It's extraordinarily rare that I can't finish a Star Trek novel. Heck, I even managed to get through Black Fire. But my tolerance for bad literature m...moreIt's extraordinarily rare that I can't finish a Star Trek novel. Heck, I even managed to get through Black Fire. But my tolerance for bad literature may have been higher 20+ years ago, and - in Ms. Cooper's defense - her story was so ludicrous it was like watching "Plan 9 from Outer Space" or "Cave Dwellers" or "Eegah." So bad it's good.
The most egregious fault in Plagues of Night is that it's boring! Endless chapters that sound like synopses of a TV episode, and that keep cycling through a variety of POVs. There's no action, just a lot of people hanging out and talking to each other (about the action that had gone on behind the scenes). I was only able to get about half-way through before my better sense convinced me that I shouldn't be wasting my time here.
The second quality that sank it for me was what I have called in other reviews "The Star Wars Syndrome." This is an illness that strikes writers in the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises (and I'm sure in others that I haven't read) where they feel compelled to include every character from the respective series no matter how peripherally. A less serious version of the virus is excessive references to episodes from the TV series and/or other books in the franchise.
I'm glad this is a library loan and will soon be leaving the apartment forever.
It may not be readily apparent but I'm not recommending this one, not even to Trekkies.(less)
Storming Heaven is a reasonably satisfactory conclusion to the “Star Trek: Vanguard” series, and – as usual – it’s largely due to Mack’s skill as a wr...moreStorming Heaven is a reasonably satisfactory conclusion to the “Star Trek: Vanguard” series, and – as usual – it’s largely due to Mack’s skill as a writer and his ability to weave a skein of disparate threads into a solid piece of cloth. Not another Bayeux tapestry, perhaps, but definitely a well stitched T-shirt that won’t fall apart after a few rounds in the washing machine.
I do have two problems with how the series worked out. One is the relegation of Diego Reyes to a passive observer of events. He was the most interesting and dynamic of the characters, and his absence sucked a lot of energy out of the story. I hope Mack revisits Reyes’ career at some point in the future. The second problem was the anticlimactic resolution of the Shedai – (view spoiler)[They were reduced to impotence and destroyed by the literal flick of a switch, and then only because the Federation lucked onto a piece of alien technology. Deus ex machina-ism at its worst. In Harbinger, a handful of Shedai are enough of a threat to make Reyes invoke General Order 24 and sterilize an entire planet (and every living thing on it, including his ex-wife) in order to stop them; but in Storming Heaven, Ming Xiong traps the entire species in crystalline matrices and blows them up. (hide spoiler)]
Any tension and excitement comes from the Tholian attack on Starbase 47 as they try to stop the Federation from awakening the Shedai and unleashing them on an unsuspecting galaxy. Though they’re undeveloped as yet, the Tholians are an example of a truly alien race – not simply one with bumpy foreheads or funky noses. In the context of their history, their xenophobia and murderous actions throughout the series are perfectly understandable, and could have been played up a bit more to emphasize the tragedy of the situation.
While Mack hasn’t surpassed his achievement in the “Star Trek: Destiny” series, I’d still recommend this one for the dedicated Star Trek fan, and for any SF fan who wants to relax with a well written adventure that doesn’t demand too much from the gray matter.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
When I was getting my teaching certificate, they told us to lead off with the good points about students’ projects, and only after boosting their egos...moreWhen I was getting my teaching certificate, they told us to lead off with the good points about students’ projects, and only after boosting their egos, point out what needed improvement.
It is in that spirit that I begin this review of Star Trek, the adaptation of JJ Abrams’ reboot of the franchise:
Good Points Zachary Quinto (“Spock” in Abrams’ movie) does a rather good job of reading the novel. He – of course – nails Spock but he’s got a wide enough vocal range to handle all of the other characters, and makes it easy to follow what’s going on. He’s particularly good with Nero, sounding uncannily like Eric Bana, and with Chekov (I’m no expert on dialect but I liked his “Russian” accent more than Yelchin’s in the movie).
Alan Dean Foster is a past master of movie novelizations. When I was younger, I kept copies of Outland, Alien, Aliens, Dark Star, and others close at hand for when I was bored and wanted quick, easy-to-read and well written brain candy. The best movie novelizations retain the good points of the movie but add depth and detail to the characters and plot that give future viewings of the film greater meaning (see, outside Foster’s oeuvre, Vonda McIntyre’s adaptations of The Wrath of Khan & Star Trek III: The Search for Spock or Terry Brook’s of The Phantom Menace). Foster does that in this book in several cases. One of the best is the scene where Kirk is forced to defend himself for altering the Kobayashi Maru simulation. I understand why – if it was filmed at all – it was cut from the movie but it’s instructive to watch Kirk and Spock spar (though – as Sulu warns Bailey in “The Corbomite Maneuver,” – “try to cross brains with Spock, he'll cut you to pieces every time”). Another one nearly as good is a scene between Kirk and his older brother before he steals his step-father’s vintage car. We get a glimpse of the straight-laced, near martinet that Kirk was in the Academy of the original timeline (“Where No Man Has Gone Before”), and a reason behind why in this timeline he’s the only genius-level multiple offender in the Iowa juvie system. There are also points where authorial decision makes more sense than the movies’, e.g., rather than have Chekov race through the ship to the transporter room to beam Kirk and Sulu up from the plasma drill, Foster has him transfer the controls from there to his helm station via the computer (the 23rd century version of GoToMyPC). And there are small touches – just a sentence or clause – like having both McCoy and Sulu pick up on “something” going on between Uhura and Spock.
It’s not all to the good. As another review points out, there is some truly awful dialog, but overall Foster does a good job with the story.
What Needs Improvement Unfortunately, the story is a large part of the problem in Star Trek, and Foster’s task proves thankless in the end. I don’t want to spend too much time dissecting the novel but below are nine things that really bothered me:
One: What the hell is a pregnant woman doing on board a Starfleet vessel in the middle of a mission? The decision to put families aboard Enterprise always soured me on TNG. Really? The galaxy is full of unknowns that could kill us at any moment so let’s expose our spouses and children to them. I’m sure everything will work out for the best (just ask Benjamin Sisko).
Two: The Narada is a mining/ore processing vessel. Why does it appear to have the most advanced shielding and weapons on offer in the Romulan Empire? I know that the Romulans are a highly militarized society but it’s a mining ship not a frakking dreadnaught.
Three: Related to (2), Nero is chief of a mining crew not a soldier. A failure in both the movie and the book is that you never get a sense of why Nero is doing what he’s doing, or why his crew is so fanatically loyal over the course of the 25 years they have to wait for Spock Prime to show up. Yes, we know that Nero’s pregnant wife was on Romulus when it blew up, but that’s such a clichéd motivation that readers/viewers are left shaking their heads in dismay at such lazy story-telling. And, outside of a penchant for homicidal rages, what hold does Nero exercise over the other Romulans? There’s little effort to develop Nero as a plausible villain. Compare this to Khan Noonian Singh – “Save your strength, Captain, these people have sworn to live and die at my command two hundred years before you were born.”
Four: What did the Narada and her crew do for the 25 years they were waiting for Spock? I understand that there’s a comic series that fills in the gap but I shouldn’t have to go outside of the book (or the movie) to learn that.
Five: Red matter. Yet again we have an ultimate weapon that will probably never be mentioned again. If ST: The Wrath of Khan had a serious weakness it was the Genesis Torpedo, a weapon that not only destroyed the enemy but then could reconfigure him into “a living breathing planet, capable of sustaining whatever life forms we see fit to deposit on it.” The Borg – launch the Genesis Torpedo and let them assimilate that. The Dominion – launch the Genesis Torpedo. Qo’noS rendered uninhabitable by Praxis’ destruction? Launch the Genesis Torpedo & viola a whole new homeworld.
Here again I blame lazy story-telling on the part of the original writers (Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman).
Six: I’m old school Trek. Kirk, Spock & McCoy never met before being assigned to Enterprise. None of them, nor any of the secondary crew, are contemporaries. Both Spock and McCoy are considerably older than Kirk, as is Scotty, and McCoy never attended the Academy (see “The Ultimate Computer” and the reference to Captain Dunsel). At best Uhura, Sulu and Chekov may have been first-years at the Academy when Kirk was graduating.
It’s what I call “The Star Wars Syndrome” – the need to cram every character into every story, regardless of how illogical it might be (e.g., shoehorning both C3PO and R2-D2 into the prequels – only one of their many sins).
With a bit of thought, you could have gotten them together (and even slipped in the Spock/Uhura romance) without the ridiculous contrivances settled on.
Seven: Delta Vega. Where exactly is Delta Vega? If we go by “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” it’s somewhere near the edge of the galaxy. Very, very far from Vulcan’s sun, 40 Eridani. But it’s an homage to the original series so I’ll accept the name. What I can’t accept (my willingness to suspend belief only goes so far) is that it’s near enough to Vulcan so that Spock can watch a black hole swallow the planet. Our closest interplanetary neighbor – the Moon – is about a quarter of a million miles away, and – at best – it’s about the size of a large coin in our sky on some nights. Beyond Luna, our nearest neighbors are Mars and Venus. And under perfect conditions for viewing and excellent eyesight, they’re still little more than largish dots.
If Nero had wanted Spock to watch Vulcan’s end, he would have kept him on the ship or put him in a lifeboat in orbit around the planet.
Eight: Another WTF moment: All of Starfleet is off on the other side of the galaxy doing something, so the only defense the Federation can muster against Nero is an ad hoc fleet crewed by a bunch of recently graduated cadets?
Nine: Kirk’s alteration of the Kobayashi Maru was pretty lame. He made it so that the Klingons dropped their shields? That’s original thinking? Or is the “original thinking” for succeeding in cracking the program’s encryption?
Either way, David Marcus was right – “he cheated” – and I’m not sure what Starfleet was thinking when they commended him in either timeline.
Referring to the movie, if I may in this book-oriented review, I like the recast crew and only hope that upcoming films have better stories. In regards to this book, I can only recommend it to fellow Trekkies, and then only tepidly.(less)
**spoiler alert** Rise Like Lions is another well written adventure from the pen of David Mack. It’s not the tour de force that his Star Trek: Destiny...more**spoiler alert** Rise Like Lions is another well written adventure from the pen of David Mack. It’s not the tour de force that his Star Trek: Destiny trilogy turned out to be nor does it have any very interesting characters as in his Star Trek: Vanguard series, but it was an enjoyable way for this Trekkie to kill a weekend.
The story takes place in the Mirror universe (first visited in the TOS episode “Mirror, Mirror”) and covers the final days of the Terran Rebellion, the collapse of the Klingon/Cardassian Alliance and the realization of Emperor Spock’s dream of a new society based on principles familiar to any Federation citizen. Like The Sorrows of Empire, this book suffers from too many POVs and an episodic narrative that neglects character for action. I like Mack too much as a writer, however, to have cared about it until after I had closed the book.
And now that I have closed the cover, several things gnaw at me. One is that there were too many deus ex machine moments. There were times I felt I was reading an ERB novel the lucky coincidences were coming so fast and furiously. An especially egregious example is the use of Kes (from “Star Trek: Voyager”). She has a chip implanted in her brain by Memory Omega (see below) that blocks her god-like psychic powers because she’s a loose cannon and can’t be trusted to use them wisely. Circumstances put her on a rebel starship – a prisoner – when a Cardassian fleet is about to wipe out the rebellion’s leadership. Tuvok (also from “Voyager”) deactivates her chip, and Kes destroys the Cardassians but she then disables him and declares herself the new Empress. But wait! There’s a failsafe device in the chip that turns her brain into scrambled eggs, and within two paragraphs, the threat is removed. Very convenient; very annoying.
(It also illustrates another example of “the Star Wars syndrome” – the need to cram every character from the franchise into the storyline, if possible.)
Now I must return to my problems with overly convenient plot devices and mention Memory Omega – the clandestine organization of scientists that Emperor Spock set up to eventually lead the Empire (& galactic civilization) toward a more just and humane (in an all-encompassing ET+human sense) civilization. It reminds me of nothing so much as Asimov’s Second Foundation and it’s just as problematic an organization as Asimov’s. Omega’s agents are conveniently (there’s that word again) placed throughout known space to assassinate the right leader or influence the next council meeting to move events in their favor. And when the rebellion loses most of its fleet and is in danger of foundering on the reefs of its leaders’ egos, Omega is there to provide an inspiring, neutral leader (Jean-Luc Picard); a fleet of ships (Sovereign class heavy cruisers); and super-advanced technology to save it.
I’m also disturbed by the new polity’s willingness to use weapons of mass destruction like the Genesis device. Soon after the rebellion establishes the Galactic Commonwealth, Memory Omega issues a threat to all the surviving powers that, if they interfere with the Commonwealth or try to block any planet from joining it, their worlds may be visited by Genesis torpedoes that will destroy all life “in favor of its new matrix.” It’s either lazy writing or – I hope – laying grounds for later stories that explore how much further the Mirror universe has to go before truly realizing Spock’s dream.
Which brings me to the best part of the novel, the part that I wish Mack had developed more. There’s no real need for the many Cardassian- or Klingon-oriented digressions. And the Jean-Luc arc is weak. The most interesting dynamic is that between Miles O’Brien, Mac Calhoun and (to a lesser extent) Saavik.* Miles represents the recognizably Federation point of view, as he reveals when the rebel leadership is discussing how to respond to the Klingons, who have induced a nova in the Ferengi homeworld’s sun, obliterating billions and threatening to do the same to anyone who supports the rebellion. Calhoun and even Saavik are all for upping the ante and meeting Klingon fanaticism with their own but O’Brien will have none of that:
“This rebellion hasn’t just been about slavery or freedom. It hasn’t been about revenge. We fight for a belief. For the idea that we can all live together as equals under the law, no matter who we are or where we came from. Our goal hasn’t been to bring back the Terran Empire, or even the Terran Republic, but to build something new, something better. It’s been about making ourselves better, so that we can deserve to live in this new world we’re fighting to create.
“What’s been suggested here tonight – wiping out most of Cardassia to make a point and break their will – is the sort of thing our ancestors would’ve done. It’s what the Terran Empire would’ve done. And that’s exactly why we shouldn’t do it. Embracing this kind of merciless, scorched-earth warfare would be a major step backward….
“Before we decide how to end this war, we need to know what kind of civilization we want to build when we’re done – because the choice we make now will define that decision for us. You can’t build a noble society, a just society, on a foundation of genocide. That’s not a legacy I want to be known for…. You tell me what kind of people we are.” (pp. 337-38)
This is the kind of philosophical question that the best Trek can bring out. Consider O’Brien’s last paragraph in light of United States history and the country’s continued refusal to come to terms with slavery or genocide, for example, not just its implications for future Trek novels.
For its faults, I can only give Rise Like Lions a relatively tepid three stars but I’d still recommend it.
* A more representative book cover would have had a picture of O’Brien & Calhoun (& maybe Saavik) rather than Picard, who’s practically a cipher in the novel. (less)
What Judgments Come is the penultimate chapter in the ST: Vanguard series. There’s nothing terribly wrong with this installment but I can’t help feeli...moreWhat Judgments Come is the penultimate chapter in the ST: Vanguard series. There’s nothing terribly wrong with this installment but I can’t help feeling that much of it is filler. The only plotline resolved is the fate of Diego Reyes, the disgraced commander of Vanguard who was court martialed, kidnapped by Klingons, and eventually wound up a prisoner aboard the Orion ship Omari-Ekon. The effort to understand the Shedai continues with Ming Xiong’s and Dr. Marcus’ attempt to contact the Shedai Wanderer, who’s trapped in the Mirdonyae Artifact (a relic of the Tkon Empire, see TNG episode “The Last Outpost”). There’s a set up for why the U.S.S. Defiant was in Tholian space and needed rescuing by Enterprise in the TOS episode “The Tholian Web.” And there’s an – IMO – unnecessary digression into why the Nimbus III colony (from ST:V The Final Frontier) was set up and why things went so terribly wrong there (this latter plotline may find a reason for its existence in the final book – Storming Heaven – and if any author can pull it off it’s David Mack but for now it seems a pointless digression).
The series suffers from a syndrome I’ve seen in the Star Wars novels I’ve read – the need to cram every major character or reference from previous stories into the present novel. Thus, not only is Vanguard threatened by the Shedai, Klingons and Tholians (a reasonably threatening and manageable number of villains and logically necessary) but we also have to bring in Romulans and the Gorn.
And the Romulans?
The story takes place in the same year or soon after Enterprise’s recontact with the empire in the TOS episode “The Balance of Terror” yet we already have a Romulan ambassador and a long-term relationship between the Fed ambassador on Vanguard and a Romulan Senator. I can’t buy the timeline.
In a previous book, a Klingon assault against Vanguard is conveniently stopped because it happens to take place when Trefayne imposes the Organian Treaty (see TOS “Errand of Mercy”); Heihachiro Nogura, Chief of Starfleet in ST:I The Motion Picture, is the new CO of Vanguard; there’s a digression where the infamous Admiral Komack from TOS clashes with Nogura; and the meta-genome that prompted Starfleet’s interest in the region is a lead in to Carol Marcus’ research into the Genesis Project (and did I mention that Clark Terrell, also from ST:II The Wrath of Khan, shows up as XO of one of Vanguard’s starships?).
Another problem that the series has become increasingly prone to is the phenomenal talent and moral probity of everyone in Starfleet. No one’s even just “average,” nor – outside of Reyes – does anyone have serious problems or doubts about the Federation’s presence in the Taurus Reach. But it goes beyond that. Everyone gets along with everyone else, and every crew works together like a well oiled machine. And a lot of characters are prone to kamikaze gestures – ramming Tholian starships or blowing themselves up to keep Shedai technology out of Klingon hands, etc. It’s tolerable in Mack’s efforts because he’s the most talented writer in the stable but here it rapidly becomes annoying and distracting and unbelievable.
One final discordant note to mention: The novel begins with a framing device where Tim Pennington, the civilian Federation News Service reporter, tracks down Reyes on his planet of exile several years after the events around Vanguard to get his story. This is fine, except that this should mean that what comes between prolog and epilog is told from Reyes’ point of view. But it’s not. We jump from Reyes to other characters just as we have been doing in every previous novel. At the least, if we learn of other characters’ fates, it should be through the prism of Reyes’ experience. This is just a Star Trek novel perhaps but the device smacks of laziness; the authors didn’t think through the consequences of their storytelling method.
I think I may protest too much. I have enjoyed the series and, while this installment seems a bit unnecessary, it is by no means an unendurable read. Considering my experience with Mack’s work, I’m eagerly looking forward to finishing the series when the final book comes out. If I were to judge this book as a standalone, I’d give it two stars, albeit a strong two stars. As a part of the series overall, I’ll be generous and give it three because of the Reyes arc, which I think could and should be much stronger. Reyes has the potential to be a character as interesting as Kirk, Spock or Picard, and I’d like to see some author – ideally Mack – take on more stories concerning him.(less)
**spoiler alert** The Earth-Romulan War of a century ago (or a century hence, depending on your temporal POV) is one of the iconic “historical” events...more**spoiler alert** The Earth-Romulan War of a century ago (or a century hence, depending on your temporal POV) is one of the iconic “historical” events of the Star Trek universe. As Mr. Spock explains to the Enterprise crew in “The Balance of Terror,”* it was a war fought “with primitive atomic weapons, and in primitive space vessels, which allowed no quarter, no captives. Nor was there even ship-to-ship visual communication.”
That latter fact is hedged quite a bit in this novel and its predecessor as the Vulcan’s know precisely who Earth is fighting and Earth’s Starfleet Intelligence knows from whence the Romulans come.
To Brave the Storm follows on from the story told in Beneath the Raptor’s Wing and the reservations I had about that book continue here, with a few additions:
1. In this novel, the Romulans’ computer virus that allowed them to take over enemy ships in the first book has become largely useless. I remember from Beneath the Raptor’s Wing that Earth had very nearly overcome this handicap but I don’t recall that they had resolved it by the end of that novel so its absence in this one comes as a shock.
2. I never bought the idea that Trip could pass himself off as a Vulcan or as a Romulan for any length of time. Kirk could get away with it in “The Enterprise Incident” because he only had to pretend for the time it took him to find the cloaking device and get off the flagship with it. Trip, however, has to spend years on Vulcan and months among Romulans. He doesn’t even appear to be trying to be Vulcan as he continues to use English idioms in his conversations. And where is he getting the drugs that keep his blood looking the proper Vulcan green?
3. It was established in “The Balance of Terror” that the Romulans do not surrender and would rather blow their ships up than suffer capture but in To Brave the Storm they are genocidally suicidal. Not once but three times does a Romulan commander slam his ship into an inhabited planet at translight velocities.
I can’t imagine that the Romulan government would be supportive of a policy that rendered so many potentially useful worlds useless. Take out as many of your enemies as possible? Sure. But leave the real estate intact.
4. Too many last minute rescues. At the climactic Battle of Cheron, the Earth fleet is saved twice by the sudden appearance of allied ships. I think it would have been a much stronger story if Earth could have won the battle on its own or the Klingon, Andorian and Vulcan allies had arrived before the battle (it still would have surprised the Romulans).
4b. In a related vein, I don’t like the fact that the canonical ST universe introduces the Klingons so early in the chronology. Granted, it’s ambiguous in the original series when they were first encountered by humans but I subscribe to the idea that it occurred after the Earth-Romulan War.
In general, Martin is a competent, if not great, writer but I do have to highlight one of the worst similes I’ve ever read:
Abandon ship? So that our enemies can swoop in and pick off our escape pods like so many lobe-finned in’hhui along the northern Apnex shore? (p. 288)
All is not complaint, however.
Two things that I thought Martin dealt with reasonably well (though not as fully as I would have wanted) are Archer’s misgivings about his role in the war and T’Pau’s struggle with reconciling Surak’s teachings with events in the real world. Archer wants to be an explorer and diplomat above all else and it pains him to find himself in the role of soldier. And T’Pau reluctantly recognizes that the Romulans are not amenable to discussing peace. Vulcan either aids Earth now or it too will stand alone when its cousins finish with the humans.
I cautiously recommend this book and it’s prequel to the Trekkies amongst my GR following. It’s not great but if you need something to read before bedtime or you’re decompressing after a particularly hard book, it may do.
* When I went to Ireland in the mid-'90s, I was part of a tour group that included Paul Schneider and his wife, who wrote that episode (though his wife didn't get any of the credit).(less)
Declassified is a collection of four novellas set in the Star Trek: Vanguard setting, which takes place around the time of the original series. The Fe...more
Declassified is a collection of four novellas set in the Star Trek: Vanguard setting, which takes place around the time of the original series. The Federation has built Vanguard (Starbase 47) in the Taurus Reach ostensibly to lead the colonization efforts in the region (which borders Tholian and Klingon spaces) but its real mission is to track down and exploit the alien technology of the Shedai – a mostly extinct race who’s not at all pleased to share – while keeping it out of the hands of the Klingons.
“Almost Tomorrow,” Dayton Ward: This story takes place just prior to the events in the TOS episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” and its chief purpose is to set up the budding relationship between Diego Reyes, Vanguard’s commanding officer, and Rana Desai, its JAG officer, and that between T’Prynn, the station’s Vulcan security chief, and Anna Sandesjo, a member of the ambassadorial delegation and a Klingon agent. It is, of course, the latter that generates the most interest for the reader. Talk about an odd relationship:
T’Prynn hosts the katra of her former betrothed, Sten, a result of a marriage challenge that went really wrong. Anna is, of course, a Klingon.
Nothing good can come of the relationship but if you’re following the series, it’s interesting to see its origins. And it’s an opportunity to get in some more Vulcan/Klingon lesbian sex (NO – I do not have photos of that! I like to think that GR is a family-friendly site, and Vulcans are notoriously reticent about those things anyway).
“Hard News,” Kevin Dilmore: This story, the weakest of the four, takes place just after the events in Reap the Whirlwind. It’s supposed to set up Tim Pennington’s motivations for helping T’Prynn rid herself of Sten’s katra. Pennington is a reporter for the Federation’s equivalent of the AP. The problem – for me – is that those motivations as set up in previous novels were sufficient. I didn’t need to be convinced, (view spoiler)[and the result is the introduction of a character who gets murdered.
I can accept the deaths of characters in a novel – this series is pretty free with killing off some major characters, unlike the television shows – but not when it serves no purpose. (hide spoiler)]
That, and the fact that I’m not particularly interested in the Pennington story arc, makes this entry rate only 2.0 stars.
“The Ruins of Noble Men,” Marco Palmieri: This is a reasonably well told whodunit that takes place after the events of the last novel before this one, and brings together Rana Desai and Reyes’ closest friend and Vanguard’s CMO, Ezekiel Fisher, as they investigate the mysterious death of a Starfleet officer who was trying to convince some colonists to relocate to a more easily defensible planet. Of chief interest in this story is the anti-Starfleet/Federation attitude that’s first encountered in “The Wrath of Khan,” where the Genesis Project scientists were almost paranoid in their fear of what Starfleet would do with their research.
“The Stars Look Down,” David Mack: As usual, Mack’s contribution to the Vanguard series is the best of the collection. Well written and fast paced, “The Stars Look Down” follows the mission of Starfleet Intelligence agents Bridy Mac and Cervantes Quinn as they try to recover vital information before the Klingons can get their claws on it. (view spoiler)[Unlike the Dilmore effort, the death of one of the main characters and the subsequent reaction of the survivor are well integrated into the series and continue the theme of the personal costs that many of the characters are paying to keep Shedai technology out of enemy hands – often to no avail. (hide spoiler)]
Up to this stardate I've managed to avoid the zombification/vampirization-of-beloved-literary-icons genre (though I have enjoyed the GR reviews of the...moreUp to this stardate I've managed to avoid the zombification/vampirization-of-beloved-literary-icons genre (though I have enjoyed the GR reviews of these works) but based on Brad's review and the fact that it's Trek...well, "resistance is futile," as they say.
I'll probably warp through this over the weekend. ________________________________________________________________
A surprisingly good Zombie-Star Trek adventure. You actually kind of really care about what happens to the people in the book: Jim Pike, ex-Army Afghan vet, reluctantly accepting the burden of leading the survivors of the zombie plague; Rayna, his sister; "Princess Leia" (aka Shelley), convention model and kick-ass amateur zombie killer; Gary, overweight software-company owner; "Willy Makeit" (aka Kenny Dyes), hapless redshirt; "T'Poc," a Vulcan from the "Mirror, Mirror" universe; and "Martock," a Klingon weapons smith. I have a feeling it will join The Havard Lampoon's Bored of the Rings: A Parody of J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings on my shelf - to be read every decade or so as a pleasant diversion.
I shouldn't, upon reflection, use the word "surprisingly" in the paragraph above because I came across this little gem via Brad's review and his eye for quality material - even if brain candy - is pretty good.
As he points out, this is fun for any Trekkie or Zombie fan or both, and really should be made into a movie.
* My favorite riff on the "Red Shirts Are Expendable" trope is the West Texas Red Tunic Club - Half the club dies in a car accident on the way to the convention, the other half succumbs to the zombie plague and the last survivor's real name is "Kenny Dyes" - and he does.
** Also, I might mention that though "Princess Leia" does spend much of the novel slaughtering zombies in her gold bikini, she also sports a smashing pair of slippers shaped like the USS Enterprise.(less)
**spoiler alert** Lost Souls is a very satisfying conclusion to the Destiny series. Not only are the Borg taken care of finally and forever but they’r...more**spoiler alert** Lost Souls is a very satisfying conclusion to the Destiny series. Not only are the Borg taken care of finally and forever but they’re taken care of in a way that cleaves to Roddenberry’s vision of the Federation. As the Federation president says after the end of the incursion:
“In keeping with the finest traditions of Starfleet, these three crews accomplished this not through violence, not through some brute force of arms, but with compassion. This war has been brought to an end not by bloodshed but by an act of mercy.
“They took a chance on the better angels of their natures, reached out to a new ally, and transformed the Borg Collective into something benign, perhaps even noble….” (p. 419)
We also discover the ultimate origins of the Collective. As we learned in ST:IV (the one with the whales), the human propensity for unthinking violence can come back to bite us in the arse in a big way – in this case, the final Borg incursion into Federation space with not one cube but 7,000+ and with the goal of galaxywide genocide not assimilation. Mack has a field day showing up the impotence of the Federation and its allies in the face of Borg technology, destroying some of the most iconic planets of Trek mythology, including Deneva.
A curmudgeon might object that the incursion’s resolution smacks too much of a deus ex machine, and they’d be right, but would you rather the Collective win? Besides, Mack is an excellent storyteller and you don’t mind the god-like intervention when it comes (in fact, you’ve been anticipating it).
There’s nothing envelope-pushing or mind-blowingly unique about this trilogy but as I’ve said about the author before, if you’re not looking for anything too serious that stays true to the characters and ethos of Star Trek (and introduces some interesting new characters), then Mack is the author for you.
David Mack continues to show his strength as a ST author – fast paced adventures, good characterizations, well described space battles. The only compl...moreDavid Mack continues to show his strength as a ST author – fast paced adventures, good characterizations, well described space battles. The only complaint I would have in this first book of the Star Trek Destiny trilogy is that there’re too many dramatis personae – we’re following the crews of four starships, Enterprise, Titan, Aventine and Columbia. While Mack ably distinguishes most of his people, he still can’t develop them enough to make you care overmuch about them. Often he’s saved by the fact that half of the crews are already familiar to Trekkies from the TV shows and other novels.
In a personal aside, I’ve never been as interested in the post-TOS crews (Picard excepted) as with the original crew. And I’ve never liked where the canonical Star Trek went/is going. For example, Picard and Crusher get married? And they're having a son? WTF?! (pardon my French) I know there’s supposed to be a history and a certain amount of sexual tension between the two (and Picard has lost what little family he ever had*) but Jean-Luc in a domestic setting is just wrong. Then there’s Riker. I never liked Riker (even after he got the beard) so his and Counselor Troi’s domestic travails don’t engage me.
However, despite what I consider flawed material, I still think Mack does a good job with it, and I can continue to recommend his work without guilt. (Though, alas, there’s no Vulcan/Klingon lesbian sex** in this trilogy…. At least not yet.)
* See the movie ST: Generations***
** See my reviews of the Star Trek Vanguard series.
*** On second thought, don’t watch Generations, take my word that he’s lost his family. But, on third thought, Generations also gives us a glimpse of just how wrong a domesticated Picard is. No, on fourth thought, continue to trust me and don’t subject yourself to the movie.(less)
Precipice is Mack's third entry in the Vanguard series and it's a pretty good one but I fear that the series may be running out of steam or that Mack...morePrecipice is Mack's third entry in the Vanguard series and it's a pretty good one but I fear that the series may be running out of steam or that Mack is getting lazy.
My primary piece of evidence for this assertion is the unbelievable change in the Cervantes Quinn character. Quinn began literary life as a 50+, overweight, slovenly, perpetually soused ne'er-do-well along the lines of a Cyrano Jones ("The Trouble with Tribbles") or Harry Mudd ("Mudd's Women," "I, Mudd"). He was never comic relief and there is a series of events that make him change his ways and begin to act more responsibly but in Precipice that change has passed from believable to fantasy: He is now working for Starfleet Intelligence, he leads a guerilla war against the Klingons, and in a battle with a Shedai displays a physical prowess that rivals Orlando Bloom's Legolas in Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" (another example of lazy story-telling).
I hope the next volume pares back on the super-heroics. If I wanted wuxia, I'd rent a Jet Li movie.
But it's still good brain candy and I still want to know the final resolution so I'll keep an eye out for book #6.(less)
I've mentioned in my reviews of the Vanguard series how Mack is the visibly better writer than his collaborators. I've offered no examples to illustra...moreI've mentioned in my reviews of the Vanguard series how Mack is the visibly better writer than his collaborators. I've offered no examples to illustrate my contention, which is poor form. Partly, that's because this is my brain-candy reading and I'm not picking over it like a grad student studying Horace's use of adverbs.* But I've also recently finished volume five of the 13-volume Chekhov short-story collection, which featured some of his best stories so far (IMO), and it got me to wondering what's the difference? Why is Chekhov considered a master and why do I intuitively grasp that Mack is the better writer?
I make no claim to a definitive answer but an element in such an answer would be that Chekhov (and Mack to a lesser extent) is able to establish a character's distinctiveness early on in a story, and subsequently doesn't have to rely on clunky adjectives & adverbs or tedious asides to explain actions. We know that Character A sneered when he said "X," it's inherent in the character, as is his decision to do "Y."
Beyond these general reflections, Open Secrets is a decent entry in the series. It gets bogged down in an extended period when Dr. M'Benga tries to cure T'Prynn (who fell into a coma when her Klingon lover was killed in the third novel) and Reyes' court martial. The pacing is definitely off.
But, otherwise, it's OK.
* This is an example from life: One of my grad school profs wrote his thesis on this very subject. And, no, I haven't read it.(less)
**spoiler alert** This second volume in the Vanguard series is not written by David Mack, and Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore aren't quite as good autho...more**spoiler alert** This second volume in the Vanguard series is not written by David Mack, and Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore aren't quite as good authors. It's not a night-and-day difference in style or execution but Harbinger Star Trek Vanguard 1 is the better book.
* The authors do a good job of showing the difference between how the Klingons react to the Shedai Wanderer and the Federation's response. They have no problems bombarding planets with photon torpedoes but the Federation's attempt to understand what's happening reaps greater rewards in the end.
Less good things:
* Why is it that in these shared-world series, it seems authors feel compelled to include every character or race introduced in other books. I noticed this during my Star Wars novel phase - Every book had to include every character from the original films, no matter how much of a stretch required. Here, we get a Romulan ship investigating the Reach. Now, I love the Romulans ("Balance of Terror" is in my top 5 TOS episodes) but there's no reason for their presence here.
* There's an ill-considered attempt at humor when Quinn and Pennington are sent to pick up one of Ganz's operatives who has a pet alien named "Sniffy" - do I need to elaborate?
* While the attempt to create a truly alien race in the Tholians continues apace, I wish that all their names didn't end in "-ene." It's nearly as bad, of course, with Vulcans or the other races.
* Out of nowhere we find that T'Prynn knows Sandesjo is a Klingon spy and, beyond that, we find that Sandesjo is working as a double agent. Huh? When did this happen? And from a narrative point of view, there's absolutely no tension anymore about Sandesjo's role in the Federaton embassy or the threat of discovery.
* What's worse? The Vulcan/Klingon lesbian sex is only implied in this installment :-(
I'm still not particularly interested in any of the characters but the storyline and the writing continue to be good enough that I want to reach closure with the series. Mack is the author of the third book - Reap the Whirlwind Star Trek Vanguard 3 - and that's in the mail and I have the last two books out from the library so my desires should be fulfilled relatively soon.(less)
Reap the Whirlwind is the third book in the Vanguard series of “Star Trek” novels.
For those who may have missed earlier reviews of the previous novels...moreReap the Whirlwind is the third book in the Vanguard series of “Star Trek” novels.
For those who may have missed earlier reviews of the previous novels: Vanguard is a Federation starbase in the Taurus Reach, a region of space between the UFP, the Klingons and the Tholians. Several years before the opening of the initial volume – Harbinger Star Trek Vanguard 1 – Starfleet discovered what it calls the meta-genome, clear evidence of an incredibly advanced race that had once dominated the region. Under cover of colonization and exploration efforts in the region, the crew of Vanguard attempts to unravel the meta-genome’s mysteries before the “bad” guys can get their hands on them. (Here, we must have faith that the Federation will use the knowledge with wisdom.) Unfortunately, Starfleet’s interest in the region draws the attention it wished to avoid from both the Klingons (who are there, initially, because they have a general policy of interfering with the Federation when they can) and the Tholians (who have a history with the original inhabitants of the region, the Shedai, they are desperate not to reveal).
Reap the Whirlwind is well titled as a number of galactic-level and personal tragedies are played out, not least of which is Diego Reyes’ (commodore of Vanguard) decision to leak Starfleet secrets and face court martial when his decisions and Starfleet’s policy result in the death of an innocent Federation colony. (It gets a bit melodramatic and maybe over-the-top to have the governor of the colony be Reyes’ ex-wife, who he still carries a torch for, but it’s not too excessive.)
As with the first two books in the series, this is pretty good “Star Trek.” Mack again shows his versatility as an author. His action scenes crackle and are well paced, though nothing as good as the Tholian ambush of the Bombay in Harbinger. And that skill continues with the novel’s down times – they’re important to the story and they don’t overstay their welcome. The chief weakness of the novel is that for too much of it the Federation et al. are on the sidelines, watching two factions of the Shedai vie for dominance and trying to avoid becoming collateral damage. On the plus side, Mack contrives to neutralize the overwhelming superiority of the aliens, paving the way for making the characters the focus of subsequent novels.
The series continues to lack a strong emotional connection for me. No character has really connected. For which I blame the number of characters; there are too many foci and little time for measured character development. Too often, Mack and his collaborators rely upon telling us something has changed rather than following through with it in the story. I’m still following the series more for the solid story-telling in a milieu I like than for any other reason.
Two final observations:
(1) Mack continues to enjoy slipping in references not just to past and future developments in the ST universe but also pays homage to other SF icons. In RTW, his target (at least the one I kept picking up on) is the movie “Aliens.” Some of the dialog is lifted directly from the movie. (Though not my favorite line when Burke complains that destroying the colony will cost a hefty sum and Ripley says, “They can bill me!”)
(2) There’s also a nice scene where Mack captures why the Federation is the “good” guy and preferable to the Klingons, regardless of how “cool” and “honorable” Worf is: A group of Tholians have been captured and are being tortured by the Shedai. A Federation officer convinces the rebel Shedai to free them because it’s the right thing to do despite Tholia’s hostility to the Federation and even though it’s unlikely the Tholians would be so magnanimous were the situations reversed.
It’s nice to see that optimistic side of the future that TOS captured better than any of its children – We can be better people than we are now.
PS - There's a handy mini-encyclopedia of characters in the back of this book but be warned - it contains spoilers. Don't peruse it till you've finished the novel.(less)