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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-05-02 09:38
Worlds of Star Trek: DS9: #1 Cardassia by Una McCormack & Andor by Heather Jarman
Cardassia and Andor - Una McCormack,Heather Jarman

"The Lotus Flower" depicts the problems and antagonism Keiko is facing in her multispecies effort to render Cardassian soil fertile again. Meanwhile, the new castellan Alon Ghemor and Garak are fighting to keep the fledgling democracy alive in the face of isolationist movements.


This is quite a good story about the rise of isolationist movements, about the recruitment of young people for extremist purposes (because they lack certainty and purpose over their own future), and about finding where you belong in a democracy that is still forming after the age-old reign of dictatory leaderships. Quite a mirror of modern politics... if just finding similarities and common ground (or at least having the intention to do so) were so easy in real life, many atrocities could be prevented, I guess.


"Paradigm" forces Shar to confront the loss of his bondmate Thriss, his guilt and his position in Andorian society... all while being under pressure by his "mother" and having increasing feelings for Prynn Tenmei.


I'm afraid I'm not going to become a friend of Jarman's style any time soon. Her prose doesn't flow as well as that of other authors and I had the feeling of being stuck on a single page for ages. So that's a definite negative point. On the other hand, by the end I was fully engaged in this story and moved by the final few scenes. Shar's being pressured by practically all sides, reminded of his duties in a diminishing Andorian society (due to reproductive issues which led to a population of 3 billion dwindling down to a mere 90 million) but also fighting for his own freedom. Because how can anyone in a society that only revolves around bonds, that are matched artificially instead of naturally, and parenting duties be free? What about individual desires such as careers or partners outside a bond? And what about those who can't withstand that pressure (like Thriss)? This is quite a melancholy story about a person who fights to escape but in the end decides to go through with his societal obligations after all, even though the outside pressure (and inborn guilt) is more or less removed from him. A decision which left me pensive.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-04-25 10:25
Star Trek: S. C. E.: #20 Enigma Ship by J. Steven York, Christina F. York
Enigma Ship (Star Trek S.C.E., #20) - J. Steven York,Christina F. York

This time, the da Vinci encounters an alien ship marauding in space, swallowing up any ship that crosses its path - at the latest a Starfleet ship. Is the ship even intact and its crew alive still? And if so, how are they going to be rescued?


What follows is an interesting tale about reality, dreams and how to differentiate between those two. Definitely one of the better entries so far, at least story-wise. At some points the characterization is lacking (not only in the overall sense as was the case with most of the other previous parts), but also that at some points I had the impression that this story should be set much earlier in the season, as some of the issues coming up (Soloman etc) were dealt with much earlier already. So, that's kind of redundant.


I'll keep reading until Wildfire which is said to be turning point, right now - but if, by then, the series hasn't managed to entirely captivate me, I'll likely give up on it. The characters are still too bland, the stories too superficial to satisfy me.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-03-01 07:36
Star Trek: The Fall: The Crimson Shadow by Una McCormack
Star Trek: The Fall: The Crimson Shadow - Una McCormack

This novel is another excellent entry about Cardassia by McCormack and closely follows "A Stitch in Time" and "The Never-Ending Sacrifice".


Tthere's a new political movement coming to power, Cardassia First, populist, isolationist, xenophobic, just on the eve of the withdrawal of the Federation from Cardassian soil. Civil Unrest is threatening, just as a Bajoran Starfleet officer is killed. Then Nan Bacco is assassinated, and the withdrawal put into question by the pro-tem UFP president. Garak and Picard work tirelessly to prevent open civil war on Cardassia and maintain the shaky alliance between the UFP and Cardassia.


Cardassia is a perfect example for a state that has never really known democracy, just an oligarchy or dictatorship, and now, still fighting the effects of the Dominion War, poverty, pollution etc, it's on the brink to fall back into old systems. I appreciate the matter-of-fact way of story-telling instead of swinging the moral hammer, because, yes, we see this every day, and how many states that only recently embraced democracy have fallen back into the abyss?


Garak's one of the most complex figures in all of Star Trek. He's a murderer, a spy, he dragged (together with Sisko) the Romulans into the Dominion War... but somehow he retained or regained a (shrewd as it might be) moral compass. He's not acting out of a need to prove himself or to gain advantage for himself, but for the good of Cardassia. And right now, what he perceives as the good of Cardassia aligns itself with reality. Let's see what happens when he's actually in power.


I enjoyed the letters which start almost every chapter, sent and unsent, by Garak to Bashir (and one to Parmak, his closest friend on Cardassia) because they bring insight into his thoughts and anguish. I loved the painting by Ziyal which is sort of his shrine to her and how he uses his memory of her to remain within moral borders. And I love Bashir's one reply warning Garak not to become his father.


McCormack leaves the reader to figure out all the emotional intricacies, just as she did in The Never-Ending Sacrifice. Her prose isn't really made for action-sequences, but it's perfect for relaying emotions, motivations... and slowly captivating her readers until they're hooked and can't put the novel down until it's finished.


This, together with A Stitch in Time and The Never-Ending Sacrifice is certainly a must-read novel regarding Cardassia.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-08-28 21:26
Star Trek: Myriad Universes: #3 Shattered Light: Honor in the Night by Scott Pearson
Star Trek: Myriad Universes #3: Shattered Light - David R. George III

This final review covers the third story, Honor in the Night, by Scott Pearson.


Nilz Baris's, former Undersecretary of Agriculture, President of the Federation and Ambassador to the Klingon Homeworld, final words were, "Arne Darvin". A reporter investigates why the name of an aide dead for over a century, might have been on the mind of the great former President in his last moments.


Here, the deviation from the known universe is that Darvin wasn't exposed as Klingon on K-7, and the poisoned grain was planted on the colony world of Sherman's Planet - leading to the loss of the colony and thousands of lives, and pitching Baris against the Klingons. It's not the only colony where the conflict gets heated, a couple of years later, earthquakes devastate the cities on Benecia... and instead of revealing Klingon culpability in causing the earthquakes, Baris and Klingon liaison Kamuk strike a deal to cooperate - the first of many which lead to Baris's rise in ranks.


This is an intriguing tale about alternate Klingon and Federation relations. And it's an intriguing tale about what motivates people to cooperate: Baris is driven by contempt, guilt for covering up genocide, but also by wanting to avoid violence - and Darvin... well, he was the one who was ordered to poison the grain, killing countless colonists in a, for Klingons, utterly dishonorable way, just for the sake of expansion despite the Organian treaty. So, for a 100 years he tried to redeem himself (and the Klingon honor in general), and to improve the relationship between Klingons and the Federation, and to show that Klingon expansion can yield benefits for colony worlds. But history is going to be the judge of that - at least, if his actions ever see public light.


And this is perhaps the most interesting facet of this story: How much does the public need to know? Who makes that decision? And when? Interestingly, this issue reminds me a bit of Voyager's excellent "Living Witness". But I have to admit that this story, based on "The Trouble with Tribbles" which never has been one of my favourite TOS-episodes, while well written and reasonably entertaining, didn't engage me on a deeper level, simply because I have never cared about Baris or Darvin.


About Shattered Light in general:

Review of The Embrace of Cold Architects by David R. George III - 3 stars

Review of Tears of Eridanus by Michael Schuster and Steven Mollman - 1.5 stars


Overall, this makes for a 2.5 star average - rather low for the Myriad Universes-series, I'm afraid.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-08-28 11:55
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaleed Hosseini
A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini

Mariam, a girl born out of wedlock and living in a shed outside of Herat, has only one dream: to go live with her father Jalil whom she adores beyond measure. After her mother's suicide, indeed she joins his household only to realize that he sees her as embarrassment - she's married off to a man, Rhasheed, living in far-away Kabul, who's 30 years her senior. After multiple miscarriages, the already loveless and cold marriage turns ever more violent.


Years later, the girl Laila grows up in the immediate vicinity with a loving and educated father and an estranged mother, who resents having had to send off her two sons to fight against the Soviets. Laila's best friend is Tariq who lost his leg as a child due to a landmine. Inevitably, they fall deeply for each other, and consummate their relationship on the eve of Tariq's departure for Pakistan. Weeks later, after having finally convinced her mother, Laila's family is packing up as well, just as a rocket detonates in her home, killing her parents and leaving her injured. When she wakes up she finds herself in Rhasheed's household who's doing everything to convince her that marrying him is her only chance of being safe.


What follows is a powerful tale about family, love, endurance, dominance, deception, violence, acceptance - underlined by the ever changing political climate in Afghanistan. Much of it is difficult to read, especially for a woman - the casual violence against and humiliation of women (being beaten for so-called infractions like walking down the street unaccompanied by a man, being denied proper medical care and having to endure surgeries without anaesthetics), the being locked away (figuratively in the burqa and literally), the impression that women only serve to fulfill the men's needs (just the expression of "he mounts her" reminds me of animals, of not having any choice), being essentially at the complete and utter mercy of your husband (and other men). How does a society work that runs on subjugating one half of the population?


But the far stronger facet of the novel, aside from the changing outside factors, is the love that runs through it despite every obstacle, the small spark of hope in an endless sea of darkness: be it the love between a man and a woman, the love between parents and child, the love between siblings, the love born of shared pain.


Mariam is so beaten down by years of abuse, coming after the humiliation of being a 2nd-class child, that she only starts to fight back when, for the first time, someone, Laila, is rushing to her defense. She finds love and acceptance there, the will to protect them at any cost, and she makes peace with the consequences. The tragic part is that if she had opened her heart a bit earlier, she might have known within her lifetime that she was cherished even before. But sometimes actions speak louder than words or mimics. And so, Jalil's last letter comes too late:


"May God grant you a long and prosperous life, my daughter. May God give you many healthy and beautiful children. May you find the happiness, peace, and acceptance that I did not give you."


If only he knew what his actions actually condemned her to.


Laila keeps asking herself how much one can endure before being broken - with the right incentive apparently almost everything. Because of Mariam's sacrifice she's able to start a new life, even if all of them bear scars from their experiences on their bodies and their souls - and there's no easy happy ending to have. But she knows, some things go beyond death, like her connection to Mariam.


I have to admit that I spent most of the final quarter of the book in tears, starting with the surprising visitor at the doorstep, which revealed the house of lies Laila's life was built on, up until their return to Kabul, starting to rebuild their home and lives after the Taliban were driven out.


Make no mistake, this novel doesn't pull any punches, it's going to put you through the wringer - and it will stay with you. What an experience.

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