Review: Watching the Clock by Christopher L. Bennett

Review: Watching the Clock by Christopher L. BennettWatching the Clock (Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations #1) by Christopher L. Bennett
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction, space opera, Star Trek, time travel
Series: Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations #1
Pages: 496
Published by Pocket Books on May 1, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBetter World Books
Goodreads

There’s likely no more of a thankless job in the Federation than temporal investigation. While starship explorers get to live the human adventure of traveling to other times and realities, it’s up to the dedicated agents of the Federation Department of Temporal Investigations to deal with the consequences to the timestream that the rest of the Galaxy has to live with day by day. But when history as we know it could be wiped out at any moment by time warriors from the future, misused relics of ancient races, or accident-prone starships, only the most disciplined, obsessive, and unimaginative government employees have what it takes to face the existential uncertainty of it all on a daily basis . . . and still stay sane enough to complete their assignments.
That’s where Agents Lucsly and Dulmur come in—stalwart and unflappable, these men are the Federation’s unsung anchors in a chaotic universe. Together with their colleagues in the DTI—and with the help and sometimes hindrance of Starfleet’s finest—they do what they can to keep the timestream, or at least the paperwork, as neat and orderly as they are. But when a series of escalating temporal incursions threatens to open a new front of the history-spanning Temporal Cold War in the twenty-fourth century, Agents Lucsly and Dulmur will need all their investigative skill and unbending determination to stop those who wish to rewrite the past for their own advantage, and to keep the present and the future from devolving into the kind of chaos they really, really hate.

My Review:

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective point of view, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.” At least according to Doctor Who.

Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure I spotted their TARDIS, or at least a TARDIS, somewhere (or somewhen) in the mass of confiscated time travel detritus stored in the Department of Temporal Investigations’ Vault on Eris. But I could be wrong. Or it might not be there now. Or then.

The thing about time travel, is that it messes up any sense of past, present and future, in the grammatical sense as well as every other way, more than enough to give anyone trying to talk about it – or write about it – a terrible and unending headache.

Just as the folks at the Federation’s Department of Temporal Investigations, whose entire existence, across space and time, owes itself to Starfleet’s pressing need to clean up after Jim Kirk’s all too frequent messing about with time.

I really want to make a Law and Order reference to “these are their stories” because it does kind of work, even if DTI Agent Gariff Lucsly’s affect and mannerisms owe a lot more to Joe Friday in Dragnet.

The story in Watching the Clock combines two elements and both go back and forth in time more than a bit. Time which always seems to wibble just when it’s expected to wobble – and very much vice-versa. Seemingly ad infinitum and always ad nauseam.

The biggest variable often seems to wrap around who is getting the nauseam this time around.

As this is the first book in the Department of Temporal Investigations series, and that’s an agency that appears – often in rueful commentary – in several episodes across the Star Trek timeline without being the center of any incident – after all, DTI are more of a cleanup crew than an instigating force – a part of this book is to set up the agency, its primary officers, and its place within Starfleet.

Which results in more than a bit of that wibble and wobble, as the case that Agents Lucsly and Dulmur find themselves in the middle of is also in the middle of both the actual case (even if they’re not aware of it) and the Trek timeline, so the story needs to establish who they are, how they got to be where (and when) they are, and who they have to work with and against.

But the case they have before them – also behind them (time travel again) – is rooted in the Temporal Cold War, which seems to be heating up again. Assuming concepts like “again” have meaning in the context of time travel. Someone is operating from the shadows, manipulating the past in order to keep the Federation from defeating their aims in the future.

Which sounds a lot like what the Borg were attempting in First Contact. As it should. When it comes to time travel, this has all happened before, and it will all, most certainly, happen again. And again. And AGAIN.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up because last week ended with some really frustrating reads. I was looking for something that I was guaranteed to be swept away by – no matter what. (I started the next St. Cyr book, What Darkness Brings, but it was too soon after the previous. I love the series, but like most series reads, I need a bit of space between each book so that the tropes don’t become over-familiar.)

It’s been a while since I read one of the Star Trek books, but I have a lot of them on my Kindle because they are one of the things Galen picks up when he’s looking for a comfort read. So there they were, and I hadn’t read this series. Although now I will when I’m looking for a reading pick-me-up.

There’s always plenty of Trek nostalgia to go around, and I’m certainly there for that, especially in the mood I was in. Howsomever, as a series set in the ‘verse but not part of one of the TV series, this one needed a bit more to carry this reader through all 500ish pages. Because that’s a lot, even for me. Especially when I’m flailing around for a read.

Watching the Clock combined the kind of buddy cop/partnership story that works so well in mystery – and this is a mystery – with that lovely bit of Trek nostalgia with a whole lot of thoughtful exploration of just what kind of a mess time travel would cause if it really worked.

Because the idea that going back in time would “fix” history, for certain definitions of both “fix” and history, sounds fine and dandy in fantasy but in SF just makes a complete mess out of causality and pretty much everything else.

(If you’re curious about other visions of just how badly it can go, take a look at One Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky. The Tchaikovsky story, published a decade AFTER Watching the Clock, looks back on their version of a time war from the perspective of a battle-scarred, PTSD-ridden survivor and it’s not a pretty sight. But it is a fascinating story – also a lot shorter exploration of the same concepts as Watching the Clock.)

So, if you’re looking to get immersed in a familiar world while reading a completely original story set in that world, Watching the Clock is a fun read and Lucsly and Dulmur and all the members of the Department of Temporal Investigations are interesting people to explore it with. I had a ball, and if you’re a Trek fan you probably will tool.

If the concepts interest you but Trek isn’t your jam, check out One Day All This Will Be Yours.

Review: Shadows Have Offended by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Review: Shadows Have Offended by Cassandra Rose ClarkeShadows Have Offended by Cassandra Rose Clarke
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: media tie-in, science fiction
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Pages: 304
Published by Pocket Books on July 13, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org
Goodreads

An original novel based on the acclaimed Star Trek TV series!
The USS Enterprise has been granted the simple but unavoidable honor of ferrying key guests to Betazed for a cultural ceremony. En route, sudden tragedy strikes a Federation science station on the isolated planet Kota, and Captain Jean-Luc Picard has no qualms sending William Riker, Data, and Chief Medical Officer Beverly Crusher to investigate. But what begins as routine assignments for the two parties soon descends into chaos: Picard, Worf, and Deanna Troi must grapple with a dangerous diplomatic crisis as historic artifacts are stolen in the middle of a high-profile ceremony…while nothing is as it seems on Kota. A mounting medical emergency coupled with the science station’s failing technology—and no hope of rescue—has Doctor Crusher racing against time to solve a disturbing mystery threatening the lives of all her colleagues….

My Review:

This caught my eye for a number of reasons. I was more than a bit surprised to see it pop up on Edelweiss, because the Star Trek media tie-in books in general don’t make many appearances on either Edelweiss or NetGalley. After all, the audience for them is built in, to the point where reviews probably don’t make much difference.

But it kept calling my name because it filled a bunch of niches in my reading brain. I was looking for something SFnal after the excellence of A Psalm for the Wild-Built and Project Hail Mary last week. I’m still in the mood for competence porn, and Trek fiction at its best has always scratched that particular itch. The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, whether or not there’s a “bloody A, B, C or D” or even E in the name, have always been the best of the best.

This is a world I could sink into from the very first page. I’ve known this place and these people for a long, long time, after all. And the title was intriguing because there’s a long history of Trek borrowing from Shakespeare, going all the way back to the 9th episode of the 1st season of the Original Series, whose title, “Dagger of the Mind” comes straight out of Macbeth.

So the copy of The Globe Illustrated Shakespeare: The Complete Works that Jean-Luc Picard keeps in his quarters, or the still ironic reference to not having “experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon” are far from the first times that the Bard has been referenced in Trek.

The 1960s assumption that if Shakespeare was still being performed and read 350 years after his death that he would still be considered a classic another 350 years in the future – when the Original Series was set – still seems like a good bet.

All of the above is a long way of saying that I got trapped into this story for the title, which is, as you might have already guessed or remembered, a quote from Shakespeare, specifically from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended…” I found myself wondering what the quote, or the context of the original play, might have to do with this particular story. So here we are. And that, I think, relates to another Shakespeare quote, this one from The Tempest.  “We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

And doesn’t that require a bit more explanation?

Very much like one of the episodes of any and all of the Trek series, there’s an A plot and a B plot in Shadows Have Offended. Sometimes they did plot and subplot, but I’m not sure that either plot here is subordinate to the other.

The A plot follows Picard at a diplomatic function on Betazed. Picard may be an excellent diplomat, but the pomp and ceremony that is a huge part of the Betazed culture leaves him totally cold – although the Betazed Ambassador Lwaxana Troi does her best to warm him up by embarrassment as she’s been completely unsuccessful at every other method she’s tries – and she’s tried them ALL.

Lwaxana ropes Picard into participating in the ceremony, while she gets to watch her daughter, the Enterprise’ ship’s counselor Deanna Troi, while she attempts to figure out if Deanna and Worf are in a relationship or not.

But the ceremony goes haywire when the cultural artifacts that are scheduled to be displayed are stolen, leaving Picard on Betazed attempting to calm the agitated diplomatic horde while the Enterprise goes off to catch the rather surprising thief.

The B plot is where the title quote comes into play. On the way to Betazed, the Enterprise dropped Commander Riker, Doctor Crusher, Data and a couple of scientifically inclined junior officers on a planet that is being evaluated for a new colony. Glitches have arisen at the last stage of the evaluation so the scientists on station have requested more hands on their rather sandy deck to see if they can resolve the remaining issues and sign off on the colonization effort.

Picard’s part of the story feels lighthearted throughout. Not that the stolen cultural artifacts are not important, not that the diplomatic mission he’s been roped into isn’t necessary, but no one – except possibly the thief – is going to die on this unexpected mission. There will be a lot of hot tempers, there’s a lot of potential political fallout but the stakes always feel a bit small – at least relative to Riker and Crusher’s mission.

Because the colony that needs to be signed off on is for a large group of refugees whose planet has been wiped out. They have no home and need one rather desperately. But the glitches aren’t just minor glitches, and the more the newly expanded group looks into them, the more desperate things get.

Either the planet is trying to communicate with them, or the planet is trying to kill them. And it might succeed at the latter if someone doesn’t figure out the former before their shelter is destroyed, and their equipment, including the food replicators and communications, have ceased to function. There are no ships currently available to rescue them, so they are on their own with a dwindling supply of food and a group of people who keep passing out and screaming. Including the android Data.

It’s up to Crusher to figure out what is making both the people and the equipment “sick” before it makes them all dead. And that’s where the Shakespearean references become all too relevant.

Escape Rating B: It’s difficult to review this, not because I didn’t enjoy it but because I’m part of its built-in audience. It doesn’t reach beyond those of us who love Trek and want to dip back into it again. In that, it succeeds admirably as it feels like reading an episode. The entire thing painted itself in my brain without a single hitch. If that’s what you’re looking for, and I kind of was, it does its job very well. If you’re looking for more general SF, I highly recommend Project Hail Mary, which is sort of how I got here in the first place!

Review: An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris

Review: An Easy Death by Charlaine HarrisAn Easy Death (Gunnie Rose, #1) by Charlaine Harris
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: alternate history, urban fantasy, Western
Series: Gunnie Rose #1
Pages: 336
Published by Pocket Books on July 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org
Goodreads

The beloved #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse series, the inspiration for HBO’s True Blood, and the Midnight Crossroad trilogy adapted for NBC’s Midnight, Texas, has written a taut new thriller—the first in the Gunnie Rose series—centered on a young gunslinging mercenary, Lizbeth Rose.

Set in a fractured United States, in the southwestern country now known as Texoma. A world where magic is acknowledged but mistrusted, especially by a young gunslinger named Lizbeth Rose. Battered by a run across the border to Mexico Lizbeth Rose takes a job offer from a pair of Russian wizards to be their local guide and gunnie. For the wizards, Gunnie Rose has already acquired a fearsome reputation and they’re at a desperate crossroad, even if they won’t admit it. They’re searching through the small border towns near Mexico, trying to locate a low-level magic practitioner, Oleg Karkarov. The wizards believe Oleg is a direct descendant of Grigori Rasputin, and that Oleg’s blood can save the young tsar’s life.

As the trio journey through an altered America, shattered into several countries by the assassination of Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Depression, they’re set on by enemies. It’s clear that a powerful force does not want them to succeed in their mission. Lizbeth Rose is a gunnie who has never failed a client, but her oath will test all of her skills and resolve to get them all out alive.

My Review:

There was a Red Dead Redemption soundtrack playing through the house this weekend as I was reading An Easy Death. And while Red Dead Redemption isn’t exactly the weird West that the book portrays, those homages to old-school Western TV music certainly created the right mood.

This first book in the Gunnie Rose series takes place in a dystopian, post-Apocalyptic alternate history weird, wild West. Yes, that’s kind of a mouthful. But it all fits.

The Apocalypse that this book is post of was definitely a turning point in history. As it would have been. First, the Great Depression happened. As it did. Second, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to his first term as President in 1932. So far, so good.

But that’s where history goes off the rails. Everything up until 1932 happened the way it happened in our history – with one notable exception. The Romanovs, the Russian Imperial family, managed to escape the 1917 Revolution. Or, at least the Tsarevich and his sisters did, eventually settling in California at the invitation of the Hearst family.

However, in 1932, history goes completely off the rails when FDR is assassinated before he can take office. Then another influenza epidemic carries off his vice-president. And the U.S. fractures into pieces.

In the ensuing economic chaos, most of the original 13 colonies petition Britain to take them back. Canada and Mexico gobble up nearby territory. And the Romanovs establish the Holy Russian Empire in California.

Some places strike out on their own, like Gunnie Rose’s own Texoma, a semi-lawful (and semi-lawless) amalgam of Texas and Oklahoma sandwiched between Mexico and New America.

That’s where our story begins. Gunnie Rose is a member of a mercenary company that takes refugees from Mexico to New America. Mexico is throwing the gringos out. (Sound twistedly familiar?)

When her entire company is killed on a run gone wrong, Gunnie rescues the human cargo, takes the survivors to their original destination, and avenges her dead friends. Now she’s out of work.

And that’s where things get really, really interesting.

Two Russians show up on her doorstep, wanting to hire her for a manhunt. They’re looking for the last known descendant of Rasputin. Yes, that Rasputin. They need his blood to keep the Tsar alive.

Rasputin, after all, really did have a treatment for the Romanov family curse – hemophilia. The Russians in this story know that cure was in his blood, just as the curse was in the Tsar’s blood.

What they don’t know is that the man they are hunting is dead – because Gunnie Rose killed him. And that he was her father. That’s not the first lie of either commission or omission that the Gunnie tells her new clients, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Escape Rating A-: This is a fantastic setup for a series. There’s so much that has gone wrong, and the way that the wrongness has taken hold makes so much sense. It reminds me a bit of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker – not for the steampunk, but for its focus on its kickass heroine, and for the way that its alternative history proceeds logically from its massive fork in the historical road.

The story has a “perils of Pauline” aspect, in that the gunnie is always jumping out of the frying pan and into yet another fire. The journey she undertakes is fraught with danger, some that she anticipates and some she can’t – because her employers are keeping just as many secrets from her as she is from them – and theirs are more dangerous.

But the “life and death on the road” aspects of the story allow the reader to become immersed slowly rather than have the entire misshapen history shoved at us at once. Gunnie and her employers are from different countries and different stations of life, so the things that they expect are vastly different than the ones that she does. That’s why they’ve hired her, because she is the expert on the things and places that they need to visit.

Admittedly, it also seems like Gunnie has way more common sense than they do. Life among the upper crust does not prepare one for dealing with common folks, especially common folks that are rightfully scared of you – if they don’t think you’re the devil incarnate.

There is magic in this world, and Gunnie’s employers are Russian wizards, whom most people outside the HRE (Holy Russian Empire) call “grigoris”. Grigoris are feared and hated, because they can do fearful and dangerous things, as well as powerful and healing things.

This is a world that I could talk about forever, because the way that history has forked and the results of the fork are endlessly fascinating. The more you read, the more you get sucked into this world, just as Gunnie gets sucked into her employers’ quest.

When the story ends, we readers feel just as “spit out” of the world as Gunnie does from the grigoris plots and counterplots. And we’re just as eager to get back in.

Review: Between a Vamp and a Hard Place by Jessica Sims

Review: Between a Vamp and a Hard Place by Jessica SimsBetween a Vamp and a Hard Place by Jessica Sims
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 384
Published by Pocket Books on December 29th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org
Goodreads

In the wickedly funny spirit of bestselling authors Kerrelyn Sparks and Molly Harper, this sexy paranormal romance features an estate broker and a 600-year-old vampire out for revenge.
Lindsey Hughes loves antiques and couldn’t be happier to make a living in the estate sale business. But when her assistant accidentally buys an entire estate without her approval, Lindsey is forced to clean up the mess herself.
Lindsey travels to the newly purchased, age-old house in Venice, Italy, and soon discovers more than she (never) bargained for. While digging through the hoarder’s trove that fills every floor, she finds a secret staircase behind a wall that leads to a strange coffin…with an even stranger inhabitant.
Vampire Rand FitzWulf has been in his coffin for 600 years. But now that he’s awake, he’s ravenous, and there’s a delicious-smelling woman with a rare blood type in his basement. Luckily, Lindsey has more to offer than blood: she agrees to travel throughout Europe with Rand to help him get revenge on the one who turned him. But as the unlikely pair grows closer, will the billionaire vampire be overtaken by his thirst for blood—or his thirst for love?

My Review:

First of all, as the author states in a Goodreads post about this book, even though a lot of the promotional material for this book said that it was #5 in the author’s very popular Midnight Liaisons series, it isn’t. It’s not even in the same universe as the Midnight Liaisons series.

And color this reader disappointed. I was expecting another story about the Midnight Liaisons paranormal matchmaking agency. I love that series, as reflected in my review of the fourth book, Must Love Fangs. Let me put it this way, I love this series enough that I mostly buy them instead of getting free ARCs. Unfortunately for the purpose of a trail of evidence, when I spend my own money I don’t always write a review.

beauty dates the beast by jessica simsThe Midnight Liaisons series is purely snarktastic fun with a paranormal romance twist. For a good time start with Beauty Dates the Beast, and keep reading until you can’t stop laughing out loud at the dialog. Then keep reading so your buzz continues.

Between a Vamp and a Hard Place is a beast of an entirely different color, type and species. It’s a lot closer to Kerrelyn Sparks’ Love at Stake, Katie MacAlister’s Dark Ones or Lynsay Sands’ Argeneau series.  Those are series where rich vampires in the 21st century meet modern women and get their attitudes dragged into modern times as they fall for each other in spite of all sorts of barriers both real and imaginary. The story is told mostly for humor, with a slice of HEA, or should that be bite, added for spicy good times.

In Between a Vamp and a Hard Place, would-be antiques dealers Lindsey and Gemma have one month to clear out an abandoned apartment in Venice in the hopes that they will find something worth the $10,000 that Gemma paid for the privilege. They do find antiques. They also find a vampire who has been dormant for six centuries with a stake through his heart. A lot of traditional vampire lore gets skewered in the service of fiction, but that part works pretty well.

Rand FitzWulf has a lot to learn about the 21st century and the women in it. But before he can, or if he can, settle down to life with his new blood vassal Lindsey, he has to find the vampire who ordered his staking all those centuries ago, and do unto him before Rand gets done onto again.

In this fish out of water story, Rand ends up charmed by Lindsey, and Lindsey falls in love with Rand. How much of the start of their relationship is due to Rand’s powers is an open question to the reader. And how much Rand’s love for Lindsey has its roots in her extra tasty Hh blood group (which does surprisingly exist) is an equally questionable conundrum.

But as Rand and Lindsey chase his nemesis across Europe using his vampire “spidey-senses”, the slightly lost vampire and the in way over her head modern woman become partners, friends and eventually lovers.

Lindsey always believes that her time with Rand is temporary, but when they come face to face, and fang to fang, with the original Dracula, no one expects to get out alive as Lindsey, Rand and Gemma trip over themselves trying to save each other.

It’s so crazy it just might work. But at what cost?

Escape Rating B-: Some of my rating is due to my disappointment. I just didn’t get the book or the experience I was expecting.

On the other hand, the scenes of Lindsey choking down garlic to make her blood poisonous to Rand’s enemies were absolutely priceless. It sounds awful, but the descriptions are awfully funny.

The way this story is set up is an interesting way of dealing with the vast power differential between a vampire and a human, especially a relatively young one. Lindsey starts out feeling a bit sorry for Rand, and Rand is forced to admit he needs Lindsey as his guide to the 21st century, and for that he needs her willing and not under his thrall. He can force her into doing whatever he wants, but when he does that he loses access to her knowledge of how the world works. And he needs that knowledge badly. Understanding a language, which he does by magic, is not the same as understanding the meaning behind it.

So there’s a strong feeling of Stockholm Syndrome in Rand’s love for Lindsey. And an equally strong feeling of responsibility in Lindsey’s love for Rand. He needs her and she needs to take care of him. It works for them, and it works as part of a very high-stakes road trip to Hell. But I just wasn’t totally sold on the romance. I could see them bonding, but I couldn’t see them staying bonded. Of course, things change.

Between a Vamp and a Hard Place had lots of interesting bits, and Lindsey’s and Rand’s banter is often hilarious. But this story just didn’t put the bite on my happy place the way that the Midnight Liaisons books do.