Friday, December 30, 2011

The Empty Chair

Star Trek: The Empty Chair by Diane Duane
Rihannsu #5
Published December 2006
Read December 28th, 2011

Previous book (Rihannsu): Honor Blade

Previous book (The Original Series): Provenance of Shadows - Crucible: McCoy
Next book (The Original Series): The Fire and the Rose - Crucible: Spock
Spoilers ahead for The Empty Chair and the Rihannsu saga!


From the back cover:

THE CULMINATION OF A SAGA TWENTY-TWO YEARS IN THE MAKING.
They call themselves the Rihannsu -- the Declared.  To the Federation, they are the Romulans.  By any name they are adversaries as formidable as they are inscrutable.  Self-exiled from Vulcan in ages past, they retain an ancient martial philosophy and a code of conduct that has sustained them through centuries of hardship, warfare, and thwarted ambition.
Now their empire is gearing for war once again.  Armed with the revolutionary Sunseed technology, which can destabilize entire stars, a Romulan vessel is warping toward the heart of the Federation.  Its target: Earth's sun.
But this offensive comes at a perilous time, as a growing number of Romulan worlds are joining a revolution -- one led by the renegade Commander Ael t'Rllaillieu of the warbird Bloodwing, with the aid of Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise and the Hamalki physicist K's't'lk, the Federation's foremost authority on Sunseed technology.  As the threat to Earth looms ever larger, Bloodwing and Enterprise lead an armada toward the Romulan homeworld for a final reckoning that will decide the future of the Rihannsu people.    

About the Novel:

The Empty Chair is the fifth and final installment of Diane Duane's Rihannsu saga.  In a direct continuation from the previous novel, Honor Blade, the Enterprise "pursues" Commander Ael's ship, the Bloodwing, deeper and deeper into Romulan space.  The vessels arrive at Artaleirh, a planet that has declared itself a member of the "Free Rihanssu."  Artaleirh, like a number of other worlds in the Romulan Star Empire, is in a state of open rebellion.  Having already captured a number of Romulan vessels which had been sent to pacify the world, Artaleirh is in a position to openly defy the will of the Romulan Praetors. Captain Kirk and Commander Ael assist the Free Rihannsu in fending off a Romulan attack, and a subsequent Klingon attempt to capitalize on the instability in the region.


Pledged to follow Commander Ael's leadership, the Free Rihannsu mount a full-scale insurrection against the Romulan Star Empire, with Captain Kirk and the Enterprise along to assist.  Meanwhile, the praetors of the Romulan Empire have deployed a devastating weapon to destroy Earth's sun, and it is up to Spock, Scotty, and a Hamalki physicist named K's't'lk (see Diane Duane's earlier novel, The Wounded Sky) to figure out a way to stop it.  In the end, for good or ill, the Romulan Empire will be changed forever.

My Thoughts:

An excellent conclusion to a very entertaining series.  I had been told that the Rihannsu novels were a particular gem in the Trek lit library, and they certainly did not disappoint.  If you have read my reviews of the previous novels in the series, you know that the large gaps of time in between the publications of the various novels caused a number of continuity issues, but if you can overlook these, the five novels are a very good read, one that you will not regret putting the time into.  (Alternatively, you can read the omnibus collection The Bloodwing Voyages which has "corrected" versions of the first four novels, and then move on to The Empty Chair.)


The quadrant-rocking Empire-changing events of The Empty Chair feel very grand and epic in scope, and are accorded the necessary weight in the book.  Much like during the V'Ger crisis of Star Trek: The Motion Picture or saving Earth in The Voyage Home, the events of the final installment of the Rihannsu saga feel like history being made.  The epic quality of the story adds to the drama, as it feels more "important" than other run-of-the-mill "planet of the week" stories.


One interesting element of the story was the depiction of Kirk becoming used to being an admiral in the true sense of the word: commanding a large fleet of vessels.  Because the Rihannsu saga had been moved to a point after The Motion Picture, Kirk had obviously already been an admiral, but The Empty Chair points out that his position had been more along the lines of commanding a desk rather than a fleet.  It was interesting to see Kirk struggle with his own self-doubts as to how he would perform as a commander of an armada, and his efforts to draw inspiration from historical figures who have led men into battle.


Because of the large gaps between publication of various parts of the story, one might expect that the Rihannsu saga wouldn't hold together well as a cohesive narrative.  With the exception of the shifts in the time period in which it is set, this is not the case.  Diane Duane is definitely a writer who has no problem finding the "voices" of her characters, and the story holds together quite well.


Final Thoughts:

Reading the Rihannsu saga has been a special treat.  Diane Duane shows herself to be a master of "world building," and the Rihannsu culture is very well fleshed-out, much moreso than the Romulans of televised Star Trek.  Of course, much of this is due to the freedom that the medium of novels allows.  Putting together an hour-long program doesn't allow a writer to delve into the culture of a race of aliens quite as deeply as a novel hundreds of pages long does.  For creating such an interesting and vibrant culture, as well as telling a hell of a good story while doing so, I highly recommend the Rihannsu saga to any reader of Trek fiction.

Final rating for The Empty Chair and the Rihannsu saga as a whole: 9/10.


Previous novels in the Rihannsu series: #1: My Enemy, My Ally; #2: The Romulan Way; #3: Swordhunt; #4: Honor Blade


I'm finally reading William Shatner's tale of Captain Kirk's resurrection following the events of Star Trek: Generations, entitled The Return, in response to a friend's request.  Look for that review in the coming weeks!