Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Watching the Clock

Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock
Published May 2011
Read May 11, 2011

Next book (Dept. of Temporal Investigations): Forgotten History



Click the cover to purchase Watching the Clock at Amazon.com!
Spoilers ahead for Watching the Clock, many episodes of Star Trek (in all of its incarnations), and the series finale of Star Trek: Voyager!


From the back cover:

There's likely no more of a thankless job in the Federation than temporal investigation. While starship explorers get to live the human adventure of traveling to other times and realities, it's up to the dedicated agents of the Federation Department of Temporal Investigations to deal with the consequences to the timestream that the rest of the Galaxy has to live with day by day. But when history as we know it could be wiped out at any moment by time warriors from the future, misused relics of ancient races, or accident-prone starships, only the most disciplined, obsessive, and unimaginative government employees have what it takes to face the existential uncertainty of it all on a daily basis . . . and still stay sane enough to complete their assignments.
That's where Agents Lucsly and Dulmur come in—stalwart and unflappable, these men are the Federation's unsung anchors in a chaotic universe. Together with their colleagues in the DTI—and with the help and sometimes hindrance of Starfleet's finest—they do what they can to keep the timestream, or at least the paperwork, as neat and orderly as they are. But when a series of escalating temporal incursions threatens to open a new front of the history-spanning Temporal Cold War in the twenty-fourth century, Agents Lucsly and Dulmur will need all their investigative skill and unbending determination to stop those who wish to rewrite the past for their own advantage, and to keep the present and the future from devolving into the kind of chaos they really, really hate.
About the novel:
Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock follows the lives and careers of agents Lucsly and Dulmur, tasked with the job of maintaining continuity in a timeline prone to incursions by travelers from different eras.  We learn how Agent Dulmur joined the DTI, after a temporal anomaly ruined his career as a more traditional law-enforcement officer.  We also learn more about the organization and the methods they use to preserve the timeline.

In the course of the novel, we see agents of the DTI dealing with a new front opening in the Temporal Cold War (see Star Trek: Enterprise).  Temporal agents from various future eras (called "uptime") intervene in affairs in the 24th century Trek era we've come to know and love.  With help from these future travelers, agents of the DTI manage to save a group of scientists targetted for elimination by time-travelers, and even manage to thwart the plans of the mysterious "Future Guy" from the temporal cold war arc of Star Trek: Enterprise.  A secondary story has two other agents working to prevent a warlord from using time-travel through an anomaly called "The Axis of Time" to conquer and control an empire.

Also, through flashbacks, Watching the Clock revisits almost every time-travel story previously featured on Star Trek.  We see the effects of Paul Manheim's experiements in "We'll Always Have Paris" (TNG), the origin of that strange anomaly and the double of Picard in "Time Squared" (TNG), the Vorgons' attempt to steal the Tox Uthat in "Captain's Holiday" (TNG), Rasmussen's theft of a time ship and visit to the Enterprise in "A Matter of Time" (TNG), what becomes of the USS Bozeman and crew from TNG's "Cause and Effect," and a myriad of other time-travel plots.  Virtually every plot in Star Trek that involves time-travel, however tangentially, is at least mentioned or referenced in some small way in this novel.


My Thoughts:
I felt that this latest, highly unique and original novel by Christopher L. Bennett was simply outstanding!  The narrative, the concepts, and the execution were all done flawlessly.  New characters are introduced into the Trek universe, and they are written as complete and compelling individuals.  Also, the characters of Lucsly and Dulmur are fleshed out and expanded WAY beyond their intial three minutes and forty-five seconds of screen time in Deep Space Nine's "Trials and Tribble-ations."  I really love the character of Lucsly, a man who is so driven by his desire for order and his belief in the original, unimpeded timeline.  He kind of reminds me of a Joe Friday with mild Asperger syndrome.

"Just the facts, Ben."
The true genius of Watching the Clock lies in the depiction of the Department of Temporal Investigations as a whole.  As watchers of Star Trek, we are often concerned with the idea of "heroics."  The larger-than-life exploits of starship captains, the rise and fall of empires, the galaxy-shaking decisions of political leaders, and so on.  Department of Temporal Investigations provides us with a different perspective: the "boring" life of civil servants and desk-jockeys, filing paperwork and cleaning up after the Starfleet captains who all seem to want to crap all over the timeline.  In this way, Watching the Clock provides us with a glimpse of who the true heroes are.  After the Enterprise-E returns from the 21st century in Star Trek: First Contact, for example, who does it fall to to make sure they didn't screw up the past too badly?  DTI, of course.

Favorite part in the book: the explanation as to why Captain Janeway wasn't immediately thrown in prison for her time-altering stunt that brought her crew home in Voyager's "Endgame."  That always bugged me, and I credit Mr. Bennett with providing an adequate explanation.  However, I still stand by my judgement that Janeway should never have been promoted to Admiral; rather, I think there were many offenses she committed over the years that should have had at least a few consequences.  Ah well, that is an argument for another time I suppose.

Final Thoughts:
I highly recommend Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock, but only if you are very familiar with the many "canon" stories of the Trek universe.  Watching the Clock contains spoilers for literally every incarnation of Star Trek (yes, even the 70s animated series!), and readers who haven't watched all of the episodes may find themselves either lost or annoyed at having future viewing experiences spoiled.

My score: 10/10.  Absolutely outstanding, and I hope Department of Temporal Investigations is revisited again in the future.  Or the past.  Or in an alternate timeline?

More about Watching the Clock:

Also by Christopher L. Bennett:

Next review:
Peter David's latest New Frontier novel, Blind Man's Bluff.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Vendetta

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Vendetta by Peter David
Published May 1991
Read May 5th, 2011

Previous book (TNG published order): #16: Contamination

Next book (The Next Generation): #17: Boogeymen

Next book (TNG unnumbered hardcovers): Reunion


Click the cover to purchase Vendetta at Amazon.com!


Spoilers ahead for Vendetta.  Also, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: First Contact!


From the back cover:
The Borg -- half organic and half machine, they are the most feared race in the known galaxy. In their relentless quest for technological perfection, they have destroyed entire star systems, enslaved countless peoples, and, in a single brutal attack, decimated Starfleet's mightiest vessels. Only a final desperate gambit by Captain Picard and the USS Enterprise crew stopped the Borg from conquering the entire Federation. And now they have returned.

About the novel:
It is the year following the events of "The Best of Both Worlds."  The Borg once again attack, this time almost completely destroying the Penzatti civilization.  However, just as the last of the race is about to be killed, an unknown force intervenes, destroying the Borg invaders.  Starfleet investigates, sending the USS Enterprise and a hospital ship, the USS Curie to render aid and discover what stopped the Borg.

The mysterious force that attacked the Borg is, in fact, a larger version of the "Planet Killer," seen in the original series episode "The Doomsday Machine."  This particular "doomsday machine" is piloted by a woman named Delcara, the lone survivor of a race wiped out by the Borg.  She carries with her a personal vendetta to destroy the Borg, commanding a ship fueled by her hatred and the hatred of the species that built it, whose "essence," or spirit, the planet-killer carries.  Delcara has such a close relationship with Guinan, that they each call the other "sister."  Delcara is also linked to Captain Picard.  She loves him, and shares a bond with him that goes back to his time at Starfleet Academy.


Another aspect of the plot involves the captain of the
USS Chekov, Morgan Korsmo, who was a rival of Picard's at the academy.  Captain Korsmo is jealous of Picard's successes throughout his career, and since it was Picard's suggestion of "sleep" to Data that ultimately defeated the Borg in "The Best of Both Worlds," the accolades Picard received due to that event have served only to further Korsmo's resentment.

The Borg, seeking a new speaker to replace Locutus, come across a Ferengi ship, captained by DaiMon Turane.  The Borg assimilate him, turning him into Vestator of Borg.  Under Vestator's lead, the Borg mount a small armada to intercept Delcara's planet killing weapon.


Finally,
Vendetta also tells the story of Reannon Bonaventure, a freighter captain who had been assimilated by the Borg.  The Enterprise crew rescues her and "de-Borgifies" her just as they did with Picard.  However, she remains seemingly catatonic, refusing to do anything but follow instructions like she did when she was a Borg drone.  To the Enterprise crew, what little reaction she does give indicates that she doesn't know how to be anything but Borg.

In the end, Korsmo puts aside his jealousy of Picard to assist in defeating the Borg, and Picard is able to best Vestator of Borg in combat.  However, the
Enterprise crew is unsuccessful in rehabilitating Reannon, who kills herself while in custody over the guilt at having been complicit in the destruction of Penzatti.

The crux of the story is the vendetta that Delcara maintains.  She is unable to see past the feelings of revenge and hatred to analyse the situation rationally.  The end of the novel sees her speeding towards Borg space at speeds approaching warp 10.  However, due to severe time dilation effects, moments for Delcara are elongated into eternities.  She is doomed to spend forever in pursuit of her vendetta until the end of time.



My thoughts:
I enjoyed Vendetta for the most part.  I had been told that it was one of Peter David's best, and I think it lives up to that reputation in many respects.  The pace of the story is good, the action is exciting, and it was fun to go back in time to the middle of the TNG series for once.  If I have only one complaint, it's the somewhat haphazard characterization of the series regulars.  I feel that the author captured Picard's voice perfectly, but some of the others come up a little short.  In particular, Data and Worf felt a little out of character.  Worf seemed to be nothing more than a (somewhat) oafish brute, and Data was a little too child-like and naive.  Granted, on the television show at the time, Worf and Data were closer to that than they became later in Trek "history," but I still feel that they were a little more developed by this point.  I also felt that Geordi's views and statements didn't entirely ring true.  I've never known him to feel that his being blind was in any way seen by others as a handicap, other than when the Enterprise visited the genetically engineered colony in "The Masterpiece Society" (TNG).  It seemed odd that he would ascribe bigotted feelings to his crew mates and link them to his blindness and having to wear his VISOR.  Finally, Dr. Crusher's objections to Geordi's attempts to rehabilitate Reannon seemed wildly out of character as well.

Vendetta
 presages a number of concepts that later find their way into the Trek universe.  The reversal of Reannon Bonaventure's assimilation anticipates a similar situation with regards to both Hugh in "I, Borg" (TNG) and Seven of Nine in Star Trek: Voyager.  Thankfully, Seven's story turned out much less tragically than Reannon's.  Another idea that surfaces again is a character who is blinded by revenge and hate for the Borg.  
I found it very interesting that Picard is the one to try and talk Delcara out of her vendetta.  In many ways, her fury and single-mindedness are echoed by Picard himself in Star Trek: First Contact, although obviously not quite to the same degree.

I really enjoyed the ending of the novel, and the use of repetition to convey the idea of the futility of Delcara's journey of revenge.  As I read the novel in an electronic format, I at first thought the repeated chapters were an error, but enjoyed the stylistic device when I realized it was intentional.  The mathematical idea of infinitely halving the distance between two points and never actually reaching the end was a great analogy to Delcara's experience.  One truly appreciates the tragedy of her character, imagining her warping towards her revenge for the rest of eternity.


Vendetta
 was an exciting and interesting read, and I would have to give it an 8/10.  Peter David remains one of my favorite authors, and his work here doesn't disappoint.


Also by Peter David:

Next review: 
Christopher L. Bennett's Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock.  Until next time!


Monday, May 2, 2011

Reap the Whirlwind

Star Trek: Vanguard: Reap the Whirlwind by David Mack
Published June 2007
Read: May 2nd, 2011

Previous book (Vanguard): Summon the Thunder

Next book (Vanguard): Open Secrets


Click the cover to purchase Reap the Whirlwind at Amazon.com!


Spoilers Ahead for Reap the Whirlwind and other books in the Vanguard series!


From the back cover:

Ancient secrets lie on the fourth planet of the Jinoteur system, and three great rivals are fighting to control it. The Federation and the Klingon Empire want to wield its power; the Tholian Assembly wants to bury it.
But the threat stirring on that distant world is more dangerous than they realize. The Shedai, who ruled the Taurus Reach aeons ago, have risen from their ages of deathlike slumber -- to gather, marshal their strength, and take their revenge.
To keep Jinoteur from falling into enemy hands, the crews of Starbase Vanguard and the U.S.S. Sagittarius must risk everything: friends... loved ones... their own lives. But the sacrifices they make may prove too terrible for them to bear.
About the novel:
Reap the Whirlwind begins six weeks after the previous Vanguard novel, Summon the Thunder.  The Shedai - an ancient and powerful race of beings - continue to awaken on worlds throughout the Taurus Reach.  Through it all, the Starfleet crews of Starbase 47, the USS Lovell, USS Endeavor, and the USS Sagittarius begin to realize that they are in well over their heads.

The
USS Sagittarius is sent to the Jinotaur system, which is the source of the mysterious carrier wave that was detected in the previous novels.  In orbit of Jinotaur IV is a derelict Tholian vessel, which A & A Officer Ming Xiong boards to investigate.  While he is aboard the Tholian ship, the Sagittarius is attacked by the Shedai defense system and crash lands in a river on the surface.  The team on the surface must fend off attacks from the Shedai while repairing the Sagittarius.  Xiong manages to escape from the Tholian vessel, and is later rescued by the Sagittarius.  Not everyone on the crew survives, and some manage to pull through only due to the timely intervention of Cervantes Quinn and Tim Pennington aboard the Rocinante.  During their time on the surface, the crew of the Sagittarius makes a startling discovery about the Shedai "carrier wave," which allows it to be used to regenerate the damaged tissue of a crewmember who lost her leg when the Shedai attacked.  The discovery of the regenerative properties causes Starfleet to send a new scientist to head up the project on Vanguard: Dr. Carol Marcus.  Excited about the regenerative properties of the wave, she clearly is determined to investigate using it for more than simply healing damaged tissue.  She notes that entire planets and ecosystems can be created using the technology.  Someone who controls that power would literally hold the power of creation, akin to the genesis myth of the Christian bible...

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Taurus Reach, the colony on planet Gamma Tauri IV formally refuses protectorate status from the Federation.  Commodore Reyes urges the president (who is also his ex-wife) to reconsider under the pretense of protection from Klingon forces.  President Vinueza knows he is hiding something, however, and she refuses.  Sure enough, the Shedai of that world come to life and begin slaughtering the colonists, a Starfleet scouting party, and a Klingon away team.  Commodore Reyes watches in horror from
Vanguard as President Vinueza transmits her final moments as her and the colonists are slaughtered by the Shedai.  In the end, Commodore Reyes initiates Starfleet General Order 24, which calls for a photon torpedo bombardment of the planet surface, basically turning the entire globe into a radioactive glass and ash covered wasteland.  Over 13,000 colonists, along with a number of Starfleet officers, are lost at Gamma Tauri IV.

Back in the Jinotaur system, it becomes apparent that a civil war is raging amoungst the Shedai.  While most of the Shedai are content to go to war with and slaughter the "lower" lifeforms in the Taurus Reach (the Klingons, Tholians, and members of Starfleet and the Federation), one Shedai (called "The Apostate") has other ideas.  He fights the other Shedai on the surface of Jinotaur IV, allowing the Starfleet crew to escape.  As the
Sagittarius and Rocinante flee, the Jinotaur system ceases to exist.

As all of this is happening, Commander T'Prynn's inner battle against the katra of her betrothed, Stenn, rages on.  His katra urges her to submit to his will, while she tries to maintain sanity by battling back.  Things between T'Prynn and her Klingon double-agent lover, Anna/Lurqal, come to a head, and T'Prynn is forced to leak false intelligence to the Klingons through her.  This leads to Anna's cover being blown, and T'Prynn sends her to live a new life, protected with a new face and new name deep in the Federation.  However, as Anna is departing the station, the freighter carrying her explodes in the docking bay, killing her.  This causes T'Prynn to have a complete breakdown, and she lapses into a coma.  Meanwhile, the battle in her mind rages on.


Commodore Reyes takes stock of all that has happened: the awakening of the Shedai, the loss of all life on Gamma Tauri IV by his order, and the personal turmoil his decisions have caused.  He decides to allow Tim Pennington to file a story that leaks classified information, no longer able to hide behind his own lies and cover-ups.  This results in his arrest by his current girlfriend, JAG Officer Captain Rena Desai, for leaking classified information.



My thoughts:
Reap the Whirlwind is an exceptionally written, well-paced, engrossing novel.  When I first started reading the Vanguard series, I was sceptical.  However, the first novel, Harbinger, pulled me in almost immediately. Now, I am eager to find out what happens next.  Will T'Prynn recover?  What's next for Commodore Reyes?  Will we see the beginnings of Project Genesis, developed by Dr. Marcus?  What happened to the Jinotaur system, and what does this conflict within the ranks of Shedai mean for the future of the Taurus Reach?  While I have not read the later novels in the Vanguard series, I feel as though Reap the Whirlwind marks a definite turning point in the series.  We see many changes, including a tragic end to the Anna Sandejo/Lurqal storyline and a pivotal change for the character of Cervantes Quinn.  And while it is nice to see the redemption of Tim Pennington, it hurts that it is at the cost of Diego Reyes' career.  However, I do not believe that I could have continued to operate in his shoes.  Commodore Reyes has the weight of many worlds on his shoulders, and the fact that his decisions led directly to the deaths of many people would be an incredibly difficult cross to bear.

I found
Reap the Whirlwind to be an incredible read.  The characters are written as real, vital people, and with a level of sophistication and maturity that other works sometimes lack.  I also have to commend David Mack, and Trek literature in general, for making room for LGBT relationships, an issue that I sometimes found lacking in the various television series.  Also, in one particular love scene between T'Prynn and Anna near the beginning of the book, Anna notes that the marks T'Prynn left in her back had bled... are there perhaps hints of BDSM in their relationship?  I find openness to ideas such as these refreshing, especially if handled as maturely as Mr. Mack seems able to.

Finally, although this is a secondary attribute of the novels, I have to say that I absolutely love the cover art for the novels of the Vanguard series.  This novel in particular is gorgeous.  I believe that the covers are done by Doug Drexler, whose blog can be found
here.

If you have not checked out
Vanguard yet, I urge you to do so.  I cannot say enough about how well these books are written.  Also, I have found that any novel that has David Mack's name on the cover is going to be a winner.  He is absolutely one of my favorite modern Trek novelists.

I'm hard-pressed to find a problem with this novel.  Again, I am a very lenient and forgiving person, so take this with a grain of salt, but I feel compelled to give
Star Trek Vanguard: Reap the Whirlwind a 10/10.


More about Reap the Whirlwind:

Also by David Mack:




Next read:  
I am eager to read Christopher L. Bennett's new novel, Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock.  However, for some reason, the Kobo bookstore doesn't yet feature it to download, despite it having been released some time ago.  Also, I am unable to buy the electronic version from Amazon because that title isn't available to Canadian customers!  Therefore, I believe that my next read will be from one of my favorite Trek authors, Peter David.  I've never read his famous Next Generation novel, Vendetta, and I think that oversight should be rectified immediately.


Until next time, LLAP!