Posted to the Website in 2005

The following reviews of new and classic genre movies, television series or tv-movies, books and magazines, comic books and graphic novels, video and dvd releases, cds and cd-roms, and internet sites, were written by members of this club during the years 2003 to present. If you are a member of Star Base Andromeda and would like to submit a review for consideration for this website, please contact us at the club's official e-mail account. Opinions expressed in the reviews on this website are solely those of the individual reviewer, and do not reflect the views of the membership of Star Base Andromeda as an organization.

 Science Fiction Scale


 Fantasy Scale




Bite [2005]

-- reviewed by Scott Clark


an anthology containing works by Laurell K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, MaryJanice Davidson, Angela Knight and Vickie Taylor
297 pages, paperback, Jove Publishing $7.99

I'll have to admit -- I picked this one up solely on the strengths of just one of its contributors. I've been reading the Sookie Stackhouse "Southern Vampires" series by Charlaine Harris since it started about 3-4 years ago, and I've enjoyed them all so far. So I couldn't pass up the opportunity to read a short story set in that continuity. I've also dabbled in the Anita Blake -- Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton, although I'm not an avid reader of that series.

I should have passed on this one. The two stories set in those aforementioned universes are the only things I can recommend in this volume. "The Girl Who Was Infatuated By Death" by Laurell K. Hamilton finds Anita Blake hired by a woman to try to stop her troubled teenage daughter from "crossing over" and becoming a vampire. This story is more of a character study of Anita, and would probably serve as a worthy introduction to the novels in that author's universe, if the reader weren't already intimately aware of that background. If you're already familiar with Anita and her world, this is a very slight piece of fiction. If you're into the relationship between Anita and her vampire lover Jean-Claude, you'll get a glimpse into that tangled web of manipulation here. This story is set between the events of Blue Moon and Obsidian Butterfly.

The Charlaine Harris story, "One Word Answer" features a brief encounter between telepathic Louisiana barmaid Sookie Stackhouse and representatives from the Queen of Louisiana vampires. The general plot involves Sookie having come into both an inheritance upon the death of a distant cousin, and the right/responsibility of destroying the rogue vampire who caused that death. This, too, is a fine introduction to several of the characters who are featured prominently in the "Southern Vampire" series, and does introduce one new character who looks like they'll feature prominently in a future novel. The story features fine writing, good character studies, and a sharp ear for dialog but it is not an "essential" for any but the most extreme Sookie fans. For a collection billing itself as "All-new stories of dark seduction", this one features no eroticism.

Unfortunately, all three of the remaining stories in this anthology fall far short of the quality exhibited by the first two. "Biting in Plain Sight" by MaryJanice Davidson focuses on a female vampire who's settled into a remote Minnesota community as a veterinarian and is trying to remain inconspicuous. When events outside her control propel her towards the twin cities to try to stop a vampire who's driving girls to commit suicide, she finds an unusual ally in the form of one of her neighbors, who's had a crush on her and knows that she needs a mortal partner to protect her during the day. With the exception of the main vampire, all the other characters seem thinly drawn, and the mortal sidekick/lover seems too much of a yokel. The plot is simple, but not very interesting. And the erotic love scenes seemed forced.

Angela Knight's "Galahad" is, in my opinion, the weakest story in the book. This story involves a young contemporary witch who suffers visions of future catastrophe (think Cordelia on Angel), who teams up with a vampiric Sir Galahad for a series of violent battles with a vampire coven and erotic adventures in his other-dimensional boudoir. Characterization, dialog, setting, plot and pacing were all unbelievably silly, and the scenes of eroticism were beyond laughable. This one required a huge leap of faith to accept the scenario that the members of Arthur's round table are all good-guy vampires leading the battle against the forces of evil, allied with a bunch of über-powerful witches. Knight brings in way too many disparate fantasy elements, that don't mix too well, and creates a primary character relationship between Galahad and Caroline that develops way too quickly for a work of this length. Honestly, this read like really bad fan fiction.

The final story, Vickie Taylor's "Blood Lust" almost makes up for the weakness of the previous two, but still comes up noticeably short in comparison to the Hamilton and Harris entries. The inventor of a synthetic blood formula, featuring no organic elements, is duped by a particularly violent vampire, who also steals his fianceé and turns her into one of the undead. Realizing what has happened, the inventor decides to get himself "turned", so that he can find the Undead who "killed" his fianceé and take out a bloody revenge. However, the down-on-her-luck female vampire who he convinces to turn him ends up helping him discover that he had been duped even more than he had realized, and together, they turn the tables on Atlanta's corrupt ruling vampire leaders. Along the way, their relationship gets closer. This one featured stronger characters, better dialog and an interesting back story about how vampires function in human society. However, it ends abruptly, and most of the supporting characters are paper thin.

All in all, this book was a major disappointment. I'll go ahead and give it a single star, just on the basis of the Harris, Hamilton and Taylor stories, but I disliked "Galahad" so much, I feel guilty giving the book even that much of a recommendation.

-- posted 0501.24

Dragonsblood [2005]

-- reviewed by Terri Dreier


Todd McCaffrey
Del Rey -- Hardcover -- 2005 438p. -- $24.95

The plot of this latest Pern story is set right before the third pass of thread, with part of the story involving characters just after the first pass. For the first time in Pern history Dragons have become sick and are dying. By the third pass (year 507 AL) people have forgotten most of the science that the original colonists knew. The healers all insist that they don't know nothin about healing no dragons, so Lorana must find the answer before there aren't enough dragons left to fight thread.

For a relatively new writer with mostly short stories to his credit it was a well-done story. There were a variety of character personalities that interacted in a realistic manner. Internally the story is consistent with itself and a resolution is reached at the end.

Unfortunately as a writer Todd McCaffrey has not reached the level of writing his mother used in the Pern series. With her stories you knew more about the character's past, what they looked like, the clothing they wore, the food they liked, exactly where on the dragon they were sitting. Things happened to characters in her stories that were not directly related to the plot, they were just people being people.

As for a plot in the Pern series, most of it had been done before. The bit with the firelizard going back in time was a great idea, but the time traveling dragons arriving to save the day was done before and I think done better because those characters didn't know it could be done. These characters seemed to take it for granted.

Some of the advancements they made in this story were not present in known history for Pern. While things like the advanced equipment would easily be again lost to time, it is harder to believe that dragon riders would so easily forget that little trick about allowing extra time for injured riders to be healed so quickly. Considering that every dragon rider on Pern knew about it by the end of the story it would be nearly impossible to lose all knowledge of it occurring. Even in known Pern history a couple of dragon riders had discovered it by accident on their own without prior knowledge it could be done.

As a stand-alone story it wasn't too bad. However, the standard of writing set by the rest of the Pern series is higher. It will be interesting to see as an author how fast Todd can grow into the footsteps he's chosen to follow. Right now I give Dragonsblood three and a half stars.

-- posted 0502.22

From Sawdust to Stardust [2005]

-- reviewed by Scott Clark


From Sawdust to Stardust: The Biography of DeForest Kelley, Star Trek's Dr. McCoy 
Terry Lee Rioux
Pocket Books -- Trade Paperback -- 2005 362p. -- $14.00

When I saw this in the bookstore back in January, I couldn't pass it up. Although Doctor McCoy was always my favorite character on the original Star Trek, I couldn't say that I actually knew all that much about the actor who played him -- with the exception of the occasional interview in Starlog or The Official Star Trek Fan Club Newsletter. Shatner and Nimoy have had tons written about them, and I believe that all of the other primary Trek Classic actors have had biographies published about them, often their own autobiographies. But when DeForest Kelley died in 2000, I still felt as if I didn't really know anything about the man behind 'Bones.'

Terry Lee Rioux's book, From Sawdust to Stardust, does an admirable job of exploring the life of this sensitive actor, from his days of hard-scrabble youth as the son of a Southern traveling preacher, through his decades as a working actor until his final days of declining health and debility. No one who reads this book will leave without feeling as if they've peeked through the living room windows into Kelley's life.

Unfortunately, that's also the book's weakness. From Sawdust to Stardust feels as if it is told entirely from an outsider's or observer's perspective. Kelley's story is told primarily via the recollections of those who knew him, from his earliest days to his declining years, or from various curious collections of letters, journals or other surviving documents dating from varied periods in Kelley's life. While all of this provides for a detailed look at De's career in retrospect, it also results in a personal exploration that feels somewhat detached.

Complicating matters further, the author's frequent use of extremely florid text, particularly in her descriptions of Kelley's early years in Hollywood, when he was attempting to break into the business as a handsome leading man, lend an almost embarrassingly "Tiger Beat"-like tone to parts of this book.

I found the pacing of the portion of the book prior to De's involvement with Star Trek to be particularly slow, though they did provide for a finely detailed portrait of the struggling actor. I had no idea how strong Kelley's spiritual faith was, despite having broken away from his extremely religious father. I had often wondered about Kelley's wearing of a ring in all his scenes as Dr. McCoy -- it turns out that the ring was Kelley's mothers...a gift from the women who influenced his life more than anyone else. I was fascinated to learn about Kelley's experiences as part of the Motion Picture Unit during WWII, and his efforts as a homefront soldier during the conflict. Once the book reaches the 1960s and Kelley's performance as McCoy is being chronicled, the pacing speeds up tremendously. Very little new information about Star Trek itself is presented, but when viewed through the prism of De's involvement, it still feels as if it is a fresh subject.

This biography is an odd mix -- part gushing fannish love letter and part detached, clinical observation. Speaking as someone who's always wanted to know more about the background of the actor who played one of my favorite television characters, I left feeling satisfied. I wish I had had more of a glimpse into his own feelings in his own words, other than scattered quotes from old interviews. But overall, this book succeeds in telling the story of an actor who worked his entire life to live up to his parents' ideals and was always true to the few people who he called his true friends...most of whom had nothing to do with Star Trek.

This book is a must for DeForest Kelley fans, and I think most fans of classic Star Trek will enjoy it as well, although I'm only giving it three stars due to its awkward mixture of detachment and effusiveness.

-- posted 0504.12

The Greedy Bastard Diary [2005]

-- reviewed by Scott Clark


The Greedy Bastard Diary: A Comic Tour of America
Eric Idle
Harper Entertainment -- Hardback -- 2005 325p. -- $23.95

I didn't quite know what to expect from this book when I picked it up a few weeks ago. Obviously, Eric Idle is one of the Monty Python's Flying Circus group, so a bit of anarchic humor would be only appropriate

As it turns out, The Greedy Bastard Diary is a fascinating, engaging and highly readable personal odyssey. In the fall and winter of 2003, Idle, spurred on by a sense of wanderlust and the desire to prove that he still had the chops to perform live comedy, set out on a 50-performance tour of Canada and the United bus. The term "Greedy Bastard Tour" is, it turns out, a reference to rock star tours. When an individual rock star first goes on tour, they're on the road with a huge crowd of support personnel and a massive, effects-heavy show. Most artists lose a lot of money on those kinds of tours. So, afterwards, they go on a tour with just themselves and a guitar, in the hopes of raking in a huge amount of money that they didn't see on the first tour. That latter tour is known as a Greedy Bastard Tour. In the case of Idle, his tour consisted of two large buses and about a dozen fellow performers, drivers and support staff.

Eric's wry and acerbic observations of life on the road in a tour bus and his anecdotes about performing a two-hour live stage show night after night would have probably been enough to get me to read this book. But, as it turns out, The Greedy Bastard Diary turns out to be much more than that. Idle literally kept a running journal during every day of his tour...of whatever and wherever his thoughts carried him. This book is filled with hilarious and emotional looks back at Eric's childhood, his days with the Pythons and his life since then. I particularly enjoyed the memories Idle shares of his friendship with former Beatle George Harrison, and the effect that Harrison's death had on Eric. This wacky ex-Python proves to be a very philosophical and instrospective fellow, given half a chance. His observations on faith, friendship, sacrifice, love and creativity all make for fascinating reading.

Interspersed among the more serious ruminations are frequent song lyrics from the many well-known ditties written by Idle and his co-horts over the years. These are wonderful reminders of the legacy of absurd humor that the Pythons have created over the past 30+ years.

While I absolutely loved this book, I would offer a strong warning about language in The Greedy Bastard Diary. It should not be surprising that the composer of "Sit on My Face and Tell Me That You Love Me" feels no compulsion to soften his language for the reading audience, and those easily offended by casual swearing should probably reconsider reading this book. On the whole, though, anybody who considers themselves a died-in-the-wool Monty Python fan should not miss this one. I know I certainly came away with a much better picture of who Eric Idle truly is!

-- posted 0504.21

Guns of the South [1992]

-- reviewed by Mark Murphy


The Guns of the South
by Harry Turtledove
1992 Del Rey, 597 pages, $7.99

First let me say this is a stand-alone novel and should not be confused with his later 'Great War' series. While Guns of the South also explores an alternate reality where the South wins the civil war, it takes a very different approach to this premise than the later series and is a self contained story.

In Guns of the South the confederacy gains the upper hand when a group, who call themselves America Will Break, supplies Lee's army with new amazing repeating rifles (AK-47's). It is pretty clear from the beginning these men are from the future out to change the past for their own purposes. I enjoyed the early parts of this book where we follow the South through the battle of the wilderness, taking a very different course than what actually happened in history. Finally ending up with the Southern army invading Washington DC. However, the heart of the story really takes place after the end of the civil war. The south, having won, must deal with the aftermath and the issue of slavery by themselves.

The story alternates between following General Robert E. Lee and First Sergeant Nate Cauldell. This works well, providing the perspective of the generals and leaders of the Confederacy and also that of the average soldiers and citizens. I thought both main characters were well written and believable. General Lee especially has an interesting journey. He goes through a lot of changes which could very easily come across as far fetched but Turtledove pulls them off so they are believable. The story is also filled with lots of colorful supporting characters, some historical figures like Lincoln and Davis, others made up. He also provides lots of details, which for me made the story come to life.

I very much recommend this book, especially to Civil War or alternate reality fans.

-- posted 0502.14

Labyrinth of Evil [2005]

-- reviewed by Terri Dreier


Star Wars: Labyrinth of Evil
James Luceno
2005 Hardback ­ Ballantine Books -- 337 pages -- $25.95

Billed as the must-read prequel to Episode III, I was hoping for better. I won't argue with the must read part simply because there is such a huge gap between Episode II and Episode III. If you haven't read the rest of the books set in that gap this one is adequate to fill in the biggest holes. Unfortunately that approach hindered some of the storytelling.

Obviously the writer didn't have much room for self-expression. We all know the characters already and we know where the plot is headed. We even know which major characters survive. I suppose credit should be given for the small amount of suspense that he did manage to build in some scenes. The plot is advanced and there was nothing wrong with the writing, there just wasn't anything special about it either.

I give it a rating of three and a half stars, but for anyone interested in the character plots within the movies I do recommend reading it.

-- posted 0502.09

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning [1999]

-- reviewed by Terri Dreier


Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning
by Lemony Snicket [Daniel Handler]
162 pages, hardback $11.99

First of all it must be remembered that this is a child's book. The story is told from the viewpoints of a twelve and fourteen year old. The edition that I picked up had been recovered with a photo from the movie but the original cover fits the book better. It is stylized; the characters are caricatures instead of realistic. Very little about this book is realistic. That's not to say it is a bad book. The plot is very similar to old cartoons that many children grew up watching. The villain is simple, mean, and has poor taste in housekeeping. The heroes are intelligent, well bred, and dislike untidiness.

Like most cartoons the plot in this story simply could not happen. The plot is consistent and the characters are as developed as they need to be for a child's story, but there are so many situations where the characters behaved unrealistically it became annoying to me.

As for recommending it as a child's book I'm of mixed views. The writing is well done and the vocabulary is encouraging. However, many of the more complicated words are explained by the author to the reader as if the author was sitting beside you and felt that you might not have understood that particular word. For children who do know these words it may come across as demeaning after the first dozen times. The plot is not something I would encourage for younger readers. I'd suggest reading these books either with your child or before your child does to be sure they can handle things such as Count Olaf threatening to kill the youngest child if the other two do not do as he says. There are also a few nod nod, wink wink suggestions about a wedding night after Count Olaf's attempted marriage to young Violet against her will. I give it three stars.

-- posted 0501.13

The Liaden Universe Novels

-- all reviews by Scott Clark


Local Custom -- A Novel of the Liaden Universe
by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
308 pages, paperback, Ace Books, 2002, $5.99

I have to give credit where credit is due -- one of my co-workers recommended the Liaden novels by Lee and Miller to me about a year ago, and I've got to thank her for the recommendation. I'd seen the books in various bookstores, including a prominent display of them at Uncle Hugo's SF Bookstore in Minneapolis each time I've visited there in the past couple of years. But I hadn't really given them a second thought before, and now that I've read a few of them, I wish I'd been following the series from the very start!

The novels of the Liaden Universe, by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, actually began with a trilogy of books back in the late1980s -- Agent of Change, Conflict of Honors and Carpe Diem, the first three of what have now added up to 9 books. Not familiar with the series order, I asked the Uncle Hugo's clerk which one's he'd recommend starting with, and he actually handed me two "prequels" -- Local Custom [2002] and Scout's Progress [2000]. I found them to be excellent introductions to the universe in which this series takes place, and although I've since read the very first published Liaden book -- Agent of Change -- I'd still recommend Local Custom as a good starting point.

Local Custom introduces us to the far-future interactions between old Earth humans and the Liadens -- a humanoid race characterized by shortness of stature, thin-ness of body, and excruciating correctness of behavior. Liaden society is ruled by exacting codes of social behavior and structure -- much like the strictly regimented societal structures of Regency England. Theirs is a society in which one's Melant'i, or honor, is one's most prized possession. Which makes it all the more difficult when Er Thom Yos'Galan, the unwed leader of his family clan, finds himself facing the necessity of an arranged marriage to share his genes, while all he can think about is the Earth woman he met, had a dalliance with, and was forced to leave several years ago. Returning to Earth in the hopes of bringing closure to the brief relationship he had with scholar Anne Davis, Er Thom is stunned to discover that their short time together led to a child. Now, Er Thom must find a way to bring Anne and his child into a family and society where humans are looked down upon -- in fact, the mere existence of Anne and the child place his family's Melant'i in question and could lead to the ruination of his family's standing in Liaden society. To complicate matters further, despite being a scholar of Liaden linguistics, Anne's lack of comprehension regarding Liaden traditions may place both her and her son's lives in jeopardy.

This novel, my introduction to the series, is filled with vividly drawn characters, rich dialog, and an extensively developed background. Although on the surface it reminds me of the Vorkosigan novels by Lois McMaster Bujold, in its court intrigues and social machinations, that series ultimately is concerned with larger issues, and the Liaden novels are focused more intensely on character relationships. I found myself drawn into the lives of Anne, Er Thom, his brother Da'av Yos'Phelium, and their extended family, and by the end of the book I was eager to learn more about the Liaden society and its interactions with humans. The romantic entanglements of this varied cast of characters occasionally makes Local Custom feel a bit like an escapee from the romance section of the bookstore, but if you can stomach that, and are interested in getting to know some interesting characters set in a fascinating culture, I'd definitely recommend this novel.

-- posted 0501.25


Scout's Progress -- A Novel of the Liaden Universe
by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
307 pages, paperback, Ace Books, 2000, $6.50

Scout's Progress, the second of the "prequel" novels in the Liaden Universe series, is set shortly after the events in Local Custom. In that earlier-set novel, we were introduced to Da'av Yos'Phelium, the brother of Local Custom's hero, Er Thom Yos'Galan. In comparison to Er Thom's rigid, emotionally intense nature, Da'av -- the influential leader of his large familial clan (the equivilant in this trade-based society of royalty in a monarchical society) -- is a hot-headed, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants type of character...a rule breaker who is forced by things out of his control to be the one who has to enforce the rules.

In Scout's Progress, Da'av feels overwhelmed with his familial duties and uses his clout to escape from some of his responsibilities and take some personal time working as a mechanic and pilot at a friend's interstellar shipping post. Sort of the "prince pretending to be a pauper" routine, but in his case it's a reminder of the simpler lifestyle he'd prefer to live if destiny didn't ride so heavily on his shoulders.

His opposite in this novel is Aelliana Caylon, a brilliant mathematician whose work in the past has saved countless pilots' lives, but who herself is trapped in a family ruled by a sadistic and overbearing older brother who stands to inherit leadership of their clan. When, by a fluke, Aelliana wins a top-class stellar ship in a wager, she decides to study for her pilot's license -- a license that will allow her to escape her family, no matter what the loss may be to her family's Melant'i. She is, of course, paired up with Da'av as her pilot trainer, not knowing his true identity nor place in society.

Scout's Progress is another novel steeped in the ins and outs of the highly structured Liaden culture. The characters are, once again, very well defined, and not merely carbon copies of the characters from Local Custom. Familiar characters from the earlier book make occasional appearances, but there is an entire cast of new supporting characters, and we get to see an entirely different area of Liaden culture and society in this novel. The plight of Aelliana, and Da'av's own struggles to come to terms with his familial duties really had me engaged in the plot of the novel, and I was sorry to see it end. Although I'm giving both Local Custom and Scout's Progress 4 stars each, I would definitely say that I enjoyed this novel more, between the two. Scout's Progress is filled with intrigue, romance, action, crime and punishment and marvelous dialog. Yet another excellent introduction to the Liaden Universe, and one I can't recommend highly enough.

-- posted 0501.25


Agent of Change -- A Novel of the Liaden Universe
by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
309 pages, paperback, Ace Books, 2002 (©1988), $6.99

Agent of Change, although set almost a generation after both Local Custom and Scout's Progress, was actually the first Liaden Universe novel published, back in 1988.

Unlike the two prequels, which I would classify more as extended character studies and explorations of the societies the Liaden Universe, Agent of Change is an excellent mix of heart-pounding action, fascinating world-building, and, yes, romantic character interaction. Val Con yos'Phelim (son of Da'av in Scout's Progress) is, essentially, a top-level Liaden secret agent...influenced by mind control techniques and embedded with technology that increases his survival and success ratios on dangerous missions away from Liad. He's also an ex-Scout, the Liaden explorers who operate best outside of known space. Miri Robertson is a human -- an ex-mercenary, ex-bodyguard with a disturbing and emotional past. Under normal circumstances, neither of them should have had anything to do with each other. Agent of Change gets off to an intense start, their paths do cross...and they are forced to rely on each other to survive under trying circumstances.

The depth of detail of Liaden society is not as fully explored in this story -- only enough of their culture is exposed to further the plot. That plot involves the two unlikely allies, both fugitives from powerful forces -- he from his fellow 'Agents of Change' and she from an organized crime syndicate -- as they play off of each other's strengths and vulnerabilities to forge an awkward future together.

Although I enjoyed the two prequel novels for their depth of characterization and cultural diversity, this novel was more of an exciting, action-packed adventure. Agent of Change also introduces the Clutch, a race of massive, turtle-like aliens who have become the allies of Val Con, and who assist him in eluding his pursuer. Of all the races and societies thus far introduced in the Liaden novels, I find the Clutch to be the most intriguing, and I look forward to seeing them again. Val Con and Miri, described in the quote blurbs as "the most romantic couple in SF!" are a color pair of characters, forced together by chance but who gradually bond with each other well. I look forward to future stories featuring their adventures.

Though Agent of Change is a novel that is complete in and of itself, it also ends of a bit of a cliff-hanger...which is not picked up again until Carpe Diem (reviewed below). If you liked adventurous science fiction, with humor, strong characters, snappy dialog and a hefty dose of romance, Agent of Change would be an excellent starting point in this series of novels.

-- posted 0504.12


Conflict of Honors -- A Novel of the Liaden Universe
by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
311 pages, paperback, Ace Books, 2002 (©1988), $6.50

Following the story of Val Con and Miri in Agent of Change, this second Liaden novel (also 1988) shifts the focus to Shan yos'Glan and Priscilla Mendoza.

Shan, the half-human son of Er Thom yos'Galan, first appeared as a child in Local Custom. He's now an experienced Starship captain, in charge of the flagship interstellar merchant vessel of Clan Korval, the powerful Liaden merchant family of whom missing blood brother Val Con yos'Phelium is the nominal heir. Priscilla Mendoza is an outcast from her own people, a 'witch' with only partial training in using her innate psychic abilities, and a recently abandoned crew member on a merchant vessel who's been left for dead by her former crew.

When Priscilla takes a position as a crew member on Shan's ship, Dutiful Passage, in hopes of ultimately exacting revenge against the traitorous Captain and murderous first mate of her former vessel, Daxflan, she doesn't expect to be groomed for a command position among the Passage's complement. But Shan, faced with conspiracies and political maneuverings of his own among the various powerful Liaden clans, needs all the allies he can get...even if he has to create them himself.

With Conflict of Honors, Lee and Miller highlight the multi-layered aspects of Liaden culture and societal interactions that were more evident in the two prequel volumes. Shan and Priscilla are both interesting characters, although I found the introduction of the mystical psychic abilities that Priscilla has to be my least favorite element of the Liaden books to date. This book played out more like a high stakes chess match than a rough and tumble adventure novel, and the romantic relationship between Shan and Priscilla is, to me, the least enjoyable of all the couplings that the authors have thus far introduced.

There's noting inherently 'wrong' with this novel, but of the four in the series which I've read thus far, this is easily my least favorite.

-- posted 0504.12


Carpe Diem -- A Novel of the Liaden Universe
by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
307 pages, paperback, Ace Books, 2003 (©1989), $6.99

Carpe Diem picks up where both Agent of Change and Conflict of Honors left off, .with Val Con yos'Phelium and Miri Robertson in a badly damaged ship orbiting a technologically undeveloped world (equivilant to early 20th century Earth), out of communication with Clan Korval and still being hunted by both the Department of the Interior (the agency responsible for making Val Con an 'Agent of Change') and the criminal cartel that wants Miri Robertson dead.

Faced with a lack of food, fuel or means of seeking help from their allies, Val Con and Miri land on the backwards planet, and must rely on Val Con's Scout skills to try to fit into the native humanoid society. Married by the end of Agent of Change, the couple spend their erstwhile honeymoon doing odd jobs for an elderly woman in return for room and board and language lessons. Meanwhile, back on Liad, Val Con's blood brother Shan yos'Galan leads the efforts of forces trying to determine where Val Con has disappeared to, as the insidious Department of the Interior strengthens its position in the government and prepares for a coup.

On the planet Vandar, Val Con and Miri grow more and more knowledgeable about local customs, and begin making friends -- Val Con's abilities with musical instruments help him connect with a fellow musician as the newly married couple continue to learn more about each other's background. When their military training allows them to help thwart an invasion of the local country by an enemy strike force, the two visitors find themselves feted as local heroes

Unfortunately, the DoI has sent one of their top Agents of Change to locate Val Con and either return him to the fold or kill him, and that assassin arrives just as Val Con and Miri are participating in a local festival. This crisis on Vandar, combined with a shocking turn of events back on Liad set the stage for future adventures in the Liaden Universe as Carpe Diem draws to a close

Carpe Diem has a totally different feel than any of the other Liad books so far. 85% of the book deals with Val Con and Miri's attempts to learn about the people and culture of the world they find themselves stranded among, and their efforts to fit into that society. The relationship between these two primary characters becomes far more intense, and the building tension of the class crisis back on Liad is well handled. Though not my favorite in the series-to-date, Carpe Diem is still a very strong entry.

-- posted 0504.12

State of Fear [2004]

-- reviewed by Terri Dreier


State of Fear
by Michael Crichton
567 pages, hardback $27.99

As in The Andromeda Strain, Crichton mixes an oft ignored fragment of science with a carefully selected range of characters to promote his view of an idea. Again the main character is a young man who has been dragged into events over his head that are being controlled by people with a variety of motives. The Science Fiction Book Club promoted his book without even a brief plot description, counting on the author's name alone for sales.

While some characters are recognizable types -- genial older rich gentleman with grand ideas, attractive no-nonsense female lead, questioning young man unsure these people should be doing what they're doing -- they are not exact repeats from his other books. Peter Evans is the narrator for much of the plot. He's a junior partner in a law firm. As such, when wealthy client George Morton says jump, Peter is by his side to be sure that George is satisfied with the direction and distance achieved.

Environmentally, Peter is well intentioned. His law firm caters to many wealthy friends of environmental groups like George. Peter himself drives a hybrid car. Living in Los Angeles he's aware of most of the issues but he doesn't go out of his way to save the Earth. On the topic of global warming he feels that the car is probably close to enough effort on his part.

This all changes when George begins to suspect some of the eco-friendly groups he funds of not being so friendly. Peter is sent to discover the truth. Dragging him headlong into this adventure is Mr. Kenner. While the man's motives are questionable his intelligence is not. He can and frequently does spout scientific references at the drop of a hat. One of the man's favorite pastimes is debating science with armchair environmentalists, especially those who can't back up their speeches with their own actions.

Some of the characters are fairly well developed, some were never meant to be more then shadows passing through. A little bit of the story here and there is a bit far fetched but there's a reason they call it fiction. While it may be a bit overconfident to try and sell books on the author's name alone I'll bet I wasn't the only one to buy this strongly opinionated piece of work. To his credit Crichton footnoted his science and listed other studies at the end of the book. It is a little different for an environmental story to repeatedly hammer at the idea that the world is not ending. I give it four stars.

-- posted 0501.13

Taking Wing [2005]

-- reviewed by Jeff Ifland


Taking Wing [Star Trek: Titan, vol. 1] [2005]
by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels
370 pages, paperback, Pocket Books $7.99

This book is well written, and the more I look back on the story, the more I can understand the parts I thought were odd. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

William Riker has just become the captain of a new starfleet vessel named Titan. It is the first production version of a new class of starships, the luna class. Its mission is to go further out than any starship before, and to regrasp the sense of exploration that the Federation lost (or at least put on hold) during the Dominion War. As the ship is about to depart they are given new orders, to go to Romulus and work towards stabilizing the region in the post-Shizon era.

This backdrop gives an excellent setting to delve into the relations of the multi-species crew, and the innate biases towards each other, all while conveying an interesting and engaging story. The first two-thirds of the book flow incredibly well, and build a well conceived story that leaves you wondering what is going to happen next.

The last sixth of the book, on the other hand seems to wrap up the diplomatic threads a little quickly (although there are still a few left dangling), and introduces an entirely new plot point that seems to come from left field. This new plot point can only make sense from a larger perspective than just this book, and hints at a well developed plot over the (planned) three books.

I personally enjoyed reading it, and am planning on reading the other two when they come out. I give it a four out of five.

-- posted 0506.21

Yoda: Dark Rendevous [2004]

-- reviewed by Terri Dreier


Star Wars: Yoda: Dark Rendezvous
by Sean Stewart
2004 paperback 329p. $7.50

If you've read every Star Wars book that has come out this past year then you've been very busy. Too much of anything can be bad for you. Luckily the people controlling Star Wars have separated the books into smaller groups to be sampled as time and interest allow. This book, according to the timeline in the front of the book, takes place six months before the third movie. While a few of the main characters and storylines are new, the main plot centers on the relationship of Yoda and Count Dooku.

Some of the characters could have been better developed. Jai Maruk particularly seemed lacking compared to his companions. That's not to say he wasn't an interesting character. He comes across as a person who had some of his scenes cut in the final draft.

The side plots portray an increasingly grim situation for the republic. Jedi are dying. With a shortage of experienced Masters, the young Jedi are not training as they had but are training for war. Forcing the children in the Jedi Temple to face so much death among the Jedi has made them more volatile. One of the points this book tackles is the fine line a Jedi must walk when someone close is taken from you. Jai Maruk brings up memories of parents giving their children to the Jedi hoping the child will have a better life, or others glad to be rid of the trouble another child brings to them. Either way the Jedi child grows to know it has been sent away by its parents.

I'd have liked to seen this storyline pursued further but it was only an echo of the Yoda/Dooku plot where Dooku is the child who feels abandoned by the Jedi, especially Yoda. For a universe where very few characters seem to even have a family, the time between the second and third movies has been rich with themes showing the humanoid need for such relationships. Overall it was a fairly well done story. One would expect no less from an author with a couple of award winning books already to his credit. I would have given it four stars but having the characters around Jai Maruk show so much personality with just a furrowed set of brows and leaving him blank didn't sit right with me. I give it three and a half.

-- posted 0501.21



Flight of the Phoenix [1965]

Flight of the Phoenix [2004]

-- reviewed by Scott Clark


Flight of the Phoenix [1965]
Dir: Robert Aldrich
Writer: Lukas Heller (from a book by Trevor Dudley Smith)
Cast: Jimmy Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch, Hardy Kruger, Ernest Borgnine, Ian Bannen, Ronald Fraser, Christian Marquand, Dan Duryea, George Kennedy

Flight of the Phoenix [2004]
Dir: John Moore
Writer: Scott Frank and Edward Burns, from the 1965 script and book
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Tyrese, Giovanni Ribisi, Miranda Otto, Hugh Laurie

The new Flight of the Phoenix is the first film I've seen so far in 2005, and this was in spite of generally negative reviews in the mainstream media. My goal, having never seen the original 1965 version (starring Jimmy Stewart), was to somehow get my hands on a copy of the 1965 version and watch it before going to see the new version. Fortunately, I had that opportunity when Fox Movie Channel aired the original at the end of December.

By no means does the new version hold a candle to the excellence of the 1965 original. However, neither do I think it deserves the critical drubbing it has thus far received at the hands of today's mob of film critics.

Both films follow the same basic plot. Employees at a remote oil drilling station are picked up the two-man crew of a rickety older cargo transport plane. Flying back to civilization, the plane is forced to make a damaging emergency landing during a desert snowstorm, and the survivors of the crash find themselves stranded in the desert, without means of communicating their situation, and in danger of running out of food and water. In both films, one of the passengers, an eccentric, edgy character who claims to be an aircraft designer, insists he can design an all-new aircraft out of the undamaged parts of the crashed plane, and the survivors must decide whether to expend their dwindling energy and hope in building a machine that may or may not be able to get them out of their circumstances.

In the 1965 original, Jimmy Stewart plays the aging pilot, Frank Towns, plagued by self-doubt. Stewart is ably supported by co-pilot Richard Attenborough, with an amazing supporting cast of Peter Finch, Ernest Borgnine, Ian Bannen, Ronald Fraser, Christian Marquand, Dan Duryea, George Kennedy and more. Particularly stand-out in this cast was Hardy Kruger as Heinrich Dorfmann, the aircraft designer. In the 2004 version, Dennis Quaid plays Towns, as more of an antagonistic, fatalistic character. Most of the rest of the 2004 cast is filled in with relative unknowns, although Miranda Otto (of the recent Lord of the Rings trilogy) adds a distaff element missing from the original. I was impressed, also, by the performances of Hugh Laurie and Kevork Malikyan as Ian (a company exec) and Rady (a middle-easterner with a tendency toward philosophy). Where Kruger was the stand-out star as the designer in 1965, Giovanni Ribisi is much weaker as Elliot, the eccentric designer of the new version. The plane crashes in the Sahara desert in the original, and the Gobi desert in the remake. Otherwise, the rest of the film plot points are very similar.

The strengths of the 1965 version of Flight of the Phoenix are the extremely talented cast, and the gradual ratcheting up of the stress and tension that all the characters are placed under. The original clocks in at almost 2 and a half hours, and doesn't concern itself with advancing the plot quickly. The tedium and exhaustion of the characters is clearly felt by the audience, and the explosively emotional confrontations between them is very understandable. The strengths of the 2004 version are the production design and effects work, along with some admirable performances. What the 2004 edition sacrifices, with a much shorter running time, is the intense atmosphere and deep characterizations. With the exception of Towns, most of 2004's characters are merely "types". Nevertheless, the pace of the film lends itself more to the "action" film genre, rather than the "drama" film genre, and as a tense, occasionally humorous action film, I found myself feeling like I'd enjoyed the new film as I left the theater -- it wasn't "great" but it was certainly entertaining. In contrast, I don't think I'll bother getting the DVD of Flight [2004] when it comes out, but the original is a film I'd be happy to watch over and over, and I think I'd feel that I'd see something new each time. I recommend the new Flight as a film to see in the theater mainly because I think the effects and cinematography won't be nearly as impressive on the small screen. But, similarly, I think the human drama of the original works well on the small screen and I recommend that you rent the DVD or watch it the next time it shows up on one of the movie channels -- although, having had the opportunity to see it in both Widescreen and Pan-and-Scan, I'd definitely recommend the Widescreen version!



-- posted 0501.13

House of Flying Daggers [2004]

-- reviewed by Scott Clark


House of Flying Daggers [2004]
Dir: Yimou Zhang
Writer: Yimou Zhang, Bin Wang, Feng Li
Cast: Ziyi Zhang, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau

Having waited until the DVD release to see Hero, and then realizing what sumptuous visuals we had missed on the big screen, my wife and I didn't want to miss out on the opportunity to see Zhang Yimou's follow-up film, House of Flying Daggers, while it was playing at Lincoln's Ross Theater.

We weren't disappointed. House of Flying Daggers is a visual feast. The plot, in a nutshell: Set in the ancient China of 859 A.D., the lands are filled with unrest as the empire is collapsing and various rebel forces vie for supremacy. A pair of Imperial army officers take on the challenge of trying to infiltrate and bring down one of the most notorious of the rebel armiesthe House of Flying Daggers. Their method is to try to use a beautiful but blind brothel dancer (rumored to be a member of the House). First they set her up for imprisonment, then one of them poses as a rescuer, who breaks her out of custody and escapes with her through the wilderness, encouraging her to lead him to the leaders of the rebel forces.

The plot is far from that simple, however, with unpredictable twists and turns, shifting loyalties, and double-crosses aplenty. Ziyi Zhang, seen in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and in a brief role in Zhang Yimou's Hero, plays the female lead, Mei. She brings a fragile beauty and a ferocious strength to her character. Takeshi Kaneshiro plays the duplicitous Jin, first as a drunken playboy, then as a heroic rescuer, and ultimately as a tragic romantic lead. And finally, Andy Lau portrays Leo, the Captain of the Imperial Army, with more secrets up his sleeve than swords. The performances by all three lead actors are incredibly strong, backed ably by a variety of supporting characters. The plot, though far from simple, really didn't grab me and hold my attention as expertly as the plots of either Hero or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

But that's of little consequence, since, like both those pictures, the primary appeal of high-concept Chinese fantastic films is in the visuals and the stuntwork. And this is where House of Flying Daggers succeeds brilliantly. The action of House moves from one gorgeous action scene to another. Standout scenes include Mei's elaborate dance of the drums, an elaborate battle in a bamboo forest with the enemy forces running through the treetops, and haunting battles in both a field of flowers and a blinding snowstorm. I don't think any of the set pieces of House... can rival the swordfight around the funeral bier on the lake in Hero, but several come close. The stuntwork and swordplay also deserve kudos here.

In the end, despite the film reaching an intense emotional climax, I can't say I truly cared that much about any of the characters. However, the film most certainly left its visual stamp on my memory. This is another movie that will suffer somewhat on the small screen. I happily give House of Flying Daggers three and 1/2 stars.

-- posted 0502.14

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