Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Vulcan's Glory

Star Trek #44
Vulcan's Glory by D.C. Fontana
Published February 1989
Read February 25th 2019

Previous book (The Original Series): #43: The Final Nexus
Next book (The Original Series): #45: Double, Double

Mass-market paperback: | |
E-book (Kindle): | |

Spoilers ahead for Vulcan's Glory

From the back cover:
Here is a very special Star Trek novel -- from the woman consistently voted by the fans as their favorite writer from the original Star Trek television series! 
D.C. Fontana, writer of such classic Star Trek episodes as "Journey to Babel" and "This Side of Paradise," here brings us the never-before-told story of a very young Mr. Spock, on his first mission aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. You'll also meet Captain Christopher Pike and his enigmatic first officer "Number One" (previously seen only in the original Star Trek pilot "The Cage"), as well as the ship's brand new engineering officer, Montgomery Scott. 
Vulcan's Glory is the tale of Spock's struggle to reconcile his many obligations -- those forced on him by his Vulcan heritage, and those chosen by him upon his enlistment in Starfleet -- to balance the wishes of others against the desires of his heart.

My thoughts:

Over the years, a number of Star Trek television writers have also lent their talents to the world of Trek novels. Chief among these, of course, is Gene Roddenberry himself, who penned the novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, kicking off the Pocket Books era of Trek books. However, another writer who has influenced what Star Trek has become almost as much as Roddenberry himself wrote a Trek novel back in 1989: Dorothy "D.C." Fontana.

Dorothy "D.C." Fontana, one of the giants of early Star Trek history.

Fontana has story or teleplay credit on 17 episodes of Star Trek, spread across four series, with the bulk of her work in the original Star Trek television series. Her writing has given us classic episodes such as "Charlie X," "Tomorrow is Yesterday," "This Side of Paradise," and "Journey to Babel." To say that Star Trek wouldn't be what it is today without D.C. Fontana is an understatement.

During her time on Star Trek, Dorothy Fontana was responsible for much of Spock's character development, so it is no surprise that Spock plays a large role in Vulcan's Glory. There is a lot to unpack with regards to Spock's character in this novel, beginning with his relationship with T'Pring, the woman we learn he is betrothed to in the TOS episode "Amok Time." There is, however, another romance in this novel for Spock, with a Vulcan woman by the name of T'Pris, another science officer assigned to the Enterprise. The romance develops quite quickly, and I was truly saddened by her eventual fate. In today's terms, we would say that her character was "fridged," as her death serves mainly to advance Spock's story. However, I felt she was a round character in her own right. Had the novel been written today, I feel that this part of the story would have been handled differently, but it serves its tragic purpose here. I was quite surprised by how much about Spock's character is affected by the events of this novel. We learn a lot about what makes him who he is in later Star Trek.

Spock's first mission as a science officer aboard the Enterprise is explored in this novel.

This novel also features a lot of backstory and development for Captain Christopher Pike, much more than we had gotten to this point. Remember, at the time, the only Pike we had seen in canon Trek was the unaired TOS pilot episode, "The Cage," with parts of it re-purposed for use in the two-part episode "The Menagerie." We learn about Pike's romantic life, as well as get some insights into the kind of captain he is. Many years later, on Star Trek: Discovery, we see a lot more of Pike, and for the most part I think a lot of what we learn in this novel is still applicable to the character as interpreted by Anson Mount.

Captain Christopher Pike is explored in this novel, one of the first times we get more about the character outside of "The Cage" and "The Menagerie."
Finally, another new crewmember joins the Enterprise in this novel: a new junior engineer, Montgomery Scott. It's very clear that Fontana has a deep love for this character, and while some may not like that his role is mostly to produce top-notch engine room hooch, it was still a lot of fun to have him included in this story. The production of alcohol in the Enterprise's engine room does, eventually, tie into the main story.

Scotty's first days as a member of the Enterprise crew are shown in Vulcan's Glory.

Speaking of the main story, it revolves around the search for an artifact from Vulcan's past, lost long ago: the Vulcan's Glory, a huge gemstone that used to be a prize of war but which now symbolizes peace. The Enterprise does indeed recover the lost artifact, which sets off what becomes a murder mystery aboard the ship. This part of the tale wraps up in a typical murder mystery fashion, and it turns out to be a pretty good whodunnit, in my opinion.

The other part of the main plot involves Pike going undercover on a pre-warp planet that he visited earlier in his career, monitoring their progress as they recover from a cataclysm that left the society in ruins. Three factions have emerged: the townspeople, the nomadic desert people, and the mutants, who live in regions contaminated by radioactive fallout. The resolution to this part of the novel was unexpected and quite well-done, with a typically-Star Trek lesson for all.

Final thoughts:

Vulcan's Glory was a fun look at the "Pike years" of the Enterprise, especially now that we have Anson Mount's interpretation of the character on Discovery. A fascinating adventure set during Spock's first mission aboard the Enterprise, this novel establishes much about the character going forward. Spock is quite different in later Star Trek, and we see the beginning of that path for him. Definitely very enjoyable, this is a novel that I could see myself revisiting in the future. It does make me wish that Dorothy Fontana had written more Star Trek novels as well.

More about Vulcan's Glory:

My next read:

The first book in Voyager's Spirit Walk duology: Old Wounds by Christie Golden.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Death in Winter

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Death in Winter by Michael Jan Friedman
Published September 2005
Read February 20th 2019

Previous book (Post-Nemesis Continuity): Articles of the Federation
Next book (Post-Nemesis Continuity): Titan: The Red King

Hardcover: | |
Mass-market paperback: | |
E-book (Kindle): | |

Spoilers ahead for Death in Winter

From the back cover:
Long before Captain Jean-Luc Picard took command of the legendary Starship Enterprise, he fell deeply and hopelessly in love with Doctor Beverly Crusher. Though, for one reason or another, Picard never acted on his feelings, he found a measure of contentment as Beverly's close friend, colleague, and daily breakfast partner.
But when Doctor Crusher leaves her position on the Enterprise to become the chief medical officer of Starfleet, the brightest light in Picard's life is taken from him. And he has hardly resigned himself to his loss when he learns that Beverly has been declared missing in action on a distant planet -- and presumed dead.

Kevratas is a bleak, frozen world on the far side of the Romulan Neutral Zone where the Federation has become the plague-ravaged natives' only real hope of survival and freedom. Starfleet has no recourse but to send in another team to try to save the Kevrata -- and Picard is the natural choice. Critical to the success of his mission are two colleagues who served under him when he commanded the Starship Stargazer -- Pug Joseph, a man with a past to live down, and Doctor Carter Greyhorse, who has served time for attempted murder -- as well as a Romulan who left his people years earlier and never expected to return. Together, they follow the trail of Beverly Crusher to Kevratas, determined to succeed where the doctor failed.

On the Romulan homeworld, meanwhile, the political vacuum created by the demise of Praetor Shinzon has been filled by his staunchest supporter, Senator Tal'aura. But there are those who oppose her, including Commander Donatra and the warbird fleets under her command, because of the way Tal'aura has mishandled rebellions on the Empire's subject worlds.

And one rebellion in particular; the movement for self-determination on frigid Kevratas.

So begins a desperate struggle -- not only for the freedom of the long-oppressed Kevrata but also for the soul of the Romulan Empire. Before it's over, destinies will be forged and shattered, the Empire will be shaken to its ancient foundations, and Jean-Luc Picard's life will be changed...forever.

My thoughts:

As we learned during the TNG seventh-season episode "Attached," Jean-Luc Picard has had feelings for Beverly Crusher for many years, ever since his early years captaining the U.S.S. Stargazer. Similarly, Crusher has developed feelings for Jean-Luc as well, feelings which have never truly been acted upon. In fact, in recent months, there has been a growing distance between the two of them, culminating in Crusher's transfer off the Enterprise and back into her former role as head of Starfleet Medical (see the A Time To series).

While serving in her new role, Crusher is sent off on a secret mission behind the neutral zone to the Romulan-controlled planet Kevatras in order to help halt a plague threatening its inhabitants. She was chosen for this mission due to her familiarity with the virus, encountered in her youth while living on the planet Arvada III with her grandmother. During the course of the mission, she is captured by Romulan forces commanded by Sela, the half-Romulan daughter of Tasha Yar.

Sela attempts another of her plots in Death in Winter.

Picard, of course, leads a rescue mission to Kevatras with a couple of old crewmates from his Stargazer days: "Pug" Joseph, who has left Starfleet and now commands a merchant ship, and Carter Greyhorse, who was Picard's chief medical officer on the Stargazer and has been in prison for the past few years for attempted murder in the TNG novel Reunion, also by Michael Jan Friedman. It was a surprise to see the Stargazer characters in this novel, especially Greyhorse, who has an interesting arc throughout Death in Winter. Their inclusion has made me want to read the Stargazer novel series all the more now.

While the Picard/Crusher romance is central to the novel, I found myself more interested in the Romulan political situation. Following the coup by Shinzon and his eventual death, the Romulan Empire finds itself in turmoil. Tal'aura, the senator who set off the thalaron weapon which killed the Romulan Senate, is now Praetor, while a significant faction of the Romulan military opposes her rule. While I'm not the biggest fan of Sela and feel that she is a bit overused in the novelverse, I thought it was interesting to see Tomalak again. In Death in Winter, he is the commander of the military forces loyal to Tal'aura, and it was fun to imagine Andreas Katsulas once again delivering lines in Tomalak's bombastic manner.

I miss Andreas Katsulas! It was fun to imagine him playing Tomalak once again.

One part of this novel that I thought was a strange misstep, however, was the aborted rescue mission by Worf and Geordi. For a good portion of the novel, the two of them attempt to piece together where Crusher and Picard have gone, and make plans to try to follow them. However, at the last minute, Admiral Janeway makes a surprise visit to the Enterprise for the sole purpose of stopping them. This part of the story was abandoned so quickly that I thought maybe it was the victim of a massive rewrite. The end of that subplot felt so abrupt and disjointed that it made me wonder why it was in the novel at all in the first place.

Death in Winter finally gets these two crazy kids together.

As we get closer to the end of the novel, most of the major plots seem to resolve themselves. However, it isn't until the very last few final pages that the Picard/Crusher romance plot is resolved. As I was reading, I thought that the author might leave us hanging. Instead, Picard and Crusher admit their love for each other in a frankly awkward and rushed scene. I'm happy that these two characters do finally get together, but the payoff from that scene was unfortunately lacking. Rather than a mature, reasoned beginning to their relationship, it feels like an awkward, adolescent attempt to mimic ideas from romantic films. It sadly felt very out of place for these two seasoned characters. Nevertheless, I mostly enjoyed Death in Winter despite some of the oddities of the plot.

Final thoughts:

A mostly interesting start to the TNG post-Nemesis novels. It really does feel like the beginning of a new chapter, both in the lives of the crew and on the interstellar political stage. I found myself fascinated by the Romulan intrigue and in-fighting more than with the romantic plot between Picard and Crusher, but I'm very happy with the direction things are headed in both arenas. A worthy read, but not the best that Trek lit has to offer. 3/5.

More about Death in Winter:

Also by Michael Jan Friedman:

My next read:

My next review is for a classic Captain Pike story: Vulcan's Glory by D.C. Fontana!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Triangle: Imzadi II

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Triangle: Imzadi II by Peter David
Published October 1999
Read February 6th 2019

Previous book (The Next Generation): #49: The Q Continuum, Book 3 of 3: Q-Strike
Next book (The Next Generation): Star Trek: Insurrection

Hardcover: | |

Mass-market paperback: | |
E-book (Kindle): | |

Triangle: Imzadi II is also available as part of an omnibus, Imzadi Forever, along with the previous book, Imzadi.

Purchase: | |

Spoilers ahead for Triangle: Imzadi II

From the back cover:
lmzadi: to the people of the planet Betazed, including Counselor Deanna Troi of the Starship Enterprise it means "beloved" and denotes a special closeness that can never be truly broken. Or can it? Once William Riker was Deanna's imzadi, but now the ship's counselor has embarked on an unlikely romance with Lieutenant Commander Worf. At first glance, they cannot be more different, but over time they have discovered hidden reserves of courage and compassion within each other. Yet does Worf's future truly lie with Deanna, and whom shall Troi ultimately call "imzadi"?

My thoughts:

In the final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, an unexpected romance took shape: the brief romantic relationship between Deanna Troi and Worf. The seeds of it had been planted much earlier; some would argue that as early as season 5, their shared responsibility for Worf's son, Alexander, put them on the path towards romance. However, while many felt that the relationship strained credibility, it seemed to have been completely ignored following the end of TNG. There is no mention of the relationship in Generations, or on Deep Space Nine after Worf joined the cast of that show at the beginning of its fourth season.

Worf and Troi's relationship, which developed at the end of TNG, is explored in this novel.

In this novel, Peter David chronicles the events that led to the end of that relationship. In many ways, Triangle is quite clever in how it fills in the gaps following the end of TNG going into Generations and beyond. The novel offers plausible reasons why the relationship ended and even adds more to the reasoning behind Worf's decision to hang out with the monks on Boreth following the destruction of the Enterprise-D before taking the assignment on Deep Space Nine. Peter David shows his usual deep knowledge of Star Trek canon and history with how well everything fits together.

That said, I did have a number of issues with this novel. There are many examples of Peter David's typical humor throughout the story, and most of them work quite well. However, there were a few instances where it seemed a little too "over the top" and took me out of the narrative somewhat. One of the reasons I enjoy Peter David's New Frontier series so much is because that set of characters lends itself better to that particular brand of humor. The TNG crew, however, are usually a little more "serious" than New Frontier, and at times the humor felt jarring.

Another small complaint is the use of the character of Sela. Perhaps it is because I have read too many novels with Sela as the villain, but I feel like her constantly having her plans thwarted would mean that she would fall out of favor in the Romulan Empire, but she keeps popping up, trying one more crazy plot to bring down the Federation or elevate the Romulans, and they never seem to work out. Her plan in this novel, in particular, seemed so convoluted to border on ludicrousness.

This leads to the conclusion of the novel, which employs Peter David's typical "crazy third act." Usually this works quite well, such as the craziness that wraps up his previous novels Q-Squared and even Imzadi. However, in this case, it fell a bit flat for me. At one point, Will Riker's transporter double, Thomas Riker, is masquerading as Will, which is certainly something we've seen before. However, we later see Will Riker masquerading as Tom, masquerading as Will, in a plot that is just way too over the top, but at the same time didn't give me the same sense of "fun" that the conclusions to Peter David's other novels have in the past.

The ending, with Will's rebuffing of Troi, was jarring. However, it kind of makes sense given that they don't get together until much later. But why would Troi put up with his idiocy?!?

Finally, I want to talk a bit about Troi. Throughout the novel, we get a love triangle between her, Worf, and Will. We learn a lot about Worf and Riker's feelings, and see them compete for Troi's affections. However, we never really get a good insight into how Deanna feels about how things are going. It strikes me as odd that we never really get a sense of her agency, or even her perspective on the plot. Additionally, at the end of the novel, she and Worf break up, ostensibly because the bond between Will and Deanna is so great, and Will has implored her to be with him. However, once the break-up happens and Deanna goes to Will, he suddenly tells her that they should wait because she is a "raw nerve" from her breakup with Worf. I gotta tell you, if I were Deanna, I would tell Will to take a long walk off a short pier! I realize that part of this is because at this point in Trek canon, Riker and Troi can't get together because that won't happen until Insurrection, but it is such a complete about-face at this point that it strains credibility that Deanna would ever even speak to him again!

Final thoughts:

Despite my above complaints, I didn't hate Triangle: Imzadi II. Like I previously mentioned, I feel that much of the reasoning behind the end of Worf and Troi's relationship is clever in how it fits into the timeline following Generations. However, there are enough small issues with how the story turns out (and the fact that we don't get a lot of perspective from Troi and the story instead feels like a Riker/Worf outing with Troi as the prize to be fought over) that I feel like I was left wanting more. And, while some of the humor and typical Peter David "craziness" is to be expected, there were some parts that took me a little too far out of the story. A good novel that could have been a great novel, but somewhat missed the mark, unfortunately.

More about Triangle: Imzadi II:

Also by Peter David:

My next read:

Next up is my review of Death in Winter, the first novel of the TNG post-Nemesis novels by Michael Jan Friedman.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Literary Treks 268: Andy Does the Consonants, I Do the Vowels

Titan: The Red King
by Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels
Exclusive Interview with Michael A. Martin!

Mass-market paperback: | |
E-book (Kindle): | |

Searching for a lost Romulan fleet, Captain Riker and the Titan are swept out of the galaxy along with Commander Donatra and her warbird, the Valdore. They find themselves in the Small Magellanic Cloud, an area of space visited nearly a century earlier by another Federation starship. An long-sundered offshoot of humanity has claimed this area of space, and when reality itself is threatened by an encroaching anomaly, Riker and his crew must save these lost children of Earth before the entire region is consigned to non-existence.

In this episode of Literary Treks, hosts Dan Gunther and Bruce Gibson welcome author Michael A. Martin to the show to discuss Titan: The Red King, which he co-wrote with Andy Mangels. We talk about their experience in launching the Titan series, the origin of the Neyel, Tuvok and Akaar's troubled past, Donatra and the Romulans, religious belief vs. scientific fact, where Titan goes from here, and wrap up with what Michael is working on now and where you can find him online.

At the top of the show, we review the latest Star Trek: Waypoint special issue and respond to listener feedback from the Babel Conference for Literary Treks 266: Bringing the Truth Out of the Shadows.

Literary Treks 268: Andy Does the Consonants, I Do the Vowels
Exclusive Interview with Michael A. Martin, one of the authors of Titan: The Red King

Previous episode: Literary Treks 267: That Word "Sacrifice" Keeps Coming Up
Next episode: Literary Treks 269: The Gold Key Archives Vol. 5, Part 1

Monday, May 6, 2019

Literary Treks 267: That Word "Sacrifice" Keeps Coming Up

Burning Dreams
by Margaret Wander Bonanno

Mass-market paperback: | |
E-book (Kindle): | |

Captain Christopher Pike: until recently, there has not been much canonically revealed about the predecessor of James T. Kirk. That has all changed with season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery. However, years before Anson Mount brought the character back to life, the definitive Christopher Pike novel was written, chronicling the life of the brave Starfleet captain from his earliest years as a boy to his life spent on Talos IV with Vina under the care of the mysterious Talosians.

In this episode of Literary Treks, hosts Bruce Gibson and Dan Gunther discuss the novel Burning Dreams by Margaret Wander Bonanno. We talk about Christopher Pike's early years on the colony world Elysium, his relationships with his mother and the father figures in his life, the unique role that fire plays in Pike's history, his embodiment of the ideals of Starfleet and the Federation, how Pike in this novel compares to the Pike of Discovery, the epilogue of the novel, and wrap up with our final thoughts and ratings.

At the top of the show, we review the first issue of Star Trek: Year Five from IDW, and respond to your feedback from the Babel Conference about Literary Treks 265: The Music of Big Pink.

Literary Treks 267: That Word "Sacrifice" Keeps Coming Up
Burning Dreams by Margaret Wander Bonanno

Previous episode: Literary Treks 266: Bringing the Truth Out of the Shadows
Next episode: Literary Treks 268: Andy Does the Consonants, I Do the Vowels

Friday, May 3, 2019

A Burning House

Star Trek: Klingon Empire
A Burning House by Keith R.A. DeCandido
Published January 2008
Read January 30th 2019

Previous book (I.K.S. Gorkon): Book Three: Enemy Territory

Mass-market paperback: | |
E-book (Kindle): | |

Spoilers ahead for A Burning House

From the back cover:
They have been the Federation's staunchest allies, and its fiercest adversaries. Cunning, ruthless, driven by an instinct for violence and defined by a complex code of honor, they must push ever outward in order to survive, defying the icy ravages of space with the fire of their hearts. They are the Klingons, and if you think you already know all there is to learn about them...think again.  
From its highest echelons of power to the shocking depths of its lowest castes, from its savagely aggressive military to its humble farmers, from political machinations of galactic import to personal demons and family strife, the Klingon Empire is revealed as never before when the captain and crew of the I.K.S. Gorkon finally return to their homeworld of Qo'noS in a sweeping tale of intrigue, love, betrayal, and honor.

My thoughts:

After the first three books in the I.K.S. Gorkon series, the entire series was re-branded Klingon Empire. Sadly, it would last only one more book: A Burning House would be the only novel published under the Klingon Empire banner. This is highly unfortunate, both because I've really enjoyed the exploits of the crew of the Gorkon up to this point, and because A Burning House is such a good novel that it practically begs for the stories to continue! Not to mention the obvious plotlines that DeCandido clearly set up for future novels that will most likely never come to pass.

The novel follows a number of storylines as the Gorkon returns to Qo'noS for repairs while the officers and crew take shore leave. After some persuasion, Leader Wol accompanies two of her warriors, Kagak and Goran, to Kagak's home village for a traditional Klingon festival, "yobta' yupma'." Along the way, she learns to trust her fellow warriors and decides to be more open with them, no longer hiding her past from those around her.

A map of Krennla, as seen in Dayton Ward's Travel Guide to the Klingon Empire.

Meanwhile, another member of the 15th squad, G'Joth, returns to his hometown of Krennla. I found this part of the novel to be an excellent exploration of the idea that "you can't go home again." G'Joth finds that his experiences as a member of the Klingon Defense Force have changed him, and Krennla is no longer the place it was in his youth. It is now more impoverished than it was when G'Joth was growing up, and many of his friends and family resent him for leaving. This part of the story also features G'Joth's sister, Lakras, who is part of a theatre company putting on an opera of "The Battle of San-Tarah," which took place in the first two novels of the I.K.S. Gorkon series. Because G'Joth took part in the actual events, he is brought on as a "consultant" for the opera. I felt like this novel had a lot to say about a creative work vs. objective reality, and how compromises are always made in order to account for the artistry of a performance or other work of art. I've always learned to take "based on a true story" with a huge grain of salt, and G'Joth's experiences in this novel back up that instinct.

Another major plot in the story involves the Gorkon's medical officer, B'Oraq, and her experiences with the "Klingon Physicians Enclave," which is hosting a medical conference for the first time. B'Oraq, whose ideas of medicine are borrowed from her experience as a student in the Federation, is not welcomed by most Klingon medical professionals, who tend to believe in a much "cruder" form of medicine. It was interesting to get a look at this part of Klingon society through B'Oraq's eyes.

After having the story build upon itself for the past few novels, we finally get payoff for the story of Rodek. As we all know, Rodek is actually Kurn, Worf's brother, who had his memories altered in the Deep Space Nine episode "Sons of Mogh" when he could no longer live with the shame of being a part of the dishonored House of Mogh. That memory "overwrite" has now begun to undo itself, with his memories as Kurn beginning to surface. In this novel, he learns the truth and confronts Worf with the knowledge of what was done to him. This aspect of the story also intertwines with the conflict between Captain Klag and his brother, Dorrek, who uses Rodek's predicament to his advantage when he turns "Rodek" against Klag. The conclusion tho this part of the story turned out much differently than I was expecting, and I was very happy to see this plot finally explored.

The young Toq, rescued by Worf from a Romulan prison camp, and now the first officer of the I.K.S. Gorkon.

Finally, we come to Toq, who is now the first officer of the Gorkon. His story was probably my least favorite of the plots in the novel, but was nonetheless quite interesting. We see him come into contact with his old home on Carraya IV, the site of a Romulan prison camp that held survivors from Khitomer and their descendants. We find out that it has been attacked by a Klingon seeking revenge against L'Kor, one of the Khitomer survivors. This story results in the rescue of Ba'el, whom we originally met in the TNG episode "Birthright, Part II." I was happy to see her story resolve in this way, as I always found it very sad that she wasn't able to leave Carraya IV because of her mixed Klingon and Romulan heritage. Lorgh, who adopted Toq and is a member of Imperial Intelligence, obviously has a few storylines that he wants to continue in later novels, but sadly, it seems as though they will end here.

Ba'el begins a new chapter of her life at the end of this novel.

As is obvious from the preceding wall of text, there is a lot going on in this novel! There are so many storylines, but everything holds together very well. After four novels, plus Diplomatic Implausibility, I find myself very invested in these characters. It is profoundly sad that this is the final novel to feature the crew of the Gorkon in a starring role, especially since I believe this one to be the best of the four. There are so many small moments for the characters that were so perfectly written that I haven't even touched on in this review.

Final thoughts:

It is definitely with not a small amount of sadness that I say goodbye to the crew of the Gorkon. They certainly leave on a high note, as A Burning House wound up being my favorite book of the series. I love strong character moments, and this novel is packed full of them. I loved the look at Klingon culture in ways that we don't usually get: rather than the usual focus on the lives of Klingon warriors, we see farmers, actors, doctors, and see the effects that poverty and change have on the lives of average Klingons. I felt that A Burning House was an excellent exploration of Klingon culture in general, and I would have loved to see where the series would have gone in the future. As it stands, the four books that make up the I.K.S. Gorkon/Klingon Empire series are some of the best Trek novels I have read, and it is almost criminal that Keith R.A. DeCandido doesn't currently write for the Star Trek novel line. Come on, Simon & Schuster: give this man another contract!

More about A Burning House:

Also by Keith R.A. DeCandido:

My next read:

Next up is Triangle: Imzadi II by Peter David!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Literary Treks 266: Bringing the Truth Out of the Shadows

The Next Generation:
Available Light
Exclusive interview with author Dayton Ward!

Trade Paperback: | |
E-book (Kindle): | |

For the past couple of years, the post-Nemesis novels have been in a sort of limbo. Contract negotiations dragged on, and at times it felt like the next chapter of the story would never come. Thankfully, that is all behind us with the release of the newest TNG novel, picking up on plot points from Section 31: Control, the previous TNG novel Hearts and Minds, and even going as far back as the Tezwa incident in the A Time To series!

In this episode of Literary Treks, hosts Dan Gunther and Bruce Gibson welcome author Dayton Ward back to the show to discuss his newest Next Generation novel, Available Light. We talk about the fallout from the end of Section 31, Picard's actions in the ousting of disgraced Federation President Min Zife, a mysterious apparent derelict hiding a technological marvel, the Jirol Salvage Guild, the importance of truth, Picard's decision at the end of the novel, the origin of the title Available Light, and wrap up with what Dayton is working on now and where you can find him online.

In the news segment, we talk about the upcoming Star Trek: Year Five series and Star Trek: Discovery: Aftermath miniseries, both from IDW. We also review issue #3 of The Q Conflict and respond to listener feedback from the Babel Conference for Literary Treks 264: No Member Berries.

Literary Treks 266: Bringing the Truth Out of the Shadows
The Next Generation: Available Light - Exclusive interview with author Dayton Ward!

Previous episode: Literary Treks 265: The Music of Big Pink
Next episode: Literary Treks 267: That Word "Sacrifice" Keeps Coming Up

Monday, April 22, 2019

Belle Terre

Star Trek #90
New Earth, Book Two of Six
Belle Terre by Dean Wesley Smith with Diane Carey
Published June 2000
Read January 21st 2019

Previous book (New Earth): #89: Book One: Wagon Train to the Stars
Next book (New Earth): #90: Book Three: Rough Trails

Mass-market paperback: | |
E-book (Kindle): | |

Spoilers ahead for Belle Terre

From the back cover:
A six-month distance from the Federation, the planet Belle Terre offers a new life to more than 30,000 families, pioneers, scientists, expatriates, go-getters, loners, and entrepreneurs, all under the watchful eye of Captain Kirk and his crew. But the would-be colonists have barely settled in the untamed wilderness of their new home when Spock makes a startling discovery: not only does the planet's moons contain a rare ore of almost inestimable value, that same moon is also violently unstable. Within months, it will inevitably explode -- destroying all life on Belle Terre!

My thoughts:

The fleet of colony ships, escorted by the USS Enterprise, has finally arrived at their destination: the glistening world they have called Belle Terre. However, their adventure to colonize this planet, located far outside the borders of the Federation, may end before it has a chance to really begin. One of the moons orbiting this new world has a core made up of a material called quasar olivium, an extremely rare substance that exists in a state of quantum flux and thus is also highly unstable. While olivium would make the perfect power source for the Federation, it will also soon cause the moon to violently explode, destroying Belle Terre and the colonists who have settled there.

Of course, it's up to Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise to stop this disaster from happening. Eventually, they are able to hit upon a partial solution, using another space body to puncture a hole in the olivium moon, relieving some of the pressure, but still impacting the environment of Belle Terre significantly. The solution is a costly one, requiring the use of nearly the entire fleet of colony ships to implement. After a series of setbacks and false starts, the fleet is ultimately successful in preventing the worst of the disaster.

After the somewhat disappointing start to this series, Wagon Train to the Stars, I found myself pleasantly surprised by Belle Terre. The threat of the olivium moon was an interesting one, and while you know that the crew will succeed in their plan, it was close enough to complete disaster at a couple of points to certainly keep the tension high. I also appreciated that it wasn't a complete success, and that there is still a great deal of fallout from the nearly-extinction level event that the explosion of the moon represents.

The central conflict of Belle Terre is obviously people vs. nature, a fact that I certainly appreciate after the cartoonish villainy of the antagonist in Wagon Train to the Stars. It is gratifying to see the characters grapple with a scientific dilemma rather than a one-note villain like Billy Maidenshore.

There is also a secondary story in which one of the colony ships, a cutter called the Rattlesnake, sets off to find another habitable world in case the colonists need to evacuate Belle Terre permanently. This storyline is left somewhat open-ended; in the course of their investigation into the disappearance of a nearby civilization, the crew of the Rattlesnake discover a "darkness" that passes through the system at regular intervals. The ship gets a little too close to the phenomenon and loses all power, leaving them unable to alert the rest of the colonists or the Enterprise of the danger the darkness presents, nor are they able to send a signal for rescue. I rather enjoyed this little side story, even though it had a tragic ending. I really hope that these events are followed up on in a later novel in the series.

Final thoughts:

A definite improvement over the first book in the series, Belle Terre presents the crew with an interesting scientific mystery and dire consequences if they fail to find a solution. While it wasn't exactly the most gripping Star Trek novel ever, I felt that the jeopardy was ratcheted up enough to hold my interest and attention throughout. The crew is, of course, ultimately successful, but they still end up paying a high price for their relative victory. There are storylines begun in this novel that I hope are picked up again later in the series. Definitely a solid entry in the New Earth series.

My next read:

Next up is my review of the final I.K.S. Gorkon novel: Klingon Empire: A Burning House by Keith R.A. DeCandido.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Literary Treks 265: The Music of Big Pink

Articles of the Federation
Exclusive interview with author Keith R.A. DeCandido!

Mass-market paperback: | |
E-book (Kindle): | |

In Star Trek, we are used to seeing mighty Federation starships exploring space and boldly going where no one has gone before. However, there is more to Federation society in the 24th century than the men and women of Starfleet: newly-elected Federation President Nan Bacco finds herself embroiled in one crisis after another as she and her administration deal with the fallout from the Tezwa affair and the surprise resignation of her predecessor. The first year of her tenure as president will be her trial by fire, and marks the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the United Federation of Planets.

In this episode of Literary Treks, hosts Bruce Gibson and Dan Gunther welcome author Keith DeCandido back to the show to discuss his landmark novel, Articles of the Federation. We talk about The West Wing of the 24th century, linking this novel to the other novels in the literary universe, the huge cast of characters, various issues that the Bacco administration has to deal with, answer some questions listeners posted in The Babel Conference, and wrap up with what Keith is working on now and where you can find him online.

In the news segment, we announce the upcoming Star Trek: The Official Guide to the Animated Series co-written by's very own Aaron Harvey, and report on the tragic loss of a Star Trek literary legend, author Vonda McIntyre. We also respond to listener feedback from The Babel Conference about Literary Treks 263: Traveling at the Speed of Plot.  

Literary Treks 265: The Music of Big Pink
Articles of the Federation by Keith R.A. DeCandido

Previous episode: Literary Treks 264: No Member Berries
Next episode: Literary Treks 266: Bringing the Truth Out of the Shadows

Friday, April 12, 2019

Wagon Train to the Stars

Star Trek #89
New Earth, Book One of Six
Wagon Train to the Stars by Diane Carey
Published June 2000
Read January 8th 2019

Previous book (The Original Series): #88: Across the Universe
Next book (New Earth): #90: Book Two: Belle Terre

Mass-market paperback: | |
E-book (Kindle): | |

Spoilers ahead for Wagon Train to the Stars

From the back cover:
After saving Earth from the threat of V'Ger, James T. Kirk is called again to the final frontier. His new mission: to lead a valiant group of settlers to a distant world, to defend the struggling colony from alien threats, and to explore the diverse mysteries and dangers of a strange new Earth!

Far from the Federation, a newly discovered M-class world has been eyed as a potential home by a group of hardy and determined colonists. Starfleet can spare only one starship to escort the would-be settlers on their perilous voyage, but that ship is none other than the legendary starship Enterprise, commanded by the most well-known captain in the quadrant. Now Kirk finds himself responsible for the lives of 30,000 men, women, and children -- a task that grows all the more difficult when the expedition is caught in the middle of an ancient feud between two dangerous alien races!

Notable quote:
"I don't know why you let him get to you Jim. It wouldn't be the first time a corrupt carpetbagging hair-oil peddler decided he wanted some kind of public adulation and actually got suckers to vote for him by promising them whatever they want." 
Kirk leaned forward a little more, and met him with a glare of absolute agreement. "And anyone who promises you everything you want," he stated, "wants everything you have."

My thoughts:

Wagon Train to the Stars kicks off a six-book series that features the Enterprise  escorting a fleet of colony ships to a planet well off the beaten track. Along the way, they have to contend with pirates, differing attitudes, and even a villain within their own ranks. The colonists intended on making the journey alone, but Starfleet insisted on sending an escort along with them, giving James T. Kirk yet another excuse to eschew his Admiral role and once again sit in the center seat of his beloved U.S.S. Enterprise.

Making sure to ditch the "pajamas" they were saddled with in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Kirk and his crew don the "monster maroons" and head out into the unknown with a fleet transporting 30,000 colonists and their supplies to a far-flung world that lies well outside Federation space. The colonists are very independent-minded and wish to be free of the strictures of the Federation, intending to found the colony on this new planet, called Belle Terre, with the principles of self-determination and individual liberty. This is no surprise, given the political leanings of the author, Diane Carey, who is very famously libertarian.

Before embarking on the mission, Kirk ensures that his crew get the spiffy new uniforms, casting aside the "pajamas" from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

This, of course, leads to conflict between the leader of the colonists and the regimented Starfleet crew of the Enterprise, who are still tasked with protecting the flotilla even when it seems, at times, that the colonists don't want that protection. However, Kirk and his crew continue to provide the colonists with protection and administrative duties during their long trek to Belle Terre.

Speaking of administration of the fleet, this is another area in which Diane Carey's real life has a large influence over the novel. Carey is an avid sailor with a great deal of experience in navigating ships on the open ocean, experience that she brings to bear in writing this novel. The duties that the crew of the Enterprise have with regards to the fleet are couched in naval terms and the entire endeavor has the feeling of a terrestrial ocean-going voyage. Star Trek and naval tradition have long gone hand-in-hand, so this works quite well in my opinion.

Because this is the first novel in a miniseries, we get setup for a number of elements that will presumably play a role in the books to come. The first is a war between two groups: the Blood and the Kauld. For the most part, I enjoyed the fleshing out of these species and their long-standing feud. They look as though they will be an ongoing thorn in the side of the colonization efforts, and I admit to not quite knowing what to make of Shucorion, a Blood who is playing the long game and setting himself up to be a guide that the Belle Terre fleet must rely on. I have read a novel that takes place after the New Earth series, Star Trek: Challenger: Chainmail in the Gateways crossover series, so I know a bit about what the future holds for this character; I am quite curious about what will happen with him along the way.

One aspect of the story that I didn't really like at all was the primary antagonist: Billy Maidenshore, a con man and thief who has previously crossed paths with Kirk. His actions later in the story go so far beyond the pale that I can't think of him as anything other than a sociopath. I prefer the villains to generally be a bit more relatable, but there is nothing redeemable about this character. Any time he shows up in the story, I found myself mentally checking out, which is definitely an unfortunate reaction when reading any novel.

Instead of seeking out strange new worlds, the Enterprise leads a flotilla of colony ships with the mission to tame one.

New Earth is an interesting concept that has been done frequently in other science fiction settings, and it's fun to see it played out in the Star Trek universe. I find myself concerned, however, that it may not hold my attention for a six-novel series. This first novel wasn't bad per se, but I wouldn't exactly call it gripping, either. I can see this story working for a duology or even a trilogy, but I am curious to see how sustainable it is for six consecutive novels. Hopefully the novels that follow (by different authors, I might add) are much more exciting than this one was, or this may feel like a *very* long series indeed.

Final thoughts:

For the most part, Wagon Train to the Stars is a generally enjoyable beginning to the New Earth series, but it didn't really "wow" me. I'm curious to see how things go once the fleet finally makes planetfall, but there is nothing that really stands out as truly memorable or exciting. I did in fact start reading this series years ago when it first came out, but didn't make it very far before losing interest. I'm determined to get through it this time, however, and give it a fair chance. While this first entry is enough to keep my interest throughout, it doesn't make me excited to continue the series. That said, let's see where it goes from here! New Earth may yet surprise me.

Also by Diane Carey:

My next read:

Next up is book two in the New Earth series: Belle Terre by Dean Wesley Smith with Diane Carey.