A Year of Books 2019 — Ships of Sea and Sky

I like boats.

Maybe it was the heavy-handed Star Trek novels I read when I was young that constantly talked about the love between a captain and his ship, but… give me a starship or a tall-masted man o’ war, and I’m hooked. And I read some of those books this year!

In today’s list, I’ve gathered up any book related to Star Trek along with other books I read that involved boats of one kind or another!

***

Star Trek: Voyager #15: Echoes by Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Something has caused a rift between universes. Voyager stumbles across billions of people dead in the void of space. Maybe there should have been a planet there, but there isn’t one any more. Two and a half hours later, billions more appear in the void. An entire planet’s population is shifting from universe to universe, and when it reaches ours… they’re left floating in a place where there is no planet. Captain Janeway must find a way to stop these shifts, while also dealing with other Janeways from other universes!

OK, so I have a thing for alternate universe stories. Love ’em. They’re generally my favorite episodes of Star Trek. So an entire novel based on that concept? I’ve wanted to read this story since it first came out in 1998, and this year I finally read it! Now, if you read Star Trek novels from the 1990’s, you’ll quickly find there’s a lot of bad ones. A lot.

This is not one of them… for the most part. First, the stakes from the first chapter on are real. I appreciated the magnitude of the problem the crew faced. The only bad part is what Voyager did relatively often: Whisk away all the problems in a time travel/alternate universe thing so that nothing ever happened.

That said, it is a fun, fast diversion.

Star Trek 2 adapted by James Blish

In 1968, you couldn’t stream Star Trek. You couldn’t put a DVD in. You couldn’t even watch a tape of it! In this slim volume, James Blish writes novelizations… short story-izations…? of seven Star Trek episodes. I’ve heard that Blish was hired to write these books covering most of the episodes of the classic TV series, but had to go off memory for most of the story-ifications. If that’s true, it explains who many of the stories have the larger plot points right, but sometimes the feel or specifics are off from the episodes.

I’ve not seen every episode in here, but it’s always neat to me to read early media tie-ins before continuity becomes more of a thing. Little glimpses of what might have been, you know?

Anyway, these make fun short Star Trek stories of the episodes that you can read a lot faster than you can stream an episode. I enjoyed it!

Which Way Books #24: Star Trek: Phaser Fight by Barbara Siegel & Scott Siegel

Guys.

It’s a Star Trek choose-your-own-adventure!

And it’s fun!

I read through literally every single adventure path, and they really feel like classic episodes. They’re not incredibly complex, but they have the feel down!

In the story, you “are a young Federation ensign who has shown a great deal of promise. You have a deep interest in science and medicine, as well as a love of action. And finally you’ve gotten your wish – you’ve been beamed aboard the Enterprise in order to receive special training by the crew of the most famous starship in the fleet!” From there you get to decide if you’re going to train under Kirk, Spock, or McCoy, and adventures follow accordingly!

Look, this isn’t great literature, but it was so much fun. I imagine you’d be able to find it for a couple dollars at a used book shop if you find it anywhere, and it’s worth your time.

The Merchant Prince by Armin Shimerman and Michael Scott

John Dee towered over Renaissance Europe. But when the di Medici clan arrests him, Dee’s alien friend Dyckson rescues him and puts him in stasis… until 2099. Now humanity is poised to create a weapon that will destroy them all, and only the genius from the past, the scientist and philosopher John Dee, can rescue them!

First off, this is another fun book. Armin Shimerman played Quark on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Dee (the protagonist) is clearly intended to feel a lot like that character. I wish I knew how much Shimerman was actually involved in the crafting of this story; oftentimes in cases like this the celebrity will do very little other than lending the name. I just don’t know in this case, though.

(While searching for the Amazon link, I found out that this is actually book one in a trilogy, and Shimerman wrote book three on his own — so however much he did for this one, he learned enough to write on his own by the end! I’m going to have to get the rest!)

However much Shimerman was involved, the story is a lot of fun, and Dee’s method of defeating the antagonists is clever. I got this book for ninety-nine cents at a thrift store; I suspect you could find a copy for about the same price. Worth it.

Mirror Friend, Mirror Foe by George Takei and Robert Asprin

Robots do everything for people, but now someone has programmed the robots to rebel against their human masters. Hosato has been hired to sabotage the robot factories and stop the uprising! But Hosato has some secrets of his own that could cause some problems…

This is another one of those celebrity books, but I have a suspicion that Takei, Star Trek’s Sulu, actually did a fair amount on this one – if for no other reason that the book came out in 1979, which I believe precedes most of Takei’s celebrity status. Asprin, the coauthor, has written some hilarious stuff, and that sense of humor does shine through here. Like The Merchant Prince, the protagonist here is clearly Sulu in a different setting.

I dunno. I think it’s fun to read these little celebrity projects. At least in this case, it was!

On Basilisk Station by David Weber

Honor Harrington has been sent to Basilisk Station as a punishment. She’s been given an entire star system to patrol with a ship that can’t do the work and a political situation that guarantees her failure. Oh, and there might be an invasion incoming. But Honor’s angry. She’s going to do the job… one way or another.

Honor Harrington has a lot of books written about her and her setting. This is the novel that started it all. I have to say, I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. Weber sets up a universe where flying through space really is very similar to Napoleonic sailing, right down to the terms. Where a lot of science fiction might have spaceships, they often put the focus on space. Here the focus is on ships and navy. And it’s awesome because of that.

I also laughed… right before reading this book, I had been reading Commodore Hornblower (see below), and Weber used the same name for a villain as Forester used in his novel. I’m fairly certain that was a purposeful choice. It made me laugh; just a little Easter egg for fans who happened to have read the same book!

Commodore Hornblower by C. S. Forester

Horatio Hornblower is sent to the Baltic to negotiate with Sweden in 1812. He takes his small fleet, determined to protect British naval interests. There he faces foes political and piratical, and must use all of his smarts to outfit nefarious foes.

I’ve read a lot of the Hornblower novels, but never anything after he surpassed the rank of captain. I thought I’d try something different this year and thus, Commodore Hornblower! Look, if you enjoy movies like Master and Commander or any of those great sailing movies, you need to check out the Hornblower series. Even for a guy like me who’s never really been off land, I can understand the action. Hornblower is an incredibly likable protagonist, and his wits and courage get him huge points from me. The situations Forester puts him in are constantly entertaining and challenging.

Yep. I’ll be back for more of this series!

Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik

Laurence and Temeraire have been convicted of treason. Even though England desperately needs their services, they are exiled to Australia to serve under governor William Bligh, late of the HMS Bounty. There, Laurence and his beloved dragon must track egg thieves and prevent all-out war with China. Not easy to do when you’ve got Governor Bligh breathing down your neck.

OK, so I love straight historical adventures like Hornblower, but the twist that Novik continues to put on things by including dragons in this otherwise historical setup never fails to entertain me. Bligh is just as unlikable as you’d expect the captain of the Bounty to be, and Temeraire’s approach to political situations still makes me smile. This is book six in the series, so please don’t start here; go back and read His Majesty’s Dragon. I highly recommend the entire series! I have only three left to complete the saga…

Curse of the Blue Tattoo by L. A. Meyer

Jacky Faber pretended to be a boy and got to ride on one of his majesty’s ships. But then she was found out and left at a proper girl’s school. A girl who ran with the boys up the masts on a tall sailing ship hardly fits in to a prim and proper school, and you can bet that all sorts of shenanigans ensue. You’ll never make a fine lady out of Jacky… but she might ruin a lot of the other girls there!

This is book two of the Bloody Jack series, a relatively historical adventure series aimed at teens. The first book confused me as to its target audience, but this one in general is a great straight adventure story. There’s a lot of the beats you’d expect – Jacky is shunned, finds unlikely friendship, saves the day. I enjoyed it enough that I’m planning on reading the next book in the set. I do appreciate that while Hornblower gives us a look of what being an officer is like, this series continues to look at the “lower decks.” Two very different looks at what sailing was like back in the day!

Into the Storm by Taylor Anderson

The USS Walker was a destroyer during the Great War… and now during WWII, she is pressed into service again. And she is not going to make it. Her crew is giving everything they’ve got, but the Japanese navy is chasing after her. And then there is a storm… and they are somewhere else. There is no Japanese navy. No US navy. No humans at all. But that does not mean that this new place is without enemies.

First, Anderson has clearly done a lot of research into how destroyers ran. Even though he dropped a crew into a very different world, everything felt very “real.” I also found the personality conflicts to be engaging, but not so gritty that it made me want to stop reading. That’s a difficult line to walk, but Anderson pulled it off! I really enjoyed the alternate world he set up as well. He left a number of mysteries, and this is clearly the first book in a series. I plan to read the next book, but it wasn’t so strong as to make me say, “Must read now!” So yes, it was good, but not the best I read this year.

Han Solo at Stars’ End by Brian Daley

Han Solo needs some modifications made to the Millennium Falcon. Unfortunately, he needs the modifications done by someone who will not only give him the Authority seal of approval, but also not ask questions. And the only way to do that is to go see Doc.

Well, Doc ain’t around. He’s disappeared.

So Solo needs to team up with his daughter and get the guy, but that leads to a different kind of adventure entirely. It’s Han Solo vs. the Authority, and the only person he can trust is his wookie.

This novel came out in 1979, before The Empire Strikes Back saw theaters. Because of that, it sits in that great place in continuity: Before anything was really established. For instance, while the Empire is around in this novel, the big bad force is the Authority. Love it. Han is your basic rogue sci-fi captain. You could take the bulk of this story, and with a little rewriting make it work in Firefly. And it may sound weird, but I don’t find that a bad thing at all. It’s just a solid adventure. They could have done this instead of releasing the Solo movie.

Doctor Who: The Eight Doctors by Terrance Dicks

The Master has left a trap for the Doctor, and it has caused terrible damage. The Doctor does not remember who he is. The TARDIS has not forgotten, though. It takes him through time to visit seven familiar faces…

Before New Who, after the BBC canned the Seventh Doctor, there was a movie. And the movie was… not good. But the man who played the Doctor, Paul McGann, was fantastic. A novel series attempted to pick up from the movie, and this was the first of that series. And while it really doesn’t tell us anything about the new Doctor, it is a lovely reunion of old friends and clever little nods to old stories. I can see why the book series started here, reminding the reader why they loved the Doctor in the first place.

And, well, it worked for me. I’ve always enjoyed the Eighth Doctor (check out his audio adventures from Big Finish), and I’m interested enough to pursue these novels.

***

Next week, we’ll have more books – pulpy goodness from the past and some more modern speculative fiction!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s