Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Serpents Among the Ruins

Star Trek: The Lost Era
2311
Serpents Among the Ruins by David R. George III
Published September 2003
Read February 11th 2014


Previous book (The Lost Era): The Sundered
Next book (The Lost Era): The Art of the Impossible
Next book (Enterprise-B Adventures): One Constant Star


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Spoilers ahead for Serpents Among the Ruins!

From the back cover:
THE YEAR IS 2311
It is a year of infamy, a year that later generations will remember as one that altered the course of history at the cost of thousands of lives. It is the year of the Tomed Incident, and its tale can at last be told.
In the midst of escalating political tensions among the Klingons, the Romulans, and the Federation, Starfleet goes forward with the inaugural flight of Universe, a prototype starship that promises to revolutionize space exploration. But the Universe experiment results in disaster, ravaging a region of space dangerously close to the Romulan Star Empire, apparently confirming suspicions that the Federation has begun testing a weapon of mass destruction.
As the military buildup accelerates on both sides of the Neutral Zone, Captain John Harriman of the Federation flagship U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-B is fated for a final confrontation with his oldest enemy at a flashpoint in history -- with the Beta Quadrant one wrong move from the outbreak of total war.

Serpents Among the Ruins features the voyages of the Enterprise-B under the command of Captain John Harriman.
My thoughts:

The Tomed Incident. First mentioned in the TNG season one finale, "The Neutral Zone," it was reportedly the last known contact between the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire (minus a ret-conned encounter between the Enterprise-C and Romulan forces attacking a Klingon outpost at Narendra III). What could possibly have happened to make the Romulans retreat behind their borders and avoid contact with the Federation for decades? In Serpents Among the Ruins, we find out the answer to that question.

Never let it be said that David R. George III can't craft a compelling and engrossing story. From the first page, Serpents Among the Ruins grabbed my attention and held it. He does an excellent job at showing us a quadrant on the brink of warfare, a veritable powder keg waiting for the smallest spark to set it off. It is in this volatile environment that Captain Harriman finds himself. Both the architect and the engineer of a complicated operation to counter the Romulan threat, Harriman gambles with the lives of people on both sides of the conflict.

Captain Harriman's character recovers somewhat from his embarrassing ordeal in Star Trek: Generations.
Serpents Among the Ruins continues what I like to call the redemption of the character of Captain John Harriman. This process was begun in Peter David's novel The Captain's Daughter, where we finally get to see Harriman as a competent captain rather than the one-note foil for the awesomeness of James T. Kirk in Generations. Here, we see a veteran captain who has commanded the Enterprise for the past 18 years.

Where Serpents Among the Ruins kind of falls down a bit (for me, at least) is the cynicism with which it portrays the Federation and its dealings with its neighbors. The operation that Harriman undertakes is a massive deception which implicates the Romulan Empire in the deaths of Federation citizens. While I understand that the world is generally a messier place than we'd like it to be, Star Trek has tended to be above that. When the conspiracy became apparent in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, it was understood to be the work of a few rogue elements within the Federation. However, Harriman's deception in Serpents has the approval and blessing of Starfleet and the Federation. This, to me, is somewhat problematic. However, if we take as granted the repeated assertion that the Federation is on the brink of war and that nothing short of the plan we see in the novel would have stopped it, it becomes somewhat more palatable.

Azetbur, Chancellor of the Klingon Empire.
This is not to say that Serpents Among the Ruins is not entertaining! Of the original run of Lost Era books, Serpents remains my favorite (with the possible exception of Keith DeCandido's The Art of the Impossible). This novel is a rollicking adventure that doesn't let up until the final page is turned. David writes great scenes for all of the characters, including a lot of the secondaries such as Romulan ambassador Gell Kamemor and Klingon Chancellor Azetbur. I had a hard time putting this one down in the wee hours of the morning.



Final thoughts:

A great, fast-paced story of political intrigue and covert operations. Non-stop from cover to cover, Serpents Among the Ruins was a lot of fun to read. Some Star Trek fans might balk at the morality of the overall plan by the Federation, but if you can get past that bit of unpleasantness, Serpents is a truly great read.

Further resources:

Also by David R. George III:

My next read:

Next up, I continue my re-read of the Deep Space Nine relaunch with the final entry in Mission Gamma: Lesser Evil by Robert Simpson.