Saturday, September 27, 2014

Doctor Who Recap -- 09/27

In tonight's episode "The Caretaker," Clara is alternating between going on adventures with the Doctor and dates with Danny Pink. One day, though, the Doctor announces, "No trip today." Instead, he's going undercover somewhere. With more free time, Clara decides to focus on building her relationship with Danny. However, she goes to work and finds none other than the Doctor posing as the new caretaker at her school. She confronts him about this, but he won't tell her what's going on. She surmises there's an alien on the grounds and asks if the children are safe. He says no, but they will be.

Meanwhile, a police officer investigating an abandoned building gets killed by a robotic assailant. Aware of the danger, the Doctor goes around planting strange devices across school grounds and doing something weird with the Tardis. He also meets Danny, whom he takes a disliking to because the latter was a soldier, and the Doctor doesn't like soldiers. Clara asks him about his agenda on campus, and he explains he's scanning for alien technology and has found a cybernetic organism called a Skovox Blitzer which has enough firepower to destroy the entire planet, and so he must find it before anything bad happens. He's planted what he calls time mines to trap the alien.

The Doctor dons an invisibility watch and proceeds to bait the Skovox Blitzer into following him back to his trap. However, Danny finds the devices and starts deactivating them. He comes in to find the Doctor and Clara battling the Blitzer which gets sucked into a temporal rift. The Doctor is incensed that Danny sabotaged his trap, resulting in the Blitzer not being fully banished. It will return in about three days. Clara declares her love for Danny who realizes she has been lying to him about the Doctor, and wants her to tell him the truth. Danny also resents the Doctor's superior attitude and describes him as an officer giving orders.

Later, at the school's parent/teacher conference, the Blitzer reappears early, and the Doctor has Clara act as a decoy to lure it away from innocent bystanders. It follows her into a room where the Doctor is waiting with a jury-rigged contraption which allows him to fool the Blitzer into thinking he's its superior officer. He orders it to shut down, but it initiates its self-destruct sequence. The Doctor needs a moment to override the command, and Danny runs in and does an impressive flip over the Blitzer, distracting it and giving the Doctor the time he needs. The Blizter shuts down and the world is saved once again. The Doctor gives Danny credit for the assist, and the later sees that the Time Lord wants him to be good enough for Clara, and the two spend a happy evening alone together.

Finally, the police officer killed earlier finds himself in a strange room, apparently the afterlife, or Promised Land. The enigmatic Missy makes an appearance, and the mystery deepens. 

This was another quality Doctor Who episode. I especially like the growing relationship between Clara and Danny. She's not just the Doctor's companion; she has a life and desires of her own apart from his. Also, the growing mystery of Missy and the Promised Land continues to intrigue me.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Dred Chronicles: Havoc Review

This week I decided to review the Dred Chronicles: Havoc by Ann Aguire. The story opens in a docking bay on the prison station Perdition with Dred Devos, the main protagonist of the story, and a few of her trusted allies under attack by mercenaries.  They had come to meet the regularly scheduled supply ship but the Conglomerate, which rules human space, has decided to repurpose the station, and has sent a mercenary force led by a man named Vost. Dred falls back to Queensland, the part of the station she leads and begins preparing to wage war against the mercenaries. But even as early battles begin to go Queensland’s way, Dred must deal with stresses within Queensland’s ranks caused by allying with the survivors of another band of prisoners who were once hostile, while fending off the mercenaries and the prisoner bands who see this as their chance to seize the station for their own, or who have gone utterly insane. But soon, deaths among Queensland’s brightest begin to hinder their fighting strength even as internal tensions run ever hotter. Meanwhile, Vost must deal with increasing resentment among his troops as a promised cakewalk becomes a deadly war, and he must decide just what depths he will sink to, and how far he will go to achieve his goals.
I give the book a 7 out of 10. It was mostly gripping and well written but there were a few sections where it seemed to divert from the main story just to increase the length of the book, and the whole concept of the Conglomerate wanting to refit an apparently incredibly old station and sending mercs to clean it out makes little sense to me. Between the time and money needed to pay the mercs and send them to wipe out the population, the resources and time needed to repair the station and the time and work needed to either install needed equipment for whatever Perdition’s new purpose is intended to be, or repair and upgrade the already installed equipment it seems almost impossible for it to be faster and cheaper to use Perdition rather than building a new station for the job. And while I appreciate the author giving Vost a motivation for what he's doing, sometimes he seems to take actions which have a good chance of backfiring just to see if the action will work when he could achieve his goal at the moment more easily without taking the action in question.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Doctor Who Recap -- 09/20

In tonight's episode "Time Heist," Clara is preparing to go on a date with Danny when the Doctor drops by. Suddenly, the Tardis' telephone begins ringing. Only a handful of people in the entire universe have that number, so an intrigued Doctor answers. Suddenly, they find themselves in a room with two other people after having their memories wiped. A garbled voice belonging to someone known only as the Director informs them they have agreed to rob the Bank of Karabraxos, the most secure bank in existence. The Doctor and Clara then get acquainted with their new associates: Psi, a cybernetically augmented hacker/thief, and Saibra the mutant who assumes the form of anyone she touches. Each of them has agreed to rob the bank for their own reasons, but at the moment, none of them can remember.

They go into the bank and immediately see another man halted by Ms. Delphox, the chief of security. She sics an aquatic-looking alien called the Teller on him. The Teller telepathically searches for his guilt and then turns his brain to soup. Undaunted, the group uses a dimensional shift bomb to venture into the deeper sections of the bank. Down there, they find a gift from the Director. They open the case and find a series of hypos. The Doctor pretends not to know what they're for, but later reveals they're disintegrators in case of capture. Saibra gets attacked by the Teller and uses one on herself, leaving only three of the original group.

They make their way to the vault where Psi proceeds to hack the lock. However, the Teller arrives and begins chasing them. The Doctor and Clara split up, but the Teller soon finds her. Psi sacrifices himself to save her, but they still don't have a way into the vault. Suddenly, the planet is hit by a solar storm which disrupts the lock. The Doctor realizes this heist could only have been planned in the future by someone who knew the storm was coming. They enter the vault and find safe deposit boxes meant for the fallen members of the team. Inside them are a neophyte circuit which can retrieve Psi's lost memories he had to delete to protect his loved ones, and a gene suppressant for Saibra. They are then captured by the Teller and taken to Ms. Delphox who orders her flunkies to dispose of them. But the flunkies turn out to be Psi and Saibra. The disintegrators were actually teleporters!

The four of them make their way to the private vault where they find the bank's overseer, Madame Karabraxos. She looks just like Ms. Delphox, and the Doctor deduces they are clones. He also realizes he is the Director, and he just needs to recover his memory to put the last pieces in place. But the solar storm is about to destroy the bank. Karabraxos then leaves (after accepting the Tardis phone number) and the Teller arrives, and the Doctor lets the fishy alien accost him to get his memories back. He then remembers that it was Karabraxos who called him at the beginning to ask for his help correcting her greatest mistake. They open the final vault and find the Teller's mate; they are the last two of their species. Happy with this outcome, they free the two of them, and Clara goes off to her date.

I enjoyed tonight's episode. It was clever, touching, and makes me very hopeful for this season. It was also refreshing to see the ancillary companions survive. I've see too many Doctor Who's where the guests didn't make it.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Star Trek: Seekers: 2: Point of Divergence Review

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Seekers: 2: Point of Divergence by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore. The book opens by showing the ending events of the previous book, only this time they are told from the viewpoint of the Klingon cruiser  Voh'tahk commanded by Kang rather than the bridge of the Federation starship Endeavour, Events in space soon lead to a skirmish between the two vessels as Endeavour attempts to aid the crew of the crashed Federation scout ship Sagittarius and the Voh’tahk tries to capture some of the Tomol, who live on the planet where Sagittarius crashed, for study. Meanwhile, the crew of the Sagittarius must face off against the Changed, a group of Tomol who are undergoing a coming of age they usually die to escape, whose rapidly increasing power is matched by their growing madness. While the Sagittarius crew struggle to defend themselves and these Tomol who are resisting the Changed, the Endeavour and Voh'tahk form an uneasy alliance to take on the ancient Preserver weapons which have activated to defend the planet. Then the race is on as the crews of the Sagittarius and Endeavour struggle to discover how to restore the Change to what it originally was while fending off the changed. And one officer must decide just how far to go in using the highly classified data he illegally possesses to achieve that goal
I give this book an 9 out of 10. The space battle sequences are interesting, if short, and the ground battles are a lot of fun especially as the Changed grow in both numbers and abilities. Also, there are a number of great little bits of humor in the story. The ending was well done and this book leaves me hopeful regarding the quality of future stories in this sub-series, though it will probably be a long time before Seekers 3 is released. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Doctor Who Recap -- 09/13

In tonight's episode "Listen," the Doctor is talking to himself while alone in the Tardis when he poses a question: What if you're never alone? What if there's a lifeform that has adapted itself to be completely invisible and can never be seen? "What would such a creature want?" Suddenly, he notices a message on his chalkboard: "Listen."

Meanwhile, Clara is on a date with Danny Pink who first appeared two weeks ago in "Into the Dalek." Due to his insecurities, it goes badly and Clara returns home to find the Doctor and Tardis in her bedroom. He reveals to her that everyone has the same nightmare of a mysterious something lurking under the bed and links her to the Tardis in order to go back to the exact moment in time where she had that dream. However, she gets distracted thinking of her awful date, and they end up at a children's home in Gloucester. The Doctor tells her to wait in the Tardis while he has a look around because meeting yourself in the past is dangerous. She goes to do that but gets sidetracked when she meets Danny as a kid (but at this point his name is Rupert). She goes to his room and they hang out under the bed. Without warning, someone lays down on it. They get out from under it and see a mysterious, childlike figure hiding under the bedspread. The Doctor comes in and gives a speech about how fear is a superpower, before instructing them to turn away from the figure. He makes Rupert promise not to look at it, whereupon the figure leaves.

Afterwards, Clara goes back to try and fix her date. She fails and Danny leaves anyway. She returns to the Tardis and finds a man in a space suit which she assumes is the Doctor playing a joke. But when he removes his helmet, we find it's Danny! Not quite; it's actually Orson Pink from 500 years in the future. He's the first human time traveler, but he accidentally got sent to the end of the universe where the Doctor has just found him. The Doctor agrees to take him home, but lies and says the Tardis needs one night to recharge. In actuality, he wants to meet the invisible entities that he believes inhabit the universe at the end of time. He waits in Orson's space/time ship, and when the main door opens, explosive decompression occurs and he nearly gets sucked out. Fortunately, Orson saves him. Unfortunately, those same entities are now apparently trying to break into the Tardis. Clara attempts to pilot it out of there and they end up at a barn where a mysterious boy is hiding out. Clara discovers he's actually the Doctor as a child, and he's scared of everything. She hides underneath his bed and then gives him the same speech he gave Rupert. "Fear is a superpower," she tells him. "Fear makes companions of us all." Inspired, he goes onto become the Doctor, and Clara realizes she's the source of his belief in invisible entities. She explains this to him, and then they take Orson home. Finally, she seeks out Danny and they make up.

I really liked tonight's episode. It was exciting to see Clara as the source of the Doctor's strength and fears, and I'm interested in finding out what happens next. I think "Listen" is a cut above last week's "Robot of Sherwood" and I hope they can keep the show going at this quality.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Alien: Sea of Sorrows Review

This week I decided to review Alien: Sea of Sorrows by James A. Moore. The story opens on New Galveston, a newly terraformed and colonized world which has a problem. While breaking ground on a new city a small area of toxic sands was found. Unfortunately, this poisoned area soon began to spread rapidly destroying all life in its path, becoming known as the Sea of Sorrows. The Interstellar Commerce Commission sends a team including Deputy Commissioner Alan Decker, the protagonist of the story and an empath, to investigate and discover what has gone wrong. Soon after concluding that the planned city which became the origin point of the Sea of Sorrows was built on the site of a long abandoned colony used to mine and refine Trimonite, with the toxins resulting from contamination caused by the refining process being unleashed by the efforts to break ground there, Decker is injured and sent back to Earth. His report blames the Weyland-Yutani Corporation for failing to discover the mines before establishing the colony. Soon after delivering the report he is first suspended from his job then kidnapped by agents of Weyland-Yutani. It seems he talked during his sleep while on the journey back to Earth, He talked about things he couldn't possibly know about, things that were sealed long before he was born. The corporation investigated him and discovered that he is a descendant of Ellen Ripley, who played a key role in halting the company’s efforts to obtain samples of the aliens known as Xenomorphs for study. They explain that her descendants owe the corporation for the damage she caused and offer to write it off if he will join a team sent to the Sea of Sorrows where Weyland-Yutani believes there are Xenomorphs awaiting capture in the mine and the ancient alien city found near it. If not, they will retaliate against him and his children to get the money Ellen Ripley owed them due to her actions. Decker agrees to go and enters the underground mines with a team of mercenaries but things soon go wrong and the mission becomes a desperate struggle to catch a Xenomorph and make it back to the surface alive as an army of Xenomorphs awakens. Decker’s empathic link to the Xenomorphs and the ability to sense them coming that it grants may be the team’s last hope, but the aliens know that he is a descendant of their most hated enemy and will stop at nothing to claim vengeance against her family.
I give this book a 9.5 out of 10. The author did an incredible job of capturing the feel of the best parts of the Alien movie franchise in my opinion. Even the parts of the story which were light years away from the namesake Sea of Sorrows sent chills up my spine at times and I honestly was almost never certain what would come next throughout the tale.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Doctor Who Recap -- 09/06

In tonight's episode "Robot of Sherwood," the Doctor asks Clara where in all of time and space would she like to visit. She sheepishly tells him she wants to see Robin Hood. He scoffs and declares he's just a legend, but nonetheless agrees to take her to that time period. When they arrive, the Doctor is greeted by a man who claims to be none other than Robin Hood. Stunned, the Doctor refuses to believe it and proceeds to battle him with a spoon(?). Robin then takes Clara (complete in resplendent garb) to visit the Merry Men, whom the Doctor insists on getting DNA samples from to prove they're not who they say they are.

Robin reveals the Sheriff of Nottingham is holding a tournament to find the best archer in the land, with the prize being a golden arrow. This, along with the beautiful weather, seems too good to be true. They go to the tournament and Robin and the Doctor take turns one-upping one another with their archery. A fight soon breaks out, whereupon Robin severs a guard's arm, revealing it to be mechanical. The Sheriff's lackeys are robots! Undeterred by this revelation, the Sheriff has them thrown in the dungeon where the Doctor and Robin continue their rivalry with banter. Clara is taken to see the Sheriff, and she gets him to reveal the origins of the robots. The Sheriff says they crashed and have allied with him to repair their ship. He, in turn, wants to use their technology to conquer the world.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Robin break out of jail and discover the castle is actually the Promised Land, the very ship the mechanical man was trying to get to in the season premier. The Doctor realizes everyone around them is a robot, including the Sheriff who then arrives with Clara. Robin takes her hostage and makes his escape from the ship, while the Doctor confronts the Sheriff. The villain confesses to being a robot, and it turns out he was stealing gold from the people to be repair the ship (which has also been leaking radiation, accounting for the unusually warm temperatures in Sherwood). The Doctor tells him there isn't enough gold, but the Sheriff won't listen.

The Doctor leaves and recruits the other prisoners in the dungeon, including a mysterious woman, who proceed to fight the robots by using polished plates to reflect their lasers back at them. He again confronts the Sheriff, this time about Robin Hood being a robot. The Sheriff denies this, and the Doctor realizes Robin Hood is real. Robin then arrives with Clara and engages in a sword fight with the Sheriff. The battle ends when Robin knocks him into a cauldron of molten gold.

They escape the castle/ship, which lifts off, but still doesn't have enough gold to get it into orbit and is now threatening to explode, taking half of England with it. They take the golden arrow and fire it at the ship, giving it just enough gold to make it. Afterwards, the Doctor and Robin have a chat about being legends. Even if you don't plan on becoming a hero, Robin says, "perhaps others will be heroes in our names." The Doctor and Clara board the Tardis, and Robin is greeted by the mysterious woman from the dungeon, who turns out to be his love Marian.

This episode was entertaining, but I found the climax to be a tad absurd. They somehow hit the right spot on the ship a hundred feet in the air with a golden arrow, which just happens to give it just enough gold to get it into orbit, even though the ship was only at 85%? Whatever you say, Steven Moffat.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Star Trek Seekers: 1 Second Nature Review

This week I decided to review Star Trek: Seekers: 1: Second Nature by David Mack. When the story begins, the Archer class scout ship USS Sagittarius under Captain Clark Terrell is exploring the Taurus Reach when it detects an unidentified energy source on Arethusa, a small, and seemingly primitive world. The landing party they send to investigate soon discover a group of the Tomol, a low-tech society transported to the world from wherever their homeworld is in the distant past. Some of the Tomol are throwing themselves into a fire to prevent some terrible change that comes to their people around the age of eighteen. But one woman named Nimur attempts to flee and receives aid from a Klingon scouting party. Soon the Change begins to grant Nimur new abilities, such as teklekenesis and resistance to energy weapons, but also begins to drive her mad even as she tries to gather a following among the Tomol who are due to undergo the Change. Eventually the Sagittarius party discover that the change was artificially introduced into the Tomol gene code by Shedai, an ancient and incredibly powerful race with almost supernatural technological abilities who were overthrown by their Tholian slaves long ago, and whose return was barely prevented a short time before the novel takes place. They also find a Preserver Obelisk which, according to local legend, can defeat the Changed, and realize that the Klingons wish to study the Change process and use it to enhance their own abilities. Meanwhile the Sagittarius engages in a desperate hit and run battle with a Klingon task force led by Kang as the Constitution class Starship USS Endeavour races to reinforce them.
I give this book an 8.5 out of 10. The story is interesting and ties in a lot of characters and plot points from the Star Trek source material into the tale but can still be easily read by someone not  familiar with the series in my opinion. The space battle sequences were enjoyable, even though I wish they were more detailed in a couple of places, and there are enough mysteries left that I’m not sure what will happen next, plus a few things that might be clues to what is going on in the story, or might mean nothing. One point of warning: the story ends on a cliffhanger and I fully expect the second book to begin within minutes, if not seconds of the end of Second Nature.