My Say
Karen Johnson, from Out of the Kaje #2 (October 1998)

ST:TNG 38 - Dragonís Honour
by Kij Johnson and Greg Cox 1996

Dragonís Honour could best be described as Star Trek meets Gilbert and Sullivan. Not that the characters burst into song every five seconds, but the plot has a strong farcical element, and owes something to the Mikado. That said, the book is definitely worth reading, if only to see the predicaments that the characters get themselves into.
The Dragon Empire is a civilization modelled on ancient Japan and other Asian cultures. It is ruled by an Emperor who is used to having his every whim indulged. He has decided that it would be a good thing if the Dragon Empire joined the Federation, and he has petitioned the Federation Council accordingly. As the Empire has a long history of civil war, it has to prove its peacefulness before itís eligible for admission, and the best way to do that is to unite the two warring factions with a marriage alliance. The Emperorís son is to wed the eldest daughter of his enemy, and the Enterprise is despatched to see that the Wedding (and consequentially the Treaty) happens. Many people think that the alliance is a very bad idea, and are working to stop it, not least a hostile alien race, the Gíkkau, who are waiting in the wings to pounce. The Federation is aware of their presence, but interfering would break the Prime Directive (funny, that doesnít usually stop them) so Picardís hands are tied. All he can do is to try and ensure that the wedding takes place, which is not at all an easy task.
Because the Dragon Empire is so ancient and isolated, it has a very stratified culture, with intricate protocol dictating peopleís behaviour, dress etc. The primary rule is that Honour is everything, and also that the Emperor and his family are all-important. Their slightest wish must be obeyed, which leads to all sorts of interesting situations. Picardís intestinal fortitude is severely tested by the Emperorís Gourmet Banquet (each dish less edible than the last, and all lovingly described here), and Riker corrupts the innocent when he teaches the Prince to play High Stakes Poker. Does he win? What do you think? This is Riker weíre talking about!
There is little or no science in this Ďscience fictioní book, but the humour makes up for it, and itís well worth reading anyway

The Pratchett Portfolio
Terry Pratchett, illustrated by Paul Kidby
Victor Gollancz 1996

Itís a while since Iíve read a Terry Pratchett, but this brief Guide brought back all the memories (the horror, the horror!). All of my favourite characters are here - Rincewind, the Luggage, the Librarian, Death - plus more than a few I havenít met yet - Casanunda, the Gentledwarf of Fortune and the Discís greatest lover; Mr Ixolite, the last surviving Banshee (Banhee?) on the Disc;  etc. The portfolio includes a brief description of each character, accompanied by Paul Kidbyís intricate black and white pencil drawings. Rincewind and the Witches look absolutely nothing like I imagined them (similar to the cartoons, but not exactly the same) but they are terribly well drawn. I really liked the sequence of Rincewind in his most familiar posture - turning and running away. There are also a few full-page colour drawings which would make great posters. In fact, when I look inside the back cover it says that ĎExclusive Discworld Printsí are also available by writing to P.J.S.M Prints, PO Box 1883, Frome, Somerset BA11 3YA and there are a  few reproductions of them - lovely!
Paul Kidby obviously likes cats, and heís snuck them into several places. Greebo, Nanny Ogís Tomcat, gets a whole page to hisself, with two drawings featuring his baleful stare, and one of his Ďhumaní avatar (Whew! He looks like heíd be right at home on the cover of a Mills and Boon!). There is also a beautiful picture of Death, with kittens. Actually, all the sketches in this book are beautiful, and itís well worth a look.

Funnelweb
Richard Ryan 1997

Are you scared of spiders? Do you jump (and/or scream deafeningly) if a house spider the size of a pinhead drops down in front of you? Does the thought of one big enough to eat a cow (whole) send an atavistic shiver down your back? If so, DO NOT READ THIS BOOK! On the other hand, maybe you should. During the first part of this book, I had to keep reminding myself that these are Not Real Spiders, but soon it went so far over the top that I had no trouble remembering.
An American submarine comes to spy on the bright young things frolicking on Bondi Beach one New Years Eve, and has a slight accident. A radioactive swab is dumped into the ocean, where a shark swallows it. The shark washes up on the beach, and the funnelwebs munch on it. They are thoroughly irradiated, and then Nasty Things start to happen. They mutate and grow, and very soon theyíre not spiders any more, but SPIDERS!!!!!!!!
Iím not sure who comes off worst in this book - the spiders, who are only doing what comes naturally, or the politicians. Such a self-serving, avaricious, corrupt, and down-right nasty bunch have never been seen before, and will never be seen again. They really deserve their sticky ends, and itís a terrible shame that they have to take the rest of the country with them.

Dinosaur Summer
Greg Bear 1998

ďItís the year 1947, and nobodyís interested in dinosaurs anymore. Less than fifty years after Professor Challengerís famed journey to the Lost World, Americaís last dinosaur circus is closing down...but the adventure of a lifetime is about to begin. In a dramatic change of pace, multiple Hugo and Nebula award-winning science fiction master Greg Bear, author of Moving Mars, Anvil of Stars, and Queen of Angels, presents a lavishly illustrated thriller that is certain to become a new classic of adventure beyond time...Ē
So much for the jacket blurb. Thereís more, but I wonít quote it. I found this story a bit boyís-own adventury, but very interesting. The main narrator of the story, Peter Belzoni, is a teenage boy (14,15?) whoís being taken on the adventure of a lifetime by his father, Anthony, an almost washed-up photographer who lands the job of a lifetime (I know Iím being very free with the superlatives, but itís that kind of book.) Together with dinosaur trainer Vince Shellebarger, young film-maker Ray Harryhausen and a small group of others, they travel to the Lost World to return the last living circus dinosaurs to their ancient home.
I havenít ever read The Lost World, but now Iím quite curious to, so that I can find out how much of the incredible ecosystem described in the book is Bearís innovation, and how much was Conan Doyleís. As an admirer of the modern dino sagas, Jurassic Park 1&2, it was interesting to see a view of the prehistoric world that was completely different. No rampaging velociraptors here (if there had been, no way would our heroes have made it in safety to the last page of the book) but  an array of creatures more speculative, and mighty in their own right. Some of them exist in the real world as fossils, some of them are postulated, and one or two are purely creations of Greg Bearís fertile imagination, but Tony DiTerlizziís illustrations do them all justice, and make them seem equally believable.
A good read for anyone interested in prehistoric life, character studies, or  good old-fashioned adventure.

The Last Continent
Terry Pratchett 1998

Orstrallia - Land of gum trees, veg-e-mite, drop bears, Ned Kelly, and Rincewindís distant relative. Need I say more? Our hapless hero finds himself a hero indeed as he wanders the out-back. Somebody wants to write Rincewind into a genuine Bush Ballad, but first he has to be romantically dead. All he wants to do is to go home. So do the Wizards, who find themselves somewhere in the Discís distant past when they incautiously step through an open window.
Terry Pratchett obviously had fun writing this book, and very few Australian cliches are left out - the only ones I noted by their absence were the bridge made out of a giant coathanger, and the sponge square with chocolate and jam on the outside, rolled in funny white sawdust.


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Want to contact me? E-mail karenji@labyrinth.net.au