Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Devil's Bargain

Star Trek: The Original Series: Devil's Bargain by Tony Daniel
Release date: February 26
th 2013
Read March 3rd 2013


Previous book (The Original Series): Allegiance in Exile
Next book (The Original Series): The Weight of Worlds


Click to purchase Devil's Bargain from Amazon.com!

Spoilers ahead for Devil's Bargain!

From the back cover:
Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise are sent to evacuate the Omega sector frontier colony Vesbius - a pioneer settlement that is on the brink of an extinction-level event, threatening not only all of the colonists, but biological products that are vital to Starfleet. However, rescue efforts are being thwarted by the colonists themselves, who refuse to abandon Vesbius, claiming that their lives depend upon staying, while giving no reason why. It is after these irrational decisions that First Officer Spock makes a radical suggestion: Perhaps an unexpected ally could aid the colony and help complete the mission...

My thoughts:

Here it is, the second TOS entry in the 2013 Trek book lineup, a lineup which seems to be inundated with Original Series "5-year mission"-style stories. In an age where Star Trek novels are no longer constrained by the "put all the toys back on the shelf as you found them" rule, this type of story may seem a little out of place. However, while I generally prefer the stories that push the boundaries of what Trek is and has been, this type of retro, "old-school" Trek story is a fun return to the days of yore.

The Enterprise must save a planet
from an asteroid impact. Sure, it's
been done before, but the jeopardy
is well-presented here.
Tony Daniel, a newcomer to Trek lit, has crafted an interesting and compelling story here. On the one hand, we have a planet imperiled by an imminent asteroid collision. Not the most original concept in science fiction, and indeed, even in Trek, but the stakes and the drama are well-presented and compelling. The asteroid threatens the population of Vesbius, a colony that once belonged to the Federation, but seceded when they began to experiment with altering the human genome in contravention of Federation law. Now, their changed genome means that they are unable to leave the surface of Vesbius for extended periods, making an evacuation impossible. Believing that the Vesbians' plan to weather the impact in underground caves is a futile one, Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise embark on a mission to Janus VI (see: "The Devil in the Dark"). There, they plan to enlist the aid of the Horta, creatures who are able to move through rock as easily as you or I move through air. The plan is to have the Horta slice up the asteroid so that the Enterprise can break it apart using phasers and tractor beams, and move the pieces of the asteroid so that they do not impact the planet. Complicating matters is a terrorist group called the Exos, who believe that the Vesbians should be modified further to allow them to evacuate.

Devil's Bargain is a competent entry in the world of Trek lit. Daniel has captured the characters' voices pretty well, while at the same time taking our characters out of their regular roles and pushing them to encounter new situations. These scenarios largely work. Especially interesting to read was Spock coming into his own as a strong "patriarchal" figure, in some ways coming to an understanding of Sarek's own behavior towards him. Kirk is also in fine form here, and Daniel has written the crusty Dr. McCoy to perfection.

There are shades of Khan in the attitudes
and actions of some of the colonists of Vesbius.
When I first heard that this novel was going to be about the Horta, I was pretty excited. I love the exploration of these particular aliens because they are so different from the usual "forehead of the week" that Star Trek is sometimes known for. The openness and compassion of the Horta is juxtaposed with the bigotry and racism that is displayed by a number of the Vesbians in the novel. The theory, of course, is that the genetic tinkering bred superior feelings in a few of the Vesbians, in much the same way it did with Khan Noonien Singh and the Augments. One character displays open hostility towards Spock and is an adherent to a conspiracy theory in which the Vulcans are the true power in the Federation, and Humanity is led around on puppet strings by the Vulcan High Command. With this much overt racism towards a Vulcan, one can imagine how he feels about the Horta. My favorite scene in the novel comes when a young child expresses interest and curiosity about one of the Hortas and attempts to touch him. Her mother freaks out, and tears the child away. This is a perfect illustration of the idea that bigotry of many kinds is a learned behavior, and not something that usually comes naturally to children.

Spock and Horta: a winning combination!
I think my favorite character in this novel is the Horta known as "Slider Dan." Besides having a great name, it was fascinating following his journey as he became enraptured with the idea of space travel and his formation of the "Star Clan" of Horta. Given his desire to join Starfleet Academy, I kept hoping that he would be revealed as Naraht, the Horta crewmember that has appeared in a number of Trek novels and comics, including Diane Duane's My Enemy, My Ally and The Romulan Way, which she wrote with husband Peter Morwood.

Final thoughts:

An enjoyable outing for Kirk and the crew. I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of the racism and bigotry of a few of the Vesbians with the willingness to offer aid displayed by the Horta. Some interesting parts for Spock to play in this one, as well as the excellent characterization of the Horta characters, especially "Slider Dan." The numerous continuity nods were also nice, and it's clear that Tony Daniel is someone who known his Trek. I'm definitely hoping to see more from this author in the future!

More about Devil's Bargain:


Also by Tony Daniel:

Star Trek: The Original Series: Savage Trade (2015)

My next read:

In the coming weeks, I'm going to be making a concerted effort to finally get caught up on reviews. Up next is In the Name of Honor by Dayton Ward. Look for that soon!