Monday, April 2, 2018

By the Book

By the Book by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Published January 2002
Read March 21st 2017

Previous book (Enterprise): Broken Bow

Next book (Enterprise): What Price Honor?

Spoilers ahead for By the Book!

From the back cover:
In their first few weeks in space, Captain Jonathan Archer and the crew of the Enterprise have already discovered several new species and explored strange new worlds. But each planet brings new discoveries...and new dangers.

The Fazi, whose ultraregulated culture ranges from strict conversation protocols to unvarying building designs, inhabit half of a planet discovered by the Enterprise. But after a disastrous first contact with the ruler of the Fazi, Archer must depend on Vulcan science officer T'Pol and communication specialist Hoshi Sato to help him mend relations with the people of this planet, and unravel the mystery of the other creatures living on the world.

My thoughts:

By the Book was the first original novel published for the new-at-the-time series Enterprise. As such, the authors faced unique challenges when crafting their story. Only having access to the first few stories from the series, Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch had to put together a tale that still fit tonally with the series as well as try to capture the voices of the characters at a time when even the actors may not yet have found those voices. With all this in mind, I feel that they did a fairly remarkable job in capturing the feel of an early Enterprise story.

In many ways, By the Book feels a lot like a story that fits in Enterprise's first season. We have a crew that is quite green, encountering situations for the first time that would feel like old hat to later Star Trek crews. The Enterprise crew encounters a new civilization, one that is very alien from the crew's perspective. Archer's initial attempts to establish a dialogue with the newly-discovered alien race are predictably futile, and the overall encounter goes exactly as you would expect for an inexperienced commander and crew facing the unknown for the first time. While Archer's naivete and impulsiveness are a little too exaggerated for my tastes, it still fits in quite well with what we see in Enterprise's first season. Many of the themes that play out in the book, especially the idea of human impulsiveness versus Vulcan logic, are themes that the series itself regularly explored.

By the Book felt like it fits well in the first season of Enterprise, including a Jonathan Archer who mistrusts the Vulcans and frequently pits human emotion and impulsiveness against Vulcan stoicism and logic.

That said, there are a few issues in By the Book that jumped out at me. First was the small details that the authors didn't quite get right. For example, Elizabeth Cutler is referred to as an ensign in the novel, while she was actually a crewman in the episodes she appeared in during the series. Similarly, crewman Novakovich's first name is given as Alex, but in the episode "Strange New World," the events of which are referred to in By the Book, we learned his name is actually Ethan. Also, oddly enough, Hoshi Sato is often referred to as "Ensign Hoshi," while it should be "Ensign Sato." These are very likely not the fault of the authors, but are probably changed details between the initial scripts for these episodes and what finally ended up on film. Such is the danger of writing a novel so close to the start of the series!

The planet they explore is interesting enough; it turns out that this world is inhabited by two intelligent species, the mercurial and hard to understand humanoid Fazi, and a spider-like crustacean species called the Hipon. I enjoyed the progression of the first contact story, and the initial confusion when dealing with the Fazi was well-written. The twist with the Hipon was also interesting, and added some variation to what otherwise might be a fairly typical Star Trek exploration story.

There is also a b-plot to this story in which several crewmembers play an on-going tabletop RPG during their off hours. Reading other reviews online, many readers don't seem to like this part of the story. It is certainly true that it doesn't seem to have a lot to do with the main plot and does distract from the story at times, but I myself did enjoy it. I've never gotten into any RPGs before, but after reading this, I may have to give them a try. Perhaps the Star Trek Adventures RPG from Modiphius that came out last year?

Final thoughts:

A strong effort for the first original Enterprise novel. It's clear that there were a few things that weren't set in stone about the series at the time the novel was written, but the story ends up looking a lot more like the actual series than the first original Star Trek: The Next Generation novel resembled that series. Some of the characterizations are a bit off, and a b-plot seems fairly unconnected to the main narrative, but By the Book was still an enjoyable read for the most part.

More about By the Book:

Also by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

My next read:

Next up is my video review of Star Trek: Discovery: Desperate Hours by David Mack.

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