Retro Review: King David’s Spaceship by Jerry Pournelle

Last week, like many, I was saddened by the news that Jerry Pournelle died. He was one of the giants of Science Fiction, so prolific and really having done so much for the genre. I hadn’t in the course of my readings, read King David’s Spaceship, however, and so I figured I would honor his prolific and fruitful life by remedying that, of which I spent the last week doing.

King David’s Spaceship is a story about a fallen human imperium which is slowly reclaiming worlds that have lost technology, been disconnected, in an effort to never have a devastating war between humanity again. All new worlds get monitored and brought in according to 3 classes: class 1, class 2, and colonies, and the colonies end up getting flooded by imperial merchants and the like who take over society. King David wants none of this so he sets about a team of people to figure out how to get to the class 2 status.

They’ve determined the way to do so is build a spaceship, but they don’t have the technology to do so. Colonel Nathan McKinnie among others are sent off to another planet to go find some sacred library that is supposed to have information on the ship.

The opening of the book was interesting, but it slowed down a bit significantly into discussions of how things were going to happen. I wasn’t sure about the book after part I as to whether I liked it or not, but it turns out Pournelle was just setting the stage for part II which is all epic adventure.

When it gets into part II, it really becomes a fantasy novel — kind of a book within a book. There’s epic battles, barbarians, pirates, great politics with the church, a lot of fun all around. The world building is so deep and so rich it’s incredible, some of the best I’ve ever read. Pournelle spent so much time working out every detail of multiple civilizations that it’s staggering, a true master of the craft.

And it’s all smooth sailing (or spaceship flying!) from there. The book becomes compelling, the side characters even get wonderful moments in the limelight and are well developed. It becomes very difficult to put the book down at that point, and when it ended, I found myself wishing it didn’t. I love the wrapping a fantasy adventure in a sci-fi novel and it does come back to the sci-fi elements.  Really a neat and imaginative work all around. If you haven’t read Pournelle and would like to, this is an excellent place to start.

9/10

Book Review: Thrawn

Several weeks ago I mentioned I was rereading the original Thrawn trilogy in preparation for the new book by Timothy Zahn. I hadn’t read them since I was a teenager, and was wondering if they held up as much as I’d enjoyed them as a kid. It turns out these are some of the best space opera books ever penned, tie-in fiction or no.

Many of my readers were upset that Star Wars declared the extended universe non-canon upon Disney’s purchase of the property, and vowed to never read Star Wars books again. I’ve taken a different thought on it — where it’s like comics, at least before I stopped reading  Marvel + DC altogether due to their excessive politics: it depends on the writer. That seems to be the case here.

I was nervous about this book as fellow space opera author C.T. Phipps posted a review on the book that was less than stellar, but was mostly due to his disappointment that this built off of an already published short story which he read before. I’m not sure which section of this book it was as I hadn’t read it before, but it feels like the portion where Thrawn was brought to the imperial academy and then his academy stay might have been that, as the book changed tone and pace from that point.

This story follows Thrawn’s life from a point where he was picked up as an alien by Imperials, brought before the emperor, taken to the academy, and then gets promoted all the way up the ranks. We know how it ends up, so there’s no spoilers there. Part of the problem with prequels is knowing that journey, and it makes it a little less tense than non-prequels for that reason.

Zahn also weaved a couple new characters into the plot, a woman by the name of Arihnda Pryce who has appeared several times in Star Wars: Rebels gets an origin/backstory as well, as she navigates politics in the Empire from a lowly worker up to very high echelons. I actually didn’t recall her character from rebels, so her story was actually some of the most interesting parts of the book as I didn’t know where it would lead.

Like the later Thrawn trilogy, Thrawn has a human aide in this where he describes all of his plans to. Eli Vanto, who progresses and becomes a tactician as he learns from Thrawn. This perspective also brought forth a nice element where readers weren’t sure what was going to happen.

I enjoyed the mysterious villain Nightswan who gets introduced in the book, and how he ties the plots together. It was well-crafted and leads to a very fun conclusion to the story. It was well done all around and I enjoyed seeing the back and forth between two strategists trying to out-chess each other as each situation developed.

The characterizations are perfect. Zahn nails his creation, I love the little strategy advice at the beginning of every chapter like it’s a Sun Tzu book and actually how that ties into the end as well. Just nicely done all around in that regard. I actually care about Arihnda more than I do Mara Jade. I really thought she had a lot of depth to her. Eli Vanto replaced Captain Pellaeon from the original series and filled that role quite nicely.

I didn’t see many contradictions from the original universe. There’s probably some details to nitpick, but I’m not that type of reader. I read for fun plot and character feel — and this delivered all the way around. I could hardly put it down once I started the book.

While it didn’t have the masterful grand epic plot of the original Trilogy, I didn’t really expect it to either. It wouldn’t be fair to compare a character origin story to that kind of a sprawling space opera, and so I don’t. This does add to that though, and I’m glad I had that fresh in my mind while I was reading this. It didn’t matter so much, as this book stands alone 100%, but it helps for love of the character going in.

Overall, I couldn’t have asked for more. I was very happy with this book and rank it as one of the best I’ve read this year.

The Death Of Star Trek

I know I owe part 2 of my article going over the numbers of science fiction publishing. I’m still working on that because it’s very research intensive, spent a lot of hours on it so far and am not complete yet. I have to check and double check everything for accuracy, so bear with me.

In the meantime, this is Star Trek’s Birthday as it aired Sept 8, 1966. So I discussed Star Trek on Periscope and how they’ve continued to photon torpedo themselves right in the warp nacelles over and over — it goes back further than you think.

Below:

https://www.pscp.tv/w/bIFoITFheWpWdll6VkxsanB8MWVhS2JtT2JEQVZ4WOczAK4Us8ZjCJE8SGLt0Ue8dbqkWevSwYhOM8iLMp0R

 

What Makes Great Sci-Fi Tv?

My hands are a bit sore because I’m cranking away at a novel, so I did a periscope rather than a couple thousand words on the topic. This stems from a Facebook discussion I had yesterday where I said both Farscape and Andromeda are better than Battlestar Galactica and Firefly. It stirred up a lot of folks, but here’s some deeper thoughts into that:

https://www.pscp.tv/w/bHWG-jFheWpWdll6VkxsanB8MWRSSlpubmxQdmdKQm9uZmpyscqAKZd8CH1w11JW7rtc7hA9azQregjxOgtI

Star Trek: Discovery’s PR Disaster

I’ve always been a big Star Trek fan. I’ve been known at science fiction conventions as dressing up in my screen-authentic Kirk uniform, and have watched every Star Trek series at least twice, some more than that. Naturally, the Abrams film franchise came as a bit of a disappointment to me as it was certainly not the star trek of past– but a caricature, amplifying the “funny” elements of each character, and providing a reference/nostalgia film not unlike the poor remakes of comedies like the Brady Bunch. It was insulting to fans to say the least, and worse when the film Into Darkness was made with a non-sensical plot and bizarre choices like Spock fist-fighting atop a space ship.

Discovery’s launch announcement was clouded with the decision by Paramount to shut down fan films. Fan films had been carrying on the spirit of the original Star Trek, with people pouring in heavy investments into making their own episodes, not taking a profit, and just creating stories that other fans would like. They were getting so many views, and were so successful in their approach, that instead of doing something like monetizing these properties, Paramount went for full shutdown mode to “protect the brand”. Well, what follows is a sad state of devaluing a brand like I’ve rarely seen for a franchise.

Little info came out about ST:D. All we knew was that we would certainly have a strong, female lead — a requirement for any action film these days — and that the show runner said “we’re not sure what level of diversity” she would have. As if nothing mattered but how “diverse” a show looked. This was a bad sign right away because when a program starts talking about this, we as the audience know there’s nothing else being focused on and a poor-quality product is going to be produced that no one wants. See the video game Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Images of the ship came out — a use of something that was designed in the 70s, and it looks aesthetically terrible.

Then the show was delayed. They were supposed to put this out months ago, but CBS was worried about the quality — rightfully so — and so they went back and did some more work. I’m not privy to the internal workings, but I know that delays of this magnitude are rarely a good sign for end products in film.

Comic-Con ran the trailer of the film, and sure enough, what the audience saw was not Star Trek at all, but generic-dark-action-scifi. Like everything that’s come out the last decade, it looked like Game of Thrones in space, or a cheap Battlestar Galactica or Expanse knock off. Fans of all political persuasions scoffed at this — seeing that these creators had no reverence for the original properties by which they took the brand name, and ran with it from there. Don’t even get me started with the needless redesign of the Klingons. Oddly, Fox is putting out a parody show which actually appears more like real Star Trek than this. When the parody show does it better than you — you’ve got big trouble.

Then on Sunday, the actor who plays the captain of the new ship, a character named Lorca (not a great naming job either for that character), made the ultimate PR error. He admitted that the producers of this show don’t care about Star Trek in the least, and in fact, they disregard it. He told an interviewer in the New York daily news: 

“I don’t mean to sound irreverent when I say I don’t care about the die-hard Trek fans,” he told us at an event in Los Angeles. “I only ‘don’t care’ about them in the sense that I know they’re all going to watch anyway. I look forward to having the fun of them being outraged, so they can sit up all night and talk about it with each other.”

He’s taking an enterprising approach to the sci-fi franchise.

“It’s ‘Star Trek,’ but not as we know it,” he said. “There are places obviously where they’ve observed canon to do with things like uniforms and badges and stuff, but there are places where the rules of storytelling are reinvented.”

Well, he sounds irreverent in the least, and the most for that matter. The signal is clear that Star Trek fans are not supposed to like this — because this is not star trek. The storytelling is going to be vastly different than Star Trek, which was almost universally hailed as good and innovative, and now is going to be something fans don’t want. So who are these “new fans” they’re planning on capturing? As much as “you’ll watch it no matter what” condescension is there, Star Trek fans are not going to tune in for a couple of reasons: 1. it’s clearly a show that’s going to put a middle finger to what Star Trek is, while using the brand 2. it’s on a paid subscription service that no one’s using, and Star Trek fans are, I’ll be honest here, on the cheap side.

It’s a disaster. Saying this is a disaster. I don’t even know how ST:D recovers. There are no known cures. It sounds like it’d almost be better not to air the show for brand management at this point, and give Star Trek Continues a shoestring budget and let them make money on their own.

It gets worse in the article:

Isaacs says that the new “Star Trek” will be a reflection of our own world, which is something he has a hard time discussing with his own children right now.

Not only do they hate Star Trek, but they are saying this is going to be very heavy-handed, angry, dark political message fiction. Something useless to all of us in these times. The last thing we want in our escapist show about space ships and lasers. The show is about politics, nothing else, not even Star Trek. Dammit, Jim, It’s a sci-fi, not a political propaganda hour.

Who decided to greenlight this?

Film Review: Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets

This weekend I went to see Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets. I saw it was the most expensive indie movie ever made, and that Luc Besson was involved, of Fifth Element fame – which might actually be the greatest science fiction movie of all time. So I figured, why not? I got a little worried when I was told there was a message in the movie, as message fiction bothers me for the most part. This didn’t have anything to do with current political climates, so it’s safe on that front. Let’s dive into the rest of the film.

Valerian both suffers and does excellently from the modern-film having to have so much action it hurts and overuse of CGI.  I say done excellently, because while most action of this sort throws me out of the film after a few minutes (Star Trek: Into Darkness and Spock fist fighting on top of a crashing space ship is a great example of how it’s used poorly), I never was thrown out of the action in this at all. It was clever, well done, and actually showed us action that other films haven’t from a creativity standpoint. The visuals were beautiful to look at. And there CGI was everywhere. Way too many visuals with a lot of density, as is the trend. I couldn’t help but want to compare a little bit to Avatar with the blue aliens who were integral to the plot, which is bad in that it reminded me of a bad movie, but everything Avatar almost did, this did strictly better. Pacing wise, it was pretty break-neck, and I think with the amount of action I did start to suffer a little fatigue. It should have maybe been 10 minutes shorter for a tighter film.

A lot of people complained about the casting, that these actors didn’t have enough gravitas to hold a film of this weight. Luc Besson reminds me of a younger Keanu Reeves, an actor I’m not particularly fond of, though mentally, he does prepare me for an action flick like this as Keanu does these kind of movies. I can’t say his acting ever threw me out of the film. Cara Delvinge played the female lead, Laureline, and she is mostly known for modeling and background work, not for her lead roles.  I won’t lie, I was perfectly content to stare at her for two hours. I thought she did a great job actually, but even if she didn’t, I wouldn’t have cared. Where the casting broke down were the tertiary roles. Some of the lines delivered were pretty bad and wooden from those characters who came in to drop information periodically. Rihanna was tough on the dialogue end, but obviously her dancing was pretty crazy to watch.

Plot wise, I really enjoyed it. A good mystery build, investigations, lots of zany twists and turns like you’d expect from the guy who did the Fifth Element, unique use of strange alien species. There were points where things went a little implausible, but the movie and plot didn’t take itself too seriously. It was very clear on that from the get go. The dialogue had a lot of humor in it, which was fun. I enjoyed it, cared about the main characters. The subplot of the romance felt reeeeeeeally forced though, I gotta say. Some of it was cute, but most of it was over the top and poorly done. I liked it when it was some jabbing, but as it got later into the movie it broke down a bit. Not that I mind how it resolved, but something about it just didn’t work. It didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the film much if at all, however.

On the message: it was there a little. Anti-war, don’t use crazy destructive weapons of overwhelming force in war because there’s consequences and innocents get hurt. Love and acceptance is a better way to do things. The blue people were somewhat annoyingly painted as saints, noble savages, like all films do these days, but it wasn’t so obnoxious like Avatar where it was all message with cigar chomping general. Elements were the same, but it wasn’t poorly done, and frankly I can’t say I disagree with that message. No problems on that front.

The amount of fun action and beautiful imagery throughout the movie were about perfect even though I picked out some of the minor problems that, due to how many there are, did hurt the film a little bit. That said, I’d actually watch this one again, and there’s no many movies in recent years I’d do that with. I can’t give in an A, but I rate it a solid B, 8/10.

Retro Review: Star Wars: The Last Command by Timothy Zahn

Earlier this year I was pretty excited to find that Timothy Zahn had a new Thrawn novel out. The original trilogy was something I found exciting in my youth, and I was eager for more with this character, which they’ve actually done a great job of incoroporating into the Rebels tv show as well.  It’d also been more than 20 years since I read the original books, so I wanted to check them out and see if they held up to the test of time first. You can see my reviews of Heir to the Empire and Dark Force Rising to see what I thought so far.

The Last Command didn’t let down. It opened up in some nice battle that drew me right back in to the book. At this point, pages 50-125 perhaps, I think it dragged a little compared to the rest of the series. It fell into the standard trap I see in some books of “oh this needs to be a standalone book, so we’ll give you the lay of hte land” with a lot of dialogue really geared toward telling us how much Thrawn was some strategic wizard and how dangerous he is, which we already knew.

However once it got past that, this book flew. I couldn’t put it down for a moment. The development of Mara Jade was beautiful, and I would say that actually the character that ended up iwth the most development, and is most underrated from the series is Captain Pellaeon. His arc of training from Thrawn is really fabulous. It’s amazing that Zahn not only managed to create such a great villain in Thrawn but a sidekick villain I care to read more about. Expert writing on a level beyond almost everything else, tie in or not, ever written.

In a book like this it takes a lot to make you care about characters who aren’t Luke, Han, Leia, as we all come in for further adventures of our great heroes, but Zahn’s creations really shine and even sometimes outshine the originals. C’Baoth as a new dark jedi is actually more interesting than the Emperor in the original movies in a lot of ways as well.

The only character whose arc felt flat to me was Karrde, as he went through the same Han Solo/Lando arc that we’ve already seen with those characters. I vastly prefered the darker criminal elements to him in the first ocuple books than I did in this one where he’s all in on the Republic side. He ended up a little boring as did his segments from his perspective.

Even with that though, that’s minor. Zahn’s writing is so strong that even the parts where I didn’t like were fine. He has a nice descriptive sense that’s not too bogged down and communicates scenes well.

Not much to say about the main characters themselves. They felt real, Zahn could have written the scripts with them and i would have never noticed a difference other than the developments they’ve made in time. The dialogue between them was great, about as well done as can be asked for on that front.

The big epic finale conclusion battle is about as good as it gets in fiction as well. I usually skim through battle scenes hard because they overdescribe elements and tend to make something imminently skimable, but The Last Command is relaly battle done right. There’s character development mixed into it, tension and twists like I’ve never seen. Brilliant and beautiful, and once more, better than the original movies.

I may actually go read The Hand Of Thrawn series because I liked this so much, and apprecaite Zahn’s creations and contributions to this universe almost more than the originals, even though I wasn’t intending on reading more Star Wars books. One can only lament what could have been if Disney/Lucas developed this into film rather than the uninspired marketing-driven nostalgia pieces that they keep putting out that are devoid of feeling.

10/10

New Star Realms Kickstarter!

Star Realms: Frontiers hit Kickstarter today. Of course i backed it immediately and it’s doing swimmingly (congratulations to doubling funding on day 1 WWG!). I love new Star Relams content and cards to make the game a different experience, and this looks to be a lot of fun:

I still haven’t exhausted all the fun from the base game and colony wars, but my favorite way to play is actually a big mash of al lthe cards together which creates absolute chaos. I can’t wait to play this, and I’m quite scared of the Blob Alpha… that is a crazy card!

Now if you haven’t checked out my book, Star Realms: Rescue Run, it’s a great time to do so as well: http://bit.ly/starrealmsnovel as we’re gearing up for the Dragon Award Nominations. Would love to have you read this, check out all the fun references to the game, enjoy a great space opera and post your review thoughts on amazon. If you have already, please vote. Every single vote will help get us closer there for the nomination, which would be a huge boost in visibility:  http://application.dragoncon.org/dc_fan_awards_nominations.php

 

Thanks everyone for reading and being here. For the Star Empire!