Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Last Full Measure

Star Trek: Enterprise: Last Full Measure by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels
Published April 2006
Read November 7th 2012

Previous book (Enterprise): Rosetta
Next book (Enterprise): The Good That Men Do



Click to purchase Last Full Measure from Amazon.com

Spoilers ahead for Last Full Measure and Star Trek: Enterprise!

From the back cover:
Without warning or provocation, a Xindi weapon appears above Earth and unleashes a blast that kills millions across two continents. It is only the first such weapon; a second is being built, and this time it might very well destroy the entire planet. Desperately trying to save the Earth and her people, Starfleet must, in a heartbeat, change its mission from one of peaceful scientific exploration to one of military service. 
There is only one ship fast enough to stop construction of this new weapon: the Starship Enterprise. But its crew can't do it alone. Captain Jonathan Archer accepts aboard his ship a contingent of Military Assault Command Operations personnel: battle-hardened soldiers known as MACOs. 
Starfleet and the MACOs are two different services now sharing a common goal, but they are divided as to how to reach it. It is a culture clash that echoes across the centuries of military service. The men and women now aboard Enterprise know they must succeed in working together or the price will be paid in the blood of innocents. Failure is not an option.


My thoughts:
Last Full Measure is generally considered to be the first novel in the Enterprise "relaunch" series, although the story takes place during the course of the television series. According to the historian's note at the beginning of the novel, Last Full Measure takes place between "The Xindi" and "Anomaly," the first and second episodes of the third season.

The B-plot of Last Full Measure brings
Corporal Chang and Ensign Mayweather
into conflict.
The story itself is certainly interesting. The Xindi, well aware that Earth has sent a ship into the Delphic Expanse to search for their superweapon, attempt to throw our heroes off the trail by luring them into a trap with the promise of discovering the construction site of the Xindi weapon. What follows is a fairly routine story in which Archer, Reed, and a squad of MACOs led by Major Hayes interrogate an alien businessman and use him to get close to the Xindi operation. They soon realize it's a fake, and must rely on each other's strengths to find a way out. Similarly, a B-plot involves Ensign Mayweather escourting another squad of MACOs led by Corporal Chang on a mission to gather intelligence on a Xindi fueling station. Chang decides to mount an operation to destroy the base, and Ensign Mayweather's appeals to him to err on the side of caution and report back to the Enterprise before taking any agressive actions fall on deaf ears. In the end, both missions end with a fatality each. A Starfleet ensign named Chandra is killed on Archer's mission, and a MACO, Private Eby, sacrifices himself for the good of the mission to destroy the fuel depot.

No "Sub-Commander," no
"Commander," just "T'Pol."
The action sequences are well-written by Martin and Mangels, and I was fascinated to see the outcome of both missions. However, there were a few inconsistencies that cropped up while reading this novel. First, if I recall correctly, the Enterprise episode "Anomaly" made a fairly big deal about Crewman Fuller being the first fatality that the Enterprise crew had experienced. However, this novel takes place shortly before that episode and features the deaths of two members of the crew. Another small error that annoyed my pedantic, nerd brain was the fact that T'Pol was repeatedly referred to as "Sub-Commander" in this novel. However, since it takes place during the third season, she should not have been referred to as such. Astute viewers will recall that T'Pol had resigned her commission with the Vulcan High Command by this point, and in fact held no rank whatsoever since she had yet to join Starfleet. Again, a small issue, but annoying nonetheless.

Structurally, the story is sound and the narrative is interesting. I enjoyed the tension between the Starfleet and MACO crews aboard the Enterprise, a theme that was only lightly touched on in the televised series, primarily through the characters of Lieutenant Reed and Major Hayes. There were a few times that I felt that the MACOs were written a little over-the-top, but for the most part the characters' voices came across well.

More than anything, Last Full Measure is a story about differing perspectives. The Starfleet crew and the MACO troops each bring their own experiences and stories to the mission at hand, and the primary conflict in the novel comes from the characters' attempts (and failures) to bridge the gaps between the Starfleet and MACO worlds. After having recently lived in South Korea for two years, I can understand the problems that come with people having differing perspectives and life experiences. Most of the ex-pat friends I made in Seoul were fellow English teachers, but I did form relationships with a few American GIs and their families. Sometimes our differing experiences and reasons for being in Seoul caused misunderstandings or failures to communicate, and more than anything it was interesting moving past those differences to build bridges of understanding. Me and the other ex-pat English teachers had traveled to Korea by choice, whereas that wasn't necessarily the case for members of the US military. Understanding the fundamental differences between why we were there helped to foster good relations. Similarly, the characters in Last Full Measure and season three of Enterprise struggle to come to the same understanding.

At the center of Last Full Measure is the conflict between differing ideologies and perspectives: the idealized, exploration-driven Starfleet, and the soldier's "shoot first" mentality of the MACO troopers.

Final thoughts:

An interesting and action-driven story, Last Full Measure was a fun read. However, the failure on the authors' parts to adhere to established Trek canon (character deaths, T'Pol's rank or lack thereof) were annoying and did take me out of the story somewhat. I understand that this is obsessive attention to detail, but I'm a Star Trek fan and this is a Star Trek novel; what do you expect? All of that said, Last Full Measure was worth reading, and the examination of the relationship between the Starfleet crew and the MACO soldiers was interesting. Also, this novel offers us the first hints that the events in the abomination of a final episode, "These Are the Voyages...," may not have been all that they seemed...

My next read:

Next on my slowly dwindling catch-up list is Dayton Ward's first Star Trek novel, In the Name of Honor. Look for a review of that one, as well as of the new release Devil's Bargain by Tony Daniel, coming soon!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Federation

Star Trek: Federation by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Published November 1994
Read October 6th 2012


Previous book (The Original Series): #71: Crossroad
Next book (The Original Series): #72: The Better Man


Previous book (The Next Generation): #32: Requiem
Next book (The Next Generation): #33: Balance of Power



Click to purchase Federation from Amazon.com!


Spoilers ahead for Federation!

From the back cover:
At last, the long-awaited novel featuring both famous crews of the starships Enterprise in an epic adventure that spans time and space.  Captain Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) are faced with their most challenging mission yet - rescuing renowned scientist Zefram Cochrane from captors who want to use his skills to conquer the galaxy.
Meanwhile, ninety-nine years in the future on the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D), Picard must rescue an important and mysterious person whose safety is vital to the survival of the Federation.
As the two crews struggle to fulfill their missions, destiny draws them closer together until past and future merge - and the fate of each of the two legendary starships rest in the hands of the other vessel...

My thoughts:

Federation is an incredibly ambitious novel in which the crews of The Original Series and The Next Generation come together, but not in a way that is at all expected. The story is presented in three different time periods, and I believe this review would be well served by covering each one in turn.

Zefram Cochrane, inventor of the warp drive,
is the primary protagonist of Federation
The first time period examined by this novel is that of the mid-21st century, during which time Earth is involved in a global world war III. Predating the release of Star Trek: First Contact, Federation tells the story of Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of the warp drive as seen in the various incarnations of Star Trek. Using Glenn Corbet's portrayal of the character in TOS's "Metamorphosis" as a template, the Cochrane we see in the pages of Federation is nothing like James Cromwell's performance in First Contact. As much as I enjoyed that film, I was very intrigued by Federation's version of this period of future history. World War III is very well fleshed out, and the antagonist, Colonel Adrik Thorsen, is one of the better Trek villains I've had the pleasure of reading about. A special treat was the inclusion of the enigmatic Mr. Brack, also known as Flint, Akharin, daVinci, and countless others, as the financial backer of Cochrane's warp experiments.

The Companion and her relationship with
Cochrane features heavily in this novel.
In the second time period, we follow the exploits of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701, shortly after the events of the episode "Journey to Babel." Despite the best efforts of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, outside forces have learned about the presence of Cochrane alive and well in the 23rd century. His home is attacked, and Cochrane himself is captured. A familiar villain is revealed to be the person behind the capture of the renowned scientist, and the Enterprise crew must try to get him back. Of particular interest to me in this section was the distrust between Kirk and the Admiral who questions him about what really happened to the shuttle crew in "Metamorphosis," and our trio's attempts to maintain the secrecy of their encounter with Cochrane and the Companion. It was interesting to revisit those characters, and especially to learn more about the dual nature of the shared consciousness between Commissioner Hedford and the Companion.

The final period explored in Federation is that of the Enterprise-D, following the third season TNG episode "Sarek." Initially, the story centers around the retrieval of an artifact believed to have links to the menacing Borg threat. At first, this story didn't seem to have anything in common with the other two whatsoever. Of course, it is soon revealed that the artifact has links to the previous attempts to capture and co-opt Zefram Cochrane and his research, and soon the crew of The Next Generation find themselves embroiled in the same centuries-old conspiracy.

Of course, when one sees both Kirk and Picard on the cover of a novel, they want to see the ultimate crossover event! Federation manages to present the meeting of the generations in a very unique and surprising way, while still maintaining the integrity of the timeline. In Generations, everyone wanted to see the two Enterprises meeting in space, and Federation manages that feat. It is a truly inspired moment in the novel, and incredibly thrilling in its execution.

Final thoughts:

Many people list Federation as one of the best Star Trek novels of all time, and I'm hard-pressed to disagree. Epic in scope and rich in characterization and history, Federation was a true pleasure to read. One of the primary reasons I love Star Trek is its portrayal of a future in which humanity has moved beyond revenge and petty jealousy, and while Federation does feature the darker side of mankind, its message is ultimately optimistic in the true Star Trek fashion. As much as I love First Contact and, to a lesser extent, Generations, I think that Federation would have made an amazing film.

More about Federation:



Also by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens:

Star Trek: The Return with William Shatner (1996)

My next read:

The next novel on my slowly-progressing "catch-up" list is the Star Trek: Enterprise novel Last Full Measure by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels. Also coming soon is the new release, Star Trek: The Original Series: Devil's Bargain by Tony Daniel. As soon as I get a copy and get it read, I'll be publishing a review!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Best of Both Worlds - Special Release blu-ray




A bit more news from the non-book side of Trek. I don't normally post about the blu-ray releases, but this one is particularly exciting to me. On April 30th, CBS Home Entertainment is releasing a special edition blu-ray of the TNG two-parter "The Best of Both Worlds," combined into a feature-length release. I'm pretty excited about this one, especially after seeing the following trailer. The special features look very impressive!




You can pre-order "The Best of Both Worlds" blu-ray from Amazon.com by clicking here.

Also available from Amazon is the third season of The Next Generation on blu-ray. I've personally purchased the first and second seasons, and the quality of the remastering is really quite incredible. It does actually look as though the episodes were shot yesterday. You can pre-order season 3 by clicking here. The release date for this set is also April 30th.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Allegiance in Exile

Star Trek: The Original Series: Allegiance in Exile by David R. George III
Release date: January 29
th, 2013
Read February 4th 2013


Previous book (The Original Series): That Which Divides
Next book (The Original Series): Devil's Bargain


Click to purchase Allegiance in Exile from Amazon.com!

Spoilers ahead for Allegiance in Exile!

From the back cover:
A beautiful green world, rich in fertile soil and temperate climate . . . a textbook Class M planet that should be teeming with life. Scans show no life-signs, but there are refined metals, including those associated with a space-faring race . . . and a lone city. But where are all of the inhabitants? Captain James T. Kirk leads a landing party from the USS Enterprise, hoping to get some answers.
The away team discovers a city in ruins, covered by dust, utterly bereft of life. Tricorder readings indicate that this is no ancient metropolis—it has been deserted only for a year. And just beyond the citadel lies what appears to be an ancient spaceport . . . a graveyard of ships that have clearly been sabotaged.
With these ruins too far from either the Klingon or the Romulan Empires, the Enterprise crew can only wonder: Who could have done this? And could this unnamed threat now pose an imminent danger to the Federation?

My thoughts:

Allegiance in Exile is the first in a long line of TOS novels to be released during the first half of 2013. With only two exceptions (a TNG ebook novella, The Stuff of Dreams by James Swallow and the novelization of Into Darkness by Alan Dean Foster), it looks to be TOS-only until July's Enterprise novel by Christopher L. Bennett. There have been a few complaints by other Trek novel readers about this overabundance of stories set during Kirk's five-year mission, but if the other novels are anything like this one, those complaints should soon be silenced.

I have long been a fan of David R. George's Trek writing. A few years ago, I read his first novel in the Crucible series, McCoy: Provenance of Shadows, and was hooked. The writing was beautiful and poetic, and the book succeeded not only as a Star Trek novel, but as a really great piece of literature besides. Since then, I have always anticipated opening a new novel by this author. Allegiance in Exile is no exception. When I found out that David R. George III was writing a new TOS novel, I was stoked. He was once again going to write a story set in the era of Trek that introduced me to his writing in the first place! While Allegiance in Exile was not quite up to the wonderful standard set by that favourite novel of mine, it hit very close to the mark and was, in most respects, a terrific read.

Lt. Sulu is given much to do in this novel. Focusing on the
secondary characters is a strength of novels, and something
the television show was rarely able to do.
One of the strengths that George brings to his writing is a stunning verisimilitude. The characters all feel very real, with conflicts and dilemmas that echo real life. For example, in a previous novel of his, Typhon Pact: The Rough Beasts of Empire, George presents a dilemma in the life of Benjamin Sisko, one that seemingly has no easy answer. Many fans were outspoken opponents of how his character was written, but I rather enjoyed it. Sisko seemed like a real person who sometimes makes mistakes. Similarly, in Allegiance in Exile, Sulu undergoes an extremely tragic event, and makes a few rash decisions based on his reaction to the events. While seeing Sulu make these mistakes saddened me, I understood that the circumstances that drove him to take these actions were extraordinary. Many people seem to fall into the trap of holding their heroes to too-high a standard, and are very critical when one of them stumbles. To me, however, these circumstances are realistic. Nobody is perfect, and even the characters we love and idolize will make mistakes. It's all a part of being human (or Vulcan, or Cardassian, or whatever).

The relationship between Kirk and Sulu is explored in
Allegiance in Exile, and, like the real-life relationship
between Shatner and Takei, things don't always go smoothly.
Sulu has always been one of my favourite characters in Star Trek, due in no small part to George Takei's portrayal of him. As with most of the characters in TOS beside the "big three," Sulu was relegated to the background in most cases. However, in Trek's later years, he got his chance to shine. I was really happy to see that he has a lot to do in this novel, and his relation-
ships with the people around him are very much center-stage here. Interestingly enough, his relationship with Captain Kirk at times mirrored the real-life dysfunctional relations between William Shatner and George Takei. While this state of conflict seemed contrary to what we know of the characters' professional relationship on the show, David R. George was able to weave this narrative in a way that made the conflict make a lot of sense. I found myself empathizing with everyone involved in the dilemma faced by the characters, a sign that the author was truly able to capture the realism required to make this story work.

The Enterprise makes first contact with
colonists who are originally from this
world, which features heavily in later
years of Star Trek.
From a technical standpoint, Allegiance in Exile is a very well-written novel. I enjoyed that the point-of-view characters tended to be people other than the main cast members of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Instead, we see most of the story from the perspective of Sulu and a young archaeology and anthropology officer, Ensign Trinh. The book is divided into three parts and spans nearly the entire final year of Captain Kirk's five-year mission of exploration as the Enterprise pushes out into a region of unexplored space beyond the Federation's borders. There are several great nods to continuity, including an appearance by Admiral Lori Ciana, Kirk's partner during the Lost Years-era. Also, there is an important first contact featured in this novel, with a species that will become very important in later generations of Star Trek. I don't want to spoil this reveal to people who have not read the novel, but suffice it to say that this civilization features prominently in later incarnations of Star Trek on television. In addition, we gain a bit of surprise insight into a few elements of an era that has recently been "skipped over" in Trek novels, continuity nods that were very much welcome.

Final thoughts:

While somewhat less "epic" than his earlier foray into The Original Series, Allegiance in Exile gets a hearty "recommend" from me. As usual, George nails the characterizations of the regular characters we've come to love, and the characters he introduces are fully realized and compelling. A quick read, I was able to complete Allegiance in Exile in a single day. It was fun to revisit the TOS era, and I'm looking forward to future novels by this author. If you haven't had a chance yet, please check out the Crucible trilogy of novels, especially the first one which focuses on McCoy, Provenance of Shadows. If you are not a fan of David R. George III after reading that novel, then there really isn't anything I can do for you!

More about Allegiance in Exile:

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: Typhon Pact: Raise the Dawn (2012)
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:

I had been hoping to complete my review of the Reeves-Stevens' novel Federation before this review, but life got in the way. Look for my review of that novel soon.

In addition to the various new releases in the coming months, I've decided to focus my Trek reading a bit more. After a few more "catch-up" reviews of books I read last year, I'm planning to do reviews for two series, one of which I've never read before, and one which will be a re-read. Look for reviews of the novellas that comprise the Corps of Engineers series in the coming months, as well as reviews of the TNG-era novels that mark the beginning of the current "novelverse" continuity. First up in that area of focus is the A Time To... series of TNG novels that told the story leading up to the feature film Star Trek Nemesis.