved the book’s standing in my eyes. Whether consciously or not, Ward seemed to channel some internet fans’ angst over TNG era books being so devoted to war and political intrigue rather than the exploration and metaphor that Star Trek has lived on. It was, for me, possibly the best scene in the book.

In the end, this was an interesting and quick read if only because of all that came before. While Ward handled it well, I don’t know that it could escape the weight of the series it had to conclude.

I gave this book two stars on Goodreads.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Bioshock: Rapture by John Shirley

Bioshock: Rapture on Goodreads.

A prequel to a video game. Oh boy. John Shirley’s Bioshock: Rapture made it on my shelf simply because the Bioshock video game was a stunningly immersive piece of work with a tight narrative and a surprising amount of philosophizing subtext. That you go into the video game after Rapture has already deteriorated (with strewn-about details that hint at the history that led to the chaos you see) was part of its appeal to me, and as much as I was interested in a book that told Rapture’s story, I was not free from apprehension that knowing the story couldn’t live up to the mystery. But I have to say that, for me, Shirley succeeds.

Much of the book follows Bill McDonough, a loveable everyman who gets pulled into the world of Rapture, and the villainous Frank Fontaine who bears a large part of the blame for Rapture’s fate. The story does check in with several other notables along the way: Andrew Ryan, Brigid Tannebaum, others. But keeping so much of it on two characters makes the inevitability of a prequel work in the book’s favor. If you know the Bioshock video game, you know how Shirley’s book has to end, and you know how it turns out for all the named characters. But the great thing is that, in most cases, the book doesn’t take us to these grisly details. Bioshock: Rapture is not the end of its story that leads to the next story, rather the book is the prologue before the first chapter of the game, and the book knows that.

Where I found less interest in the book were the scenes with Sofia Lamb, the antagonist from the second Bioshock game. Much as Bioshock 2 didn’t seem to mesh smoothly with the history established in the first Bioshock, Sofia Lamb also feels extraneous to the greater story, and in fact she does somewhat drop off the map (for a perfectly valid reason) relatively early on. But it establishes as good a reason as possible for what Sofia Lamb is all about in the Bioshock 2.

Perhaps the most important aspect for me that Shirley gets right is taking the philosophizing from both Bioshock games (objectivism and collectivism) and weaving them throughout the story. As I read the book, the narrative seemed to suggest that adhering too much to either philosophy was a danger—even before Fontaine does a great job of manipulating both sensibilities. I don’t know if Shirley meant for the book to have a side as to which philosophy is better, but I prefer the feeling that whatever statement was being made was up to me to figure out.

I gave this book four stars on Goodreads.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Star Trek: From History's Shadow by Dayton Ward

I don’t know if it’s possible to separate people who read Star Trek novels into casual fans and more than casual fans since if you’re reading a Star Trek novel you’re probably rather conversant with the franchise’s details—at the very least the details from the particular show the novel’s characters and circumstances are drawn from. But if it is possible to separate them, Dayton Ward’s From History’s Shadow is not for the more casual reader; much of the story features relatively obscure guest characters from three different series, and the plot linking Kirk and company to the story being told in the past is based on the Temporal Cold War.

In the abstract, I like what Ward did bridging fictional circumstances established as part of the past with the Star Trek universe still to come. The story itself is well told and, despite the time travel, never really devolves into something where you expect a reset button. He also did a great job building Wainwright—a character I remember as little more than a caricature from Deep Space Nine’s “Little Green Men”—into someone with depth.

The Temporal Cold War comes into play as the device that links the past with the novel’s “present.” It also creates the motivation for the antagonists threatening the Enterprise. I’ll admit I groaned a little when I read the phrase “Temporal Cold War;” I was never a fan of that plot in Enterprise because while it created some interesting notions and moments it was virtually impossible to define the nature of the conflict or feel like there would ever be any lasting consequences.

What doesn’t work for me is that the story in the novel’s “present” feels extraneous. I almost wish the story took place solely in the past—stretching over a longer span of time perhaps. By far the most interesting character is Wainwright, but it feels like there is a lot of potential in Mestral and the Aegis agents that never gets developed.

I wasn’t sure what I thought about From History’s Shadow when I finished it; I think it grew on me afterwards, so I’m glad this wasn’t posted right away. I’d be very interested to see the threads developed here built up in a subsequent piece.

I gave this book three stars on Goodreads.