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Review: Star Trek: Miasma February 22, 2016

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Star Trek.
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Another Netgalley review.

Imagine there’d been a TV series set after Star Trek V, with Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, and Saavik on the Enterprise (Sulu’s gone off to the Excelsior by now). Imagine the episodes of that TV series sometimes revisited themes and concepts from the original series but with a group of older, wiser characters who’d learned from their past experiences. That’s what this novella by Greg Cox feels like.

While ferrying ambassadors to a diplomatic summit, the Enterprise receives a strange signal from an unexplored world — SOS call? warning buoy? something else? The universal translator can’t decode it, but the Enterprise goes to investigate. Spock, McCoy, and a few others take a shuttle to the surface (atmospheric conditions interfere with sensors, communications, and transporters). Things go wrong and they find themselves in a struggle to survive. Plotwise, it’s a new take on the classic episode “The Galileo Seven,” but with an older and wiser Spock and McCoy handling the situation much differently, and being aware of the parallels.

Being one of the ebook novella series, this is short enough to feel like a TV episode. Adding to the TV episode feel is the minor subplot of the cranky ambassadors, the kind we’ve seen a few times before, who don’t actually get much time on the page. The story could have worked just as well without them, so I can’t help but think they’re there to give this that extra bit of TV episode feel.

Greg Cox is an experienced novelist who’s been writing these characters (except Saavik) for many years, and he has a solid understanding of their personalities and the way they speak and interact. He also does well with Saavik, who (as played by Kirstie Alley in Star Trek II) was a fascinating character and hasn’t appeared in Treklit nearly enough.

This is scheduled for Star Trek’s 50th anniversary and it’s a good pick for that. In a concise, fast-paced novella you get a tale that lets the old classic gang have one of their late adventures, commenting on one of their earlier adventures. That allows it to be nostalgic without being only nostalgic. Good stuff.


Review: The Prisoner Volume 1 February 18, 2016

Posted by sjroby in Audio reviews.
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PRIS01_cover_1715x2575Every so often someone decides to revisit The Prisoner. It doesn’t always end well, the AMC remake miniseries being the most painful example. Fallout, the last episode of the original series, throws everything that has come before into doubt, while being so strange and surreal that it’s difficult to say what exactly has happened, where the protagonist has been left, and what could possibly happen next. It seems almost futile to try to add new stories into the existing framework as a result.

But people evidently want more, so now we have the Big Finish audio reimagining of the series. It’s not new adventures squeezed into the run of the original or an attempt to carry on from Fallout, it’s a remake. How close a remake remains to be seen. (Please note that I haven’t listened to the behind-the-scenes disc yet; maybe some questions are answered there.)

On the one hand, the music is slightly different, there’s a new actor playing No 6… but the music is still stylistically consistent with the show’s music and Mark Elstob delivers his lines in a way so reminiscent of Patrick McGoohan at times that I gave up trying to picture Elstob and just visualized McGoohan as the stories played out. His character is more emotional, though — more emphasis on love interests. But in general everything seems to be consistent with the original. It’s 1967 as the story begins (with some material leading up to the resignation). But the key difference comes into play pretty quickly. This Village is much more science fictional, with clones, interactive computer terminals, mobile phones, and other advanced technology showing up to confuse No 6 in loose remakes of three original series episodes and one new story. The one original, with No 6 awaking in total darkness and having a very strange time, feels like the experience of an uploaded consciousness in a malfunctioning virtual reality. Not that 6 would understand what that means.

But is that necessarily what’s happening? Hard to say for sure. There’s no explicit answer here, and the next volume doesn’t come out until next January. I don’t know how many are planned. If there are four new stories a year over a period of a few years, waiting for this series’ equivalent of Fallout could prove frustrating. There are some mysteries to investigate — what makes this version different? Why remake so many of the original episodes? Sure, this was entertaining enough, largely for nostalgic reasons, and pretty well put together. It’s more a labour of love — or at least a writer/producer’s self indulgence — than a cynical cash-in. But the next volume will have to do more to prove it needed to be made.

Review: Blake’s 7 Classic Audio Adventures series 1 February 7, 2016

Posted by sjroby in Audio reviews, Blake's 7.
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Mirror coverAfter a few sets of the Liberator Chronicles hybrid audio drama/audiobook approach, Big Finish started its series of full cast audio dramas. Like many old time radio series, it’s TV without the pictures, and without narration. Everything’s driven by dialogue and sound effects.

Unlike the Liberator Chronicles, sold as a series of trilogies, with each story often being a standalone tale, the Classic Audio Adventures were released as single-CD monthly stories, six parts with different titles and authors, but telling one long, serialized story. It surprised me when the first one ended with a cliffhanger, but since I listened to them all over the course of a week or two instead of as they came out it wasn’t hard to remember where I left off from day to day.

This series is set late in series two of the TV series, serving as part of the search for Star One. The storytelling approach is interesting — it ties in with the TV series continuity but also incorporates elements of the Liberator Chronicles stories. I’m not sure whether the Classic or Chronicles stories involving the President of the Federation came first, and I believe Gustav Nyrron first appeared in the Chronicles, but it makes clear that you get more of the whole picture if you’re open to both the more audiobook-like Chronicles style and the Classic radio drama style.

As for the stories themselves, though there’s a very strong arc through the stories, they’re each self-contained enough to work on their own, more or less. Some plot elements are involved in each one. And it’s a pretty good story, especially if you like Brian Croucher’s Travis. All of the cast members have aged, with Gareth Thomas’s voice the least like his TV voice, but Croucher is instantly recognizable. In fact, my one concern — that in a full cast audio I’d have a hard time recognizing who’s who, with the aged voices — turned out to be misplaced. It generally works quite well, even with a new actor doing the Zen and Orac computer voices, and the sound effects work is always good.

The audios do add to the TV series — they tighten up a loose continuity, give it more of a serial feel than it sometimes had, develop characters who didn’t get much screen time, and introduce or reintroduce supporting characters. And without the TV version’s costumes, sets, and special effects, it’s easier to visualize this as the serious space adventure series it tried to be.