One Sentence Book Review: “Hit Man” by Lawrence Block

Hit Man by Lawrence Block

Review

Grand Master Mystery Writer Lawrence Block delivered a slow-to-start, wry, intensely introspective novel about murder-for-hire.

Links

One Sentence Book Reviews– Read more one sentence book reviews here. I’ve decided to do one for every book I read, which is a lot. I got started on 5/14/16 so this list will grow from there.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Star Trek: TNG Season 7 “Homeward” and “Sub Rosa”

sub-rosa

This isn’t weird or anything.

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“Homeward”

Synopsis

Worf must work with his adoptive brother, Nikolai Rozhenko, to try to save a primitive people on a planet that is being destroyed. However, Nikolai has other plans than letting them die and instead forces Worf–and the crew of the Enterprise–to help him by simply beaming them on board.  He does so, however, in a carefully prepared holodeck deception such that he can prepare the people for transplanting to a new planet. One of the people discovers what has happened, but commits ritual suicide. Finally the rest of the group is transported to a new planet and Nikolai stays behind to help them adapt to the new planet.

Commentary

I wanted to like this one more than I did, but the plot holes were gaping. How do you transplant a whole people from one place to another–not just one place, but different planets–without major rehabilitation of how they live and breathe and move, etc.? How could the Enterprise really have so many difficulties maintaining the holodeck that it would start breaking down systems? How could Nikolai not be subject to any kind of discipline? I don’t know!

The interplay between Worf and Nikolai was pretty great. Basically all of Worf’s family from any species is amazing drama. It was great to see the brothers interacting and how that played out through the episode. It was really the interplay between these two that carried the episode and made me more willing to ignore the plot holes. Sure, it doesn’t make sense, but at least you get to see more dynamics of Worf’s family. The guy who played Nikolai did a great job selling his character and the backstory for him as well.

It’s not a terrible episode, it’s just very difficult to take the central premise seriously.

Grade: B “Intriguing character dynamics are marred by an unbelievable plot.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B “The premise was interesting, but the plot as many holes as a screen door.” 

“Sub Rosa”

Synopsis

Dr. Crusher returns to her home to bury her grandmother, when she meets her grandmother’s lover. Turns out he is a good age for Beverly as well, and he is extremely charming, so she begins to fall for him too. However, when Picard comes to visit, he asks questions of Crusher’s new lover, Ronin. As Ronin evades Picard’s inquiries, he casts a web around Crusher that tightens ever more, ultimately revealing he is non-corporeal himself. When he is threatened with exposure by Geordi and Data, he attacks, and Beverly vaporizes him.

Commentary

I feel like I experienced this plot elsewhere before. The work I’m thinking of is a Clive Barker novel, Galilee. I admit I only vaguely remember that one, but what I do remember is some kind of dude who seduces all the ladies in a family over time. Of course, this episode was aired four years before the publication of that novel, but I read the novel more recently than I saw this episode, so it felt strange to me. Also, I’m pretty sure this was one of the episodes that my parents ultimately banished my sister and I from watching as it aired back in the day, because it is creepy.

Anyway, this was a strange episode. It is one of those that really does not feel like Star Trek at all. It’s like something from Edgar Allan Poe. What’s interesting is when you search this episode online, you see it popping up on a number of “worst of Trek” lists, but also a few “best of Trek” lists. Clearly this is a divisive episode for the fans.

It’s hard for me to see Crusher falling for Ronin so easily, but maybe he has more powers than the episode said such that he was able to seduce her very quickly. But… ew.

Grade: B- “Uh… What?”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “While not a standard Star Trek plot, it was a pretty good story. Penalty for continued use of female characters primarily for romantic subplots.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

Star Wars: The Expanded Universe Read-Through “Dark Apprentice” by Kevin J. Anderson

sw-da-kjaI have embarked on a quest to read through the Star Wars Expanded Universe once more. Be sure to check the linked text there to see other posts in this series. Here, Luke Skywalker continues his quest to found a new Jedi Academy in Dark Apprentice, the second book of the Jedi Academy trilogy. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Dark Apprentice

There are two huge problems with this book, and they are largely interlinked. The first is that major characters act extremely out of character a number of times. The most telling example of this is when Han finds out Leia has been in an accident and his first reaction is to gamble with Lando Calrissian for who owns the Millennium Falcon. What? That seriously happened!

The second problem is that there is a whole lot of filler in this book. Unlike Jedi Search, which had a tight narrative that kept the action going, Dark Apprentice has heaping helpings of scenes where the characters do little other than wander around. Case in point: Jacen and Jaina Solo get lost and wander all around Coruscant while Chewbacca and C-3PO scurry around trying to figure out what to do. Once more, this also demonstrates characters acting out of character. It is unthinkable that C-3PO would fail to follow protocol so obviously (he’s a protocol droid!) and that Chewbacca would refuse to do all he could (i.e. notify the authorities) to save the children of them an to whom he owes a life-debt. Going back to the example of gambling above, an inordinate amount of time is spent with Lando and Han going back and forth on who owns the Falcon and gambling away time. These two problems are severe, and make Dark Apprentice feel very much like an in-between book, just taking up space rather than moving the narrative forward.

On the other hand, Anderson does a better job in this book of developing more of the side characters. Notable examples are Kyp Durron and Admiral Ackbar, who each get enough development to feel more real than they did before. However, even Durron is shorted time in the spotlight due to the aforementioned filler material.

The plot of Dark Apprentice feels very much like a placeholder as well. Yes, the development of Durron and his seemingly swift fall to the Dark Side was interesting, but it happened so fast that it was difficult to get into it as much as I wanted to. Other than that, little seemed to happen. A few plot twists were thrown in, and the setting up of Ackbar to take a fall in order to try to split the New Republic was the best moment of the novel. These moments of brilliance make the amount of silliness harder to swallow. It’s one thing to have scenes that resonate with the “fun” of the Star Wars universe, but it is another to do so at the cost of the overall plot.

Dark Apprentice is a filler book. It is particularly frustrating to read this one following the excellent Jedi Search. It feels like so much more could have been done with the plot and characters. Unfortunately, there were too many tough-to-swallow moments.

The Good

+Side characters get chances to shine

The Bad

-Out-of-character behavior
-Lots of filler
-Too-swift development of major plot points

Best Droid Moment

C-3PO losing track of the twins and worrying about getting dismantled

Grade: C- “I expected more after the first entry. ‘Dark Apprentice’ has too little going on to make it a suitable follow up to ‘Jedi Search.'”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Reading through Star Wars: Expanded Universe– Here you can read other posts in this series (reviews of other EU books) and make suggestions about what I should include in my reviews.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

Star Trek: TNG Season 7 “Parallels” and “The Pegasus”

ParallelsI’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“Parallels”

Synopsis

Worf returns from a bat’leth tournament (something I’d like to witness) to a surprise birthday party, much to his chagrin. Things start changing, however, almost immediately. His cake flavor is different, but that is just the first indication things are changing. As the episode continues, larger and larger changes happen, with Worf entering universes farther from his own. Ultimately, Worf must go in a Shuttle among a horde of different Enterprises in order to seal the rifts between the worlds.

Commentary

Alright, let’s get this out of the way. “Parallels” relies a lot on what has come before. It serves up a heaping helping of fan service. The plot itself is pretty interesting, but only because we care so much about the characters. Now, if you cheat and scroll down to see the grades I give, you’ll be wondering why I’m saying this given the score I awarded it. The simplest answer is because… it’s a heaping helping of fan service and I want to eat it whole.

How many times do Star Trek fans sit around saying “what if…”?

The opening is fabulous. Surprise party for Worf, just when he thought he was safe. It was delightful to see his reaction as well as the gifts people brought for him. The final scene is also done very smartly. Worf has learned from his experience, and one of the things he’s learned is that Troi could be more than a friend to him. It is possible, in a literal sense (this sentence is not nonsensical if you watch the episode). So, what does he do? Bust out the champagne, baby! Gotta love it.

Grade: A+ “Give me more Worfs.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “Aside from a few plot inconsistencies, it was quite good.”

“The Pegasus”

Synopsis

Admiral Erik Pressman takes the Enterprise on a top secret mission to try to recover technology from the Pegasus, Riker’s first ship. It turns out things aren’t as cut-and-dried as they seem, however, as Riker has second thoughts about his siding with Pressman so many years ago when the crew of the Pegasus mutinied. The Enterprise races a Romulan Warbird to find the Pegasus, and finally discovers it half entombed in stone. It turns out that they were testing a cloaking device that allowed for shifting through solid matter as well, in direct violation of a treaty with the Romulans. Ultimately, Pressman is called out for his violation of this treaty and it seems severe repercussions will follow. The true story of the Pegasus will be told.

Commentary

The main problem with this episode is how hard it is to believe. First off, the crew of the Pegasus mutinied for what reason, exactly? The answer seemed to be because of the experiment with this hyper-dangerous cloaking device. But then as the episode went on it morphed into being about the ethical problem of the treaty with the Romulans. If the mutiny was for the latter reason, then it is interesting how easily fixed that problem was this time. If for the former reason, it is surprising how easily the Enterprise used the cloaking device not even intended for it. That raises the second difficulty: how exactly does a cloaking device that is designed for one ship (and failed) magically work for an entirely different ship and class 12 years later? What?

Despite these difficulties, the overall plot was pretty phenomenal. It allowed us to plumb Riker’s past and learn just how complex a character he is, while also maintaining serious suspense in the here-and-now. Particularly poignant was Riker’s own reflection on how much he has changed since his tour of duty on board the Pegasus and how he has come to realize he probably made the wrong decision. That’s a big thing to address, and for Riker to realize that must be an enormous weight. The episode also does a good job balancing the ethical questions it raises with more pragmatic concerns.

I liked the episode a lot, but it would have been better if they’d managed to make the core premise more believable.

Grade: A- “I enjoyed the intensity of this one, even if it stretched credulity a bit much.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A “It was a solid episode with some good ethical dilemmas. Riker was great.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

Star Wars Expanded Universe Read-Through: “Jedi Search” by Kevin J. Anderson

Jedi-Search

Jedi-SearchI have embarked on a quest to read through the Star Wars Expanded Universe once more. Be sure to check the linked text there to see other posts in this series. Jedi Search by Kevin J. Anderson is the next up, and it is book one of The Jedi Academy Trilogy. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Jedi Search

I’ll admit it: I remembered effectively nothing of this book. It came out right as I got into reading Star Wars books (I feel lucky to have largely grown up on the Expanded Universe) and after the Thrawn Trilogy, I picked up The Courtship of Princess Leia and went on from there. It’s been over 20 years since I read this one the first time, so it felt almost entirely fresh.

I’m glad it did. Jedi Search was a fun ride. First, there are several scenes in this book that are distinctively “Star Wars” in their feel. Unlike Star Trek (which I also love, just see my ongoing series of TNG reviews), which tends to at least attempt to be serious and scientific in its approach to the world, Star Wars has always been something of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of adventure. Indeed, adventure is probably the best word for what Star Wars excels at, though the word itself is overused. In Jedi Search, the sheer fun of many of the scenes was incredible. Luke’s recruiting of various potential Jedi was noteworthy–particularly his fight against a lava dragon-worm. However, the best scene was Lando Calrissian’s own attempt to recruit a potential Jedi, which began with him watching a truly hilarious race of jelly-like blobs and ended with Lando in a shootout at the blob corral. Seriously! That was a genius scene, and it was just the kind of wild fun that makes Star Wars shine. I’m still smiling about it.

Kevin J. Anderson also makes great use of the droids. They are characters again! After reading the otherwise excellent “The Han Solo Trilogy,” I felt like droids barely had personalities any more. Here, they’re back and shining throughout (both literally and figuratively). Additionally, the main characters each have chances to shine, including a wonderful scene in which Leia chastises a politician for daring to suggest she ought to effectively abandon her children due to “more important” matters with politics. A real, genuine sense of balance between parenting and career is difficult, and having such a scene helped convey that.

The main plot of the book is well-done also. It could have simply been left to Luke looking for more potential Jedi, but throwing in an increasing Imperial threat was a good idea. The “Sun Crusher” might end up as basically a third Death Star type of thing (where have I heard that complaint before [The Force Awakens]?), but I don’t mind it very much. It does seem a little bit blown out of proportion power-to-size, but it’s not inconsistent with the effectively magical universe of Star Wars.

What is problematic here is what I’ve noticed before in the other EU books: too many things are too convenient. Luke decides he wants to train more Jedi, and look! Wedge Antilles happens to dig up a Jedi-detecting-device! Wow, what a coincidence! Oh yeah, but that might not be easy enough, so Luke discovers he can just probe minds at a certain point and that also detects Jedi! What luck! Hey–there are a bunch of angry Imperials out there with an insanely powerful super-weapon. Han, Chewbacca, and Kyp Durron (a newly discovered recruit) manage to escape from imprisonment in spice mines and run into them! How grand! This kind of thing happens a lot through the book, in case you couldn’t tell, and it takes away from the overall feel of the book. Side characters also get little by way of development and often feel merely invented for the sake of having more characters than they do full-bodied contributions to the plot.

Jedi Search is certainly a worthy entry in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and it reminded me of why I read Star Wars books to begin with. As I’m re-reading the Expanded Universe, I’m struck by how consistently good the books have been so far. Some time ago I weeded out a bunch of the books I thought weren’t that great, so part of that is selection effect, but I’m enjoying this journey immensely.

The Good

+Extremely fun scenes
+Excellent use of main characters
+Good overall plot

The Bad

-Too-convenient solutions at points
-Little development of side characters

Best Droid Moment

R2-D2 and C-3PO each have any number of great moments, but the best was probably when R2-D2 pretended to be a cleaning droid and took down a crook

Grade: A “A fun jaunt in the Star Wars universe with a solid plot. Can’t ask for much more from a Star Wars book.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Reading through Star Wars: Expanded Universe– Here you can read other posts in this series (reviews of other EU books) and make suggestions about what I should include in my reviews.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

Star Trek: TNG “Force of Nature” and “Inheritance”

Don't worry, we can ignore all of this after this episode.

Don’t worry, we can ignore all of this after this episode.

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“Force of Nature”

Plot

Look, this plot is pretty convoluted so you can read a really lengthy summary here. Basically, some scientists work to show that high levels of warp are causing some kind of distortions across the universe, which are bad. In the end, the solution of limiting warp speed across the board was offered and accepted, and the Federation shares its findings with other people groups.

Commentary

Subspace emissions telescoping emitter proceed along the warp flux capacitor field.

I have now summarized a large portion of the episode. Seriously. It is insanely full of technobabble to the point where it just becomes completely meaningless. Yes, it was meaningless to begin with, but at least most episodes put the technobabble to some kind of purpose. Here, it seemed clear they knew they were talking about a charged topic (climate change) and decided to layer over it with so much obfuscating nonsense talk and hand-waving that they could appeal to the silliness of it all to say they didn’t mean it.

Another poor choice was to come to the conclusion that all ships would limit themselves to Warp 5 going forward. The moment they said this, you as a viewer knew it would never stick. It was the kind of one-off writing choices that seems epic at the time but cannot be consistently applied to the universe. Indeed, as I looked up the episode in the fantastic book Star Trek: The Next Generation 365 (a book that covers every single episode with plenty of backstory about how they were made and insights from writers, etc.), I find that the writers themselves discovered that it was the ideal driving the story rather than the story leading to the conclusions.

It’s not a bad thing to have current issues imported into a science fiction show, however, and the core of the episode is actually pretty enjoyable. It was a journey of scientific discovery, however incomprehensible it was made behind the nonsense words. And, realistically, isn’t that what Star Trek is supposed to be all about? It’s weird because this is an episode that is, on its own, solid. As a one-off, it wouldn’t have been too bad. But it just doesn’t fit into the rest of the Star Trek universe. It’s a misfit, but one that was ultimately more enjoyable than it probably should have been.

Grade: B- “Technobabble. Climate change. Technobabble.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “The premise of warp destabilizing subspace seemed a bit out of left field, but the crew’s solution was good.” 

“Inheritance”

Plot

Juliana Tainer and her husband come aboard the Enterprise. Juliana claims to be Data’s “mother,” having helped Noonian Soong (there are at least 3 common spellings of this name on the internet, by the way), her husband, construct him. Data is initially skeptical, but she seems to have memories only someone with such intimate knowledge could have, and her story seems to check out generally. However, Data’s suspicions are confirmed, in part, when it turns out she’s an android. She doesn’t know this, however, as a holochip from Soong explains to Data. Data must decide whether to tell her or not, and he decides against it, allowing her to achieve a humanlike life he can never fully attain.

Commentary

Data has a mom! …and she’s been turned into an android to support a mad scientist’s desire to perpetuate his wife’s existence with artificial life.

Family issues.

Seriously, though, this was quite an enjoyable episode. It created a genuine sense of foreboding–you felt the whole time Data’s “mom” had a larger story to her–but it took it a different direction from the nefarious plots or galaxy-changing revelations that have become the norm at this point in the series. Instead, it turns out that the only thing that is amiss is that the woman is an android made by a lonely genius.

The episode also played upon the moral issues that might come up with just such a scenario. Would you tell her that she’s an android? Is it right to do so? Is commitment to truth a higher good than the mental comfort of others?

These are not easy questions to answer, and Data’s answer is, ultimately, to conceal the truth. Interestingly, this may have been the most compassionate thing he could have done–a truly human action. Data’s character growth, again, shines in this episode.

Grade: A- “Frankenmom.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “It was a good character-development episode for Data, but lacked a sense of urgency for the story.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

One Sentence Book Review: “The Lost World” by Michael Crichton

The Lost World by Michael Crichton

Review

The Lost World is more quotable than Jurassic Park, but isn’t as intense or foreboding as its predecessor.

Links

One Sentence Book Review: “Jurassic Park” by Michael Crichton– I review Jurassic Park. By having two sentences, this summary of contents is longer than the post.

One Sentence Book Reviews– Read more one sentence book reviews here. I’ve decided to do one for every book I read, which is a lot. I got started on 5/14/16 so this list will grow from there.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.