Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Chain of Attack

Star Trek #32: Chain of Attack by Gene DeWeese
Published February 1987
Read January 11th 2013

Previous book (The Original Series): #31: Battlestations!
Next book (The Original Series): #33: Deep Domain

Click to purchase Chain of Attack from Amazon.com!

Spoilers ahead for Chain of Attack!

From the back cover:
While mapping a series of gravitational anomalies, the Enterprise is suddenly hurled millions of light-years through space, into a distant galaxy of scorched and lifeless worlds ... into the middle of an endless interstellar war.
With no way back home, the crippled starship finds itself under relentless and suicidal attack by both warring fleets! And Captain Kirk must gamble the lives of his crew on his ability to stop a war that has raged for centuries -- and ravaged a galaxy...

My thoughts:

A starship flung far from home, a crew worried that they will never see home again, and an idiotic bureaucrat aboard making life miserable for Kirk and company. Just another day in the lives of our intrepid heroes aboard the Starship Enterprise!

Dr. Crandall is the overbearing bureaucrat
in this novel, not unlike the many who have
come before him, such as Commissioner
Ferris, pictured here ("The Galileo Seven").
For the most part, Chain of Attack is an interesting read. A lot of classic Trek elements are there: facing the unknown; reason and understanding winning out over aggression and belligerence. Overall, the novel has a very familiar feeling, but not to the point of seeming overdone or derivative. One small exception is the inclusion of a particular element that has often shown up in Star Trek: an outsider coming aboard the Enterprise and generally being, without putting too fine a point on it, an ass. This particular plot element certainly approaches being used too often. The main difference here, however, is we get something we don't usually experience in the televised episodes of Star Trek: the ability to see things from the aforementioned ass's viewpoint.

In Chain of Attack, the annoying bureaucrat is Dr. Crandall, a supposed "expert" on the sensor technology that the Enterprise is testing at the beginning of the novel. Throughout the book, we get glimpses of how he sees the crew of the Enterprise: self-serving hotshots who have no regard for anything other than themselves and who court danger at every turn for their own amusement. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, and in fact, seeing things from Dr. Crandall's point of view made me think that he was some sort of sociopath. His projection of hateful thoughts on the part of the Enterprise crew borders on paranoia. I think everyone has had the experience of putting emotions and thoughts on others that they didn't actually have, and in this way, I could kind of understand the viewpoint of Crandall. However, he took it to near-psychotic lengths. I think Captain Kirk let him off far too easily, and is also responsible for putting the Enterprise in danger through his inaction in allowing Crandall access for far longer than seems appropriate or prudent. Of course, at the end of the novel, Crandall turns around 180 degrees and becomes a self-sacrificing saint, a plot development that I felt rang a little untrue. Even despite Crandall's revelation and redemption at the end, the captain seems a little too forgiving.

Despite the small stumbles with regards to the character of Crandall and his odd motivations and behaviours, the story is a fascinating one. The cultures that developed due to the unique circumstances in this remote region of space were interesting to read about, and the final resolution was very satisfying. However, one more small quibble: at one point towards the climax of the novel, both Spock and Crandall breathe in and hold their breath before being exposed to hard vacuum. As anyone who has researched the effect of a vacuum on the human body can tell you, this is a very bad idea!

Final thoughts:

An interesting story overall, with a few minor issues with regards to the main guest character. This is the first novel of Gene DeWeese's that I have ever read, and it was added to my "to read" list shortly after he passed away last year. Chain of Attack was a great Trek novel experience, and I'm looking forward to reading more of the novels he wrote during his lifetime in the future.

Also by Gene DeWeese:

My next read:

Next up is the newest release, The Original Series: The Folded World by Jeff Mariotte. I managed to get my hands on this one pretty early, but reading time was cut into by the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo this past weekend. However, I hope to be finished it soon! Look for a review shortly, and in the meantime, behold the awesomeness that is Wil Wheaton:

Live long and prosper, everyone!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

New Covers and Blurbs

A couple of new novel covers have been released in the past few days, along with the back-cover summaries. Some interesting books on the horizon!

First up is the much-anticipated Star Trek: Enterprise: Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures. (That's a mouthful!) The cover for this one looks to be a little uninspired, but after all, the true worth is in the words. And if the back-cover blurb is any indication, this is going to be a good one!

A new nation has arisen from the ashes of the Romulan War: the United Federation of Planets, an unprecedented union of diverse species cooperating for the good of all. Admiral Jonathan Archer—the former captain of the Earth starship Enterprise, whose efforts made this union possible—envisions a vibrant Federation promoting galactic peace and a multispecies Starfleet dedicated to exploring strange new worlds. Archer’s former crewmates, including Captain T’Pol of the U.S.S. Endeavour and Captain Malcolm Reed of the U.S.S. Pioneer, work with him to secure that bright future. Yet others within the Federation see its purpose as chiefly military, a united defense against a dangerous galaxy, while some of its neighbors view that military might with suspicion and fear. And getting the member nations, their space fleets, and even their technologies to work together as a unified whole is an ongoing challenge. 
When a new threat emerges from a force so alien and hostile that negotiation seems impossible, a group of unaligned worlds asks Starfleet to come to its defense, and the Federation’s leaders seize the opportunity to build their reputation as an interstellar power. But Archer fears the conflict is building toward an unnecessary war, potentially taking the young nation down a path it was never meant to follow. Archer and his allies strive to find a better solution...but old foes are working secretly to sabotage their efforts and ensure that the great experiment called the Federation comes to a quick and bloody end.

Sounds pretty exciting to me! Next up on the Original Series front is From History's Shadow by Dayton Ward. This cover is really fascinating. Check it out below, with the back-cover blurb following:

2268: Following their encounter with the mysterious Gary Seven in the twentieth century, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise is startled by two intruders who have transported through space and time from Earth circa 1968. Incredibly, one of the infiltrators is a Vulcan, who asserts that he’s lived among Earth's population for over a decade. The other represents a little-known race, and reveals to Captain James T. Kirk that she has spent that last twenty years working to bring about humanity’s destruction. It is then that Gary Seven’s young protégé, Roberta Lincoln, arrives seeking Kirk’s help.... 
1947: In the wake of the infamous “Roswell Incident” involving a crashed alien craft and beings from another world, Captain James Wainwright finds himself recruited as one of the first members of Majestic 12, a secret organization with two goals: Collect evidence of extraterrestrial activity on Earth, and develop strategies to combat alien invaders. And it is this very mission that will consume Wainwright’s life for the next two decades, driven by the knowledge that the danger is as real as the aliens living among us...
It looks as though this one might be a continuity-lovers dream, with appearances from all manner of characters from Star Trek's history. Methinks the Vulcan referenced in the first part is Mestral, from Enterprise's "Carbon Creek."

Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures is due to be released on June 25th. You can preorder it from Amazon.com now!

From History's Shadow is also available for preorder from Amazon. It will be released on July 30th.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

How Much for Just the Planet?

Star Trek #36: How Much for Just the Planet? by John M. Ford
Worlds Apart, Book Two
Published October 1987
Read December 13th 2012

Previous book (Worlds Apart): #16: The Final Reflection

Previous book (The Original Series): #35: The Romulan Way

Next book (The Original Series): #37: Bloodthirst

Click to purchase How Much for Just the Planet? from Amazon.com!

Spoilers ahead for How Much for Just the Planet?

From the back cover:
In crystalline form, the most valuable mineral in the galaxy. It powers the Federation's starships ... and the Klingon Empire's battlecruisers. Now on a small, out-of-the-way planet named Direidi, the greatest fortune in dilithium crystals ever seen has been found.
Under the terms of the Organian Peace Treaty, the planet will go to the side best able to develop the planet and its resources. Each side will contest the prize with the prime of its fleet. For the Federation--Captain James T. Kirk and the Starship Enterprise. For the Klingons--Captain Kaden Vestai-Opari and the Fire Blossom.
Only the Diredians are writing their own script for the contest--a script that propels the crew of the Enterprise into their strangest adventure yet!

Notable quote:

"Scott's eye was caught by an unusual constellation: a ring of stars haloing a distant peak. 'Look at that now. Doesn't it awe you a little? To think that there might be a higher power than us, arranging matters?'"
- Author John M. Ford and an interesting little "dig" at Paramount and its control over the Star Trek brand.

My thoughts:

Here we come to one of the true conundrums of Star Trek fiction. How Much for Just the Planet? was written by John M. Ford, author of a previous classic novel, arguably the best novel in the entire Star Trek library: The Final Reflection. In that novel, Ford examined the Klingon culture and presented an Empire that was rich in history and depth. While not the same Klingons we would later encounter in modern incarnations of Trek, the Klingons as envisaged by Ford were fascinating to say the least. Many fans were interested in a sequel to that earlier novel. To that end, How Much for Just the Planet? was written.

However, How Much for Just the Planet? is most decidedly NOT a sequel to The Final Reflection, at least not in the sense that many readers would have expected. I get the feeling that readers of this novel either love it or hate it. Simply put, How Much for Just the Planet? is Star Trek done in the style of musical comedy. The sheer number of absurd elements that Ford was able to work into the novel is mind-boggling. Everything from a pie fight to a giant inflatable starship, from Vulcan milkshake mishaps to Gilbert and Sullivan musical numbers, all is explored at some point in the pages of this novel. I will admit to actual, out-loud laughter while waiting in an airport terminal and reading one passage in particular, this one involving a Klingon captain finding that his foot is stuck in a toilet. Yes. That happens.

While Star Trek has done broad humour before, How Much
 for Just the Planet?
 is in a league all its own.
How Much for Just the Planet? plays with the reader's expectations about what Star Trek is and should be about. The text itself could be seen as somewhat subversive, and to that end, many fans I've talked to do not enjoy it. However, I cannot be counted among that number. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, and while my knowledge of musical theater is limited, I still appreciated many of the references and spoofs contained in its pages. The events in the novel are nothing less than laugh-out-loud hilarious. A weaker writer would not be able to pull this off, but Ford's talents are such that the reader is all too happy to go along on the ride. Some would criticize this novel for being "unrealistic" or "absurd." Well, yes, it is both of those things. But it works brilliantly. If one is willing to give this book the benefit of the doubt, it is a hell of a lot of fun to read. While Star Trek has never been a stranger to absurd humour (see: "The Trouble With Tribbles," "A Piece of the Action," "I, Mudd," et al), How Much for Just the Planet? takes it to dizzying new heights. And those fans who are willing to accompany the author on this romp are rewarded for it. In fact, this novel has gained such a following that conventions have actually organized performances of some of the musical numbers! While I have never had the pleasure of seeing one performed, I can only imagine the sheer amount of enjoyment to be gained from such an event.

Final thoughts:

Based on a cursory sample of online comments and reviews, How Much for Just the Planet? is a novel that tends to polarize the fan-base. However, love it or hate it, this novel is extremely well-written, and while it may not be the sequel to The Final Reflection we would have loved to see, it is a riotously amazing, laugh-out-loud novel that was a true pleasure to read. While Mr. Ford may not have written the novel that many fans initially wanted to see, satisfaction can be gained by witnessing the resulting alternative. Ford is able to exercise his singular talent as an author able to challenge the expectations of his readers. As a bonus, we got an incredibly entertaining work of art out of the deal. I call that a win.

The text of this review has been altered to reflect the fact that I was mistaken about some earlier assumptions about this novel. I had assumed, based on reading online reviews and material concerning How Much for Just the Planet?, that Paramount had nixed the idea of a sequel to The Final Reflection due to artistic differences. However, thanks to guidance from Star Trek author Christopher L. Bennett, I have learned that this was not the case. My review has been edited to reflect that fact.

More about How Much for Just the Planet?:

Also by John M. Ford:

My next read:

Chain of Attack by the late Gene DeWeese, an Original Series novel published in 1987. Coming soon!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Weight of Worlds

Star Trek: The Original Series: The Weight of Worlds by Greg Cox
Release date: March 26
th, 2013
Read April 2nd 2013

Previous book (The Original Series): Devil's Bargain
Next book (The Original Series): The Folded World

Click to purchase The Weight of Worlds from Amazon.com!

Spoilers ahead for The Weight of Worlds!

From the back cover:
The Ephrata Institute is an intellectual think tank at the outer fringes of the final frontier. Dedicated to the arts and sciences, the Institute seems an unlikely target for an invasion, but it proves easy pickings when the Crusade comes from beyond, determined to impose its harsh, unbending Truth on all the worlds of the Federation. Armed with weaponized gravity, the alien Crusaders will stop at nothing to rescue the universe from its myriad beliefs ... even if it means warping the mind and soul of every sentient being they encounter.
Responding to an urgent distress signal, Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise soon find themselves in conflict with the Crusade, and facing individual challenges. When Kirk and Spock are transported to the Crusade's distant homeland to confront the source of the invasion, Sulu finds himself trapped behind enemy lines, while Lieutenant Uhura is faced with possibly the most difficult decisions of her career. As the Crusade sets its sights beyond Ephrata IV, it is up to the Enterprise and its besieged crew to keep freedom of thought from being crushed beneath the weight of worlds!
My thoughts:

First off, two things. Number one: Happy First Contact Day! (Note: this entry, while published on April 6th, was originally written on April 5th, First Contact Day.) Number two: apologies for the lateness of this review. My computer difficulties continue, but with a few choice purchases yesterday, I should have a desktop PC up and running very soon! And now, on with the review.

2013's first-half Original Series marathon continues apace with Greg Cox's latest release, The Weight of Worlds. This novel sees the invasion of our universe by extra-dimensional crusaders from what, at first glance, appears to be the ultimate doomsday cult. Convinced that all of creation will soon come to an end, the Crusade sees it as their divine mission to bring the "Truth" to our universe, which is newly-discovered from their perspective. Their first appearance in our universe is at a facility called the "Ehprata Institute," a campus dedicated to scientific advancement. This, of course, provides an interesting juxtaposition to the closed-mindedness and blind adulation of the followers of the Crusade. Upon arrival at Ephrata, the evangelical army begins destroying works of art and books from the libraries of the institute.

The Crusade was somewhat reminiscent
of the Ori, the extra-galactic threat from
Stargate SG-1.
At first, the machinations of the Crusade brought to mind the Ori, villainous crusaders who sought to spread their religion across the galaxy in the later seasons of Stargate SG-1. However, Greg Cox has managed to weave a fascinating tale about our heroes overcoming the threat of the Crusade without it feeling like this story has been done before. Kirk and Spock are in top form here, and many of the supporting cast are given meaty roles as well. In particular, we see Sulu employing his trademark swashbuckling manner alongside an attractive security lieutenant with whom there may be some budding romance, a common happenstance for Sulu lately (see: Allegiance in Exile by David R. George III). Also of particular note in this novel is Uhura, who is truly given a chance to shine. It really is a shame that the prevailing culture of 1960s America didn't really allow for the kind of broad role that the character of Uhura deserved; I would have really enjoyed seeing Nichelle Nichols sink her teeth into a few meatier scenes such as the events that occur in The Weight of Worlds.

Uhura is given more to do than simply "open hailing frequencies." 
Greg Cox is one of the premiere writers of Trek fiction, having written some amazing novels. From his Q Continuum trilogy to his "historical" novels about The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh, every book by Mr. Cox has been a pleasure to read, with his vast knowledge of the Star Trek universe showing through on every page. The Weight of Worlds is no exception. The author continually references the past experiences of Kirk and his crew to great effect, making this novel feel like a true part of the overall Trek universe. In addition, possibly in part thanks to his years of writing Star Trek novels, Mr. Cox has truly captured the "voice" of each of the characters. Every bit of dialogue rang true, and sounded like something the characters could easily have said on the television show.

The final resolution to the plot of The Weight of Worlds was satisfying, tying up the storyline in a logical, meaningful way. Kirk's reputation as a "god-slayer" is used to good effect, but not necessarily in the way that many of the characters expect. It is Spock's logical, ordered mind that wins the day, and shows that not everyone must believe the same thing. The novel's commentary on evangelism and blind faith versus rationalism and free thought was striking, and definitely resonated with this reader.

Final thoughts:

The Weight of Worlds is a fun, exciting adventure with plenty to do for each of the cast members of TOS. A threat to the galaxy to overcome, some great observations on logic and rational thought by everyone's favourite Vulcan, and last-minute rescues and solutions. What else could anyone want from a Star Trek novel?

More about The Weight of Worlds:

Also by Greg Cox:

My next read:

My computer problems should soon be a thing of the past! Look for my review of John M. Ford's How Much for Just the Planet? soon! I promise!

With any luck, I should soon have a working computer! More regular updates, coming soon!