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!


Thursday, January 26, 2012

One Small Step

Gateways: Book One of Seven: Star Trek - One Small Step by Susan Wright
Published August 2001
Read January 23, 2012

Next book (Gateways): Book Two of Seven: Star Trek: Challenger - Chainmail



Click to purchase One Small Step from Amazon.com!

Spoilers ahead for One Small Step and the Gateways miniseries!


From the back cover:
Scattered throughout the galaxy are Gateways capable of transporting matter and energy across unfathomable distances.  Left behind by a long-vanished civilization, these mysterious portals offer a means of exploration -- or conquest -- many times faster than warp travel.  The technology responsible for the Gateways has been lost for at least ten millennia, but that doesn't mean it can't be found again...
Having defeated the hostile computer program guarding an abandoned Kalandan outpost, Kirk and his crew are exploring the artificial planetoid in hopes of discovering the secret of an ancient apparatus that has hurled the Starship Enterprise over nearly a thousand light-years.  Unfortunately, the reactivated Gateway has attracted the attention -- and avarice -- of various alien explorers, including a mysterious race who claim to be none other than the enigmatic Kalandans themselves!

About the Novel:

In this, the first novel in the Gateways series, we are introduced to the machinations of the Petraw, an alien race that desires technology and advancements gained via trade and subterfuge.  The action picks up immediately after the third-season TOS episode, "That Which Survives."  Captain Kirk is ordered by Starfleet to keep the abandoned Kalandan outpost from falling into enemy hands.  Soon, a Klingon ship arrives on the scene, and just as things look bleak for the Enterprise, the Petraw arrive and destroy the Klingons.  Masquerading as the long-lost Kalandans, the Petraw attempt to claim the Kalandan outpost as their own.  However, Kirk is suspicious of their identity and motives.

"Commander" Tasm of the "Kalandans" works with Kirk and the Enterprise crew to investigate the Kalandan outpost, all the while plotting to steal the secrets of the outpost and its main prize: an interstellar gateway that allows instantaneous travel over unimaginable distances.  One Petraw officer by the name of Luz disagrees with the way the "engagement" is being handled.  She decides to take matters into her own hands, and attempts to steal the Gateway mechanism.  Escaping through the Gateway, she is pursued by Captains Kirk and Tasm.


Commander Losira and the Kalandan outpost feature in this
sequel to the Original Series episode "That Which Survives."

As with all of the novels in the Gateways series, One Small Step ends on a cliff-hanger, with the resolutions to all six of the stories published in a seventh volume: What Lay Beyond.


My Thoughts:

As the opening story to a large, multi-generational series, I found One Small Step to be, well, lacking.  Perhaps it is simply a side-effect of having recently read the very well-written Troublesome Minds, but I found that Kirk, Spock and Bones did not ring true as written.  Spock, for one, is engrossed in studying the Kalandan outpost, and when given lines to speak, comes across more-or-less as an automaton.  Granted, Spock is by far not the most emotive or out-spoken, but he barely registers as a set-piece here.


One interesting aspect that Susan Wright brings to the table in this novel is the switch of the familiar roles of Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy.  Usually, Kirk is the one to be taken in by a pretty face.  However, Bones is very nearly seduced by Luz, trusting her and her fellow Kalandans merely for the fact that he is attracted to her.  While it doesn't add a whole lot to the book, I thought that the juxtaposition was interesting.


Some other small things in the book that bugged me:  The Klingons.  Early on, we are introduced to an interesting Klingon captain who follows the "Cult of Kahless," something for which the rest of his crew resents him.  Having suffered a recent dishonor in the form of his father dying ingloriously, the captain decides to take his crew out on a mission of vengeance against the Enterprise.  However, when the Petraw arrive, the Klingons are simply dispatched via quantum torpedo with little to no fanfare.  Why did I invest the time in learning all about the relationships between the Klingons on the ship simply to have them blown up?  The characterizations played almost NO role in the novel whatsoever, and felt like a waste to me.


Finally, when I read a novel, I prefer to read it for plot.  Instead, One Small Step introduced pages and pages of technobabble in place of anything happening.  It took far too long for One Small Step to get to the end than it should have, and with not very much happening in the interim.


Final Thoughts:

A pretty disappointing beginning to the Gateways series.  A sparse plot, poor characterizations, and plotlines that go nowhere really turned me off.  I really hope the rest of the series is a huge improvement.  As far as the series as a whole goes, the separate publication of the ends of each of the stories is a little annoying, and strikes me as a ploy to get more money out of me.  I can only hope the stories are worth it, but that really doesn't seem to be the case with One Small Step.

Final score: 4/10.

Also by Susan Wright:




My next read:

Book two of the Gateways series, from the short-lived Star Trek: Challenger spin-off: Chainmail by Diane Carey.


LLAP!


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Troublesome Minds

Star Trek: Troublesome Minds by Dave Galanter
Published June 2009
Read January 20th, 2012

Previous book (The Original Series): Errand of Fury #3: Sacrifices of War
Next book (The Original Series): Inception



Click to purchase Troublesome Minds from Amazon.com!

Spoilers ahead for Troublesome Minds!


From the back cover:
First contact becomes an interstellar incident when the Starship Enterprise responds to a distress call from an unknown ship and saves the life of a man left to die by his own people.  Berlis, member of a telepathic species calling themselves the Isitri, claims not to know why those from his homeworld want him dead.  Captain James T. Kirk wants to believe him, but the damage is done: the Enterprise can neither leave the stranger to die nor turn him over to those who would kill him.
Berlis seems harmless, but his people say he cannot live among them: his telepathy is so strong that their wills are subsumed to his.  The same fear that compels the Isitri to seek the death of one of their own drives the neighboring Odib people toward genocide.  For every time a "troublesome mind" dominiates the Isitri, the Odib pay the price in their own blood.
With Spock becoming erratic under Berlis's influence, and the Isitri begging Kirk to allow them to destroy the man who threatens their existence, matters take a disastrous turn when Berlis makes his way back to Isitra ... and an entire world falls to his whims.

About the Novel:

The Enterprise rescues an alien by the name of Berlis, who seems quite amiable and pleasant.  While he is aboard, Captain Kirk and other members of the crew feel drawn to him and want to do anything they can to help him.  However, after his departure, the feeling begins to fade, and the crew suspects there may be more to Berlis than meets the eye.  This is confirmed when Spock, defying all logic and reason, disobeys orders and risks the lives of the crew in order to help Berlis evade capture by his people.  It seems that Berlis is a "troublesome mind," a telepath so strong that members of his species who are nearby find their own wills completely subsumed, and under the complete control of Berlis.  His people greatly fear coming under the control of a troublesome mind.  The last time one of them gained power, the entire civilization acted as puppets to the troublesome mind's will, and when he finally died, the planet "woke up."  Children who were controlled early on by the troublesome mind found themselves elderly, having never lived their own lives.

The threat of the entire population under the control of a troublesome mind is so terrifying that a neighboring species, the Odib, has vowed that if the Isitri come under the influence of one of these telepathic terrors again, they will destroy the entire civilization rather than risk being the target of an entire race of people bent to one man's will.  Now, in part because of the actions of Kirk and the Enterprise, the Isitri have come under the control of Berlis, and the Odib are threatening full-scale war.  Captain Kirk must find a way to resolve the situation, and adding to his difficulties is the doubt he has in his friend and first officer, Mr. Spock.  Is Spock acting of his own accord, or has he become yet another victim of Berlis' "troublesome mind"?

My Thoughts:

Troublesome Minds is a beautiful and tragic story.  The moral questions it raises are difficult to resolve.  The real tragedy of Berlis' character is that he doesn't even realize the effect he has on others of his species.  His control is so complete that the people who fall sway to it do exactly what Berlis wants.  Can you imagine living your entire life with everyone around you catering to your every whim?  You would probably just think that you are a very deserving and loved person, not that your mind is controlling their every action.    From Berlis' perspective, those around him simply have the same wishes and desires that he does.  The fact that the Isitri Council wishes him dead must be completely baffling to him, as he feels he has done absolutely nothing wrong.


However, the risk posed by his telepathy cannot be understated.  An entire civilization under the control of one man is a frightening thing.  Can you imagine falling under his influence one day, not even realizing that your own thoughts and desires are not truly your own?  Only when the troublesome mind is finally removed, decades later, do you realize you have not lived your own life.  This passage from chapter nine, telling of the life of a man whose mind had been enslaved by a troublesome mind, was truly chilling when I first read it:


Sketel had lived through a war with the Odib, and so personally knew the horrors of Isitri slavery.  In his case, he went to bed a little boy and when the troublesome mind was finally dead, he awoke to find his parents long passed, years of his life missing, and married to a woman he didn't really know or love.  She was pregnant with their second child.  He knew them intimately -- and yet did not.

Captain Kirk, by saving the life of this one man, may have accidentally doomed the entire race.  Here we see a moral quandary: saving the life of someone should be a good thing, but does Berlis actually need to die in order to save the entire Isitri race?  Dave Galanter has given us a story to which there is no black or white answer.

Another aspect of Troublesome Minds that really impressed me was the way the main characters came across.  Dave Galanter has truly mastered the "voice" of the Star Trek characters, Captain Kirk in particular.  I could very easily picture and hear William Shatner delivering Kirk's lines and his mannerisms were similarly well-written.  The other two of the "big three" -- Spock and McCoy -- are also extremely well-written.


Final Thoughts:

I have to admit that when I first pulled Troublesome Minds off the shelf, I expected an average, paint-by-number Star Trek: TOS novel.  Not so.  Dave Galanter has written a surprise classic in my opinion.  The fascinating moral quandary, well-written characterizations of Kirk, Spock, and Bones, as well as a troubling and thought-provoking conclusion contribute to one of the better Star Trek novels I have ever read.  Troublesome Minds did an excellent job of capturing the feel of a classic Star Trek episode.

Final score for Troublesome Minds: 9/10.  Very well-written, and a true pleasure to read.



Also by Dave Galanter:



My next read:

For whatever reason, I've decided to re-read the Gateways series of novels.  I didn't read all of them the first time through, so I figure I should give them another chance.  First up is One Small Step by Susan Wright.


Friday, January 20, 2012

I,Q

Star Trek: The Next Generation:
I,Q by John de Lancie and Peter David
Published September 1999
Read January 18th, 2012

Previous book (The Next Generation): The Forgotten War
Next book (The Next Generation): Gemworld, Book One of Two
Spoilers ahead for I,Q!


From the back cover:

The enigmatic entity known as Q remains one of the greatest mysteries in the universe, yet no one, perhaps, understands Q as well as actor John de Lancie, who has played Q on television for more than a decade.  Now de Lancie and Peter David, the bestselling author of such acclaimed novels as Q-in-Law and Q-Squared have joined forces to send Q on an unforgettable cosmic odyssey, told from the mischievous trickster's own unique point of view.
The Maelstrom, a metaphysical whirlpool of apocalyptic proportions, is pulling all of reality into its maw, devouring the totality of time and space while bringing together people and places from throughout the universe.  The Q Continuum pronounces that the end of everything has come, but Q refuses to meekly accept the end of all he has known. Defying the judgment of the Continuum, he sets out to derail doomsday -- at whatever the cost.
Q has been everywhere and done everything, but now he's in for a cosmic thrill ride beyond even his own astonishingly unlimited imagination.  Old friends and adversaries wait in unexpected places, transcendent hazards abound, and the multiverse's most unlikely savior encounters wonders and dangers enough to render Q himself speechless.  Almost.
Can even Q, reluctantly assisted by Jean-Luc Picard, prevent the Universe As We Know It from literally going down the drain?  I, Q is a wild and witty voyage through the secret soul of creation -- as only Q can tell it!

About the Novel:

I,Q is a story told in the first-person by none other than Q himself.  While out on a "simple" fishing expedition with his family, Q witnesses his wife and son being swallowed up by a massive whirlpool, along with millions of other sentient beings.  In this maelstrom, he sees Captain Picard and Data being drawn in as well.  While he is unable to save his family, he is able to keep Picard and Data from sharing their fate.  What follows is Q's strange and surreal journey into the end of the universe to find and rescue his family, aided by Picard and Data.  Along the way, they meet some familiar faces who both help and hinder Q's efforts to save his wife and son.  Eventually, Q manages to confront, in a roundabout way, the force that is behind the calamity befalling all of creation.


My Thoughts:

I,Q is a difficult novel to review.  It breaks many of the conventions of the typical Star Trek novel.  The first-person narrative is an interesting way to approach the story, and is not something that is often done in Trek novels.  The only Star Trek story I can recall reading in recent memory that used a first-person perspective was the Vanguard novella "Hard News" by Kevin Dilmore, from the four-story collection Declassified.  I'm sure there are others, but it is definitely a rarity.  Fittingly, at times I,Q is written in first-person omniscient, perfect for the character of Q.


There were parts of I,Q where the authors did a great job of capturing the voice of Q, and you could hear John de Lancie's own voice narrating the action.  However, there were just as many parts that simply did not ring true.  There is a lot of modern parlance in the book; for example, at one point, Q calls Data an "asswipe."  While somewhat amusing, bits like that served mainly to pull me out of the novel.  While Q is certainly irreverent on the show, I've never known him to use modern slang like that.  At the most, he would call Worf things like "microbrain" and a "Klingon goat."


I also got the distinct impression that many parts of the novel were trying to be overly clever, and at times I was vaguely reminded of The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy.  The tone of some passages of I,Q, while similar, of course never approaches the cleverness and, dare I say, genius of Douglas Adams' most well-known work.


While some parts of I,Q are quite well-written and engaging, the work as a whole felt like it should have been more.  The stakes are quite high: the entirety of the multiverse itself. However, the feeling of true suspense and danger doesn't materialize often, and when it does, it doesn't last for long.  The ending does put a very interesting twist on things, and without giving too much away, it challenges Q's (and, I suspect, most of the the audience's) expectations.


Final Thoughts:

For the most part, I,Q is fairly middle-of-the-road.  However, it does explore one of my favorite secondary Trek characters.  The first-person point of view is interesting, but the right "voice" isn't always captured.  I,Q often also tries to be a little too clever for its own good.  Very much a "fluff" read, this story didn't really do a lot for me, and at times felt a lot like fan fiction rather than a true Trek novel.

I have to give I,Q a 5.5/10.  Not great.  Not completely awful, but not compelling enough for me to give much of a recommendation.