Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chainmail

Gateways: Book Two of Seven: Star Trek: Challenger - Chainmail by Diane Carey
Published August 2001
Read January 30th, 2012

Previous book (Gateways): Book 1 of 7: Star Trek - One Small Step
Next book (Gateways): Book 3 of 7: Star Trek: The Next Generation - Doors Into Chaos



Spoilers ahead for Chainmail and the Gateways miniseries!


From the back cover:
Dangerous remnants of an extinct interstellar civilization, the Gateways connect the Alpha Quadrant with the farthest reaches of the galaxy.  Hidden away in various corners of the universe, the ancient portals could be the future of space travel, but they may also provide an open doorway for an invasion from beyond!
Twenty years ago, in the space near Belle Terre, a caravan of alien vessels disappeared into a gigantic Gateway.  Now the descendants of those aliens have returned, armed with incredible new weapons and abilities.  Captain Nick Keller of the U.S.S. Challenger, already struggling to maintain peace in the troubled sector, must now cope with a fleet of hostile aliens driven by their own fanatical agenda!


About the Novel:

Chainmail takes place in the very short-lived Challenger narrative begun by Diane Carey in the mini-series New Earth.  Assigned to picket duty in the space near newly-established Earth colony Belle Terre, the USS Challenger is a cobbled-together Starfleet frigate held together with spit, baling wire, and a lot of hope.  In the region, there are two alien races: the Blood Many, and the Kauld.  Challenger and the Belle Terre colony had previously signed a treaty with the Blood Many, and cooperate in a mutual defence of the space near Belle Terre and Blood territory.  In fact, the Challenger has several Blood crewmembers, including the first officer, a Blood officer named Shucorion.  With his rag-tag crew, Commander Nick Keller holds the line against the Kauld and any other threats faced by Belle Terre.


Chainmail begins in the middle of the action, with an away team from Challenger visiting a strange, seemingly-abandoned ship to rescue two crewmembers: ship's bosun Zane Bonifay, and Shucorion.  The ship carries a host of people who appear to be in suspended animation, posed throughout the vessel.  However, the temperature on the ship begins to rise, and the dead seem to come to life.


Adding to the mystery is the arrival of a number of ships through a large Gateway in space.  The ships are from a different universe, and a planet much different from the ones in our universe.  The planet is entirely composed of metal, and the only living creatures are above in the atmosphere.  The "Living" (what the new arrivals call themselves) subsist by harvesting one of these flying creatures for electricity and food.  They do this by sacrificing a number of themselves to attract the "herd," and then capture one of their number.  It is an extremely difficult life, whose sole purpose is to harvest enough energy to open the Gateway to return to this universe.  Although it has taken eleven thousand years, they have finally done so.  However, their origin is a shock to Nick Keller and the Challenger crew, as well as to the Blood Many.


My Thoughts:

After the disappointing first novel in this mini-series, I was wary of reading Chainmail.  The Challenger crew had been introduced in the New Earth series, which I have not read. After reading this novel, however, I may have to put it on my "to read" list.  The characters are quite dynamic, and I really like the interpersonal relationships between them.  Commander Nick Keller is not your typical commanding officer; thrust into his position, he is inexperienced and makes many mistakes.  While as a character trait this could be very annoying, Diane Carey pulls it off in a genuine, realistic way.  At it's core, Challenger is an allegory of the pioneering days of North America.  This makes sense, as New Earth was meant to parallel a wagon train of settlers heading into the "new world."  In this allegory, the Blood Many play the role of the Native North Americans, with Shucorion acting as Challenger's "native guide."  Commander Keller comes across as somewhat cowboy-ish himself, so it's no surprise I saw this particular character standing in for him in my head: 


Captain Malcolm Reynolds: my template for Commander Nick Keller
As for this particular story, because I didn't know the characters or the setting at all before reading Chainmail, I was concerned that I wouldn't become invested.  However, I was wrong.  The story is compelling and interesting, and by the end I truly cared what happened to these characters.  Although, and I'm sure this is going to be a very familiar complaint, the fact that the story ends on a cliffhanger to be concluded in What Lay Beyond remains irksome.

Final Thoughts:

It really is a shame that Challenger didn't take off as a series, and Chainmail remains the only Star Trek novel under the Star Trek: Challenger name.  Diane Carey is a supremely talented writer, and her take on the "new crew, new ship" paradigm is quite unique and interesting.  However, I suppose there just wasn't room for a new series in Trek lit that featured entirely new characters.  Truly a shame.

Chainmail itself was well-written and a pleasure to read.  However, its impact on the rest of the Gateways series seems limited.  The Petraw, who are the main aggressors througout the rest of the series, are not even mentioned in this story.  I suspect that this decision was made so that it could easily be skipped by people who weren't familiar with Challenger or the New Earth series.  While this story is not essential to the overall Gateways narrative, I am glad I did not skip it.  After the disappointment of One Small Step, Chainmail was a welcome breath of fresh air.


Final score: 8/10.



Also by Diane Carey:

"Exodus" from Star Trek: Gateways, Book Seven: What Lay Beyond (2001)



My next read:

Finally, a new book!  I'm reading Greg Cox's new novel, The Rings of Time, just released yesterday!