Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Book Review – Imperial Stars Vol. 2: Republic and Empire

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Today’s book is an anthology created by Jerry Pournelle with John F. Carr. Published through Baen Books, the collection contains quite a few short stories, several poems, and numerous essays. Each of the above are directed at a single point: what is the difference between a republic and an empire? Which is the best form of government – that is, which provides the most room for freedom and mankind’s success? Most importantly, is tyranny confined only to an Empire, or is it a state of corruption that can ruin either type of government?

It is not hard to guess that this volume is densely packed. These are weighty questions, none of which can be defined easily or answered lightly. Although a Republic offers more freedom than an Empire, it is no less susceptible to the cancer of tyranny. And so the writers’ created stories and essays to explore what it means to be free and what it means to be a Republic…or an Empire. In keeping with the ideal of liberty, they leave the audience to make up their own minds on which of the two is ultimately better than the other.

Due to the solidity of this volume’s philosophical points, I will not be discussing the essays within the anthology. Suffice it to say they are thought-provoking, if a little pedantic and/or academic. If one wishes to skip past them to read the stories, doing so will certainly make the reading go faster. On the whole, though, I would recommend reading them – either before or after the stories they proceed/introduce.

Some of the stories do contain adult content, though. It did not bother me too much, but Younger Readers ought to keep it in mind if they decide to pick up this collection. This blogger will make a note of which stories have explicit scenes that conscientious youths may wish to avoid.

As a final notice, I did not read the last story in the compilation. This is a tale called “Shipwright,” which was written by Donald Kingsbury. Since the person who gave me the book wrote “Not a Good Story” next the title, this blogger accordingly avoided it. I also skimmed “These Shall Not Be Lost” because…well, the story just didn’t appeal to me. It felt out of place and boring, so I am afraid that this blogger cannot comment on it, either. If you want to know how these tales go, readers, you will have to find out yourselves. I cannot help you here.

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Okay, with all of that out of the way, we can get down to business. The first story in the book is “Outward Bound,” by Norman Spinrad. This is a very good piece, with no sex scenes, gore, or foul language. In this tale space travel takes years, Earth-time. A man aboard ship can be eighty years old physically, but by Earth standards he will have lived eight hundred years.

This means that good ol’ Terra has her sixty colony worlds under her heel. Because of the time lag between them, Earth is the undisputed ruler of this tiny corner of the galaxy. No matter what they do, the colonies will always be sixty, eighty, or a hundred years behind the homeworld.

For man the only freedom to be found is aboard trading ships, such as the titular Outward Bound. They can go where they wish and have no worries that Earth will yank their chain, bringing them to ground. Dealing in knowledge of scientific techniques rather than money, the Outward Bound arrives on the planet of Maxwell to trade the plans for a force field. Maxwell doesn’t have much to trade; all they have of near equal value is a fugitive scientist from Earth. And since Terra never pursues a criminal this far into space the captain of the Outward Bound, Peter Reed, knows this scientist has something they want badly. And that means whatever knowledge he has is valuable – perhaps incalculably so. Thus, after a bit of haggling, he trades the force field for Dr. Ching pen Yee.

But Dr. Yee’s knowledge isn’t just valuable, it is a game changer. It could not only alter the future of space travel and Man; it could bring down Terra’s tyrannic control of her colonies. Reed has to decide if profits will rule the day or if Man will at last own the stars.

This is an enjoyable story, and one this blogger highly recommends. I do not know what else Norman Spinrad wrote (yet), but I intend to look up his other works and take a crack at them. “Outward Bound” was that good.

After this comes a less appealing tale written by Wayne Wightman. Titled “In the Realm of the Heart, In the World of the Knife,” it shows readers a world where tyranny and corruption have won. Revolution has brought down the previous order and established a new, “perfect” administration – complete with death camps, gulags, and state-sanctioned murder of those who offend their overlords in even the slightest manner.

This is not one of my favorite stories in the anthology. I recommend reading it because it is important, but it is not a likable or inspiring tale. While there are no explicit scenes, there are reminiscences of romantic interludes. The story also describes various forms of death and dismemberment that will probably startle Younger Readers.

None of this should make them avoid the story forever, since it shows the face of evil so and makes it more easily recognizable in the real world. But they should be aware there will be some disgusting things described in brief during the course of “In the Realm of the Heart, In the World of the Knife.” It will be unpleasant, of course, but evil always is. If we want to have good, then we have to know the face of wickedness in order to fight against it and preserve what is true. “In the Realm of the Heart, In the World of the Knife” makes this point quite memorably by showing readers what is lost when tyranny wins.

“Doing Well While Doing Good” follows “In the Realm of the Heart, In the World of the Knife.” Now “Doing” is actually a fun piece. It is a bit convoluted at first, but the finale clears up most of the confusion. Hayford Pierce, the author of this tale, certainly came up with one of the most ingenious answers to the pollution question that this blogger has ever heard! 😀

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Following this is a story titled “Minor Ingredient,” by Eric Frank Russell. Now this is a good story; no gore, no romantic interludes, and no language. Warner McShane arrives at the Space Training College for officers. A pilot-navigator on track for leadership training, he is taken through the college to his dormitory.

Once there, McShane is presented with a most unwelcome accessory. This would be Billings, his batman or personal servant. Scorning the idea that he would need someone to nanny him, McShane sends Billings away. But when the officer in charge of his dorm arrives and discovers this, he demonstrates why Billings’ presence is needed: the batman knows all the etiquette for the school, down to the proper arrangement of McShane’s clothes in his dresser drawers. Without him, the young man cannot hope to succeed in following the house rules, which will undoubtedly get him tossed out of the academy.

Unhappily, McShane agrees to take Billings back. Testing the older man to see just what he can and cannot get away with, the prospective officer finds himself frustrated at every turn. Over time, however, he comes to value his batman as a great friend and mentor, realizing how much the serving man and his fellows are doing for him and the other students.

This is a really, really sweet story. I cannot recommend it enough. More than worth the purchase price, “Minor Ingredient” is the piece de resistance of this collection. If you find it in a volume of a different kind, readers, snatch it up at once. This is a tale that should be on every book shelf in the country.

Next in line is Philip K. Dick’s “The Turning Wheel.” This is an odd piece which I still do not know what to make of, since it is rather bizarre. Set in a post-apocalyptic Earth, it shows a rigid caste system that has developed since man blasted himself almost back to the Stone Age. I say almost because the Bard Caste – the highest level in the caste system – uses rusting ships, viewscreens, and robots. The technology diminishes the further down the castes one goes.

At the bottom of the caste system are the Technos – the Caucasians or “Caucs” for short. Considered stupid, boorish animals, Technos are treated as pariahs by civilized society. But some of them have begun to challenge the ruling castes’ beliefs (which are a weird mixture of Buddhism, Christianity, and science). Known as the Tinkerers, this heresy is a threat to the ruling Bards.

The Bard Sung-wu has been sent to the Detroit area to check on reports of Tinkerer activity. He is not eager for this assignment. Due to die in the near future, he is more concerned with atoning for the adultery he committed with the wife of another man in order to avoid reincarnating as a carrion fly on another world. Unable to admit that to his superior, Sung-wu accepts the assignment and leaves – only to discover that, maybe, the Tinkerers aren’t so bad after all.

As I said, this is a weird story. It’s also a bit explicit in places, and so may not be appropriate for Younger Readers in the 12-15 age range. While it is a wacky piece, the tale is not necessarily a bad one. It is certainly worth reading at least once.

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“Custom Fitting,” by James White, is next. This is a straightforward tale about a tailor who receives galactic recognition for his work. Hired by the government in secret to design clothing for a Centauriform alien, George Hewlitt is struck dumb with fury when he discovers what type of clothing the administration wants him to design. A true craftsman, he sets out to fulfill his clandestine contract – the way he believes it should be done.

This is definitely a worthy story. It is readable for anyone of any age, with no objectionable content whatsoever. A fun romp, it is more relaxing than most of its fellows in this anthology.

Following this is Vernor Vinge’s “Conquest by Default.” This is a very disturbing thought experiment about how an anarchic government could be achieved. Anarchy is, and will always remain, an impractical form of governance in reality. You cannot have everyone running around doing their own things and still maintain a unified, ordered front.

Of course, that is not the point of this story. “Conquest by Default” is science fiction and thus it suspends this rule of reality to make a point about what anarchy would do to a society if it could be made into a workable frame for governance. A sad tale with an enormously important message, it has some objectionable content and may not be good for youths to jump into at once.

I did not like “The Skills of Xanadu,” by Theodore Sturgeon, very much on the first read through. The second reading left no better impression than the initial one. Young Bril of Kit Carson arrives on the world of Xanadu to exploit its people and technology. Although human, the Xanadu people appear childishly simplistic. They wear strange belts that produce a filmy energy outfit that hardly covers them and live in idyllic innocence.

But for a people that should be easy to conquer, Bril finds them almost impossible to outmaneuver. Whatever attempt he makes to learn the secret of their magnificent belts and skills is solidly stonewalled. It is like dealing with gullible, indolent children who have somehow crafted fantastic powers of the mind and technology one hardly notices.

For me, this story did not work. It is hard to say just why without giving anything away. Suffice it to say that the resolution feels too…effortless for this blogger to accept it. Although the message of the story is an admirable one, it is highly unrealistic, moreso than that found in “Conquest by Default.” Perfection is not possible in this life, and every time a story resorts to this trope, it bothers me because it is so implausible.

So, while “The Skills of Xanadu” is worth reading, it may not be particularly satisfying. You will have to make your own decision about it, readers, if you wish to read it. Young Readers may find some content a bit disconcerting, but there is not one explicit scene in the story.

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Jerry Pournelle

The same cannot be said of the final piece in the collection that this blogger can review. “Into the Sunset,” by D.C. Poyer, has a couple of romantic interludes. Something of a reverse 1984, the story has a good point despite these scenes and some other irritating tropes. I definitely recommend reading it, since one does not have to like the lead character or some of his actions to appreciate the story.

Admittedly, I cut the lead character a lot of slack because it is really nice to have a tale that shows a Party losing. One of the most depressing things about George Orwell’s 1984 is that it ends in despair. “Into the Sunset” does not have a happy ending for the protagonist, but it certainly is not as discouraging as 1984 was. I will take what I can get.

Whew! This author is wiped, readers. Hopefully she will be back again next week with something new. I am not sure what this will be just yet, but it will certainly not be another anthology. I am taking a break from those! 😀

‘Til next time!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Sole Survivor by Dean Koontz

Sole Survivor by Dean R. Koontz - Reviews, Description ...

Here we are, readers, reviewing yet another Dean Koontz novel. Unlike Innocence, I was able to finish reading one, so you know it’s a good story. 😉 Originally published in 1997, Sole Survivor is still current. Yeesh, it is scary how much art is mirroring real life….  Brrr! But if you wanted to know more details about that, you would be watching the news. Since you are here, you want to know what to expect when you pick up Sole Survivor. Therefore, let us begin the description process….now:

The hero of this book is one Joe Carpenter. Thirty-seven years old, Joe used to be a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Post. Then, a year ago, his wife and daughters died in a plane crash on their way back from a trip to the east coast.

The grief and anger he feels over his loss led Joe to quit the Post and alienate most of his friends during the course of the past year. He can’t look at a crime scene without seeing his wife and daughters’ bodies rather than the real victims’; he can’t go a day without suffering panic attacks. During these episodes he imagines dying with his beloved family, feeling racked by guilt that he could not die with them, leaving him the sole survivor of the Carpenter clan.

Nevertheless, Joe has not taken the ultimate step to utter despair. He is desolate, certainly, but he hasn’t committed suicide yet. Mostly, this is due to the fact that he is not sure there is a life beyond this one. If he gets there and finds nothing but an empty void, he will still miss his wife and daughters. And if there is life after death, which he seriously doubts, then murdering himself will guarantee he never sees his family again.

All of this means that Joe is in a rut. He sold his and his family’s house and now lives in an apartment, waiting for the day he can wake up dead. He can’t drink or dope himself to death because doing so would eventually erase his memories. Since those are precious to him, he doesn’t overdo the beers. But he hasn’t been taking care of himself, either.

This morning, on the anniversary of the crash, he calls his mother-in-law. She’s the only one with whom he feels capable of discussing his grief and despair. She asks after his health and suggests he go back to writing, but he deflects her probing questions, convincing her to describe the sunrise at her Virginia home. Her voice has the same southern lilt that his wife’s did, and so he likes hearing her talk. Joe also wants to make sure she and his father-in-law are doing all right, since they’re still grieving, too.

Sole Survivor - Audiobook by Dean Koontz, read by Ryan Burke

Later on Joe goes to the beach. He’s hoping to lull himself into a mood where he can visit his wife and daughters’ graves later in the day without falling apart or getting violently angry. While he is there, drinking and watching the waves, a couple of young boys sidle up and ask if he is selling something. Joe tells them no, and they say that someone must think he is, because there are a couple of “cops” keeping tabs on him from further down the beach. Thanking the boys, who walk away, Joe soon gets curious and turns to spot the men they identified.

Neither man looks to be the regular variety of cop. They’re definitely interested in him, but Joe can’t guess why they should be. He dismisses them from his mind until he goes to the men’s room. Worried about being jumped, he pays a fourteen year old boy to scope out the territory for the two men. Coming back, the boy tells him he spotted one of the two men staring at a couple of bikini-clad women, one of whom is apparently deaf.

“Deaf?” Joe asks. The boy elaborates and states she kept pulling out and putting in a “hearing aid” in one ear. Paying the boy the rest of his promised money, Joe leaves the restroom and goes back to his place on the beach. Two young women set up next to him and, since he is wearing sunglasses, Joe can keep an eye on them without giving his suspicion away. They are watching him – and not the way young women usually watch men at the beach.

Using up the last of his beer, Joe decides these cops have picked him out of the crowd by mistake and ignores them. He packs up and heads to the cemetery. When he gets there, however, he finds a woman photographing the headstones of his wife and daughters’ graves. She tells him she is not ready to talk to him yet, then asks how he is coping with his loss. It doesn’t take a great detective to see he is in bad shape, mind you; she just needs a conversational topic.

Sole Survivor: Amazon.co.uk: Dean Koontz: 9780747254348: Books

Before their graveside chat can go any deeper, the two are interrupted by a screeching engine. Joe looks up to see a vehicle approaching the cemetery. It stops and the two men who were observing him at the beach jump out. Immediately, the woman takes off, and she is so fast that Joe can’t keep up with her in his poor condition.

His two shadows chase after the strange woman. Doubling back to their vehicle, Joe discovers a third man inside. Taking the brute by surprise, Joe subdues him before studying the interior of the van. Abandoning it, he races off before the thug can grab him. He gets shot at, but loses his pursuers, only to find he has picked up a helicopter instead. Discovering a tacking device on his car, Joe slaps it on a passing dump truck and goes to get some answers.

In the process, he learns there is a reason to keep living. Someone survived the plane crash that killed his family, which should be impossible. But apparently it isn’t and, on the off chance that the woman he met at the graveside can help him locate the survivor, Joe begins chasing after her. As he does he learns by inches why he was allowed to survive his family’s demise.

I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you, readers. In spite of the protagonist’s depair-induced whining about the world toward the beginning of the novel, this is a riveting book. Joe eventually gets whacked on the head enough times that he straightens up and flies right, naturally. Koontz doesn’t hold with wimps or whiners, though he occasionally writes about them. Sole Survivor is no different than the rest of his works in that respect.

A good read with a good ending, Sole Survivor is as timely today as when it was written. But you don’t need to take my word for it, readers. Pick up the novel at your earliest opportunity and discover how good a book this is yourselves!

‘Til next time!

Sole Survivor « Dean Koontz

Book Review: Year of the Unicorn by Andre Norton

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Welcome back to the Witch World, readers! This book – Year of the Unicorn – takes place in the Dales of High Hallack, the western continent of the Witch World. We are in uncharted, amazing territory here. Let’s dive in!

The long war between the Dalesmen and the Hounds of Alizon is finally over. The uniting of the Dale Lords, coupled with the loss of their support from the alien Kolder, weakened the Hounds’ ability to fight the Dalesmen, to be sure. But even this was not enough to secure the victory of High Hallack over the invaders. No, only one thing tipped the balance in their favor toward the end of the war. That was the appearance of the Were Riders on the side of the Dalesmen.

You are probably wondering who or what the Were Riders are, aren’t you? Bespelled by an Adept in the hidden realm of Arvon, which is sealed off from the rest of High Hallack, the Were Riders are men who can turn into animals. They have other magic as well, of course, but the Dalesmen know them best for their ability to assume the forms of beasts and birds.

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There are roughly thirty members of the Were Rider “Pack,” as they call themselves. And they agreed to enter the war on the side of the Dalesmen on one condition: after the war was over, the Dale Lords would provide the Riders with thirteen maids of marriageable age. They were to be comely and without illness or some other blemish, and they were to become the brides of thirteen of the Riders. The Pack was exiled from hidden Arvon to the rest of High Hallack; they did not come here willingly, they were banished.

But their time of exile is nearly ended. Once it is done they will either be allowed to reenter Arvon – or they will be stuck in High Hallack for the rest of their lives. If that last occurs, they do not want their people, such as they are (all the Riders are male), to disappear. The only way to preserve themselves as a race is to marry.

At the Abbey of the Flame in Norsdale, Gillan helps the Dames at their daily tasks. Taken by the Hounds from a land across the sea, she remembers nothing of her real home or people. Gillan only remembers scraps of the sea voyage and being rescued by Dalesmen raiding her captors’ ship when it arrived in port.

The Lord Furlo led the raid which rescued Gillan and so his wife, Lady Freeza, kept her as a fosterling. They retreated to the Abbey when he was killed and their Dale taken by the enemy. The strain of both losses, however, was too much for Lady Freeza and she died, leaving Gillan in the care of the Dames.

While grateful for the Dames’ protection over the years, Gillan has begun to feel trapped in the Abbey. Her chance to escape comes when the selected brides for the Were Riders stop by to take advantage of the Dames’ hospitality – and to pick up a couple of brides to fill the quota along the way.

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One of these prospective maids, a girl named Marimme, goes off into hysterics when she learns what her guardian has in mind for her. Seizing her chance both to help the poor creature and to escape the Abbey, Gillan knocks the girl out and takes her place, joining the other twelve brides on their journey to meet the Were Riders. By the time her deception is discovered it is too late to send her back, and so Gillan goes with the other young women to meet her future husband.

The Rider she chooses is Herrel. Herrel is not a full Were Rider; he is not as powerful as the rest of the Pack. And Gillan did not choose him because she was bedazzled by the marriage spell he and the other Riders used to call their new wives to them; somehow, she could see past the illusion. Nevertheless, she chose Herrel as her husband.

Herrel soon puts two and two together, realizing in the process that Gillan is not like the other girls or even of High Hallack. But because he is not as powerful as his fellow Riders, he cannot protect her from anything they try to do to her if they discover her power. So he asks Gillan to pretend the illusion the Pack keeps up for the benefit of the other brides is real, in order to protect them both from trouble.

If you think she says no, you would be wrong. If you think Herrel’s hope to keep Gillan’s ability secret gets exposed, you would be closer to the mark, readers. Year of the Unicorn is one of the best novels Miss Norton ever wrote; after the Falconers, I think I love the Were Riders best out of all her fictional races. They are just as cool and mysterious as the men of the Eyrie who, despite their practices, have always intrigued me.

In one of her essays, Miss Norton said that Year of the Unicorn is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I leave you, readers, to discover how they are alike. No more spoilers here; go out and get the book yourselves. You won’t regret it!

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Book Review: The Good Guy by Dean Koontz

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I have stated that I am not a fan of horror novels/films/fill-in-the-blank. That still stands. Do I believe in ghosts, monsters, demons, and evil? Oh, yes, I do. That is part of the reason why I do not like horror stories. Too many people think these things are not real, and therefore they take them lightly. But these things are all very real, so I do not have a blasé attitude when I consider them.

Evil is real, and Koontz makes sure to tell his readers this time and again throughout his novels. The Good Guy is no exception; it opens with Tim Carrier – a bachelor, mason, bricklayer, and former United States Marine – sitting down to have a beer.

Since his return to the states, Tim’s kept himself off the radar. He is a self-employed mason in California who shows up, does his job well, and says very little about himself. He likes to end his days with a drink or two at his friend’s bar, the Lamplighter Tavern.

On this particular night, though, he does not go unnoticed. A nervous, twitchy little man enters the establishment after Tim has exchanged the usual pleasantries with his friend. For the first few minutes, he thinks the newcomer’s just jumpy, so he tries to strike up an interesting conversation with the guy.

Then the man slides a thick manila envelope over to him with the words, “Half of it’s there. Ten thousand. The rest when she’s gone.”

At first, Tim is too surprised to explain that there has been a mistake. Before he can get his mouth to start working, though, the little man has bolted out the door. Looking at the manila envelope for a while, Tim then opens it and checks out the contents.

Inside are ten thousand dollars in cash and a photo of a pretty woman about Tim’s own age. Printed on the photo is the woman’s name – Linda Paquette – along with her address.

He puts the photo and the money back in the envelope before sliding it as far from him as he can. No sooner has Tim put this slimy offering away, however, than a man – who could be his dopplegänger – enters the bar. He takes the uneasy man’s seat, orders a beer, and picks up the envelope.

What would you do here, readers? Call the cops? Try to tell the man the job’s off? Tim tries the second course, but it does not work. As for the first, Tim considers it until he sees the killer put a police light on the top of his car. This hired murderer might be disguising himself as a cop, but having seen his eyes, heard him talk, our Good Guy doubts that very much. Going to the police will therefore get Linda – and very probably Tim – murdered a whole lot faster.

Now, readers, in this situation, what would you do? Help Linda, or walk away and forget the entire scene had ever occurred?

Dean Koontz lets Mr. Carrier make the choice. And Tim chooses to go help Linda.

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The Good Guy is a great read. It will scare the pants off of you, and it will break your heart. It will crack the veneer of normalcy the academics and journalists have laid over our world to show you the writhing, seething things that hide in the darkness so prevalent in the world where we live. If you pay attention, you will learn many things about evil, faith, hope, love, and courage while reading this book.

Koontz has often referenced Flannery O’Connor, one of his favorite authors, in his novels. Flannery O’Connor once said that her aim in the stories she wrote was to “shout loud enough for the atheists” to hear the truth she had to tell them.

Mr. Koontz is aiming in the same general direction, but it is not just the atheists and unbelievers he wants to awaken. It is the rest of us who go about the world with our hands over our ears, eyes, and mouth in the hopes of avoiding the face of evil. Evil is real. It is very, very real, and the only thing that allows it to win is if good men and women – good guys and girls – let it.

That is Mr. Koontz’s message in all his fiction, something new readers of his works ought to be aware of. The Good Guy is one of the stories where he shouts the loudest.

Discover The Good Guy, by Dean Koontz, at your earliest opportunity, readers. It is worth your time and money.

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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 – Star Trek: Traitor Winds by L. A. Graf

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Well, we have been to the Witch World, Newfoundland, and a toy castle from England. Let’s see what is going on in the United Federation of Planets, shall we?

I gave this book as a gift to a friend, so I do not have a copy of it with me as a reference. Please forgive me if I mess up some of the details, readers. 😉 The novel, written by the ladies who use the pen name L. A. Graf – “Let’s All Get Rich And Famous!” – takes place in the interim between the end of the original series and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Kirk has become an Admiral some time before this book starts; McCoy is enjoying being a crotchety, grounded Earth doctor; Spock is away on Vulcan, and Scotty is aboard the Enterprise, which has been docked in orbit for a refit.

Meanwhile, Sulu is working as a test pilot for a new shuttle with a cloaking shield in White Sands, Arizona. The project is top secret, but he has told his best friends – Uhura and Chekov – all about it anyway. After all, if they cannot keep a secret, who can? At the same time, Uhura is teaching a communications class at Starfleet Academy and Chekov is going to the Security Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Of the three Chekov has, as usual, gotten the short end of the stick. He wants to be a Security Officer so he can gain the experience he needs to enter the Officers’ Academy which Kirk attended. Kirk was admitted to this school at a young age because he was a special case. Chekov is special, too, of course, but the guys in charge have deemed him too immature to enter the school at this time.

This has stung his pride so badly that he has decided Security is the only place to gain maturity. Unfortunately for Chekov, one of his classmates absolutely hates him. This man’s name is Leong, and he has been in Security for quite some time. He thinks all Starfleet officers are flash and splash; that they do not have the mettle to take on real threats. Because Chekov is not as graceful or fast as he is, Leong can outmaneuver and whip him easily in practice fights. There is nothing wrong with Chekov, who has faced worse opponents in deep space and lived to tell the tale. It is simply that he cannot keep up with Leong when it comes to speed.

Chekov does not see it that way, though, probably due to a combination of the Officers’ Academy’s vitriolic rejection letter and his natural Russian pessimism. He rarely has any fun at the Security Academy, and he has almost no friends there. The only bright points in the whole mess are the occasional dinners he has with Uhura and Sulu when they leave their much nicer jobs out west to visit him on the weekends. Then they all get to sit down, reminisce, and relax at a nice diner, restaurant, or café somewhere in Annapolis.

The latest dinner includes McCoy and Dr. Piper, the physician for the Enterprise before Kirk took command. The dinner is merrier than ever, and Chekov gets an offer from Dr. Piper he cannot refuse. Dr. Piper is working on finding a way to treat injuries caused by Klingon disruptors. The problem is, no one at Johns Hopkins University knows how to fire the one disruptor they have. Starfleet officers who have faced Klingons in combat are not exactly lining up at the door to shoot it, either.

Knowing how bad a disruptor injury can be, Chekov jumps at the chance to help. It is only later that Piper confides in Chekov the real reason he wanted to hire the ensign: he thinks a traitor in Starfleet is trying to steal the disruptor. Afraid to trust anyone at the University, since those attached to the project might be compromised, he hired Chekov because he served under Kirk aboard the Enterprise. If Kirk trusts him, that’s good enough for Piper.

Unfortunately, as Chekov learns too late, Piper is right about those attached to the disruptor project being compromised. Unable to get to Dr. Piper in time to save him and, robbed of the recordings proving what actually happened, Chekov ends up on the run from the authorities after he is accused of killing Dr. Piper. Though Uhura and Sulu know this is not true, Starfleet’s top helmsman soon has other things to worry about. The plans for his stealth shuttle have been copied and stolen, and the Navajo engineer helping him to test the shuttle has gone missing.

The engineer is blamed for the theft, naturally, but Sulu finds this hard to believe. His faith in his friend is rewarded when he is testing the shuttle some days later. During the test flight Sulu finds a message from the engineer embedded in the shuttle’s systems. Through the message, the engineer warns him that someone in Starfleet has turned traitor and stolen the plans in such a way that either the engineer or Sulu would take the blame. To take the heat off of Sulu, the engineer ran off and hid in a place only the Navajo can find.

He left the message because he wants Sulu to know someone is out to get him. And Sulu has a feeling he is not the only target. The theft of the plans, the disappearance of the disruptor, and now Chekov’s supposed murder of Dr. Piper have happened too close together to be coincidence. They were both senior officers aboard the Enterprise, so whoever the traitor is, Sulu can only assume that he is trying to black Admiral Kirk’s name by framing him and Chekov for treason.

Star Trek: Traitor Winds is a good standalone Trek novel. It rotates through the POVs of Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Kirk. Spock is the only member of the Enterprise Seven absent from the story, while Christine Chapel and Janet Rand get guest appearances. As a high stakes race to the finish, Traitor Winds is one of the best. Engage that warp drive of yours, readers, and search this novel out. It is worth the read!

Book Review: Forerunner Foray by Andre Norton

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And we are back in one of Andre Norton’s amazing stories, readers! Today’s title is one of her space novels, Forerunner Foray. This story focuses on a girl with the talent of psychometry.   For those of you who do not know, psychometry is the ability of someone with extrasensory abilities to see the history of any object they touch. The “sniffers” in the film Push are psychometrics. They touch an object, handle it, and can tell who used it before they picked it up. There are other characters in other stories that can do the same thing. Jedi Knight Quinlan Vos, for example, was a psychometric. This was not through any special skill of his in the Force but due to an inherent ability in his humanoid species.

Parapsychology and telepathy are standbys of Andre Norton novels, which you probably know by now, readers. Forerunner Foray is set in the far future, on a world called Korwar. A pleasure world, the wealthy come here to play, while the poor live in a place amid the splendor called the Dipple.

The Dipple began life as a “temporary” refuge for people fleeing some sort of war – or series of wars – in the galaxy. Gradually it turned into a permanent camp of poor people. It is a little like the Undercity on Taris in the Knights of the Old Republic game. If you are sent down there, you stay there, unless you are only visiting. No one born in the Dipple ever gets out on their own, either.

Ziantha was lucky. Her telepathic talent and psychometric ability attracted the attention of one of the highest members of the Thieves’ Guild: Yasa, a feline/humanoid Salarika. Yasa plucked Ziantha out of the Dipple and had her taught everything she needed to know to become a skilled thief. Because of this and the oath Ziantha took to become part of the Guild, Yasa as good as owns her.

At first, though, Ziantha does not really seem to mind this. Especially as she goes on her first major “foray” into the apartments of a member of the Guild who was kicked off-world. Yasa wants some information from the data cubes this guy keeps in his treasure rooms. What is the safest way to get the information without his knowledge? Psychometric readings.

So Ziantha is sent to retrieve the information on these cubes. She gets in safely, finds the cubes, “downloads”’ the information from them into her mind, and heads out…

Only to stop by a table filled with, presumably, other valuable artifacts. I say presumably because the one which has caught Ziantha’s mental eye is a nondescript lump of clay or stone. Whatever this thing is, it is dragging her attention toward it.

Ziantha reaches out to touch it, then snatches her hand back. These apartments and rooms are the property of a head honcho in the Thieves’ Guild. Just because the government caught him in illegal dealings and kicked him off of Korwar does not mean the booby traps littering his residence have been deactivated. If she so much as touches that object, she could set off an alarm.

And so Ziantha does not pick the object up as she desires. She instead escapes back to Yasa’s villa and delivers the information safely. The mission is so successful that Yasa promises Ziantha whatever she wants as a reward. While considering this in her rooms, Ziantha realizes that what she really wants is that lump of clay.

So she goes back to get it – and the adventure begins.

Forerunner Foray is a complicated story. You have to follow Ziantha carefully or you will get lost as her adventures take her out of herself and, perhaps, even out of time. During the course of her adventures, she learns what she is really made of – and what it means to be free.

That’s all you will be getting out of me, people! If you want to know more, then you will have to go on your own “foray” to find a copy of this novel to peruse at your leisure. This is as far as I am taking you. Happy hunting!