Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pawns and Symbols

Star Trek #26: Pawns and Symbols by Majliss Larson
Published November 1985
Read August 8th 2012

Previous book (The Original Series): #25: Dwellers in the Crucible
Next book (The Original Series): #27: Mindshadow

Click to purchase Pawns and Symbols from!
Spoilers ahead for Pawns and Symbols!

From the back cover:

Threatened by a deadly famine, the Klingon Empire is on the verge of igniting a mad interplanetary war of conquest.

When an earthquake destroys a remote Federation research station, Jean Czerny, agricultural scientist, succumbs to amnesia.  Stranded on enemy borders, she is imprisoned by Kang, the commander of a Klingon battleship.

Now Kirk must play a dangerous game of mind strategy to prevent a savage attack on the Federation!

My thoughts:

Pawns and Symbols is, above all else, an exploration of the Klingon culture through the eyes of an outsider. I typically really enjoy stories of this nature, especially when they are done really well. Novels that I have reviewed in the past that have exhibited this style particularly well include Diane Duane's The Romulan Way, John M. Ford's exploration of the Klingons in The Final Reflection, and more recently, Una McCormack's look at the Tzenkethi culture in Brinkmanship. While Pawns and Symbols could easily find itself in the company of these greats, it fails in a few areas that serve to make it far less compelling.

The main character in the book, a Federation agent by the name of Jean Czerny, suffers from amnesia and is bewildered and unsure of her surroundings for much of the book. While this makes for a somewhat interesting complication to the main story, I would have preferred more exploration of the Klingons and Czerny's surroundings rather than the time the novel spends on her trying to find herself.

The Klingons in this novel don't really seem to fit in the established continuity of Star Trek. We've seen this before, when the "canon" of Star Trek took a different path with the Klingons than John M. Ford's excellent presentation of them in The Final Reflection. However, the Klingons in Pawns and Symbols do not seem alien enough to even fit into Ford's alternate take on the Klingons. Instead, in this novel, the warrior race seems to be all too human with only a few cultural differences. While I did very much appreciate the dilemma created by the famine and suffering experienced by the Empire, I felt that their reaction to it was not in keeping with any of the versions of the Klingons we've seen in Star Trek. The Klingons of Pawns and Symbols are alone and apart from anything we've seen before and since, and I think the story suffers because of it.

Finally, although the characterization seems a bit off here, I always enjoy when writers utilize some of the better secondary characters from over the years. In this case, it was a pleasure to read about the exploits of Kang, the deep-voiced foil to Kirk in the classic episode "The Day of the Dove." I've always smiled when this character pops up over the years, and it is a pleasure to have him in this story.

Kang and Kirk face off once again in Pawns and Symbols.

Final thoughts:

A fairly middle-of-the-road Star Trek novel. The Klingons as presented are uneven and not really keeping with any of the other portrayals of the regular antagonists we've seen over the years. The character of Jean Czerny is interesting, but I feel that the novel focuses on her confusion and "fish-out-of-water"ness a bit too much. Still, it was an interesting read, and there are certainly fun moments that remain memorable.

Notes on the e-book edition:

Often, the e-book edition of the Star Trek novels I have reviewed here have had some minor defects: things such as small typos and strange line breaks can negatively impact the reading experience, but usually only to a small degree. Such is not the case with my copy of Pawns and Symbols. The sheer number and magnitude of mistakes and errors in this novel is absolutely astounding! There were times that the prose was nearly unreadable thanks to misspelled words and sections which I can only assume were missing words or possibly entire lines or paragraphs. Ordinarily, the worst one can get is an unclear indication of where there is a scene change, and that can be somewhat jarring. Here, I sometimes got completely lost and had to re-read entire sections before I could figure out both what was happening in the novel and what the problems with the actual printed words were. It was a very frustrating experience, and I'm sure it impacted my feelings about the story. These sorts of problems should not be happening, especially when a reader is paying nearly cover price for an e-book version of a book that was published nearly thirty years ago.

My next read:

Just got a copy of the latest release in my hot little hands! Cold Equations, Book II: Silent Weapons by David Mack is ready to be read and reviewed by yours truly. Look for that soon.