Travel At The Speed Of Thought
The 'Gateways' project showcases six of Pocket Books' most popular Trek writers with a very ambitious project: a miniseries that links together the four pre-Enterprise television shows plus the book series 'New Frontier' and 'Challenger' and the 'S.C.E.' e-books, allowing seven different crews plus several guest stars to work together on the same project. 'Gateways' takes as its central conceit a group of vastly powerful portals that can transport matter and energy across enormous distances. The books hypothesize that an ancient civilization left the portals behind following the decline of their civilization, and that the technology to cross incredible distances could be recovered and used by a Federation-era species. Evidence of such technology was apparent in original series episodes like 'The Gamesters of Triskelion' and 'That Which Survives,' the latter of which provides the backstory for the first Gateways novel.
Susan Wright's 'One Small Step' takes on the daunting task of turning a laughable third season episode into a springboard for the 'Gateways' project -- and, remarkably, it succeeds. For this reader, it's impossible to take hot babe Commander Losira seriously whether she's a murderous replicant or a sorrowful hologram, but Kirk's ongoing interest in the fate of her people and their civilization is all too easy to believe, given his frequent attentions to stunning alien women in distress. 'One Small Step' tells of the immediate aftermath of the Enterprise's encounter with Losira and the initial race to possess the power of the Kalandan Gateway.
While Kirk and his crew try to unlock the secrets of Losira's station and fight the pathogen that killed the original settlers, a Klingon vessel races towards the source of the powerful energy their sensors have discovered in the region. Determined to possess the energy source even if the Federation gets there first, the Klingons head into a deadly encounter with the Petraw -- a mysterious species with a hive-like mentality, who use trade and subterfuge to assimilate alien technology. The Petraw also want to possess the Kalandan station. Because neither the Federation nor the Klingons can identify them, these masters of disguise decide the easiest course of action will be to pretend that they are the Kalandans, come back to retrieve their property.
Kirk immediately becomes suspicious, but when the Petraw save the Starfleet officers from the Kalandan pathogen and work with them to explore the station, most of the Enterprise crew accepts the aliens' arrival as fortuitous. Petraw leader Tasm will stop at nothing to sieze the Kalandan equipment, even if it means betraying her new Federation associates. But Tasm's pod-mate Luz has nearly gone crazy from homesickness during their deep-space mission, and will take any steps necessary to travel home in triumph, even if it means sabotaging her own pod's plans.
Wright does a superb job characterizing Kirk and McCoy, both of whom are targets of Petraw deception; it's rather charming that Kirk for once refuses to be seduced, while McCoy starts to fall victim to an alien female's charms. But long patches of technobabble mar the fast-paced, engaging plot. They just doesn't seem necessary in this volume, though perhaps the scientific jargon is meant to lay the groundwork for events in future 'Gateways' novels. Despite the silliness of 'That Which Survives,' 'One Small Step' zooms in on the intriguing aspects of Kalandan technology and begins to develop a fascinating culture that colonized the galaxy while human history was in its infancy.
'One Small Step' has a cliffhanger ending, leaving 'Gateways' to the 'Challenger' novel 'Chainmail.' While it makes sense to pair these books since 'Challenger' is also set in the Classic Trek era, I'm not sure it was a wise decision to make the second of seven paperbacks a spin-off of the bulky 'New Earth' book series. I'm not overly enthusiastic about Diane Carey's second 'Challenger' book. It's quite long and slow-paced. Readers won't find any familiar original series-era folk or even characters from Belle Terre and the earlier 'New Earth' novels. The early 'Chainmail' sections from the aliens' point of view are quite confusing no matter how closely one pays attention -- it's a deliberate attempt to befuddle the reader, a device I find quite annoying unless I'm specifically looking for a mystery novel. Plus there's nowhere near the amount of humor in Peter David's 'New Frontier' original series, though readers looking for complexity and sophistication will find them in spades.
Carey does write strong characters in classic Trek style -- they depend on negotiation and cooperation rather than technobabble and miracle-science. From that standpoint, 'Challenger' is a welcome addition to the Trek franchise, but I suspect many readers will still want to skip this 'Gateways' novel and will be relieved to discover that doing so won't diminish enjoyment of the rest of the books.
In the next generation, a mysterious species claiming to be descendants of the Iconians puts the gateways up for sale to the highest bidder, opening them all in the process to allow hundreds of incursions throughout the galaxy. Every power in the Alpha Quadrant scrambles for possession of the powerful technology. 'Doors Into Chaos,' the Next Generation novel, finds Admiral Ross summoning Picard and many other familiar faces -- Kira and Vaughn, Calhoun and Shelby, Scotty and others -- to a briefing on the crisis. Because the Federation wants to establish a strong allied presence in negotiating for responsible use of the technology, Starfleet reaches out to many non-aligned Alpha Quadrant races to form a coalition. Thus 'Doors Into Chaos' provides references to dozens of Trek species and characters that are a lot of fun for long-time viewers, like the planet Kespritt from 'Attached' and leader Slesssh from 'The Gorn Crisis' comic.
On the other hand, with so many players, it gets hard to keep track of who's on which ship and representing whom. We don't see the Petraw from their own point of view here as we did in 'One Small Step,' so it's not clear until the end whether the real Iconians have returned or the Petraw have simply changed guises again. My favorite part of 'Doors Into Chaos' is getting to see Troi take command successfully -- as her crewmates enjoy reminding her, the last time she took over the Enterprise bridge, the ship crashed, though no one blames her for that.
While Picard tries to keep peace with Romulan Commander Desan and several Klingons and tries to reach out to the Cardassians and Tholians, Troi takes the Marco Polo to Ferenginar, where new Grand Nagus Rom blushes at her nudity. Using a very different command style than either Picard or Janeway, she bonds with her crew and proves invaluable to Starfleet's coalition...without even depending on her empathic skills. Meanwhile both Riker and Picard struggle to keep the tense alliance together until they can discover the truth about the Iconians and the power of their technology.
'Demons of Air and Darkness,' the Deep Space Nine 'Gateways' installment, shows the meeting with all our favorite captains from 'Doors Into Chaos' from Elias Vaughn's point of view -- which actually made me go back to reread the scene again in the previous volume, and enhances the sense of continuity of the entire miniseries. My favorite of all the 'Gateways' books, 'Demons' is one of the finest Kira stories ever written and demonstrates great affection for the old DS9 -- something most of the relaunch books have been lacking in their effort to push forward and introduce new characters.
Though he does a fine job involving the new faces and furthers the story of beleaguered Andorian ch'Thane, Keith DeCandido also brings back Lenaris, the defiant patriot from the episode "Shakaar" -- but more importantly, he reintroduces Gul Macet. The Cardassian played by Marc Alaimo before Dukat sounds just like the epic villain and looks too much like him for anyone's comfort, which creates some unforgettable moments with Kira in particular. DeCandido absolutely nails the personalities of the main characters, particularly Quark and Ro, who end up on a mission together and exchange hilarious dialogue as they perform an essential function, scamming to keep the galaxy safe. Ro -- whom we don't even recognize when she first appears -- kicks Quark's butt in spectacular fashion, yet it's obvious they're developing a wonderful working relationship.
I'm still not sold on Vaughn -- all the Pocket Books writers try to keep him a man of mystery even when we're supposed to be hearing his thoughts, so we find out that he was involved in all these exciting-sounding past events but never really get satisfactory details on any of them. This is in marked contrast with Kira, whose intricate backstory comes up in surprising ways in 'Demons. At one point she catches herself thinking nostalgically about how simple things were during the Occupation, then realizes how insane this line of thinking sounds. She misses Odo, resents herself for missing Odo, becomes introspective, gets moody, yet remains very strong. The colonel acts like a starbase commander but sounds like her old self, trying to be a team player without sacrificing the independence that has always been her trademark. One of my favorite lines -- "So, with extreme reluctance, Kira decided that she had no choice but to do something she rarely did: pass the buck" -- sums up her dilemma very well.
'No Man's Land' suffers from an immediate problem of expectations because when Voyager encounters a cluster of Gateways, readers desire and anticipate that the crew will take the risk of going through on the theory that they'd likely end up closer to home. But this novel is set during series-time, so any forward motion can't be permitted. As a result, Janeway comes across as unimaginative and self-aggrandizing, even though Christie Golden tries to make her out to be the savior of the Delta Quadrant. The novel feels redundant after reading 'Doors Into Chaos,' since it's also a story of many ships forming a fleet for mutual protection and study of the gateway phenomena. When a brutal crime takes place, we're supposed to be impressed with Janeway's ingenuity in solving it, but readers will spot the red herrings long before she does.
It doesn't help 'No Man's Land' that 'Demons' features a sequence in which Kira goes up against two Delta Quadrant villains -- the Hirogen and the Malon -- in more convincing manner than Janeway ever did. Still, Janeway/Chakotay fans will be thrilled with this novel. On pages 1, 45, 97, and in a couple of other places that I forgot to note, Janeway thinks of Chakotay as "handsome," and he frets touchingly over her safety. There's even a scene where the two of them lounge around talking on her bed. Mercifully, Seven barely interacts with the first officer; more importantly, she does not save the universe or the ship, and serves as the emotional anchor of a rather feeble subplot about a species that practices slavery.
Even though atrocities are committed by a warp civilization within her own fleet of allies, Janeway's half-assed commitment to the Prime Directive makes it necessary for the evil slavers to meet a predictable fate in which she plays no part. What could have been a timely terrorist plot involving two Beta Quadrant species dissolves weakly as well. The most intriguing aliens, designated as Those Who Shall Not Be Named, unfortunately remain as vague as their non-nomenclature. I look for things to like about Voyager and Golden still writes the characters better than most, but there's too little of Torres, too ineffectual a Chakotay, too many declarative statements about Janeway's talents rather than illustrations of her using them. The deus-ex-machina conclusion just demonstrates the ridiculousness of trying to work within the show's constraints; Janeway predictably turns down a trip home in 'What Lay Beyond' because there might be strings attached, so she's free to destroy an entire timeline and trash Starfleet values by the era of 'Endgame.'
I should note that Golden's book has the misfortune to rest between 'Demons' and my other 'Gateways' favorite, Peter David's lengthy 'New Frontier' fable 'Cold Wars.' In the early pages, the ever-innovative David brings back animated series characters Arex and M'Ress -- two aliens who would be out of place just about everywhere in the Trek universe now, but fit in perfectly with Mackenzie Calhoun and Elizabeth Shelby's quirky crews. Mind you, it takes most of the novel for M'Ress to feel comfortable in Next Gen's century, but her journey seems so emotionally real despite her feline reactions, it's actually quite touching. There are many sweet moments between Calhoun and Shelby as well, not to mention some hilarious ones, and they're not as forced as Janeway staring at Chakotay's handsome face. Shelby can tell by looking at her Xenexian husband that he has no idea who the Iconians are, and the two engage in what Shelby assumes are false threats with the villains until she suddenly gets the sense that Mac might not be playing.
The novel opens with a bloody conflict between two races that have been at war for centuries, who were moved off their homeworld by the Thallonian Empire to stop the bloodshed. A portable Gateway leased by an unscrupulous being named Smyt permits the Markanians to slaughter the royal family of the Aerons. The storyline becomes chillingly relevant to contemporary politics when it turns out that the two species are feuding over possession of a religious site akin to Jerusalem. It's not entirely clear whether Mac is kidding when he says blowing it up would be the best solution. While he tries to protect the child ruler of the Aerons, who is saved by a dangerous mind-meld, Shelby tries to negotiate with the Markanians, even though she believes their leader to be a dangerous fanatic.
The stakes seem a bit lower in 'Cold Wars' than the other 'Gateways' books -- only a couple of planets are at risk rather than an entire quadrant. Yet it's the longest of the novels, with several intense, intertwined personal stories involving the children of Mac and Selar, the tense relationship between Shelby and Mueller and the surprise promotion of Burgoyne to first officer of the Excalibur. Readers who have not followed 'New Frontier' will probably have a harder time reading 'Cold Wars' than those who have followed the series but not other 'Gateways' books. Yet all Trek and fantasy fans can appreciate David's familiarity with the franchise and his sense of whimsy, not to mention the juvenile fetus jokes surrounding the name of an unfortunate crewmember.
'What Lay Beyond,' the multi-series hardcover 'Gateways' conclusion, features six sections that don't cross the series in resolving the crisis with the Petraw. This is great news in that it means one can buy only the 'Gateways' novels based on series one enjoys -- and if one waits for the paperback version of Book Seven, one can actually spend less than $50 on the lot. Still, 'What Lay Beyond' is not so much a letdown as a strange left turn -- it finds Janeway in the Q continuum, Kira in a strange historical realm, and Calhoun and Shelby in the Xenexian equivalent of heaven. Kirk's and Picard's stories end with traditional action sequences that seem a bit hokey by comparison, but they go a long way to holding the 'Gateways' series together amidst some pretty esoteric material.
For $24, this concluding volume hardly seems finished, though most of the stories remain enjoyable. We get no clear answers about the hows and whys of multidimensional Gateways that allow travel across time and space and may have permitted leprechauns to enter Ireland. When the Iconians finally put in their long-expected appearance, readers will probably have the same reaction to them as Picard does, which...well, let's just say this is not a good thing after plowing through so many volumes expecting a payoff. Sure, Trek's supposed to be about the journey rather than the destination, but this trip can be both time-consuming and expensive for readers who stick with the whole ride. One might as well take the attitude that it doesn't really matter what lay beyond and stick with the individual series paperbacks -- particularly 'Doors Into Chaos,' 'Demons of Air and Darkness' and 'Cold Wars' if you're a 'New Frontier' fan.
There is a delightful coda to the 'Gateways' series by DeCandido -- the electronic novella 'Here There Be Monsters.' Scary-looking beings with the longest names in the universe suffer Gateway displacement and cause trouble for 'The S.C.E., the waste extraction robots of the galaxy,' as Duffy calls his division. The relationships among the crewmembers continue to evolve, including a lovely scene where Corsi -- still coming to terms with her one-night-stand with Stevens -- frets about Gomez and Duffy's obviously growing intimacy. In this regard the 'S.C.E.' books remind me of 'New Frontier,' as well as the use of neglected characters and concepts from across the Trek franchise. Plus DeCandido's sense of humor is well in evidence in 'Here There Be Monsters.'
Bottom line on 'Gateways': I'd give 'One Small Step' a B+, 'Chainmail' a B-, 'Doors Into Chaos' an A-, 'Demons of Air and Darkness' an A, 'No Man's Land' a B, 'Cold Wars' an A-, 'What Lay Beyond' a B, and 'Here There Be Monsters' a B+. If money's no concern and you've got lots of time for Trek books, this ambitious project is worthy of full consideration. But the editors thankfully have made it possible to pick and choose among the books in the series, so casual readers can stick with the Treks they love best.
Click here to buy One Small Step (Gateways #1), Chainmail (Gateways #2), Doors Into Chaos (Gateways #3), Demons of Air and Darkness (Gateways #4), No Man's Land (Gateways #5), Cold Wars (Gateways #6), What Lay Beyond (Gateways #7) and Here There Be Monsters (Gateways Coda) from amazon.com.
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