After two really comprehensive time travel novels it's always interesting to see what new stories Christopher L Bennett can think up to justify another tale about a group of people with largely quiet careers and who specifically aim to have no adventures. The author does a great job making good use of the characters and races he's created in past books in this story. I also always love when there's a little nod back to the DC Comics.
The time lock device itself had me a little confused. I wonder what prompted it's creation and the start of the policy of using it. It didn't seem like a perfect solution to the problem of an attack. I was glad in the end that at least some of the characters questioned it's future use as well.
It' looks like there will someday be a third ebook in this series, and I look forward to it. I call Time Lock a good improvement over the previous novel, which contained a certain creature that I considered quite over the top. I really hope to see where this series can go in the future.
Bonus Review Back to the Future: Untold Tales and Alternate Histories
Even after reading this entire book, I'm not sure how I felt about it. I was torn between the opinion that I loved it or that it was horrible and shouldn't even exist. Like many people who love the film series, I always wished there was more to dig into, so when I saw this comic I was super excited that I would finally have more stories about my favorite time traveling duo. But at the same time, I can see that it's possible that the films are so perfect on their own that adding to them is dangerous, because what someone adds could be of much lower quality than the films. So let me take this story by story and see if I ended up liking this book.
The first story focuses on Marty and Doc's first meeting, and it just didn't ring true to me. Of course it's hard to imagine how their relationship developed in first place, so this is a story that most likely should have remained untold.
The second tale was about Doc, while developing time travel, encountering an alternate timeline and having to set things back to normal. I found this story really didn't fit with how I imagine Doc's life going between his two meetings of Marty. So again, I suppose this was a story best left untold.
The third and fourth stories were so inane that I won't even mention them.
I did somewhat enjoy the fifth issue, though it did have what I consider a pretty major flaw. So despite everything good in this issue, I would probably still put this in the category of stories that were better off not being told.
So here I am having looked back over all the stories, and despite the few things that I did enjoy about all the stories, there was just so much I didn't enjoy and that should have just been left alone that I'm afraid I'm going to have to give this a negative review.
All things considered, I think Back to the Future fans should just skip this book, and consider weather we should just be happy with the three great films we have. Anything else added to them would only detract from the greatness of the films, and the holes in the story which we wonder about probably work better being left alone rather than having them filled in.
Miasma by Greg Cox
Another of the recent ebook novellas having to do with the movie era of The Original Series, Miasma is a perfectly sized tale of Spock, McCoy, and Saavik. The brief length of these ebook novellas keeps the suspense up in this "lost-on-an-inhospitable-planet" story that could easily have been an episode of an Enterprise-A tv series.
I've made no secret in the past about the fact that I am totally tired of the planet of the week 5YM story that has no repercussions and adds nothing new to the story of Star Trek than another in the hundreds of missions crammed into those seemingly endless five years. And Greg Cox has made no secret in the past that he loves writing TOS stories. But he has also proven that he is more than capable of giving us TOS stories that don't fall into that annoying category that I am tired of reading. Miasma is another proof of his ability to give an otherwise basic TOS story just enough twist to make me interested.
Miasma's inclusion of Saavik, and thus the requirement that it be set on the Enterprise-A, was a great twist in the TOS formula to get me intrigued. Adding to my enjoyment of this book is the fact that I've been reading through the old DC Comics for the past couple of years, and I'm currently in the exact era that this story takes place in. Going along with the DC Comics conceit that Saavik returned to the Enterprise to replace Sulu after his promotion to the Excelsior, Greg Cox crafted a great story for me to mix in with my DC Comics reading, and at just the right moment.
I've also not read any stories featuring Saavik any farther down the timeline than this. The insights into Spock and Saavik's relationship giving during Saavik's attempt to rescue Spock, McCoy, and Chekov from a monstrous Degobah-like planet will be great for me to have in mind moving forward down the TOS chronology. This was in fact my favorite portrayal of Saavik I've read, inching out the impressive The Pandora Principle and Usnpoken Truth, which I didn't really enjoy.
I knew I was liking this story alot when the somewhat gruesome solution to the crew's predicament was discovered. This twist was seemingly perfectly in the TOS style, and at the same time something I couldn't imagine being done on the show.
All in all I really enjoyed this ebook, and it makes me more excited to get to Greg Cox's other recent Enterprise-A novel Foul Deeds Will Rise and his newest book Child of Two Worlds. Definitely worth the read and the few dollars. Shadow of the Machine by Scott Harrison
Another in the line of ebook novellas, several of which have been The Original Series movie era tales, this story is set in the days following Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Because of my love for books set in the movie era, I wanted to like this story, and I had high hopes that would, until a few chapters in when I just couldn't deny that what I was reading was, sadly just not very good.
The book was essentially a character piece about Kirk, Spock, and Sulu. Each had their own stories which were totally unrelated to each other, apart from the fact that they all took place during the Enterprise's repairs at Earth following it's encounter with V'Ger. None of the stories were very action driven, instead going for a deeply personal look at the three characters. I was ok will the idea of all of this, but the execution contained many problems.
Spock's story was my favorite. Showing him traveling to Vulcan to formally end his Kohlinar training and visit his parents, this was a story I could see being told. But Spock's actions early in the book are too cold, even for him. His reunion with Sarek seems out of character for his father, and his receiving the blessing of his Kohilnar master to pursue more of his human half seems absurd. I was most struck at the beginning of Spock's story by the narrator claiming that Spock and McCoy were essentially the same: "material so similar that the differences were only apparent upon closer scrutiny." This doesn't ring true to me at all.
Kirk's tale of remembering his life with his fallen brother and going back to his family farm to visit his troubled nephew was a mixed bag. I enjoyed the back story about Sam Kirk and the brothers life growing up in Iowa, but the visit to help set his young nephew back on the right track was cliche and boring to me. Since Kirk and crew have been on Earth for three years, the entire set up of going on what is implied to be some much needed shore leave on Earth seems odd to me, as does the fact that the Admiral hasn't visited his family in all that time. The entire incident seems to take place three years too late.
Sulu's story really threw me for a loop. The entire book isn't in continuity with the Lit-verse, and actually doesn't seem to be in continuity with the ending of The Motion Picture (in which Kirk takes the ship "out there, thataway" in search of new adventures, not back to Earth for more refitting). But bits and pieces of the Lit-verse are retained in contradictory ways. Spock's story seems to be building toward the new emotional state that we find him in in Christopher L. Bennett's post-TMP tales, a state which isn't really featured in any older Trek novels. But the entire setting of the novella is in contradiction to Ex Machina which takes place in the same time period. Demora Sulu's mother's name from The Captain's Daughter is retained in Shadows of the Machine, but she is a vastly different character, and her relationship with Sulu is in total contradiction to that older story. Why keep the name but make the character someone different entirely?
The ending of the story, which shows Sulu abandoning his premature daughter and wife in the hospital to go back to his life exploring the stars really bothered me. I don't see that as in Sulu's character or as how his parantage of Demora came about.
I feel like these stories, reworked, could have been great B-plots
to a bigger, more traditionally "Star Trek" A-plot, which would have had
to have revolved around Scotty, Chekov, or Uhura. But taken as they are, Shadow of the Machine is one of the least impressive Star Trek tales I've ever read.
I'd give this story two out of five stars. I hope that future installments in the ebook line are better, because they have been very hit and miss lately.
Harlan Ellison's The City on the Edge of Forever from IDW
The famous episode's original screenplay by Harlan Ellison gets a comic adaptation by IDW. The artwork is very unique, but it was done in a style that I think I enjoyed. Several aspects of the episode were apparently changed for the filmed script. This became the most interesting part of the comic.
I prefer the filmed version over the comic's storyline of a drug dealing, blackmailing Starfleet officer running into the portal after one of his addicted customers goes off the rails. The Guardians of Forever being several disembodied spirits who speak to the Enterprise crew is a change I liked. But I missed the rock ring portal of the time travel vortex. Yeoman Rand gets a bigger, more action oriented part in this story. The ending of the comic seems to be slightly different than the version in the episode, but the art was hard to follow in this regard and I didn't really understand what was going on that most important moment.
Another interesting aspect of the original screenplay was the little bits of universe building which were included but which ended up differing from the Star Trek canon later established. Most of the differences were about Spock, Vulcan, and the Vulcan people. It was odd to find these in this comic, but I understood that they were staying true to the screenplay as written before more was known about the Trek universe.
Worth a read since it was out there, but I would have never thought about making this book. 3 of 5 stars.