Book Review – Star Trek: Death Count by L. A. Graf

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Last week we stopped off in the Marvel Universe for a fun trip down memory lane. Today’s destination promises to be fairly exciting, even though it is a voyage forward rather than backward in time. Once again we return to the Federation of Planets for another adventure aboard the famous U.S.S. Enterprise, readers!

Aboard Sigma One, a space station a few days from the Federation/Orion border, Captain Kirk has gone out to dinner. Scotty and McCoy have whisked him off to a Scottish restaurant aboard the station in order to help him unwind. For the past three days, which were supposed to be used for shore leave by the crew, the men and women aboard the Enterprise have been pestered almost to death by four auditors from the Auditor General.

It seems the Auditor General has teams of auditors surprising starships throughout the fleet with on-site inspections. For the last three days the crew of the Enterprise has been running efficiency drills to prove they are following the regulations properly and can react to a stiuation as fast as possible, with the clipboard-wielding inspectors looking over their shoulders the whole time. In the process these four individuals have, unsurprisingly, made themselves an enormous nuisance to the crew.

This has put everyone aboard the ship on edge, meaning those who can grab shore leave are not letting it pass them by for any money. While Scotty and McCoy help Kirk relax, Chekov has convinced Sulu to help him try and beat a record set by another ship’s crew on the station’s piloting simulator. After failing the simulator’s sixth level, the door opens automatically, allowing Uhura to ask how much longer the two men plan to continue playing.

My Star Trek Scrapbook: Sulu and Chekov...BFF!

Sulu answers the question by getting out before Chekov can reactive the machine. He then leads his two best friends to a plant shop he has already visited three times so far. On the way there the three bump in to some Orion police officers in riot gear. Since they are out of uniform, the men merely push past them instead of goading the Starfleet officers into a fight. Not long after they enter the plant shop, however, an Orion policeman comes to “inspect” the premises for something/someone.

His “inspection” consists mostly of wrecking the store owner’s property. This infuriates the businessman, who attacks the alien with a broom. Chekov and Sulu intervene on the man’s behalf after he is tossed across the room, earning the latter a free gift of plants, pets, and the lily pond they need to survive and be happy. Unfortunately, Chekov’s gift is entirely different; the Orions cast his actions as assault, leading Sigma One’s security forces to throw him in the station’s brig.

Meanwhile Kirk, Scotty, and McCoy’s relaxtion proves to be premature. Like a troubadour leading his not-so-merry band, the head auditor arrives at the restaurant, fuming about being barred from the Enterprise. Kirk is sanguine until he learns that he has new orders to go to the Andorian/Orion border – with the inspectors in tow.

Tense once more, Kirk goes to speak to the commodore in charge of the station, a friend whom he helped to promote to his current position. The commodore explains that since an Andorian scientist named Muav Haslev – who was developing some kind of technology for the Andorian military – disappeared from their space, the Andorians have blamed the Orions for the incident. The Orions claim they had nothing to do with his vanishing act, but no one believes them. And even without definitive proof, the Andorians are spoiling to pick a fight with the Orions. The sector between the two is heating up and threatening to embroil the Federation in a war with Orion, which is a neutral stellar nation.

Kirk is fine with this part of the assignment; he has done this kind of thing before, and knows how to handle it. His problem is the auditors. While traveling to the Andorian/Orion border is dangerous enough for him and his crew the way things stand now, taking four civilians (one of whom is extremely annoying and has a superiority complex) into a possible war zone isn’t his idea of a smart move.

Dog Star Omnibus: Captain's Blog pt. 92: The Enterprise ...

But as he soon learns, neither assignment is negotiable. The ship that was supposed to take the auditors next and deal with the Orion/Andorian issue at the same time recently suffered a containment breach of its warp core. Though the damage could have been much worse, it is bad enough; the vessel may never be spaceworthy again. She’s barely able to limp to Sigma One with the help of tug shuttles.

This leaves Enterprise to carry out the mission – exasperating auditors and all. Once Chekov gets out of the brig and boards the Enterprise with Sulu and Uhura, the ship heads for the border….

…Only to be struck by a burst of radiation that sends her instruments haywire. Sulu just barely manages to keep the starship from warping straight through Sigma One after the radiation scrambles the helm. The computer turned the Enterprise back toward the station thinking it is open space.

Returning to their normal course, the Enterprise gets under way at last, only to be intercepted a short time later by a disguised Orion destroyer. Following on its heels is an Orion police cruiser, whosse captain is intent on arresting Chekov for the incident back at the station. Upon learning the details of the confrontation on Sigma One, Kirk realizes the Orions set him up to get his security officer. After a brief word with the Orion commander, he has the Enterprise continue on to the border.

As he knows all too well, though, missions that begin this badly don’t get any smoother the longer they last. So when a transporter accident turns out to be a triple murder, Kirk isn’t really surprised, just angry and determined to find the culprit. But how can he catch a sabatour while keeping four number-crunching civilians determined to nose their way into vital systems safe and out of the way? The answer is…

An Oral History of Star Trek | pufflesandhoneyadventures

…Not for me to tell! If you want to know how Death Count ends, you will have to read it yourself. It is a good book, but unlike most L. A. Graf novels, it doesn’t include Uhura’s direct perspective of events. The three points-of-view explored in this novel belong to Sulu, Chekov, and Kirk. That is a fairly unusual choice for L.A. Graf. Normally, the writers using this pan name include Uhura’s viewpoint along with Sulu’s and Chekov’s to explore their characters, while giving fans a view of life from “below decks.” Kirk’s POV is included to show how he regards the three younger members of the “Enterprise Seven” as officers and people.

For some reason, Death Count breaks this pattern. While it is not irritating or a loss in any sense of the word, it does make one wonder. I only note it for the curious and for those L.A. Graf fans who have not managed to acquire this story yet.

Until next time, readers: “Second star to the right and straight on til morning!”

Death Count (Star Trek, #62) by L.A. Graf

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Five Decades of the X-Men edited by Stan Lee

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Today’s topic is an odd one because normally I don’t read books about the Marvel characters I enjoy. This is due mostly to the fact that there are so few novelizations that don’t relate specifically to the comics. The Marvel Masterworks anthologies contain replicas of the original comic books, not black and white original tales or blow-by-blow accounts from the comics themselves.

Five Decades of the X-Men is a collection of short stories, one of which is almost certainly a translation from the first X-Men comic ever written. Published in 2002, the writing here isn’t very good. I don’t know if Stan Lee himself actually edited it but typos, bad grammar, and similar errors abound throughout the anthology. That doesn’t hurt the stories in any major way but it is annoying.

As the title suggests, each piece within this collection is from a different decade of the X-Men’s extensive history. The first tale is from the 1960s, the second from the ‘70s, and so on until the early 2000s, just before Marvel went really crazy. They were drifting that way in the mid-90s, but everything began truly falling apart around ’05, with the famous/infamous Civil War arc.

That’s a topic for another day, though. Five Decades of the X-Men begins, fittingly enough, with a near-direct translation of the first X-Men comic. Titled “Baptism of Fire, Baptism of Ice,” it is told from Bobby Drake/Iceman’s viewpoint. Jean Grey is introduced to the X-Men just before the team has their first battle with Magneto. In the finale, while on a date with a pretty girl, Iceman ends up in a fight with (possibly) a Frost Giant from Jotunheim.

As a story, this installment is just fine. It demonstrates the problems which Jean (known as Marvel Girl early in her career) had to face joining a team full of curious and flirty teenage boys. Since he was the youngest boy and uninterested in dating her, Bobby caused Jean less trouble on this front than Angel and especially Beast did. Surprisingly, Beast made some pretty blatant, determined passes at the new girl during this tale. Given his later, more mature depictions, I never expected to see this kind of behavior from him.

The end for this story was good, in no small part because it showed Stan Lee’s recognition that not everyone fears mutants on sight. Some actually like them and think they are amazing. Although these normal humans might be surprised by a display of astonishing powers, that doesn’t mean they automatically hate mutants. But on the downside this translation adheres far too closely to the original comic’s perspective. It is clearly a narration of a visual story. It gets a little better toward the end, but not by much.

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The original team of X-Men: Marvel Girl, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, and Angel.

 

Following this tale is “First Commitments.” This piece is much better written than the previous story. Jay Sanford, a normal human, is waiting for a job interview at a company called Genetech. Sitting beside him is Hank McCoy – The Beast. To pass the time the two strike up an amiable discussion. Jay feels far inferior to Hank during their chat, as the latter’s intelligence is evident even in a relaxed conversation. So he isn’t surprised when the X-Man gets the job and he is passed over.

However, he is surprised when Genetech calls a few days later and offers him the job Hank supposedly got.

Jay sets to work with a will, studying mutant cells “donated” to Genetech for research purposes. Unfortunately, what he discovers too late is that the company is a front for an organization called the Secret Empire. As power hungry as HYDRA but a bit more subtle, the Empire has infiltrated almost every government branch, police force, etc. in the U.S. In the comics, they actually managed to frame Captain America for a crime and make him a wanted fugitive – until he defeated them on live television on the White House lawn, that is. 😉

Right now, though, the Secret Empire is still in the clandestine stage. And they have used Jay’s discoveries to turn mutants – specifically a number of captive X-Men – into human batteries. Angry and afraid, Jay cannot report the Empire to the authorities because they have been infiltrated to such a degree. Then he gets an idea. Slipping away from the spies that he knows are watching him, Jay manages to get the X-Mansion. Once there he tells the X-Men what he knows and asks for their help.

This has to be my favorite story in the collection. Jay is presented as a thoroughly decent guy who doesn’t care that mutants are different from normal humans. He only cares about what is right, to the point that he risks his life to help stop the Secret Empire in the only way he can. It’s an excellent tale, and possibly the best in the anthology.

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 “Up the Hill Backwards” is next. Set in the 1980s, it takes place after a battle in NYC that decimated the Morlocks and left a number of X-Men severely wounded. The Morlock survivors and injured X-Men have been taken to the Muir Island Research Center to recover. Since it is run by friend of the team Moira McTaggert, they know they can convalesce without fear of being attacked. But until the injured team recovers, the X-Men are officially out of commission while the downed members to recover.

While they are doing this, Storm and Wolverine head out to deal with some…personal matters. This means they can’t train the new X-Men – Rogue, Psylocke, Dazzler, Longshot, and Havok – who will be required to maintain Professor X’s dream of human/mutant coexistence. So Storm asks Sean Cassidy – formerly known as Banshee – to teach the newbies the ropes.

It is not an easy assignment. Psylocke is arrogant and far too sure of herself, while Rogue is still regarded as a potential enemy due to her mishap with Ms. Marvel. Dazzler is withdrawn, nervous, and has a grudge against Rogue due to an entirely different misunderstanding. And Longshot is as naïve as a child because he’s from an entirely different dimension and has no idea what this world is like.

Worst of all is Havok, Scott Summers’ younger brother Alex. Banshee hopes he will lead the team, but Alex doesn’t want to do it. This isn’t just because he is tired of super heroics and desires a normal life. He’s certain that Sean only wants him to lead the team because of his relationship with Scott, the legendary leader of the X-Men.

That’s not Sean’s intent at all, but Alex won’t listen to reason. He doesn’t recognize his own leadership potential, and combined with his distaste for the role, he only succeeds in making things harder for Banshee. Until an exercise with British intelligence goes horribly wrong, the group looks more like a band of squabbling children than a united team of superheroes.

In terms of storytelling, this installment is very good. Unfortunately, it comes with an attached Warning for Younger Readers. There is a fair bit of foul language present in this tale, which surprised me. I was under the impression that sort of thing crept into the comics in either the ‘90s or the 2000s. Apparently that wasn’t the case. There is also quite a bit of gore, but it isn’t particularly graphic. Not by my standards, at least. So “Up the Hill Backwards” is still a good read, but the language and gore may be a serious problem for some young readers.

Now “The Cause” I disliked a fair bit. Set in the ‘90s, this story revolves around the release of one of the X-Men’s enemies from prison. Reverend Striker – no preacher in the X-Men films – is being released on good behavior. But that performance doesn’t extend to mutants in general or the X-Men in particular.

What is more, Striker’s followers are letting them know it. Led by his right hand man Gabriel Merritt, the “Striker Crusade” has been murdering mutants left and right to send the message that they are ready and willing to kill them all regardless of race, sex, or age. They’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest that has started race riots all over the country. Merritt is pleased with these events but he is not so happy with one of his Crusaders.

More than a little crazy, this girl has developed an intense crush on Merritt. She makes her murders or the murders she participates in more gruesome and twisted for that very reason; she is hoping to impress him and make him fall in love with her. So when he gives her the cold shoulder, she’s more than a little upset. And when his attempt to boost the Crusade by having Striker murdered goes awry, “the voices in her head” give her a new target to focus on. (Hint: it isn’t Striker.)

Thinking back, I believe that this story probably qualifies for a Warning for Younger Readers, too. “Cause” starts with the brutal murder of a young mutant making a living as a stage magician, and it’s about as cruel as you can imagine. So this is a story some younger readers may wish to pass over for a few years along with “Up the Hill Backwards.”

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Finally, we have “Gifts.” Set in the early 2000s, this tale follows a more mature Rogue, a humbled Psylocke, and Nightcrawler as they race to save people from Laguardia Airport during an apparent earthquake. With Cerebro detecting mutant activity in the area, the X-Men know they are dealing with one of their own. The problem is they don’t know who they are dealing with. The damage has no discernable pattern or purpose, no one claims credit for the wreckage and, luckily, no one is killed. It looks less like their new mutant is trying to make a statement and more like he/she is just having a temper tantrum.

In addition, each of the X-Men experience strange sensations of increased power during their midnight rescues. The source isn’t immediately visible to these mutant combat veterans/ first responders, but it proves to be as amazing as it is dangerous. By the time they get everything sorted out, dawn is coming.

I enjoyed this story almost as much as “First Commitments.” “Gifts” is vintage X-Men, following the team of three as they search for a mutant just discovering the power they have. There are no villains here and, aside from the constant trouble with earthquakes, no huge stakes. Best of all, this story is very young reader friendly. No curse words, no gore, and no sex. 😉

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Pick up Five Decades of the X-Men at your earliest convenience, readers. Despite the poor grammar (and “The Cause”), this is one Marvel book anyone would be proud to have on their shelf!

‘Til next time!

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Aspects Of The Pines by Paul Hamilton Hayne

Hayne, Paul Hamilton. Poems of Paul Hamilton Hayne.

Aspects Of The Pines

by Paul Hamilton Hayne

Tall, somber, grim, against the morning sky
They rise, scarce touched by melancholy airs,
Which stir the fadeless foliage dreamfully,
As if from realms of mystical despairs.

Tall, somber, grim, they stand with dusky gleams
Brightening to gold within the woodland’s core,
Beneath the gracious noontide’s tranquil beams, –
But the weird winds of morning sigh no more.

A stillness, strange, divine, ineffable,
Broods round and o’er them in the wind’s surcease,
And on each tinted copse and shimmering dell
Rests the mute rapture of deep hearted peace.

Last, sunset comes – the solemn joy and might
Borne from the West when cloudless day declines –
Low, flute-like breezes sweep the waves of light,
And, lifting dark green tresses of the pines,

Till every lock is luminous, gently float,
Fraught with hale odors up the heavens afar,
To faint when twilight on her virginal throat
Wears for a gem the tremulous vesper star.

Star Wars – The Return of Legends!

Last year, conversations with the girls at The Elven Padawan led this blogger to investigate youtube in search of videos about the original Star Wars‘ timeline that could fill in gaps of her knowledge about the old EU. Having found several videos that helped me to get a better handle on the original SW Expanded Universe, I began posting them here at Thoughts, along with links to information about the original Star Wars Expanded Universe.

There are no links available today beyond the videos listed below. It has taken some time to discover them all, but it is amazing what one can find when she isn’t really trying. These are all items that tie back to the original Expanded Universe for Star Wars, so you won’t find any Disney/Lucasfilm material here. It is all old school. 😉

I hope you enjoy these videos as much as I have, readers. Until next time, please remember:

“The Force will be with you, always.”

The Mithril Guardian

Darth Vader’s Only Friend in the Empire [Legends] – Star Wars Explained

 

The Dark History Of The Rakatan Infinite Empire – Star Wars Explained

 

The Horse who piloted an X-Wing (in Star Wars Legends)

 

Rogue Squadron | Star Wars Legends

 

The Purest Jedi Master to ever Exist – Master Fay [Legends] – Star Wars Explained

 

The Jedi Master Anakin Looked Up to the Most – Jorus C’baoth [Legends] – Star Wars Explained

 

The Best Weapons to Kill Jedi [Legends]

 

When a Jedi Youngling Opened a Sith Holocron [Legends]

 

8 Light Side Orders That Competed With and Rivaled the Jedi Order

Even MORE TV Themes to Remember!

Here are some more great television themes for you to enjoy, readers! It’s been a while since I saw several of them, but one thing is for sure: they are all worthy forms of entertainment for the discerning audience. That is a guarantee!

Have fun!

The Mithril Guardian

 

The Incredible Hulk

 

Wagon Train

 

The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp

 

Disney’s Zorro

 

Diagnosis Murder

 

Mysterious Ways

 

Bat Masterson

 

Have Gun, Will Travel

 

Green Acres

 

The Lone Ranger

 

Matlock

 

The Andy Griffith Show

 

Quincey, M.E.

Book Review – Star Wars: Survivor’s Quest by Timothy Zahn

301 Moved Permanently

Once again we travel to a galaxy far, far away, readers! This time the destination is Star Wars: Survivor’s Quest. Strap into your X-wings and hold onto your lightsabers, because here we go!

Set three years after the Hand of Thrawn duology and three years before the Yuuzhan Vong Invasion, Surivivor’s Quest begins with Talon Karrde aboard Booster Terrik’s traveling casino, the Errant Venture. He is anxiously waiting to hear from Luke and Mara Jade Skywalker. Someone in his organization betrayed him. They stole a message meant for the Skywalkers, then rushed off into the Unknown Regions with it.

Knowing how trouble-prone the two Jedi are and what the difference a few days can mean where important messages are concerned, Talon has practically paced a rut into the Errant Venture’s command deck waiting for Luke and Mara to get his message to meet him at the casino. Booster tries to calm him down, but all he succeeds in doing it making Talon stop pacing. The smuggling chief doesn’t like letting his people or friends down, and even though Mara is now a Jedi and the wife of Luke Skywalker, she’ll always be his friend. The idea that this message’s delay could put her and her husband in jeopardy does not sit well with him.

Meanwhile, blissfully unaware of this, Mara Jade Skywalker is in a cantina on an Outer Rim world negotiating with a gang that used to work for Karrde. Having turned his organization into a neutral intelligence agency that reports to the New Republic and the Imperial Remnant, Karrde has been gradually disengaging from the smuggling world for the past three years. Mara has been helping him out, in part because she is also been working on separating herself from his organization.

It is hard to say how the previous meetings went, but this one isn’t looking like it will be smooth sailing. The leader of this gang has stocked the cantina with all of his friends, most of whom have blasters pointed at Mara’s back. Since Talon is cutting them loose, the gang leader demands Mara forward them half a million credits as a “tide-me-over” until they can connect with another, more powerful organization like Karrde’s to maintain their operations.

The demand is more than a little unreasonable, and Mara has no intention of fulfilling it. She is also not as helpless or alone as the gang thinks. Using the Force and her lightsaber to distract the group, she buys Luke enough time to make his fantastic entrance. There is a brief scuffle, but the Skywalkers end it without bloodshed. Mara promises to transfer a generous but sane amount of money to the group just as a young man rushes in to tell his boss they received a message from Karrde for Mara.

17 Best ideas about Mara Jade on Pinterest | Sith lord ...

Luke takes the opportunity to scare the crooks with an apparent Jedi mind trick by reciting most of the message, which was forwarded to him from Mara’s ship. Having suitably impressed the bunch, the Skywalkers leave. Knowing Karrde wouldn’t send a message to them and throughout his network of contacts unless he really needed to talk to them, they head out to meet the Errant Venture.

Once there, they find the Venture getting a new paint job. Booster is having it painted bright red, perhaps in the hopes of making the Star Destroyer less intimidating. Contacting Karrde and Booster, they learn about the message. Turns out it was from an Admiral Voss Parck on Niraun.

Mara and Luke share a look. Last time they saw Parck was in Vision of the Future, when they blew up a hangar full of his fighters. The fact that he suddenly wants to talk to them is more than little surprising.

It also doesn’t bode well, since Parck was adamant that there were hundreds of threats the Republic wasn’t capable of facing in the Unknown Regions. If one of those threats is headed their way, they need to know about. Saying good-bye, the Skywalkers head to Niraun….

To find that they’ve been invited to see the remains of Outbound Flight. By the Chiss.

Destroyed by Thrawn on its way to another galaxy, the colonizing ship Outbound Flight was thought lost for good. But now the Chiss have found relics of the vessel in an asteroid field. Since Outbound Flight was primarily a Jedi project, the Chiss have invited Luke to come and pay his and the new Order’s respects to the victims.

Mara is less than pleased. The whole thing is a little too neatly packaged. Provided the Chiss have found what is left of Outbound Flight, the timing of the message’s delivery was such that, even if it hadn’t been stolen, she and Luke wouldn’t have had time to tell anyone in the New Republic where they were going. Although her danger sense isn’t prickling and she’s not getting any warnings from the Force, the whole thing feels too much like a set up.

Nevertheless, she knows as well as her husband does that they have to take this mission. The why is still a mystery, but they can both sense they’re being guided by the Force into this mission to the Chiss. Getting the coordinates from Parck, they head out to meet the Chiss envoy…

…And then the fun begins.

If you want to see what Luke and Mara’s married life is like, Survivor’s Quest is a must-read. Although they haven’t had the first three years of their marriage all to themselves, by this point they are an even more exceptional team than in previous novels. They have grown together and become far stronger than they ever were apart. I wish Zahn had been allowed to write up more adventures like this for them!

As usual, since this is a Timothy Zahn novel, there are no Warnings for Younger Readers. Everything is completely above board. No sex, no gratuitous violence, and nothing remotely offensive. It is just a fun romp in a galaxy far, far away. No one could ask for better than that.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Pick up Survivor’s Quest at your earliest opportunity, readers. You won’t regret it!

Images - Expanded Universe Fans (Star Wars) - Mod DB

Some Bread for You

Yep, it’s official. I am a lover of older music. Try out Bread today, readers. I can’t promise that all of these songs will be to your taste, but they are certainly worth sampling. And yes, those puns were deliberate. 😉

Have fun savoring the music!

The Mithril Guardian

Dismal Day

 

London Bridge

 

Look What You’ve Done

 

Let Your Love Go

 

Down on My Knees

 

Diary

 

Sweet Surrender

 

The Guitar Man

 

Fancy Dancer

 

Lost Without Your Love