Tag Archives: sci-fi

Stargate SG-1, the TV Series


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All right, if there are any fans of the series Ancient Aliens who are following this blog, raise your hand.

I cannot see you, but I know you have probably just perked up right now and are paying attention. Personally, I cannot stand Ancient Aliens. I have been around when it is on the television, and sooner or later, I end up snarling at the screen because someone said something with which I disagree. And every time someone on Ancient Aliens or another show like it brings up Ancient Egypt, I immediately moan and groan, “Not them again!

You might think this means that I hate Ancient Egypt. I admit to having my fill of it – especially from people who do not know what they are talking about, but who act like they do. That drives me crazy anyway, but in relation to the Ancient World, it is a good way to get me mad. I like history, so I know a lot about it. For example, I happen to know that the Ancient Greeks wore thick bronze and linen armor when they went into battle, not fancy leather suspenders like you see in 300. Catching five minutes of that movie had me raving for two to three whole days with fury.

So I know my history. I am no Egyptologist, but I know my history. So why do I moan and wail whenever someone on the History Channel or Ancient Aliens turns to the subject of Ancient Egypt? I wondered about that and, with the help of El Rey just a little while ago, I finally figured out the problem: I have heard practically all of these people’s theories before. Specifically, I heard them when I was a child watching and enjoying Stargate SG-1.

Yes, I was a child when the show first came out. And I watched the show until its final season’s finale. I even watched two or three of the made-for-TV movies that came out with it. I watched the sequel series Stargate Atlantis to its conclusion, but I managed to miss Stargate Universe and Stargate Infinity. From the sounds of things, I dodged a couple of bullets when I missed those related shows.

After Star Trek, Star Wars, and probably the Marvel media I was exposed to, Stargate SG-1 was my go-to sci-fi fix. I already knew Richard Dean Anderson from the reruns of MacGyver, but I found I liked him a whole lot more as Colonel Jack O’Neill (with two L’s) in Stargate SG-1. I had never heard of Michael Shanks or Amanda Tapping before, but I found I liked them as well. I also think, rewatching the television series now, that Tapping’s character, Samantha Carter, grew as the seasons progressed. Some of her first appearances were waaay too stiff and full of “girl power” motifs, and the writers wisely stopped being so heavy-handed with this stuff as the series ran its course.

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Finally, we had Teal’c. Christopher Judge was the best possible choice for the character. It turns out that I heard him in X-Men: Evolution as the voice of Magneto without ever knowing who he was until years later, when I realized his voice was oddly familiar. Teal’c was the fish out of water before Thor, and Judge did a perfect job pulling off the confusion, shock, and outright clumsiness an alien in modern times would experience. It took the reruns on El Rey to remind me how much I liked him and the rest of the crew – and how much I missed them.

Of course, I cannot leave out the star attraction of the series. This was the alien Stargate for which the series, and the movie that spawned it, is named. But this Stargate is nothing like the Star Gate in Andre Norton’s novel of the same name. (You can find a post on that book here, too, readers.) This Stargate generates an artificial wormhole that connects two points in space together for up to thirty-eight minutes, less if you know how to shut the device down on your own.

To make the device work, you have to “dial out” by inputing some of the symbols inside the ring through a DHD or “dial home device” connected to the Stargate. Like an old dialing telephone, these symbols will rotate through the circular Stargate and stop beneath one of the red “Chevrons,” which will open and glow to lock in the coordinates as the gate “dials out.”

When the necessary seven “chevrons” are “locked,” you had better not be standing directly in front of the Gate. That watery substance may look pretty as it “flushes” out at you, but anything organic and most metals that touch that initial “flush” of liquid-like material will be incinerated by it. The same sort of thing will happen if your hand, arm, leg, or head is in the portal when the Gate is shut down; part of you stays on one planet while the other part comes back to Earth.

If you are thinking this was awfully gross for a kid to watch, no worries, my parents made sure I never saw the really disgusting stuff. This meant that I did not get to see much of the main alien antagonists for the series, either. These aliens were the snake like parasitic/symbiotic Gou’aould. They were intelligent and could not survive in their regular forms outside of water or some liquid like it. So to get aruond, they would highjack human bodies.

They did this often enough that they set themselves up as deities in Ancient Egypt – the deities all those Egyptologists and Ancient Aliens people like to rave about. According to the story, the Ancient Egyptians eventually rebelled against their Gou’aould controlled oppressors, who went off into the galaxy in search of greener pastures, continuing to play gods as they did.

Now, readers, we must fastforward to the time of the movie. In the film Kurt Russell plays Colonel Jack O’Neill and James Spader plays Daniel Jackson; these are the roles which Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Shanks eventually took up. (And boy, in the early days, was Michael Shanks a ringer for young Spader!) I have never seen the film, but through the TV series I gather that Jack and Daniel, along with other Air Force soldiers, passed through Earth’s Stargate to a world called Abydos. On Abydos they found a civilization that was like a page out of an Egyptologist’s dream book – which is to say that Daniel loved it, because he was an Egyptologist.

While they were there, one of the Gou’aould, using a new host but the old name of Ra, dropped by to collect tribute from the Abydosians. Long story short, the SG team killed him, came back home minus a few members, and pretended that they had blown up Abydos and the gate before they came back. Daniel was supposed to have died in the conflagration with Ra, too, but this was a lie; he actually married one of the Abydosian girls and did not want to leave the planet, so the SG team left him behind to live happily ever after.

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Enter the TV series. In the first episode, a new Gou’aould, Apophis, visits Earth through the Stargate to see what can be seen. He picks up an Air Force officerette who was stupid enough to approach the device the Gou’aould threw through the Gate to see if Earth could support life. She did not last long, in case you were wondering, in Gou’aould land.

Well, Apophis’ arrival blows a big hole in the story Jack and his team told command about Abydos. So a new SG team, headed by Jack and including Samantha Carter, goes back to Abydos to ask Daniel’s help in figuring out Apophis’ identity – because who in the Air Force can tell one Ancient Egyptian inscription from another?

Well, Daniel’s been living happily with his wife, Sha’re, and the Abydosians for two years, but he has not been idle. He has deciphered a series of inscriptions in a place near the main Abydosian settlement, and he thinks there are a whole lot more Stargates out there. A whole galaxy full, to be exact.

But while Jack, Daniel, and Sam are out at this location, Apophis pops in to the main Abydosian camp and kidnaps several of the people there. This includes Sha’re and her younger brother Skaara, who is close to Jack. Our team Gates back to Earth, gets permission to go on a rescue mission, but arrives too late to save Sha’re from being made host to Apophis’ wife.

Daniel does not take this well, as you might imagine, and Jack does not take Skaara’s being turned into one of the “children of the gods” any better. But it looks like they may not have a choice about any of this when Apophis orders his guards, led by Teal’c, to do away with SG-1 and the other captives.

Only Teal’c has other ideas. Forced to serve the Gou’aould with all the other Jaffa, Teal’c is one of the few who knows the Gou’aould are false deities. But he and the others who know this are not in a prime position to do anything overt about it because the rest of their people are firmly under the Gou’aould’s thumbs. And since most of the other peoples in the galaxy that Teal’c has met are technologically inferior to the Guo’aould, he has not been able to defect to a stronger side to stop the false gods from doing what they are doing.

That is, he had not met anyone to whom he could defect until Jack, Daniel, and Sam showed up. Recognizing their technology to be superior to the other races’ – though not the Gou’aould’s – Teal’c decides the time is right to strike back at the slave masters who control his race. He frees SG-1 and the others in the room with them, but has nowhere to go after this until Jack tells him, “For this, you can stay at my place. Let’s go!”

Thus begin the epic adventures of Stargate One, SG-1 for short. This “army of four” manages to often single-handedly defeat the Gou’aould at every turn during the series, and it is a thrilling ride to run with them. They kind of lost me after Richard Dean Anderson left the show.   Seasons eight, nine, and ten also went a little weird…but it was still Stargate, and I could not find anything better that I liked at the time. I had to see the show through to the end, and I did, though I liked everything up to season seven or eight better than what I saw in season nine to ten.

One of the really appealing things about the series for me, early on, I think, was the fact that SG-1 was going up against false gods. Now, even at a young age, I loved history. I learned about Cortez and his march through Mexico, how he stopped the Aztecs’ bloody worship of stone idols and tore those stone statues down. I have since learned more details about the Aztecs’ sacrifices, and I can say with all certainty that the Spanish did us a favor by putting a stop to their murderous mayhem.

SG-1 reminded me of that a lot as a little child. Everyone around them believed that the Gou’aould were actual deities and, time after time, SG-1 would have to prove that the Gou’aould were anything but gods. It was a fun series with plenty of great sci-fi and character exploration, but one of the things I will never forget about the show is that it presented a group of modern “Conquistadors” who were not afraid to knock down idols others treated as divine and show them who the man behind the curtain really was.

If you are wondering if this is why I end up screaming at the History Channel and Ancient Aliens, you come close to the right answer. The fact is, all those theories the people on those shows have about Ancient Egypt have been thought of before – and I should know, because I saw them played out in Stargate SG-1. I do not need them repeated to me, and so when I hear someone waxing eloquent about these things, I cannot help getting a little…testy. That is why I usually avoid those shows. 😉

Well, readers, that is all I have for now. Other than to shamelessly plug the fact that El Rey is rerunning one of my favorite series, that is. If you have never seen Stargate SG-1, then this is your best chance to catch it on television. So what are you waiting for?! Dial up that Gate and go have an adventure!

Jaffa, kree!

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Book Review: Timothy Zahn’s Quadrail series

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To this blogger’s great distress, I have not read many Timothy Zahn works which were not written under the auspices of Lucasbooks. What can I say? The man writes great Star Wars stories!

But, while he may be best known for those novels, Timothy Zahn does not confine himself to this beloved niche. He has written many of his own books and has a couple of series going, with his own characters, histories, and tech.

One of these is his Quadrail series. This series focuses on one Frank Compton, a detective who works for the aliens that run the Quadrail. The Quadrail is an alien-built galactic space train that travels through the galaxy at the speed of light. How humanity became aware of it, I do not know. I have read only three books in the series so far, and those are The Third Lynx, Odd Girl Out, and The Domino Pattern.

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Frank’s main enemy in the series is the Modhri. The Modhri is a kind of hive mind entity which infects people – aliens and humans – with tiny organisms. These organisms are undetectable to the host, and they would only be seen in a very thorough microsurgery operation. Through these colonies of organisms, the Modhri can view what the hosts view and take control of them – motor functions and minds both – any time he feels like it.

And there is not a darn thing the hosts can do about it, in part because they can never remember what happened while they were being controlled. They are the typical living robots who have no idea they are anything but normal.

Why is the Modhri doing this? Galactic domination, of course – he has the power to achieve it, after all. Why not use it?

Frank has been fighting the Modhri for some months now with the help of Bayta, a half-human, half-alien hybrid who is perfectly up to date on a zillion different scientific facts but whose social skills are severely stunted. It is hinted that she and Frank are rather charmed with each other. ‘Course, when a girl-guy team saves each other’s lives often enough, that tends to happen.

I am not going to spoil more than I already have. Frank Compton is, now that I think about it, rather like the wizard/detective Harry Dresden, from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. Except that Frank has to deal with aliens and tech instead of magic, fairies, and angels. Not sure which world I would rather have, though I think aliens are a mite less intimidating than angels.

Both Frank and Harry have a snappy sense of humor, they both deal with threats the general public is unaware of, and they have no problem referencing popular culture – though Frank’s pop culture is mixed with aliens and space travel, so it does not hit home quite as frequently as Harry’s does. The two characters probably display this kind of humor as a way of dealing with the stress of fighting things no one else knows about. I have to say that this is one of the reasons why I enjoy characters such as Frank Compton and Harry Dresden so much.

Well, readers, you will find no more spoilers here! Go ahead and find the Quadrail series. I hope you enjoy it!

Later,

The Mithril Guardian

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Book Review: Star Trek: The Great Starship Race by Diane Carey

The Great Starship Race

Well, I did not begin posting about Star Trek fiction as soon as I had hoped.  But better late than never, right?

Today’s focus is Star Trek: The Great Starship Race by Diane Carey.  If you were to type the title of the book into the search engine of my blog, you would come up with several quotes from the novel posted here.  Not nearly so many as you would get if you typed in The Cherokee Trail, but you would get a good number nonetheless.

The Great Starship Race takes place in the Original Star Trek series timeline.  It focuses primarily on Kirk and his point of view, with occasional shifts to McCoy’s perspective.

But The Great Starship Race actually begins from the viewpoint of Valdus, a Subcenturion on the Romulan ship Scorah.  The Scorah and its supporting Swarm are out patrolling a sector of Romulan space when they stumble across an old spaceship with barely any warp capabilities.  Picking up the ship, they find five aliens aboard, aliens sent on a mission of exploration from their homeworld in the hopes of finding other life in the galaxy.

The aliens are friendly.  They fall all over the Romulans, they are so happy to learn they are not the only intelligent beings in the galaxy.  But when the Romulan commander tries to get them to reveal their planet’s location, things fall apart.  Somehow, someway, the nervous fright of the five aliens aboard the ship drives all the Romulans into murderous rages.  They kill each other and destroy the Scorah

All of them die except for one:  Valdus.  He is the only one to escape the conflagration, the only one to come back to sanity.  He is therefore the only one to realize how dangerous these aliens are to the Romulan people.

Fast-forward eighty-six years.  The Federation ship U.S.S. Hood, under the command of Captain Kenneth Dodge, made contact twelve years earlier with the people of Gullrey.  Now, twelve years later, the Rey are about to be accepted into the Federation.  And they are so happy about it that they are throwing a party, which will hopefully become an annual event:  the first Great Starship Race.

Among the competitors are four Starfleet ships – including Captain James T. Kirk’s U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701.

Captain Kirk is looking forward to the race on several levels.  Races are part of sailing history, so as a historian he is naturally happy to be participating in a race, the way that the sailing captains of the past once did.  On another level, he is looking forward to showing off his ship – his “favorite girl.”  And how can participating in a race not be fun?

He finds the answer to that question soon enough, when they are on their way to Starbase 16.  The starting line of the race, Starbase 16 sends a frantic call to the Enterprise about a Romulan heavy cruiser which has crossed the Neutral Zone.  It is headed for the base and transmitting interstellar truce.

What, you ask, is the Romulans’ reason for violating the Neutral Zone between Federation and Romulan space?  Oh, nothing really important – they just want to join the race.

If it were not such a dangerous situation, Kirk would laugh about it.  But a Romulan heavy cruiser in Federation space, whatever their proclaimed reason for entering, is no laughing matter.  He finds it even less funny when he meets the commander of the Red Talon:  Valdus.

And Valdus is none too happy when he sees Kirk.  Loathing using view screens for first meetings, Valdus sees something in Kirk’s eyes that disturbs him.  He knows Kirk is not a man who will give up, and that could be a problem.

As for Kirk, he can tell by looking at Valdus that the Romulan is not here to just run a race.  He knew that before he saw him, but seeing him convinces Kirk that there is something else to Valdus’ desire to join the contest, some dangerous ulterior motive.  And it has something to do with the Rey, whose planet is the finish line of the competition…

That is all I am telling you, readers.  The Great Starship Race is a really good piece of Star Trek fiction.  I think that it was one of the first Star Trek novels which I read.  The entire Enterprise Seven is present and accounted for, though Chekov gets short shrift in the dialogue and action departments.  Still, he is there.  That is what counts.

I do not know if Diane Carey wrote any more Star Trek fiction.  I think she did.  Either way, The Great Starship Race is a Star Trek story which I highly recommend to you.  So warp on over to the nearest library and see if they have a copy!  If they do not, then you should request it.  This is a story that ought to be on at least one set of library shelves!

Later,

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Beast Master by Andre Norton

ANDRE NORTON ORG: Coverart Gallery!

The last book of Miss Norton’s reviewed here was Star Guard. Though I have plans to soon revisit the Witch World universe she created, we are not going there just yet. Our next stop, however, is almost as colorful. Allow me to introduce you, readers, to the world of Beast Master.

No, I am not talking about the TV show of the same name. While I enjoyed that series, I cannot help but wonder how it ended up sharing the same or a similar name with the book. There are no likenesses between the two stories.

At the beginning of Miss Norton’s novel, we learn that Earth – Terra – has been turned into a radioactive blue ball by an invading species called the Xiks. The Xiks are not human, though they are relatively humanoid. The first Beast Master novel does not go into great detail about what the Xiks look like.

Everyone on Terra is dead. Everything on Terra is dead. And at the Separation Center of the Confederacy, human colonists from other worlds have to deal with veterans of a world that is just plain gone. Many of the Terran veterans of the Xik war have lost their minds to grief because of the destruction of their world. These veterans either attack those who are trying to help them or they turn their weapons on themselves. Not a pretty picture, to be sure.

A Commander at the center is dealing with one such veteran’s case right now. Hosteen Storm, a Galactic Commando, is asking to leave the Center for the colony world of Arzor. He is a calm, cool, Amerindian man. Unlike many of the people at the Center, the psych-medics have been unable to find any sign of mental instability in him.

Maybe this is because he is one of the few Beast Masters. Beast Masters, once used to survey new planets for possible colonization, were reconverted into commandos for the war. Their bonds with teams of animals meant they could scout out danger faster than unaided humans in the Survey Department. During the war, their animals helped them track down enemy bases, sabotage enemy equipment and camps, and the Xiks were never able to face down the animals very well in personal combat.

To all appearances, Hosteen Storm seems completely healthy. Remarkable for a Terran veteran, true, but otherwise he seems to be nothing special.

Yet the Commander at the Center is reluctant to let the Beast Master go. Something about the young man is off. Oh, he answered the psychologists properly, and he has helped them handle the other, more unstable veterans who are mourning Terra’s destruction. But there remains something about him – a danger the Commander cannot put his finger on and which he cannot name. He only knows that he would rather not let the Commando leave the base.

However, he also has no precedent or excuse to keep him at the Center. Reluctantly, he gives Storm his papers. The Terran veteran accepts them, then leaves to pack his things and pick up his team.

Storm’s fascinating team consists of Baku, the female African Black Eagle; Ho and Hing, a mated pair of meerkats, and Surra. Surra’s ancestors were the small, fox-faced and eared dune cats. But they were bred successively with bigger and bigger cats over the years. So now, though Surra retains the distinctive fox-face and ears, along with the desert treading paws, she is the size of a cougar. Of the four animals on the team, she is the unquestioned empress.

 

ANDRE NORTON ORG: Coverart Gallery!

Storm, one of the Dineh, the Navajo, has a reason for picking Arzor as his next stop. Not only is the planet the most like his native Southwest U.S.A., it is the home of an old enemy. The Commander’s instincts are right. Storm is not yet done riding the war trail. He has a score to settle on Arzor, though he has never met the man he wants to kill.

Once on Arzor, a planet which is pretty nearly the equivalent of the Southwest in terms of culture and land (though the sky has a mauve tint), Storm hooks up with a man named Put Larkin. Larkin is hiring riders for a drive to his range. He has a herd of horses he has to get home quickly. Storm’s Terran heritage causes a pause, but when the young Beast Master spectacularly tames an untrained horse, Larkin happily hires him on the spot.

On the trail, Storm makes an enemy of a fellow driver named Coll Bister. Bister gives the impression of a bigoted, swaggering, boastful man. But later events cast doubt on this idea. He is too cautious, and his hatred of Storm too deep. A blustering fool might take a dislike to a newcomer, but only upon having his fanny handed to him in a fight will he hate a man. Bister, however, hates Storm even before the other knocks him to the ground.

To add to this, Storm keeps hearing about some sort of trouble between the human settlers and the natives. Terrans and humans from other worlds usually avoid settling on planets with native populations. But the first settlers on Arzor came when space travel was still touch-and-go. They landed and found that – whoops – there was already a sentient species on Arzor.

These aliens – called Norbies – are roughly seven feet tall with white horns on their heads. Green skinned and very slender, the Norbies’ vocal chords are constructed in a way that prevents them from speaking human languages. In a twist of fate, no human can speak their whistling, chattering tongue either. Instead, they communicate with humans through a form of sign language, called “finger talk” in the novel.

To avoid the friction American settlers and Indians in the West encountered, the human settlers made strictly enforced pacts of friendship with most of the Norbie tribes. They may pass through Norbie territory while driving their herds, and the Norbies are happy to trade with them for horses, meat, or other things. Ranchers will hire Norbies as workers on their ranges, and the Norbies are good at tracking lost animals. Otherwise, though, a human cannot enter or hunt Norbie land without the Norbies’ direct say-so. There are outlaws who use the territory, certainly, but both the settlers and the Norbies dislike them.

The system between the two species does not please everyone on both sides, but by and large it seems most settlers and Norbies appreciate and like each other. This makes the determined, bigoted hatred of Bister and some other settlers out of character. These guys believe that recent losses in frawn and horse herds can be blamed on the Norbies. Most other ranchers do not buy this story, but that does not mean these hot-blooded men may not go off and do something stupid. If the balance between the Norbies and human settlers is upset, it will mean all out war. And primitive people do not do well when they war with more advanced peoples.

Storm, determined to pay his debt, does not want to get involved in this brewing fight. His mission is made even more complicated when he encounters his quarry during a night in town. Storm was expecting a man he could hate. Instead, he has found a man he can respect and could even like, if his blood-debt were not in the way.

Over the course of the book, however, both Storm and his quarry are drawn into the conflict between the Norbies and Settlers. Storm runs into successively greater and deadlier surprises along the way. Just because Terra is a blue ball of radioactivity does not mean the Xiks are willing to leave humanity alone. Their hatred runs too deep, though no human has any idea why the Xiks hate them. Attempts at reconciliation between the two species always ended badly for the humans involved.

Does Storm do what he came to Arzor to accomplish, you ask? You will have to read the book to learn that, readers! I have spoiled a large part of the story as things stand now. If I say any more, you will not need to read the book. And I want you to at least try it. Hopefully, you will enjoy it. And if it makes you a fan of Andre Norton’s writings, then so much the better!

See you around!

The Mithril Guardian

Andre Norton with her World Fantasy Award
Andre Norton

The Hunger Games: Katniss Everdeen

The Hunger Games

It has been a long time since there was a post here about a character in The Hunger Games. This article focuses on the lead character for Suzanne Collins’ trilogy: Katniss Everdeen.

Truth be told, Katniss drives me crazy. She is as thick as a fence post six ways from Sunday. Yes, she is skilled at hunting and surviving. She was a child who was forced to grow up quickly in order to protect and support her family. That is not my problem with her. My problem with Katniss is that her ability to read people is seriously lacking, and this is a survival skill everyone should practice. Her inability to understand others is a severe handicap which Katniss never quite overcomes as she works on surviving the deadly situations she finds herself in.

To avoid being too harsh, it is true that plenty of people in Katniss’ position would be unable to see the labyrinthine plots the chess players are weaving on The Hunger Games’ board. Often we are unaware of the webs others spin around us, or which we spin about ourselves when we “practice to deceive.” But that does not mean that some people in Katniss’ role would not be able to make a few educated guesses about the whats and wherefores of the forces at play in their lives.

Katniss does not appeal to me as a character. But her position in the world of Panem is hard to misunderstand. Like people in North Korea, or those who Russia kept in the Siberian gulags, the people of Panem live in cordoned off regions. These areas are prison camps. In The Hunger Games, they are known as Districts.

There are Twelve Districts at the beginning of the trilogy. Originally, there were Thirteen, but after the first rebellion against the Capitol, District Thirteen was destroyed by the government. This was also when the Capitol began the Hunger Games. In the annual Games, two children within the 12-18 age range are selected by lottery to be “tributes” in the arena. There are always two from each District; one boy, one girl. These two then have to face not only each other but the other twenty-two tributes in a televised battle to the death. The last child standing is the winner.

The winners receive enough wealth to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. They never have to worry about starving to death. But their children are still put in the lottery – the Reaping – and neither they nor their families will ever be free of the Capitol’s tyranny.

As an example, the dashing Finnick Odair, a Victor from District Four, was used as a sex slave by the politicians and rich citizens of the Capitol. Johanna Mason apparently refused this path with her characteristic vehemence; so the government killed her whole family to make an example of her to the other Victors. Haymitch Abernathy, who won his Games and embarrassed the Capitol in the process, lost his mother, brother, and girlfriend to “accidents” the government had staged.

These three Victors were free of the threat of starvation. They were not free of the dictatorship which was the Capitol.

At the start of the trilogy, Katniss understands that openly calling out the government on anything puts one at risk of swift retribution. But to her, the Capitol is a relatively distant threat. Living in the poorest District in Panem, District Twelve, Katniss’ hatred for the Capitol simmers under the concerns of daily survival for herself and her family. Ever since her father died in a coal mine explosion, she has had to provide food, clothing, and the other necessities of life for her mother and baby sister.

But Katniss’ attitude toward the Games is stood on its head when her sister, Prim, is Reaped for the seventy-fourth Hunger Games. Desperate to protect the only person she knows she loves, Katniss volunteers to take Prim’s place in the Games. Since she is sixteen, she can volunteer. Anyone over eighteen or under twelve is, by law, not allowed to volunteer to take a lottery winner’s place in the Games.

Through her experiences in the Games, both in the first book and during the next two novels, Katniss grows to understand the extent of her enslavement and that of her fellow citizens to the government. She has survived for four years by hunting and gathering, yes. In that regard, she is not dependent upon the “generosity” of Panem’s government.

But she and her sister are still under threat of being Reaped for the Hunger Games until they turn nineteen. So are thousands of other children, in and out of District Twelve. Katniss’ own vow never to marry, so she can avoid sending any children she would have to the Games, is not a vow everyone in Panem has taken. After a point, they simply cannot make this vow and keep it. We are supposed to “be fruitful and multiply,” after all. (Emphasis on supposed to, people!)

Up until her sister’s name is called at the Reaping, Katniss’ feelings toward those taken for the Hunger Games are, basically: “Sucks to be them.” Once Prim is chosen, however, Katniss is shaken from her detachment toward the Games’ bloody results. She has seen the Hunger Games broadcast into her home since early childhood. She knows what would happen to her sweet, innocent younger sister in the arena. Prim could not hurt a fly without crying over it. She would die on the first day of the Games.

Katniss will not let that happen.

Catching Fire

But the event which totally snaps her once detached distaste for the brutal, retaliatory punishment from the Capitol is the death of her ally, Rue. From District Eleven, Rue is the same age as Katniss’ sister. Despite the racial differences between the two, Katniss instantly feels attached to the younger girl for her habits, which mirror Prim’s. This attachment is made most obvious when the two become allies in the arena.

This is the reason Rue’s death infuriates Katniss. If she had watched Rue die on the television, she would have shrugged the event off. Having spent a few hours with Rue in the arena, and having watched her prior to entering the Games, Katniss has no such reaction to the younger girl’s death.

Rue’s death is Katniss’ turning point. She “buries” Rue with flowers, restoring the little girl’s humanity with that one act. To the Capitol, Rue was just a number, a face in the crowd. She was an expendable slave killed to keep the rest of the herd in line. They did not know her and they did not care to learn about her as a person.

Rue was a twelve year old girl with five younger siblings, loving parents, and more friends than you could shake a stick at. She protected and looked out for her siblings. She sang to the mockingjays so that the people of District Eleven would have a beautiful end-of-harvest-time alert each day. Rue was a gentle, sweet, loving little girl.   She was athletic and had a wide knowledge of healing plants. In another world, she would have had a future so bright it would blind most people.

The Capitol took that away from her. They chose Rue to be a piece in their murderous “Games,” along with twenty-three other children. They murdered a sister, a daughter, a little girl with enormous promise so that they could keep their power.

With Rue’s death, the Games stop being games for Katniss. For a while, the Games were simply another survival routine. Make it out alive, and her family would live as well.

Rue’s death changed the game. Peeta being in the game at all changed the rules, too. Katniss felt she owed him for inspiring her to work to survive. She owed him her life. How could she repay him by taking his? Her best hope for the majority of the first book is that someone else will kill him so she does not have to do so in order to clinch the win.

The Capitol drove everyone in the Districts to, and kept them on the brink of, starvation for one simple reason: to control them better. In situations like that of the Districts, a number of people start maintaining a “look out for number one” policy. A survivor of the North Korean prison camps revealed he turned his own mother in to the camp authorities to be killed so he would have more food to eat. The Hunger Games are based on a similar principle. Their aim was to keep the people of Panem so self-interested, so determined to protect themselves, that they could be herded about like sheep or cattle.

Katniss Everdeen is no sheep. She is more like a wolf. Out to ensure her life and the lives of her ‘pack’, Katniss’ aim is to survive deprivation at all costs. But this attitude was not confined simply to herself and her family. When she came home from hunting, Katniss sold some of her gains on the local black market. Indeed, this was mostly to earn the money she needed to get the non-edible supplies her family required, not to mention pick up other necessities or treats at bargain prices.

But it also helped her community. Other people, such as the Mellarks, benefited from the meat she brought back to the District. The Mayor of District Twelve had a fancy for fresh strawberries and was quite willing to ignore where they came from. In Catching Fire, Katniss makes sure to throw her Victor’s money around as often as possible. Guaranteed by law to never be poor again, Katniss does her best to shower coin on those she knows need it most. Her regular clients at the black market Hub do not turn her down, recognizing her generosity and accepting it.

Where Peeta is a man whose eye is on the future, who looks to the spring that always follows winter, Katniss is different. She was born with a soul of fire, the fire one builds in winter to keep alive during the coldest months of the year. When the day is at its coldest, when the night is full of threats, this is when “the Mockingjay” burns at her brightest.

This, of course, brings up an issue other people are always harping on with regard to Miss Everdeen. Yes, Katniss killed a great many people. Her nightmares from the arena are understandable. The arena was a stage set up by the Capitol politicians. She had to defend herself in order to survive the seventy-fourth Hunger Games but her opponents, the proxies of the government, were mostly her age or younger. She was not fighting trained troops, partisans, or paramilitary agents; rather she was facing other children, most as desperate as she was herself.

In the war which plays out in Mockingjay, things are different, though Collins does not distinguish the difference. This is exhibited best by Katniss and Gale’s indiscriminate firing on people in the Capitol near the end of Mockingjay.

Mockingjay

Killing another human being is not and never should be fun or considered so. Gale breezes past this “red line,” as demonstrated by his virulent hatred toward the Capitol and its supporters/denizens with his determination to kill every Capitol supporter he can. In the process he embraces terrorism, along with President Coin, as they stage a compound attack against civilians and resistance medics. (These are yet more points which are against him.)

But Katniss finds herself in the opposite position, blaming herself for the deaths of all the soldiers on both sides of the conflict, even when she was not there. This is foolish, since the war was coming anyway. Katniss just happened to be the stand-in for the spark which ignited the war. If it had not been her, it would have been someone else. It is that simple.

Killing in self-defense or to protect others is a terrible thing. However, it is not murder. (Dean Koontz agrees; read some of his novels.) In a just war, a soldier fights to defend himself, his fellow soldiers, and the people back home. If he has a family, they and the soldiers he fights beside will be the ones he cares for most. Such a man is not fighting and killing for the hell of it, as some “experts” like to claim.

The war the Districts waged against the Capitol, though it was a civil war, was a just war. And even just wars are hell, because killing is never fun. However, the only way to be freed of the Capitol’s control was to fight for it. President Snow and his cronies were not going to grab a gun and go shoot at the Mockingjay themselves. They would need spines to do that, and they did not have those. Only cowards kill children, and President Snow and the other Capitolites running the Hunger Games were all cowards.

President Coin was, too. She bombed helpless children and Primrose Everdeen because it was useful to her campaign. That is evil of the highest order.

So Katniss’ nightmares are largely overplayed in regard to her part in the war, in this writer’s opinion. Her nightmares about the arena are more understandable and permissible, to my mind.

On the whole, I appreciate Katniss Everdeen. I do not like her, but no one said that affection for the main character was mandatory. The Hunger Games trilogy has a great importance for today. We stand “on the edge of a knife,” as the Lady Galadriel told the Fellowship when they came to Lothlorien. “Stray but a little” and we end up in the universe of Panem.

Getting out of that trap will be uglier by that point than climbing back to a just society ever will be. Which would we rather have, readers – a just society, or a civil war for our very freedom?

I know which I would rather have.

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Star Guard by Andre Norton

Andre Norton had many titles conferred on her in life. The one that is best known and oft repeated is “the Grand Dame of Science Fiction.” You regular readers of this blog have perhaps seen posts I have done about some of her other books – three Witch World novels and Star Gate (no relation to the TV series). I have not found many Andre Norton books which I dislike. This novel, Star Guard, is no exception.

The year is 3956 A.D. Man pushed into the stars only to meet with a galactic government – Central Control – which saw something dangerous in them. Deeming the Terrans too bloodthirsty and primitive to be allowed offworld of their own accord, Central Control told them they would only be permitted to leave their planet in a capacity the government assigned to them. Since Central Control had far more power than the Terrans, humanity had no choice but to accept these terms.

Labeling humans “barbarians,” Central Control put all of Terra on a leash. Now the only way offworld is to become a mercenary. Humans can only travel the stars as contract soldiers divided into units called hordes or Mechs. The hordes fight the old-fashioned way, with swords, spears, knives, bows, and other weapons. The Mechs get to use the latest technology in their fighting work.

Kana Karr, Arch Swordsman, Third Class, is a rookie who has just arrived at Prime, the capital city of Terra. An eighteen year old Australian-Malay-Hawaiian “greenie,” Kana overhears startling news on his first day in the city. The modern, up-to-date Mechs have recently lost two Legions – two more to add to the twenty Legions they have already lost over five years!!!! For these units – dispatched to “civilized” worlds – to lose so many contingents signals danger of some kind. And if they have been so badly decimated, then what of the hordes – those corps of human mercenaries sent to “barbarian” worlds? How bad have their losses been?

He finds out just how bad things are for the hordes when his is dispatched to serve on the planet Fronn. Kana soon discovers that someone in Central Control has it in for humanity. Perhaps more than one – the whole government is determined to wipe out the upstart Terrans. The C.C. has been denying Terrans equal citizenship with its other political members since it accepted the humans’ presence in the universe. This is well known.

Central Control claimed that, if humanity were allowed full citizenship in the government at once, their primitive will to fight would drag world after world into an age long war – or series of wars. The only way for humanity to enter the galaxy, they insisted, was as mercenaries. Then, when they had become more civilized, they could become full citizens.

On Fronn, though, Kana and his horde face enemies who have tech that is superior even to that of the Mech units. Fronn, a medieval world, should not have this kind of tech. The only reason this machinery would be on this planet, facing Kana and his unit, is if someone wanted the horde dead.

Through his adventure Kana learns this is just what Central Control is after. They either believe humans will always be barbarians, or they fear them for their growing sophistication. Whatever the specific dread, the alien government has absolutely no intention of allowing humans to enter the galaxy as full citizens. Ever.

Now, trapped on an alien world with the remnants of his horde, Kana Karr must do more than survive this treachery. He has to return to Earth and tell his superiors what is going on. This betrayal cannot be swept under the rug. Humanity has to know what is happening, and soon, before they are once again denied their desire for the stars. Kana is determined that neither he nor the rest of his species will be forced to stay on Terra as slaves. This time, he intends to see that the stars are ours!

Star Guard is a great story. Though Miss Norton is vague on the tech and how it works, the thing is that she never really took a shine to computers and machinery. However, her characterization of Kana, his friends, and his enemies is spectacular. And as always, her description of the aliens and their world is fantastic! I definitely recommend Star Guard to you, readers. This post is skimpy on detail, but that is to whet your appetite. If you want to know what else happened in the book, you will have to read it to find out! 😉

To the stars!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review – The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

Whew! What a read!!!

The subject of today’s post is an unusual book written by a well-known author. It is a new book and a fabulous read – I literally had to force it out of my hands! But, before going on about this novel, readers, I would like to say a few things about the author.

Jim Butcher is an writer whose books have landed on the New York Times bestseller list several times. A fantasy/sci-fi writer, Mr. Butcher’s most famous series is probably his Harry Dresden novels. Harry Dresden is a wizard/detective based in Chicago. He deals with werewolves, vampires, ghosts, faeries (small and big), as well as other wizards.   He has even met and talked to angels – good and bad!

I have read a couple of Harry Dresden novels and discovered a few things about Jim Butcher in the process. One, he is a huge fan of Star Wars. This is evidenced not only by his own admission at the back of some of his books, but by Harry Dresden’s constant quoting or referring to the original Star Wars trilogy. (I wonder what he thinks of The Force Awakens?)

Two, Mr. Butcher also knows about and enjoys other genres/series, which he also references in his novels. Harry Dresden mentions Marvel characters, the Looney Tunes, The Princess Bride, and even Disney movies throughout his adventures. Harry is by far the wittiest character I have yet seen Jim Butcher write. Though I do not necessarily like everything in the Harry Dresden stories, Harry himself is definitely one of my favorite characters. I am always rooting for him to win.

Another book series by Jim Butcher which I have (sort of) read is the Codex Alera series. Okay, technically, I only read the one book. But that was an excellent story, too! Mr. Butcher is said to have received the idea for the Codex Alera series from a fan or casual reader of his work. This man bet the author could not make a series out of two bad story ideas. So Mr. Butcher challenged him to name two bad story ideas, and he would try to make a good story out of them. The fan came back with The Lost Roman Legion and Pokémon.

Mr. Butcher succeeded admirably in combining the two, I think. And having never seen Pokémon (except in television advertisements and toys), that connection was not immediately obvious to this reader. The Roman connection, however, was extremely hard to miss!

Now, Mr. Butcher has done it again. His newest book, The Aeronaut’s Windlass, came out not too long ago. It is the first book in his new series, The Cinder Spires. Visiting the library sometime back, I saw the book on a shelf of newly acquired novels and literally snatched it up. No way was I going to let this story pass me by! Grabbing a chair, I started reading….and reading…and reading!

The Aeronaut’s Windlass is set in the far future of Earth. Apparently, by this point Earth has been transformed into an alien jungle. Thick mists separate the land from the sky, and while light still gets through, it does not do so in the way in which we are accustomed. And in this future, normal creatures have either vanished entirely or morphed into monsters that prey on humans. As a result, humanity survives in tall, manmade skyscrapers called Spires.

The Spire at the heart of this story is Spire Albion. Several characters in the novel end up working together later on, forming the core group whose exploits will doubtless be the center of this new series. My favorite character in The Aeronaut’s Windlass, however, is Captain Francis Madison “Mad” Grimm, of the Albion privateer ship Predator.

Okay, now I have to back up a bit. Obviously, since humans live in the Spires, there are no seas for them to sail. Instead, the humans in The Cinder Spires sail through the air or, when need be, through the thick mists that shroud the Earth. The ships have a combination of steam powered and crystal powered engines. It is for this reason, seemingly, that Mr. Butcher and others call the Cinder Spires series a “steampunk” saga.

Almost everything in the Spires is run by steam engines, apparently. These engines, aboard airships, receive their power from crystals specially grown in the houses of the Spire’s nobility. Oh, and nothing in the Spires is made of exposed steel or iron. Once that metal is open to the elements, it rusts and falls apart within days. Everything is made of copper, brass, or some other metal. Anything that is made of steel or iron is covered by either of these metals so that it will not corrode.

The airships’ engines, run by the crystals I mentioned before, keep the vessels aloft by riding on the etheric currents that flow through the atmosphere. These currents flow around everyone – even in the Spires! There are, though, some people who have etheric currents flowing right through them. These people are wizards known as etherealists (all of whom are nuts as a result of constantly having etheric currents flowing through them; as usual, some of these wizards are good crazy, and others are bad crazy). You can tell Butcher is a thorough-going Star Wars fan. Etherealists use etheric currents like the Jedi or the Sith use the Force! Both the currents and the Force flow around and through people all the time, after all!

Captain Grimm is a great character. Cashiered from Spire Albion’s defense fleet for cowardice, Grimm is no coward. But the latest prize he tries to snare in his privateering business is only bait for a trap to catch him and Predator. Narrowly escaping that disaster, Grimm loses several men in the skirmish. But the worst damage is to Predator’s core crystal. It has cracked, beyond repair. Core crystals for ships are so expensive they are practically priceless. The only ships that can afford them are Fleet ships. So the chances of Grimm gaining such a crystal are…. nil, nada, and zip.

But Grimm is determined not to give up his ship. Ever since he got out into the open air, he has loved nothing else. The idea of living a Spire-bound life horrifies him, and by this point, it would probably qualify as a death sentence. He will not give up his ship. Somehow, some way, he has to get her skyworthy again.

The opportunity to get Predator in the air again presents itself when Grimm accepts a dangerous commission from the (figurehead) ruler of Spire Albion himself, Spirearch Addison Albion. Unfortunately, I have to leave the description right there readers. I have given quite a few spoilers already. If you do pick up this book, it would be good if you found a few surprises! 😉

The Aeronaut’s Windlass is an exciting adventure – a real page turner! Butcher draws his characters and the world they live in with a precise pen, wasting no words and scattering humor throughout the novel. As always, he keeps some details about this new world to himself. His readers fall in love with the characters and most of their world, while he leaves just enough unexplained, so that we readers have to say, “When is the next book released?! We want more!

Grimm is my favorite character in the whole book, as I said. Mr. Butcher described the novel as a combination of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen “meets Sherlock Homes meets Horatio Hornblower,” prior to the novel’s release. I think this is one of the reasons Captain Grimm appealed to me so much. I was introduced to Hornblower through Masterpiece Theater as a child, and I have had a special love for Mr. Hornblower, the sea, and wooden sailing ships ever since.

Grimm’s skills as a captain are spectacular. If I do not miss my guess, Spire Albion is based on 19th century England, and Grimm has at least some resemblance to her most famous privateer, Francis Drake. He also has a dash of Captain James T. Kirk in him. Star Wars fan that he is, Mr. Butcher doubtless realized (as others have), that Star Trek was more accurate in terms of how it presented space travel as the future form of seafaring. Captain Kirk was drawn accordingly, and so is Captain Grimm, whose ship also plies the skies – though not the galaxy!

Most of Grimm’s character, however, is his own. Despite his resemblance to other heroes, fictional and historical, he is a great protagonist for this new series. As a friend of mine said, “He is smart in how he handles his ship, and wise in how he handles his people.” Grimm reads and takes the measure of his enemies with the care of a scientist, never ceasing to think or wasting his assets if he can help it. He deeply cares about his crew, and remains concerned for the welfare of the young guards whom the Spirearch charges him to support and protect in the novel.

This is a truly tremendous, fascinating book, readers. And the series that follows it can only get better from here! So grab a copy of The Aeronaut’s Windlass and settle down with it as quickly as you can, if I may be so bold! It is well worth reading!

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian