One of the nicest things about Trek Pocket Books is the way they can bring back really neat technology from the movies that would be too expensive for the TV series to revisit. The alien device from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in the novel Probe used to be my favorite example. Now John Vornholt has resurrected my favorite special effect of all time, the Genesis wave from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, in a novel that brings together some of the best aspects of both that film and The Next Generation.
The novel begins with the kidnapping of Carol Marcus, who's over 130 years old and still working. But she's depressed that her life's work has been erased from Starfleet records for security reasons, and she still misses David -- and James T. Kirk, though she has a harder time admitting that. When mysterious aliens arrive in the form of those very people, it doesn't seem like that much of a stretch for her to accept them; after all, Genesis brought Spock back to Kirk.
Six months later, Dr. Leah Brahms is testing on a phase-shifting space suit that can withstand almost any form of assault when the planet she's standing on transforms around her, killing all the life there and replacing it with new, mutant biology. Though she doesn't recognize the effect, the elderly Klingon Maltz knows exactly what it is, and joins with Brahms in an attempt to warn the Federation that this new, uncontrolled Genesis wave appears to be on course for Earth. Admiral Necheyev knows what it is as well, and dispatches the Enterprise to investigate. Soon enough, Captain Picard learns all about the banned technology. But without knowing who has unleashed it and why, all he can do is try to coordinate a rescue effort for the people living on the doomed planets in its path.
This is a fast-paced story with some lovely character work -- particularly for the frequently-neglected Geordi LaForge and Deanna Troi. LaForge spends half the book worrying that Leah didn't survive the initial crisis, then the next half feeling guilty that her husband and previous career have been conveniently eradicated. Brahms, who's a terrific character, doesn't sit around waiting for him to make his move, however. Within hours of the transformation which destroyed most of her work and all her colleagues, she has pulled herself together, taken off to warn others, developed up with a plan to protect inhabitants on worlds in the path of the wave, and earned the unswerving loyalty of the only living witness to the destruction of the Genesis Planet.
Meanwhile, Troi finds herself on a ship full of panicked refugees, trying to counsel people facing the inevitable destruction of their homes and the horrible deaths of loved ones. When an away team crisis forces her to remain on a planet in the midst of gruesome transformation, she witnesses first-hand the deadly power of Genesis. Anyone who remembers the beautiful computerized visuals from The Wrath of Khan, as the Genesis wave turned a dead moon into a living planet, will be impressed with the graphic descriptions of its inverse, as the wave turns an already-thriving planet into something that sounds like unchecked cancerous growth. The Marcuses may have ignored the potential use of the Genesis torpedo as a weapon, but none of the great powers of the Alpha Quadrant have made the same mistake.
Since this is Book One, with Book Two to follow in April, of course we're left with a screamer of a cliffhanger, in which the wave is still headed towards Earth, the mysterious aliens have begun to manipulate Starfleet officers, and Geordi LaForge still hasn't managed to tell Leah Brahms that he's still in love with her. Moreover, Beverly Crusher behaves insanely while in temporary command of a Defiant-class vessel that has been exploring the origin of the wave. It's a bit annoying that two strong female characters can be plunged into hysteria out of love for their sons, but Brahms compensates for them, as does Alynna Necheyev, who's more sympathetic than she ever was on the series.
It does seem that Starfleet spends too much effort on stopping the wave and too little on learning who released it in the first place, considering the likelihood that they could do so again. I am assuming that will change in the next volume. Necheyev comes across as more of a "people" person than ever before because of her concern for the inhabitants of the threatened planets, but I would have expected her to be sending officers right and left to figure out who's responsible for the security breach that let Genesis escape, and trying to punish those responsible. The as-yet-invisible threat has behaved so despicably, re-forming planets to their own specifications without regard for the life already there, that some satisfying retribution is called for.
Fans of both the movies and The Next Generation should love The Genesis Wave, even the long, dry chapter recounting in Starfleet memos the history of Genesis technology following the events of The Search For Spock. (SciFi.com's Dave Mack wrote the bulk of this chapter, so I was amused to note that one of the memo-writers was named "Xev Chiana," presumably after the characters from Sci-Fi's LEXX and Farscape.) It's a lot of fun to hear everyone insulting Commander Kruge, to hear Kirk's name spoken with the proper reverence, and to see the Romulans and Klingons working with the Federation on a threat even bigger than the Dominion. As Vornholt keeps pointing out, Genesis has amazing capabilities as a dramatic device as well as a terraforming agent; because it makes changes at the subatomic level, it could be used for cellular regeneration, offering eternal life or constant revival like Spock experienced in the films.
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