A Last Roundup
Greetings, Trek fiction fans. I know it's been a long time between columns -- far too long, in fact. So I am taking advantage of a piece of bad news in general for Trekkers -- namely, the demise of the Trekker Newsletter -- and inviting longtime reviewer Jacqueline Bundy to join me in writing about books for Trek Nation. That way the reviews will be timely, and readers will get a wider range of opinion...in fact, Jackie and I may even debate a bit when there's a book we both want to review.
And now, on to the summer 2002 reading roundup...
The Original Series is back! Or at least fans could be forgiven for thinking it is, given the recent multi-volume sets The Janus Gate and Errand of Vengeance plus the hardcover The Last Roundup. Add to those two pre-Next Generation novels, and there's plenty of beach reading for fans in rerun withdrawal.
The best of the summer novels, Christie Golden's The Last Roundup finds an acclaimed Voyager author catching up with Kirk, Spock and McCoy following the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, bridging Kirk's career up to Generations. It's very obvious from all of her novels that Golden truly loves Star Trek, and delightful to see in her first hardcover that her feelings for the original bunch run just as deep as her affection for Janeway's crew.
At the start, Kirk finds himself in much the same state of mind as at the beginning of The Wrath of Khan -- bored at the Academy, missing friends now scattered across the quadrant. When his nephews call on him for help founding a colony on an isolated world named Sanctuary, he summons Scotty and Chekov and heads to their aid. But the colonists are not alone on Sanctuary, and as Kirk investigates the mysterious Falorians, he uncovers a deadly threat to the Federation that could destroy billions of innocent lives, all based on a grudge held for centuries between two races with many secrets.
As one might guess from the title, the story unfolds at times like a Western, with the cavalry coming over the proverbial hill...and an unexpected twist in that Kirk doesn't personally come up with the solution to save the universe. It's an exciting, empowering story reminiscent of all good things about the original series -- the adventure, the humor, the chemistry, the ties of challenge and diversity as well as those of friendship.
Golden perfectly captures the voices of the characters, as well as the spirit of Trek that somehow manages to be nostalgic and progressive all at once. She also deserves mention for more creative uses of science than many science fiction and fantasy writers bother with. Would that she had been the head writer of Voyager, a show she wrote better than anybody else, and would that Enterprise would discover her talents and bring her on board as a story consultant.
A halfhearted attempt at a "Lower Decks" scenario, L.A. Graf's The Janus Gate trilogy gives Sulu, Uhura and Chekov a bit more to do than the typical Trek scenario, as well as Riley, Tomlinson and some other figures who popped up over the years. Unlike Deep Space Nine, which made full use of its large, diverse cast, the original series gained most of its energy and wit from the relationships of Kirk, Spock and McCoy, with Scotty's expertise and personality quirks as spice of sorts; the supporting players were, well, supporting. Though there has long been a vocal group of Captain Sulu fans, most Classic Trek fans consider the ship and command staff to be the core of the series.
So The Janus Gate, though set during the original five-year mission beginning with the time warp at the end of "The Naked Time," never quite has the feel of an original series episode -- and while such a shift can be refreshing in a Strange New Worlds story, it's a bit much for a trilogy, especially one as unevenly written as this. For what's supposed to be an original Trek relaunch, it seems more like a miniature imitation rocket that can't quite get off the ground.
During the recovered days of Present Tense, the Enterprise returns to pick up a team that's supposed to be conducting a routine survey -- always a code phrase for trouble on the original series. But a group has become stranded deep inside a cave system beneath the icy planet. The others have found evidence of a great power drain on the planet, which has disabled their equipment and caused many older starships to crash. Kirk heads down with the green ensign Chekov, but when the captain disappears in a transporter malfunction, Spock sends Sulu to find the missing crewmembers and uncover the mystery. Instead Sulu crosses into another timeline where Kirk was never captain of the Enterprise and the Gorn have conquered the Federation.
In the second book, Future Imperfect, Sulu is trapped in that future in a Gorn mining colony much like Deep Space Nine under Bajoran rule in the Intendant's universe. The young Sulu of Kirk's universe forms an alliance with an older Chekov, now a freedom fighter, while back in his own universe, a teenage Kirk is stranded with an older Sulu and the Enterprise crewmembers on the planet. There's some nasty violence and threats, a complaint I have had with other L.A. Graf novels, plus more caves than any Trek novel should be permitted given how often they're used as cheap sets on television.
Past Prologue completes the trilogy as the Janus Gate alters timelines while Spock and Scotty try to set the universe straight. To do this requires that they alter the past as well as the future, for they must send the elder Sulu back to his own era and retrieve their Kirk. I'll tell the truth: I tried to read this novel quickly because it wasn't holding my interest, and the time permutations became hopelessly confused to me. Plus I didn't really want to learn any more about Kodos the Executioner and the terrible events on Tarsus IV; this series isn't nearly well-written enough to tackle questions about whether anyone could stand by and let a holocaust happen again in the name of protecting the future. Fans of warped alternate timeline stories may enjoy this trilogy, but I missed the traditional spirit of the original series and felt like I was stuck in one of Voyager's numerous time-warps.
Relative newcomer Kevin Ryan penned another recent trilogy set during the original series' five year mission, the Errand of Vengeance series. Fortunately, he seems to have more enthusiasm for the themes and characters of the show, even though one of the major characters in The Edge of the Sword is a Klingon infiltrator sent to kill Kirk and sabotage Starfleet. Security lieutenant Jon Anderson is actually Kell, a loyal Klingon who finds to his horror that he actually likes some of the humans he serves with. And when Captain Kirk saves his life and honors him for his duty, he realizes that he has no desire to kill the man. He also becomes involved with a woman on the Enterprise crew, though he knows it to be a mistake.
The series contains many delights -- seeing Kirk through the eyes of the enemy, watching a Klingon fall in love with a tough, smart human woman, even discovering that there's a Klingon Language Institute for high school students in the original series' era (fortunately for Kell, since he slips up and unleashes a Klingon curse in Killing Blow). Kell realizes that he has a greater duty to the Empire than killing Kirk, for the Orions pose a graver immediate threat and the humans are not nearly so dishonorable as he had been led to believe. But soon he discovers treachery among his own people, and is forced to make a choice that costs the life of a friend.
In River of Blood, Kell finds himself back among humans, too ashamed to face them, yet so disgusted with the actions of his own people that he cannot continue to serve the Klingon government even if it means he will lose his last shred of honor. I cannot express my delight at the idea of a Klingon who earns a nickname from Flash Gordon and whom McCoy compares to Kirk in his sense of responsibility. Of course his secret is found out, but by that time it no longer matters -- tragedy and betrayal have struck the Empire as well as the Federation, and Kell's last words to his Klingon brother shapes the honor of the future.
I've never been a great fan of Klingon stories, but Errand of Vengeance, like Keith R.A. DeCandido's Diplomatic Implausibility, is a deep and moving character story. It also captures the ethos and personality of the original crew, presenting Kirk with several painful dilemmas and allowing the below-decks characters to shine without trying to force them to the forefront except when the story requires it. I am greatly looking forward to more original series fiction from Ryan.
Picard fans who gobbled up The Valiant, Michael Jan Friedman's novel about the captain's tour of duty on the Stargazer, may be pleased at the launch of a series of novels telling the stories of that ship's adventures. Others may feel that given the number of "new" Trek series currently proliferating -- New Frontier, S.C.E., Challenger, the Deep Space Nine relaunch -- the franchise is being milked past the point of interest, and I'm afraid I'm falling increasingly into the latter category; many of the plots and even some of the new characters are starting to run together for me. Still, Friedman writes Picard very well, and if you've been hungry for more Stargazer adventures, there's a lot to like in the two new paperback novels.
Unlike the original series trilogies, the books of the Stargazer series can be read individually. There's some character development and the author promises story arcs, but the action plots remain self-contained. Gauntlet opens with a 28-year-old Picard trying to prove himself to a crew dubious about his readiness for command, then discovering that his latest mission -- the pursuit of a dangerous pirate -- has been set up with his failure in mind, by someone who really doesn't want him on the bridge of the Stargazer. Fortunately, his crew doesn't accept failure, even if they're not quite ready to trust their novice captain. It's a tight story, and the lively introductions of new crewmembers make it a fast, fun read.
Progenitor finds Picard and several staff members accompanying Chief Engineer Simenon to his home world, Gnala, leaving second officer Victoria Wu in command. When she responds to a nearby distress call, she discovers a mysterious threat to the entire ship. On Gnala, Picard finds that someone may be trying to kill his crewmembers before they can help Simenon complete a fertility ritual. The two mysteries pair well, though the book doesn't have quite the same aura of discovery and adventure as Gauntlet. Friedman writes like a veteran and maintains a good balance of adventure, humor and drama. There are also some nice surprises for Voyager fans interested in the past histories of the characters' families.
Click here to buy The Last Roundup; The Janus Gate: Present Tense, Future Imperfect, or Past Prologue; Errand of Vengeance: Edge of the Sword, Killing Blow, or River of Blood; or Gauntlet and Progenitor from amazon.com.
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