"Star Trek S.C.E.: Interphase and Cold Fusion"

by Michelle Erica Green

A Defiant Crew

The Star Trek: S.C.E. series of e-books has gotten off to a strong start despite being plagued by the technical problems to which this very new medium is susceptible. I read each of the first three novellas in a different format (Microsoft Reader, Glassbook, Adobe Reader) and had some gripes with all three. But once one gets past the vicissitudes of formatting for the screen, the stories make entertaining reading -- Captain Gold's team hold their own about as well as the New Frontier crew, and the writers thus far have done an excellent job drawing in references to all four television series.

For those who haven't read the first trilogy, the Starfleet Corps of Engineers -- currently under the leadership of Captain Montgomery Scott -- is the division of Starfleet responsible for investigating alien technology by dissecting, designing, building and repairing the machines and methods uncovered during exploration. Some of the familiar faces on board the S.C.E. flagship da Vinci include engineer Sonia Gomez from The Next Generation and Dr. Elizabeth Lense from Deep Space Nine. Captain Gold, who utters Yiddish phrases in times of stress, also counts among his staff a security officer tougher than Tasha Yar and a gay linguist with a penchant for cryptography. A single Bynar, now known as Soloman, tries to come to terms with his isolation while the ship's third-in-command, Kieran Duffy, deals with unresolved romantic feelings for Gomez.

This intriguing mix of characters is summoned to Tholian space, where the long-lost starship Defiant has emerged from the interspatial rift into which it vanished decades earlier. But the Tholians aren't pleased by the idea of letting Starfleet salvage the derelict vessel. In the first volume of Interphase, written by Strange New Worlds discovery Dayton Ward and Star Trek Communicator writer Kevin Dilmore, Captain Gold and an S.C.E. team board the lifeless ship inoculated against the psychosis of interphase. They prepare to tow the Defiant home, but a century-old Tholian secret brings ancient animosities to the surface, threatening the lives of the crew and the peace of the sector.

The first book offers a nice balance of humor and action. Captain Scott gets some zingers when he's called in as an expert on Constitution-class ships, scoffing at a Starfleet Intelligence official who assumes the ship in question must be the more recent Defiant docked at Deep Space Nine. Scotty demands, "Did they stop teaching history at the Academy altogether, or are ye just too accustomed to hearin' five-digit stardates?" Dr. Lense shares McCoy's black humor about using an antipsychotic derived from a Klingon poison -- a fact that gains particular poignancy when Gold's crew uncovers the startling fate of a lost Klingon colony. Lense also gets the novel's most memorable line when she decides that Murphy's Law should be the S.C.E. motto.

Interphase Book One has great reverence for "The Tholian Web." It also draws parallels between the Defiant salvage mission and Barclay's work with Pathfinder to find Voyager. Some of the events are predictable -- when the second officer expresses frustration at never getting the conn during a crisis, it's not hard to guess he's about to get a lesson in being careful what he wishes for. The Gomez-Duffy romance feels a bit strained, like the writers have been told to drag it out. Given how long these characters have known one another, they sound too much like adolescents.

By the second book, however, the action overwhelms such concerns. The Tholian leader Nostrene has been ordered to destroy the Defiant and its fateful secret. Untried Duffy must command the outnumbered da Vinci in battle, armed primarily with a pep talk from a boss who claims the most frightening words Kirk ever spoke to him were, "'Mr. Scott, you have the conn.'" While Duffy and Corsi struggle with Nostrene and a new, improved Tholian web, Gold's crewmembers on the Defiant become trapped in the rift and begin to suffer from interphase madness. They discover the secret the Tholians seem determined to protect, but realize that if they bring the information home, it could trigger an interstellar war.

Since Interphase is a story about engineering heroes, the struggle naturally inspires technobabble, culminating in the fateful utterance, "Helm, full power to aft-Z axis thrusters, now!" (I still have no idea what this means.) It's a lot of fun to see the old Defiant back in action and remember the ghostly Kirk appearing to Uhura and Spock from the other side of the rift when similar interphase pockets begin to appear on the Defiant. Ward and Dilmore are obviously true fans of the original series, and their novellas do a fine job capturing the energy and wit of Star Trek.

The sixth S.C.E. novella, Cold Fusion, finds the crew of the da Vinci preparing to help Nog tow Empok Nor's reactor core to DS9. Set between the Deep Space Nine relaunch novels Avatar Book Two and Abyss, this story features Duffy acting as the first officer in the absence of Gomez -- a role to which he seems less suited than command. S.C.E. series creator Keith R.A. DeCandido does a superb job with the characters he helped to create, and also demonstrates that he's not overly enamored with his creation -- he lets Nog get in a number of snide comments about the S.C.E.'s weak points, as engineers and as a team.

Like the Interphase books, Cold Fusion is full of humor and character detail. Chapter three starts out with Fabian Stevens contemplating the sleeping form of Domenica Corsi in bed with him (which admittedly made me shriek a bit -- rather ruined my assumption that Corsi and Enterprise security chief Christine Vale were lovers, as any slash fan could easily project from Belly of the Beast). Corsi's apparently got a complicated past that helps explain her "core breach" demeanor, though we only get hints of it here. When the new lovers are summoned to a meeting about the reactor core transfer, Stevens mutters, "Quoth the Empok, 'Never Nor'" -- thus proving that he has a sense of humor and is therefore a man worth getting involved with.

But Empok Nor has been the site of nasty battles as well as magnificent Ferengi heroics, so Corsi worries about the security hazards before they arrive. The abandoned station has been used recently by Ferengi, Orion and Androssi pirates in addition to Pah-wraith cultists; Corsi rightly predicts that some of the aliens may still be around. Cold Fusion's numerous references to a past encounter with the mysterious Androssi get a bit confusing, but once it becomes clear that the aliens plan to turn Empok Nor into a Death Star-type superweapon, the action heats up and the aliens' modus operandi becomes a lot clearer.

The S.C.E. doesn't have any more legal right to the abandoned reactor core than the Androssi, so it doesn't take long for Captain Gold to run out of Yiddish oaths and start cursing in Klingon. As the crew tries to fight off a wide array of weapons without destroying the core they've come to salvage, Nog tries to convince Duffy and the rest of the S.C.E. that he really does know his engineering, so they should listen to his plans. Corsi is impressed with the Ferengi's Dominion War experience, but Duffy insists on calling him "kid." Fortunately Nog hasn't forgotten how to use the Rules of Acquisition as well as his Starfleet training, and the dreadful taste in music he shares with cultural specialist Carol Abramowitz actually comes in handy.

Mercifully, DiCandido keeps the technobabble to a minimum and fills out the action with character revelations. Nearly everyone on the da Vinci has a roommate, which causes unexpected tensions. Corsi rooms with Lense, while Stevens shares quarters with linguist Bart Faulwell, and by the end of the novella both have figured out their bunkmates are having an affair. The author also provides more colorful imagery than in his previous S.C.E. novel, the spare Fatal Error, such as a description of Empok Nor resembling limbs trying to claw themselves out of dirt the way the Cardassians clawed their way from obscurity to a major position in the Alpha Quadrant power structure.

DiCandido is co-writing Invincible, scheduled for release in December, a two-book sequel that will explain the absence of Gomez during Cold Fusion. In January 2002, the first four S.C.E. books will be released in the paperback omnibus Have Tech, Will Travel, followed by the next four novellas in February in a collection called Miracle Workers. In the meantime, I think we should take bets on the identity of "Dar," the mysterious lover from Corsi's past. Could it be Neela Daren, the scientist who was once Picard's flame? Frank Darwin, the engineer killed on Voyager by Suder? Or could it be the late, lamented Legate Damar? Perhaps we'll find out when Invincible is published.

Read a review of the first three S.C.E. books here. Click titles to buy Interphase Book One, Interphase Book Two or Cold Fusion from amazon.com.

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