Thursday, December 1, 2011

Excelsior: Forged in Fire

Star Trek: Excelsior: Forged in Fire by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels
Published December 2007
Read: November 30th, 2011

Previous book (The Original Series): Vulcan's Soul #3: Epiphany
Next book (The Original Series): Errand of Fury #3: Sacrifices of War

Spoilers ahead for Forged in Fire!

From the back cover:
A vicious pirate known as the Albino is cutting a deadly swath across space, creating turmoil in the Klingon Empire that threatens to spill into the Federation.  But this criminal also has a secret that could shake the halls of imperial power, and his genocidal plans against the race the bore him will have consequences even he cannot imagine, as several unlikely allies join swords to bring the Albino to justice: Hikaru Sulu of the USS Excelsior; Klingon captains Kor, Koloth, and Kang; and a hot-headed young Federation diplomat named Curzon Dax.  Tempered in the flames of their shared adversity, a captaincy is forged, a blood oath is sworn ... and a hunt begins that will stretch from one generation to the next.

About the Novel:

Born of a terrible genetic malady caused by a hopeful treatment for the "smooth forehead" curse, a criminal known as "The Albino" threatens peace talks between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.  When Commander Sulu, first officer of the USS Excelsior, receives intelligence about the threat to the negotiations, his commanding officer, Captain Styles, is skeptical.  Sulu, however, is not content to allow the attack to proceed, so he contacts Ambassador Sarek and manages to get the Excelsior assigned to the defense of the negotiations.  When the attack occurs, Sulu finds himself teamed with Federation Ambassador Curzon Dax, and three Klingon captains named Kor, Koloth, and Kang in pursuit of the Albino, who has a dark and shocking link to Sulu's own past.

My Thoughts:

Forged in Fire provides answers to a few questions regarding the period between Star Trek V and Star Trek VI.  It is generally accepted that six years pass between those movies, leaving a large space of time we don't know much about.  In that time, the crew of the Enterprise seems to have fractured somewhat, with Uhura working at the Academy and, of course, Scotty buying a boat.  The largest change, however, is Sulu becoming the commanding officer of the USS Excelsior.  In Forged in Fire, we finally see how that came to pass.

As I've mentioned in the past, I love novels that fill in the gaps in Star Trek lore.  Forged in Fire accomplishes that admirably.  I had always assumed that Sulu was simply promoted to captain at some point and assigned to the Excelsior.  I was surprised to see Martin and Mangels' take on that event was somewhat different.  It never occurred to me that Sulu might have served on that ship under Captain Styles.

Speaking of Styles, I thought that Forged in Fire handled his character quite well.  When he was introduced in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Styles was typical of other captains who weren't Kirk: arrogant, off-putting, and certainly not someone who seemed to fit in the role of a captain.  This is a familiar trope in television or movies: people outside of our main group of heroes are set up as incompetent or worse in order to make the stars of the show look better by comparison.  While the Styles in Forged in Fire is still certainly arrogant, Martin and Mangels also humanize him to an extent.  The reader is able to see things from his perspective a little better, and while we still may not like him, his character is advanced further than simply a set piece designed to make the hero look good.

Captain Styles - still swaggering, and kind
of a dick, but definitely more depth.
Another character who is exceptionally well fleshed-out beyond his original appearance is the villain of the story, the Albino, whose given name we learn is Qagh.  A genetic aberration, Qagh (whose name means "mistake") is a twisted and sadistic man who will go to any means to prolong his life.  In Forged in Fire, we see the beginning of the quest of vengeance that Kang, Kor, Koloth and Dax embark on, which is finally resolved in Deep Space Nine's "Blood Oath."  Simply a one-note villain in "Blood Oath," we finally learn his motivations and why he acted the way he did.  Because his story continues on televised Trek, Forged in Fire feels a little like it doesn't resolve itself completely, but that is, of course, by design.

Qagh - the "Albino" - is finally given a backstory
Finally, another aspect about Forged in Fire that I appreciated was tying in the story with the "fix" to the smooth-foreheaded Klingon issue in Star Trek.  Qagh's maladies turn out to be the result of one family's attempt to hide the shame of their human-like appearance.  Also explained in the novel is how the Klingons came to be cured of the condition.

Forged in Fire does tend to drag on a bit in some places.  I feel like the story could have been trimmed somewhat, as some chapters seem to veer most verbose, but on the whole, the writing is crisp and the story engaging.

Final Thoughts:

Great characterization and an engaging plot make up for the story plodding in some areas.  As "Blood Oath" is one of my favorite episodes of early Deep Space Nine, the revelations about the antagonist and the motivations of the Klingons from that episode were greatly enjoyed.  Filling in the gaps in Star Trek's timeline also push this book's rating a little higher in my opinion.

Final rating for Excelsior: Forged in Fire: 8/10.

Right now, I'm reading the newest novel by David Mack, his follow-up to The Sorrows of Empire: the latest entry in the Mirror Universe line, Rise Like Lions.  Look for a review soon!

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