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review 2018-07-23 07:07
The Killing Time - M J Lee

Shanghai, January 1932. China is faced with the threat of a Japanese invasion/annexation of Manchuria. The atmosphere in the International compound (mainly British)is very tense as it is is surrounded by a Japanese concession, a French one,a Russian one....and of course a lot of Chinese inhabitants. There is a boycott of Japanese shops and products and there are several riots. Amidst all these tensions,the body of young ,Chinese boy is found,horrible mutilated. Inspector Danilov(of Russian origin)and his inspector Strachan(with a wonderful Chinese/Scottish background) start their investigation in a rainy,damp and foggy Shangai. Very soon two other Chinese children disappear which bring the tension in the Settlement to a boiling point. When the bodies of the two children are found(mutilated,as the first child) the Chinese population (of Shanghai)take their revenge and attack some Japanese monks. Needless to say this,and the fact that more Japanese warships found their way into Shangai harbour,does not exactly improve the precarious situation. But then a Japanese boy disappears and Danilov has to reconsider his theories about these brutal murders.
Of course, the storyline is good,the horrible murder mystery keeps your attention but what is so remarkable about this book,is the atmosphere it creates. One is practically present at this amazing setting that is Shangai in 1932. You can feel the chill of the fog,hear the street hawkers selling their goods,smell the street food,inhale the coal smoke....And although it is perhaps not always particularly pleasant it definitely is full of life!

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review 2018-05-16 03:14
Controversy as camouflage for a bad book
Killing Time (Star Trek, No 24) - Della Van Hise

Della Van Hise's novel has ranked among the more controversial Star Trek novels that have been published. It's a controversy that others have written about at considerable length (and which offers an interesting case study of the development of franchise fandom), but it's one that has the effect of overshadowing everything else about the novel, which was among the first published in Pocket Books's long-running series.

 

The premise itself is an interesting mix of familiar elements. The Enterprise is patrolling the Neutral Zone because the Romulans are getting frisky. Sure enough, the Romulans have a plan to destroy the Federation by erasing it from existence through the magic of time travel. Suddenly the ship isn't the USS Enterprise but the "VSS ShiKahr," with Spock now in command and Kirk a lowly (and troubled) ensign.

 

The premise by far is the most interesting part of the book. What Van Hise does with it that I like a lot is she 1) posits a change that isn't successful (no Romulan ability to romp unopposed through the Alpha Quadrant), and 2) has a Romulan leader who, because she inherits the project, decides to use the alteration to pursue different goals than the ones intended. I can't think of a time-travel novel that I have read that adopts such an intriguing plot shift. I also like the idea of a Vulcan-dominated "Alliance" in place of the Federation which opens up some amazing possibilities for world-building, even within the limits of a single book.

 

Yet as much as I liked those elements, my ability to enjoy the novel was tempered by its severe flaws. The first is with how Van Hise introduces the awareness of the change in history to her characters, which involves dreams of their previous lives and increasing psychosis throughout the known galaxy. That's also an interesting twist on the normal Star Trek time travel tale, only it's not canon. If this was a natural effect of altering the timeline, then why has there been no evidence of it in previous efforts (which are referenced in the book)? And how is it that, if over a century of history has changed, it's only cropping up now? These aren't insoluble problems — this is science fiction, after all! — but Van Hise makes no effort to even acknowledge these flaws, much less address them.

It's also disappointing to see how undeveloped the changes are. Decades of history have been altered, yet apart from Kirk's radical demotion, nothing else has changed about the transformed Enterprise. Though the Vulcans run the alliance and Spock captains the ship, Scotty remains the chief engineer, Sulu is the helmsman, Uhura occupies her familiar place at the com panel, and even Doctor McCoy is in charge of Sickbay. It's as though the Romulans warped time just to demote Kirk, which then proves largely irrelevant to the "Praetor's" plot.

Yet the biggest problem with this book is with her characterization of both Kirk and Spock. These are not the characters fans have come to know, and this is even ignoring the whole "K/S" controversy. Kirk starts out the novel confessing he has the "willies." Spock is constantly wrestling with his emotions and having (small but noticeable) emotional reactions to people and events. It's almost a deliberate defiance of their portrayal in the series and in other works, in Kirk's case to the point of making him almost unrecognizable. Again this would be excusable if it were woven into the plot, yet Van Hise prefers to present them as though they were the characters we remember from the series, rather than the funhouse versions in her novel.

 

In the end, the experience of reading Van Hise's novel is one of disappointment. Promising elements that promise something a cut above the traditional Star Trek plot are undermined by a limited exploitation of the premise and poor characterization. In that respect the whole "K/S" controversy was a boon to Van Hise, because it obscured the fact that, even without it, hers simply isn't a good Star Trek novel.

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text 2018-05-15 21:21
Reading progress update: I've read 193 out of 311 pages.
Killing Time (Star Trek, No 24) - Della Van Hise

It turns out this isn't one of the disavowed first editions (the lack of embossing on the cover should have tipped me off), and I'm glad because the fact that it isn't will make it easier for me to get rid of what is proving a frustrating novel. For every idea that has me impressed with its originality (and which haven't been worn out even three-plus decades later) there's a problem that reinforces the direction of my judgment. I've reached the point where Van Hise's narrative focus has shifted to Spock, and she just makes him far more emotional than the character warrants (it's flippin' Spock, for pete's sake!). That she has missed the essence of the characters in what is a character-centric novel makes this book a huge fail for me.

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text 2018-05-15 14:21
Reading progress update: I've read 128 out of 311 pages.
Killing Time (Star Trek, No 24) - Della Van Hise

Van Hise has a nice little joke about redshirts, but it seems a little incongruous because I just don't think she gets Star Trek. It isn't helping that while I like the idea of her plot, the way she's executing it (while likely necessary for its resolution) doesn't make sense.

 

UPDATE: So, after I posted this, I pulled up the author's bio on Goodreads and in it whomever wrote it (I suspect Van Hise herself, considering that she's tagged as a Goodreads author) described this book as "the controversial Star Trek novel." So I Googled that and came up with this. Based on cover and the printing details, it turns out I even have the original edition. I have to say that, now that I know a little of the context, I suspect I will enjoy reading the rest of the book a little more, as it makes a couple of the things I've been wrestling with regarding this book a lot more understandable!

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text 2018-05-15 02:21
Reading progress update: I've read 55 out of 311 pages.
Killing Time (Star Trek, No 24) - Della Van Hise

So I'm onto my second Star Trek novel. It's the one that I was most looking forward to based on the description, and I'm enjoying it but for two quibbles (three, if you count the the author's spelling of psych as "psyche"). The first is the introduction by the author of unique characters who just happen to have some sort of unique ability or gift that will of course be integral to the resolution of the conflict. To be fair, this is was hardly something introduced into Star Trek by the novels, but it's the second novel in a row where it's happened and I'm already getting a little annoyed with its predictability.

 

My main issue so far with the book, though, is with Van Hise's depiction of Kirk. It just doesn't sound like him. This is one of the things that I enjoyed so much about Bear's novel, which is that I never thought they acted or sounded any less than the characters from the original series. Van Hise's Kirk, though, comes across as a different character from the one on the screen, with words and views that seem alien to the Kirk we all have come to know (I welcome anyone to make the case that James T. Kirk would ever use the word "willies"). It's distracting enough to throw me off from the immersiveness that I look for when i read a novel, though as the plot is picking up (and the character himself is undergoing a change)  I'm hoping it becomes less of an issue.

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