Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cast No Shadow

Star Trek: The Original Series: Cast No Shadow by James Swallow
Published July 2011
Read: October 20th, 2011

Previous book (The Original Series): The Children of Kings
Next book (The Original Series): A Choice of Catastrophes




Click the cover to purchase Cast No Shadow from Amazon.com!


Spoilers ahead for Cast No Shadow and, I suppose, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country!




From the back cover:

Seven years have passed since a catastrophic explosion on the Klingon moon Praxis touched off a chain of events that would result in the assassination of the reformist High Chancellor Gorkon, and the eventual creation of the historic Khitomer Accords.  Now, as part of the ongoing efforts to undo the disastrous fallout from the destruction of Praxis and with the help of aid supplies from the United Federation of Planets, reconstruction is in progress, and after years of slow going hindered by political pressures and old prejudices, headway is at last being made.  But the peace process begun by the Khitomer Accords is still fragile just as the deadly plans of what is believed to be a hard-line Klingon isolationist group violently come to fruition.


Yet the group thought responsible for the deadly attack has been dormant for decades, and its known modus operandi doesn't match up to the manner of the strike.  And further investigation leads to an unexpected revelation connected to the Gorkon conspiracy of 2293, and in particular one disgraced and very familiar Starfleet lieutenant...


About the Novel:

A massive explosion disrupts relief efforts in the Klingon Empire, and during the course of an investigation into the cause, Lieutenant J.G. Elias Vaughn discovers evidence that contradicts the official story.  Vaughn, of course, is known to readers of the Deep Space Nine relaunch series of novels.  His superior officer is unwilling to listen to him, so he goes above the heads of his superiors and brings his evidence to Commander Miller, an agent of Starfleet Intelligence who is traveling to Klingon territory to monitor the investigation.  Miller compels Lieutenant Vaughn to accompany him into Klingon space aboard the U.S.S. Excelsior, under the command of Captain Sulu.  En route, they stop to pick up another asset to their investigation: Starfleet traitor Valeris, carrying out a life-term in a Federation prison.  They believe that a code-word discovered in the evidence links the current case to the conspiracy to derail the Khitomer peace accords seven years prior.

When they arrive at the scene of the catastrophe, the Klingons are less than cooperative, and the Starfleet investigators find themselves side-lined.  However, with the help of a Klingon Intelligence operative named Kaj, Vaughn, Miller and Valeris find themselves racing all over Klingon space to root out the true perpetrators of the crime: rebels from the conquered planet Krios (featured in the TNG episodes "The Mind's Eye" and "The Perfect Mate").


Primarily, however,
Cast No Shadow is story about Valeris: her mind-set, her past, and her motivations for her actions in The Undiscovered Country.  We see what became of the remnants of the Gorkon assassination conspiracy following the events of The Undiscovered Country, and witness the beginnings of the cooperation that will define the relationship between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire during the era of The Next Generation.


My Thoughts:

For the most part, I enjoyed reading Cast No Shadow.  It was an interesting tale and it filled in some gaps in Star Trek history, which is one of my favorite functions of Trek literature.  The pacing and action are quite good, and I didn't feel like putting it down for any inordinate length of time.  The writing was crisp and easy to follow, and I enjoyed the characterizations of the new characters introduced by Swallow.  However, Cast No Shadow certainly wasn't without its flaws.



Valeris: From cold, calculated
believer in Vulcan logic to
clich├ęd childhood trauma victim.
One thing I enjoyed about Star Trek VI was the idea that Valeris, a perfectly calm and logical Vulcan, could come to the conclusion that assassination is a preferable course of action to peace between the Federation and the Klingons.  It is a disturbing thought that one could come to that decision using only cold, calculated logic.  Cast No Shadow, however, throws that idea out the window, instead explaining Valeris's actions through the effects of both childhood trauma and father issues.  Don't get me wrong: I don't read Star Trek novels in order to be wowed and amazed at the originality and ground-breaking nature of the prose!  However, childhood trauma and father issues being the root of disturbing and criminal behavior is a trope that has been explored to death.  I would definitely have enjoyed something a little more original, perhaps using Valeris's Vulcan nature in a way that is surprising or unique.

Another aspect that bothered me was the use of Spock so prominently on the cover.  While Spock does appear in the story, I would characterize his contribution to the plot as a cameo rather than a starring role.  I understand that Pocket Books is in the business of selling books, and that Spock on the cover would result in more sales than a secondary character like Valeris, but to me it felt a little like false advertising.


Finally, due to editorial shake-ups at Pocket Books, I feel that the
Star Trek line has lost a little of the focus and cohesiveness it enjoyed for the past decade or two.  One series I absolutely loved was The Lost Era; a series of books that covered periods of Star Trek history outside the televised or movie eras.  Had Cast No Shadow been published a few years ago, I believe it would have been under the "Lost Era" banner; however, because there is a new editor in charge after the departure of Marco Palmieri, this novel finds itself kind of set adrift under the "Original Series" moniker.  This doesn't impact the enjoyment of the book, to be sure, but I do feel that it might have been a little more prominent if it were part of that much-loved series.


Final Thoughts:

Cast No Shadow is an interesting story, and it fills in a few gaps in a period of Star Trek history that is interesting to explore.  It provides motivations for Valeris's actions in Star Trek VI, but a little unsatisfactorily in my opinion.  All in all, a somewhat by-the-numbers Trek adventure that I feel missed an opportunity to be much, much more.

Final rating: 5.5/10.

More about Cast No Shadow:

Also by James Swallow:

My next read:

I am still working on finishing my review of the next Star Trek: Vanguard novel, Precipice. Look for that soon!  I am also currently reading the Original Series novel, A Choice of Catastrophes by Michael Schuster and Steve Mollmann.