Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Choice of Catastrophes

Star Trek: The Original Series: A Choice of Catastrophes by Michael Schuster & Steve Mollmann
Published August 2011
Read: October 25th, 2011

Previous book (The Original Series): Cast No Shadow
Next book (The Original Series): The Rings of Time

Click the cover to purchase A Choice of Catastrophes from Amazon.com!

Spoilers ahead for A Choice of Catastrophes!

From the back cover:
The U.S.S. Enterprise, under the command of Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, is returning from a mission to deliver medical supplies to Deep Space Station C-15, one of Starfleet's most distant installations.  All is routine until the Enterprise comes within a light-year of Mu Arigulon, when the ship is suddenly thrown from warp and suffers a momentary power cut, having run aground on a spatial distortion not revealed in previous scans of the system.  When the pride of Starfleet hits another, much worse distortion, Dr. Leonard McCoy has his hands full caring for officers who have suddenly fallen into comas for no apparent reason.  The Enterprise medical team soon discovers that the dying officers are espers -- humans with a rare and abnormal level of telepathic and psychic ability.  With no choice but to link to the officers' minds in order to come to their aid, McCoy is plunged into a nightmarish dream-world ...with the end result being nothing short of the possible destruction of the Enterprise and all aboard her ...

About the Novel:

A Choice of Catastrophes consists of two plots.  Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock lead two shuttle crews to the planet Mu Arigulon V to investigate the seemingly-abandoned planet.  When one crewman goes missing, the landing parties soon discover that there may be more on the planet than meets the eye.

In the second story, Dr. McCoy must solve a troubling medical mystery.  The Enterprise comes to a violent stop due to several distortions that turn out to be holes in the fabric of the universe, allowing another universe to encroach on our own.  This has an adverse effect on the ship's computers and puts several crewmembers into comas.  On top of this, McCoy's own self-doubts seem to be amplified by whatever is happening to the ship.  Already troubled by events in his life, Dr. McCoy begins to see and hear manifestations of people who he has supposedly let down: his father, his ex-wife Jocelyn, his daughter Joanna, and even patients who have died under his care.  Fearing he is losing his mind, McCoy must "keep it together" long enough to solve the mystery of the unexplained comas.

My thoughts:

I found A Choice of Catastrophes to be enjoyable for the most part.  As a character exploration of Dr. McCoy's past, the story succeeds.  I've always known a little about his back-story: his divorce and the daughter he left behind.  It was enjoyable to learn more about the events leading up to his divorce as well as his brief romance with Nancy Crater.  However, I've never thought of McCoy as being as self-doubting as A Choice of Catastrophes makes him out to be.  I understand that the events of the novel are magnifying those doubts, but the book does paint him as more troubled than most of the people around him.  To me, that didn't ring entirely true.

Well done is the world-building aspect of the book.  Mu Arigulon V (or Farezz, as we learn) is an interesting planet, and the book does a good job of exploring it and making it come alive.  In true novel form, the aliens that the crew encounters are interesting and complex, and would be difficult to achieve visually.  In this way, A Choice of Catastrophes makes very good use of the novel format.

One thing that felt a little uneven was the pacing of the story.  It took awhile for things to start happening, and even when they did, I felt the middle of the book lagged somewhat.  There seemed to be a lot of standing around waiting for things to happen rather than proactively moving the plot forward.  Closer to the end, the plot thankfully kicks into high gear.

The positives: I love the inclusion of secondary characters that we only caught a fleeting glimpse of in the television series.  A staggering number of them are included in this novel, including: Abrams, DeSalle, Farrell, Galloway, Giotto, Jaeger, Lawton, Leslie, M'Benga, Rawlins, Rahda, Rodriguez, Singh, and Watley.  The personalities of the various characters in A Choice of Catastrophes came across fairly realistically: Kirk is the swashbuckling action hero we know and love, Spock is in true Vulcan form as usual.  Sulu in command was interesting to read, as we all know he becomes an excellent Captain later in his career.  Even more interesting was the dynamic created after Sulu was incapacitated and Lieutenant Uhura had to take command.  I also really enjoyed the explanation of "duotronic" computing, in that it uses a combination of traditional binary computing as well as quantum computing.  Also, the introduction of quantum entanglement into the realm of telepathy was very inspired!

The negatives:  There are a few rough spots to be found in the book.  One thing that disappointed me was that all of the work Dr. McCoy did to resolve the problem of the distortions was for naught.  In the end, it is the literal "push of a button" that allows the central dilemma to be resolved.  While McCoy does manage to save most of the lives imperiled by the comas, I would have liked it better if the Enterprise were able to overcome the problem of the distortions without the push-button ending and rather through McCoy's hard work.  These small plot problems coupled with the not-quite-right characterization of Dr. McCoy makes this particular novel a little average in my books.

Final Thoughts:

Not bad, not bad at all.  A little uneven at times, but an interesting and entertaining romp for the classic crew.

My final score for A Choice of Catastrophes: 6/10.

More about A Choice of Catastrophes:

My next read:

The next novel I will be reading is
 the e-book novella The Struggle Within by Christopher L. Bennett, a continuation of the Typhon Pact series of novels from earlier this year.  Also look for my review of The Sorrows of Empire, coming soon!

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