Saturday, October 18, 2014

Doctor Who Recap -- 10/18

Tonight's episode "Flatline" begins with a man disappearing from his home after announcing "They are everywhere." Later, the Doctor tries to get Clara home after another adventure, except they end up in Bristol, quite a ways from where she lives. More confusingly, the Tardis has shrunk and they have to squeeze through the doors to get out. The Doctor sends Clara away while he searches for the cause of this strange malady. She goes for a walk and encounters a graffiti artist doing community service named Rigsy. In a funny scene, she takes up the mantle of the Doctor and pokes fun at her traveling companion. Rigsy then comments on a number of people who have gone missing. Also painted on the wall are a bunch of people with their backs to them.

Clara returns to the Tardis and finds it's shrunk down down to about the size of a soda can. She thinks it's funny, but the Doctor--who's now trapped inside--isn't so amused. He reveals that something is leeching external dimensions, and its coming from the northwest. Clara puts the Tardis in her purse and meets up with Rigsy, and the two of them investigate a flat where one of the people disappeared. It's a locked room mystery, and they set about solving it. Soon Rigsy decides to return to his community service, but the Doctor finds him useful, so he has Clara show him the Tardis to get him to stick around. Suddenly, the Doctor announces that an unknown force is sucking the Tardis' energy.

Afterwards, Clara and Rigsy head to the site of another disappearance where they meet MI5 agent Forrest. The agent goes into another room, but a writhing something sucks her into the floor. Clara and Rigsy rush in to assist, but they're too late; Forrest's nervous system has been scaled down and flattened along the wall. The Doctor realizes they're dealing with two-dimensional life forms who are dissecting humans to understand three-dimensional organisms. The 2D entities move in to attack them, but they get on a chair suspended from the ceiling to avoid getting caught. Danny calls and asks if everything's all right. Clara lies to him and says yes, and they escape through the window.

They return to Rigsy's community service detail, only to find the people painted on the walls coming alive. The Doctor declares these are the missing people, and the 2D beings are wearing them like camoflage. The group escapes into a warehouse with the invaders in pursuit. The Doctor wants to try communicating with them because they may not realize they're doing humans harm with their experiments. Using the sonic screwdriver, they rig the building's PA system to transmit a message. The 2D beings respond using numbers, which the community service detail realizes are the numbers on their jackets. Are the invaders listing their past and future victims?

After another attack, one of the men bites it, and the group escapes into a tunnel system. However, they find all doors have been turned to 2D. The Doctor, still stuck in the Tardis, comes up with a device he calls a Toodis which can restore a door handle to 3D. They move deeper into the tunnels, but a giant hand reaches out and grabs another of the workers, revealing they're evolving into 3D. The group makes a run for it, but Clara gets bumped and drops the tiny Tardis into a hole, where it lands on subway tracks...and there's a train coming. There isn't enough power left in the Tardis to defend against this, and the Doctor seems doomed. But taking advice from Clara, he sticks his hand out and maneuvers the Tardis out of the way like Thing from the Addams Family. The Tardis then goes into siege mode, essentially turning it into an impregnable cube. Unfortunately, life support is failing, and it desperately needs a recharge.

No longer able to communicate with the Doctor, Clara has to find a way out of this on her own. So she has Rigsy draw a picture of a 2D door and places it along a wall in the tunnel, and she puts the Tardis behind that wall. The 2D beings poor energy into the faux door trying to get through it, unknowingly powering up the Tardis behind it. Now re-energized, the Tardis goes back to full size, and the Doctor comes out and condemns the 2D beings which he has dubbed Boneless. They knew exactly what they were doing, making them monsters. And if they insist on being monsters, then the Doctor must become "the man who stops the monsters." He banishes the Boneless back to their own dimension and then gets the workers back to the surface. Afterwards, Clara tells him to admit she made a pretty good Doctor. He admits she was a fine Doctor, but says goodness had nothing to do with it. She keeps lying to people throughout this episode, and he doesn't seem to approve.

Finally, Missy appears and has taken a keen interest in Clara. What's going on here? We'll just have to wait to find out.

I found this week's episode to be very imaginative. The 2D beings idea, while not wholly original, was executed very well. And the Doctor's subtle commentary on his own nature speaks to the quality writing this shown continues to display.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Star Trek: Voyager: Acts of Contrition review



This week I decided to review Star Trek: Voyager: Acts of Contrition by Kirsten Beyer. When the book begins, the Full Circle fleet,, now under the command of Admiral Janeway, has returned to the Delta Quadrant seeking an alliance with the ancient Confederacy of Worlds. But as the fleet learns more about the laws and customs of the Confederacy, they discover a number of facts that leave some questioning the wisdom of an alliance between the Confederacy and the Federation, such as the power wielded by the Confederacy’s Market Consortium and its treatment of member worlds in crisis. But with a coalition of many of Voyager’s old enemies, and those jealous of the Confederacy’s technology at the gates, an alliance may be all that saves both the fleet and the Confederacy. But the true nature of the hostile coalition’s leadership may render all efforts to combat them useless. Meanwhile, back in the Alpha Quadrant, Seven of Nine struggles to aid Starfleet Medical in combating the Catomic plague which is devastating many of the worlds damaged by the Borg during their final assault on the Alpha Quadrant. But soon Seven discovers chilling signs of just how far Starfleet will go to stop the plague and even more horrific evidence that the plague might not be what it seems. And Tom Paris must face off against his own family in a desperate legal battle for custody of his daughter and unborn son, calling in every friend and favor he can against his mother, who feels that he and his wife are unfit parents, and his sisters who are supporting their mother’s efforts.
I give this book an 8.5 out of 10. It does a great job of balancing the various plot lines, though the transitions are a little jarring at points. While only one of the major plot lines is resolved in this book, with the others to be dealt with in the upcoming sequel, there was enough attention given to each plot that I have enough ideas about what might come to keep me wondering just what will come in the sequel, and there’s enough mystery left that I’m not sure where one of the plots will go next from the possible paths at the end of this book. The space combat was a little bland but not enough to cripple the story.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Doctor Who Recap -- 10/11

Tonight's episode "Mummy on the Orient Express" begins with an elderly woman being attacked on a train by a mummy that only she can see, resulting in her dying of a heart attack. Later, the Doctor takes Clara to that same train, the Orient Express. However, this is actually a space train! They've come here for Clara's last adventure with him; she decided to end their relationship following last week's episode.

Once aboard, they meet Maisie, the granddaughter of the woman who was just killed, and they find out about the alleged mummy. They also meet Quell, the ship's captain who's trying to keep a lid on things, along with Perkins, the chief engineer. The Doctor begins contemplating the mummy situation and seeks the knowledge of Moorhouse, an expert on myths who's also traveling on the Orient Express. They discuss the legend of the Foretold, a creature seen only by its victims who kills in 66 seconds. It is said to be immortal and cannot be harmed by conventional weapons. The Doctor believes this is the culprit behind the woman's death. As they are discussing this, one of the cooks aboard the train is killed by the Foretold.

Meanwhile, Clara and Maisie break into a storage compartment to see the woman's body. Maisie explains this is out of guilt because she often wished her grandmother dead (Granny wasn't such a nice person, apparently). However, they get locked in and are stuck.

The Doctor and Moorhouse investigate the recent deaths and discover the electricity faltered during each. The Doctor goes to find Clara but can't get through the locked door. Just then, Captain Quell arrives to arrest him on suspicion of being the murderer (the Doctor had been pretending to be a mystery shopper up to this point). But another death occurs, and Quell releases him. The Foretold then kills Moorhouse, and the Doctor tells the crew to bring him the background data on the victims. As it turns out, each of them was sick in either body or mind, causing the Doctor to conclude the mummy is targeting the weakest people first. The Doctor also realizes the passengers are experts in different fields, specifically chosen, and he demands to know who's pulling the strings.

At that moment, the train's upper-class facade is revealed to be a series of holograms (along with most of the passengers), and a lab takes its place. A mysterious man known only as Gus uses the PA system to announce he's brought them together to capture the Foretold so he can reverse-engineer its abilities. And to show he means business, he decompresses the kitchen, sucking the cooks into space.

The Foretold then kills Quell, and the Doctor discovers Maisie is the next victim. He urges Clara to bring her to him so he can watch the mummy attack her, instructing her to lie if necessary. Clara does lie, telling Maisie the Doctor can save her. They go to him, and the Foretold attacks. However, the Doctor manages to steal her negative emotions (the reason the mummy was targeting her), thus becoming the new target. He confronts the Foretold and determines the bandaged menace is actually a soldier who was equipped with a teleporter and cursed with immortality by having to suck the energy from the living. Knowing the soldier just wants his war to end, the Doctor surrenders. The Foretold disintegrates, and the Doctor acquires his teleporter. Unfortunately, Gus doesn't want witnesses, and shuts off oxygen to the car they're in. The Doctor manages to activate the teleporter and get them off the train.

He takes everyone to a nearby planet, and he and Clara have a talk. Her faith in him is restored following his rescue of Maisie, but he explains it's not that simple. Sometimes you have to make bad choices, he says. If Maisie had died, he would have simply moved onto the next victim and kept fighting the Foretold. Nevertheless, Clara decides to keep traveling with him.

Tonight's episode was another strong one. I especially liked the exploration of the Doctor's morality. He's not a clear-cut black-and-white figure. He has his flaws, but he keeps doing his best to do the right thing, and we are again reminded he needs an emotional anchor like Clara to keep him grounded. Also, as a fan of the anime Galaxy Express 999, I dig the space train concept. Finally, I'm intrigued by the mystery of Gus, and I hope he shows up again down the road.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Worlds of Honor: 6: Beginnings review



This week I decided to review Beginnings, the sixth volume in the Worlds of Honor short story anthology series, set in David Weber’s Honorverse. The first story is "By the Book" by Charles E. Gannon. It is by far the earliest story in the setting so far, taking place more than sixteen centuries before the setting’s main series. The story follows Lee Strong, the commander of an Earth Union patrol cutter as his rescue of a hijacked liner and investigation into the hijacking, followed by a suspicious explosion at a colony where then Union’s sublight interstellar vessels are, but it leads to the discovery a conspiracy that could alter humanity’s future forever.  The second story is "A Call to Arms" by Timothy Zahn, It stars Travis Long, and serves as an introduction to the Manticore Ascendant series, which is set a few centuries before the main series. Lieutenant Long finds himself transferred to a newly refitted light cruiser after reprimanding the favored nephew of an admiral. He struggles to adjust to his new ship and captain, but even as elements of Parliament are trying to reduce the Manticoran Navy, a megacorporation hires a mercenary fleet to seize control of the Manticore system and the light cruiser Long serves on finds itself in the path of the attack. Next is "Beauty and the Beast" by David Weber which shows the first meeting of the parents of Honor Harrington, the heroine of the main series. But this isn’t a peaceful story at all as Alfred Harrington is forced to launch a one-man assault to rescue his future bride Allison who has been kidnapped by forces seeking to use her to blackmail her brother into committing treason. Next is "Best Laid Plans," also by David Weber. This story covers the first meeting of Honor, and the Treecat Laughs Brightly, later known Nimitz. The story starts with Honor travelling into the woods in search of flowers for her mother’s birthday while Laughs Brightly and his younger brother are traveling through the area gathering supplies for their clan to use through the coming winter. They sense Honor’s presence through their empathic sense but soon realize she is heading towards a pair of large predators and their children, and an attempt to warn her away soon becomes a desperate battle for survival.  The last story is "Obligated Service" by Joelle Presby. It follows Claire Bedlam Lecroix who is among the first Grayson native female officer candidates. She finds herself struggling to complete her training assigned to a ship that’s been undergoing refit for a year, and a captain who has little interest in training her, or the rest of his crew. She finds herself transferred to another vessel where the training is harder but soon finds herself struggling as she prefers tech training to tactical and many of the crew become ill after the ship’s chief medical officer ignores her advice on maintaining his equipment. Than Claire is thrust into the heart of search and rescue efforts after a massive attack cripples the Grayson shipbuilding industry by destroying the space stations containing the system’s shipyards and a variety of facilities, followed by a struggle against the head of her family who is trying to have her recalled home.
I give the collection an 8 out of 10. It does a wonderful job of providing a wide variety of stories within the setting, and even the ones which I didn’t expect to enjoy much had their good moments. I am kind of annoyed by one thing though. I hate when the back covers of books lie about the contents of the book and this one definitely does that. The back cover states there is a story within it which stars Honor as a Commander in the Royal Manticoran Navyn but the only story Honor appears in is set before she even enters training, much less becomes a commander. And by the time of the only other story in the collection set during Honor’s lifetime, she’s an admiral.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Doctor Who Recap -- 10/04

Tonight's episode "Kill the Moon" begins with Clara in an undisclosed predicament. She says there is a terrible choice to be made: "An innocent life versus the future of all mankind." The episode then goes back in time to earlier when the Doctor and Clara are discussing Courtney, the girl from last week's episode who's a student at the school. The Doctor told her she wasn't special, and now she's upset at that. Rather than apologizing, he decides to make her special by having her become the first woman on the moon. So the three of them take a ride in the Tardis, but instead wind up on a space shuttle on its way to the moon in the year 2049. They are confronted by the shuttle's crew: Lundvick, Duke and Henry who have inexplicably brought nukes with them. The shuttle crashes, and although everyone is OK, they discover normal gravity on the moon caused by an additional 1.3 billion tons of mass. Lundvick explains the increased gravity is wreaking havoc on Earth, and they've been sent to put a stop to it by nuking the moon.
The group makes their way to the Minera San Pedro, a Mexican vessel that Earth lost contact with ten years ago. Inside they find the dead crew cocooned, and Lundvick sends Henry to arm the bombs. Unfortunately, he gets killed by something rather nasty. Back in the San Pedro, the group hears screeching and is attacked by a spider-like alien which gets Duke. It then goes after Courtney, but she manages to kill it with disinfectant, causing the Doctor to conclude the life form is actually a germ. Suddenly, earthquakes begin rocking the lunar surface, and they rush outside to see the shuttle fall into a fissure. The Doctor discovers amniotic fluid leaking from the surface, along with a crapload more spiders which he realizes are actually bacteria living on a massive organism growing inside the moon. Except it's not a moon; it's an egg! Clara wants to leave, but he declares the fate of the moon must be decided here and now, only not by him. Clara, Courtney and Lundvick must choose between killing the massive creature, and letting it hatch and possibly destroying all life on Earth. Refusing to be a part of the decision because he's not an Earthling, he gets back in the Tardis and leaves them to figure it out. 

Clara contacts the people of Earth and explains the situation. She implores them to vote on whether or not to kill the moon creature: Turn off all the lights for yes, or leave them on for no. They turn off all the lights, and Lundvick goes to press the button to set off the nukes. However, Clara stops her. Just then, the Doctor returns and brings them into the Tardis. Setting down on a beach, they witness the moon-egg hatch and disintegrate. The creature immediately lays a new egg, essentially replacing the moon, and the Doctor explains that this incident reignites mankind's interest in space travel, and is instrumental in getting us out into the stars. 

Back in the Tardis, Clara confronts him about his abandoning them. He tells her he had faith they would make the wrong decision. Nevertheless, she feels betrayed and storms off. When she gets back to the school, she meets up with Danny who recognizes her anger; he feels the same way about the army. Clara says she's done with the Doctor. However, he tells her that as long as you still feel anger, you're never done. She thanks him for his advice.

This was another solid episode. I felt the "moon as an egg" idea was pretty cool, and the execution was well-done, even if it does seem a little too convenient that a newly-hatched life form would immediately lay another egg and replace the moon. Since there were more deaths in this episode, I thought there would be another appearance by Missy, but that was not to be. Oh, well. 

Until next time.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Star Wars: The Lando Calrissian Adventures review



This week I decided to review the Lando Calrissian Adventures by L. Neil Smith. They were originally published as three separate books but the recent re-release contains all three books in one volume, so I am reviewing the trilogy as a whole. The first book of the trilogy opens with Lando gambling on Oseon 2795, an asteroid mining colony that is part of the Centrality, a small Imperial allied semi-independent collection of star systems on the fringes of the known galaxy in Star Wars. While the card game is ongoing, another gambler tells Lando of the Mindharp, a legendary artifact supposedly left behind by a highly advanced civilization native to the nearby Rafa system. The gambler then bets the droid Vuffi Raa in the card game, only revealing that the droid is in storage on Rafa IV after Lando wins the hand. Hoping to sell the droid quickly, Lando sets out for Rafa IV, but soon after picking up Vuffi he is arrested on trumped-up charges and brought before the planet’s governor, Duttes Mer and the Sorcerer of Tund Rokur Gepta, the latter being the main antagonist of the trilogy. They offer Lando a deal, namely that if he agrees to find and bring them the Mindharp they will drop the charges, and they have the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive sabotaged to make sure that Lando doesn’t flee the system  Lando’s quest for the harp leads him to Rafa V, where he meets the Toka, a primitive species native to the system, who believe that Lando and Vuffi are figures spoken of in prophecy. In time the hunt leads Lando, Vuffi, and Mohs, the High Singer of the Toka to a pyramid like structure with the apparent ability to warp time and space…
The second book opens with an unspecified amount of time having passed since the previous book and begins shortly after a small bomb has exploded on the Millennium Falcon during a fight, and then cuts to a flashback showing a recent battle as the freighter was attacked by a pirate carrier equipped with a swarm of drone fighters while taking a shortcut through a small nebula. Soon after the ambush Land was invited to gamble by the administrator of the Oseon system. But soon after a highly profitable first night gambling Lando is ambushed by a man he doesn’t know and is forced to kill the man in self defense. Unfortunately for Lando possessing a weapon is a capital offense within the Oseon system. But Lando is offered a deal. A known drug addict receives a shipment of a highly illegal drug every season during the Flamewind, a regular phenomenon within the system which is considered very beautiful which also produces dangerous radiation leading to travel within the system being banned during flareups. Lando will take the drugs to the buyer along with two police officers, then be free to leave with his winnings once the buyer is arrested. But the Falcon is ambushed by a large and rag tag force of starfighters en route, and the force behind Lando’s other recent difficulties is still at large…
The third book begins about a year after the second book ends, with the Millennium Falcon meeting Lehesuan, an adventurous member of the Oswaft, an intelligent species that lives in space and are somewhat like large Mantas in form. The story then jumps forward a few months. The ThonBoka Nebula that the Oswaft call home is being besieged by a Joint Imperial/Centrality fleet that is poisoning the food supply of the Oswaft and blocking their escape. Lando comes in answer to a distress call from the Oswaft but finds that the blockading fleet consists of hundreds of warships  As Lando tries to find some way to defeat the immense enemy fleet a final confrontation with Rokur Gepta looms as does the true nature of Vuffi Raa. But the remains of the Renatasian Confederation, the ragtag band of starfighter pilots who blame Vuffi Raa for the invasion which devastated their homeworld, is also nearby as the final battle for the fate of the Oswaft comes to a head..
I give the trilogy 3.5 out of 10. The first book feels more like an Indiana Jones adventure in space than a Star Wars story, with a few elements from the old Maverick western show thrown in. I also personally dislike the whole mystical temple and artifact part of the story and feel that like many of the worst parts of more recent Star Wars stories it focuses too much on the mystic side of the setting. The second book is my favorite of the three, and has the fewest mystic elements. The third has fewer mystic elements than the first, but I don’t feel that the Oswaft or the true nature of  Vuffi Raa really fit in with Star Wars very well. There are good reasons you only hear of Vuffi Ra or the Oswaft in passing outside these books, and never hear about another sentient space-dwelling lifeform in Star Wars that I can recall. And I think Rokur Gepta is a horrible idea for a villain and that his mystic abilities could have been removed with little or no significant changes to the story. Also, the author has a habit of inventing new items when the setting already has something that serves the same function, or using little-known terms for objects seemingly for no real reason then to possibly make people wonder what the difference between the term used and a more common term is. Like Lando using a Stingbeam weapon rather than a holdout blaster despite the two weapons filling similar roles and having similar traits, with the form the beam emitter takes apparently being the major difference. Or using the Latin term nebulosity for a small nebula in the second book rather than just calling it a nebula 


Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Game Called Revolution -- Free Today

Until midnight on 09/03, download The Game Called Revolution for free on Kindle: http://tinyurl.com/9lfdelo.

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