‘Star Trek: Picard – The Last Best Hope’ Review

From it’s very inception, Star Trek: Picard has gone where no Star Trek has gone before. Gone are the days of a Starfleet crew on a voyage of discovery, and instead the series is more akin to any other serial drama you might see on TV, but which happens to be set within the Trek universe. As its name would suggest, Picard is centred on a singular character rather than a whole crew, and while it does focus on those around him as well, it does so to further his story as much as their own.

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And with a new breed of series comes a new breed of tie-in. Although, like those of Discovery before it, ‘The Last Best Hope’ was written specifically in collaboration with the show’s writers, this is the first to be written for a Trek series with such a singular narrative. While in some ways this focus has been a breath of fresh air for Trek on TV, in the medium of the tie-in novel this takes some getting used to.

Like Starfleet, transmedia works best when it is out there exploring the fringes of what we know. In their long and varied history Star Trek novels have adapted onscreen adventures, given us brand new ones, and continued the lives of characters we love when they no longer graced our screens (something which Picard may retcon, but can never replace); even Discovery‘s novels gave us the backstories of its characters in a variety of original novels with varying links to established canon. Not so with Picard.

Yes, we are given the story of the events which set the scene for Picard, but by accompanying a show with such a narrow scope, ‘LBH’ is less an original novel in the vein of ‘The Way To The Stars’ or even ‘Drastic Measures’ (which also tells the story of pre-established events), but more about simply getting us from A to B.

Its fair to say that the novel’s biggest drawbacks are those which link it to the series itself (or at least what we have seen of it so far). Here we also get enough of a glimpse of B-4 to illustrate Data’s loss, but which also leaves other questions unanswered. If Nemesis isn’t being ignored, then where are the Remans? Likewise why did no-one suggest the use of holograms instead of developing synths? While it’s obvious and understandable that certain elements have been ommited for the sake of the narrative, for a show so deeply invested in what has come before it seems odd that it has either forgotten, or does not care, about so much of the Lore.

But while the premise itself may be constrictive, author Una McCormack has taken the novel and undeniably added her own unique, and engaging stamp on this new corner of the Star Trek universe.

As always, her prose is fantastic and the way in which she is able to set each scene through the descriptions she uses is second to none. Having been (rightfully) entrusted with the redevelopment of Cardassia after the events of Deep Space Nine, here McCormack brings those skills to the fate of Romulus in a way that no one else could do justice. The duplicity of the Tal Shiar is at the same time both unthinkable and entirely believable, whilst McCormack herself slips in what has to be a reference to Salisbury Cathedral in a way that would surely make Garak proud.

She also goes above and beyond the general standard of the central Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations concept, and while on-screen Trek may only just be catching up to the novels’ decades worth of LGBT representation, here McCormack specifically addresses the use of “visual tagging for sign users” alongside universal translators during the symposium as well.

And this is where the novel beats the series (so far at least), in that even if the narrative is tied, it still stretches out and explores in anyway it can. Using the veil of sci-fi as “a human way of telling certain truths”, McCormack has also written a novel which expertly captures the current climate of #fakenews and deniers in a way which would be entertaining were it not so applicable: the Tal Shiar’s handling of Nokrim Vritet is essentially just as blunt, but no more more forceful or less effective than today’s media headlines. Had it not happened just two months ago, you could have sworn this book was written in direct response to the recent UK election as much as the atmosphere of Brexit Britain and Trump’s America in general.

But it is also this relatability through which McCormack tells a story about the collective culture and individuality of the race that Picard is trying to save. Despite the inclusion of Starfleet’s top brass and even the Federation Council, it is through the eyes of the more down to Earth Vritet and Amal Safadi that we discover the truths (and untruths) about the galactic politics between the Federation and Romulan Empire, and yet despite being burdened with exposition they never come across as anything less than the most fully rounded and relatable characters.

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Likewise Koli Jocan brilliantly shouldering the weight that takes its toll on the whole crew, and alongside others such as Olivia Quest, McCormack has given us brand new characters which will leave the series somewhat lacking without their presence, while the introduction of Elnor and the Qowat Milat teases even more to look forward to.

Meanwhile those we have already seen on-screen may not be instantly recognisable at first, but complete their respective journeys impeccably. Agnes Jurati is brought into the story in a way which is sweet but never too flowery, and while it would have been nice to have seen more of Raffi’s family dynamic perhaps, her story is told with an emotional core we can only hope the series lives up to.

In many ways, ‘The Last Best Hope’ is a novel which depicts the mission to evacuate Nine Hundred Million Romulans in the only way it could ever be depicted: while the commitment of so much to a single objective may not be to everyone’s liking, the way it’s handled is exemplary. Like Jean-Luc Picard, Una McCormack has given it everything she can, and filled it with heart.

Doctor Who: At Childhood’s End Review

When Doctor Who ended with nothing so much as a hastily added speech about how much of the universe was left to explore back in 1989, questions were left unanswered about the fate of the Doctor and his companion, Ace. Naturally our favourite Time Lord regenerated back onto our TV screens, once in 1996 and then again more permanently in 2005, but the continuing adventures of Ace were relegated to the realms of the transmedia tie-ins, such as comic strips, novels, and audio adventures.

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I say relegated, these are media which often fail to get the acknowledgement they deserve, not least for the fact that had they not kept the flame alive during the Wilderness Years, Doctor Who itself may never have returned to our screens, at least not in such the successful way which we have come to know and love.

And it is in these media that the fate of Ace was given its full potential, so much so that it all ended up a bit too wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey with the not officially canonical adventures going on to overlap and contradict each other. While most saw Ace continue to travel with the Doctor, some eventually saw her leave to return to what was left of her life on Earth, while others saw her attend and add her own distinctiveness to the Time Lord Academy itself, which was the planned outcome had the TV series continued. Needless to say head-canon is a big thing in determining what did and didn’t happen to Ace. Even the Big Finish audio range, which has featured Ace in continuing adventures, tales of the Time War, and even one appearance in their series based on Doctor Who spin-off Class, hasn’t been above the tried and tested Amnesia/Memory Wipe trope to try and accommodate such a changing rostra of possible, and contradicted outcomes.

Unambiguously returning to the role which has been at the hearts of the biggest mystery within the Doctor Who universe however, with “At Childhood’s End” Sophie Aldred has given us perhaps the closest we’ll get to the definitive answer. The closest we had ever been given to an “official” answer to Ace’s fate came in a single fleeting reference from former companion and spin-off helmer Sarah-Jane Smith, who once mentioned a Dorothy who was heading up the philanthropic organisation A Charitable Earth. As far as references that leave some wiggle room for future extrapolation go, this one was fairly conclusive, although Aldred was quoted as only believing this would be the case if the organisation was nothing more than a front for Doctor Who’s long standing protectors of the Earth, UNIT.

The idea of this charity is something which was expanded on in the trailer for the Season 26 Blu-Ray Boxset, known as ‘Ace Returns!’, which saw her wait for the Doctor finally come to an end with a familiar looking umbrella handle knocking on the door. Although, as always, the fact it’s a trailer and not an “official” adventure once more muddies the canonical waters.

Regardless of which, this is where “At Childhood’s End” enters the pantheon of Doctor Who storytelling. Picking up where The Sarah-Jane Adventures left off, the novel sees an older and wiser, but still just as determined, Dorothy as the CEO of an organisation with one purpose which is to help those in need. Any idea of it being a front for UNIT is just as mothballed as the organisation itself within the new TV continuity, although even this is handled in a way which shows such a believably accurate portrayal of a character who we first saw over 30 years ago.

What entails is a story so much more than the sum of its parts, one which succinctly weaves together not just Ace’s departure from, but also the origins of her travels with her Professor, a belated reunion with a Doctor who’s now at twice their incarnations since Ace last saw her, all tied together in an original adventure for the incumbent Team TARDIS.

The main part of the action takes place on, or around, modern day Earth. When lost and homeless children are going missing from the streets of London, including Perivale no less, there’s obviously no coincidence when an alien ship is discovered in orbit around the moon. Naturally Dorothy is one to investigate, with help from a former astronaut boyfriend, and something of her own companion which is (almost a little too) more convenient than the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver.

Though the book does start off a little rough with the prose itself a little clunky, its conviction in name dropping all the different areas of Ace’s journey through London may as well have just been transcribing a Sat Nav, but these missteps are soon left behind. The fact that the book itself seamlessly switches from referring to Dorothy as Ace along with the other characters is just one way which shows you how nothing can stop the story from letting you go once it’s Time Stormed you in on its wild ride.

The narrative itself is more than worthy of the TV episodes it is supplementing, while the written word allows for the perfect depiction of alien races that could never be sufficiently realised on screen. The characterisations of the current Doctor and companions are spot on, though it’s Yaz who shines as she ponders the effects that travelling with the Doctor has on her own life as much as Ace’s.

The main narrative is also intercut with flashbacks to what we eventually discover is Ace’s final adventure during her TARDIS heydays, and the reason for her split with the Doctor. Something the publication of the novel promised to touch on, this is just the beginning of answering the question of what happened next, and which does touch on all the various outcomes that we have seen over the past thirty years. Aldred herself stated that “I thought it’d be really good to explore how that could be, and, without giving it away, I hope we’ve done that and it’s safe to say that she, along with co-writers Stephen Cole and Mike Tucker, have succeeded spectacularly.

With the main narrative linking into the events of the final TV serial “Survival”, the flashbacks carry them on thematically with the Doctor’s manipulations of Ace and her destiny finally coming to a head. While the specific dating of these as taking place in 1990 may not leave much room for the continuing adventures as told by Big Finish, etc, the revelations we find on the Astingir planet leave no other stone unturned.

The events that lead up to Ace leaving the Doctor are a natural extension to the direction their relationship was taking before the series was cancelled, and in book designed to answer all the possibilities, the fateful line of “Professor, this is the day we say goodbye” is perhaps the only conclusion that could ever have been reached. But even when this particular question has finally been answered, everything else, all the possibilities of exactly where and when that goodbye took place are still out there somewhere.

While the events of the novel naturally contradict some previously defined specifics, this is nothing which shouldn’t be expected considering the not-officially-canon-continuity of the character stretching back three decades, but it’s the way in which it keeps the doors open to so many of the wider brush strokes of Ace’s intervening years which is where its genius lies.

At the end of her time with her Professor we see Ace herself see all the possible futures that lay ahead of her. Much like the fate of the Wraiths she saw what the outcome of all the possible futures would be, that the ultimate outcome of anything but peace was just more and more fighting, but would this apply to an individual as much as it would to an entire race?

And that’s the thing with timey-wimey science fiction like Doctor Who, the fact that there is no definitive answer is perhaps the only definitive answer there can ever be.

Which future did Ace decide? Could all of them happen anyway? Does her past even matter if she’s still got future adventures to look forward to?

The only answer that matters, is the one that we decide for ourselves.

 

‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ – Not The Future We Had Yesterday

Just like Judgement Day itself, it seems that no matter what gets in its way nothing can stop new incarnations of the Terminator franchise from being unleashed onto the world. Unlike the previous three feature films however, original creator James Cameron chose to keep up with the Connors himself this time round, taking on the mantles of producer, writer, and creative consultant to keep a closer eye on things. Apparently he learnt his lesson after having previously showered Terminator Genisys with applause all the way until critics and audiences perhaps more wisely decided not to.

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This was just the beginning.

But while picking up the pieces from where he left off after 1991’s T2: Judgement Day may be one thing, right from the start Terminator: Dark Fate shows that piecing them back together in the same way isn’t quite what you’d expect. In a film where the old and the new collide it isn’t long before the new takes over, albeit in a very familiar way. The arrival of time travellers in a Terminator film is hardly something to be called “exposition” anymore, although at least this time round the build up to the all too recognisable concept is given a welcomed sense of added tension for those who didn’t grow up with previous instalments. Likewise the fall from Grace and acrobatic swiftness of the travellers themselves let you immediately know who’s who, and the film doesn’t let off from there.

Like being chased by a Terminator itself, naturally the first set piece isn’t far behind the arrivals and it’s immediately obvious that even though Dark Fate may have ignored more previous films than it follows in terms of narrative, it still has to take note of Genisys, Salvation, and even Rise of the Machines, in terms of escalation. Initially it seems as though they just went too much bang for their buck and didn’t even bother hiding the ‘just another cash in’ attempt, likewise there’s not much more you can do with John Connor after becoming a Terminator himself, and it does take a while for Dark Fate‘s bold new direction to pay off.

Given time though, once the adrenaline has worn off the film’s true colours do begin to shine through. Linda Hamilton returns as an older and wiser – albeit scarred – Sarah Connor just like an old friend, in much the same way that John Connor being portrayed once more by Edward Furlong immediately makes you wonder why you accepted any others.

It also takes a while for the full impact of this latest Terminator’s presence as a new threat for a new era to be fully realised, although this is something which Dark Fate shows no attempt at trying to hide as the film progresses. Perhaps the only time the film pulls less punches than its connection between a Terminator’s watchful eye and that of an airborne drone is its portrayal of US/Mexican relations.

But while this may be a Terminator headed in a new direction through a present that is all too familiar, it is also one which is heading for the same destination as its predecessors. “Cyberdyne” and “Skynet” may have been stopped, but the future which replaces them is identical in all but name and so Dark Fate wisely takes this as read and focuses on the characters it has forged instead. And while fresher faces may be given their fair share of chances to shine, like everything else its all about the past as much as the future.

It’s no spoiler to say that Arnie’s role becomes obvious as soon as it’s signposted long before he makes his appearance, although like so much else within the film’s 2hr 8min runtime, this is played for its emotional impact on its characters, knowing as it does that trying to surprise its audience is often the other side of pointless. Meanwhile Sarah can’t help but see herself in Dani (Natalia Reyes), this new future’s chosen target, a similarity which allows herself to be a greater mentor than human+ saviour Grace (Mackenzie Davis), and continues the role of protector that is the hand she was dealt after the events of Cameron’s 1984 original.

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The future is female.

The adoption of Dani and Grace into the Connor family unit continues the Terminator tradition of saving the world as a by-product of saving the ones you love, and the fact that this time it is done so by a group in which white men are the minority and older women kick just as much ass as their younger counterparts also takes deliberate aim at the path that modern Hollywood and and the current political climate has been taking as much as the technological one.

As its title would suggest, the concept of fate – or at least the idea that there is none but that which we make for ourselves – is also one which runs throughout the film. Something which it handles with not much subtlety, but remarkably well for a narrative which relies on predeterminism for its very existence.

Even for a formulaic series Dark Fate stands out as much as a remake as a sequel, but like 2009’s Star Trek is at least able to use its time travel standings to simultaneously continue the very same story it’s retelling. As part three of this franchise’s latest (and hopefully final) attempt at a cohesive cinematic narrative beyond Judgement Day, Terminator: Dark Fate is one that brings together ideas from the past and projects them towards the future. And there’s no time like the present.

Review: Star Trek – Live In Concert

wpid-181055a.jpgMelbourne Symphony Orchestra,
Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre,
31st January 2015

Although it has constantly been changing throughout its numerous television and cinematic instalments, J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reimagining of Gene Roddenberry’s classic Star Trek brought with it the biggest reinvention of all. Having cast fresh faces as the well-loved characters helming the U.S.S. Enterprise, the film and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness are currently reinvigorating the cinematic experience with fully orchestral screenings.

With two performances over one weekend, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra are the latest, and first Australian musicians to bring this international concert tour to their home city. Saying it’s more than a normal screening may sound obvious, and at the same time it was less than a normal orchestral performance. Halfway between the two, it wasn’t entirely either.

A valuble asset in creating the desired reaction from the audience, music is too often overlooked but would be conspicuous by its absence. Highlighting the moments of action, drama, and tension in Star Trek, it is also highly emotional in places; never more so than the pre-credits destruction of the U.S.S. Kelvin. Despite the intensity of George Kirk’s sacrifice being unmatched throughout the rest of the film, Michael Giacchino’s accompaniment score serves as a great introduction, and the opening title was ushered in with well-earned rapturous applause.

Being played in front you the music was naturally given more prominence than in a standard cinema, but the fact that more emphasis, or even lighting, wasn’t placed on the orchestra themselves was a missed opportunity. As much as it was a film screening rather than regular concert it was still disappointing that so much of your attention was drawn to the screen by design in the first place.

A lack of programme was also highly noticeable. Not only did this deny the fans a souvenir of such an infrequent event, but it also hinders the individual orchestra members from gaining the recognition they deserve (although information on the performers can be found on the MSO’s website).

Not that the orchestra weren’t given their time in the spotlight by the end, as the lights were raised once the action had finished and the end credits were overseen by their rendition of Alexander Courage’s iconic TV theme, and Giacchino’s finishing suite. An encore of the Star Trek: The Motion Picture/Next Generation theme was also a welcome surprise for the audience.

An audience which, not surprisingly, was largely made up of avid Trek fans, several clad in Starfleet uniforms of varying eras, but it was also rather mixed. There were those who dressed smartly and presumably came to see the Orchestra’s latest concert, but as a bastion of geek culture in general, Star Trek also attracted those wearing T-shirts from Alien to Game of Thrones. Even a Captain Jack Harkness was in attendance.

 

As an award-winning Hollywood composer Giacchino has worked frequently with Abrams, and has also composed the score the for several Pixar features and shorts, including The Incredibles, and Up. It is not surprising a film with his score was chosen for Live In Concert screenings, and the film itself was treated well; even the intermission was well placed within the film’s narrative, allowing breathing room for the impact of Vulcan’s destruction to sink in.

Orchestral performances of well-loved films is something that should occur more often, and will do if the ‘coming soon’ teaser is anything to go by. Just the dates of a future performance might not be much to go on, but being given in the style of a certain DeLorean’s dashboard display garnered a huge cheer.

Review: ‘Star Trek: The Fall – A Ceremony Of Losses’

Whilst no longer in their heyday in terms of the number of books published each year, current Star Trek novels now seemingly try to outdo each other in terms of galactic importance. A Ceremony Of Losses comes as part of the The Fall miniseries, and sees a third threat to a Galactic head of state in as many novels.

A_Ceremony_of_LossesIn this volume it’s the turn of the Andorians, as Doctor Bashir turns his attention to the reproductive crisis that has plagued the former Federation members so prominently in recent years. As such, this novel relies the most on prior knowledge of ‘current’ (ie, relaunch novel) 24th Century events.

Not only does the political angle continue the ongoing story-lines of Andoria’s medical problems and succession from the Federation, but even those who have read the 23rd Century Star Trek Vanguard series will have an advantage over those who haven’t. Obviously the preceding Fall novels Revelation and Dust and The Crimson Shadow also both go without saying.

All the relevant back-stories are adequately explained however, but it is the fresh cloak and dagger – and eventual all out knives drawn – angle that make this story shine. For all the various plot threads it relies upon, it is the tradition of using Bashir’s espionage tales sparingly that Ceremony best continues. It is here that Dr. Bashir makes what is possibly the ultimate decision of his ongoing personal struggle between superior intellect and bleeding heart.

Bashir’s decision (and its consequences) are chronicled with all the talent of dramatic description readers have come to expect from Mack, the political issues are far less enduring than some others, all the while focusing squarely on those characters readers know and love.

Review: ‘Star Trek: The Fall – The Crimson Shadow’

For the second in a five part mini-series, it could be easy to argue exactly how much of a Deep Space Nine novel The Crimson Shadow really is. Although its Next Generation credentials are obvious, the fact it revolves around the political turmoil of a major DS9 planet does point in the direction of that series. That said however, it’s not as though The Next Generation has ever treated the Cardassians delicately, David Warner notwithstanding.

Despite the inclusion of characters from both however, The Crimson Shadow is first and foremost simply a Cardassian novel, with any other setting taking second place; as with the recent Typhon Pact books the lines between TV series are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Also like Una McCormack’s previous novels, this is a story of an entire people rather than just those few who tell it.

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And it is through this ability to tell the big picture from a small perspective that McCormack brings out the full potential of what a Star Trek novel can be. As Trek at its best not only is this tale of another world both highly enjoyable and also relevant to our own – the withdrawal of allied troops cannot be taken as mere coincidence – but her writing is second to none.

The opening narration is reminiscent of Dickens himself and the depiction of the various levels of unrest, from boots on the ground to the offices of government, are handled with a level of skill that belies the fact this is only McCormack’s fourth full length Star Trek novel. Despite this however, it is the meeting of two diplomatic heavyweights, Elim Garak and Jean-Luc Picard, where The Crimson Shadow shines.

The depiction shows not just her in-depth knowledge of these disparate figures, McCormack’s particular fondness for Garak is no secret and as such his own story is the most compelling, but the interplay between the two is as engrossing as the rest of the novel combined.

Despite such a positive rendering of those characters that are included, the heavy political themes of the novel do tend to leave some left out; Geordi La Forge in particular is once again relegated from major player to the smallest of appearances.

Overall this novel presents such a powerful account of one of Star Trek‘s most influential races that it is easy to forget The Crimson Shadow is designed to be just one part of larger whole. Regardless of the Federation’s aid, or even the Castellan’s leadership, Cardassia couldn’t be in better hands than Una McCormack’s.

Review: ‘Star Trek: The Fall – Revelation and Dust’

Despite the plethora of novels in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine relaunch series, their number has diminished in the all-encompassing post-Nemesis relaunch novels; which now includes Captain Riker’s Titan in addition to the regular Next Generation, DS9 and Voyager staple, not to mention the various cross-overs. Although no books have been published with a Deep Space Nine title since 2009, the series has been the focus of a number of Star Trek: Typhon Pact novels however, not least of these is Plagues of Night, in which the beloved titular station is spectacularly destroyed.

Revelation_and_Dust_solicitation_coverBetween the longer than average span between publishings, and the dramatic events of the previous novel, Revelation and Dust understandably takes longer than most to get started. Although there is little that has happened in the interim there is still a new station to introduce and previous events to recap, which includes the kidnapping of Rebecca Jae Sisko. Something that has to be recapped, as it was a presumably major event that was never actually told.

The relaying of the exposition is helped by the fact that the characters we are reacquainted with are mostly old favourites from the TV series once more, as with Vaughn and Shar no longer aboard it is only the addition of Ro Laren and Sarina Douglas who new readers may be unfamiliar with. Although old and new alike will feel those such as O’Brien and Odo could have featured more heavily, Revelation makes the best of a new start thanks to author David R. George III’s ability at picking up right where he left off, having written three of the four DS9 set Typhon Pact novels.

Interwoven with the main comings and goings of the new station’s opening ceremonies, the novel also charts the experiences of former colonel (now vedek) Kira within the celestial temple. As is often the case when dealing with the prophets, this tale is shrouded in metaphorical mystery and by the end poses more questions than it offers answers. Doubly interwoven as the introduction of Rebecca’s abilities similarly seems to have been added as the start of an ongoing narrative of which this is only the beginning.

As the first of a five part mini series however, it is clear that Revelation is a beginning of many things by design, not least considering the fact that narratively it has to be the most influential Star Trek novel of recent times, its singular pivotal event is made all the more surprising by coming much later in the novel than is normally expected of something so inciting.

And despite George’s fine writing this is perhaps the only downfall of Revelation and Dust. Despite being accessible to regardless of how well read in Star Trek fiction, and an exceptional start to what promises to be a game changing mini-series, it is not simply a tie-in novel that can read independently from any others.

Book Review: ‘Star Trek: Enterprise – The Romulan War’

For all the potential that Star Trek: Enterpise was living up to in its fourth season, it is hard to imagine how it would have portrayed the already canonical six-year Romulan war had it not been cancelled. It is arguably for this reason that telling the story through the two-volume novel mini-series is no bad thing, even if it is perhaps something of a double-edged sword.

Enterprise_The_Romulan_WarWhile the first volume, Beneath Raptor’s Wings, gives a great view of the galaxy at large, this does come at the expense of the Enterprise itself. A far cry from Broken Bow‘s initial four-day trip to Qo’Nos, it takes 27 days for the eponymous ship to get from Earth to Vulcan, and more than half the book goes by before her becomes half way anything close to adventurous. Despite this slow start for the Enterprise crew, it has to be said that author Michael A. Martin’s descriptions of the galaxy at large make it worth the wait.

Right from the start we are shown a great view of Humanity’s initial colonisation of the stars through the inquisitive eyes of the Federation’s Newstime reporters, the pioneering image of a Native American/Western style Mars not only creates an atmosphere any terraformer would be proud of, but is also highly believable. Unfortunately though, this is not the same for the XVIII Dalai Lama; as much as the current incarnation may be humility personified, Martin could not have made his successor any more of a Californian high-schooler if he tried.

Minor gripes aside however, this first volume achieves as much as you would expect from its more than average 568 pages. Apart from perhaps only Malcolm Reed, even those characters who are given little page time still manage to have significant impact. Even Phlox’s journey from explorer to battlefield medic is just the tip of the iceberg as Captain Archer is haunted by the ramifications of previous decisions, and Charles ‘Trip’ Tucker III’s continuing spy mission continues to escalate into more than he was bargaining for.

Perhaps most importantly however, this book’s strength comes in its feeling of connection to our own world (even if a certain Braveheart reference could have done without such vivid imagery) while at the same time sowing more seeds of bridging the gap between Enterprise and the 23rd and 24th century Star Treks that spawned it. More than just in the “why does something set 100 years in the past look more modern?” way, the inclusion of a particular gifted but introverted engineer is a particularly nice touch, as is reverse-naming Romulan officers after future Warbirds.

RomulanwarbravestormWhere the first volume stretches itself across space, the second does likewise across time; despite its smaller size of only 334 pages, To Brave The Storm spans an almost impressive five years. “Almost” impressive in that as much as it keeps a coherent story, it seems that very little happens in the months between chapters. Something which again evokes the vast distances of pioneering space travel, but also seems to be only something done in order to comply to a previously established timeline.

All in all The Romulan War is a fair portrayal of what many fans would like to have seen on-screen, worthy of a read but two books aren’t quite enough to fulfill the potential of a galactic event with such wide-reaching consequences.

Book Review: ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation – Cold Equations’

When leaving the cinema having just watched Star Trek: Nemesis, it is likely that many disappointed fans correctly presumed it would herald the end of The Next Generation on the big screen. What they may not have predicted however, is the successful relaunch that the tie-in novels have been enjoying in their decade of free reign storytelling since.

Persistence_largeCoinciding with the final films ten year anniversary the Cold Equations trilogy, released during the final months of 2012, told what is arguably the one story which fans had been eagerly waiting for ever since, particularly after the publication of 2009’s Star Trek prequel comic, Countdown. Between his sacrifice on board the Scimitar and his captaincy of the USS Enterprise E, readers were finally treated to the tale of Data’s resurrection in the first of the three books, The Persistence Of Memory.

The bulk of the story recounts the secret history of cyberneticist Dr. Soong, retconning his death in the TNG episode Brothers to an elaborate deception in the process (something which, it has to be said, Brothers itself was guilty of first). Having designed and built himself a top-notch – even by his standards – android body to carry his own consciousness, he sets off to find and win back his beloved Juliana Tainer, with whom he plans to share his immortality. Until the pesky Breen show up, that is.

Silentweapons_largeContinuing where Persistence leaves off, Silent Weapons sees a newly resurrected Data, all too fully aware of how possible it can be, embark on a quest to do the same for his own daughter, Lal. Caught in the middle of a Breen/Gorn scheme to turn the balance of the galaxy’s power in their favour however, this second book also continues in the tradition of the more recent Typhon Pact novels as much as it does its immediate precursor. In fact Federation president Nanietta Bacco also makes a welcome return, accompanied as ever by her loyal staff, although as events unfold it is one appearance she would most likely end up regretting.

Set largely on the Orion homeworld, readers are also shown a largely unexplored side to this culture that has generally remained overshadowed by its criminal syndicated underworld, but does so in such a way that all but makes its existence almost inevitable in the first place.

Body_ElectricIn contrast to the first two however, the third and final novel, The Body Electric, seems almost a stand alone story were it not for the continuation of Data’s personal quest. Leaving the Typhon Pact far behind, the crew of the Enterprise find themselves against an antagonist so incredible that believability is almost defied to the point of becoming non-existent. Especially when a billions of years ticking clock is reduced to a matter of minutes.

A Next Generation tale of reunion wouldn’t be complete without fully grown Traveller Wesley Crusher however, even if the comparisons to character and TV actor Wil Wheaton aren’t all that subtle either.

Although Cold Equations may not have the same page turning suspense as author David Mack’s Star Trek: Destiny, this is something that can be put down to the previous trilogy’s sheer scope, and shouldn’t be held against this offering personally. That said however, the more personal events of the novels are treated with the drama and weight they deserve, the cold climax of Persistence in particular is felt throughout Worf’s continuing narrative, no doubt well beyond Weapons and Electric, almost as much as the events of DS9‘s Change Of Heart.

This itself is one of the trilogy’s strengths, containing as it does nods to both canonical events and previous novels in all the right places, that can only come from such a knowledgeable Star Trek author. 

All in all, a trilogy of stories that recounts one defining moment but doesn’t for a second rest on its laurels, adding its own to the mix that stand their own ground, on their own terms.

Review: Piranha DD

With an IMDb (Internet Movie Database) rating of 3.9, it’s fair to say that Piranha DD is a film that isn’t for everyone. Having watched it last night however, I’d say that it does have more going for it than you’d expect, and would argue that you shouldn’t knock it until you’ve tried it. A sequel to the remake Piranha, released as Piranha 3D in cinemas, Piranha 3DD (predictably pronounced 3 Double D) as it was also known in cinemas, was produced to be what you’d expect from the name, a gore filled titillation fest.

Having not seen the original remake (has Hollywood really reduced us to using oxymorons such as this?) I can only judge the film on its individual merits, likewise having seen it at home I cannot comment on the 3D conversion. Although it was made with some level of self awareness, I am not sure precisely how much the film-makers intended it to be scrutinised, and so please forgive me if I am falling into that postgradute pitfall of overanalysing things.

Obviously aiming at the male 16-24 demographic, Piranha DD tells the story of a water park that is eventually invaded by killer fish. Generally, the trailer tells it like it is although there is more to it than meets they eye, even if Ving Rhames’ part in the actual film is pretty much all seen in the trailer, added only to show more than a passing resemblance to its predecessor, and to include some superfluous footage of shotguns. At only 82 minutes the film is shorter than average, but it does wisely take its time in setting up the blood filled inevitability which is given just the right amount of screen time before it gets old.

As I’m sure you can tell from the name even if you haven’t watched the trailer, DD‘s biggest selling point is scantily clad ladies. Apart from featuring more nipples and even glimpses of full frontal than most films however, something which the trailer wouldn’t have been able to get away with for obvious reasons, the amount of time the films focuses on these assets is actually rather deceiving. Having been hooked and reeled in by the introductory tour of The Big Wet waterpark and all its, ahem, “features”, the middle of the film is pretty much nudity free.

Offering only teasing hints of the climactic massacre the audience is no doubt waiting for, the film follows the traditional slasher setup (complete with an obvious Nightmare On Elm Street homage) and shows a number of incidents focusing on teenage hijinks, antics which despite their sexual nature are somewhat less explicit than the style of the film would suggest. Nakedness aside, adolescent tropes are catered to in the form of one particular trist which would actually seem to argue for abstinence much more than others that are purported to. For all it’s birth trauma, I hardly doubt the Twilight sage comes close to uttering the line “Josh cut off his penis because something came out of my vagina.”

But this is not to say the film doesn’t have its more subtle moments, Christopher Lloyd may be all to familiar but perfectly cast as the expository fringe scientist Mr Goodman, and in fact the scene where Chet (Anchorman‘s David Koechner) tries to convince a small child that it wasn’t his fault is actually unexpectedly touching. Wondering if it has gone to far with this however, the film drastically negates any emotion with gross immaturity within the the next fifteen seconds.

Maddy is a heroine many others could learn from.
Maddy is a heroine many others could learn from.

Where the film shines however, is the fact that despite its rather biased marketing campaign conforming to a world of one sided female exploitation (just ask any gamer), the inclusion of rampant but choreographed swimwear modelling is actually defendable. As the films central character, Maddy (Danielle Panabaker), despite needing to be rescued by her eventual love interest Barry (Matt Bush), is more thoughtful, decisive, and proactive than certain other female leads from recent years (yes Twilight, I’m looking at you again); it is through selflessly putting herself in harms way to rescue others that she is endangered, and  the fact she is one of the most fully clad females is arbitrary. Even the somewhat obligatory slow motion running sequences are about the best argument for natural rather than fake breasts as you can get, and as such the general portrayal of women throughout the film can actually be described as fully rounded, no pun intended.

On the flip side of this, the only male character with a substantial part not seen to be any combination of horny, greedy, sexist, arrogant, cowardly, and selfish throughout, is considered to not be hetrosexual either. While making the men (or should I say boys?) in the audience laugh at their exploits, the film does so whilst holding something of an exaggerated mirror in front of them.

Overall Piranha DD is a film which, led by a brilliantly self depreciating David Hasselhoff, is more than happy to swim in its own silliness, and even the ‘serious’ characters get brilliant one liners. All of this results in it arguably joining the likes of Starship Troopers as a multi-layered film which features unabashed blood splattering on top of thinly veiled satire.

Oh, and it’s produced by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, too.