Trek Books For Your Valentine
The first stand-alone Enterprise novel, Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch's 'By the Book,' is a quick read that reminds me a lot of the television series -- witty, often pedantic, and occasionally quite disturbing. This is not the joyous Star Trek of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations; this is a universe where humans veer between seething resentment of the condescension of the Vulcans and imperialistic certainty that their way is the best, if not the only, approach to structuring both society and thought. In 'By the Book,' when Archer comes across a species so rigid that they literally cannot communicate with him when he breaches protocol, he finds himself stymied, because -- as T'Pol points out to him -- he won't even take the time to study their society so that he can work within their requirements.
It's an odd combination -- a heavy drama about the need for a Prime Directive played out by a troupe of amateurs. After a doomed first contact with the Fazi, the humanoids who inhabit half of a newly discovered world, Archer tries to investigate the sea creatures elsewhere on the planet and learns that his mistaken assumptions about other life-forms can get crewmembers killed. The sea creatures are not only sentient, but telepathic -- and they have been interfering with Fazi development for generations. Once Enterprise has shattered long-standing Fazi beliefs about being alone in the universe, the captain must reassess his expectations about first contacts and his own long-held notions that the Vulcans damaged humans by not giving them all their information at once.
Offsetting this story is a parallel diversion in which Cutler leads a group of junior officers (including Mayweather and Sato) through a cheesy Martian role-playing game. The authors do a superb job with characterization in these chapters, and it's a lot of fun to witness the players losing beloved characters as they try to escape from preposterous sci-fi crises. But it's unclear how the stories fit together. Cutler creates a universe where players can simply "roll" a new character if a previous one dies, as they do all too often. Archer has been fortunate so far not to lose a whole crop of red-shirted ensigns, though he comes close in 'By the Book.' To some extent, the role-playing game may make readers think about the artifice of Star Trek -- the fact that relatively few people die and the consequences of any given decision tends not to be planetary disaster. But as T'Pol keeps reminding Archer, those situations could change if he doesn't exercise the sort of restraint the Vulcans have demonstrated.
I don't care for the style of writing employed by versatile veterans Smith and Rusch in 'By the Book,' which often seems intended for younger readers than other Trek novels. And maybe it is -- Enterprise overall is less sophisticated than the previous several Trek series, the demographics may be skewed toward younger fans. 'Caution was not one of Captain Archer's favorite words,' thinks one crewmember, making an uninteresting observation instead of showing through action or recollection how she knew it. But maybe that tone is intended to reflect that Archer is such a by-the-book type of guy, he has to have everything spelled out. He likes black-and-white analogies, independence versus oppression, the rock and the hard place -- it's surprising he has so much trouble with Fazi limitations, given his own rigidity. By the time T'Pol gets some of her contributions through his thick skull, after he accuses her of insubordination, he's become almost unsympathetic.
Fans of Enterprise will find a lot to like in this original novel, which is much stronger than the first Next Gen, DS9 and Voyager novels. There are some wonderful character observations -- about Phlox's speech patterns, and Sato's work habits. But I can't help wondering whether the human-centered television show means that all spinoff books will have to reproduce the same us-and-them attitudes built into the show.
Trek is in desperate need of a definitive Klingon history, explaining how the historical villains of the original series, often referred to as a long-time foe, became the honor-bound allies of The Next Generation and are now retroactively developing the same traits on Enterprise. Dayton Ward's 'In the Name of Honor' is a step in the right direction, showing some evolution of the one-dimensional (in forehead and attitude) classic Klingons rediscovered the ancient teachings of Kahless. Set between 'The Final Frontier' and 'The Undiscovered Country,' 'In the Name of Honor' explains both Kirk's implacable hatred of Klingons in the latter (not even David's death seemed to explain it) and the schism in Klingon politics evident in General Chang's betrayal of Chancellor Gorkon's peace initiatives.
Seven years after an attack on the USS Gagarin, Kirk's old enemy Koloth offers an olive branch in the form of assistance rescuing prisoners taken from that ship. Though Koloth and other Klingons have begun to embrace the ideals of honor and glory long neglected by the Empire's leaders, their enemies on the High Council will stop at nothing to keep Starfleet from retrieving innocent captives. While Kirk and Sulu work with Koloth on a rescue, Spock attempts to stop the sabotage of peace talks that could define the future direction of the Empire.
Ward, a 'Strange New Worlds' winner and S.C.E. writer, creates a wonderful character in Korax, the infuriating Klingon who straddles our understanding of his kind from the nasty originals to the respected next generation. He also writes Kirk and Sulu very well in their movie-era personas (and it's such fun to see them working so closely), though his Spock seems a little off...then again, Spock seemed 'off' from the time he regained his katra and by the time of 'The Undiscovered Country,' when he mind-raped Valeris on the bridge, I didn't even recognize him. Perhaps we need a definitive history of Spock's soul to go along with the definitive Klingon history.
'In the Name of Honor' isn't a particularly deep novel compared to more esoteric offerings like 'The Genesis Wave' and 'Dark Matters,' but it's a rollicking action story with interesting characters and a story that needed to be told. Klingon fans will love it, original series aficionados will appreciate it, and others will simply enjoy its attempt to clarify an uneven aspect of Trek history.
'Immortal Coil' is a superlative Data story, which is saying a lot considering the quality of the tales ('The Offspring,' 'First Contact') we've already gotten about the character. With his stand-alone debut novel, Jeffrey Lang -- who previously co-wrote a Deep Space Nine book and contributed to 'The Lives of Dax' -- shows a flair for mystery writing, which is the genre in which this book fits most comfortably despite its science fiction themes. Though there is some philosophical discussion of artificial intelligence -- indeed, the nature of intelligence in general comes into question -- most of 'Immortal Coil' is a grounded adventure with entertaining characters and a sense of the wonder that's been missing from the recent Trek shows.
When Commander Bruce Maddox (the creepy scientist who wanted to dissect Data in 'Measure of a Man') nears completion of a new type of android, a strange series of Frankenstein-like events result in the Enterprise being summoned to investigate a disaster at the lab. As they pry into the apparently deliberate destruction of the new android, the Enterprise crew stumbles upon the secret history of artificial intelligence. The consequences for Starfleet may be grave, but for Data, who had believed himself to be unique, the events trigger an existential crisis.
Lang incorporates elements from human mythology, classic detective novels and the wonderful original series episode 'What Are Little Girls Made Of?' which introduced the only androids we've seen to rival Data. The original characters, particularly new security chief Rhea McAdams, are complex and memorable, and though Lang occasionally has Picard acting stuffier than usual as an excuse to move the plot along, his characterizations of Troi, LaForge and the rest of the Enterprise crew are right on the mark.
Often I complain that certain hardcover Star Trek novels could have been paperbacks; here is a paperback that would have been worth owning in a more durable edition. This is a novel that will make you want to go back and watch 'Datalore,' 'Brothers,' 'Data's Day,' 'Inheritance' and all the other wonderful Next Gen episodes that have only improved by comparison with more recent Treks. I recommend 'Immortal Coil' highly.
The two paperback volumes 'Have Tech Will Travel' and 'Miracle Workers' bring together the first eight Star Trek: S.C.E. e-books, making them available for readers who either can't or don't want to read books electronically. I must admit I am among the resisters; though I have always enjoyed the S.C.E. stories, I've had problems both downloading and opening their various formats, and it's a lot easier to flip back a few pages to check something in a traditional book. Plus the average price of the novellas is lower in the paperbacks. Since the S.C.E. books aren't canon, being a bit behind because you waited for the print edition doesn't cost you anything in terms of keeping up with the shows.
'Have Tech, Will Travel' collects Dean Wesley Smith's 'The Belly of the Beast,' series co-creator Keith R.A. DeCandido's 'Fatal Error,' Christie Golden's 'Hard Crash' and Kevin Dilmore and Dayton Ward's 'Interphase, Part 1.' The S.C.E., or Starfleet Corps of Engineers, is run by Montgomery Scott in the late Next Generation/Deep Space Nine time frame, so a variety of other familiar faces pop up in the series. The crew of the USS Da Vinci, under the command of Captain Gold, is responsible for dissecting alien machinery, assisting in the repair of unique equipment, aiding in the building or dismantling of any form of technology imaginable -- plus some that really aren't imaginable, but the team tries anyway.
In 'Belly of the Beast,' an adventure tale told as a sort of haunted-ship story, the Enterprise-E summons Gold's crew to explore a vessel carrying a deadly threat. 'Fatal Crash' is more esoteric and delves much further into the characters and their relationship as the crew tries to save a sentient computer from a group of religious fanatics. Golden, a popular Voyager writer, does even better character work in 'Hard Crash,' the fascinating story of the relationship between a dead pilot and her empathetic ship. Several other emerging love stories make this one of the most emotional Trek stories around, despite its brevity.
The two parts of 'Interphase' (split between 'Have Tech, Will Travel' and 'Miracle Workers' to create a cliffhanger) concern the Da Vinci's attempts to retrieve the USS Defiant from the spatial rift where it disappeared in Tholian space. As a shipboard romance heats up, a number of crewmembers are lost in the rift and begin to suffer from interphase madness. To make matters worse, a misunderstanding with the Tholians creates the potential for interstellar war. No sooner is that situation resolved than the S.C.E. crew must assist with the reactor core transfer from Empok Nor to Deep Space Nine -- only to discover that they're not the only ones interested in the technology.
'Invincible, Parts One and Two' by David Mack are primarily a story about Sonya Gomez, the witty, clever engineer formerly of the Enterprise, who is dispatched to help a misogynistic culture on Sarindar build a subspace accelerator. When an enormous, deadly creature called a Shii begins to attack members of the team stop it, Gomez briefly becomes a hero after subduing it, but when the crises continue, she must dig deep into her inner resources just to survive.
The newest S.C.E. book, 'Some Assembly Required' by Scott Ciencin and Dan Jolley, finds a team from the Da Vinci trying to deal with a computer of the 'Wargames' variety -- it is running a test on the citizens of the planet Keorga, and may destroy the planet before it finishes. A showcase for Carol Abramowitz and Bart Faulwell (both of whom are called by their first names throughout), two of the most restrained members of the Da Vinci team get to cut loose a little. It's a lot of fun to read about.
Click here to buy By The Book, In the Name of Honor, Immortal Coil, Have Tech Will Travel or Miracle Workers from amazon.com.
Trek Book Reviews