Monday, July 30, 2012

Ex Machina

Star Trek: Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett
Published January 2005
Read May 18th, 2012

Previous book (The Original Series): Vulcan's Soul #1: Exodus
Next book (The Original Series): Errand of Fury #1: Seeds of Rage


Spoilers ahead for Ex Machina

From the back cover:
In the aftermath of the astonishing events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the captain and officers of the U.S.S. Enterprise remain haunted by their encounter with the vast artificial intelligence of V'Ger... and by the sacrifice and ascension of their friend and shipmate, Willard Decker.
As James T. Kirk, Spock, and Leonard McCoy attempt to cope with the personal fallout of that ordeal, a chapter from their mutual past is reopened, raising troubling new questions about the relationship among God, Man, and AI.  On the recently settled world of Daran IV, the former refugees of the Fabrini worldship Yonada are being divided by conflicting ideologies, as those clinging to their theocratic past vie with visionaries of a future governed by reason alone.
Now, echoes of the V'Ger encounter reverberate among the Enterprise officers who years ago overthrew the Oracle, the machine-god that controlled Yonada.  Confronting the consequences of those actions, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy also face choices that will decide the fate of a civilization, and which may change them forever.

My Thoughts:

Watching the Clock, the first novel in the Department of Temporal Investigations series, was the first of Christopher L. Bennett's bibliography I'd ever read.  His follow-up novel, Forgotten History, with some of its action set in the post-Motion Picture era, prompted me to read his highly-recommended novel, Ex Machina.  I was definitely not disappointed.  Mr. Bennett has crafted a lovely tale, featuring an era of Star Trek history that is not often explored.


Star Trek: The Motion Picture means many things to different people.  For me, The Motion Picture was what brought me to Star Trek.  I remember, years ago, my mom bringing home a rented VHS copy of TMP.  As soon as the film started, I knew I was watching something special.  When that shot of the Klingon battlecruiser passing under the camera thundered across the television, I was hooked.  Since that moment, Star Trek has been a part of my life. Shortly thereafter, I watched reruns of The Original Series on CBC television on Saturday mornings (alongside the usual cartoons of my childhood).  I eventually discovered The Next Generation, and my conversion to full-on Trekkie was complete.  Unfortunately, over the years, I lost a lot of my love for The Motion Picture.  What had at one time enthralled me now seemed pale, washed-out, bland, and colourless.  A few things were to blame, I suppose: being affected by popular opinion; my teenage years affecting my judgement by making me think that TMP was "too slow" or "uncool."  Thankfully, I eventually came to rediscover the good things about The Motion Picture, and I saw it for what it really was: a truly unique period of Trek history, and an era in which big ideas and hard sci-fi took precedence.

Looking back, this was the moment I fell in love with Star Trek.
Ex Machina continues this period of Trek history beautifully.  Among the topics explored in this novel are the changes wrought on the crew by their encounter with V'Ger, most notably with regards to Spock.  Many people tend to ignore the changes that Spock's character went through in TMP.  His encounter with the machine intelligence of V'Ger led him to begin to subtly embrace his human half, and set him on a journey which culminates in his admission that "logic is the beginning of wisdom (...), not the end" (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country).  Ex Machina delves into these changes in Spock's outlook, and shows the repercussions they have had, both on Spock and on the people around him.

Another aspect of Ex Machina that I loved was a wider, more detailed view of the Enterprise and her crew, something that a two-hour film can't afford to do.  For example, we see some of the lingering after-effects of the unorthodox way Jim Kirk acquired command of the Enterprise in TMP.  As you recall, the Enterprise was under the command of Will Decker, and Admiral Kirk stepped in to take the "center seat" from him.  While Kirk is a hero to the audience, to much of the crew of the Enterprise, he was Decker's usurper.  How did Decker's hand-picked crew react to that change?  In Ex Machina, we find that not everyone is happy with the new situation, most apparently through the character of Ensign Zaand, a Rhaandarite crew-member who doesn't entirely trust Captain Kirk.

Ensign Zaand, critical of Captain Kirk and somewhat resentful of his replacement of Decker.
This review hasn't even touched on the story of Ex Machina yet, which is another great reason to pick up this novel.  Following up on the events of the episode "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky," Ex Machina tells the story of the former Yonadans who have made planet-fall on their new world.  However, their experiences there have not been without problems.  Factions among the population are clinging to the old beliefs of Yonada, and have even taken to worshipping V'Ger as a deity, seeing it as the logical mantle-bearer after the deactivation of their Oracle.  The novel presents the "reason vs. religion" debate in an interesting light.  Can religion and scientific enlightenment co-exist?  What effect does the fanaticism of the followers of V'Ger have?  Ex Machina explores these questions in an entertaining and thought-provoking manner.

Final Thoughts:

One of the sad tales of Ex Machina is that it didn't sell as well as it should have.  Chalk this up to an (unfortunate) aversion that many fans have to the post-TMP period, or poor timing of release... I don't know.  I do know that Ex Machina is extremely well-written, and after reading most of Chistopher L. Bennett's Star Trek work, I have become a huge fan of his.  His Star Trek bibliography is extensive and impressive, and his first original novel, Only Superhuman, hits bookshelves this October.  I intend to check it out, and I urge you to as well!  As for this novel, I highly recommend Ex Machina to any fan of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the status quo established by that film.  In fact, even if you aren't a fan of that period of Star Trek history, Ex Machina might just make you one.


More about Ex Machina:

Also by Christopher L. Bennett:

My next read:

Looking forward to downloading the newest Titan novel tomorrow, Michael A. Martin's Fallen Gods.  Look for that review soon!


Monday, July 23, 2012

The Rings of Tautee

Star Trek #78: The Rings of Tautee by Dean Wesley Smith & Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Published May 1996
Read May 9th, 2012

Previous book (The Original Series): #77: Twilight's End
Next book (The Original Series): #79: Invasion!: First Strike

Spoilers ahead for The Rings of Tautee!

From the back cover:
When an entire solar system begins to disintegrate into cosmic rubble, Captain Kirk suspects that rumors of a new Klingon superweapon are all too true.  The Tautee system houses a flourishing pre-warp civilization not quite ready to join the Federation, so the Prime Directive limits Kirk's ability to undo the disaster, and his humanitarian rescue operations provoke a hostile response from four Klingon warships.
What is destroying the Tautee system?  The USS Enterprise must uncover the truth before the catastrophe extends beyond Tautee to threaten the very nature of reality itself.

My Thoughts:

The Rings of Tautee is an interesting book with good characterizations of the original Star Trek characters, exactly as one would expect from the writing team of Smith and Rusch.  Veterans of Trek writing, their stories are always competent and engrossing.


The dilemma presented in The Rings of Tautee is an interesting one.  An alien race has attempted an experiment in power generation that has had disastrous results.  An ever-expanding shock wave has destroyed all of the planets in their star system, and left un-checked, the wave may eventually threaten the entire galaxy.  Initially, both the Federation and the Klingons suspect each other of creating a horrific superweapon and testing it on the Tautee system.  However, they soon discover the truth and must work together, both to save the remaining Tautee survivors and to stop the wave from expanding beyond the system.


There are several great moments in this novel.  The final moments of the break-up of the Tautee system as seen from the perspective of the science team that potentially caused it are absolutely heart-breaking, and their subsequent rescue by the Enterprise is terrific for the awe and confusion experienced by the Tauteean characters.  Another favourite moment comes when Captain Kirk and the Klingon Commander learn the cause of the Tautee system's destruction.  The shared "facepalm" moment between the two of them is priceless.


I do want to make a quick note about the Prime Directive as depicted in this novel.  I've never been a big fan of the Next Generation-style interpretation of General Order #1.  Episodes like "Pen Pals" and "Homeward" do nothing to present the Federation in a positive light.  Rather than being a guard against cultural imperialism as it was originally meant to be, the Prime Directive as depicted in these episodes makes the Federation out to be "above" helping doomed civilizations, in the service of some sort of cosmic "plan."  Unfortunately, the Prime Directive is depicted this way in The Rings of Tautee.  When there were only going to be a few survivors, there was nothing to stop Kirk from rescuing the Tauteeans.  However, once that number increased, suddenly rescuing the people slowly dying in the cold recesses of space was a Prime Directive issue, as though the number of survivors had reached some sort of threshold number.  That screams callousness and indifference, which was not the way the Prime Directive was originally envisioned, at least to my mind.


Final Thoughts:

The Rings of Tautee is an interesting story.  While not completely mind-blowing, it's an interesting tale that presages cooperation between the Klingons and Federation, and presents a fascinating problem that brings disparate people together to try and solve.  I was disappointed in the application of the Prime Directive, but that's a larger problem in Star Trek at large, in my opinion.  Several great moments make this novel a little more memorable than some.

My next read:

With any luck, my next review will be for Christopher L. Bennett's Ex Machina.  New release next week is Star Trek: Titan: Fallen Gods by Michael A. Martin, a follow-up to last year's Typhon Pact: Seize the Fire.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Assassination Game

Starfleet Academy #4: The Assassination Game by Alan Gratz
Published July 2012
Read July 4th, 2012

Previous book (Starfleet Academy): #3: The Gemini Agent

Spoilers ahead for The Assassination Game!

From the back cover:
The rules are simple: draw a target.  Track him down and "kill" him with a spork.  Take your victim's target for your own.  Oh, and make sure the player with your name doesn't get to you first.  No safe zones.  No time outs.  The game ends when only one player remains.
James T. Kirk is playing for fun.  Leonard "Bones" McCoy is playing to get closer to a girl.  But when a series of explosions rocks the usually placid Starfleet Academy campus, it becomes clear that somebody is playing the game for real.  Is it one of the visiting Varkolak, on Earth to attend an intergalactic medical conference?  Or could it be a member of a super-secret society at the Academy dedicated to taking care of threats to the Federation, no matter what rules they have to break to do it?  Find out in The Assassination Game.

My Thoughts:

Up to this point, I have been avoiding the new young adult series set in the J.J. Abram's universe.  I obviously enjoy the main line of Star Trek novels, but the idea of Trek young adult novels didn't really appeal to me.  However, new Star Trek is always enticing, so I decided to pick up The Assassination Game and give it a try.  For the most part, I wasn't disappointed.  Alan Gratz has managed to pen an good story that, while tailored to young adult sensibilities, was still interesting enough to hold my attention.


The story itself is somewhat predictable.  I was able to figure out "whodunit" well before the big reveal.  However, because it is young adult, it gets a bit of a pass for that.  The characters were very well-written, and the "voices" of the new movie versions of the characters come through quite well.  The Assassination Game definitely fits well with J.J. Abrams's movie characters.  Chris Pine's Kirk and Karl Urban's McCoy particularly come through well.


One aspect of the 2009 Star Trek film that I found a little hard to deal with was the relationship between Spock and Uhura.  The beginnings of that union are touched upon in The Assassination Game, and while I still have reservations about it, I thought the subject was handled quite believably.  While I still feel that the relationship as depicted in the film isn't entirely in-character, I accept the fact that this is a new take on Star Trek, and the changes made mean that some liberties can be taken.


Finally, a number of allusions and homages exist in this novel, some of them to great effect, while some others are a little jarring and intrusive.  Most of the references are small and caused this reader to smile knowingly.  However, one in particular was a little over-the-top and went a little too far.  At one point, Kirk and a group of cadets are discovered to have been fighting with a visiting delegation.  The cadets are hauled before their supervisor and questioned about the fight.  The ensuing dialogue is lifted almost completely from a similar scene in the classic episode "The Trouble With Tribbles."  While I have no problem with small references and homages, after about the sixth line taken almost verbatim, it was a little much.


Still, this minor quibble aside, The Assassination Game was an interesting read, and I would recommend it for anyone who is hungry for new Star Trek stories set in the new continuity to tide fans over until the new movie's release in 2013.


Final Thoughts:

It's clear that Alan Gratz is a die-hard Star Trek fan who certainly knows his stuff.  The Assassination Game is a fun tale, and while the story is fairly simple, it reads quite well for a young adult novel.  Also, I enjoyed the reference to this unique product from Thinkgeek.com.  A reference to the same item can be found in the Star Trek: TOS novel That Which Divides by Dayton Ward, released earlier this year.

More about The Assassination Game:



My next read:

Hopefully I'll be able to have a review for The Rings of Tautee up soon.  Away-from-keyboard life has been encroaching on my writing time!  Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Raise the Dawn

Typhon Pact: Raise the Dawn by David R. George III
Published July 2012
Read July 1st, 2012

Previous book (Typhon Pact): Plagues of Night
Next book (Typhon Pact): Brinkmanship



WARNING: MAJOR spoilers ahead for Raise the Dawn, Plagues of Night, and the post-Nemesis TrekLit continuity!  You have been warned!


From the back cover:
The second novel in a two-part Star Trek: Typhon Pact adventure set in the universe of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
After the disastrous events in the Bajoran system, Captain Benjamin Sisko must confront the consequences of the recent choices he has made in his life.  At the same time, the United Federation of Planets and its Khitomer Accords allies have come to the brink of war with the Typhon Pact.
While factions within the Pact unsuccessfully used the recent gestures of goodwill--the opening of borders and a joint Federation-Romulan exploratory mission--to develop quantum slipstream drive, they have not given up their goals.  Employing a broad range of assets, from Romulus to Cardassia, from Ab-Tzenketh to Bajor, they embark on a dangerous new plan to acquire the technology they need to take control of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.  While UFP President Bacco and Romulan Praetor Kamemor work feverishly to reestablish peace, Captains Sisko, Jean-Luc Picard, and Ro Laren stand on the front lines of the conflict ... even as a new danger threatens the Bajoran wormhole as it once again becomes a flashpoint of galactic history.

About this book:

Raise the Dawn continues the story begun in last month's Plagues of Night.  As the wreckage of Deep Space Nine tumbles through the void, the battle rages on between the rogue Typhon Pact vessels and the Starfleet vessels assigned to protect Bajoran space.  Although there were many casualties, much of the population of DS9 was evacuated, and Captain Ro and her command staff are rescued by the Rio Grande moments before the station is destroyed.  Survivors are also found in large sections of the station, protected when the emergency bulkheads closed.


President Bacco of the United Federation of Planets is furious when she learns that one of the attacking vessels was a Romulan warbird.  Believing Praetor Kamemor to be responsible, Bacco feels betrayed because of the Praetor's earlier claims to advance the cause of peace.  Meanwhile, the crew of the Enterprise capture Tomalak as he flees the scene of the battle.  From him, they learn that the Romulans, while in the Gamma Quadrant, were in contact with the Dominion, a fact that opens an entire world of possibilities, none of them good.  As Captain Sisko investigates the involvement of the Founders in recent events, the crew of Deep Space Nine deals with the aftermath of the destruction of the station.  One of the crew may be complicit in the attack.  Can he or she be found out before they have an opportunity to strike again?


My Thoughts:
In many ways, Raise the Dawn is a "re-relaunch" of the Deep Space Nine series. The cover may say Typhon Pact, but make no mistake; Raise the Dawn is DS9 through and through. Many fans, myself included, felt that Deep Space Nine had been given short shrift of late, especially after a wonderful relaunch following the ending of the television series. With the changing of the guard behind the scenes at Pocket Books, storylines from the DS9 relaunch were abandoned in favour of having the series "catch up" chronologically with the rest of the post-Nemesis continuity. This meant that we didn't get a resolution to many of the on-going threads we had been introduced to, leaving the Deep Space Nine universe in a state of disarray. There are allusions to the events during the years-long "gap" between the last novel and the Typhon Pact era, but nothing concrete story-wise. However, with the latest events that take place in this duology, you might just place me in the camp of not caring all that much. Plagues of Night and Raise the Dawn continue the story of Deep Space Nine in an incredible way, making Bajor and the wormhole relevant to the wider Trek-verse once again.

I find it difficult to write this review without gushing. Raise the Dawn was the perfect novel, at least for me. It had real heart, intrigue, political machinations, and a powerful and far-reaching plot. There is plenty here for every character, from the remaining screen-Trek characters to the wonderful novel-only characters who have been introduced to the Star Trek universe over the years.  Several characters see the end of their own plot-arcs, at least in the short term.  Several on-going stories are resolved as well, providing the kind of closure that has been missing from Deep Space Nine for awhile.  The DS9 universe has introduced many changes to a number of the characters, some of which I was very skeptical.  For example, the commanding officer of Deep Space Nine in this duology is Ro Laren, while Captain Kira has left Starfleet in order to become a vedek in the Bajoran religion.  I feel like many fans would be very uncomfortable with these changes, but David R. George III makes these developments work quite well, and while it would be comforting if everything remained as we remember it from the television show, life is about change.  These novels reflect that, and the author isn't afraid of shaking up the status quo.

As much as I love the characters we've come to know through televised Trek, I think that many of the characters introduced in the novels are fast becoming my favorites.  Of special note is, of course, President Nanietta Bacco of the Federation, whose acerbic wit and well-developed sense of humor is always fun to read.  Her interactions with Esperanza, her aide, are hilarious and very realistic and human.  Also of note is the Praetor of the Romulan Empire, Gell Kamemor.  A very level-headed and insightful leader, Kamemor is one of the most interesting characters to come along in awhile.  With her leadership of the Empire and her ideas of a more peaceful quadrant, I'm curious to see what the next few years have in store for the continuing story of Star Trek going forward.



Final Thoughts:

I have nothing but great things to say about Raise the Dawn and this Typhon Pact duology as a whole.  David R. George has managed to make my favorite of the Trek series relevant once again, and I for one can't wait to see where this is all going next.  The next book in the Typhon Pact series, Brinkmanship by Una McCormack, is set to be released on September 25th, so it seems we will not have to wait too long to see what happens next. If that book is anywhere near the quality of Raise the Dawn, we will definitely be in for a treat.  I can't recommend Plagues of Night and Raise the Dawn enough.  If you are a fan of Deep Space Nine, these books are not to be missed.  10/10, hands down.


More about Raise the Dawn:

Also by David R. George III:

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Mission Gamma, Book One: Twilight (2002)
Star Trek: The Lost Era: Serpents Among the Ruins (2003)
Worlds of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Dominion: Olympus Descending (2005)
Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Plagues of Night (2012)
Star Trek: The Original Series: Allegiance in Exile (2013)
Star Trek: The Fall: Revelation and Dust (2013)

Star Trek: The Lost Era: One Constant Star (2014)
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Sacraments of Fire (2015)
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Ascendance (2016)


My next read:

Although I've resisted reading them in the past, I decided to pick up the new young adult release this month, Alan Gratz's Starfleet Academy: The Assassination Game.  Look for a review soon!