Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Soul Key by Olivia Woods

No one hesitates to tell me that I am in the minority when I state my preference for Bajoran religious and political stories above all others in Deep Space Nine. And perhaps I am one of the few who has lamented the absence of further stories involving the Ea’voq, Bajor’s sister planet in the Gamma Quadrant, since Rising Son. But I think that Olivia Woods’s new novel The Soul Key surprisingly blends the recent mirror universe emphasis with the Prophets and their many followers in an effective way.

The novel finally fills in the backstory from the point Iliana Ghemor escapes her Cardassian prison up until the present storyline, including how she came to wield power over Taran’atar. As some reviewers have noted, there is a greater focus on her than on any of the regular characters, but this in fact is due to necessity of allowing the readers to experience her story in order for the overall story to advance. Ghemor’s motivations and actions not only help one understand her better, but also are used in order to contrats her with Kira Nerys and the Ghemor from the mirror universe, all of whom play critical roles in this story and the saga to come.

After returning from the Prophets, Benjamin Sisko called Kira his ‘Right Hand,’ and we see the weight of that pronouncement in the conclusion of this tale. While the Ea’voq are only mentioned, I got the feeling that they would be seen again in the near future. And finally the Ascendants were shown preparing for their apocalypse, only to be surprised by what happens. I don’t want to give anything away, but The Soul Key wraps up the mirror universe arc and moves back towards the religious angle that has been neglected for the last few stories.

Speaking of the mirror universe, after reading so much about that reality’s Miles O’Brien, not to mention seeing him in numerous television episodes, I was surprised and disappointed at the way he was portrayed here. Though scenes from his perspective are often written to show his sense of doubt over his ability to lead the rebellion, nothing made me think that he would suffer the sort of emotional breakdown described in these pages. The other mirror universe characters, from Eddington to Keiko, are static here. But what is so enjoyable is that fleshing them out isn’t necessary; one need only read other entries set in the mirror universe to get ales focusing on them, to one degree or another. That it all holds together so well yet so loosely shows editorial oversight clicking on all cylinders.

Unfortunately, with the termination of Marco Palmieri, editor and creative force behind the post-television Deep Space Nine fiction, we may never see the story that this novel sets up all the pieces for. With the next novel being announced as taking place three or so years in the future, it seems likely that the readers will receive a certain amount of filler that could very well gloss over events occurring in the interim. That’s not to say that I do not have faith in David R. George, only that a work so conceived likely won’t address the parts of the relaunch I am most interested with to the degree I would like. So it is with a certain bittersweet feeling that I review The Soul Key, a good novel that could unfortunately represent the interruption point of a very good series.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Jeff Smith's Bone-Related Material

Jeff Smith’s comic saga Bone is one of the best fantasy stories I have ever read; sort of Lord of the Rings meets The Smurfs. After wanting to pick up the ancillary volumes for some time, I finally did this week. It’s a mixed bag, with neither coming close to the magic of the core titles.

Jeff Smith penned Rose and brought in Charles Vess to do the artwork in a prequel starring t
he title character, who readers will know better as Grandma Ben. Basically, this story fills us in on exactly how Rose’s sister Briar becomes the embodiment of the Lord of the Locusts as depicted in the main comic. Unfortunately, nothing much is added to what we already knew, and as such the story is a bit disappointing. In fact, the only major characters not to be shown in the main comic are two dogs that Rose can speak with telepathically.

Vess’s artwork is different stylistically from Smith’s, and it is a better match since the story lacks the humor prevalent in Bone. But it caused this reader to feel like he was reading something that didn’t mesh well with the original saga, something that took characters he knew and interpreted them differently. The magic of Smith's series is in the blend of the cartoonish with the Bone cousins and the rat creatures paired with the fantasy element of just about everything else. That blend isn’t here, Vess’s artwork is anything but cartoonish, and certain events were surprisingly graphic and violent for what is aimed at a younger audience.

If Rose is missing humor, Stupid, Stupid Rat-Tails has it in abundance. Written by Tom Sniegoski and drawn by Smith, this comic manages to seem familiar and yet new, with the founder of Boneville, Big Johnson Bone, as the lead character. As he explores with a newly won monkey, Big Johnson must help a collection of baby animals find their parents who have been taken by the rat creatures. And unlike Rose, we learn things here, like why the rat creatures are depicted as having no tails.

Obviously intended for a younger audience than the main series, this volume can make one a bit weary at times. Big Johnson is the stereotypical exaggerator, and while Sniegoski manages to make this work in action scenes, it doesn’t so much work in the relative peace at the start of the comic. That said, this would make a nice volume for a younger reader, especially as it includes another story called 'Riblet,' about a young boar who bullies the other baby animals until he turns his antics on the rat creatures.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there is any more Bone-related material out there for me to look into, which is sad because I enjoyed the original collection so much. I’ll be glad when Jeff Smith puts out some new material, hopefully before too much longer.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Dayton Ward's Open Secrets

Dayton Ward ties up the loose ends left over from Reap the Whirlwind in the latest novel in the Vanguard series, Open Secrets. Commodore Reyes was arrested at the end of the previous book for allowing classified information to be disseminated by a reporter, and we get the fallout from that decision here. T’Prynn, intelligence officer who had a mental breakdown, suffers her malady and, of course, eventually recovers. The saga of the Shedai artifacts and the search for information continues as well. But unfortunately, this is about all Ward does.

Rather than recap all the action, I’ll just say that if you are interested in
Vanguard then this is something you should read. It’s not a bad novel; it just doesn’t stand on its own at all. What new material there is seems only prelude for David Mack’s Precipice, which will continue the series later this year.

One of the interesting aspects of the series is the way that Shedai technology and the meta-genome are precursors to later events with which readers are already familiar. For example, a man is completely healed much like would happen with a dermal regenerator in TNG. Carol Marcus’s very appearance lets us know that this will be an avenue to Genesis, at least to some extent. And Ward helps set the stage for not only the Organian intervention into a Federation/Klingon war shown in the episode ‘Errand of Mercy,’ but also the colony of Nimbus III shown in one of the movies,
Final Frontier I believe. Yet rather than this sort of thing being secondary to the story, it seems that Open Secrets is an exercise in reconciliation as story.

The novel also suffers from time lapse between its publication and its predecessor’s. Frankly, I had a hard time remembering what happened, even with a short primer at the novel’s beginning. It is always a delicate balance between killing a previous reader with unnecessary exposition and helping an unfamiliar or forgetful reader gain some sort of orientation, but I felt Ward erred on the side of too little here. While I have seen his prose style being ripped in reviews, I found it adequate if uninspired. The author likely would be served well by spending a little more time on style, but it was hardly sub-average for contemporary Star Trek fiction.

And with the title of the novel being
Open Secrets, one would expect that some secrets would be revealed. Unfortunately, what is revealed leaves the reader with more questions than answers. A novel that seems to just be dealing with the fallout of the previous entry while moving characters around to set them in place for the next, Ward’s book is adequate though unsatisfying.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Reading List: August 2009

Rather than use this monthly post as a place to worry in writing about the lack of progress I am having with my thesis, I'll just say that things are getting written and even if I end up writing 20,000 words over a long weekend I will have this finished and defended by Thanksgiving so I can apply to PhD programs and do this all over again in a few years. My motto: Live and Don't Learn.

Not much content this month, especially with at least three reviews being scrapped when I found they had nothing original or (potentially) enlightening to say. I worked for a while on something about Disney's acquisition of Marvel this afternoon, so maybe that will see the light of day before long. Jenny Davidson did an interesting meme tonight, so maybe I will break a self-imposed rule and do it here tomorrow.

Last month I finished 9 books and 9 graphic novels. Here is what they are:
  • Bob Schieffer's America by Bob Schieffer
  • Uncanny X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire by Ed Brubaker, et al.
  • Outside the Dog Museum by Jonathan Carroll
  • Star Trek: Countdown by Mike Johnson, et al.
  • Cooperstown Confidential by Zev Chafets
  • Swamp Thing: A Murder of Crows by Alan Moore, et al.
  • X-Men: Emperor Vulcan by Christopher Yost & Paco Diaz Luque
  • Love and Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon
  • The Father of All Things by Tom Bissell
  • 100 Bullets: Wilt by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso
  • Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand by Brubaker & Michael Choi
  • Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
  • The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
  • The Walking Dead: Days Gone Bye by Robert Kirkman & Tony Moore
  • Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon
  • Castle by J. Robert Lennon
  • Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke
  • Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy
Read Lennon, Meloy, and Hemon, a favorite of mine. And don't read any more X-Men comics; I'm done with them after these pitiful volumes. Comments, questions, some small sign that people actually read this?