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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-09-17 12:04
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: A Stitch in Time by Andrew J. Robinson
A Stitch in Time - Andrew J. Robinson

Stories about Cardassia and Garak have easily become my favourite part of TrekLit nowadays, so it was time to reread this excellent "autobiography".

 

Divided into 3 parts, A Stitch in Time sheds light on Garak's history, the way others always made decisions for him, the way loss and betrayal shaped his life more than loyalty and friendship. And it all starts at school where he meets life-long friends and equally life-long enemies, and the love of his life, Palandine, who indirectly causes his fall from power and exile on DS9.

 

This part is a fascinating glimpse into Garak's history with various characters (such as Dukat, the story behind "The Wire", Tain), Cardassian society as a whole, but also into the microverse of Garak and his family. Tolan Garak, the man he believed to be his father and who turned out to be his uncle, ultimately perhaps influenced his life more than Tain and his mother Mila. Because while Tolan only belonged to the frowned-upon service class he nevertheless was more independent from outside influence than upper-class men, including who Garak comes to be. It takes years for Garak to see that.

 

The second part are diary entries between "In the Pale Moonlight" and his departure for Cardassia which relay Garak's conflict (culminating in the panic attacks) between betraying Cardassia and ultimately saving it from the Dominion together with the Federation. It highlights the growing distance between Julian and him, and the anxiety just what Cardassia he'll be able to return to. What will be left? As a side story, he meets a friend of Ziyal's who turns out to be an agent of the Khon-Ma, assigned to kill him - a woman who survived the destruction of the shuttle back on Bajor that cost her family their lives and for which she holds Garak responsible (again see "The Wire").

 

Finally, the third part is set on post-war Cardassia. Garak has returned home, a world in perpetual twilight after the Dominion tried to exterminate the population, leaving over a billion dead, a world in ruins. He turns Tain's home into a memorial, a place where people can mourn and slowly move on. And for the first time in his life he finds himself able to choose his own path, meeting old friends and enemies and determining Cardassia's future.

 

In the end, Garak comes full circle, open to new ideas because he's learned to adapt due to his ever changing surroundings. And I think Tain would turn in his grave if he saw Tolan's influence prevail over his own, resulting in Garak's interest in the Oralian Way (even if also as a means to find his love Palandine after the war - BTW, curious how the later novels don't mention her but emphasize Garak's friendships with Bashir and Parmak)... but it's gratifying to see that all of Tain's machinations, his power and loyalty plays, his treating people like pawns on a giant chess board ultimately fail.

 

A highly recommendable book - and together with "The Never-Ending Sacrifice" maybe the key to understanding the Cardassian mindset.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-09-03 20:23
Star Trek: Section 31: Control by David Mack
Star Trek: Section 31: Control - David Mack

Bashir and Sarina learn of a secret programme that pervades systems throughout the Federation (and beyond) and has been in place for centuries. Nominally it registers threats and brings them to the attention of the authorities - but it has long since developed a mind of its own, acting on its own... and creating Section 31, calling itself Control. Bashir engages Data's help in finally bringing down this machine.

 

First of all, the idea of the machine Uraei reminded me awfully of Person of Interest. A machine that listens to everything and monitors everyone to evaluate threats and prevent them. Here, Uraei develops a mind of its own because it sees that the normal channels are too slow, too bogged down by bureaucracy to work efficiently. And so it creates its own hierarchy, its own agency that operates without oversight, and Section 31 is born (just like Samaritan back in PoI). And of course, shutting it down means infecting all copies and preventing the machine from downloading a saved original copy from a secure place. Again, like PoI. So, this part did not really seem very original, and didn't actually engage me all that much.

 

The only thing here that held my interest are the implications, like the machine allowing the Xindi attack for the higher purpose of trying to strengthen security and eventually form the UFP pretty much earth-dominated etc. So there are canon events orchestrated by Uraei, and that of course, puts Federation history as we know it in a new perspective.

 

So, Bashir, Sarina and Data try to put an end to a machine code that pervades everything, every computer, every system on starships, every local law enforcement - but how to actually expose and remove that all-powerful surveillance and indepently acting force without actually throwing the UFP into chaos? And what if that all-knowing machine that has planned events for centuries now, that has built layers upon layers of security around itself, is actually aware of what's going on... and just uses people for its purpose? Doesn't that put a new, and rather bleak spin on fate, how much is predestined and how much one can control and change his own fate?

 

I think that's where "Control" gets really interesting, not so much in the premise that is, after all, not really new, but in those far-reaching ramifications. It feels as though Bashir, Sarina and Data just play unknowingly in a giant holo-programme, a holo-programme that encompasses the whole universe, and only the machine knows what's really going on. A nightmare-ish scenario... but is it if you're not really aware of it?  If you don't know anything about the machine or Section 31 (unlike Bashir, Sarina, Data and some other select people)?

 

Bashir and Sarina unknowingly fulfill their part in Control's machinations, fight a fight that they can't win, and suffer the consequences when Control pits them against each other. I have to admit that I haven't really cared all that much about Sarina, but her fate, and consequently Bashir's actually put a lump in my throat. Catatonic, Bashir ends up in Garak's care on Cardassia where "Enigma Tales" picks up the tale.

 

Actually, Garak's role is pretty small. He's one of the 3 persons (other than Sarina) who Bashir trusts in this situation, and his feelings towards Bashir become ever more overt. I'm wondering where this is going to lead. Other than that, Mack continues with Data's tale and Lal's development; and most importantly, some of the questionable missions of recent TrekLit years come to the light while fighting Control, such as Zife's removal from office and subsequent execution (and Picard's involvement), Section 31 trying to commit genocide against the Founders etc. It's going to be interesting to see the repercussions here.

 

Overall, a quite disturbing novel that takes a bit to gain steam. But once it does, Mack doesn't pull any punches, makes his usual twists and turns and puts his characters through the wringer. And the outlook on Federation politics may never be the same again - because who's really in charge?

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review 2017-08-26 23:38
Interesting story about a white hole
Star Trek: Boldly Go #6 - Mike Johnson,Ryan Parrott,Chris Mooneyham

Although it's really about a more advanced race, living on another plane, who have their own prime directives. 

 

Fun, but this isn't on the Enterprise, Spock and Uhura are missing, and I miss the feel of the old crew.   While this says a lot about what other races might think about us, especially if they were benevolent, and in fact mirrored the Federation, the interaction between Kirk and McCoy felt less fun without Spock himself as the third balancing point. 

 

Hope we'll see more of him soon!

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-08-25 19:13
Star Trek Reboot Comics Series
Star Trek: Ongoing, Vol. 1 - Mike Johnson,Steve Molnar,Tim Bradstreet
Star Trek: Manifest Destiny - Mike Johns... Star Trek: Manifest Destiny - Mike Johnson,Ryan Parrott,Angel Hernandez
Star Trek: Boldly Go #1 - Mike Johnson,Tony Shasteen,George Caltsoldas

Recently, I read my way through the Collected On-going Star Trek, its follow up series, and two special limited runs.  I think it was a reaction to the Orange One’s comments about Charlottesville. 

 

                The comics take place in the Kelvin Timeline.  For those of you who are slightly clueless, this is the timeline of the three most recent Star Trek movies (the ones with Pine, Quinto, Saldana, Pegg, Urban, Cho, and Yelchin).  What I loosely call Star Trek Moviedom vs Star Trek Tvdom.  Yes, I know there were Star Trek movies with the originals, but they were television series first.  I actually like the Kelvin timeline for a few reasons, besides the fact that Pine, Urban, Cho, and Saldana star in it.  (And Quinto, but I hadn’t really seen anything he had been in before.  I didn’t like Heroes).  The fact that the supporting characters are given expanded roles makes me so happy for in the original series my two favorite characters were Uhura and Sulu (did anyone else ship them?).  I’m perfectly fine and actually like the Spock/Uhura relationship.  While I understand the whole idea and belief system behind the gay couple of Spock/Kirk or Spock/McCoy or McCoy/Kirk aka the gay threesome and reading stories where it occurs does not bug me, lately I’ve wondered if the homosexual takes on it isn’t simply an outgrowth of the idea that men cannot have close relationships with other men (who are not related by blood) unless there is a homosexual undercurrent.  This reasoning seems to be a bit sexist too me.  Sulu being married to a man and having a daughter didn’t annoy more, though I think I understand why Takei was a bit put off by it.  By having Sulu gay in an alternate universe, it appears to be one is gay because of nurture as opposed to nature, which would dismiss the genetic truth.  Also, why not simply create a fresh homosexual new character?  But okay.  The only thing about the new version of Trek I didn’t enjoy was in the first two movies where we had women stripping down to bra and panties because J J wanted to see Uhura and Carol naked.  Funny how that stopped when Pegg and Lin took over.  Additionally, I wasn’t too thrilled about the problems of the Spock/Uhura relationship in the second and third movies.   Why both plot arcs make sense considering what happened to Vulcan, the third movie felt it happening somewhat late, and quite frankly, please don’t make that the only reason why she is there.  To be fair, Pegg and Lin didn’t do this as much, and the inverse of McCoy/Spock discussing Spock’s relationship (twice) instead of Uhura doing with her girlfriends was nice.

 

                But I do like the Kelvin timeline.

 

                Star Trek Vols 1-13 is the first series, starting roughly around the time of the first movie and leading up to the third.  The first volume occurs right after the first movie.  Countdown to Darkness take place before the second, Manifest Destiny after the second, and Boldly Go occurs after the third.

 

                Mike Thompson is a good Star Trek writer, and there is much to love about his exploration of both the series and characters.  In Vols 1-13, there are some drawbacks.  At times, as in most comics, the artwork can be a bit uneven.  At some points, one has the feeling that the story arcs would have been better if given one or two additional issues, and sometimes the alternate takes on the original series plots doesn’t match the original in terms of storytelling.

 

                However, these flaws are outweighed by the good.  One of Johnson’s strengths is his use of minor/background characters from the film.  We see Darwin (the black women at the helm at some points), we get Keenser’s story, we get a story from Cupcake (you know the red shirt with the beard) about redshirts.  There is a recurring head of security who is a kick ass woman, perhaps a nod to the tragic mistake of TNG killing of Yar.  The background characters are far more racially mixed than those of the series or even the movies. It’s pretty clue.  There also isn’t much underwear showing or Kirk having sex with aliens.  Women characters are active and not damsels in distress.  Damsels in distress save themselves in this series. (Uhura saves Spock twice!).

 

                For me, the test of any Star Trek story is the amount of time that the supporting crew is given, largely because they were my favorite characters.  Johnson does give Sulu, Uhura, Scotty, and Chekov more time in the spotlight (Chekhov gets the least).  We are even given their “origins” or their Academy stories – and McCoy’s as well.  At first glance, it looks like Uhura’s story is simply going to be that of her relationship to Spock, but Johnson uses this to go into Uhura’s past, and even refers to this past Boldly Go #9.  It’s cool.  Both Chekhov’s and Sulu are given pasts that show them at the Academy – Chekhov in the desire to fit in, and Sulu as a principled and ambitious character he is.  They also get larger roles in general story lines, with both Sulu and Uhura getting the command chair, and in Sulu’s case leading an away mission.  Sulu’s husband and daughter are also referred to in the Boldly Go series more than once. 

 

                What I really love is how wonderful Uhura is shown here.  While in some of the stories, she plays a supporting role for Spock, in more she comes into her own.  Johnson also shows repeatedly why linguistics and language are important.  The one flaw is that she is still the only primary female character.  It’s true that in a few issues Carol Marcus appears, but she and Uhura have no interaction, and after a few issues, Marcus disappears.  Galia, Uhura’s roommate from the first movie, pops up again, and the panels that show the friendship she has with Uhura are immensely well done.  Additionally, there is a reference to slut shaming/victim blaming that Galia handles extremely well.  Galia, and her brother Kai, who was working on the Enterprise, get their own storyline.  I wish that they had kept Galia because too often it feels that Uhura is the only woman in a man’s world.

 

                And this idea does seem to find its way into the Manifest Destiny miniseries where the crew does battle with Klingons – including one of the greatest speeches about Klingons I have ever read.

 

                Thompson’s favorite playground seems to be alternate realities.  There is a Mirror, Mirror arc that shows the reader the Mirror verse of Kelvin, but also a couple alternate timelines – one where Spock arrives in an almost Mirror, Mirror world, one with a sex shift crew (i.e. Captain Jane Kirk), and finally, one involving Q.  The Q storyline is actually dam good, and while Picard makes an appearance, a cameo of sorts, the major guests stars are the characters from the best Trek to ever appear on the tube – DS9.  Honestly, the volume of this arc – the Q Gambit – is a stand out.  It’s worth reading if nothing else.  There is also a special story to celebrate the anniversary.  This story features all the doctors from TV Star Treks in one story.  There is even the best doc ever – Dr. Pulaski.

 

                The last collection 13 contains an Old Spock story as well as cross over with the original Trek.  In the crossover Thompson plays with not only the different situations that the characters are in, but also why they look different.  It was a nice nod to the differences, not only in a fitter McCoy say, but also differences in design.

 

                Boldly Go is the follow up to the On-Going.  I found it to be a bit weaker, though this seems to be a result of the temporary diversion of the Enterprise crew while they await the completion of the new Enterprise.  Kirk’s temporary command includes a first officer who is a woman, a strong and capable woman whose decision eventually leads to Sulu taking over the first officer slot.  The characters are good, and Jaylah returns with a bunch of cadets, including a few women who talk to each other.  The stand out issues for me are 9 and 10.  9 features Spock and Uhura on New Vulcan.  It looks at their relationship but the primary story is a mystery only Uhura can solve because of her humanity and her language skills.  Issue 10 concerns Scotty, the cadets, Keenser, and Kevin.  It is really funny.

 

                What the writers, artists, and the rest of the crew have managed to do is to capture the power of Star Trek that Gene Rodenberry had – the togetherness, the crew coming together, the better world idea that feels so reassuring after recent events.  Rodenberry’s vision of what we could be was so powerful that it stands the test of time.

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review 2017-07-24 14:00
Star Trek. Titan. Synthesis - James Swallow

This is the second James Swallow Trek novel I've read, as well as the second Titan novel I've read. Like the other Swallow novel, the pacing is measured almost to perfection, the characters are easily distinguished and easily likeable, and there's a crazy big dumb object out there that's going to ruin everything unless our heroes put a stop to it. Like the other Titan novel, this one feels much like classic Star Trek in the sense that the whole plot more or less revolves around a big moral question. 

 

So, Synthesis has a lot going for it, and I think it will satisfy most Trek readers. There were a couple of things about it that I thought were particularly outstanding. First: I felt like the Titan crewmembers that this story focused on were easy to get to know and care about. That's not so easy when the majority of these characters are ones that were not ones known from the TV shows and movies. These were new characters, and establishing equity between them and the ones already established on TV (like Tuvok, Troi, and Riker) must be one of the special challenges of writing media tie-in fiction. Swallow strikes a comfortable balance and maintains it throughout. The other thing I really *really* liked was the "Minuet" character. She's featured on the cover of the novel, and she appears in the holodeck in chapter 1, so that part is not much of a spoiler... I can't say much more, though, without making it spoiler. Suffice it to say that she becomes much, much more than the Minuet we encountered in season 1 of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And she becomes incredibly interesting. Not only that, but Swallow deftly weaves her story in with that of Riker/Troi and Choblik (the half-cybernetic engineer from an uplifted species). It's too bad what happened to her at the end -- I can only say I'm disappointed, given the great potential that her existence gives to the future of the Titan series. This last point, I feel, is grave enough that I can subtract a star from the rating, because "Minuet" could have offered so many interesting directions for Titan to take in the future... but the conclusion of this story prevents that. 

 

Despite what I thought about the conclusion of the "Minuet" storyline, Synthesis is a great read for any Trek fan, especially one who's read a Titan book before (or even just the Destiny trilogy). The character work, all around, is outstanding.

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