“Zeroboxer” by Fonda Lee- Book Review

zeroboxer

Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee was intriguing to me. It’s science fiction, and its central focus is a sport. I love science fiction, and I also love sports. I picked it up from the library immediately purely based on the brief description of it being sci-fi with a sports arena. Well, I didn’t even think about it, but the title has “boxer” in it and so I should have expected boxing. I don’t like boxing–I just don’t see the appeal of watching people beat each other up–so my expectations went down. Lee would have to really write a great book to keep me hooked. In short, she did. There are SPOILERS in what follows.

The first thing that sold me was the frantic pace of the action in the book. The fight scenes are truly spectacularly done, as boxing in zero gravity sounds pretty intense and strategic. I liked that Lee came up with different broad styles for how people fought, and then used announcers to highlight these different styles for different fights. This was balanced with a look at the realities of having to sign contracts and try to move up in a sport as the main character, Carr “The Raptor” Luka, had to balance all of these things.

But that still wouldn’t have been enough to grab me. Sure, far-future sports could be interesting, but it needed more. Well, Lee had more to give. The book offered mere hints of a broader conflict shaping in the solar system, but these hints were put forward in such a way as to maintain interest in how “normal” citizens could live amid the tensions. More importantly, however, was the aspect of bioethics that Lee introduced into the book.

Luka, unknown to himself, has been genetically enhanced beyond the legal limits. In other words, he is not allowed to be a zeroboxer, or be in any sport, due to his enhancements. He finds this out when the criminal who worked with his mom to do this for/to him turns up as his popularity increases, and he must internally struggle with whether to turn himself in or keep going under a falsified genetic profile. He must also decide whether to share this with Risha, his Brandhelm–adviser/marketer. I appreciated the thought involved in these moral quandaries, and it added dimension to the novel that, had it not been there, would have been merely okay.

The biggest flaws in the book are intertwined. There are several pretty explicit scenes which I felt were pretty unnecessary and a little out of place in a book largely marketed for teens. The book speaks frankly and not infrequently of sex and would rate an “R” if it were a film. Given that “R” ratings are for 17+, it seems out of place in a young adult novel. The second issue is that these same scenes are written awkwardly. There’s a frankness in the language that makes it feel forced. It’s hard to describe, but the stilted feel of it takes away from the plot just as much as the unnecessarily explicit scenes.

Overall, Zeroboxer was an adrenaline-filled ride with more thoughtful moments than one might expect from the premise. It was a truly promising debut. I look forward to more from the author.

The Good

+Intense, frenetic action in the ring
+Interweaves bioethics into the text in compelling fashion
+Decent twists and turns
+Interesting world
+Potential for more

The Bad

-Quite explicit at times
-Strangely literal/stilted when speaking of sex
-Only glimpses of the universe offered

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!

SDG.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season 1- “Emissary”

"I don't even get a mention in the plot summary? What?" - Quark

“I don’t even get a mention in the plot summary? What?” – Quark

I’ve completed my re-watch of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Now it’s time to start Deep Space Nine! I am much less familiar with this show, though I’m pretty sure I’ve seen about 80-90% of the episodes. It’s been so long that I’m sure it will all feel brand new. My wife has never seen the show. She and I will go through, review every episode, and give commentary and a grade from A-F. There are SPOILERS for each episode below. Without further adieu, here’s:

“Emissary”

Synopsis

Commander Benjamin Sisko is assigned to command Deep Space Nine, a station that the Cardassians used in their occupation of the Bajoran system. He arrives with his son, Jake Sisko, to find the station in a state of disrepair, the Cardassins having emptied it out. As Chief O’Brien (from the Enterprise) tries to repair the station, the security commander, Odo, tries to keep the people in order. Major Kira Nerys was briefly the station commander, and seems displeased that Sisko might displace her.

Sisko eventually must meet with Captain Jean Luc Picard of the Enterprise, where tension stands between them as Picard was involved in the Borg attack (as a Borg, briefly) that killed Sisko’s wife. Sisko then meets with a religious leader on the surface of Bajor, Kai Opaka. She says that he is the prophesied one and that he is to help Bajor as a kind of messianic figure.

Sisko and Lieutenant Jadzia Dax go looking for another one of the mysterious orbs that the Bajorans have been gathering due to prophecies and discover a Wormhole. A Cardassian ship follows, and though Dax returns, neither Sisko nor the Cardassians do. As more Cardassian ships arrive near DS9, Major Nerys works to prevent them from taking back the station. Meanwhile, Sisko discovers he is communicating with beings that may have created the stable wormhole.

Ultimately, the Cardassians return, tractored by Sisko in a runabout, and the Enterprise returns to enforce the peace. Sisko informs Picard he’d like to stay on in command of DS9, which is likely to become a major trading center.

Commentary

Whew, that was a jam-packed episode. It’s tough to know exactly where to pick it up.

First, it is clear there is a ton of potential here. The characters each have clear ways to develop as well as potential flaws. Odo, as I recall from the times I’ve watched the series, gets some weird stuff happening to him. Sisko is conflicted about his past. Nerys has Bajoran interests at heart. Quark seems much more serious than Ferengi have so far. There is a lot here to build upon, and I can’t wait to see where it goes. The notion of watching the station develop into a major trade center is a great idea.

Second, the episode itself does a good job introducing each major character, however briefly, while giving some interplay with the cast of TNG. Picard and Sisko talking was a good reminder of how Picard’s off-screen battle with the Federation as a Borg would have much farther reaching impact than it may have seemed when watching The Next Generation.

Third, the action seemed super intense here. I’m hoping this keeps up throughout the series.

The only real problem with this opener is that it drags quite a bit when Sisko is trying to explain how humans work. They did this backwards. See, we who are watching the show are humans, so we don’t need someone to explain to us what humans are or how time feels passing, etc. What we don’t understand is the aliens. It would have been better to flip the script and have the aliens explaining to humans what they’re like. But hey, budget probably didn’t permit it and it would be difficult to do. It was just a pretty boring part in the middle of an otherwise excellent episode.

Grade: A- “The parts with Sisko talking to the weird alien things dragged, but the rest was pretty fantastic.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “The first half was better than the second half, which left me sort of confused. I liked all the characters.”

Mother-in-Law’s Grade and Comment: A- “It was engaging, and it had developing elements that left it open for much potential. The idea of a space station gave it much potential, and the characters were interesting. I wish they would have done something more than paint on Dax’s neck to make her stand out as a kind of symbiot.”

Father-in-Law’s Grade and Comment: A- “A promising introduction to a new chapter in the Star Trek saga.”

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: “Whitey: The Life of America’s Most Notorious Mob Boss” by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill

Whitey: The Life of America’s Most Notorious Mob Boss by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill

Review

O’Neill and Lehr provide a thrilling, whole-life look at one of the most dangerous, notorious criminals in American history.

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.

Reading Through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books- #1-5 scores and comments

duneI’m a huge science fiction fan, but realize I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. We’re kicking off here with the top 5 science fiction books according to the fans. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

1. Dune by Frank Herbert Grade: A+
“Certainly one of the best novels ever written, Dune’s depth is astonishing. The characters are captivating, and the reader is put directly into their minds frequently. The book’s message is also thought-provoking on many levels–theological, scientific, ecological, and more. A true masterpiece of the genre.”

2. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card Grade: A+
“Card manages to make you get inside characters’ heads in ways no other author can. There is a reality to the characters that leads to empathy even for the ‘bad guys.’ A shocking twist at the end makes you want more. It’s science fiction at its best.”

3. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov Grade: C-
“The overall plot is good, but my toddler’s board books have deeper characters than are featured here. It is extremely hard to care about any of the goings-on when not a single character is given depth or even has energy directed towards them by the writer. I know it’s a classic, but I’ve read them twice and don’t think I’ll bother again.”

4. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams Grade: A
“Hilarious and wry, Adams presents a shockingly nihilistic view of the universe. Although we laugh for the whole ride, the implications make me want to weep. It’s a vision of the future that is funny–yes–but it is also horrifying, in its way. It envisions a universe in which we don’t matter, nor does anything else, really.”

5. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein Grade: A
Stranger in a Strange Land manages to capture the feeling of ‘alien-ness’ utterly, but stumbles slightly at the end, when Heinlein allows his own time period to take control of the plot too completely. It takes some digesting. The small stumble does little to take away from the overall power of the book.”

What do you think? Which are your favorites? Are you surprised at any of the scores or what is on the list? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books- Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.

Star Trek: TNG Season 7 “All Good Things…”

all-good-things

*Sniffle*

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.

“All Good Things…”

Synopsis

Picard is apparently traveling through time, encountering the crew of the Enterprise across different timelines. One constant, however, is a disturbance in the neutral zone. As Picard guides three different time periods to investigate the neutral zone, it becomes apparent that someone is tampering with things. Of course, it is Q. Q challenges Picard to figure out what is happening and blames him for the destruction of the entire human race. Ultimately, Picard must sacrifice the ship in each timeline in order to stop the destruction of humanity. Q, however, appears to reset things to normal, saying that Picard passed the test, for now, and that all good things must come to an end. Picard joins the crew for some poker at the end.

Commentary

I was surprised watching this episode because for a long time it has been among my favorites. Yet, watching it for about the 10th time, I was watching it in order–at the very end of the entire series. Set against that backdrop, it remains a good episode, but there are plenty of episodes that are far better. That said, as far as a series finale goes, this was a solid way to finish. The very end–with Picard joining in the poker game–was a great way to send fans out on a joyous/nostalgic note.

They also did a good job kind of book-ending the series with a Q-trial scene. However, given that I didn’t think the first episode was very good, it didn’t bring back warm and fuzzy memories for me of that episode. It just seemed a little like a weird extension of the same. Q usually is weird, though watching the series in order has given me a better appreciation of his character than I had before.

The main problem here is there is so much going on. Is it a time-travel episode, a Q episode, a character-highlight episode, a mystery episode? It’s all of these and more. They tried to shove too many things into such a small amount of time and space that it feels totally full. Moreover, the episode loses some impact because the future/past timelines are unconnected with the present, so the neat glimpses into the future of the crew are effectively a wash. They aren’t “real” in the sense of happening to the universe we’ve been in and enjoying.

Hey, it’s been an awesome run! We made it all the way through. Time to relax for a bit, then start up Deep Space 9!

Grade: A- “It’s good, but convoluted to the extreme.” 

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “It was a good episode, but they could have ended the series without Q.” 

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: “Champions of the Force” by Kevin J. Anderson

champions-of-the-forceI 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 Champions of the Force, the conclusion of the Jedi Academy trilogy. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. Please do not SPOIL later books in the comments.

Champions of the Force

The plot of this one is pretty straightforward: Kyp Durron continues his vengeful quest to find his brother, Luke and his apprentices wrap up their successful battle with Exar Kun, and random things happen “back home” as the building up of the New Republic continues.

The Jedi Academy Trilogy started off really well, but it seems that with the next two entries, Dark Apprentice and Jedi Search Anderson failed to really cash in on the premises of the first book. The strong use of side characters has fallen by the wayside, with the exception of Kyp Durron, the excitement of the first book largely went into extremely improbable extremes, and everything is resolved so easily that it is difficult to get involved with the plot.

It’s difficult to pick one area that serves as the biggest problem. Admiral Daala, a potentially strong enemy in the first book, does get a chance to shine for a little bit again. It is unfortunate, however, that she is largely reduced to a sniveling whiner. Her overarching goals are largely abandoned, though the occasional bone is thrown in their direction. It’s especially difficult to read this having so recently read the Thrawn Trilogy, because Thrawn was a legitimate threat all the way through. Here, it seems Daala was introduced as at least something of a tactical genius, the apprentice of Grand Moff Tarkin, but quickly fell into the background.

Kyp Durron’s story is also problematic. Having effectively given him an invincible weapon, Kevin J. Anderson must try to both use the weapon and destroy it. The best moment is when he accidentally destroys his brother. It’s an emotional moment that was pretty rare throughout the whole trilogy. However, there can be no disputing that Durron by almost any standards would be a war criminal. But what happens to him? Pretty much nothing. He’s just thrown to Luke to deal with, and Luke, ever magnanimous, forgives him. Forgiveness is a great thing, but I’m surprised there was not way more outcry against Durron in this book and elsewhere. Maybe “I, Jedi” will pick this up. I honestly don’t remember that book very much (Don’t spoil it please).

Realistically, the utilization of yet another super-weapon makes the story all feel kind of trite. Oh look, Durron has a weapon that’s more powerful than the Death Star but basically indestructible. What will happen? I think this is the inspiration for The Force Awakens, to be honest, but I still maintain that it’s not very well done here.

Champions of the Force is not a terrible book for the Star Wars universe. Neither is it above average. As I re-read the books across the board, my biggest fear is I would spoil my past enjoyment. I haven’t really been let down so far, though some of my past enjoyment has been tempered. The Thrawn Trilogy was great, of course, but rediscovering the excellent Han Solo Trilogy by A.C. Crispin was a delight. The Jedi Academy Trilogy was worth a re-read, but perhaps mostly just for the information of the broadening conflict with the Empire than for anything else. I remember loving it as a kid when it came out, but it just isn’t as great as I remember.

The Good

+Decent character development of Kyp Durron
+Wraps up the storylines decently

The Bad

-Impossible to believe moments
-Improbable character reactions
-Too easily resolved conflict

Best Droid Moment

The introduction of FIDO- First Intruder Defense Organism, which makes no sense but is still kind of fun, was my favorite droid moment.

Grade: C- “I was disappointed to have the promising start to the trilogy be undermined by the next two entries. It wrapped things up alright, but was not satisfactory.”

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 “Emergence” and “Preemptive Strike”

preemptive-strike

You can feel the emotions in this episode just bursting through the screen.

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.

“Emergence”

Synopsis

Data and Picard discover something is seriously wrong with the holodeck. As they find this out, multiple nodes are appearing throughout the Enterprise. It seems like these nodes have similarities to Data’s positronic brain. Moreover, the crew can only interact with the ship through the holodeck program that it has been running, with hints throughout it on board a simulation of the Orient Express. It turns out that some kind of emergent AI intelligence has been created on board the ship. Once it is grown enough, it leaves, restoring the ship to normal.

Commentary

Other than the infamously horrid re-run episode “Shades of Gray” *shudders,* this may be the episode where the crew is least involved in the episode. Sure, they are there, but realistically the whole episode could have resolved itself without them. Indeed, they could just go into the shuttles or something, wait for the ship to get to the energy source it needs for the AI lifeform, and then return to a perfectly sound Enterprise.

Hey, speaking of life support failing–are there really no space suits or oxygen tanks or anything on board? You’re telling me with a ship that can create force fields, etc. they can’t sustain life support in one section long enough for the crew to get through the whole situation? Come on! There have got to be some kind of life support things–and if nothing else, the escape pods, presumably, would have a long enough life for life support to make it livable. Oh well. Ask no questions, hear no lies, I suppose.

All of that said, I didn’t really hate this episode. The mystery-solving was straightforward but still fun. The episode just wasn’t as good as I’ve come to expect. In season one this episode might have been among the top 10, but that’s saying how far the show has come.

Grade: C+ “Star Trek has had a few too many… somethings.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “It was pretty good, it was just bizarre.”

“Preemptive Strike”

Synopsis

Ensign… er, Lieutenant Ro Laren returns to the Enterprise, only to immediately be assigned to infiltrate the Maquis, a group of people fighting back against Cardassian infringements in the demilitarized zone between Cardassian and Federation space. However, as Ro carries out her mission, she begins to realize how much resonance there is between the Maquis’ struggles and those of her own people, the Bajorans. When push comes to shove and she is assigned to betray the Maquis to get them captured by a Federation force, she instead gives away the plan to the Maquis and saves their strike squadron, ultimately leaving with them to join the Maquis. She leaves Riker with a message for Picard, who is seen looking stricken by her abandonment of Starfleet.

Commentary

Wow! This one blew me away. As readers know by this point, I love a bleak ending, and that, for Picard, was bleak. His protege, whom he has guided for so long, abandons Starfleet to join the very rebellion she was assigned to help take down. Yet, remarkably, this is exactly in character for Ro. Indeed, from about a third of the way in, I expected Ro to abandon Starfleet and join the Maquis. It made sense for her character.

I suppose that means the plot twist didn’t surprise me at all, but not for any bad reason. The characters have just been established so well that they operate inside certain parameters of behavior, and for both Ro and Picard this was right on.

Moreover, the number of interesting set pieces in this episode was huge. Each scene had a kind of poignancy embued into it by the scenery and set. The scene where the disguised Cardassians show up and start shooting (I spotted them earlier in the same scene and wondered if they may be trouble) was expertly set up to foreshadow the events to follow. I have to say this is one of the best TNG episodes. Certainly a great way to set up the ending of the series and lead into Deep Space 9.

Grade: A+ “Ro finds herself. And rebellion.” 

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A+ “One of the best episodes of the series.”

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.