Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Rift

Star Trek #57: The Rift by Peter David
Published November 1991
Read March 19th, 2012

Previous book (The Original Series): Star Trek #56: Legacy

Next book (The Original Series): Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Click to purchase The Rift from!

Spoilers ahead for The Rift!

From the back cover:
Every thirty-three years, a rift in space connects the Federation with a mysterious race called the Calligar who live on a planet hundreds of light years away--much too far to travel in a starship.  Captain Kirk and the USS Enterprise are dispatched to transport a Federation delegation of diplomats, scholars and scientists who will travel to Calligar directly during the brief period of time that the rift will be open.
Mr. Spock leads the Federation party as they travel by shuttle through the rift just as a group of the aliens arrive in Federation space.  The meetings go smoothly until the Calligar take Spock's party hostage and Kirk discovers that the aliens are keeping a deadly secret.  With angry Tellarite and Andorian fleets ready to attack the Calligar, Kirk must save Spock and the others before war breaks out and the rift closes for another thirty-three years.

About the Novel:

The Rift tells the story of the passage leading to the Calligar in two parts.  The first part takes place in around the year 2254, and features the USS Enterprise under the command of Captain Christopher Pike, c. "The Cage."  The Enterprise encounters a rift in space.  After being invited through by an alien race that lives on the other side, the Enterprise traverses the rift and makes first contact with the Calligar.  While there, Lieutenant Jose Tyler, the Enterprise's navigator, begins to fall for Ecma, the daughter of Calligar's "master builder."  However, Ecma's brother, Macro, opposes their flirtations and attacks Tyler.  It is around this time that the crew realizes that their passage through the rift has destabilized it, and they must return through within minutes or be trapped for the next thirty-three years in Calligar space.  The Enterprise barely escapes, leaving Tyler and Ecma torn apart by the events.

Jose Tyler, from "The Cage,"
features heavily in this novel.
The second part of the story takes place in the year 2287, between the films Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  The Enterprise, now the successor to the original and under the command of Captain James T. Kirk, is assigned as a diplomatic envoy to the Calligar, whose rift is once again opening.  Upon arrival at the rift, a diplomatic team is sent through while a lone Calligar arrives to greet the Enterprise.  It turns out that the Calligar who arrives is Ecma, and she has a request: she asks for asylum aboard the Enterprise.  Needless to say, this has the potential to cause a huge diplomatic incident, and Captain Kirk and now-Commodore Jose Tyler must work to prevent the situation from deteriorating to the point where their people will be lost on the other side of the rift.

My Thoughts:

The Rift, by one of my favorite Trek authors, Peter David, was certainly an interesting read.  I particularly enjoyed the characterizations of the Pike-era crew of the Enterprise, particularly Number One, who definitely shines in this novel.  It was also interesting to learn more about Mr. Tyler, who was probably the third-most prominent member of Pike's crew in the original pilot after Number One and Mr. Spock.

The novel had a few chuckle-worthy moments, notably the revelation of how the Enterprise acquired its distinctive computer voice.  Also, presaging the relationship between Andorians and Tellarites featured in the television series Enterprise, The Rift gives us a number of humorous moments between the Andorian scientist Thak and the Tellarite Shondar Dorkin.  The characterizations of Tellarites in general differ from what we learn later in Enterprise, however.  According to the Enterprise episode "Babel One," Tellarites thrive on conflict and argument, while here, Dorkin is easily offended and doesn't seem to enjoy being argued with at all.

Another interesting aspect of The Rift is the re-introduction of a number of guest characters from The Original Series.  The aforementioned Jose Tyler plays a large role in the novel, and joining him are Dr. Richard Daystrom, the genius inventor of the duotronic computer systems from the episode "The Ultimate Computer," and Ambassador Robert Fox from the first season episode "A Taste of Armageddon."  I enjoy the ability of the novels to explore these one-off characters in greater depth.  Oftentimes, authors are able to take a character we saw for only a few minutes on-screen and expand their roles greatly.

Finally, there are a number of errors on the back-cover description that play out quite differently in the novel.  For one, the back-cover blurb states that "
a group of the aliens arrive in Federation space."  However, only one, Ecma, traverses the rift to meet the Enterprise.  Also, there are no Tellarite or Andorian "fleets" in the novel; rather, only one ship from each government arrives on the scene.  And finally, only the Tellarites are interested in attacking the Calligar, rather than both the Andorians and the Tellarites as the description states.  Why are all of these errors present?  My guess would be that the description is written before the final draft of the novel is completed.  It is unfortunate that these errors can't be caught sooner, however, as I kept expecting developments in the novel that never materialized.

Final Thoughts:

For the most part, a well-written story that I would recommend to anyone who is interested in a classic adventure with the original Star Trek crew.  Peter David has a good handle on the main characters, and his particular brand of humour is present here to great effect.

My score for The Rift: a solid 7.5/10.  Nothing particularly "wow" worthy here, but a solid, classic Star Trek story.

Also by Peter David:

My next read:

Out next week is Christopher L. Bennett's new novel in his Department of Temporal Investigations series: Forgotten History.  I've been looking forward to this one for awhile.  Look for a review of that shortly after its release!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

What Lay Beyond

Gateways: Book Seven of Seven: What Lay Beyond by Diane Carey, Peter David, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Christie Golden, Robert Greenberger, and Susan Wright
Published November 2001
Read March 15th, 2012

Previous book (Gateways): Book 6 of 7: Star Trek: New Frontier: Cold Wars

Next book (Gateways): S.C.E. #10: Here There Be Monsters

Spoilers ahead for What Lay Beyond and the rest of the Gateways miniseries!

From the back cover:
Created by the incalculably ancient Iconians, whose transcendent technology is quantum levels beyond that of the Federation and its allies, the Gateways offer instantaneous transport across unimaginable distances.  Throughout the known galaxy, from Deep Space Nine to the New Frontier, from the Delta Quadrant to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, the sudden reactivation of the Gateways has destabilized interstellar relations between planets and cultures previously separated by countless light-years.  Starfleet's finest have coped with the crisis as best they can, but circumstances have forced several valiant commanders to leap through separate Gateways into the unknown.
Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise
Captain Jean-Luc Picard of The Next Generation
Colonel Kira Nerys of Deep Space Nine
Captain Kathryn Janeway of the USS Voyager
Captains Calhoun and Shelby of New Frontier
Commander Nick Keller of the USS Challenger
All of these heroes, for their own reasons, have taken the ultimate gamble: hurling themselves personally through a Gateway without any knowledge or forewarning of what lay beyond.  Each must face their own unique challenge, struggling to find a way back to the ships and homes they left behind.
And waiting behind at least one of the Gateways are the ageless Iconians themselves, the primordial architects of the mysterious portals causing chaos throughout the Milky Way galaxy.
Where did they disappear to, many long eons ago, and what do they want now?  The answer lies on the other side...
What Lay Beyond brings the Gateways saga to a spectacular finish, in an all-star collaboration by six popular, bestselling Star Trek authors.
Among them, Diane Carey, Peter David, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Christie Golden, Robert Greenberger, and Susan Wright have written dozens of Star Trek novels.  This is their first mega-collaboration.

"One Giant Leap" by Susan Wright (TOS):

"One Giant Leap" tells of the aftermath of Captain Kirk's journey through the Kalandan Gateway at the end of One Small Step.  On the other side, he finds himself on the "birthing world" of Tasm and Luz's "pod."  There, both Captain Kirk and Luz are on the run from the rest of Petraw society.  Eventually, they work together, Luz in order to escape, and Captain Kirk in order to thwart the Petraw's attempts to build a working Gateway.

I felt that "One Giant Leap" was more of the same from One Small Step.  Nothing really wowed me, and the both the plot and the writing felt fairly pedestrian and generally un-engaging.  The descriptions of the setting were fairly dry with not a lot of depth.  I felt that as readers, we were "told" as opposed to "shown."  The text makes references to many days going by, but the story was so rushed that it didn't really come across.  The story as a whole felt rushed and not genuine at all.

Kind of uninspiring, and really made me skeptical of this whole "final chapter in a separate volume" thing.  I have to give "One Giant Leap" the same score as its parent story: 4/10.

Also by Susan Wright:

"Exodus" by Diane Carey (Challenger):

"Exodus" continues off from Chainmail, chronicling Commander Nick Keller's experiences on the other side of the Gateway.  He encounters the world of the Living, and attempts to convince them that the time has come for them to leave through the Gateway and rejoin the rest of the galaxy.  Because of the time differential between the two universes, Keller spends months living and working with the Living, while mere hours pass on "our" side of the Gateway.

Complicating matters is the arrival of a member of the "Living" through the Gateway.  Entering the "regular" universe was traumatizing to him in particular, and he wishes his people to remain on the harsh metallic world inside the Gateway.  Hoping to get people to rally to his cause, he opposes Keller, telling the people that those on the other side have abandoned him.

I thought that "Exodus" was an excellent conclusion to the Challenger entry in the Gateways series.  Diane Carey does an amazing job at making the metallic planet seem real and alien.  The plight of the Living is made real, and through Nick Keller, the reader gets a good idea of how alien and strange this world is.  The characters come across as real and, even though none of them are "canon" characters, I truly felt for them and was invested in the outcome of the story.

"Exodus" earns a 9/10 rating.  An excellent conclusion, and even though the story has absolutely no bearing on the rest of the Gateways tale, it was a must-read for me.

Also by Diane Carey:

"Horn and Ivory" by Keith R.A. DeCandido (DS9):

"Horn and Ivory" is definitely an enigma in the Gateways series.  At the end of Demons of Air and Darkness, Colonel Kira finds herself going through one of the Iconian gateways.  Rather than merely through space, the gateway that Colonel Kira steps through seemingly takes her through time as well.  Finding herself in Bajor's distant past, Kira becomes an influential figure in the history of one of her planet's ancient nation-states.

However, all may not be as it seems.  There is some doubt in the story as to whether or not Kira's experiences are genuine, or a vision from the Prophets, or perhaps even simply a delusion.  Her experiences, however, help her to take charge of the situation once again.  Upon meeting an Iconian whose job is to monitor the gateway network, Kira is able to find her way back home and resolve the crisis developing at Europa Nova.

This was a very interesting conclusion to the Deep Space Nine portion of the Gateways series.  The story does take an abrupt left turn, but I feel that it works well.  Some great character development for Kira and an interesting narrative put this story in the positive column for me.  "Horn and Ivory" is a solid 8/10.

Previous book (Deep Space Nine relaunch): Demons of Air and Darkness

Next book (Deep Space Nine relaunch): Mission Gamma, Book One of Four: Twilight

More about "Horn and Ivory":

Also by Keith R.A. DeCandido:

"In the Queue" by Christie Golden (Voyager):

In the opening pages of "In the Queue," my long-sought after coordination between the Voyager story and the rest of the Gateways series seemed to finally manifest itself (see my review of No Man's Land).  However, my hopes were once again dashed as Captain Janeway's emergence from the gateway onto the bridge of the Enterprise-E turns out to be nothing more than an illusion.  The captain passes from one illusory scenario to another before she, and we, discover who is behind the tricks and deception.  We also find out the reason so many vessels were converging on Voyager's position through the gateways: it turns out that Q, seeing the dangers faced by the various crews, decided that Janeway would be a good choice to shepherd them to safety.  Q also reveals the source of the gateway technology used by the Iconians millennia ago, and the answer is certainly surprising.  With some help from Q, Janeway is returned to Voyager, where the perpetrator of the recent violence is dealt with.  Soon, the vessels in the ad hoc fleet are sent on their way home.

An interesting conclusion to No Man's Land, but in some ways, "In the Queue" was a little unsatisfying.  For one thing, Q is often used as the answer to anything strange or out of the ordinary.  Generally speaking, the television series didn't overuse him, as his awesome power is simply too easy to use as an out.  However, he appears in many novels and other media to a startling degree at times.  Sometimes his powers just seem like too much of a cop-out, a deus ex machina to the plot.  In this case, also, his motivations are suspect to me.  Q saving all of the ships so that Janeway and the Voyager crew could "look after them" and shepherd them to safety seems far too altruistic for the Q we know.  Sure, he has a special fascination for Picard and Janeway, but these always seemed like exceptions to his general disdain or lack of empathy for "lower" lifeforms.

The resolution to the problems in the fleet were the highlight of the story, with an interesting conclusion to the violent escapades.  This part of the story saves the rest from failing due to the "Q solution."  Overall, I would have to give "In the Queue" a score of 6/10.  Satisfactory, but in some ways, a disappointing way out for Janeway.

Also by Christie Golden:

"Death After Life" by Peter David (New Frontier):

New Frontier's "Death After Life" is an interesting departure from the rest of the Gateways series.  Like in DS9's "Horn and Ivory," the gateway that Calhoun and Shelby go through at the end of Cold Wars doesn't seem to be typical of the rest of the Gateway network.  The two captains find themselves in a bizarre world that seems to follow the pattern of Calhoun's beliefs in the Xenexian afterlife.  There, they are continually faced with mortal situations.  When they die, they automatically restart their journey until they are able to get past the obstacle in question without perishing.  Xenexian belief holds that if they outlast the day, they will live forever in this afterlife, continually doing battle with others in this realm.  Needless to say, the prospect is very appealing to Calhoun, who is even given a chance at a reunion with his father.

"Death After Life" was a very interesting story that gives us some more insight into the character of Calhoun.  Of particular interest is his relationship with his father, and what made him the man he is today.  The strength of the bond between him and Shelby is also explored, and we are able to see what the usually-inscrutable Calhoun's feelings truly are.

This conclusion felt like a very strange departure from the beginning of the story, and it certainly does take a left-turn from what I was expecting when I started this series.  Nevertheless, it is very well-written, and for the insights it gives us into the characters of Shelby and Calhoun, I have to give "Death After Life" a score of 8/10.  An excellent read, although it doesn't factor much into the rest of the Gateways stories at all.

Previous book (New Frontier): Gateways, Book Six: New Frontier: Cold Wars

Next book (New Frontier): Being Human

Also by Peter David:

"The Other Side" by Robert Greenberger (TNG):

In Robert Greenberger's conclusion, "The Other Side," we finally get to meet the elusive Iconians.  However, rather than being the impressive, god-like enigmas that Picard expected, the Iconians are somewhat of a disappointment.  They seem to have stagnated as a culture, and they don't even know how to operate their own equipment.  They consult their records about how to shut down the Gateway network, and send Picard on his way.  His journey leads him to a planet which supports a pre-industrial population surrounded by the ruins of the formerly-great Iconian civilization.  There, Picard must find the devices that control the Gateway network and find a way to shut it down.  On the way, he meets a number of people who help and hinder his attempt.

"The Other Side" was an interesting conclusion to The Next Generation's portion of the story arc, Doors Into Chaos, and indeed, to the Gateways saga as a whole.  During Picard's time on the planet with the controls to the Gateways, he does a lot of moralizing and a limited amount of "interfering" in the lives of the people he encounters.  I would be somewhat interested in some sort of follow-up to the influence that Picard has on the people of the planet, especially since nearly everyone he encounters refers to him as a "young god."  The solution to the Gateway problem as a whole is interesting, as is the knowledge and power that Picard retains at the end, a fact he keeps to himself.

A satisfying conclusion, if a little pat.  The brief involvement of the New Frontier crew, along with the impacts of the other Alpha Quadrant stories in the conclusion ties the entire series together well.  "The Other Side" earns a 7/10 rating from me.  Not too bad!

Also by Robert Greenberger:

The Gateways series as a whole:

I have very mixed feelings about this series.  As a whole, this is a collection of very disparate stories held together very loosely by a central plot element.  In particular, the Challenger and Voyager stories are very separate from the rest.  The Original Series story sets up the Petraw deception, while in TNG and DS9 we see the outcome of their attempt to co-opt the gateway technology.  However, even within this framework, I felt that there was not much collaboration on creating a cohesive narrative.  While the stories started out as a joint effort, it felt like the authors all had very different ideas about who the Petraw are and what their end goals were.  This is, of course, inevitable when organizing a large-scale crossover event such as this.  Still, I feel that the cohesiveness could have been achieved a little more substantially than what we got here.  Also, I would be remiss in not expressing frustration at the withholding of the final chapters of each story released together in a final volume.  Years ago, I was reading only the Deep Space Nine relaunch and the New Frontier series.  Not wanting to miss these stories, I read Demons of Air and Darkness and Cold Wars.  Even though I had no interest in the stories from the other series, I had to buy a completely separate hardcover, What Lay Beyond, just to get the conclusions to the two stories I was interested in.  This was definitely frustrating, and felt like nothing more than a cheap money-grab.  

For the most part, Gateways is a mixed bag.  Some great storytelling is presented here, but there are certainly also some duds.  The completist in me is glad I read them, and if I were not compiling the entire series for a review, I might have skipped the Challenger story.  This would have been a mistake, as I discovered that particular entry to be a hidden gem.  The lesson here is that you never know where you might find a great story.  Sometimes you have to give something new a try!

My next read:

Next up is a classic Star Trek novel from years past, Peter David's The Rift.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cold Wars

Gateways: Book Six of Seven: Star Trek: New Frontier: Cold Wars by Peter David
Published October 2001
Read March 14th, 2012

Previous book (Gateways): Book 5 of 7: Star Trek: Voyager - No Man's Land
Next book (Gateways): Book 7 of 7: What Lay Beyond

Previous book (New Frontier): Excalibur, Book Three: Restoration
Next story (New Frontier): "Death After Life," in Gateways, Book 7: What Lay Beyond

Spoilers ahead for Cold Wars, the New Frontier series, and the Gateways miniseries!

From the back cover:
Missing for two hundred millennia, the legendary Iconians have returned, bringing with them the secret of interdimensional teleportation across vast interstellar distances.  Awakened once more, their ancient Gateways are rewriting the map of the galaxy, and nowhere more than in the New Frontier...
A century ago, the imperial Thallonians separated two feuding alien races, depositing each of them on a new world safely distant from that of their ancestral enemies.  Now, however, the Gateways have made it possible for the long dormant blood feud to begin anew.  Captain Mackenzie Calhoun of the USS Excalibur-A and his partner, Captain Elizabeth Shelby of the USS Trident, find themselves fighting a losing battle to keep the horrific violence from escalating, even as they gradually realize the catastrophic danger posed by the Gateways themselves!

About the Novel:

Cold Wars introduces us to the Gateways dilemma through the eyes of Captains Calhoun and Shelby of the Excalibur-A and Trident, respectively.  Ordered by Admiral Ross to investigate a group of gateway signatures deep in Sector 221-G, the two crews set out.  Soon, they become embroiled in a dispute between two alien races, separated long ago by the Thallonian Empire.  Gateway technology has allowed a strike team to bridge the gulf of space between them, killing nearly the entire royal family of their enemy.  Now, both sides are pushing for war against the other.  Caught in the middle are the crews of the Excalibur and Trident, as well as a little girl, the only surviving member of the aforementioned royal family.  The experience of seeing her entire family murdered has left her in a catatonic state, and even if Dr. Selar is able to get her to respond, it is uncertain if her people will accept her leadership and avoid genocide between the two warring civilizations.

My Thoughts:

Cold Wars takes place during what, to my mind, was the heyday of the New Frontier series.  The stories were fresh and the characters were vibrant and alive.  Much like the Deep Space Nine story Demons of Air and Darkness, I initially read Cold Wars years ago not as part of the Gateways miniseries, but as a part of the larger narrative of the New Frontier series.  Reading it as tied into the other stories has allowed me to appreciate it more, but I still like it primarily for the continuation of the story of New Frontier.

I really enjoyed Peter David's characters during this period.  Mac Calhoun, as captain, is definitely not like any Starfleet captain we've seen previously.  He's not afraid of flouting the rules of Starfleet, but because he is usually in complete control of any situation he is in, it tends to work out for the best.  The crew of Excalibur is in top form here, with Burgoyne 172 promoted to first officer and the ensuing hilarity that results.

Many people I've talked to have grown a little tired of the particular brand of humour that Peter David injects into his Star Trek stories.  Indeed, I found it somewhat tiresome in later volumes such as his latest New Frontier story, Blind Man's Bluff.  However, here it seems to work.  A particular part of this story that had me laughing out loud at times was the introduction of Ensign Pheytus (pronounced as "fetus") to the engineering staff of Excalibur.  There are many who say that puns are the lowest form of humour, but I challenge anyone to not at least crack a smile while reading the jokes exchanged by the crewmembers in engineering.

Cold Wars also marks the introduction of two crewmembers from Captain Kirk's crew, displaced in time, into the New Frontier series.  Originally introduced in the 1970s animated series, Lieutenant M'Ress and Lieutenant Commander Arex both join the crew of the USS Trident in this novel.  M'Ress's frustration and difficulty in coping with her new circumstances are very well-written, and contrast nicely with Arex's seeming ease with his new surroundings.  Peter David has a good handle on his characters, and Cold Wars was a pleasure to read.  Of course, as with all the previous entries in the Gateways series, Cold Wars ends on a cliff-hanger, resolved in the final volume, What Lay Beyond.
New crewmembers: Lt. M'Ress ...
... and Lt. Commander Arex

Final Thoughts:

From a good period in the New Frontier series, Cold Wars is a nicely-written addition to the Gateways saga.  It doesn't necessarily mesh well with the other stories in the series, but then again, that seems to be the hallmark of this particular miniseries.  For example, the Petraw, the species behind this quadrant-wide swindle, are nowhere to be found and are not even mentioned.  As far as the story itself goes, Peter David has a solid handle on his characters at this point, and Cold Wars comes across honestly and true to the characters that have been established previously.

Final score for Cold Wars: 8/10.  I've always been a fan of New Frontier, and this novel carries on the grand tradition of that series quite well.

Also by Peter David:

My next read:

The next novel to be reviewed is the finale to the Gateways series, the final volume that resolves all of the storylines from the previous six novels: What Lay Beyond.