Review: “Glory In Death” By J.D.Robb (Novel)

Well, for today, I thought that I’d take a look at a sci-fi detective novel from 1995 called “Glory In Death” by J.D.Robb. This was a book that I found by accident whilst searching one of my book piles for another book.

According to the receipt that was still in it, I found it in a charity shop in Rugeley a little over a decade ago – and, if I remember rightly, I bought it because of the cool “Blade Runner”/1990s computer game-style cyberpunk cover art.

So, let’s take a look at “Glory In Death”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 1997 New English Library (UK) paperback edition of “Glory In Death” that I read.

The novel is set in New York in 2058. Tough-as-nail police lieutenant Eve Dallas has been called out to a crime scene in one of the rougher parts of town after a prominent prosecutor called Cicely Towers has been found murdered.

After it becomes obvious that the crime wasn’t a robbery, Eve finds herself investigating the opulent lives of many of Cicely’s rich friends and family in the hope of finding the killer. Not only that, because of the prominent nature of the case, the press are also hounding her too and the police chief (also a friend of Cicely’s) wants results.

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was a bit different to what I’d expected. In short, if you’re expecting a neon-drenched cyberpunk thriller, you’re probably going to be a little disappointed. But, if you expect a slightly stylised police procedural thriller with some sci-fi/cyberpunk and romance elements, then you’ll probably enjoy this novel more. This is also one of those novels that only really gets ultra-compelling/ fast-paced during the later parts too.

In terms of the novel’s detective elements, they’re reasonably well-written. This novel is very much a police procedural novel and the story’s detective elements are handled fairly well.

There are several possible suspects and there’s a good mixture of interviews, forensics and other types of detection. Plus, of course, Eve also has to deal with the press/media too, which adds a bit of extra conflict and drama to the story (whilst also posing questions about journalistic ethics etc… too). And, like in many detective stories, this is one of those stories that becomes more and more compelling and suspenseful as it goes along.

Likewise, the case itself is fairly well-plotted, with enough subtle clues and red herrings to keep things unpredictable until the killer is finally revealed. Although avid readers of the detective genre may have better luck, I incorrectly guessed who the killer was at least once whilst reading the novel. Not to mention that Eve’s eventual confrontation with the killer is a fairly satisfying (if rather dark and gritty) conclusion to the story too.

The novel’s sci-fi elements are more understated than I expected. Whilst there are a few subtle “Blade Runner” references (eg: an advertising blimp, a photo-enhancement machine etc…), a couple of rain-soaked urban locations and a few scenes involving computers/VR, this isn’t really quite as much of a cyberpunk novel as I’d expected.

In short, the sci-fi elements are often more of a background detail that adds flavour to the story rather than an integral part of the story. With a few exceptions (eg: casinos in space etc..), this story could almost take place in the present day without too many changes.

For example, most of the novel’s futuristic forensic technology wouldn’t be too out of place in a stylised modern TV show like “NCIS” or “CSI”. So, given that this novel is from the mid-1990s, it is at least slightly ahead of it’s time.

The novel’s romance elements are interesting, if somewhat stylised. In short, the main love interest – Roarke – happens to be a multi-millionaire (with a lavish mansion, several holiday homes, a robot butler etc..) who has enough of a shady past to be intriguingly mysterious. He is passionate about Eve and cares deeply about her happiness, but is also arrogant enough for there to be several dramatic arguments between them. Whilst the romance elements work reasonably well, they can sometimes get in the way of the main story a bit (such as when Eve and Roarke randomly take a short holiday to Mexico during a dramatic part of the story).

In terms of the characters, the main characters are a bit stylised. Eve is a typical tough-as-nails detective with a dark past and a hunger for justice, Roarke is – as mentioned earlier – a slightly stylised love interest. But, the background characters are often a bit more nuanced and realistic which helps to add atmosphere to the story, not to mention that many of them are morally ambiguous enough that you’ll have a difficult job guessing which one is the killer.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is reasonably “matter of fact”, with some descriptive moments too. It’s hardboiled enough to fit in with the tone of the story, but descriptive enough to give everything a bit of vividness.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is ok. At 296 pages in length, it doesn’t seem too long. Plus, although most of the novel is a fairly moderately paced story about methodical investigation and interviews, it becomes more compelling and fast-paced during the later parts of the story.

As for how this twenty-four year old novel has aged, it has aged surprising well. Whilst it contains a couple of dated descriptions, this is a novel that could have almost been written in the present day. Thanks to the slightly futuristic setting and the focus on rich people who live timelessly opulent lives, this novel seems surprisingly modern. Surprisingly, there are even smartphones (or portable video phones) in this novel too. But, thankfully, there isn’t any modern-style social media in this novel 🙂

All in all, this is a reasonably well-written, if stylised, police procedural novel with some romance and cyberpunk elements. Yes, it was a bit different to what I’d expected but, during the later parts of it, I found that I couldn’t really put the book down.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would possibly get a four.

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Review: “Linesman” By S. K. Dunstall (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a short break from horror fiction and read a sci-fi novel. And, after seeing an intriguing description of another S.K. Dunstall novel online (which made me nostalgic for the days when sci-fi TV shows were almost always set in space 🙂 ), I eventually ended up finding a second-hand copy of Dunstall’s earlier 2015 novel “Linesman” instead.

Although this novel is the first novel in a trilogy, it tells a story that feels reasonably satisfying on it’s own, but also obviously leaves a lot of room for further stories.

So, let’s take a look at “Linesman”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2015 Ace (US) paperback edition of “Linesman” that I read.

The novel is set in a galaxy where spacecraft are controlled by ten “lines” (energy fields that are responsible for different aspects of how the spacecraft functions). These lines are maintained by people called linesmen who, through a combination of innate talent and formal training, can use their minds to manipulate these fields. However, almost all of the galaxy’s most talented linesmen have gathered around a mysterious interstellar phenomenon called “The Confluence” and refuse to leave.

Except for one. The scheming owner of the House Of Rigel has realised that, by keeping one of his high-level linesmen (an eccentric called Ean who doesn’t follow formal methods and likes to sing to the lines) away from the confluence, he can make an absolute fortune hiring him out to desperate starship captains. After all, with all of the other high-level linesmen at the confluence, where else can captains go for help?

But, after Ean returns from a long stint in space, he barely has time to rest before he is nearly killed by a visitor to the House Of Rigel who “tests” his abilities by pointing a line-based weapon at him and forcing him to disarm it within seconds. The visitor turns out to be Lady Lyan, a princess from the planet’s powerful royal family who wants to spite Rigel by taking the contract for his highest-earning linesman.

Still, Ean is glad to get away from Rigel. However, when he arrives on Lady Lyan’s ship, Ean soon learns that he has been hired to investigate a mysterious alien ship that has been found floating in space….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it takes a while to really get started, it is well worth the wait 🙂

Imagine the complex feudal politics of Frank Herbert’s “Dune”, the sci-fi mysticism of “Star Wars”, the military-style sci-fi of “Babylon 5″/”Star Trek” and the spaceship-based drama of the modern remake of “Battlestar Galactica” and you’ll have a vague idea of what this novel is like 🙂

Seriously, whilst this novel is very much it’s own thing, there are so many parts of it that will also make you think of “Dune” or “Star Wars” or “Battlestar Galactica”, and this is really cool 🙂 Even so, don’t go into this novel expecting a fast-paced action-packed thriller.

Whilst there are some thrillingly fast-paced moments, most of this novel is more of a complex slow-burn of a story about political machinations and intrigue in outer space. Although this does become really compelling once you understand who all of the different factions, houses etc.. are, expect the earlier parts of the novel to be a bit slow-going whilst everyone and everything is introduced.

In other words, this is more of a character-based drama, a sci-fi mystery and a dialogue-heavy political thriller than a more conventional sci-fi thriller. But, once you get used to this, then the story becomes a lot more compelling. Seriously, this is one of those novels that I started reading a little bit reluctantly but almost held off from reading the last thirty pages because I didn’t want it to end.

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, they’re pretty interesting. Like “Star Wars”, this novel is slightly more on the science fantasy side of things – but this is handled in a way that adds a sense of depth and mystery to the story. Plus, like with a good fantasy novel, all of the novel’s more “magical” elements (eg: Ean’s singing, his limited omniscience etc..) follow a clear set of rules that really helps them to feel like a solid part of the story. Likewise, this is a story that explains enough to let you understand what is happening, but keeps enough mysterious to evoke a feeling of awe and/or curiosity.

The main focus of the novel is more on the political ramifications of alien technology than the technology itself. And, the novel’s politics are really well-handled, with lots of dramatic arguments, devious machinations, clever stratagems, military posturing, awkward formal dinners, sneaky press manipulation etc… Basically, imagine something like “Game Of Thrones”, but without as much bloodshed, and this will give you an idea of what to expect.

As for the novel’s characters, they’re really brilliant. Although Ean receives the bulk of the novel’s characterisation, all of the many other characters feel like distinctive and realistic individuals with personalities and motivations. This is one of those novels that handles a large cast of characters (a couple of whom go by several names) well enough that you probably won’t feel too confused. Seriously, I cannot praise the characters in this novel highly enough 🙂

Ean is an absolutely fascinating protagonist too. Although he is a bit of a “chosen one” character, he’s portrayed in a much more realistic, human, socially awkward, naive and vulnerable way than these types of characters usually are. Likewise, the fact that he’s had to figure a lot of stuff out on his own means that when he finally meets some of his fellow high-level linesmen, they all do things differently and consider him to be a bit of a freak. Seriously, this is a brilliant piece of characterisation.

In terms of the writing, this novel is fairly well-written. The novel’s third-person narration sits somewhere between descriptive formal narration and more informal “matter of fact” narration, and it includes the best elements of both. In short, this is one of those novels where the writing will often fade into the background because you’re more interested in the story and the characters.

Likewise, one interesting feature is that – like in G.R.R Martin’s “Song Of Ice And Fire” novels, each chapter is labelled with the character that it focuses on. However, the novel keeps this a lot more streamlined by only really focusing on two characters – Ean and a rival linesman called Jordan Rossi. This works really well and it gives the third-person narration all of the advantages of multiple first-person narrators, but with absolutely none of the many downsides 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, appearances can be deceptive. Although this novel is a relatively lean 372 pages in length and has the words “fast-paced” printed on the cover, don’t expect it to be a quick read.

This is an epic saga of a novel that consists of lots of atmospheric, intrigue-filled slow-paced parts, punctuated by a small number of well-placed fast-paced segments. Even so, this novel is still really compelling once you have got used to the slower pacing. And, as mentioned earlier, it is one of those books that you’ll go into slightly reluctantly, but find that you miss it when the story is over.

All in all, this is a much better novel than I initially expected 🙂 Yes, it is slow to get started and it will often focus more on intergalactic politics than on swashbuckling spacefarers but, once you get used to this, you’re in for a real treat 🙂 Seriously, if you miss the days when space-based sci-fi shows (eg: “Star Trek”, “Babylon 5”, “Farscape” etc..) used to be on TV and also you want something a little bit more cerebral, then read this book.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and three-quarters.

Review: “Blood Music” By Greg Bear (Novel)

Well, when I was going through a bit of a sci-fi phase a week or two ago, I looked online for sci-fi novels and Greg Bear’s 1985 novel “Blood Music” caught my interest enough for me to order a second-hand copy. And I’m glad that I did 🙂

So, let’s take a look at “Blood Music”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.

This is the 2001 Gollancz (UK) paperback edition of “Blood Music” that I read.

The novel begins in California, where a socially-awkward scientific genius called Vergil Ulam is working for a bio-tech company called Genetron. He has been doing some secret research into using blood cells as mini-computers. However, his boss finds out about the research and orders him to destroy it. Infuriated by this, Vergil saves a sample of his altered cells (which he calls “noocytes” – thinking cells) and begins plotting revenge against the company.

Unfortunately for Vergil, his hack into the company’s computer system is discovered and he barely has time to inject himself with the last sample of noocytes before he is thrown out of the building. He isn’t sure what to do next and ends up in a bar, where a beautiful woman called Candice somehow feels attracted to him. To both of their surprise, he is remarkably good in bed.

That isn’t all, Vergil also seems to be getting thinner and healthier too. At first, he considers his experiment a success and tries to get work at another lab in the hope that he can extract and use the noocytes whilst they are still alive. But, after the hack, he has been blacklisted by the industry. Not only that, the noocytes start having strange effects on Vergil’s body and it soon becomes obvious that Vergil has accidentally created a sentient virus. A sentient virus that has already started spreading…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is… Wow! Although this novel takes a while to really get started, it is amazing 🙂 It is atmospheric, intelligent, compelling and awe-inspiring 🙂

This is one of those books that almost feels like a trilogy of novels compressed into one. It is a book that, whilst it might challenge you at times, has a surprisingly emotional payoff if you stick with it (seriously, the ending actually made me cry). It’s a novel that I probably didn’t entirely understand, but understood enough about to be amazed by it. Although this novel also contains elements from the horror and thriller genres, it also has all of the wonder and amazement that the best science fiction does.

Despite the reams of scientific jargon throughout the novel, the most interesting sci-fi elements of this novel are the scenes showing the strange world and thought patterns of the noocytes. The scenes of a continent being transformed into some kind of alien landscape, of people being copied and gaining access to lost memories from history, of inner space being as fascinating as outer space. Of reality itself being malleable and questionable. Although the novel takes a while to set all of this stuff up, it is well worth waiting for 🙂

It’s also a novel about the nature of change and innovation too, with the naively optimistic experiments at the beginning of the novel having a bit of an eerie resonance when read in this age of smartphones, social media mega-corporations, fake news and all of the other side-effects of the tech optimism of the 1990s. The focus on large tech companies near the beginning of the book (they are biotech companies, but are trendy in the way that Google, Facebook etc.. are) also helps to make the novel feel eerily prescient too.

It’s also a novel about individuality and community too. Of how a scientific discovery made by one person always involves “standing on the shoulders of giants”, how both individuality and community are important (perhaps a reference to democracy?), how we are all products of many years of human history etc… Seriously, it’s really fascinating.

This novel also has some fairly cool horror elements too, with lots of David Cronenburg-esque body horror involving people melting, merging and transforming in strange ways. Plus, there’s a bit of Richard Matheson-esque post-apocalyptic horror too 🙂

Interestingly though, whilst the scenes of people transforming are a brilliantly grotesque source of body horror during the early and middle parts of the book, this novel then somehow manages to find beauty in all of this (in a way that reminded me a little of Clive Barker’s horror and fantasy fiction).

Likewise, this novel also manages to be quite a compelling thriller too. Although it is a bit slow-paced and filled with formal scientific jargon at times, the quietly suspenseful early scenes where Vergil begins a mysterious transformation eventually morph into a worldwide geo-political storyline, which is also expertly counterpointed with suspenseful scenes of small-scale drama (eg: a young woman called Suzy who is alone in a post-apocalyptic version of Manhattan). Seriously, this story can be more of a thriller than you might expect – but don’t expect a modern-style ultra-fast paced thriller though.

In terms of the characters, this novel is better than it initially seems to be. Although the characters at first seem to be typical sci-fi stock characters (eg: the frustrated scientific genius, the beautiful lover, the charismatic businessman, the ordinary person, the doctor etc..), they gain a bit more depth and complexity as the novel progresses. This is also one of those interesting novels that doesn’t so much have one main character, but has a series of main characters that appear and disappear as the story progresses.

In terms of the writing, it is better than it initially appears to be. Although this novel’s third-person narration is peppered with bewildering scientific jargon and the occasional science lecture, the narrative parts of the story are a really interesting mixture of informal “matter of fact” descriptions and more formal/poetic/experimental narration. The mixture of these two things helps to keep the story comprehensible and compelling, whilst also allowing some parts of it to have a level of awe and wonder that you won’t find in films or TV shows.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is interesting. At a gloriously efficient 262 pages in length, not a single page is wasted and the novel almost feels like three novels squashed into one 🙂 As for the pacing, although this novel would probably be considered “slow-paced” these days, it is really compelling and the story gradually builds in intensity throughout the novel too.

In terms of how this thirty-four year old novel has aged, it has aged surprisingly well. Yes, this story is very clearly set in the world of the early-mid 1980s (eg: scenes involving West Germany, the USSR, the World Trade Center etc.. and a few mildly dated descriptions), but the actual story itself feels eerily modern in many ways. Not only are many of the novel’s weirder scenes completely timeless, but the story also seems like an eerily prescient metaphor for modern social media etc…. when read today.

All in all, this is a brilliant book 🙂 Yes, it is a little bit slow-paced at times and all of the scientific jargon might be a little confusing but, if you persevere with it, then you will be rewarded with an absolutely brilliant and awe-inspiring story 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

Review: “Old Twentieth” By Joe Haldeman (Novel)

Well, after I’d finished reading Joe Haldeman’s excellent “The Accidental Time Machine” a week or two earlier, I looked online and ended up finding a second-hand copy of Haldeman’s 2005 novel “Old Twentieth”. Since the cover art and the premise looked fairly interesting, I decided to take a look at it.

So, let’s take a look at “Old Twentieth”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2006 Ace (US) paperback edition of “Old Twentieth” that I read.

The novel begins in 1915, where a soldier in Gallipoli called Jacob is mortally wounded by a Turkish shell. As he dies, someone shows him a series of pictures….

We then flash forward to the distant future. Jacob is hundreds of years old, because an immortality pill was developed in the past. However, the fact that the pill was initially only available to the wealthy sparked an Earth-wide civil war, which ended with the immortal 3% of the population using bio-weapons to get rid of the 97%. In the centuries that followed, Earth rebuilt itself from a post-apocalyptic ruin and civilisation returned.

However, there were still worries about how long Earth would last. So, after a probe finds another habitable planet, eight hundred people decide to take the 1000 year voyage in a group of five spaceships. To stave off boredom during the voyage and to help the crew emotionally, one of the ships has a virtual reality machine that can realistically simulate many parts of Earth’s history. Jacob is part of the team that maintains the machine and sorts out errors in the program.

For the first few years of the voyage, everything goes well. Life on board the ship is pleasant and Jacob even falls in love with another member of the crew too. However, all of this starts to unravel when someone using the VR machine suddenly and mysteriously dies whilst still plugged in…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a fairly atmospheric, intelligent and compelling sci-fi story that is reminiscent of films like “The Thirteenth Floor” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”, the TV show “Bablyon 5” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World“. Even so, it can be a little bit on the slow-paced side of things, not to mention that it is also a far cry from the light-hearted adventure of Haldeman’s “The Accidental Time Machine” too.

Although there are some moments of humour and some rather utopian moments (which are perhaps a satire of “Star Trek”) during the story, this is very much a bleak and dystopian story. On the plus side, it contains some brilliantly chilling and grotesque moments of sci-fi horror but, for the most part, it is a rather melancholy story. It’s a very intelligent, atmospheric and compelling novel, but it isn’t exactly a “feel good” novel.

One interesting thing about the novel’s VR segments is that they are deliberately grim and dystopian, with the grittiness of history being contrasted with the seemingly utopian world of the future (this even extends to some of the deliberately dated descriptions used in the “history” segments). This also allows the story to include some extra worldbuilding and emotional depth since, in a world where people are immortal, realistic simulations of things like disease and death evoke a different reaction than they would do if the characters experiencing them were mortal.

Thematically, this book is fairly complex. In addition to dealing with history, war, capitalism, anarchy, death, psychology and other such heavy topics, it is also a book about virtual reality, artificial intelligence and the meaning of life too. There’s lots of fairly interesting subtle stuff too, such as how a lot of the VR history segments in the early parts of the story deal with the Spanish Flu, which parallels the use of bio-weapons in the novel’s backstory. Or how the narrator’s surname is Brewer, which links into a comment that a character makes about him later in the story.

But, one slightly annoying thing about this book is that it could have been a really brilliant satire of moral panics and it possibly is to some limited extent. Even so, this novel mostly goes down a more serious and dystopian route, with the “dangerous” VR machine being a source of horror and a source of moral lectures from a few of the more curmudgeonly characters (where it is likened to alcoholism, drugs etc..). Still, this novel does pose the question of whether joy and escapism is an integral part of the meaning of life, with the alternative to using the machine being 1000 years of repetitive boredom on a spaceship.

In terms of the characters, they’re ok I guess. The narrator gets a reasonable amount of characterisation, but the side-characters often seem a little bit stylised or under-developed. Although there is a possible in-universe explanation for this, the very slight lack of characterisation can make some of the characters seem a little bit generic and/or annoying. Likewise, it’s kind of annoying that the only bi character (Kate) in the novel is possibly something of a stereotype too.

In terms of the writing, the novel is mostly narrated from a first-person perspective, with a few brief third-person backstory segments. The writing style is fairly descriptive, but readable, which helps to add a lot of atmosphere to the story – albeit at the cost of slightly slower-paced storytelling. Even so, the writing in this novel is kind of like a slightly updated version of more classic sci-fi narration.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a bit of a mixed bag. At 285 pages in length, it never really feels too long and it manages to pack quite a bit of storytelling into a reasonable amount of pages. On the other hand, whilst this novel does become more and more compelling as it goes along, the pacing is a little bit on the slow side of things. Yes, this adds atmosphere and suspense. But, on the other hand, a faster pace would have made this story even better.

Still, the novel has a rather dramatic ending though. However, if you’ve seen a fair number of sci-fi movies/TV shows, then it might be at least slightly predictable. Even so, it’s a reasonably clever way to end the story nonetheless.

All in all, this is a compelling, intelligent, atmospheric and suspenseful sci-fi novel. Yes, it’s slow-paced, a bit depressing and it possibly needs a bit more characterisation, but it is still a reasonably good novel. Even so, I enjoyed Haldeman’s “The Accidental Time Machine” slightly more than this novel.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Review: “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Perchance To Dream” By Howard Weinstein (Novel)

Well, since the weather was still fairly hot, I was still in the mood for something fairly short and relaxing to read. And, after looking through some of the various “Star Trek” novels I accumulated in 2010-13 (when I went through a phase of reading them), I eventually settled on one from 1991 called “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Perchance To Dream” by Howard Weinstein.

Like with the other “Star Trek” novels I’ve reviewed during the past month, this novel tells a self-contained spin-off story that can theoretically be read on it’s own. However, you’ll probably get more out of this novel if you’ve seen at least a few episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” before reading it.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Perchance To Dream”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1991 Titan Books (UK) paperback edition of “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Perchance To Dream” that I read.

The novel begins on the USS Enterprise, which is stationed near an uninhabited planet called Domarus Four. Dr. Crusher is not in a good mood, not only have Starfleet asked her to transport several patients to a medical facility (rather than ask her to treat them), but her teenage son Wesley is on a training mission on Domarus Four with Data, Troi and two other cadets.

Down on the planet’s surface, the cadets are collecting geological samples and occasionally having arguments with each other. Even so, the training mission seems to have been something of a success. But, when their shuttle lifts off from the planet, they are caught in the strong tractor beam of a spaceship that accuses them of trespassing on a planet claimed by the Teniran Echelon.

Luckily, the Enterprise notices this on sensors and goes to intercept the ship, hoping to negotiate the shuttle’s release before it is destroyed by the tractor beam. However, during discussions with the Teniran captain, Arit, a mysterious glowing energy field appears in space and the shuttle suddenly disappears…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, like with the other “Star Trek” novels I’ve read recently, it’s kind of like a “lost” episode of the TV show – but with a lot more atmosphere, depth and character to it. In addition to this, the novel is not only a fairly quick read but it also contains some fairly good characterisation too 🙂

Although this novel doesn’t really contain any fast-paced action scenes, it still manages to remain compelling thanks to some clever use of suspense, drama and characterisation. Most of this is done through the use of several plot threads that focus on different groups of characters and the fact that both the Enterprise and the Tenirans find themselves at the mercy of mysterious beings that can teleport them to unknown places at will. In other words, this is a thriller novel but it isn’t an action-thriller novel, if this makes sense.

Likewise, the novel really excels when it comes to characterisation and character-based drama too. Although the teen angst drama between the immature cadets does get a little bit annoying at times, the story also includes lots of scenes focusing on the rest of the Enterprise’s crew, some scenes involving the mysterious beings and quite a few well-written scenes that focus on the Teniran ship’s crew too.

Whilst I don’t want to spoil too much, the Tenirans are a really interesting and surprisingly sympathetic group of characters, who are unsure about what to do and have also been affected by their people’s history too. Likewise, there’s also some characterisation and drama between the mysterious beings surrounding the planet too.

Thematically, this novel is fairly interesting too. The main themes of the story are probably parenthood, the effects of history, communication, insecurity and death. Although these themes are explored a bit, they mostly serve to add a bit of extra depth and drama to the events of the story – which works fairly well.

In the utopian tradition of “Star Trek”, this is a surprisingly uplifting novel where there aren’t really any “villains” – just different groups of characters who misunderstand each other. All three groups of characters (the Enterprise’s crew, the Tenirans and the mysterious beings) are all shown to have benevolent goals that come into conflict with each other. Likewise, each group also has their own share of uncertainties, insecurities and disagreements which help to keep the story compelling too.

In terms of the writing, it’s really good. The novel’s third-person narration is written in a way that is “matter of fact” enough to keep the story moving at a decent pace, whilst also allowing for lots of descriptions and characterisation too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is excellent 🙂 At a gloriously efficient 240 pages in length, the story never feels too long (and it’ll probably take you as long to read it as it would to watch just 2-4 episodes of the TV show 🙂 ). Likewise, the novel’s pacing is really good too – with lots of suspense and character-based drama ensuring that it remains compelling throughout.

In terms of how this twenty-eight year old novel has aged, it has aged really well. Yes, there are a couple of bits that seem mildly dated (not to mention a historical error in a later part of the novel, when Data says that Europeans first travelled to North America in the 19th century) but, for the most part, this novel has aged really well. Thanks to the great characterisation and the futuristic setting, this story still holds up fairly well when read today.

All in all, this is a compelling and dramatic “Star Trek: The Next Generation” novel. Not only does reading it feel like watching a “lost” episode of the TV show, but there’s also a good amount of characterisation too.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four.

Review: “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Dark Mirror” By Diane Duane (Novel)

Well, after abandoning the novel I’d originally planned to read today since I really didn’t enjoy the first forty pages, I needed to find a better book… and quick!

Luckily, I’d been to Portchester the day before preparing this review and I’d found a few interesting books in the charity shops there. One of those books was a hardback copy of Diane Duane’s 1993 novel “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Dark Mirror”.

According to a note at the beginning of the book, this original spin-off story takes place during the same time period as the fourth season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (mostly because of a few brief references to Picard’s history with the Borg). Still, although this is a new self-contained story, it is worth being familiar with the characters from “Star Trek: TNG” and/or one or two parts of “Star Trek” mythology (eg: the mirror universe) before reading this book.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Dark Mirror”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1993 Simon & Schuster (UK) hardback edition of “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Dark Mirror” that I read.

The novel begins with the USS Enterprise waiting in an empty region of space. Captain Picard is painting a picture of France when he receives a report that a ship owned by a spacefaring people called the Lalairu is approaching the USS Enterprise for a rendezvous. The ship has been carrying a dolphin-like Starfleet navigation expert called Hwiii, who has been conducting scientific studies of the area.

However, shortly after Hwiii joins the Enterprise’s crew, the captain of the Lalairu vessel gives Picard a cryptic warning about something dangerous in the area before leaving very quickly. A while later, the Enterprise experiences some kind of weird spacial distortion before the security systems alert the crew to an intruder. When the intruder is caught, it turns out to be a crew member called Ensign Stewart. The only problem is that, according to the ship’s computers, Ensign Stewart is asleep in his quarters.

After some medical tests, the captured intruder turns out to be a slightly different copy of Ensign Stewart. He freezes with terror when Counsellor Troi tries to talk to him and it soon becomes obvious that the Enterprise has found itself in a cruel dystopian parallel universe. Not only that, an “evil” version of the USS Enterprise is also nearby too. Needless to say, it isn’t long before the “good” Enterprise’s crew begin to hatch a plan to infiltrate the evil version of their ship and stop it from destroying them….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although it is fairly slow to start, it becomes a lot more compelling and atmospheric as it continues. Imagine a slower-paced two-part episode of the TV show, but with more depth, atmosphere and drama – and this will give you a good impression of what this story is like.

The “mirror universe” (an alternate timeline containing an evil dystopian version of Starfleet) is an absolutely fascinating part of the series’ mythology and it’s a shame that it never appeared in the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” TV show. So, it is absolutely awesome to see a novel that rectifies this mistake 🙂

In addition to seeing both chillingly evil versions of familiar characters and an atmospheric dystopian version of the Enterprise, this novel also delves into some of the mirror universe’s backstory in addition to exploring issues like morality, loyalty, colonialism etc… too. Likewise, the interactions between the “good” and “evil” versions of familiar characters also allow for lots of drama too.

And, yes, this is more of a suspense-filled spy drama novel than anything else. It is the kind of novel that is more compelling than thrilling, if this makes sense. In other words, if you’re expecting a fast-paced action-thriller novel, then you’re going to be disappointed. But, if you want a grippingly suspenseful dystopian spy story that is filled with compelling drama and science fiction, then you’ll enjoy this one 🙂

Another interesting thing about this novel is that it is a lot more high brow than I’d expected. Yes, the show itself contains some high brow moments, but this novel turns them up to eleven. In addition to lots of complicated scientific lectures and some fairly formal narration, there are numerous high brow cultural references too.

For example, when the Enterprise’s translator finds it difficult to translate the irregular grammar of the Lalairu’s language, the novel jokingly likens this to the experimental writings of James Joyce and Anthony Burgess. Likewise, there’s also a two-page scene that quotes a large portion of an altered Shakespeare play. Even so, if you don’t get all of the high brow references (I didn’t get the opera, poetry and Greek mythology ones), then there’s usually enough contextual information for them still to make sense.

In terms of the characters, they’re really well-written. The main characters are reasonably true to the TV show, with the novel also adding a bit of extra depth to them too. And, although the story mostly focuses on Picard, Troi and La Forge, most of the other characters also get a decent amount of characterisation too. Likewise, their interactions with their evil twins also allows for a lot of extra character-based drama too. In addition to this, Hwiii is an absolutely brilliant new character too – and, although he only appears during a few scenes, he adds some extra humour, sophistication and drama to the story too.

In terms of the writing, it’s fairly good. As I mentioned earlier, the novel’s third-person narration is fairly formal and descriptive (and is a little bit like a literary novel). Although this does slow the story down a bit and might take you a little while to get used to, it really helps to add a lot of extra atmosphere and depth to the story.

In terms of length and pacing, this story is ok. At 337 pages in length, the novel feels slightly on the long side, although not too much so. The novel starts fairly slowly, although the pace picks up slightly later. As I mentioned earlier, this story is more compelling than thrilling – so, expect a more moderately-paced, but gripping, story.

In terms of how this twenty-six year old novel has aged, it has aged reasonably well. This is mostly thanks to the story’s futuristic setting, not to mention that most of the technology still just about seems futuristic (eg: 512 terabyte storage devices, computers with 19 processing cores etc..). However, a brief “historical” reference to an opera house riot in 2002 seems a little bit silly when read today. Likewise, whilst the story itself remains compelling to this day, the more formal and “literary” writing style may seem out of place when compared to modern expectations about TV show spin-off novels.

All in all, this is an atmospheric, suspenseful and compelling novel that “Star Trek: TNG” fans will enjoy 🙂 Yes, it’s a bit slow-paced, a bit formal and perhaps a little bit too high brow. But, if you stick with it, then you will be rewarded with something that is not only like a “lost” episode of the TV show, but is also a bit richer, deeper and more compelling too.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a solid four.

Three Basic Tips For Coming Up With Intriguing Background Details For Your Sci-Fi Story

Well, since I was both reading a sci-fi novel (“Transition” by Iain Banks) and as writing a sci-fi/horror short story practice project at the time of writing this article, I thought that I’d talk about one of the coolest parts of the sci-fi genre. The background details.

These are the kind of random, futuristic and/or dystopian details that aren’t always directly relevant to the story that is being told, but which serve to give the story’s “world” more personality, backstory and depth. Once you get an instinct for writing these kinds of details, you can really surprise yourself with them.

But, how do you come up with them? Here are three basic tips.

1) Think logically/practically: Simply put, one of the best ways to come up with these kinds of details is just to think logically and/or practically about the “world” of your story. In other words, you need to think in terms of cause and effect. Most of the weird, quirky and random – but mundane – details of the real world have emerged or evolved for a practical reason of one kind or another.

For example, the layout of a modern QWERTY computer keyboard was designed to mirror the most common layout of typewriter keyboard (in Britain and America) -which made it easier and more intuitive for typists to switch from typewriters to computers during the 1970s-90s. The QWERTY keyboard layout itself was originally designed so that the type bars on typewriters wouldn’t jam – by making sure that letter combinations that caused jams were placed far apart from each other. So, yes, there are practical reasons why computer keyboards have such a “strange” layout.

So, yes, if you start thinking in logical and practical terms, then you’ll be able to come up with all sorts of intriguing background details. Looking at real life examples of this sort of thing, or looking at fictional examples (and working out how and why they were created) can really help you to think in this way.

2) Think about the “world” of your story: In short, the “world” of your sci-fi story will also have an effect on the background details that you can add. So, if you understand the setting of your story, then these types of details will just emerge naturally.

For example, in a dystopian future run by corporations, most things in that world will be geared towards making money. If you remember this, then you might be able to come up with chilling background details involving things like planned obsolescence, invasive advertising, product placement etc…

So, if you understand the “world” of your story (eg: why it exists, what motivates it etc..), then thinking up intriguing and quirky background details becomes a lot easier.

3) Look at current technology (cynically): One of the best ways to come up with intriguing background details is just to look at modern technology and then either change it in some way or take it to an extreme.

This sort of thing works best with elements of modern technology that annoy or worry you, since it’ll motivate you to include things like satire, parody, world-weary cynicism etc.. in your story.

And, yes, the modern world certainly isn’t short of annoying and/or worrying technological trends that can be used as the basis for satirical sci-fi background details. Whether it is the ominously ubiquitous smartphones, the increasing reliance on “cloud computing”, the Big Brother-like smart speakers that people willingly install in their houses, the inherent insecurity and unreliability of the “internet of things”, issues about online privacy, how some modern online games include greedy “micro-transations” etc… I could go on for a long time.

But, the more worried, annoyed and/or cynical you are about current technology, the more motivation you’ll have to come up with intriguing, satirical and/or dystopian background details for your sci-fi stories.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂