“Questioning the Tree” from Small Doses of the Future by Brad Aiken

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[Edit: Originally published September 23, 2016]

I meant to review two stories for today, but school happened so there’s only one. I will likely review another story from this collection at a later date, however. 

So, Questioning the Tree, or the medical science fiction story that I could totally see Leonard McCoy writing if he were so inclined to write 21st century science fiction. 

Questioning the Tree is a short story about the medical world, particularly how doctors are allowed to relate to patients. No longer do doctors make the diagnoses, they rely on a scanner of sorts to make the diagnosis and then the doctors must follow through on what that diagnosis is. They don’t really have much interaction with the patients anymore. And when the machines get things wrong, there’s nothing they can do to help the patient, because of the Tree. The Tree basically determines what the doctors can and cannot do and how they’re supposed to answer and work with their patients. The big thing is that the doctors cannot physically touch their patients. 

That’s what got me thinking about Leonard McCoy, who is a very hands on kind of doctor and would definitely not be pleased if he wasn’t allowed to touch his patients. 

The story opens with our protagonist, Dr. Jenkins, arriving to work at the hospital to find that one of his colleagues has been arrested for deviating from the aforementioned Tree and treating a patient in ways that weren’t allowed. The story follows Dr. Jenkins and how torn he feels about being part of this. He doesn’t feel like he’s being true to what doctors are supposed to be, what he went to medical school to do, but at the same time he doesn’t want to lose his job and be arrested. Yet things keep happening.

It starts with his nurse, who asks him questions like she thinks he might not fully believe in the Tree.

Then he runs into an old friend from med school, Doug, who as it turns out is running an illegal clinic where they treat patients with traditional methods. Jenkins almost shows up, but before he gets the chance the clinic is raided and everyone arrested. 

After this Jenkins lays low, doesn’t do anything, until finally he’s had enough. The story ends with Dr. Jenkins opening up his own secret illegal clinic, and helping a patient he hadn’t been able to properly help at the hospital he worked at. 

I very much enjoyed the hopeful note it gave and that it didn’t end on a dark note like it could have. As well as being a fun and enjoyable read it’s also a very insightful piece.

You can find the whole book of stories here.

Related Reviews: Freudian Slipstream, Murder on the Einstein Express

What really happened on Tarsus IV? A Comparison

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[Edit: Originally published September 9, 2016]

What really happened on Tarsus IV? Aside from, of course, a famine and the execution of 4,000 people. What canon gives us limited, but if you delve into the wonderful world of Star Trek books, you can find more detailed things about Tarsus. In William Shatner’s Avenger, for example, the famine was cause by an act of eco-terrorism. However, the books seem to fall into the territory of apocryphal canon, which in my opinion is just fantastic, because it leaves room for multiple interpretations and you can pick and chose what you want to go with. 

I want to focus this review specifically on two books. The Autobiography of James T. Kirk “edited” by David A. Goodman and Star Trek Academy: Collision Course by William Shatner with Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens. 

Collision Course was published in 2007 and has a take on Kirk’s experiences with the genocide that reminds me of a lot of the Tarsus IV fanfiction I’ve read. Which sees Kirk leading and trying to protect a group of children. He tends to be more successful in fanfiction than he does in Collision Course. In Collision Course, Kirk is offered the chance to help Kodos (round up and get rid of stragglers) in exchange for a place on the no kill list. Initially, he agrees as it’s not fully explained to him. When he fails to follow through, he (and the children he’s trying to save) end up hunted by someone who’d been a friend of his.

In The Autobiography, published in 2015, Kirk is safe from the outset and remains that way. Kirk only witnesses the execution because he’d snuck out of the house in the middle of the night with Tom Leighton, whose parents were on the kill list, and Tom had wanted to see where they went. That’s also how Tom gets the injury to his face when they’re spotted by a guard.

Tom Leighton is not mentioned by name in Collision Course, though there is mention of the Leighton Farm. 

Brace yourselves cause it’s about to get a little gross. How the colonists are killed is also different in both books. In The Autobiography they’re hit with what I assume are phasers and turn to dust which is then swept up and there’s nothing left. 

Collision Course is significantly more graphic about it. “Instead of life there was death: four thousand bodies crisped by laser fire. A week after the colony’s revolution, they lay blackened, bloated, unburied.” It seems like life on Tarsus in Collision Course has fallen into more of a disarray than it does in The Autobiography.

Perhaps the biggest difference in post-Tarsus Kirk between the books is his opinion of Starfleet. In The Autobiography, Jim’s reaction to Starfleet’s arrival with assistance is a happy one. That’s what he wants to do with his life. It’s that moment that he decides he wants to join Starfleet.

In Collision Course it’s the exact opposite. Kirk is very angry at Starfleet. They came too late. Kirk was nearly killed and he saw many of the children he was trying to protect killed. Collision Course Kirk is heavily traumatized by what happened on Tarsus IV. It’s not clear in The Autobiography just what level of trauma Kirk suffered, but it seemed generally less than what was in Collision Course. 

Do I have a preference? Yes I do. I have to say I favor Shatner’s interpretation. I think it also helped that I got to see Kirk struggling with life post-Tarsus through a whole book, instead of just a few pages out of The Autobiography.

Related reviews: The Autobiography of James T. Kirk, Star Trek Academy: Collision Course

Star Trek Academy: Collision Course by William Shatner

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[Edit: Originally published September  7, 2016]

This book is prime Star Trek shenanigans. I don’t really know what I was expecting of a young Kirk as imagined by William Shatner. I tried not to have many expectations because I really wanted to like the book. Thankfully, I did not have to worry because the book was a joy from start to finish.

The book starts with 17-year-old Jim, Jim’s brother Sam, and Jim’s girlfriend Elissa stealing a Starfleet car. After this we meet 19-year-old Spock, who is pawning a forgery of an artifact to a woman in a strip club (and lying like a pro).

Jim and Spock’s first meeting, which happens at the aforementioned strip club happens because Jim needs to make a distraction so Elissa can escape (they’re being pursued). Jim decides the best way to do this is to trip someone passing by the table he’s seated at. This plan fails when the person he tries to trip is none other than Spock. He then throws his drink in Spock’s face and tries to punch him. The two of them are then arrested.

After many more shenanigans both boys are sentenced to serve either two years in a penal colony or two years in Starfleet, they both choose Starfleet, it’s a carefully played decision to get both boys into Starfleet to keep an eye on them because the reason Jim stole the car was to clear his girlfriend who’s being court martialed over stolen dilithium. The stolen dilithium turns out to be part of the same theft ring that Spock had been trying to uncover when he’d pawned the forged artifact.

Shit happens, and then Jim and Spock plus three midshipmen are piloting an Enterprise (which is still undergoing refits) and manage to stop the thief ring, which may or may not have connections to Kodos the Executioner.

Yeah, there’s another highly important point about the book. The story is interspersed with Jim’s flashbacks to his time on Tarsus IV. He blames Starfleet for not helping sooner and spends much of the early parts of the book trying to prove Starfleet wrong.

For as much as the book is shenanigan packed, there are solid reasons behind many of them. Even though many of the decisions Jim makes seem, as Spock would say, illogical, heavily traumatized teenagers tend more towards emotion than logic. It’s a very good story and I’m very glad William Shatner was the one to tell it. I do think I favor the backstory that Shatner has given Kirk (particularly with Tarsus) than I do some of the other Star Trek apocrypha books I’ve read. Of course, one is not more canon than another, but the ability to pick and choose between what you want to accept is nice. This is definitely a good book to read if you’re interested in reading about Kirk’s time on Tarsus IV.

You can find this book here.

Related Reviews: The Autobiography of James T. Kirk, Star Fleet Technical Manual

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The Autobiography of James T. Kirk edited by David A. Goodman

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[Edit: Originally published September 3, 2016]

As much as this is a work of fiction, if you want to get the most out of it, you can’t read it like it’s a work of fiction. And you can’t imagine it written by David Goodman, if you do, things get lost. You can of course analyze interpretations of the characters by the author, but that wasn’t my intention when I picked up this book. 

Kirk’s autography, covers his life up until just before his death. He’d completed the manuscript not long prior. There’s a forward by Leonard McCoy and an afterward by Spock. In the middle there are some glossy pages that have pictures and artists renditions and photos of items. The picture from Kirk’s year book at the Academy, his ID card from Tarsus IV, and an unsent letter to his son David, are some of the images featured. 

The book itself struck me as having a focus on Kirk’s relationships. Romantic, family, friends. Particularly, the relationships that didn’t work out so well, Ben Finney, Carol Marcus, and Will Decker to name a few. That’s not to say the good relationships aren’t shown, but it feels like the Kirk that was “writing” this book, had a lot of regret and guilt about his life and relationships. He even says at the end that he did have difficulty fostering relationships during his life. 

Here’s the thing about any autobiography, no matter how factual the author tries to make it, they’re going to be biased because they’re writing about themselves. In the forward McCoy makes a point to state that he thinks Kirk is the greatest hero who ever lived and that he has to be the one to say it because he knows that Kirk won’t. 

That said, it’s a really fun read. It takes an in depth look at Kirk’s life, how Kirk sees his life and the people in it. 

Some of my personal favorite moments:

  • How McCoy gets the nickname Bones. He (temporarily) amputates Gary Mitchell’s arm with a phaser, leading to Kirk calling him “sawbones”.
  • Kirk, McCoy, and Spock’s first meeting. It’s great, McCoy gets a little drunk and Spock’s a little shit, and they’re all on a shuttle headed to Earth. 
  • McCoy demanding makeouts by insisting Spock shake his hand before Spock leaves the Enterprise. 

I also found myself more intrigued about Kirk’s time on Tarsus IV than ever. I know there are different thoughts about exactly what happened on Tarsus IV and Kirk’s reaction to it. I’ve sought out some other Star Trek novels to see how those discussions of Tarsus IV compare to what’s in this autobiography. (I don’t have them yet, but you can expect to see a Tarsus centric review in the future.) I’m especially interested in the books that William Shatner has written that involve the matter. 

You can find it here.

Related Reviews: Star TreX, Star Fleet Technical Manual, Star Trek Academy: Collision Course, Tarsus IV: A Comparison

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Star Fleet Technical Manual “complied” by Franz Joseph

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[Edit: Originally published August 24, 2016]

I love manual type books. They’re just absolutely fascinating to me. When I was in high school it was guides to Vampires that had me hooked. Now it’s Star Trek. I don’t understand as much in some of the Star Trek manuals as I did the vampire ones but that doesn’t make them any less fun. 

The Star Fleet Technical Manual is truly a spectacular book. And if some of the reviews on Amazon are anything to go by, this book was the first book of the “worldbuilding” type. Other non-Star Trek books that might be comparable are books for the Harry Potter franchise, such as Quidditch Through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Books that are explicitly stated or can be presumed to exist in the fictional canon of the story.

The book starts out with two memos, once from the United States Military Forces and one from Star Fleet Command. In these memos you learn that the contents of this technical manual are part of an unknown and accidental transmission. That this information accidentally got sent to our time and that’s why we have this book. However, the transmission was not complete. You will find as you go through the book that there are quite a few pages “missing”, because of course, there are things that we as people in a past time should not know. 

After this, you get the Articles of the Federation followed by the Treaty’s for the Klingon and Romulan wars. The Treaties were short and I read them in their entirety, however, I have not as of yet, finished working my way through the Articles of the Federation. There’s a lot of jargon and legalese that makes it bit of dense read. Fascinating, but dense. 

The rest of the book has much less text. You have flags for the various groups and orginizations, you have the official font of Star Fleet, the uniform color code. Sections for Command, Science, and Engineering, filled with blueprints and specs for everything from Star Fleet Headquarters to various types of ship, to phasers and anabolic protoplasers. They even have uniform patterns. One for men and then three pattern options for women, two general designs and then one that’s specifically for women in the sciences (for an example of the last one check out what Christine Chapel wears in TOS).

The uniform patterns are probably my favorite part of the book and I had the one for the men’s shirt enlarged so I can make my own. I’ve also found myself examining the details of the medical deck rather closely for writing purposes. And I haven’t been able to get over the fact that the Enterprise has jacuzzi tubs since I saw that on the blueprints for the officer and crew quarters. 

It’s very informative and fun even if you don’t always understand all the jargon.

You can find it here. (My advice is to buy used, it’s an old book and can get pricey if you’re looking to buy new).

Snaps: 

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Star Trek/X-Men: Star TreX written by Scott Lobdell

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[Edit: Originally published August 17, 2016]

Star Trek meets the X-Men. Spock takes Wolverine out with a Vulcan nerve pinch, Gladiator punches the Enterprise, and Drs. McCoy get a bit confused. 

This was so much fun to read. So much fun. I enjoyed every moment cover to cover. It was fantastic. 

The X-Men and a Shi’ar ship go through a rift and wind up in the universe of Star Trek. It’s the usual combination of Space Problems that result in time/dimension travel and general fuckery. Rifts, massive Psionic energy clouds, and the Shi’ar Empire.

Also Gary Mitchell (Star Trek) meets Proteus (X-Men) and almost goes Dark Phoenix. Well, Proteus resurrects Gary Mitchell (deceased as of the very first episode of TOS) cause he wants to fuck shit up and thinks that Gary Mitchell would make a suitable host body given his circumstances. 

Some of my favorite moments:

  • Spock and Bones flirting/bickering from page one on. It’s great.
  • Gladiator punches the Enterprise. Like twice.
  • Nurse Chapel calling “Dr. McCoy” and both Bones and Hank responding.
  • Spock dropping Wolverine with the Vulcan nerve pinch.
  • Scott and Kirk work really well together. 
  • Deathbird’s plan to fuck shit up fails so miserably that she goes with the X-Men without a fight.
  • The art after the comic of Hank and Spock playing 3D chess.

Things I found weird, but not bad.

The art styles are weirdly conflicting, but also work kind of well together. To explain: the X-Men characters and the Star Trek characters are drawn with different art styles. The Stark Trek characters are drawn very realistically proportion wise and feature wise. It’s the closest to hyper realism that I think I’ve ever seen a comic get. The X-Men on the other hand are hyper-muscled and bulky, in the way that the X-Men comics were in the ’90s. It definitely made it clear that the X-Men and Shi’ar were not of the universe that they’d fallen into. However, it was also comical at times, like when Lucas Bishop is beamed up from Delta Vega and Scotty is tiny next to Bishop’s hyper-muscular bulk.

You can find the comic here.

Related Reviews: The Dark Phoenix Saga, Uncanny X-Men Annual 17

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StreetSlam: Wishes of a Broken Time by Leon Langford

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[Edit: Originally published July 30, 2016]

Hold onto your seat belts because this book is a wild ride from start to finish. 

Devin Maxwell joins Titan Force after his mother is killed by a menacing green beast. His goal? Bring her back to life. 

Simple story, pretty cliche, right? 

Cliche yes, simple no. The plot is much more intricate than I expected. You’ve got the green energy monster responsible for the death of Devin’s mother, you’ve got a man planning to use a young girl to cause insurmountable death and destruction, you’ve got a rogue agent with an unclear agenda, and that’s not even everything. It can be a bit confusing, but it works out.

However, not every plot piece is tied up at the end, in fact, the book leaves you with more questions than get answered. There’s a reason, it seems, that the cover of the book declares it to be “Volume One.”

StreetSlam is action packed to the point of rollercoaster and I love it. Where does the fight scene take place? Literally everywhere, also I think you mean fight scenes. Palatial mansion, on the open highway, a mall. The real question is where doesn’t a fight take place. The one thing I’ll say is that the fight scenes can get long. The fight scenes strike me as very anime in their style, they’re the kind of fight scenes you might find in an anime/manga like Naruto and the weapons like something out of Final Fantasy 7. 

As much as I loved the fight scenes, my favorite parts of the book were the characters. They were so amazingly developed and diverse. I mean, just take a glance at the cover to get an idea. It’s a stellar cast of characters and I promise you’ll come out with at least three characters that you adore. 

Issues and warnings: 

  • There was an issue of women getting killed off (or presumably killed off) to further male character development/provide angst for the protag.
  • There are some minor inconstancies. Such as a characters hair color sometimes being brown and sometimes being blond. It’s not a huge thing, but it can throw you out of the text a bit.
  • Typos. There’s not an enormous amount, but it’s definitely more than just one or two things. Sometimes it took rereading a sentence a time or too, but it was nothing that threw me too terribly out of the story. 
  • There were a few instances of fatphobia coming from various characters.
  • Animal injury. There’s a shapeshifter bad guy who turns into animals, he gets his ass kicked.
  • Violence of a level pretty typically for a fight driven action packed book. Descriptions of blood and injury, but nothing I’d call over the top gore.

Despite the issues that popped up while reading I really enjoyed this book. It was very fun. It was definitely tropey and cliche at parts, but that was just part of the fun honestly. Sometimes you just need something fun and tropey and StreetSlam delivers. 

@blackexcellence101

You can find the book here.

Related Reviews: The Valhalla series.

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Artifice written by Alex Woolfson art by Winona Nelson

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[Edit: Originally posted July 9,  2016]

Deacon, an Artificial Person (android) designed and coded to kill and fight for the ominously named “Corporate,” puts everything on the line when he falls in love with one of his targets, a young man named Jeff.

Artifice is a story that gives us the question of an android’s place in society. The comic starts with Deacon in custody, he’s done something, presumably killed people, but you don’t know what until Deacon starts “therapy” with a woman named Maven. The entire story of what happened is told through flashbacks while Deacon is talking with Maven. 

Deacon was sent, with a crew of other A.P.s (Artificial Persons) to a colony (so space travel is a thing) to eradicate it. Kill everyone there. The people at the colony had somehow gotten information on the Corporation that would be Bad News if it came to light. They kill most everyone, but there seems to be one survivor, Deacon goes to find them as the other A.P.’s leave. However, the landing pad was booby-trapped and the rest of the A.P. crew is destroyed. 

You may have guessed it but that one survivor is Jeff. A gangly, ginger, nineteen year old and outcast of the colony. They’d shunned and essentially abandoned him when they found out he was gay. Jeff is adorable and funny and he’s 100% my favorite character.

Their relationship is not a particularly friendly ones all things considered, but with Jeff not having been very fond of the rest of the colonists and Deacon being kind to him, after a time they become odd friends. They’ll be together for almost three months after all, since that’s how long it will take for the retrieval team to come for Deacon. 

It’s during this time that Deacon develops a “curiosity” about Jeff. A sexual and romantic curiosity. Jeff is not opposed to this, so they start a relationship. It appears to be purely sexual, until Deacon tells Jeff that’s he’s in love with him. Now Deacon’s an android remember, he’s highly advanced, to the point that his handlers can’t just wipe him and start over, but even Deacon acknowledges that he likely feels things differently than Jeff does. 

However, how is this going to last when the retrieval team comes for Deacon? Deacon’s orders were to kill everyone in the colony. This leads to a fight in which Deacon is incapacitated and Jeff is taken into custody. 

This is definitely worth a read. It’s a little tropey in places, but it’s very fun and even steamy in places. Like the last book, this is definitely for adults. It’s also even less safe for work because it’s a comic instead of a written novel. 

One issue I had is there’s a line where Jeff calls Deacon “The abusive father I never had.” Which made me a little uncomfortable. It’s a throwaway line and never comes up again, but I thought it worth the warning. 

You can buy a hard copy of Artifice hereor you can read it online (for free) here

@alexwoolfson

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(this is Jeff btw)

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Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

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[Edit: Originally published May 12, 2016]

What is time really? The citizen’s of Night Vale certainly don’t know. Beloved local scientist Carlos, could probably make some guesses, but most people accept that time just doesn’t work in Night Vale. There are many things that do not work in Night Vale: remembering the man in the tan jacket, for example.  

Join Jackie Fierro and Diane Crayton as they discover the origins of the man in the tan jacket, as well as just what is up with that King City place, and who the hell is Troy? And what does all this have to do with Diane’s son Josh?

This book takes place over a series of weeks. Or maybe it’s one single day. It seems like Cecil’s broadcast only spans one day, yet it runs through the entire book, which according to our lovely protagonists, has events that span several weeks, give or take some altercations with the lawn flamingos.

If you know Night Vale and listen to the podcasts, you will know this is completely normal. Completely normal, just like the Glow Cloud and the fact that writing implements such as pens and pencils are illegal.

If you enjoy the podcast the book is a must read. And by must read, I mean must buy. Don’t take the risk of going to a library, it’s just too dangerous. Particularly since this is fiction, and nothing attracts a librarian more than fiction. Diane and Jackie enter the library in search of information on the mysterious King City and very nearly lose their lives. Don’t put yourself in such danger, buy the book, don’t risk the librarians.

Amazon is convenient location to buy the book. Though it’s sold in other places too.

Snaps:

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