Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Enemy, My Ally

Star Trek #18: My Enemy, My Ally by Diane Duane
Rihannsu #1
Published July 1984
Read June 5th, 2011

Next book (Rihannsu): The Romulan Way


Previous book (The Original Series): Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Next book (The Original Series): The Tears of the Singers


Click the cover to purchase My Enemy, My Ally at Amazon.com!




Spoilers ahead for My Enemy, My Ally!


From the back cover:

Ael t'Rllaillieu is a noble—and dangerous—Romulan commander. But when the Romulans kidnap Vulcans to genetically harness their mind power, Ael decides on treason.
Captain Kirk, her old enemy, joins her in a secret pact to destroy the research laboratory and free the captive Vulcans.
When the Romulans discover their plan, the Neutral Zone seethes with schemes and counter-schemes, sabotage and war!
About the novel:
Ael is a Romulan commander who is well-known to the crew of the Enterprise.  They have faced her and her ship, the Bloodwing, many times before.  However, when they encounter her this time, she surprises them with the news that she intends to work with Starfleet to destroy a secret Romulan laboratory.  Naturally, Captain Kirk and the other captains in the taskforce he commands are skeptical.  However, Kirk decides to trust Commander Ael and aid her.

For some time, the Romulans have been kidnapping Vulcans.  Commander Ael reveals the reason: Romulan scientists are using Vulcan neural tissue to research the possibility of introducing Vulcan psi-talents into Romulans.  Naturally, this is cause for alarm to the Federation, and Kirk makes destroying the laboratory a priority.  One of the ships of the taskforce, the USS Intrepid, is captured by the Romulans, raising the stakes significantly.  The Intrepid is crewed entirely by Vulcans, and her capture signals that the Romulans are stepping up their plans.  An elaborate plan is hatched whereby the Enterprise poses as a captured vessel to gain entry to Romulan space with the Bloodwing.  Everything seems to be going to plan when suddenly Ael's supposedly loyal son Tafv engineers a mutiny and takeover of the Enterprise.  Now the crews of Bloodwing and Enterprise must overcome staggering odds to complete their mission and defeat the traitors in their midst.

My thoughts:
My Enemy, My Ally provides a very interesting insight into a culture that has traditionally gotten short shrift in Star Trek: the Romulans.  In this novel, we learn much about their culture and beliefs, and what drives them as a people.  Over the years, the Romulans have made interesting antagonists in the various Trek incarnations, but a deep study of them has been lacking.  Their beliefs and way of life are explored mostly through the character of Commander Ael t'Rllaillieu, a Romulan who decides that her government has gone too far in trying to replicate Vulcans' mental talents. Her belief that this is wrong is so strong that she is willing to throw away her career, and ultimately, her way of life in order to stop it. This makes her a very interesting character, in that Captain Kirk (and, by extension, the reader) doesn't know if he can trust her completely.

Novels are often able to take more liberties than television shows or movies. What the audience is presented with is not limited by a visual effects budget or the limitations of prosthetic makeup. Thus, we are introduced to a new crewmember aboard the Enterprise: Ensign Naraht, a Horta. You might remember a Horta as that silicone-based shaggy creature from the original series episode "Devil in the Dark." A Horta crewmember on the tv show or in a movie could only be either cheesy or simply impossible, but in a novel, both the writer and the reader is only limited by his or her imagination.

I found My Enemy, My Ally to be a great piece of writing and a lot of fun to read. The main characters are spot-on, and the new additions to the Enterprise crew as well as other new characters are introduced well and prove to be quite memorable. It is no wonder that this book spawned four sequels, the last of which was published in 2006. If My Enemy, My Ally is any indication of their quality, I look forward to reading them sometime in the future. 10/10.

Also by Diane Duane:

Star Trek #13: The Wounded Sky (1983)
Star Trek #35: Rihannsu #2: The Romulan Way with Peter Morwood (1987)
Star Trek: Spock's World (1988)
Star Trek #50: Doctor's Orders (1990)
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Dark Mirror (1993)
Star Trek: Rihannsu #5: The Empty Chair (2006)

Next review:
 Kirsten Beyer's latest Voyager novel, Children of the Storm.



Thursday, June 16, 2011

Found in Korea

There's a great book store in Itaewon, Seoul called "What the Book?". Check out what I picked up there:




Looks like I've got some more reading ahead of me!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Unspoken Truth

Star Trek: Unspoken Truth by Margaret Wander Bonanno
Published April 2010
Read May 28th, 2011

Previous book (The Original Series): Inception

Next book (The Original Series): The Children of Kings

Click the cover to purchase Unspoken Truth at Amazon.com!


Spoilers ahead for Unspoken Truth!

From the back cover:

A social experiment was conceived. Its goal was to breed the best, the brightest, the most malleable and most loyal soldiers to ever serve. To this end, the Romulan Empire used its own children, blinded by the belief that anything that would bring glory to the praetor was justified. And when the winds of politics changed, these children were abandoned, left to die on a world so horrifying that it was dubbed—by those who dared to cling to life—Hellguard.

One wild child, Saavik, was rescued by Spock. He took the half-Vulcan, half-Romulan child home to his parents, knowing that if anyone could reach and rescue Saavik, it was them.

Now a Starfleet officer, Saavik has striven to honor her mentor and her Vulcan heritage. But recent events have shaken her. Left behind on Vulcan while the rest of the Enterprise crew goes to face court-martial for stealing and destroying their ship, the young science officer is adrift when two men from her past confront her. Tolek, another Hellguard survivor, tells Saavik that the survivors are being killed one-by-one and only they can discover who and why. The other, a Romulan who claims to be her father, swears it is the Vulcans who are eliminating the Hellguard survivors because they are an embarrassment to all of Vulcan, but that she has the power to stop it, by bringing down the Vulcan ambassador, Sarek.

Not knowing where to turn, not knowing whom to trust, Saavik must find her own answers, and discover who she truly is.

About the novel:
Unspoken Truth chronicles the direction that Saaviks life takes concurrent with and following the events of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.  After the HMS Bounty lifts off from Vulcan carrying the crew of the late Starship Enterprise to Earth to face trial, Saavik is contacted by an old friend and fellow survivor from Saaviks former home, Hellguard.  This old friend, Tolek, informs Saavik of a plot to kill all of the survivors of Hellguard.  Several of them have been killed already and Tolek fears that he and Saavik may be next.  Saavik agrees to provide assistance through access to the Starfleet database and shortly leaves for her next assignment aboard the USS Chaffee.  While aboard the Chaffee, Saavik meets a Tiburonian scientist named Mikal.  Despite his eccentricity and emotionalism, Saavik is drawn to him and they become romantically involved.  The first half of the novel deals with their burgeoning relationship and the discovery and exploration of a planet that plays host to a species of intelligent worms.

The second half of Unspoken Truth begins when Saavik returns to Vulcan following the Chaffees mission.  Saavik discovers that Tolek has been killed, and Saavik begins a journey to discover the person or persons behind it.

My thoughts:
Margaret Wander Bonanno is one of Trek Lit's premiere writers.  I can remember reading Strangers From the Sky as a child, thoroughly enjoying a unique and engrossing story that was well-told.  Unspoken Truth is interesting, competently written, and provides much-needed insight into a character that was sadly never fully explored in the on-screen Star Trek universe.  I've always been fascinated by Saavik, especially with what makes her different from the typical Vulcan.

Expanding on previous backgrounds written for Saavik including the original script for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Carolyn Clowes' novel The Pandora Principle, Unspoken Truth delves further into Saavik's past as a feral child on the abandoned Romulan colony Hellguard.  This begins to explain the emotionality displayed by Saavik in The Wrath of Khan, such as using expletives and crying at Spock's funeral.  Here we find out more about that past and how it has affected Saavik in her adult life.  This exploration was very welcome, as a void opens up in the character's life after Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.  After the Bounty departs and leaves her behind on Vulcan, what happened?  Where did Saavik go afterwards?  Unspoken Truth fills in that gap admirably.

The character of Mikal is a bit of a conundrum.  At the beginning of the book, I found him to generally be an insufferable ass.  However, as the book drew to a close, I found myself caring about him somewhat.  I still wouldn't say that I liked him per se, but I no longer loathed him.  I feel that a better job could have been done with his character.  Bonanno does link him and Saavik thanks to shared childhood suffering, but I feel that more could have been made of that connection.

One complaint I have is that the motivation for Saavik's actions is hidden from the reader until the very end of the novel.  Normally, this can be an effective stylistic choice.  However, in this instance, because the entire book is told from her perspective, it seems odd that the reader would remain unaware of why she was doing what she was doing until the end.  The revelation as to why Saavik was acting as she was came as a complete surprise to me, and rather than a pleasant one, it was quite jarring.  Another "unspoken truth," I suppose?

Finally, I am going to make a proclamation that may make me a pariah in the world of Trek-fandom.  I much preferred Robin Curtis' portrayal of Saavik in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home to that of Kirstie Alley in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  Margaret Wander Bonanno would seem to agree with me, as she seems to have based the Saavik shown in Unspoken Truth more on Curtis than Alley.  Robin Curtis played Saavik as more mature and collected, but still with a hint of deep emotion just beneath the surface.  Her reading of the line, "Admiral.  David is dead." in Star Trek III never fails to get to me.  Many people say that she was too wooden and emotionless, but I think that that appraisal doesn't give Robin Curtis enough credit.



Kirstie Alley as Saavik...
... and Robin Curtis as Saavik.

Final thoughts:
Feeling a little disjointed and cheating in failing to reveal things to the reader doesn't take too much away from an enjoyable read about a fascinating and under-used character.  I give Unspoken Truth 7.5/10.  Not the best Star Trek novel, but certainly enjoyable and entertaining.

More about Unspoken Truth:

Also by Margaret Wander Bonanno:

Next review:
While waiting for Star Trek: Voyager: Children of the Storm to become available on the Kobo e-reader, I read a classic work of Trek fiction, Diane Duane's My Enemy, My Ally, the first book in her "Rihannsu" series of novels.  Look for a review of that book coming soon!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Blind Man's Bluff

Star Trek: New Frontier: Blind Man's Bluff
Published April 2011
Read May 19th, 2011

Previous book (New Frontier): Treason

Next book (New Frontier): The Returned, Part 1


Click the cover to purchase Blind Man's Bluff at Amazon.com!




Spoilers ahead for Blind Man's Bluff and other books in the New Frontier series, as well as the Star Trek: Destiny trilogy!


From the back cover:
Captain MacKenzie Calhoun has faced incredible odds before, but nothing he has ever experienced could prepare him for the simultaneous threats from two of the most destructive forces he’s ever encountered. The first is the D’myurj—a mysterious and powerful alien race bent on either the complete domination of humanity or its destruction . . . a potentially massive risk to the very foundations of Starfleet, one that goes so deep it’s impossible to determine whom to trust. The second is even more alarming: Morgan Primus, once a living creature with a soul and a conscience, now an incredibly sophisticated computer simulation taking up residence within the very core of the U.S.S. Excalibur . . . and quickly becoming a growing menace for the Federation. MacKenzie Calhoun is playing a dangerous game as he attempts to outwit and outmaneuver these new enemies, with the fate of the Excalibur crew members and potentially the lives of billions at stake. . . .


About the book:
Blind Man’s Bluff, the latest installment of Peter David’s popular New Frontier series, chronicles the continuation of the story from the last novel, Treason.  The D’myurj continue their campaign to control the United Federation of Planets, and in particular, their goal to kill Captain Calhoun.  Also, we see Captain Calhoun’s attempts to destroy the computer entity that Morgan Primus has become.  However, Morgan has plans of her own, and before Calhoun cat act himself, Morgan strands him on Xenex with an army of The Brethren who systematically attack the Xenexians to root out Calhoun.  Meanwhile, Soleta, Seven of Nine and The Doctor all enact a plan to destroy Morgan, who has taken the USS Excalibur on a mission of vengeance to New Thallon.

My thoughts:
I am a huge fan of Peter David.  As I said in my review of Vendetta, I've always had high expectations picking up one of his novels.  Q-Squared remains one of my favorite reads of all time.  Held up to this standard, Blind Man’s Bluff was a bit of a disappointment.  In this latest installment, the characters seem to have become flatter, less real.  New Frontier has always been about the strangeness and quirkiness of the characters, and I always enjoyed that.  However, Blind Man’s Bluff seems to portray this “quirkiness” as mere ridiculousness.  The self-referential stuff gets a little tiresome.  For example, when talking about Tobias’ abilities to have premonitial feelings, one of the characters says something along the lines of “guess we can’t have a helmsman who’s not strange.”  Yes, we get it.  Excalibur attracts strange crewman.  Can’t you merely show us this rather than telling us every other page?  “Look at this character trait.  Isn’t it STRANGE???”  Yeesh, give me a break.

I also didn’t appreciate inserting bits of “cute” dialog into the novel that didn’t make sense for the character speaking it.  At one point, Seven of Nine is speaking with a small child about the dangerousness of space.  She says to her, “It's not safe out there.  It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross; but it's not for the timid.”  Sound familiar?  It should.  The monologue is lifted almost wholesale from Q’s appearance in TNG’s “Q Who.”  Instead of “Oh cool, that’s what Q said that one time!,” my reaction was to hear John deLancie’s voice saying it in my head as I read it.  I couldn’t picture those words coming from Seven, and it really took me out of the novel.  The number of moments such as this which made me kind of shake my head while reading was a little distressing.  Even a small reference to the Borg “eating Pluto” from Before Dishonor was enough to make me cringe.

One thing that was kind of cool was the pop culture references, including this reference to Doctor Who: “’This is the Doctor,’ Seven said by way of explanation.  Soleta looked momentarily confused.  ‘The Doctor? I met a man called the Doctor once.  Wore a long brown coat and a blue suit.  Very odd person.  This isn't him.’
  There was also a very subtle reference to the situational comedy How I Met Your Mother; kudos to anyone who is able to find it!

Continuity Issues:
It is difficult to pin down exactly when Blind Man’s Bluff takes place.  In a number of places, the novel refers to events from the Destiny trilogy, particularly in regards to Seven of Nine, who seems to have been completely transformed into a human by this point.  This novel is very difficult to reconcile with the other novels in the larger continuity, especially due to the death of the imposter Admiral Nechayev.  Since she appears in a later novel, has the real admiral since been rescued?  Also, following the events of Destiny, Admiral Jellico retires as CinC of Starfleet.  Yet here, he is seen as a regular line admiral.  I suppose it is possible that he retires as CinC to step down to a lower position, but dialog in other novels points to an outright resignation from Starfleet.  Finally, according to the Voyager relaunch novels, following Seven of Nine’s transformation, she undergoes a nearly paralyzing period of identity crisis, which is resolved in Kirsten Beyer’s Unworthy.  However, she appears normal here.  The solution, of course, is to treat New Frontier as a separate continuity altogether.  It is understood that the novels do not have to follow the same continuity, but it was nice to have them mesh together over the past few years.  I suppose as readers of Trek fiction, we have become spoiled in expecting things to track properly across all of the novel series.


Final thoughts:
As I stated earlier, I love Peter David's work, but felt a little let down with this latest installment.  I feel as though this novel would have benefited from a more rigorous editorial process.  The continuity issues could have been avoided completely with only a few very minor changes, and the other issues are minor enough to be overlooked.  I feel bad giving Blind Man's Bluff a low score, but the high expectations I have for Peter David's work force me to be more critical of this latest effort.  I have to give Blind Man's Bluff a 5.5/10.  I enjoyed the continuation of the story, but the novel as a whole feels rough, and could have used a couple more polishes before being published.

More about Blind Man's Bluff:

Also by Peter David:

Next Review:
Margaret Wander Bonanno's story about Saavik, Unspoken Truth.  Until next time, LLAP!