Tag Archives: Star Trek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Oral History of Star Trek | pufflesandhoneyadventures

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

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

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

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

Book Review: The Vulcan Academy Murders by Jean Lorrah

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Guess who’s back…. (Cue the eerie music.)

Yep, your humble blogging host is once again at work providing you with entertainment, readers! August was a busy month, so forgive me if I seem a little out of practice here. It should clear up once I get rolling.…. 🙂

All right, today’s focus is The Vulcan Academy Murders, by Jean Lorrah. Before I describe this story, I have to tell you that one of the things readers of Star Trek fiction should keep in mind is that most of it is non-canon. Part of this is due to the fact that those who write novels for ST can never seem to get on board with each other to figure out where they can slip their stories into the official timeline. Some write stories set in the exact same time periods; others create stories set in wildly different decades or eras. It can be a little confusing to the uninitiated at first, and it can be irritating to the more experienced readers as time goes on. (I speak from experience. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing in these fictional quarters!)

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The other reason is that, unlike Star Wars, Star Trek’s timeline is rather skeletal. Chronologically, you have Star Trek: Enterprise, followed by the original series, followed by the original films I-VI, followed by The Next Generation. Then they’re all capped off with Star Trek: Voyager – or they were, last I checked. So while there’s a lot of room for stuff to happen in between these different stories, since no one has bothered to define the cut off limits or to explain how many years have elapsed, authors who are Star Trek fans just shoot darts at the timeline trying to hit it. L. A. Graf generally sticks the landing, as mentioned in this review here, but others tend to throw wide of the mark.

Jean Lorrah is one of these authors. While she is clearly a passionate Trek fan who greatly admires the Vulcans, her grasp of the timeline appears to be a bit… vague. At the very least, she didn’t give readers much of a hint as to when her story was set; all I can say for sure is that it takes place before we see Doctor M’Benga aboard the Enterprise. Her writing style also left something to be desired. Don’t get me wrong – she doesn’t write badly. But she could definitely have been clearer in her descriptions.

Okay, now we can discuss the story. The Vulcan Academy Murders starts out with the Enterprise battling a Klingon warship, which does not survive the fight. But before it is destroyed, it does inflict some serious damage on Kirk’s vessel, specifically the Auxiliary Control for the photon torpedoes. The two officers on duty there – Pavel Chekov and Carl Remington – manage to fire the kill shots before succumbing to a gas leak caused by a lucky hit from the Klingons.

Chekov is fortunate in that he comes through the battle ill but intact. Remington, on the other hand, is in serious trouble. Though McCoy manages to save his life, the boy’s voluntary nervous system is completely paralyzed. He can’t move – not even to open his eyes. McCoy fears that, even if Remington pulls through this initial battle, he may remain paralyzed and in bed for the rest of his life.

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Spock’s mother, Amanda

With no other way to confirm his mental health, Spock performs a mindmeld to see if Remington is still self-aware. Confirming that the boy is indeed conscious and able to reason, he explains that there might be a viable treatment which will save Remington’s life and sanity. Spock’s own mother is undergoing the same experimental cure on Vulcan; as it turns out, she was suffering from a degenerative disease that occurs in humans when they have lived in alien environments for long periods of time.

Up until now, there has been no means of curing the disease. But a human doctor on Vulcan who had this illness developed a treatment for himself that saved his life. It’s working on Amanda now, and it should be able to cure Remington, too. Since Enterprise is in need of repair, Spock invites Kirk and McCoy to come to Vulcan with him and Remington for “shore leave.”

Once there, they learn that a Vulcan woman is undergoing the same treatment after an regrettable accident with some machinery. Leaving all three patients in their force-field encapsulated regenerative tanks, Spock, Kirk, McCoy, Sarek, and the two doctors in charge of the project go out to dinner. One of these doctors is the human who invented the cure, Dr. Daniel Corrigan. The other is his Vulcan partner and friend, Sorel.

Dinner is a fine affair, but just as they’re about to pay the bill and head home, Sorel stiffens and clutches his chest. He can sense that his wife, T’Zan, is in danger of death. Rushing back to the Vulcan Academy, despite their best efforts the guys are not able to save Sorel’s wife. She dies in the medical room.

Though Corrigan immediately blames himself for this, Kirk openly suspects foul play. Over the next few days, he begins investigating the matter, believing that someone wants to sabotage the cure. When Remington dies as well and a fire is set in the Academy, Kirk’s suspicion that a murderer is loose becomes the only logical explaination for the cascading disasters….

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…And that’s all the spoilers you’re going to get, folks! 😉 My lips are now sealed – though I will add that, when researching this book to see if it was something I would enjoy, one of the reviews I read was written by a woman who said she had figured out the villain by page fifty. This blogger was hoping to beat that record when she started reading, and she did. I fingered the killer on page 49 and, despite a period of doubt, was proved right by the end. Haha! 😉

While I liked The Vulcan Academy Murders, as I said above, I did have a few problems with it. The writing style isn’t my favorite, and though it became tolerable after awhile, it still grated on my nerves from time to time. I must say that the method by which the author described Vulcan telepathy and how they form romantic, psychic connections was done well. It was entirely plausible and believable.

But I really didn’t like the way she handled Kirk. In some scenes he was fine, but in others Lorrah seemed to be actively dumbing him down. That was annoying; I like Kirk. He’s the best of Star Trek’s captains, and anyone who disrespects him in a major way (such as by poor writing) gets on my bad side. So long as he is portrayed well by an actor or a writer, I’m happy. But if the writers make him less than he is, as Lorrah did on a couple of occasions here, that leads me to give the book an automatic demerit.

Despite these objections, The Vulcan Academy Murders is a good story. If ST fiction isn’t your thing, or if my minor problems with this tale have convinced you that you would not enjoy the story, then you will probably want to avoid the book. But if you like Star Trek, a good mystery, and want to see Kirk look somewhat stupid, then this book might appeal to you.

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

Spotlight: Thundercats – Panthro

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Last year I did a post on one of my favorite television series, Thundercats. A fantasy/sci-fi series for children, Thundercats revolved around a handful of humanoid cats, some of the last survivors of their race. It had magic, science fiction (sort of), and cats. For me, it was irresistable.

One of the seven Thundercats in the series was Panthro, voiced in the ‘80s by the late Earle Hyman. The strongest of the Cats, he was almost unbeatable in hand-to-hand combat. Based on the panther, he had blue skin, was bald, and had ears that immediately put me in mind of a Star Trek Vulcan.

He quickly dispelled whatever illusions I might have had about his sharing the Vulcans’ stoic refusal to show emotion, however. Panthro was one of the most cheerful characters I have ever “met.” He loved to laugh, which I found contagious when I began watching the show. He was a happy warrior; in battle he liked to taunt his enemies, a wide smile on his face. In the first episode he jumped into a formation of Jackalmen, one of whom tried to hit him in the back with a mace.

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Quick as a cat, Panthro turned and caught the weapon’s head, chuckling as he did. “If you were as mean as you are ugly,” he said, “then maybe you’d be trouble!” After this, he promptly crushed the mace and started throwing punches.

The writers for the original Thundercats series stated that Panthro’s character was “based on strength.” This is why he was, physically, the strongest Thundercat in the series. But his might did not show just in his feats of physical power or fighting prowess. It showed in his hearty, barrel-chested laugh and firm commitment to his fellow Thundercats, along with his adherence to the moral Code of his home world, Thundera.

Panthro could be serious and he could be frightened. He could also be angered. But none of these emotions ever made him lose his head. He was strong enough to admit, at least to himself, that he was afraid or angry, and then focus on the task at hand.

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Panthro’s Nunchuck

Of all the Thundercats, Panthro was probably the best fighter, not only with his bare fists but with his signature weapon. This was a nunchuk with a red and blue baton attached at each end. A technological genius, Panthro hid different tricks in both batons that he could activate in certain situations.

His spiked suspenders could also be used offensively, though Panthro did not often activate them as weapons. The spikes could be fired from the suspenders so that they would plunge into a rock wall or some other surface. This would anchor Panthro and halt any tumbles he took, preventing him from falling splat to his doom. It was possible, too, for him to fire these spikes out and have them windmill around his torso, forcing opponents to back off fast.

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The weapon he loved most, though, was his Thundertank. Remember when I said Panthro was a tech genius? After the Thundercats crashed on Third Earth, he salvaged the machinery he could from their wrecked ship and put together the Thundertank. Though he later built other vehicles for the Thundercats, along with most of the machines in Cat’s Lair, the Thundertank was Panthro’s “baby.” Even Lion-O was not allowed to use it without his permission; the one time he did, he almost crashed it.

While he was not my favorite character in the series, I have to say, I loved Panthro a lot. In the 2011 series….I had a few issues with the way the writers re-presented him to modern audiences.

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Panthro 2011

Voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson – an actor whose talent I greatly respect – the writers made the 2011 series’ Panthro a bigger, brawnier, and taller Cat than he had been previously. I think I could have accepted this change, but the fact that they also made him broody and angry upset me a great deal. Gone was the laughing warrior with the wit that cut like ice and the quicksilver smile. In his place stood a glowering sourpuss (pun intended), who was occasionally used for comic relief and made to look the fool.

By this I mean that Panthro had one crippling fear in the original series. It was never explained, but it really did not need to be. Some people are afraid of things for no conceivable reason; you ask them why this or that frightens them, and all they can say is it does.

What could scare the strongest Thundercat, you ask? Bats.

Yes, bats were Panthro’s biggest terror in the original show. He knew fear from other sources, of course, but he could and did master those fears. Bats were the one thing he could not get over. And that was okay; like I said, some people have irrational fears they cannot conquer no matter how hard they try. This one chink in Panthro’s armor did not lessen his strength. It just made him human. (Yes, I know he is technically a humanoid cat, not an actual human. It’s called poetic license. Live with it.)

For the 2011 series, the writers made Panthro afraid of heights. They also made him unable to swim. Previously, every member of the Thundercats could swim. They may not have enjoyed it all the time or to the same degree, but they all knew how to swim. Taking that away from Panthro, making him afraid of water and heights – it made him seem like a big baby who was frightened of anything he could not hit or blow up.

That was and remains a wrong choice on the part of the new show’s writers, since it directly interfered with Panthro’s role in the story. Instead of being the strongest Cat in mind and body, Panthro was reduced to being merely strong on a physical plane. The new show’s writers cut out his real heart and put a mechanism in its place, which upset me quite a bit.

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Another change I found less than pleasant was the scar they put over one of his eyes. Then the new show’s writers cut his arms off above the elbows. That was the last straw. Bad enough they disrespected his strength, to go so far as to make him a double amputee in need of mechanical arms was a bridge too far.

Laughing warriors are in short supply in current fiction, readers, as proved by the 2011 writers’ mistreatment of Panthro. Strong heroes are also going out of style. Nowadays a laughing warrior is portrayed as a bloodthirsty psychopath, while strength usually equals stupidity. Both these depictions are harmful stereotypes which must be abandoned if fiction is to continue to be a vehicle for truth.

Panthro is not the only strong, laughing warrior in literature, of course, but he was one of the best. New writers could learn a great deal about making tough, hearty heroes by studying him. And I mean studying him for love of their craft, not for love of money. We saw the results of the latter in 2011; the finished 1980s product is far superior to the one the new writers handed us.

So if you are a fiction writer, and you want to know more about Panthro, I recommend you look up the original series. The 2011 show did not do him justice; neither did the comics, in large part. And please remember that a happy warrior is not a psychopath or a maniac who likes killing, destroying, or maiming.

A happy warrior looks and acts like Panthro. So does a strong hero. We need more of both.

Thundercats – HO!

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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!

Spotlight: Transformers – Hot Shot

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Transformers: Armada Hot Shot

It is not always easy to describe a character, readers, especially one you enjoy watching. I imagine there are plenty of real people whom we like that we also have difficulty describing. We cannot even describe ourselves accurately, since we hardly know ourselves! Now, describing a character that was featured in three different TV series – readers, that is a tall order. But it is an order that I am going to try to fill in this post about one of my favorite Autobots: Hot Shot.

Hot Shot is a young Autobot rookie in the series Transformers: Armada, a seasoned warrior in Transformers: Energon, and a cocky professional in Transformers: Cybertron. I never saw the original Japanese Transformers: Robots in Disguise all the way through, so I did not “meet” the version of Hot Shot in that series in any meaningful way. Therefore he is not part of today’s discussion.

The four series I described above were written and animated in Japan before they came to the U.S. by way of Canada, where they were translated into English. Armada was the series where I first “met” Hot Shot, whom I liked at once. He was more relatable to me than Red Alert, whose focus, calm, and mostly unemotional demeanor in that series always put me in mind of a Star Trek Vulcan. Optimus, as I stated in the Spotlight! post describing his character, reminded me more of a father-figure than anything else. He was approachable, but you usually went to him when you had a problem or needed something explained.

Hot Shot was still young enough, as I was at the time, to enjoy a good game of tag with the Autobots’ human friends. He was young enough to mouth off at the bad guys, to take insults personally, and to make stunningly stupid mistakes. He also had heart, a determination to defeat the Decepticons, and an easy, endearing manner. I liked him right from the start, and I kept on liking him during Armada’s run.

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Left to right: Energon Inferno, Optimus Prime, and Hot Shot

Admittedly, my favoritism toward the character cooled during the second series: Energon. Hot Shot was an experienced ‘Bot by then, with a more serious and focused deportment than I was accustomed to seeing in him. He still retained his sense of humor and a degree of cockiness, not to mention that loyal spark. But the light-hearted elements of his character and the easy manner were missing. I was rather disappointed that my favorite Autobot had lost his friendlier characteristics in the span of time between Armada and Energon.

But what he lost in Energon, Hot Shot got a double dose of in Cybertron. In that series, he was as cocky and jovial as ever. He also possessed the same act-first-think-later attitude which had caused him so much pain in Armada. But in Cybertron there was a more professional temper to it. This time, instead of charging off like a little kid, he behaved more like a teenager on the very cusp of adulthood. He was a professional warrior who knew his business on the field of battle. So what if he threw in some flair while he did his job? It got done, right? And if it kept the ‘Con down longer, or softened him up more than the traditional attack would have, all the better. When he acted before thinking, it was usually because he was doing the right thing that needed to be done, even if it would get him in trouble with Optimus later on.

I think, though, that one of the things about his performance in Cybertron which REALLY got my attention was the lack of angst. Hot Shot still had his dour, “I’m the worst thing that ever happened to the team,” moments but they did not last nearly as long in Cybertron as they had in Armada. Hot Shot needed fewer wake up calls in Cybertron, both on the angst and the cocky fronts. If he got knocked down, he learned he could get right back up again if he had the determination to do so. Once he learned that, he was literally off to the races.

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Transformers: Cybertron Hot Shot

This also afforded Hot Shot a better teenager-to-adult story arc. Less angst and more determination to keep going no matter what meant that, when Megatron almost killed him and two friends in a battle, Hot Shot remained the only one stubbornly determined to get back up and rejoin the fight. His compatriots gave up at the knowledge of the amount of damage they had sustained, sure that they were going to die.

Only Hot Shot remained firm, saying the damage was “no biggie” and he would get up once the proper repairs were made. His determination and that of the human kids the Autobots had partnered with inspired Red Alert and Scattershot to fight through their injuries as well, which allowed the three of them to acquire enormous upgrades shortly thereafter. This meant that Hot Shot abandoned his favorite race car mode to become a large tank.

Though not as aerodynamic or as fast as his previous alternate mode, Hot Shot’s decision to become a tank was a sign that he had grown up. He was still cocky, still funny, and definitely endearing because of that. But he was also battle-tried and true, with more confidence for having beaten greater odds than he had previously. He wanted to, as Auntie Mame said, “Live, live, live!”, and he was going to do it no matter what happened to him.

It is not hard to see why Optimus always valued Hot Shot in these series. Though the two had their attitude differences (Optimus has never been what one could call cocky after he earned the mantle of Prime), their sparks were always in alignment. They always knew the right thing to do and were willing to do it, no matter the cost to themselves. They knew it would not be easy for them, but because it was the right, true, good, and just thing to do, they were willing to bear the pain and to do their duty.

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Optimus’ position as Hot Shot’s mentor and father-figure is likely one of the reasons I always associated him with that role. The two got on in that manner, and Hot Shot never failed Optimus, even when he made a spectacular mistake or disobeyed orders. Although he might be annoyed or disappointed, Optimus never stopped believing in Hot Shot, never gave up hope that he could become a great ‘Bot with the right encouragement. For his part, Hot Shot remained loyal to Optimus in everything, even when the two disagreed or Hot Shot goofed up magnificently.

I have always been saddened by the fact that Hot Shot is absent from the American Transformers series. This is understandable; the Japanese put Hot Shot in Bumblebee’s place for their stories. I do not know why they did this – maybe there was and remains some kind of licensing disagreement with their Hasbro branch and ours, or something like that. I cannot say. I only know that Bumblebee traditionally has a filial relationship with Optimus in America, for generally the same reasons that Hot Shot does in Japan.

While I admire and like Bumblebee, I have always missed having Hot Shot around in the American Transformers series. Bumblebee is not the same character as Hot Shot; the two are not interchangeable. What you gain with one, you lose with the other, and vice versa. Bumblebee has always had a cooler head than Hot Shot, shown by the fact that he is not a very big fan of racing as Hot Shot always has been. Bumblebee is more fascinated with the intricacies of human society and humanity itself. Hot Shot has never failed to befriend the humans present in the Japanese series, but he acts more like their big brother than an intrigued social scientist. He would happily spend a day just hanging out with humans, talking about their shared interests, while Bumblebee tends to be more concerned with finding out the whys and the hows of human life.

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I like Bumblebee pretty well, but I know which character I would rather have an afternoon chat with: Hot Shot. Until Japan’s Hasbro branch makes a new Transformers series, however, it seems unlikely that I will be seeing Hot Shot again anytime soon. Besides, I would hate to see our writers on this side of the Pacific manhandle such a great character. Even the Japanese had to try three times to get a version of him that struck just the right balance with this viewer!

Another character who may be associated with Hot Shot is Hot Rod. But the fact of the matter is that Hot Shot is NOTHING like Hot Rod. While they share similar names, have a fascination with racing, and both transform into race cars, that is about as far as the similarities between them go. Hot Rod is cocky, but his swagger strikes a far more abrasive tone than Hot Shot’s does. Hot Shot’s bravado is endearing while Hot Rod’s is aggravating; Hot Rod earns the mantle of Prime not through mentoring under Optimus, but through simple luck. Hot Shot earns his leadership skills in battle, taking pointers from Optimus and abiding by his commander’s wisdom. No matter which series you find him in, Hot Rod has either no relationship with Optimus or it is so strained that it is not worth being designated a relationship.

This is a difference for which I am thankful. I am no fan of Hot Rod, anymore than my friend who admires Optimus Prime is. We both find him irritating, with no redeemable qualities whatsoever. The idea that some would put Hot Shot and Hot Rod in the same class, and I think they might be tempted to do this, does not rest well with me. Compare apples and oranges if you must, readers, but at least admit that they are apples and oranges! They are both nutritious, round fruits, but that is where their likenesses end!

This is not a terribly extensive Spotlight! post, readers. Hot Shot deserves better than I have given him, but this is the best that I am capable of at this time. Suffice it to say that Hot Shot is an Autobot I wish we had more of in current and upcoming Transformers series. He is a worthwhile character and, while not interchangeable with Bumblebee, I think the two would be excellent friends in a series. There is no law saying Optimus cannot have two protégés, after all, and I think Hot Shot and Bee would get along like a house on fire!

Accordingly, I therefore cede the floor to Optimus Prime, so that he may have the last word:

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“Autobots, roll out!”

Book Review – Star Trek: The Covenant of the Crown

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Any Star Trek fan worth his salt will be able to tell you about the episode The Trouble with Tribbles. Tribbles, overgrown living puff balls, are soft, furry, harmless creatures that breed faster than rabbits. One of the things which make this episode so interesting is that it was written by a fan of the original series. That fan’s name is David Gerrold. And he wrote and sold The Trouble with Tribbles to Gene Roddenberry and the rest when he was twenty-three years old.

But Howard Weinstein did one better. He wrote a short, fan fiction story for his high school science fiction magazine called “The Pirates of Orion.” Later, in 1973, when Star Trek was made into an animated television series, Weinstein rewrote the story and sold it to the series creators. It became the first episode for the second season of the animated Star Trek series, retaining its title. Why is this important?

Howard Weinstein sold the story to the studio when he was nineteen and in college. That’s why it is important; he was the youngest writer for Star Trek ever, a position he may still hold. I cannot say for sure that he does, but it seems reasonable to assume this. At least, of the original fan base, he is the youngest writer they ever had, fan or otherwise.

Anyway, his love of Star Trek gave him the desire to become a science fiction writer. “The Pirates of Orion” was his first major success. The Covenant of the Crown, a novel set in the Star Trek universe, was his second.

In this story, McCoy is hiding in his room, curled up on his bed. Why?

It’s his birthday. And he is feeling old.

Captain Kirk is trying to talk him out of the room, and he finally convinces McCoy to get up and move by saying he wants the doctor to bait Spock while the Captain plays chess with him. They head down to the rec room on deck seven, Kirk opens the door….

On a dark room.

Thrusting McCoy into the room, Kirk watches the lights turn on and the crewmen pop up from behind the tables and chairs, shouting, “Surprise! Happy Birthday, McCoy!”

With this mission successfully completed, Kirk stands off to the side with Scotty to watch the festivities. Then he and his Chief Engineer feel the Enterprise kick into a higher gear. They make for the comm. as Spock calls Kirk to the bridge.

Star Fleet Command has called the Enterprise to Starbase 22 for a secret mission. Eighteen years ago, the planet Shad was thrust into a civil war due to Klingon meddling. Why? Shad is home to an ore known as Tridenite, a clean, efficient source of energy. The planet supplies twenty other planets with this vital ore. Half those planets are Federation, the other half are neutral. And they are all right next door to the Klingon Empire.

If Shad falls to the Klingons, they can take the entire sector because they will have control of the Tridenite.

Eighteen years ago, Lieutenant Commander James T. Kirk convinced Shad’s King, Stevvin, to escape Shad to protect his wife and daughter. It was supposed to be an exile of a few months, but it turned into an exile of eighteen years, during which time the queen died.

But the king and his daughter are alive. And with the Loyalist forces on the brink of winning the war – and falling apart as they try to divide the spoils before they even win – it seems it is time for the king to go home.

And he wants to; he really wants to go home. And Kirk wants to take him and his daughter home, to make up at least a little for leaving them stranded on an exile planet for eighteen years.

There is just one problem. The king’s daughter has a diabetic-like condition. She needs shots of a special serum, or she will die in a matter of hours. She is not physically as strong as she could be as a result. And the king himself, Stevvin, is dying.

Bonus points, McCoy and the king’s daughter start doing the Romance Two-Step. And if that did not complicate matters, throw in a few Klingon agents and a traitor in the King’s entourage, and you have a story filled with intrigue, romance, and danger. A little humor is added as Chekov tries to lose ten pounds he gained invisibly.

The Covenant of the Crown is a very good Star Trek story. With forewords by Howard Weinstein and David Gerrold, it also offers a window into what Star Trek fandom used to look like.

If you can, readers, find yourselves a copy of The Covenant of the Crown. If you do not like it, I am sorry to hear that. But I think it is a fantastic, fun story. It is at least worth one reading.

Live long and prosper!