Friday, August 24, 2018

Review: Star Trek: The New Adventures: Volume 3

Star Trek: The New Adventures: Volume 3 Star Trek: The New Adventures: Volume 3 by Mike Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was in the middle of reading this volume when I the news broke that Chris Pine is not going to do the next movie so now I’m left wondering if these comics are the only new stories I’m going to get set in this version of Star Trek. It’s like 1969 all over again! Except I guess I still have Discovery. And this new show that they announced with Patrick Stewart coming back as Picard. OK so it’s not all gloom and doom as far as the future of the Federation goes.

This is another pretty solid volume. It relies less on retelling new versions of the TOS stories, and that makes it more interesting. There’s one decent arc that plays off the fall out of the first two movies that involves Section 31. Then there’s several other shorter side adventures that would all make pretty good episodes like the Enterprise itself being given a humanoid form after an encounter with advanced alien tech. My favorite involves a crossover to an alternate universe in which the entire crew has been gender swapped so that we get to see Captain James T. Kirk meet Captain Jane T. Kirk. (And no, they don’t have sex although I’m pretty sure they were both thinking about it.)

Getting away from just retelling the TOS adventures and building off the alternate timeline helps this a lot, and the writers are coming up with some fun new ideas that feel like Trek stories.

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Monday, August 20, 2018

Review: Some Die Nameless

Some Die Nameless Some Die Nameless by Wallace Stroby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What if Rambo and Lois Lane teamed up to take down a bunch of corrupt mercenaries?

OK, that would probably suck. But Wallace Stroby came up with a more realistic story along those lines that’s actually good.

Ray Devlin is a retired soldier-of-fortune living quietly in Florida that gets a visit from an old war buddy. Unfortunately, their reuntion takes a dark turn when that guy tries to murder him, and Ray has to go looking for the reason why. Meanwhile, Tracy Quinn is an investigative reporter Philadelphia  trying to survive lay-offs and fend off the editors who want her to just write click bait articles instead of performing actual journalism. Tracy covers what seems to be a routine homicide, but then her path crosses Devlin as part of the story. When the two start sharing information they begin seeing a pattern with Devlin’s old employer at the center of it all, and digging into the secrets of a company that has trained killers on the payroll is a dangerous game.

I’m a big fan of Stroby’s series about a professional thief Chrissa Stone but hadn’t read any of his other books. After this one I’ll be making more of an effort to track them down because he’s got a knack of mixing thriller elements with a more grounded perspective with real tension to it.

That starts with the two main characters who are at the heart of the novel. Both are well drawn and have a true sense of verisimilitude to them. Devlin really feels like a middle-aged ex-soldier haunted by regrets. While you do get a bad ass vibe from him he’s no action movie killing machine either. Unlike many a bad portrayal of reporters in fiction, Tracy shines as a journalist who loves her job even as it seems to be dissolving around her. There’s a nice attention to detail with the stuff at the newspaper that rings true.

I also enjoyed how Stroby sets up a plot that seems like your standard conspiracy deal at first. However, once it’s rolling he does a pretty sly subversion of not having it go like you expect. There’s a lot of solid surprises and twists here, and it really doesn’t end up where it obviously seems to be going at first. Overall, this is an extremely well written thriller that’s a cut above your standard beach read.

I’ve also had a few brief interactions on social media with Wallace Stroby in the past for good reviews I gave to his Chrissa Stones books, and I was delighted to see that the main bad guy here is named Kemper. I checked with him to see if I was the inspiration for that, and he tried to burst my balloon with a logical story about a last minute character name change with the inspiration probably being seeing the story of serial Ed Kemper on Mindhunter. But I think we all know the truth. Who are you going to believe? Me or the guy who wrote the book?

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Friday, August 3, 2018

Review: The Long and Faraway Gone

The Long and Faraway Gone The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book may be the perfect example of a character driven crime story.

In 1986 two major crimes occur in Oklahoma City. A robbery of a movie theater turns into a massacre. A beautiful teenager goes missing while attending a fair. Both events are major news, but as with most things time passes and eventually they’re forgotten. But not by Wyatt and Julianna.
Wyatt was the sole survivor of the movie theater staff, and 25 years later he’s changed his name and moved to Las Vegas where he’s a private investigator doing background checks for casinos.

When a major client ask him to go to Oklahoma City for a case Wyatt is reluctant to revisit his old hometown, but soon finds himself caught up in the memories of that fateful summer. Julianna is still obsessed with learning what happened to her sister, and she desperately latches on to any slim clue that might offer her answers.

This book is a little bit tricky in that its style and tone at first read like a PI novel with Wyatt being a cheerful guy whose style comes across as smart ass even when he doesn’t mean to. His investigation into the harassment of a woman who inherited a bar at first seems like a major plot that you assume will somehow eventually intersect with his and Julianna’s story somehow.

What you eventually realize is that what’s really important here are the parallel stories of Wyatt and Julianna’s trying to deal with the aftermath of what they went through. They took completely different approaches. Wyatt fled his old hometown and has done everything he can not to think about it, but as he revisits his old haunts in OKC the old survivor’s guilt and questions begin to bubble up. Julianna has actively been looking for the truth for over two decades, and her behavior has become obsessive and self-destructive. Even though they’ve taken different paths in dealing with their pain what becomes clear over the course of the story is that the unanswered questions have haunted them all along.

The book didn’t go where I expected at all, and if you’re looking for some kind of thriller where it all dovetails together nicely, you’d probably be disappointed. Instead what we get is a more realistic thing where the two stories intersect in the small random ways that would happen in a small city. Some mysteries are solved, some aren’t, and some new ones arise. The real question here isn’t whether Wyatt and Julianna will ever know exactly what happened and why, it’s if they can ever get over the guilt and grief to get on with their lives.

Also, as a lifelong resident of the Midwest it’s also nice to get a work of fiction that portrays characters from somewhere other than New York or Los Angeles as real people rather than just stereotypical jokes or rubes in flyover country.

Great read, and I’m happy to hear that Lou Berney has a new book coming out this fall. I’ll definitely be checking it out.

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