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It's time for the continuing adventures of Liz and her reading list! These are the books I read in June 2009. (Click on the cuts for summaries and reactions. I reserve the right to spoil all hell out of any book if spoilery bits are what I feel like talking about.)

This month is basically nothing but Star Trek tie-in novels, about which I have waxed dreadfully long-winded. (Seriously. My reviews/reactions have been getting longer and longer over the years, but these are just ridiculous. Ah well. Obsession is fun?)

New: 8
---Troublesome Minds, Dave Galanter (sci-fi: a Star Trek novel, set during Kirk & Co's first five-year mission. The Enterprise discovers a new sentient space-faring race, the Isitri, but unfortunately their first contact attempt is to save a small ship that's being attacked by the Isitri fleet. It turns out that the Isitri are somewhat involuntary telepaths, and occasionally a person is born among them whose mind is so strong -- so 'troublesome,' as they put it -- that that person dominates and enslaves the wills of the entire planet, whether he or she means to or not. The rescued ship contains the latest such person, Berlis, who somehow escaped detection when he was younger. Now the neighboring people, the Odib, are preparing to attack Isitri as part of a treaty signed in response to the wars caused by the last two troublesome minds, both of whom became convinced the Odib were a threat and attempted to annihilate them. Meanwhile, Kirk and McCoy discover the hard way that Spock is susceptible to Berlis's telepathy.

This is a solidly constructed book, with some nice touches in the Isitri sign language, the differences between Vulcan and Isitri telepathy, and Spock's unresolved tension over his own emotions. You can see the seeds of his eventual decision to attempt Kolinahr. However, the new characters, both Odib and Isitri, are largely forgettable, and their worlds are not developed in any real depth beyond the Isitri's lack of the written word. Also, Galanter's depiction of the Enterprise is very human-centric, which is both sad and a waste of the written word's unlimited sfx budget.)

---The Romulan Way, Diane Duane and Peter Morwood (sci-fi: a Star Trek novel, indirect sequel to My Enemy, My Ally. Arrhae ir-Mnaeha t'Khellian, the housekeeper and chief servant of an impoverished Romulan Praetor's country estate, is unwillingly drawn into intrigue when a Federation prisoner -- Doctor Leonard McCoy, of the Enterprise -- is brought to the estate and put largely under her care and watch. Most Rihannsu are looking forward to executing him; a few consider that this is dishonorable and would like to rescue him; and others would like to make him 'disappear' and torture him in private for years. This would be a tricky situation under any circumstances, but Arrhae is also Lt. Terise Haleakala-LoBrutto of Starfleet, an undercover agent on a long-term assignment to study and report on civilian Romulan society. She has come to love her adopted world. And McCoy's presence on ch'Rihan is not as straightforward as it might initially seem.

The story chapters are intercut by shorter chapters of historical and sociological information on the origin and development of the Rihannsu people and culture. This is fascinating from a world-building perspective. It's also interesting to see Duane altering some of the implicit world-building from My Enemy, My Ally -- mostly the details about when Vulcans developed telepathy -- and slipping in a reference to the Hamalki, the crystalline spider people who feature in The Wounded Sky and cameo in Spock's World. I adore Duane's interpretation of the Star Trek universe, and the thought and love she so obviously pours into her books.

There's an amusing retroactive canon glitch wherein the Vulcans aren't one of the four founding races of the Federation, but instead don't encounter and join the Federation until well after the First Romulan War has begun, but it's a minor point and works perfectly well within the story.)

---Swordhunt, Diane Duane (sci-fi: a Star Trek novel, sequel to both My Enemy, My Ally and The Romulan Way. This edition is the combined text of what was originally published as two separate novels [Swordhunt and Honor Blade], but which was apparently always intended as a single book. Since I don't have the faintest idea where one would go about cutting the story in half -- it doesn't have any obvious division points -- I think it works much better as a unit.

At the end of The Romulan Way, Ael took the Sword from the Empty Chair, thus appropriating the single most significant cultural symbol of the Rihannsu and simultaneously declaring rebellion and something like a claim to represent the true way of mnhei'sahe, which the Empire has lost. Now the Romulan Empire and the Federation are edging toward war, and the Klingons are watching rapaciously from the wings, eager to take advantage of the coming chaos. Also, the Federation must decide what to do about the ion storm technology they stole from Levaeri V at the end of My Enemy, My Ally, and how to forestall its use on a star with inhabited planets.

This book is clearly the 'middle book' in the tetralogy. It's an odd series because it has, in effect, two first books, but only one middle book and one final book. Swordhunt is an awful lot of politics, interspersed with brief scenes of rebellion on various Romulan colony worlds, and occasional space battles and scientific investigations. It's a very interesting collection of politics, rebellion, and science, but it's obviously setting up dominoes for the fourth book to knock down, and so I can't judge it accurately until I read The Empty Chair. Then I will know whether the setup worked.

Until then, I can simply say that Duane has a knack for creating vivid original characters in a bare handful of pages, giving a great sense of the breadth and depth of the cultural crisis engulfing the Romulan Empire. I am genuinely uncertain which way the key politician in the Praetorial Triumvirate is going to jump, so that suspense is effectively built. And K's't'lk returns in a supporting role, which makes me unreasonably happy. *grin*)

---Doctor's Orders, Diane Duane (sci-fi: a Star Trek novel, timeline placement uncertain [though I suspect either post-series or post-TMP]. The Enterprise is sent to follow up on an unusual survey report of a planet that seems to have three native sentient species: the Ornae, the Lahit, and the ;At. [It's a subtle running joke that nobody knows how to pronounce ';At.'] Initial results are confusing but promising. Meanwhile, McCoy has been grumbling about how Kirk has it easy sitting in the command chair while everyone else works themselves to the bone, which prompts Kirk to leave McCoy in command while he transports down to the planet to speak with a representative of the ;At, who had previously been avoiding the Enterprise's crew.

Then Kirk vanishes. Then Starfleet command starts trying to interfere with mission orders. Then a Klingon ship appears. Then the Enterprise loses contact with Starfleet. Then a giant Orion pirate ship appears. McCoy regrets joking about Kirk's job being easy, but he copes admirably, with Spock and the other bridge crew to help him out -- he stands down the Klingons, obfuscates Starfleet, and gives a very credible performance in an in-system space battle, which is cool for being sneaky and using orbital mechanics and the lack of inertia in space instead of jumping straight to warp speed and pretending spaceships are just bigger airplanes.

Meanwhile, Kirk has been talking with the Master of the ;At, trying to communicate over the barrier of their very different understandings of time, and explain the nature and purpose of the Federation to a species that has no need for trade. He also takes a moment to deal with a displaced Klingon landing party, who are in search of a rare plant for purposes they would prefer not to discuss. And all the threads pull together in a very satisfying manner, with a conclusion to the space battle that neatly fits the ethical worries that both Kirk and McCoy wrestle with over the course of the story.

This is a very good book!)

---The IDIC Epidemic, Jean Lorrah (sci-fi: a Star Trek novel, direct sequel to The Vulcan Academy Murders. A mysterious mutating plague on Nissus, a science colony with residents from dozens of species, interrupts the Enterprise's assignment to transport a group of dissident Vulcans to found a new colony. The disease is particularly troubling because it mutates into newer and more deadly strains in the bodies of mixed-species people, which seems to question the viability of the basic principle of the Federation: strength in diversity.

As with Lorrah's previous novel, this is technically well written, with smooth narrative flow and engaging characters. However, there are several flaws. First, there are simply too many characters to do them all justice; I would have preferred to leave Sarek, Amanda, Corrigan, and T'Mir out altogether -- not because I dislike them, but because that would have left time and space to develop T'Pina, Beau Deaver, Seela, and Korsal's sons into more three-dimensional characters. [Korsal is the one original character who gets enough page time, IMHO. And I'd leave Sorel and Sendet in, because they actually get tiny story arcs, whereas the other carryovers from The Vulcan Academy Murders are just there to no purpose.]

Second, Lorrah is far too concerned with tying people up in tidy romantic pairings. I grant you, everyone she ties up is Vulcan to some degree; she's established Vulcans as meddling matchmakers and biologically driven to find a bond in order to stave off pon farr; and the mess around T'Pina helps illustrated the IDIC principle -- but still. It annoys me, because life is not that tidy and I was far more interested in the plague than in Lorrah's not particularly compelling romance subplots.

Third, the ending flat-out doesn't work. It's too rushed; it doesn't explain anything. How did Klingon Imperial Plague get to Nissus in the first place, for example? Why did it mutate in such a curious pattern? The Klingons can't use it as a bio-weapon, but what about the Romulans? Will the people of Nissus be able to repair the strained bonds of their society? Lorrah provides a cure and resolves her romantic plotlines, but leaves everything else hanging, which I found extremely frustrating. YMMV, obviously!)

---The Prometheus Design, Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath (sci-fi: a Star Trek novel. With footnotes. There are good ways to do footnotes and bad ways, and this falls on the bad side. I can remember or look up canon perfectly well on my own, thank you, and I can trust writers to build their own backstories for characters without needing to know exactly which other stories they are referencing. If it's a question of authorial credit, I think an appendix would have done just fine.

Anyway, this novel is set after TMP, and deals with, among other things, Kirk and Spock's awkward attempt to reestablish their friendship after Kirk abandoned Spock and Spock tried to cut the capability for friendship out of himself. The problem is that I don't buy Marshak and Culbreath's portrayal of the characters. While I can believe that Spock would cut Kirk slack in hand-to-hand, I do not think he cuts Kirk any slack in chess. I also think Kirk would have noticed Spock cutting him slack in hand-to-hand, and said something years earlier. I do not buy the idea of Vulcan command mode. And perhaps most importantly, I do not think Spock is so obviously superior to Kirk as Marshak and Culbreath would like me to think. There is a reason Kirk is the captain [an in-universe reason, not the Doylist reason that it's a human TV show with, therefore, a human central character] and a reason Spock has never objected to that state of affairs, and it is that Kirk makes the right choices and pulls people along with him, in a way Spock cannot match.

So. The plot. Basically, people have noticed a sudden upsurge in both aggression and scientific/cultural development in the Milky Way, and the graphs seem to be leading to self-annihilation very soon. Savaj, a famous Vulcan admiral and scientist, theorizes that a race of super-beings is using the galaxy as an experiment [this is thinly linked to 20th century UFO abduction stories] and he uses the Enterprise to attract the Designers' attention. This is all well and good, but one of the stated reasons for using the Enterprise is the rapport among its command crew... and yet while Marshak and Culbreath bring McCoy along, he has nothing to do. Kirk, Spock, and Savaj all manage to break their patterns, but I don't recall McCoy getting a similar character moment. That annoys me. Either use him properly as a main character, or explicitly make him a supporting character; don't leave him in limbo.

In conclusion, while the writing is smooth and not too melodramatic, and the philosophical ideas behind this book are interesting -- I especially like the answer Marshak and Culbreath provide, of fighting callousness and choosing anew each day not to give in to the worst of ourselves -- the character interpretations drive me up the wall. Also, you know, I think I have read this fanfic before, only it ended with BDSM sex wherein Spock controlled Kirk and made him admit all his 'mistakes' and beg Spock to let him come. I didn't like the character interpretations then, either, but at least there was more honesty about the id process behind them. *makes face*)

---Yesterday's Son, A. C. Crispin (sci-fi: a Star Trek novel, probably set post-series and pre-TWOK; I can't place it more precisely than that. An ensign studying the records of the destroyed civilization of Sarpeidon discovers a cave painting that seems to depict a Vulcan, which is inexplicable for that time and place... except that Spock once accidentally traveled 5000 years into Sarpeidon's past and fell in love with Zarabeth, a woman who was also trapped out of time. Now Spock, Kirk, and McCoy use the Guardian of Forever to travel back and bring Zar, Spock and Zarabeth's son, to the present. Of course, nothing is ever that simple. *grin*

This is a likeable book, but it felt like either a long introductory set-up or the stripped bare remains of a much longer novel. There is too much telling/summarizing and not enough showing, which is annoying since the book is about emotional reactions and how they change or are revealed over time, and that kind of plot demands detail in order to be at all believable. But I did like Zar -- as I say, it's a very likeable book -- and I wish Crispin had had the time and space to do him [and his relationship with Spock] more justice.)

---Home Is the Hunter, Dana Kramer-Rolls (sci-fi/historical: a Star Trek novel, in which the Enterprise and a Klingon ship, the Ghargh, are sent to make contact with the inhabitants of Cragon V in order to exploit the planet's mineral resources. Unfortunately, Cragon V is ruled by Weyland, an alien I suspect of being related to Trelane and/or the Q, who is obsessed by the concept of honor. When an altercation between the Klingons and the Enterprise's landing party leads to the death of a child, Weyland sends Sulu, Scotty, and Chekov back in time and space to Kyoto shortly before the battle of Sekigahara, Scotland during Bonnie Prince Charlie's rebellion, and Stalingrad during WWII, respectively. Meanwhile, the Enterprise and the Ghargh are trapped in decaying orbits around Cragon V.

Sulu, Scotty, and Chekov must struggle to survive in the midst of wars, while remaining true to themselves and their sense of responsibility to both history and to the people they meet. In the future, Kirk and the Klingon commander must work together to negotiate with Weyland -- a task made even more difficult by a successful mutiny on the Ghargh.

This book needed more pages to develop the past settings in more detail, and to give the original characters more depth. It's also a very male-centric book, despite the inclusion of a female Klingon lieutenant, a love story for Sulu, and the running gag in which Uhura infuriates the Klingons by demanding polite telephone manners. [I am somewhere between annoyed and appalled at the way a young Scotswoman's rape is mentioned once and then glossed over in all her further appearances.] But overall it's engaging and well-plotted, and I really like the throwaway line at the end where Kirk has a whole speech on honor and humanity prepared, but swallows it in the interests of not ticking Weyland off again. That's very cute.)


Old: 4
---Spock's World, Diane Duane (sci-fi: a Star Trek novel. Sometime between TMP and TWOK, an isolationist movement has grown popular on Vulcan, so much so that the planetary government calls a referendum on whether to secede from the United Federation of Planets. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are among the people requested to speak in the public debate over the secession issue. The present-day story is intercut with chapters on Vulcan's history. This is similar to the technique Duane uses in The Romulan Way, but here the historical information is often presented via short stories that represent their particular eras.

I love this book to a ridiculous degree. Duane obviously finds world-building a joy in and of itself, which I identify with very strongly. I love the violence and passion and the glimpses of the banality of savagery one sees in Vulcan's history -- and the occasional cultural weirdness, like the lack of standing armies, or the existence of extra-national terrorist groups that hire themselves out to state governments and are treated as a perfectly normal above-board element of politics. I love how the Vulcans, for all their present-day pacifism, reacted to the devastation of nuclear weapons not by effectively banning them from ever being used again, but by figuring out how to contain the radioactive fallout so they would destroy everything cleanly, and then blithely used them in ordinary wars. I love the way the love story and the rags-to-riches story in the historical chapters both end in madness and violence. By the time Duane gets to Surak, you really grasp why his message was so desperately needed. And she writes Surak's story very well; Duane is one of the few authors I know of who can convincingly write religious/spiritual epiphanies.

On a side note, I find it interesting, given the time Duane has spent developing Vulcan and Romulan culture and history, that she doesn't seem as fond of Spock as she is of Kirk and McCoy. This is not to say that she ever writes Spock badly or fails to give him page time, just that she almost never uses him as a POV character, nor illuminates him deep down the way she does Kirk and sometimes McCoy. And you know, that's fair; everyone has her own favorites... and Duane writes such a wonderful Kirk and McCoy that I cannot possibly begrudge her a lack of similar infatuation with Spock. *grin*)

---How Much for Just the Planet?, John M. Ford (sci-fi: a Star Trek novel. So much fun I read it again! This time I knew the plot and could therefore skip the musical numbers, which still failed to work for me. But everything else -- particularly the opening scenes, with the wrong-colored food and the rubber starship; or the final extravaganza with the hotel rooms and the laundry chute -- just gets funnier and funnier.)

---The Return of Rafe MacKade, Nora Roberts (romance: book one in the MacKade Brothers tetralogy. The MacKades grew up on a farm outside Antietam, Maryland. When their parents die, Rafe -- the wild one -- leaves town and ends up parlaying construction work into a successful real estate and construction business. When he returns home roughly ten years later, he buys the old Barlow mansion, intending to fix it up as a bed-and-breakfast... aided by Regan Bishop, the owner of a local antiques store. They fall in love, but neither wants to admit that, mostly because they both hate being vulnerable and not feeling in control of their own destinies. It's very cute, especially the way their silly bet from early in their courtship ends up as a way to make up after their worst argument. Also, we kick off two running plot threads -- one about Cassie Dolan and her wife-beating drunken lout of a husband, and one about the ghosts that haunt the Civil War battlefield and the woods between the Barlow house and the MacKade farm.)

---The Pride of Jared MacKade, Nora Roberts (romance: book two in the MacKade Brothers tetralogy. Jared MacKade -- the eldest, now a lawyer -- has recently ended a civil, passionless marriage with a civil, bloodless divorce. He moves back to the family farm for a while, and falls for Savannah Morningstar, a single mother who's bought the cabin between the farm and the Barlow house. Then his pride and Savannah's past get in the way.

These first two MacKade Brothers novels are copyright 1995, so I probably read the series in 1996, when I was fourteen. I read a lot of genre romance in high school, to the point where I got very picky about quality. Nora Roberts was one of my consistent favorites, partly because she tended to build conflict out of character traits rather than impose obstacles from outside, partly because her heroines had lives and careers and continued to have lives and careers after falling in love and getting married, and partly because she generally built a community around her leads instead of isolating them -- which made them much more plausible as adults instead of melodramatic adolescents who refused to grow up and face reality. I read much less romance these days, but I still like Nora Roberts. Oddly, I like her better when she's writing straight genre romance than when she tries to do paranormal romance or semi-mainstream romantic-suspense novels. I think this is because fantasy and suspense are not really her strong points, but she can write solid, grounded, believable, soul-comforting love stories like nobody else. And she doesn't go on for pages and pages of pointless, badly-written sex, either!)


June Total: 12 books (plus several magazines, a few newspapers, and a ridiculous amount of fanfiction)

Year to Date: 46 books (25 new, 21 old)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-01 06:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] valles-uf.livejournal.com
I have your address written down and my spare copy of The Empty Chair sitting on my laundry next to me; I'll have it in the mail to you tomorrow.

Since, y'know. I have to send my rent, too, removing any chance of my ditzing out about it any longer. ^_^;

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-01 10:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] valles-uf.livejournal.com
It's on its way.

I'm very curious, really, as to what you think the 'Duaneverse' will end up looking like by the TNG/DS9 era... 'Cause man but TEC dives off into deep left field that way.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-06 12:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] valles-uf.livejournal.com
You're certainly right about the possibility of significant 'backsliding', but I think that even if that did occur then there'd still be massive, massive differences.

In TV-canon, right, there was that period of border incidents and trouble, where Romulan ships would show up, wreck stuff, then sneak away...

...and that was it. Most of what the Federation knows about the Romulans by the point where we stop following the original timeline was learned since they reestablished contact in TNG - and, quite possibly, vice versa.

But in Duane's setting, that's not the case. Even, worse case, if 'Terise' gets outed - there's still that legacy of interaction and cooperation, and whatever Ael -does- manage to get done before it goes bad. The differences might be subtle and out of sight, but I'd be shocked if they weren't significant...

And really, I think a Butterfly Hurricane is more likely.

But. Y'know, your story, not mine. ^_^

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-02 12:22 am (UTC)
ext_47: a cat on top of a book (kitty curious)
From: [identity profile] silverblade219.livejournal.com
"Yesterday's Son" apparently has a squeal, "Time for Yesterday" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_for_Yesterday)

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Elizabeth Culmer

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