Monday, October 31, 2011

The Struggle Within

Star Trek: Typhon Pact: The Struggle Within by Christopher L. Bennett
Published October 2011
Read: October 27th, 2011

Previous book (Typhon Pact): Paths of Disharmony
Next book (Typhon Pact): Plagues of Night


Spoilers ahead for The Struggle Within and other novels from the post-Nemesis TrekLit relaunch!


From the "back cover":

An original e-novella in the acclaimed Typhon Pact series!
The Enterprise-E is on a diplomatic mission to the Talarian Republic, the last holdout in the Federation's efforts to expand the Khitomer Accords in response to the emergence of the Typhon Pact.  In the wake of Andor's recent succession, the Federation is more concerned than ever with strengthening its alliances.  The Talarians have been a tenuous potential partner at best, given the history of conflict and mistrust between them and the Federation.  But the negotiations between Picard and the Talarians are disrupted by a growing public protest of those who are demanding greater rights -- and before long, it becomes clear that the dissidents are not limiting themselves to nonviolent means ...

About the Novel:

The Struggle Within is a very short "e-novella," written by Christopher L. Bennett (writer of one of my favorite novels from the past year, Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock).  It follows two stories.  In the first, the Enterprise is assigned to negotiate with the Talarians 
(first featured in the Next Generation episode "Suddenly Human") in an effort to ally them with the Federation as a counter to the formation of the Typhon Pact, the alliance between the Romulan Star Empire, the Gorn Hegemony, the Breen Confederacy, the Tholian Assembly, the Tzenkethi Coalition, and the Holy Order of the Kinshaya.  Formed following the events of the Star Trek: Destiny series of books, the Typhon Pact has risen as a major power, challenging the Federation in a series of Cold War-style confrontations.  During the negotiations, a number of women disrupt the meeting between Picard and the Talarian government.  It turns out that the women of Talar are unhappy with their treatment by the government, and in a series of ever-escalating demonstrations and attacks, they mean to get their point across.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Jasminder Choudhury and Lieutenant T'Ryssa Chen travel undercover to a world within the borders of the Holy Order of the Kinshaya.  Disguised as Romulan members of Spock's unification movement, Choudhury and Chen are there to gather intelligence on this little-known member of the Typhon Pact.  While there, they observe peaceful protests against the theocratic Kinshaya government.  However, the reaction to these protests takes a much deadlier turn than those on Talar, and the two Starfleet officers find themselves caught in the middle of it.
  

My Thoughts:

As a fan of Christopher L. Bennett's writing, I really enjoyed The Struggle Within.  However, I found that this story might not have been the best fit for the e-book format.  There is a lot happening, crammed into too few pages.  It really is a credit to Mr. Bennett's writing that, throughout the novella, I kept wanting more.  I would have enjoyed seeing this story expanded to the length of a novel.  As it stands, it was very interesting and filled in a bit of information about one of the pact members whom we didn't know much about, but I certainly could have used more.


The positives:  I like the fact that we learn more about the Kinshaya, a race whose membership in the Typhon Pact was ignored for the most part in the previous
Typhon Pact series of novels.  Even though it was very short, it was nice to get a supplemental entry to the series.  Also, I really enjoy the character of T'Ryssa Chen, and it was great to see her front and center in this outing.  I finally feel like I'm getting to know Choudhury a little better too, and she is starting to feel a little more fleshed-out now.  Another positive is the inclusion of a large role for Beverly Crusher, who often seems to get short-shrift these days.

The negatives:  As mentioned, the short format of the story didn't allow for as much build-up and payoff as I would have liked.  The scenes in Chen and Choudhury's story, for example, felt as though they only took a couple of days, as opposed to the few weeks they were supposed to represent.  Also, and this is a very minor quibble, I would have liked to see a representation of either Choudhury or Chen on the cover, as opposed to Worf who didn't play much of a pivotal role in the story.



Final Thoughts:

High quality of writing means that I wish the story were longer and more drawn-out.  Hardly a negative appraisal, I should think!  As it stands, things wrap up a little too quickly.

Final rating: 7.5/10.


Also by Christopher L. Bennett:

My next read:

Look for a review of Vanguard: Declassified coming soon.  I am also reading the latest Star Trek: Enterprise novel: The Romulan War: To Brave the Storm by Michael A. Martin.  Reviews coming soon!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Sorrows of Empire

Star Trek: Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire by David Mack
Published January 2010
Read: July 14th, 2011

Previous book (Mirror Universe): Shards and Shadows (Anthology)
Next book (Mirror Universe): Rise Like Lions


Spoilers ahead for The Sorrows of Empire!


From the back cover:
One man can change the future ... but at what cost? 
"In every revolution, there is one man with a vision." 
Captain James T. Kirk of the United Federation of Planets spoke these prophetic words to Commander Spock of the Terran Empire, hoping to inspire change.  He could not have imagined the impact his counsel would have.
Armed with a secret weapon of terrifying power and a vision of the alternate universe's noble Federation, Spock seizes control of the Terran Empire and commits it to the greatest gamble in its history: democratic reform.
Rivals within the empire try to stop him; outside enemies unite to destroy it.
Only a few people suspect the shocking truth: Spock is knowingly arranging his Empire's downfall.  But why?  Have the burdens of imperial rule driven him mad?  Or is this the coldly logical scheme of a man who realizes that freedom must always be paid for in blood?
Spock alone knows that the fall of the empire will be the catalyst for a political chain reaction -- one that will alter the fate of his universe forever.

About the Novel:

In the mirror universe, immediately following the events of the Original Series episode "Mirror, Mirror," Spock kills the mirror Captain Kirk and takes command of the Enterprise.  He begins formulating a plan to seize control of the Empire and take it down the road of democratic reform.  Marlena Moreau, the former "Captain's woman" of Captain Kirk, helps him by showing him the Tantalus field, the fearsome device Captain Kirk used to kill his enemies.  Using it to eliminate those who threaten him, Spock begins to acquire more and more power until he eventually rivals the Empress, Hoshi Sato III.


Now in control of the Terran Empire, Spock initiates a series of reforms to change the Empire into a more benign Republic.  However, his actions seem to have the effect of weakening the Empire significantly, opening it up to attack by the enemies that surround it.  Unknown to most, however, is the fact that Spock has begun a secret project called "Memory Omega," designed to store the sum total of the knowledge and culture of the Terran civilization.  The hope is that the Republic would be conquered by her enemies, and the former citizens would be enslaved and persecuted.  After many years of subjugation, the people would rise up and overthrow their oppressors, forming a new society formed on the foundations of freedom and liberty.  The beginning of Spock's vision comes to pass when an alliance between the Klingons and Cardassians attack and conquer Earth, and ultimately, the entirety of the Terran Republic.  However, scattered throughout the former Empire are Vulcans who have been employed as sleeper agents, awaiting the day when the plan to overthrow the Klingon/Cardassian Alliance can be put into motion.
  

My Thoughts:

When Peter Allan Fields and Michael Piller wrote "Crossover" in Deep Space Nine's second season, their aim was to show the unintended effects of Kirk's influence on the mirror Spock in the original mirror universe episode.  I always felt that this was a very interesting choice: there is a reason that empires can be so brutal.  Often, the "barbarians" are just outside the city gates waiting for the empire to show a little weakness.  According to "Crossover," that's just what happened.  Or is it?  We see here that Spock's weakening of the empire was all part of a ploy, a long-term strategy to establish a civilization based on peace and freedom.  While I always admired Deep Space Nine for taking a contrary view of the mirror universe, I was always disappointed that Spock seemed to lack the foresight to avoid that outcome.  David Mack has solved this problem with The Sorrows of Empire.  Far from being blindsided by "the barbarians," we see that Spock is playing the game four or five steps ahead of everyone else, which makes the mirror universe episodes of Deep Space Nine that much more satisfying!


I love the breadth and scope of this story, spanning so many years, places, and events in the mirror universe.  I also loved the inclusion of many characters whose counterparts in the Prime universe are known.  For example, what were Admiral Cartwright, Valeris, Dax, Gorkon, etc. all up to in the mirror universe?  In The Sorrows of Empire, we find out!


At times the story seems a little rushed, which is amazing seeing as The Sorrows of Empire was originally much shorter.  It was initially published as a novella, part of an anthology of mirror universe stories in a collection called Glass Empires in 2007.  Mack's story was so good that it was requested that the story be expanded and published in a stand-alone paperback.  Rightfully so, I might add.  In this new, expanded format, The Sorrows of Empire is much better able to tell its story fully.



Final Thoughts:

One of the best Star Trek novels I've had the pleasure of reading.  Also, there is a follow-up to be published in December of 2011 entitled Rise Like Lions, which will see the 24th century conclusion of the Memory Omega storyline.  I cannot wait to read it, as The Sorrows of Empire has made me thirsty for more of David Mack's vision of the mirror universe.

Final rating: 9.5/10.


Also by David Mack:



My next read:

I am almost finished catching up reviewing all of the books I read this summer!  The next (and last) on the list is an anthology of Vanguard novellas, entitled Declassified.

I'm also currently reading Christopher L. Bennett's The Struggle Within.  I will try to post reviews of both in a timely fashion.  Until next time, take care!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Choice of Catastrophes

Star Trek: The Original Series: A Choice of Catastrophes by Michael Schuster & Steve Mollmann
Published August 2011
Read: October 25th, 2011

Previous book (The Original Series): Cast No Shadow
Next book (The Original Series): The Rings of Time




Click the cover to purchase A Choice of Catastrophes from Amazon.com!


Spoilers ahead for A Choice of Catastrophes!


From the back cover:
The U.S.S. Enterprise, under the command of Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, is returning from a mission to deliver medical supplies to Deep Space Station C-15, one of Starfleet's most distant installations.  All is routine until the Enterprise comes within a light-year of Mu Arigulon, when the ship is suddenly thrown from warp and suffers a momentary power cut, having run aground on a spatial distortion not revealed in previous scans of the system.  When the pride of Starfleet hits another, much worse distortion, Dr. Leonard McCoy has his hands full caring for officers who have suddenly fallen into comas for no apparent reason.  The Enterprise medical team soon discovers that the dying officers are espers -- humans with a rare and abnormal level of telepathic and psychic ability.  With no choice but to link to the officers' minds in order to come to their aid, McCoy is plunged into a nightmarish dream-world ...with the end result being nothing short of the possible destruction of the Enterprise and all aboard her ...


About the Novel:
A Choice of Catastrophes consists of two plots.  Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock lead two shuttle crews to the planet Mu Arigulon V to investigate the seemingly-abandoned planet.  When one crewman goes missing, the landing parties soon discover that there may be more on the planet than meets the eye.

In the second story, Dr. McCoy must solve a troubling medical mystery.  The Enterprise comes to a violent stop due to several distortions that turn out to be holes in the fabric of the universe, allowing another universe to encroach on our own.  This has an adverse effect on the ship's computers and puts several crewmembers into comas.  On top of this, McCoy's own self-doubts seem to be amplified by whatever is happening to the ship.  Already troubled by events in his life, Dr. McCoy begins to see and hear manifestations of people who he has supposedly let down: his father, his ex-wife Jocelyn, his daughter Joanna, and even patients who have died under his care.  Fearing he is losing his mind, McCoy must "keep it together" long enough to solve the mystery of the unexplained comas.


My thoughts:

I found A Choice of Catastrophes to be enjoyable for the most part.  As a character exploration of Dr. McCoy's past, the story succeeds.  I've always known a little about his back-story: his divorce and the daughter he left behind.  It was enjoyable to learn more about the events leading up to his divorce as well as his brief romance with Nancy Crater.  However, I've never thought of McCoy as being as self-doubting as A Choice of Catastrophes makes him out to be.  I understand that the events of the novel are magnifying those doubts, but the book does paint him as more troubled than most of the people around him.  To me, that didn't ring entirely true.


Well done is the world-building aspect of the book.  Mu Arigulon V (or Farezz, as we learn) is an interesting planet, and the book does a good job of exploring it and making it come alive.  In true novel form, the aliens that the crew encounters are interesting and complex, and would be difficult to achieve visually.  In this way, A Choice of Catastrophes makes very good use of the novel format.


One thing that felt a little uneven was the pacing of the story.  It took awhile for things to start happening, and even when they did, I felt the middle of the book lagged somewhat.  There seemed to be a lot of standing around waiting for things to happen rather than proactively moving the plot forward.  Closer to the end, the plot thankfully kicks into high gear.


The positives: I love the inclusion of secondary characters that we only caught a fleeting glimpse of in the television series.  A staggering number of them are included in this novel, including: Abrams, DeSalle, Farrell, Galloway, Giotto, Jaeger, Lawton, Leslie, M'Benga, Rawlins, Rahda, Rodriguez, Singh, and Watley.  The personalities of the various characters in A Choice of Catastrophes came across fairly realistically: Kirk is the swashbuckling action hero we know and love, Spock is in true Vulcan form as usual.  Sulu in command was interesting to read, as we all know he becomes an excellent Captain later in his career.  Even more interesting was the dynamic created after Sulu was incapacitated and Lieutenant Uhura had to take command.  I also really enjoyed the explanation of "duotronic" computing, in that it uses a combination of traditional binary computing as well as quantum computing.  Also, the introduction of quantum entanglement into the realm of telepathy was very inspired!


The negatives:  There are a few rough spots to be found in the book.  One thing that disappointed me was that all of the work Dr. McCoy did to resolve the problem of the distortions was for naught.  In the end, it is the literal "push of a button" that allows the central dilemma to be resolved.  While McCoy does manage to save most of the lives imperiled by the comas, I would have liked it better if the Enterprise were able to overcome the problem of the distortions without the push-button ending and rather through McCoy's hard work.  These small plot problems coupled with the not-quite-right characterization of Dr. McCoy makes this particular novel a little average in my books.

Final Thoughts:

Not bad, not bad at all.  A little uneven at times, but an interesting and entertaining romp for the classic crew.


My final score for A Choice of Catastrophes: 6/10.


More about A Choice of Catastrophes:



My next read:

The next novel I will be reading is
 the e-book novella The Struggle Within by Christopher L. Bennett, a continuation of the Typhon Pact series of novels from earlier this year.  Also look for my review of The Sorrows of Empire, coming soon!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Precipice

Star Trek: Vanguard: Precipice by David Mack
Published December 2009
Read: July 8th, 2011

Previous book (Vanguard): Open Secrets
Next book (Vanguard): Declassified

Click the cover to purchase Precipice at Amazon.com!

Spoilers ahead for Precipice and the rest of the Vanguard series!


From the back cover:
Operation Vanguard is in chaos.

On a post-apocalyptic world in the Taurus Reach, undercover Starfleet intelligence agent Cervantes Quinn finds an ancient Shedai conduit.  Unfortunately, the Klingons have found it first and sent an army to claim it.

Light-years away on Vulcan, reporter Tim Pennington answers a cryptic call for help and ends up stalking interstellar criminals with an unlikely partner: T'Prynn, the woman who sabotaged his career and is now a fugitive from justice.

Meanwhile, Diego Reyes, former commander of Starbase 47, lives as a prisoner aboard a Klingon starship.  But his former enemies aren't seeking revenge.  In fact, the only man who knows why Reyes is still alive is the one who arranged his kidnapping and faked his death -- the enigmatic Councilor Gorkon.

All their fates, as well as the futures of three great powers, are linked by one thing: the mysterious Mirdonyae Artifact.  And unless Doctor Carol Marcus and Ming Xiong can unlock its secrets in time, it might destroy them all.

About the Novel:

The year is 2267 (corresponding roughly to the end of the first season and the beginning of the second season of Star Trek).  En route to Earth to begin his prison sentence, former Commodore Diego Reyes is kidnapped by Klingon operatives.  Believed by the rest of the world to be dead, Reyes is held by the Klingons, and specifically, Councilor Gorkon (see: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country).  He and a Tholian prisoner named Ezthene are being held in order to provide Gorkon with assistance in convincing the Klingon government to sue for peace with the Tholians and the Federation.  This bid by Gorkon is ultimately unsuccessful.

Ambassador Jetanien finds himself on the planet Nimbus III (the future "Planet of Galactic Peace" in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) in an attempt to set up a diplomatic mission between the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans.  Throughout the book, we see him and the Klingon ambassador waiting for the arrival of an ancient Romulan, who thankfully eventually comes.

Former smuggler and all-around ne'er do well Cervantes Quinn has made a complete 180 degree turn in his life.  Now sober and in shape, he has teamed up with Bridget McLellon ("Bridy Mac," formerly of the U.S.S. Sagittarius), and both are flying undercover missions for Starfleet Intelligence.  Searching for Shedai technology in the Taurus Reach, they arrive at the planet Golmira, where the local inhabitants direct them to an ancient artifact.  While they investigate, a Klingon military force arrives and occupies the planet.  Admiral Nogura of Starbase 47 ("Vanguard") orders them to evade capture and attempt to foment rebellion among the locals while Starfleet deploys help to their location, an effort that will require about three months due to the thin spread of forces in the Taurus Reach.  Quinn, who has experience as a mercenary, trains the local population (called the "Denn") in fighting and killing techniques.

On Vulcan, T'Prynn arranges a meeting between herself and Tim Pennington.  Together, they sneak off of Vulcan and begin looking for a way for T'Prynn to redeem herself with Starfleet.  She determines that if she is able to discover who killed Diego Reyes, she would be able to restore her life and career.  They steal a ship and set out.

Ming Xiong and Carol Marcus, investigating the crystalline artifact acquired in the previous book, discover that it actually contains a living Shedai, imprisoned within its core.  They also discover that each time they use the artifact to locate a planet containing Shedai technology, the planet is destroyed shortly thereafter.  To their horror, they realize that a total of eleven planets have now met their end in this manner.

The Klingons employ a thief to steal the artifact from Vanguard.  Covertly monitoring communications, T'Prynn and Pennington discover the plot, and T'Prynn contacts Captain Rana Desai to inform her.  T'Prynn also tells her that Diego Reyes is alive.  However, Desai refuses to believe her and disconnects without getting any more information from T'Prynn.  The attempted theft soon takes place, and Desai begins to wonder if T'Prynn was telling the truth about Reyes.  T'Prynn and Pennington observe the transaction between the thief and the Klingons, and then follow the Klingons to their destination: the planet Golmira.  Zett Nilric, one of Ganz's employees and thorn in the side of Cervantes Quinn, also observes the meeting and follows to Golmira as well.

On Golmira, the Klingons capture Bridy Mac and Quinn attempts a rescue.  He crashes the Rocinante into the Klingon barracks while the Denn mount a simultaneous attack.  T'Prynn, who is observing, enters the fight as well.  The battle is interrupted when the Wanderer, the Shedai from the previous Vanguard novels, arrives and takes the Mirdonyae Artifact.  Having killed Zett, Quinn is recognized by the Wanderer, and he and McLellon are chased by her.  They manage to find Zett's ship and escape.  Meanwhile, T'Prynn is rescued when Tim Pennington arrives with a team from the Starship Endeavor.  Xiong has managed to engineer a device to lure the Wanderer toward them.  When she is about to attack, the device is used to cause a reaction in the Mirdonyae Artifact, which the Wanderer drops.  Hurt, she flees Golmira.  Pennington and T'Prynn are placed under arrest.

Back on Vanguard, T'Prynn is found guilty of making fraudulent statements under oath, illegally tampering with her medical files, going absent without leave, and fleeing prosecution.  As punishment, she is demoted to the rank of lieutenant and is placed on probation.  She assumes duties aboard Vanguard, under the command of her replacement.

Ganz's ship arrives at Vanguard with two surprises with which Ganz is able to negotiate: a crystal that is identical to the Mirdonyae Artifact, but empty, and former Commodore Diego Reyes.  The crystal is turned over to Vanguard personnel, but Reyes remains aboard Ganz's ship, which is technically sovereign Orion territory.  In this way, Reyes remains free from extradition.

As Xiong and Marcus begin studying the new artifact, the Wanderer arrives and attacks Vanguard.  Ripping through the station deck by deck, she encounters no resistance on her way to the Vault.  Just as she is about to kill Marcus and Xiong, the latter activates the new artifact and it draws the Wanderer into it, imprisoning her.
  

My Thoughts:

Vanguard is currently my favorite series of Trek literature, and I think it's safe to say that David Mack is my current favorite Trek lit author.  Needless to say, this combination makes a Vanguard novel written by him a sure hit with me.  The series continues to hit on all cylinders.  The characters are dynamic and have a true "real" feel to them, which makes Vanguard all the more enjoyable.

One of the common complaints with regards to Trek fiction (and, indeed, all "media tie-in" fiction) is that the characters cannot change because they are not owned by the author.  For example, reading a Trek novel, you know that Kirk and Spock aren't going to die at the end.  This is one of the things that make Vanguard so great.  Because most of the characters are original creations, the authors have more freedom with regards to storylines.  Cervantes Quinn is a prime example.  His character has undergone a fundamental shift, something that would be impossible to do with primary characters from the Star Trek universe.

Many have complained that Precipice didn't feel as "epic" as Mack's previous Vanguard outing, Reap the Whirlwind.  While this is true, I don't feel that the pace set by that previous work is maintainable, and the slightly slower feel of Precipice is quite welcome.  I really feel that this novel is setting up much of what is still to come in the Vanguard saga, and I for one can't wait to see what Mack and the other authors have in store for the series.


Positives: Character development!  Especially the relationship between Bridy Mac and Cervantes Quinn, and the relationship between T'Prynn and Tim Pennington.  Also, the unorthodox method that T'Prynn and Pennington use to get off of Vulcan had me laughing out loud!  As always, another positive of the Vanguard series is the amazing CGI covers by the wonderful Doug Drexler.  Simply beautiful!


Negatives:  Not many.  The loss of the Rocinante was sad, but again, this is a universe that is constantly evolving, so we have to accept some things.  I can't go on about how much freedom the authors have, then complain when they shake things up!  Also, I'm a little wary but also fascinated to see how the developments with Reyes play out.  I'm so used to seeing him as an authoritative command figure that it is difficult to imagine him as a fugitive "hiding out" on Ganz's ship.  I guess we'll see how this develops!

Final Thoughts:

Excellent, excellent, excellent!  The high quality of the Vanguard saga is maintained.  A lot of setup that I can't wait to see finally pay off.

Final rating: 9.5/10.


Also by David Mack:


My next read:

The next novel from my summer reading backlog is another book by David Mack, this time set in the mirror universe: The Sorrows of Empire.

I'm also still currently reading A Choice of Catastrophes.  Look for reviews of both soon!

LLAP!