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Book Review: The Autobiography of James T. Kirk: The Story of Starfleet’s Greatest Captain by David Goodman

February 18, 2016 Leave a comment

Kirk bioWhen I was a growing up Saturday night for me was all about two wondrous television programs “The Muppet Show” and reruns of the original “Star Trek” series. The former probably helped shaped my sense of humor and wonder the latter my sense of adventure and heroism. Indeed several years later it was Star Trek that introduced me to the fact that heroism had a cost when I sat in a darkened theater with my dad and watched my beloved Mr. Spock sacrifice himself to save the Enterprise. It was the first time I realized my heroes could die. It was a pretty powerful moment and to this day when I hear Spock say, “I have been and always shall be your friend” tears come to my eyes.

As I grew older I still loved Spock, but my love for his best friend Captain James T. Kirk grew. I loved his never say die attitude, his sense of loyalty, his sense of humor, and his sense of adventure. He was my favorite Star Trek Captain until I met a man named Benjamin Lafayette Sisko, but that’s a story for another time. So I was saddened when Kirk was killed off in such a blah way in “Stark Trek: Generations” and then really happy when William Shatner with some help from the great Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens brought Kirk back in a series of fun novels. They were highly enjoyable reads, but after a while the series sort of lost steam for me.

Then last year I heard about David Goodman’s “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk: The Story of Starfleet’s Greatest Captain.” I was very curious. Could this be a chance to catch back up and relive the exploits of a hero who shaped so much of my youth? A chance to see some of Captain Kirk’s adventures from a different perspective? I had to find out. So I added the book to my Amazon wishlist and got it as a Christmas gift. I just finished the book and I’m happy to report that the answers to my two earlier questions was a resounding yes. “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk” is a fun and fantastic read that captures the true spirit of Star Trek in the way the Nu-Trek series of films wishes it could.

When you first open “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk” you’re greeted by a foreword by

GoodmanDr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy and it becomes clear from the get go that Goodman knows the characters he’s writing about. He perfectly nails McCoy’s voice. Then we get the book itself which is told in first person by the titular character, whose voice he also captured perfectly. Goodman then brings the book to a fantastic close with an afterword by Kirk’s best friend, a now older, wiser Spock and I can practically hear Leonard Nimoy’s voice in my head.

The other great thing about “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk” is the fact that it’s a purely character driven story. Goodman expertly ties together Kirk’s childhood, years in Starfleet Academy, as well as both his television and small screen exploits into one singular narrative. It’s a tale that’s fun, exciting, powerful, and heartrendingly poignant. That’s because Goodman gets Kirk.

He understand that the galaxy’s greatest hero might have some swagger when it comes to romancing a green skinned alien woman or facing down a Klingon commander, but at heart he’s a humble man whose haunted by his failures. Over the course of the book you see Kirk both fulfilled and haunted by his commitment to duty. He struggles to forge a family outside of his career while not realizing how strong a family he has forged while sitting in the captain’s chair of the Enterprise.

There’s plenty of new stuff in “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk” that’s interesting, but Goodman makes the parts you know, where Kirk recounts his film and television adventures, equally fascinating. I particularly loved how he handled the heartbreaking loss Kirk experienced in “City on the Edge of Forever” and the mixture of emotions that came as we got Kirk’s insight into the films “Wrath of Khan,” “Search for Spock,” “The Voyage Home,” and “Undiscovered Country.” I also loved how he handled the wretched fifth Trek film “The Final Frontier.” I’m not going to spoil it, but I think long time Trek fans will enjoy what Goodman does.

So if you’re a “Star Trek” fan or just looking for an insight into what makes a great hero tick do yourself a favor and pick up “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk.” It’s a fascinating look at the exploits of one of pop culture’s greatest and most wonderfully flawed heroes.

Categories: Book Review, Uncategorized

Book Review- Garro: Vow of Faith by James Swallow

February 13, 2016 Leave a comment

Vow of FaithI’m a huge fan of idealistic characters who stick by their vows and what they believe in even when times get tough. So I was not surprised when I reached book three, “Galaxy in Flames” by Ben Counter, of Black Library’s “Horus Heresy” series that I would meet some of my favorite characters in all of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. I’m taking of course about the Space Marines who stood loyal to their vow to the Emperor when their Legions went rogue and tried to kill them on Istvaan III. Of those characters my favorite is probably former Luna Wolf (He was never a Son of Horus) Garviel Loken.

“Galaxy in Flames” also introduced my second favorite Loyalist member of the TraitorCover Vow of Faith Legions, Battle Captain Nathaniel Garro formerly of the Death Guard, but we didn’t really get to know him until James Swallow’s excellent fourth “Horus Heresy” novel “Flight of the Eisenstein,” which I loved. So I of course followed Garro to his own sort of sub-series within the “Horus Heresy” series. What was especially interesting about the Garro series is so far they’ve all been audio dramas, and they’ve all been amazing. If you haven’t listened to them do yourself a favor go and download them from Black Library’s website, or buy the boxed set of CD’s. You get Swallow’s stories, fun music and sound effects, but best of all you get Toby Longworth as a narrator. The man can make anything sound epic. I want Toby Longworth to narrate my life.

So this December I was especially intrigued when Black Library announced that the Garro series would be returning to print with a new novella titled “Garro: Vow of Faith.” You could get as an e-book, or splurge and get the deluxe limited edition signed hardcover. I had some extra money at the time so I bought the hardcover and I’m glad I did. It’s a fun book. It’s got a breathtakingly gorgeous Neil Roberts dust cover painting and the actual hardcover is made up to look like a heavily annotated copy of the Lectito Divinitatus, the holy book of Garro’s faith. The real question though was how was the story? Having just finished it I’m happy to report that “Vow of Faith” is another highly satisfying entry in the Garro series that moves the title character forward in some intriguing ways and also hints at the further development of one of my favorite Warhammer 40K institutions, the secretive Inquisition.

SwalllowWhen we catch up with Garro in “Vow of Faith” he’s experiencing a bit of a crisis of faith and identity because he’s recovering from the shocking revelation at the end of “Shield of Lies,” where he discovered that his master, Malcador the Sigilite, a shadowy and powerful Psyker, is forming his own personal army to deal with the treachery of the Warmaster Horus and the other Traitor Legions that turned to Chaos. So Malcador gives his top agent some time off and Garro uses it to seek out the woman who changed his life back during “The Flight of the Eisenstein” novel, Euphrati Keeler, a mysterious and powerful woman who is venerated as a living saint by the underground church that worships the Emperor of Mankind as a god.

What follows is a fun novel of chase and intrigue as Garro sets out across Terra to find Keeler, but he’s not the only seeking that Saint. Two of Horus’ agents have infiltrated Terra and embarked upon a quest to assassinate Keeler.

It’s always fun to visit Terra in a 40K novel because it’s not a place we often see. It’s especially fascinating during the “Horus Heresy” because we’re getting a glimpse of Earth right as it’s come together after many years of divisive and apocalyptic warfare. In “Vow of Faith” Swallow takes Garro and us readers to some of the planet’s more fascinating locales including a vast desert, an arctic wilderness, a gigantic “walking city,” and a massive industrial metropolis that hovers above the Earth.

As we visit these locales we’re given moments of action and intrigue, but more importantly we’re along with Garro as he meditates on his faith and struggles to find the right path in the morally murky morass that life during the Horus Heresy has become. It’s great because as a Space Marine Garro is a deeply noble and larger than life hero, but he’s also very vulnerable and is plagued by many of the doubts that us mere mortals would have.

Along his journey to find Keeler and protect her from the assassins at her heels Garro meets some interesting characters. We learn something intriguing about the Imperial Fist Sigismund, especially given his later history. For me though the best encounters came at the end when Garro was reunited with both Keeler and Kyril Sindermann, the iterator (lecturer and sort of teacher) from the first four “Horus Heresy” novels. It was great revisiting these characters and seeing what they’ve come to stand for since I last read about them.

So ultimately one of the most interesting aspects of “Garro: Vow of Faith” is how Swallow tackles the idea of faith and how it drives people at this point in 40K history when the Imperium is basically a secular empire. You get to see how Garro’s faith impacts the crisis he’s going through and it ultimately leads him onto a pretty interesting path. The story also deepens the mystery of what exactly is going on with Euphrati Keeler. I’m as excited to read more about her as I am to read more about Garro.

My only real complaint about “Vow of Faith” is not really Swallow’s fault and that is the fact that by reading it I may have spoiled some Horus Heresy books I have not read yet. I won’t say which ones, but ultimately that’s okay. They’re not huge spoilers and for people who have read far enough those moments that provide connective tissue to other books might be pretty cool.

So for me, “Garro: Vow of Faith” was a pretty pricy read, but it was worth it. Swallow gave us a character driven story that took Garro back to his roots and put him on an exciting path. So I look forward to the next adventure of Garro even if Toby Longworth is not narrating, but I hope he is.


								

Book Review- I Am Slaughter by Dan Abnett

February 6, 2016 Leave a comment

BLPROCESSED-i-am-slaughter-eng-coverI was late to the party in terms of discovering Black Library’s epic Warhammer 40,000 events story lines. When I became a fan of 40K books the “Horus Heresy” novels the series already had 20 entries, but once I discovered those book I quickly became a fan. So I was very intrigued when Black Library announced they were kicking off a year long novel event titled “The Beast Arises.” Making the event even more intriguing was the fact that one of my favorite 40K writers, Dan Abnett, was kicking it off with the first novel, “I Am Slaughter.”

One of my favorite elements of 40K fiction are the settings. The best ones really take you to some fascinating worlds and “I Am Slaughter” did just that. Abnett began by taking up to the front lines of a planet called Ardamantua, a world just six weeks away from Terra by warp travel, where the Imperial Fists Space Marine Legion had embarked upon a campaign to exterminate a threatening alien species that recently emerged there. We’re also taken to Holy Terra for some scenes of political machinations and spycraft. That was a treat because it’s rare that a 40K novel heads back to Earth.

What made the trip to Earth even more fascinating though was the time in which “I Am Slaughter” and “The Beast Arises” series is set, the 32nd millenium. So the Horus Heresy is over and Earth has healed, but the scars still run deep. What’s especially interesting though is the Imperium is at relative peace, and that’s not something I recall reading or hearing about in 40K books. It makes for an interesting time period. Humanity is still adjusting to the physical death of the God Emperor (who is kept alive but in a vegetative state via the Golden Throne) and many of the other great heroes lost during the Horus Heresy, like some of the Space Marine Primarchs, but it is doing it’s best to move forward.

That of course doesn’t last long though because we know the whole point of “The Beast Dan-coolArises” event is a massive threat to the Imperium is going to rear it’s head, and by the end of “I Am Slaughter” it does, and in a major way. I don’t want to say too much about the extent of the threat and it’s nature because it remains a mystery for most of the book and its scope and scale is one of “I Am Slaughter’s” fun reveals. What I will say is it involves an established 40K foe that I generally don’t find that interesting. Abnett makes it work though. He really plays up the frightening nature of the enemy and their new status quo.

Another element that Abnett exceeds at is his cast of characters. Much of the action in “I Am Slaughter” revolves around the Space Marines of the Imperial Fists legion, and what I like about that is when Abnett writes Space Marines he really dives into the customs and traditions that makes a particular legion tick. You come away from the book with a good sense of what that particular legion is all about.

With the Imperial Fists Abnett shows you there a lot of fascinating things going on. The first thing is that these are proud warriors who believe more than anything in standing and holding your ground. That really gives the scenes where the Imperial Fists characters collide with the mysterious threat an epic feel. Abnett is already fantastic with action scenes, but the final ones really crackle with a sense of power and poignancy that comes from standing tall in the face of impending doom.

The other fascinating thing about the Imperial Fists is at this point in time they’re a Legion that’s just gettng back into the field. For so long, many of their members stood guard defending Terra, and the Imperial Palace in particula,r and in the book they’ve stood at their posts against no real threats for decades.

Abnett spends much of his time with the Imperial Fists in “I Am Slaughter,” but we do get to meet some interesting human characters as well. Many of them serve supporting roles, but much of the Earth scenes involve a fascinating character named Drakan Vangorich, the grandmaster of the Imperium’s Officio Assassainorium. We get to see Vangorich navigate the byzantine schemes and machinations of the High Lords of Terra and we get to see him put a mysterious plan in play. So “I Am Slaughter” is both a war novel and a tale of political intrigues, and both parts are equally fascinating.

The only real criticism I can offer of the book is that for some it may be a little too short in length, but I didn’t mind it that much. It felt right to me especially when you consider it’s the first chapter in a larger narrative. That meant much of “I Am Slaughter” involves setting the stage for things to unfold later, but Abnett does so with a potent cocktail of mystery, intrigue, and all out action. Plus, as I said, we get some great character work with the Imperial Fists. So with “I Am Slaughter” “The Beast Arises” event is off to a fantastic start. I eagerly await “Predator and Prey,” the second chapter in the story line.