Book Reviews - Novels
Spock Must Die!
The Klingons have launched a surprise attack against the Federation across a wide front, scoring numerous early victories and knocking Starfleet on its heels. Enterprise is light years away from the action and Kirk decides to head to Organian homeworld to discover why the immortal beings have allowed the war to start (For those of you who may be ignorant, the Organians ended a war between the Klingons and Federation in the episode
"Errand of Mercy". Youíre welcome.). A trip of six months, Kirk despairs that the war may be over before they can arrive, but Scotty proposes a solution; create a duplicate person with the transporter, employing tachyons, and beaming that person to Organia! Spock is the logical choice, but of course things go wrong and a duplicate of the first officer is created on the transporter pad. Who is the other Spock? Which is the real one? What is his relation to the growing crisis, and does the duplicate mean Enterprise harm?
At a lean 118 pages, Spock Must Die(!) is a fast moving story that, well, isnít bad. Perhaps I am spoiled by the Star Trek novels I have read over the past few decades, but I felt James Blish did not take full advantage of the medium. The book resembles a television episode in the worst way, in that Uhura, Sulu and Chekov are given precious little to do in comparison to Bones, Spock, Kirk and Scotty. Months of travel time pass in the novel and yet any attempt to flesh out characters normally given short shrift on the television series are largely overlooked. Perhaps Blish was attempting to capture the feel of the series, telling a focused tale rather than deviating with character moments. Whatever his reasons I feel the book suffers for a lack of those humanizing elements. However, in the later chapters Blish takes full advantage of the medium, creating fantastic situations where Kirkís perceptions are challenged on the surface of Organia, scenes which would have been impossible to render on a sixties television series. While today transporter accidents and evil twins have become something of a clichť, at the time Blish penned the book the concepts were still novel, so it would be unfair to hold it against James for employing them here. Besides, I found ďevilĒ Spock to be quite interesting.
In the end I can only give Spock Must Die(!) a mild recommendation; itís not a bad story and James Blish is a solid writer, and I found it interesting from a historical point of view, but I have read far better Star Trek novels over the years. If you have a chance to track the book down and you have some free time (and considering how small the book is you wonít need much), and if you are curious about this particular portion of Star Trek history, I suggest you give it a look.
James Blish, Spock Must Die!, Bantam Books, 1970.
Star Trek: Death Count
The good and the bad about Death Count is summarized quickly. It is remarkable that Kirk appeared only infrequently, and that Spock and McCoy were even limited to a few sentences in the entire book. I was pleased that Sulu, Chekov and Uhura are the main characters and the novel is told from their perspectives. It is credibly shown that they can do more than utter an occasional "Yes, sir" and that they have a private life beyond their daily duties.
L.A. Graf successfully recreate the atmosphere of the Movie era and carefully supplement it with new ideas. One problem I noticed is that the novel tries hard to resolve its own complexity, similar to a novel by Agatha Christie. I have the impression that the authors or I myself failed to tie together a few of the loose ends. There are just too many different characters and events that require attention. A few less conflicts and explosions may have suited the story better, and could have rendered it more plausible.
Overall, it is an enjoyable but rather not one of the most exciting Star Trek novels.
L.A. Graf, Star Trek: Death Count, Pocket Books, 1992.
Star Trek Vanguard: Harbinger
This is the first book in a new series by David Mack about a space station at the Federation frontier. They year is 2265. The USS Enterprise has just returned from her first voyage under Captain James T. Kirk. In the tradition of spin-offs on screen and in print David Mack draws on well-established characters to introduce a new setting. This strategy works out for the Vanguard series, although I have the impression that the Enterprise should have been involved either somewhat less (just enough to demonstrate "this is the TOS era") or considerably more (as we can hardly visualize Kirk and his crew in secondary roles). Anyway, the depiction of the Enterprise crew is accurate and respectful.
Regarding the new characters, composed of the Vanguard crew and miscellaneous alien and non-aligned people, my apprehension is that they are too much of a mixed bag for a whole series of novels, as they are likely to get in touch only infrequently - unlike it would be among a starship crew. So far T'Prynn, the Vulcan who holds a secret, and Tim Pennington, the ambitious reporter, strike me as the most interesting figures. On the downside, Cervantes Quinn, the likable rogue in the tradition of Harry Mudd and Cyrano Jones, and Anna Sandesjo, the surgically altered infiltrator, appear too conventional to me. The perhaps most important role is taken by the station itself, designed by Masao Okazaki. The fold-out with the station's diagrams is a highlight of the book. David Mack shows a good sense of incorporating Vanguard's spacious interior its into the story, unlike in other novels where time and especially space are not particularly important, but without digressing to technical trifles like it is so often in fan fiction.
The novel is pleasant reading and it thrives on its intense and almost beautiful language, although the contrast between narration and spoken dialogue is a bit harsh at times. I may be spoiled by the TV incarnations. Yet, the language as well as the manners in TOS used to be somewhat different. The same goes for the depiction of bloodshed and sex which naturally had to be toned down in the 1960s. The love triangle in this novel would not have been possible in the time of TOS, and it only adds realism (but isn't it a waste that it ends very soon after the death of a character?). The amount and explicitness of violence, especially regarding Quinn and the Orion Ganz, is a tad too much, however.
A slight letdown of the book lies in its nature as a part of a series. After 374 pages full of action and intrigue almost nothing of the mystery is solved. The novel is neither boring in any way nor would it suffer from the open end, still with a bit more of a conclusion it could have been perfect.
David Mack, Star Trek Vanguard: Harbinger, Pocket Books, 2005.
Star Trek: The Original Series: The Latter Fire
The Latter Fire centers around a diplomatic mission to Syhaar Prime, which was precipitated by an encounter with a Syhaari starship the previous year. However, recent advances in Syhaari technology lead Kirk to believe that the Enterprise crew may have inadvertently leaked technological information during first contact.
This novel begins with the classic Star Trek conundrum: did a Federation starship accidentally contaminate a culture in violation of the Prime Directive? However, drastic twists soon occur, and the plot delves from a "TNG-style" first contact mission into the realm of a gripping TOS thrill ride. James Swallow expertly weaves both styles together effortlessly, and the result is sure to satisfy diplomatic enthusiasts and action junkies alike.
Surprises abound in the intricate plot, and I would be remiss to spoil them for the reader. Political intrigue, new alien species, and interesting revelations proliferate The Latter Fire, and one could easily envision this novel being a dramatic two-part episode of The Original Series. I highly recommend The Latter Fire to anyone looking to delve into the world of classic Star Trek and Kirkís five-year mission.
James Swallow, Star Trek: The Original
Series: The Latter Fire, Pocket Books, 2016.
Star Trek Voyager: Pathways
When Captain Janeway's crew accidentally gets between the front lines of an ongoing war while being on an away mission on an unknown planet, they are taken into custody. Separated from Voyager and slowly starving to death in a disease-ridden prison camp, to keep up their determination as they plot their escape, they share with each other the unlikely paths that brought them all together and to the Delta Quadrant.
Jeri Taylor was involved in the production process of Star Trek Voyager which lends this book a certain quality in giving life to the characters which is unmatched. On about 500 pages Taylor enfolds the background each character has (except for Janeway whose story is told in the separate book Mosaic). Even those storylines evolving pretty much the way you would expect them to are quite entertaining to follow (like Chakotay's), and the ones that don't are fascinating to say the least (like Tom's). The deadly encounter with the hostile aliens and their prison camp merely serves as the framework for the personal stories of Voyager's leading characters told in the third person which makes them even more pleasing to read besides the fact that they're done in such a convincing and brilliant way one is tempted to take Pathways as canon even without the name Jeri Taylor printed on its cover.
So for every Star Trek enthusiast and even for those looking with an skeptical eye on Voyager this book clearly is an important part of the Trek universe and is therefore to be considered as a "must-have".
Jeri Taylor, Star Trek Voyager: Pathways, Pocket Books,
Star Trek: The Fall: Peaceable Kingdoms
Dayton Ward's Peaceable Kingdoms is the fifth and final novel in Star Trek's The Fall miniseries, set during tumultuous times for the Federation in late 2385. While Andor is preparing to rejoin the United Federation of Planets, the remaining members are organizing an emergency election to replace the late President Nanietta Bacco. Tensions are high as Captain Picard, Admiral Riker, and Admiral Leonard James Akaar begin to doubt the motives of interim Federation President Pro Tem Ishan Anjar, and questionable orders from the upper echelons of Starfleet cast suspicion about who can truly be trusted.
Deception is a recurring theme in the novel, as the premise is explored through the circumstances surrounding Bacco's death, Dr. Crusher's covert mission to Jevalan, and the mysterious order for the Federation flagship USS Enterprise-E to deploy to Ferenginar as part of a trivial diplomatic entourage. Picard's meeting with an old friend in command of Starbase 310 is a particularly intriguing scene in which he attempts to ascertain the loyalties of his comrade. The exchange was pleasantly reminiscent of certain elements from the TNG episode "Conspiracy," where allegiance was difficult to determine.
Dayton Ward, the novel's author, also provides us with some excellent character development. The mission to Jevalan presents an opportunity to learn more about the semi-recurring Enterprise security officers Konya and Cruzen. Such characters create a realistic atmosphere by treating readers to glimpses of the various crew members of the Enterprise-E who are outside of the main cast. A starship truly feels alive when you not only know its captain, but also it's deputy chief of security or other officers further down the chain of command. Admiral Riker's new role of overseeing Starfleet Operations is also explored, and I'm sure we all envy his position of allocating Starfleet's vessels and resources to various sectors of Federation space.
The novel also offers a significant amount of action, including phaser fights and starship combat. However, one of the most poignant scenes occurs between Captain Picard, Admiral Riker, and Admiral Akaar. Dayton Ward masterfully defines the ideals laid out by Gene Roddenberry through an eloquent speech by Picard about his perception of Starfleet's charter and its role in the Federation. Peaceable Kingdoms is an excellent conclusion to The Fall, and Ward does a phenomenal job of crafting a standalone story while also wrapping up the majority of the series' various plot lines. Filled with tension, action, and stirring dialogue, Peaceable Kingdoms is a superb addition to the post-Star Trek: Nemesis novels.
Scenes from Peaceable Kingdoms
(rendered by unusualsuspex).
Dayton Ward, Star Trek: The Fall: Peaceable Kingdoms, Pocket Books, 2013. Cover Design by Alan Dingman, Cover Art by Doug Drexler, Cover Nebula by Ali Ries.
Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Plagues of Night
David R. George III's Plagues of Night takes place during trying times for the Federation and its people. While Starfleet deals with the aftermath of the Invasion of 2381 and the consolidated power of the Typhon Pact, Captain Benjamin Sisko faces his own personal battles involving his marriage to Kasidy Yates. The novel continues the narrative from previous entries in the Typhon Pact series and serves as a direct follow-up to Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Rough Beasts of Empire.
The novel begins with a covert assault on Utopia Planitia that was described in the Typhon Pact novel Zero Sum Game, but this time we are able to enjoy the action from the Romulan point-of-view. In fact, David R. George III gives us quite a few interesting glimpses of the Federation from the perspective of other local powers. A particularly great scene involves a meeting of the Tzenkethi government, where different factions analyze the Federation's colonization efforts on Laskitor III and other worlds near the Tzenkethi-Federation border. The power play between the different elements of the Tzenkethi political structure reveals that, despite their history with the Federation, there are some who choose to argue for peace.
Federation President Nanietta Bacco's evolving relationships with Praetor Gell Kamemor of Romulus and Castellan Garan of Cardassia contrast well with each other, but also bear some striking similarities. Political maneuvering was a highlight of the DS9 television series, and the author continues that tradition to marvelous effect. The motivations of the Typhon Pact, particularly those of Romulus, are explored in a way that reveals their complexity rather than having them be presented as bland, stereotypical notions of galactic dominance.
The relationship between Captain Sisko and Kasidy Yates is another prominent theme in the novel. While I prefer to see Sisko in the center seat, his self-imposed exile on a starship and the familial problems it causes are truly heart-wrenching. Sisko's frustration also extends to the use of Galaxy-class vessels (including his ship, USS Robinson) to patrol key sectors, rather than allowing them to explore beyond known space. On the other hand, I was somewhat disappointed to see that Kira Nerys wouldn't be returning to Starfleet, instead continuing to pursue a career as a vedek. While I appreciated DS9's inclusion of Bajoran spirituality, I wasn't enthused to see Kira leave the fleet to join the Vedek Assembly. However, the scenes between Sisko and Kira serve to propel the narrative forward.
Plagues of Night is not only a great Star Trek novel, it is also a wonderful piece of Deep Space Nine literature. While continuing to tell the overall tale of post-Destiny Trek, David R. George III injects the storyline with the action, political struggles, and characters that made DS9 so popular. While I personally wasn't fond of the idea of Kira as a vedek, I'm sure many DS9 fans will appreciate the continuity and the inclusion of the Bajoran faith. The author also mixes in some unforeseen twists and unique missions which create a high degree of tension and drama. I highly recommend Plagues of Night to readers of Star Trek literature.
Scenes from Plagues of Night
(rendered by unusualsuspex).
David R. George III, Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Plagues of Night, Pocket
Books, 2012. Cover art by Doug Drexler.
Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Light Fantastic
Jeffrey Lang's The Light Fantastic pits Data and Commander Geordi La Forge against the genius of Professor James Moriarty once again, but this novel is no retread of old storylines. Lang's twists and turns invigorate the rematch into a contest between two beings who have matured and evolved since their last encounter. The author, who previously penned the excellent Immortal Coil, picks up the tale of Data's resurrection and Lal's return from the Cold Equations trilogy and takes it to new and unexpected heights.
The first element of this novel that jumps off the pages is the amazing character development. Data, La Forge, and Moriarty have changed drastically in the many years since their last encounter. Lang expertly crafts the evolution of the characters, particularly Data's life after his resurrection and Moriarty's tenure in the memory solid, into the narrative. Data's daily routine on Orion is an intriguing highlight, especially his employment as a short-order cook in a diner. La Forge was the perfect choice to accompany Data on his quest to save his daughter Lal from Moriarty. In the game of wits between android and hologram, Geordi provides the human counterpoint to Data's struggles with his emotions as a parent and the ambiguous morality he inherited from his own father.
Well-established Star Trek characters aren't the only ones to receive the benefit of development. The character of Lal, who only appeared in one episode of The Next Generation, is skillfully displayed as a unique individual, and her relationship with her father is fascinating to say the least. Shakti, the artificial intelligence who "assists" Data aboard his ship Archeus, and Albert Lee, formerly of the USS Enterprise-D, receive a great deal of attention as well. The two characters add a great deal of charm and humor to the story.
Lang also does an exceptional job of weaving the threads of Trek's numerous artificial intelligence-related storylines into elements of The Light Fantastic. The components from other Trek stories that are utilized by the author fit flawlessly into the plot, and they do not feel like an attempt to simply dazzle the audience with familiar faces. Rather, each of these artificial intelligence-related references serve to propel the narrative and are vital to its conclusion. As before, Lang makes sure that any recognizable figures who pop up have evolved since the last time they were seen.
The Light Fantastic is a superb, character-driven novel that reintroduces Data, Professor James Moriarty, and Lal in a unique and entertaining way while still providing the hazy line between good and evil that marked the Enterprise crew's previous dealings with Moriarty. Data's relationship with both his morality and his daughter are compelling, as are Moriarty's motives and La Forge's skepticism. Several of Star Trek's artificial intelligence-related plots are skillfully brought together in an almost "Seinfeldian" fashion at different points in the novel. The Light Fantastic is not only a superb follow up to Immortal Coil and the Cold Equations trilogy, but also a fitting and original sequel to The Next Generation's saga of Professor James Moriarty and DataĎs resurrection.
Jeffrey Lang, Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Light Fantastic,
Pocket Books, 2014.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Lust's Latinum Lost (and Found)
Veteran Star Trek non-fiction writers Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann, whose numerous Trek-related credits include the spectacular Deep Space Nine Companion reference work, have now ventured into the realm of post-Nemesis fiction with the release of the e-novella Lust's Latinum Lost (and Found). The tale focuses on the beloved character of Quark and, as the title implies, the Ferengi's pursuit of cornering the market on a new holonovel that could have him drowning in his favorite gold-pressed liquid.
Lust's Latinum Lost opens with Quark feeling dismayed about his establishment's profits. While this is a common theme in Quark's life, Block and Erdmann perfectly capture Quark's sense of frustration and self-pity. Rionoj, Quark's Boslic "friend" and freighter captain, soon arrives with something that could easily cure Quark's woes: an advance copy of Lust's Latinum Lost, the fourth installment of the infamous Vulcan Love Slave holonovels. However, by the time Quark samples the work and decides to purchase it, Rionoj has left the station. Afraid of being usurped by another buyer, Quark sets out on a quest to find a copy of the program for himself.
Accompanying Quark on his wild ride is Shmenge, Quark's newest "apprentice" who arrives courtesy of a friend of Quark's mother Ishka. Shmenge proves to be an entertaining addition to the DS9 family of characters and an excellent scapegoat for Quark's mistakes. Shmenge's naÔve, yet inquisitive, nature creates a unique friction with Quark that hasn't been seen since the departure of Rom. Hopefully, readers will be treated to more of Shmenge's antics in the future.
The knowledge about the series that Block and Erdmann possess is astounding and prevalent. The writers do a tremendous job of incorporating Lust's Latinum Lost into the series itself and the post-series novels. References that had been lacking in recent DS9 novels, ranging from recurring characters from the show to Gamma Quadrant residents, such as the Dominion and Argrathi, demonstrate why these authors deserve to be at the helm for DS9 fiction. Throw in a Nausicaan, Chief O'Brien, and a trip to Wrigley's Pleasure Planet, and the tapestry of the Trek universe becomes even more tangible.
In fact, the trip to Wrigley's Pleasure Planet is interesting as both an element of the plot and as a piece of the Federation. I always enjoy when we are treated to learn about the geography of Federation worlds, especially with aptly named locations such as Debauche and Desire Island. Discovering the locales of a world, whether they be planetary capitals or historic landmarks, allows the reader to experience these planets rather than just viewing them as names on a map or vague references made during episodes. The more readers know about Wrigley's Pleasure Planet, or any other member of the Federation, the more they can immerse themselves in the experience. Block and Erdmann accomplish this feat in a superb fashion.
While Lust's Latinum Lost (and Found) is an e-novella, Block and Erdmann supply an entire novel's worth of adventure. Original characters and locations, clever references to the series, and an exciting plot combine to create one of the best post-series works to date. The authors have not only mastered the prose of DS9, but they have breathed new life into the character of Quark. Lust's Latinum Lost is a must read for fans of Quark, the Ferengi, and DS9, as well as for Star Trek fans in general.
Paula M. Block & Terry J. Erdmann, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: LustĎs
Latinum Lost (and Found), Pocket Star, 2014.
Star Trek: Section 31: Disavowed
Disavowed heralds the return of the mysterious, shadow organization Section 31, which operates clandestinely outside of the law without oversight or accountability to protect the interests of the Federation. The plot focuses on Dr. Julian Bashir, recently discharged from Starfleet due to his unauthorized actions to help solve the Andorian fertility crisis, and Sarina Douglas, who resigned her own commission to live with Bashir on Andor. The pair, whose genetically enhanced abilities make them valuable assets in the eyes of Section 31, set out to infiltrate the organization in order to facilitate its downfall. However, a mission to the mirror universe being conducted by the Breen poses a danger that Bashir, Douglas, and Section 31 all hope to prevent.
Much like the Section 31 organization it describes, this novel is full of unexpected twists and turns, along with fast-paced and brutal action sequences. David Mack does an excellent job of taking the readerís expectations for the next step of the plot and refreshingly shredding them to pieces. Mack, who has probably killed more sentient beings in his work than any Trek author in history, is masterful in his description of various combat scenarios, infiltration attempts, and tactical deployments. While this may not be a side of Star Trek that most fans are accustomed to, it perfectly captures the shadow organization upon which the novel is focused.
I particularly enjoyed the Galactic Commonwealth, the mirror universe government created by humans, Vulcans, Andorians, and other species once they were able to overthrow the Klingon-Cardiassian Alliance depicted in various episodes of Deep Space Nine. Their technology, which includes "jaunt ships" that utilize artificial wormholes for propulsion, is fascinating and their society is an interesting reflection of the Federation. While they only had a minor role, former Klingon-Cardassian Alliance operatives Regon and Kort were also an entertaining pair who sought to undermine the stability of the Commonwealth.
While this is not technically a Deep Space Nine novel (although Bashir and Douglas are DS9 characters), David Mack depicts one of the crucial aspects of that series: political intrigue. In our universe, Section 31 acts against a joint venture between the Breen Confederacy and Tzenkethi Coalition, while Starfleet Intelligence hopes to take down Section 31. In the mirror universe, a complex political battle is waged between the Galactic Commonwealth, the Dominion, the Taurus Pact (similar to the prime universeís Typhon Pact), and the aforementioned agents of the defunct Klingon-Cardassian Alliance. Reading the novel feels almost like watching an action-packed story arc from the series.
Star Trek: Section 31: Disavowed is an entertaining novel with well-developed characters, gripping political intrigue, and unexpected twists and turns. While the Federation does have slipstream propulsion, this novel sparks the imagination and makes the reader wonder what it would be like if Starfleet vessels had the wormhole-drives of their jaunt ship counterparts in the Galactic Commonwealth. David Mack continues to successfully develop the relationship between Dr. Bashir and Sarina Douglas, and he once again proves that these two characters can helm the main plot of a Trek novel.
David Mack, Star Trek: Section 31: Disavowed, Pocket Books, 2014.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Missing
The Missing, by Una McCormack, focuses on several different plots that take place on Deep Space 9 and the Olympic-class research vessel Athene Donald. Mysterious travelers known as the People of the Open Sky intrigue Dr. Beverly Crusher, a Tzenkethi refugee contemplates her future, and a brewing political incident between the Cardassians and Romulans highlight the action on board Deep Space 9. On the Athene Donald, Dr. Katherine Pulaski and the rest of the crew are confronted by a strange, and possibly hostile, vessel from a race known as the Chain.
I have mixed feelings about this novel, but I would like to start with (and also focus on) its positive elements. Bringing back Dr. Pulaski as a protagonist is a brilliant move, and McCormack does an excellent job of bringing the character back to life. The evolving relationship between Crusher and Pulaski is another noteworthy highlight, and so is the spirit of exploration, discovery, and unity that the Athene Donaldís mission represents. In previous post-Star Trek: Nemesis works, I was disappointed by the seeming disconnect between Odo and his former co-workers. The character seemed unnaturally cold toward them, even more than when he kept to himself during the early years of the series. However, McCormack brings back the Odo we remember from the final seasons of DS9, and it is a welcome return.
As Iíve just mentioned, there is a great deal to enjoy about this novel. However, in my opinion, the stories told suffer from one key fact: the Tzenkethi, the People of the Open Sky, and the Chain just arenít very interesting species. The Tzenkethi, whose shortcomings are not solely confined to this specific novel, have been portrayed as devious to outsiders and controlling over their own people. Their capabilities to change color and contort their bodies just doesnít spark my imagination like other prominent Trek species, such as the Klingons, Romulans, and Cardassians. As for the People and the Chain, there isnít much I can say about either species without revealing elements of the plot, but neither jumped off the page to me. Itís unfair of me to compare these new species to those who had a chance to be developed on-screen, but nevertheless, the post-Nemesis novels have yet to produce an intriguing, recurring alien species of their own.
As for the plot involving the Cardassians and the Romulans, it was definitely enjoyable to once again see Garak in his new role as Castellan of the Cardassian Union. The squabble brought back the political turmoil that frequently occurred during the TV series, and it was a welcome addition to the novel. The presence of a Tzenkethi and Romulans amongst the crew of the Athene Donald provided some additional political intrigue. In fact, the political posturing and the aforementioned mission of exploration being undertaken by the Athene Donald were two of the most refreshing parts about The Missing.
Despite the negatives I have pointed out, I encourage readers to give this novel a chance. While I may not have been intrigued by the Tzenkethi, the People, or the Chain, Iím sure there are many readers who would disagree with me. In fact, I think this novel would have made a decent episode during the run of the TV series in the format of a 45-minute episode. With some solid acting, decent alien make-up, and dazzling special effects, I think it could fit into any season of DS9. However, I just didnít feel as if The Missing held its own as a novel.
Una McCormack, Star Trek: Deep Space
Nine: The Missing, Pocket Books, 2015.
Fan Fiction @EAS - collection of over 150 stories by 27 authors