Friday, March 29, 2019

The Sundered

Star Trek: The Lost Era
The Sundered by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels
Published August 2003
Read December 18th 2018

Next book (The Lost Era): Serpents Among the Ruins

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Spoilers ahead for The Sundered

From the back cover:
Five years after the presumed death of Captain James T. Kirk, the U.S.S. Excelsior, commanded by Captain Hikaru Sulu, is at the forefront of exploration, diplomacy, and the defense of the Federation. 
Unprecedented peace talks with the violently xenophobic Tholian Assembly trigger a deadly confrontation aboard the Excelsior. Now Sulu and his crew -- including Chekov, Rand, Chapel, Tuvok, and Akaar -- are thrust into an unexpected conflict between the Tholians and a mysterious new enemy, the Neyel...whose origins, if revealed, could lead to war with Earth itself. 
As the Tholians weave a web of vengeance, the Excelsior is flung beyond the galaxy to discover the hidden truth about the alien Neyel, forcing Sulu to question where his responsibilities lie -- with the fragile peace he must preserve, or with the victims of his own world's tragic past.

My thoughts:

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was the first Trek film I saw in the theatre. I remember being amazed at seeing my heroes on the big screen; Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock leading the charge in preserving peace between the Federation and the Klingons and defeating the nasty General Chang. However, what really captured my attention was the U.S.S. Excelsior and her captain, Hikaru Sulu. I recall marveling at the decision to take an existing crewmember and promoting him, giving him his own ship, and making it one as cool as the Excelsior (even though I had a heck of a time pronouncing it properly at the time). I am sure I was not alone in wanting a George Takei-led Star Trek series featuring the adventures of the Excelsior under Sulu's command. In fact, at the time, I assumed it was just a given that we would be getting that series!

Captain Sulu and the crew of the U.S.S. Excelsior are featured in The Sundered.

Alas, that was not to happen. We did get a bit of a taste of what might have been with the Voyager episode "Flashback," but that was not enough to whet my appetite for the adventures of Captain Sulu. Thankfully, we have the novels to fill that need! There have been a number of novels over the years that chronicle Sulu's command of the Excelsior, a couple of which I have covered before: The Captain's Daughter by Peter David is one, as is Forged in Fire by Martin and Mangels, the authors of the subject of this review.

This novel, The Sundered, kicks off the Lost Era series, chronicling events that take place between Kirk's presumed death aboard the Enterprise-B in Generations and the start of the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series. This particular adventure takes place in 2298, five years after the incident in Generations, and features Sulu taking on a mission to negotiate with the reclusive Tholians, first seen in the TOS episode "The Tholian Web." Aboard the Excelsior is a Federation diplomat, Aidan Burgess, who at first seems to fulfill the Trek trope of the Federation official who makes the lives of our heroes difficult. She has a very clear plan for dealing with the Tholians and sees Sulu and his crew as obstacles in the way of the negotiations, which causes a great deal of tension between her and the Starfleet officers.

We soon learn that the Tholians are battling a mysterious race that has entered their space through a sort of spatial rift. The history of this new species is really quite interesting: calling themselves the Neyel, they were originally humans who lived in habitats operating near Earth at the LaGrange points in the 21st century. A warp field experiment propelled them into interstellar space, where their first encounters with extraterrestrials made them extremely wary of other lifeforms. From there, another event propelled them even further, out into the Small Magellanic Cloud, a neighboring "dwarf galaxy" just outside the Milky Way galaxy.

The Small Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy that neighbors our own Milky Way, is the adopted home of the mysterious Neyel.

To me, the Neyel are the most fascinating part of this novel. Reminiscent of the sundering of the Vulcans and Romulans thousands of years ago, the Neyel represent an offshoot of humanity that evolved in very different conditions from those of their counterparts on Earth. They are an interesting exploration of the "path not taken," having to adapt to living in extreme conditions by natural adaptations as well as focused genetic engineering that has resulted in a species that appears very different from what we would consider "human." We are all a culmination of our experiences, and in the case of the Neyel, they have experienced extreme hardships and have thus been extremely hardened, both physically and with respect to their culture and outlook on the universe. I also found the names that they have taken on to be very clever; "Neyel" represents a form of language drift, adapted from the name of their original habitat, which was an "O'Neill" station. Their leader is called a "Drech'tor," which of course derives from "Director," the leader of the original colony. This reminded me of a much more recent example of this in Star Trek: the Short Treks episode "Calypso" featured a glimpse at the future of the galaxy, 1000 years beyond the 23rd century, in which a group of humans are fighting an enemy called the "V'Draysh," which turns out to be the "Federation."

In addition to the Neyel, The Sundered also features a cast of interesting characters that make up the crew of the Excelsior, a few of whom we will meet again in later Star Trek installments. Thanks to Voyager's "Flashback," we have Tuvok as a part of the crew, along with Leonard James Akaar, whom fans of the novels know will go on to become commander-in-chief of Starfleet in books set in the post-Star Trek Nemesis era. Other characters I found interesting included Commander Lojur, a Halkan who was exiled from his planet due to his deviation from their philosophy of complete pacifism, and of course familiar faces Chekov, Rand, and Chapel.

There are a number of memorable moments in this novel, including an intense duel between Captain Sulu and a Tholian using a "monomolecular blade," a nasty weapon that sounds far too dangerous for me to even consider getting near. A highlight to me as well was the final decision by Ambassador Burgess to remain with the Neyel at the end of the novel, making me appreciate the character all the more. The events of this novel will also feature in future stories, most notably the second novel in the Star Trek: Titan series, The Red King, which Bruce Gibson and I will be reading soon for an upcoming episode of the Literary Treks podcast.

Final thoughts:

A very memorable story that serves as a terrific start to the Lost Era series. The Neyel are a fascinating exploration of a branch of humanity that is nearly unrecognizable, but still ultimately human for good and for ill. There was also a great deal of insight into the Tholians, which I really appreciate, as they are a species that I always love to learn more about. I enjoyed the authors' efforts at reconciling various accounts of the Tholians into a cohesive version of them for this novel. A strong story featuring interesting characters and a setup from which to launch future stories, The Sundered really is Martin and Mangels at their best, and I found myself thoroughly enjoying every aspect of the book.

More about The Sundered:

Also by Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels:

My next read:

Book three of the I.K.S. Gorkon series: Enemy Territory by Keith R.A. DeCandido.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Mutiny on the Enterprise

Star Trek #12
Mutiny on the Enterprise by Robert E. Vardeman
Published October 1983
Read December 4th 2018

Previous book (The Original Series): #11: Yesterday's Son

Next book (The Original Series): #13: The Wounded Sky

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E-book (Kindle): | |

Spoilers ahead for Mutiny on the Enterprise

From the back cover:
The ship is crippled in orbit around a dangerous, living, breathing planet, and a desperate peace mission to the Orion Arm is stalled. Kirk has never needed his crew more. But a lithe, alien women is casting a spell of pacifism -- and now mutiny -- over the crew.

Suddenly Captain Kirk's journey for peace has turned into terrifying war--to retake command of his ship!

My thoughts:

Although the Enterprise is badly in need of repairs and the crew requires rest, Starfleet orders Kirk to take her on an emergency mission to prevent war between the planets Ammdon and Jurnamoria. The Romulans have been making aggressive incursions into that area of space, and Starfleet requires stability in the region to maintain a proper patrol to guard against the Romulans. En route, the Enterprise encounters a damaged spacecraft with an injured woman aboard.

A very common occurrence in Star Trek is the arrival of an outsider who disrupts the regular day-to-day operations aboard the Enterprise. Practically a Trek trope at this point, Mutiny on the Enterprise carries on the tradition with the arrival of Lorelei, whose pacifist philosophy threatens the Enterprise's mission and leads the crew to shirk their duties and effectively commit mutiny. The reason behind her persuasiveness is an almost hypnotic ability to sway people to her way of thinking. The effect on the crew becomes quite profound, even leading Kirk to question their mission.

A common Star Trek trope involves the arrival of a person aboard the Enterprise who disrupts the normal functioning of the ship and crew, such as Elaan (pictured). Lorelei fulfills that role in Mutiny on the Enterprise.

There are some interesting parts in this novel, including a fascinating diplomatic contingent consisting of a typically blustery Federation ambassador along with his aides, which include what seems to be a sentient plant of some sort. There is also a "side quest" to an alien world when the Enterprise's engines are over-strained and damaged, requiring repairs. The crew's attempts to communicate with the inhabitants of the planet are thwarted, until it is finally discovered that the planet itself is one giant organism with whom Lorelei is able to negotiate. While at this point, the idea of a planet being a single organism isn't a unique one, it was fairly well-executed here.

Unfortunately, the resolution to the story left a bit to be desired, in my opinion. Lorelei's predictions come to pass, and a shooting war breaks out between Ammdon and Jurnamoria, with the Enterprise caught in the middle. Kirk's ultimate solution is to sit the leaders down with Lorelei, subjecting them to the same persuasiveness that led his own crew to mutiny. While the end result is peace between the two worlds, I can't help but lament the usurpation of the free will of the two planets. Peace is a laudable outcome, but the leaders are no longer in control of their planets; instead, Kirk has caused them to effectively cede control to Lorelei due to her powers of persuasion. This left a bad taste in my mouth.

As for the rest of the story, it's not "bad" per se, but I would categorize it as mostly forgettable. There is nothing here that really "wows" me, and the overall story came across as fairly mediocre. Well-worn Star Trek tropes are employed liberally and mostly competently, but the novel can't escape the feeling that everything is fairly routine.

My next read:

Next up on the never-ending catch-up list is the first book in the Lost Era series: The Sundered by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Time for War, A Time for Peace

Star Trek: The Next Generation
A Time for War, A Time for Peace by Keith R.A. DeCandido
Published October 2004
Read November 30th 2018

Previous book (A Time To): A Time to Heal

Next book (The Next Generation): The Sky's the Limit (anthology)

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Spoilers ahead for A Time for War, A Time for Peace

From the back cover:
Following the scandalous Tezwa affair, the Federation president's resignation forces an election, with the future of the United Federation of Planets to be determined by who emerges victorious from a hotly contested vote. But it is the fate of the entire galaxy that may actually be decided on Qo'noS, as the Federation embassy is seized by terrorists whose actions expose intrigue reaching the highest levels of Klingon government -- and it will take all of Ambassador Worf's skills to keep the fragile Federation-Klingon alliance from collapsing. And while this potential intergalactic chaos looms, Commander Riker finds his plans for command and marriage soured by a brutal, high-level inspection of the ship from which the crew may not escape unscathed....

The epic miniseries comes to a shocking conclusion -- one that will leave the Star Trek universe changed forever.

My thoughts:

A Time for War, A Time for Peace is the ninth and final novel in the A Time To series. Unlike other entries in the series, this novel is not a part of a duology, and is the only book in the series penned by author Keith R.A. DeCandido.

After Picard's "fall from grace" in the first novel of the series, A Time to Be Born, the time has finally come for the Enterprise's performance over the past few novels to be assessed. To that end, Starfleet dispatches a team to conduct an inspection, consisting of Captain Wai-Lin Go, Dr. Toby Russell, and Sabin Genestra. Dr. Russell you may remember from the TNG episode "Ethics"; she came aboard the Enterprise to assist in treating Worf for injuries sustained in an accident, and butted heads with Dr. Crusher which led to a pretty nasty professional falling-out. Sabin Genestra was the assistant to retired Admiral Norah Satie during her witch-hunt aboard the Enterprise in the episode "The Drumhead." And Captain Go was a close personal friend of Captain Leeden of the U.S.S. Juno, the starship that was destroyed in the Rashanar Battle Site, seemingly due to the actions of Captain Picard earlier in this miniseries. Needless to say, the odds appear to be stacked against a fair ruling for Picard and his crew. Montgomery Scott, head of the Starfleet Corps of Engineers, seeing this bias, volunteers to be a part of the inspection team as well.

Included in the inspection team that will evaluate the Enterprise and her crew is Dr. Toby Russell, one of a number of team members who seem to have a bias against Picard and his crew.

Meanwhile, following the surprise resignation of Federation President Min Zife in the previous novel, the race to replace him has been heating up, with two candidates at the forefront: Fel Pagro and Nan Bacco. Pagro's campaign is marked by an agressive stance towards the Klingon Empire, while Bacco's campaign espouses a preservation of the Klingon/Federation alliance and an emphasis on peace making. I really enjoyed this focus on the politics of the Federation, and following a presidential campaign was a fun way to get a look at the nuts and bolts of the political process in the Federation. I still have not read Articles of the Federation, so I am very much looking forward to more storytelling in this rich arena.

While all of this is going on, a crisis is brewing on the Klingon homeworld. The Emperor, Kahless, has gone missing, replaced by a hologram. Seizing upon this, a group of radicals capture the Federation embassy on Qo'noS, trapping the embassy staff along with Alexander, Worf's son. Worf himself has managed to elude capture, and finds himself having to take on the terrorists himself and recapture the embassy. This was a really fun part of the novel, with Worf acting as a sort of John McClane figure, or perhaps Jack Bauer. It really did feel like Die Hard but with Klingons. How does that elevator pitch NOT sound amazing?

Ambassador Worf gets to flex his muscles as a counter-terrorist prowling the halls of the Federation embassy on Qo'noS in the pages of this novel.

The result of all of these stories running in tandem is a novel with a perfect balance between action, story, and character. Keith DeCandido has such a strong feel for these characters that the voices of the actors can easily be heard while reading A Time for War, A Time for Peace. Even a character such as Alexander Rozhenko gets some great moments as he subtly manipulates the Klingons holding the Federation embassy staff hostage. This novel is a collection of truly terrific character moments held together by a plot that was a lot of fun, and topped off with a fascinating exploration of the politics of the Federation. It's as though Keith DeCandido sat down and asked himself, "what sort of novel would Dan Gunther *really* enjoy?"

As a coda for the A Time To series, this novel succeeds on nearly every level. It brings to a satisfying close all of the outstanding story elements from throughout the previous eight books, while transitioning very well into the events of Star Trek Nemesis. The end of the book actually features some events that occur after the end of Nemesis, which allows the author to deal with some of the fallout from that film while setting up the novels that follow it, in what has come to be known as the post-Nemesis novel continuity. This came as a bit of a surprise as I did not realize that this novel would deal so directly with some of the events of Nemesis.

Final thoughts:

Another excellent novel from Keith DeCandido, A Time for War, A Time for Peace puts a very excellent cap on the A Time To series and sets everything up nicely for Star Trek Nemesis and the myriad changes that occur following that film. A major turning point in the lives of many of the characters, this novel puts a great deal of humanity into the story that was sorely lacking in Nemesis.

More about A Time for War, A Time for Peace:

Also by Keith R.A. DeCandido:

A Time To...

My next read:

Next up is an older novel set during The Original Series: Star Trek #12: Mutiny on the Enterprise by Robert E. Vardeman.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Literary Treks 262: We Almost Had a Spit Take

Spirit Walk, Book One:
Old Wounds
by Christie Golden

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E-book (Kindle): | |

Voyager is back in the alpha quadrant and ready to take on new missions for the Federation! Under the command of newly-promoted Captain Chakotay, Voyager sets off with a group of former colonists to make contact with Loran II, their home and a former Maquis colony that has gone silent. Accompanying them on the journey is Chakotay's sister, Sekaya, who's spiritual guidance is sorely needed by the former inhabitants of Loran II, who aren't sure what Voyager will find when they reach their old home: their loved ones, safe and sound, or more bodies to add to the toll that the Dominion War took on the Alpha Quadrant.

In this episode of Literary Treks, hosts Dan Gunther and Bruce Gibson are joined by Warp 5 and The Edge's Brandi Jackola to discuss Star Trek: Voyager: Spirit Walk, Book One: Old Wounds by Christie Golden. We talk about new tensions among the Voyager crew, Torres and Paris taking a side quest on Boreth, Harry and Libby's tumultuous relationship, what the rest of the old crew is up to in the Alpha Quadrant, Voyager's mission to Loran II, and wrap up with our final thoughts and ratings.

At the top of the show, Dan and Bruce review issue #2 of IDW's Star Trek: The Q Conflict, and respond to your feedback from the Babel Conference on Literary Treks 260: Sorry to All the Sela Fans.

Literary Treks 262: We Almost Had a Spit Take
Voyager: Spirit Walk, Book One: Old Wounds by Christie Golden

Previous episode: Literary Treks 261: A Gem of a Novel
Next episode: Literary Treks 263: Traveling at the Speed of Plot

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Pandora Principle

Star Trek #49:
The Pandora Principle by Carolyn Clowes
Published April 1990
Read November 27th 2018

Previous book (The Original Series): #48: Rules of Engagement

Next book (The Original Series): #50: Doctor's Orders

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E-book (Kindle): | |

Spoilers ahead for The Pandora Principle

From the back cover:
A Romulan Bird of Prey mysteriously drifts over the neutral zone and into Federation territory. Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise investigate, only to find the ship dead in space. When Starfleet orders the derelict ship brought to Earth for examination, the Enterprise returns home with perhaps her greatest prize.  
But the Bird of Prey carries a dangerous cargo, a deadly force that is soon unleashed in the heart of the Federation. Suddenly, the only hope for the Federation's survival lies buried in the tortured memory of Commander Spock's protégé, a cadet named Saavik. Together, Spock and Saavik must return to the nightmare world of Saavik's birth -- a planet called Hellguard, to discover the secret behind the Romulans' most deadly threat of all...

My thoughts:

The backstory for Saavik is one that always fascinated me. Although it never made it into the finished film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was to initially establish her as having a Romulan background and an unorthodox childhood. Unfortunately, it was left to non-canon Trek to fill in the missing pieces of her life, and Carolyn Clowes stepped up to take on the task.

The Pandora Principle provides an interesting look at Saavik's early years.

Saavik was rescued in her youth from the Romulan colony world Hellguard, where horrific conditions caused her to be living an almost feral lifestyle. Throughout her early years, Spock served as a paternal figure, helping to raise her in the Vulcan way. This father/daughter relationship might seem odd to people who have read later novels detailing Spock and Saavik's relationship, especially Vulcan's Heart by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz, but those are issues probably best discussed in a separate review.

In the "present" (which is sometime between Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), Saavik is a cadet at Starfleet Academy attempting to acclimate and take on this new challenge in her life. Meanwhile, a Romulan Bird-of-Prey is discovered, devoid of life, and drifting into Federation space through the neutral zone. The Enterprise transports the captured warship back to Earth where it is examined by Starfleet scientists. Aboard the ship, a number of strange containers are found which, when opened, release an agent that depletes all oxygen in the area in which it is exposed. Thankfully, the two environments where a pair of the boxes are opened are both fully-contained: Starfleet headquarters, and a sealed habitat. Unfortunately, the habitat where the second box is opened is an entire city unto itself, and there are many casualties.

The plot has links back to Hellguard, forcing Saavik to confront lingering issues from her hellish youth on that world. The perpetrator of the scheme against Starfleet has a very personal connection to her experiences on Hellguard, and Saavik's confrontation with the person in question is one of the more memorable parts of this novel.

Regardless of whether you prefer Alley or Curtis-flavored Saavik, this novel gives a great deal of context for this criminally-underexplored character.

Another highlight of the novel for me was Kirk's role in it. He is at Starfleet Headquarters when disaster strikes, but luckily he is in the sub-basement, sealed off from the rest of the building. He must work with a young team of officers to figure out the problem and devise a solution. It was fun to see new characters working alongside Captain Kirk; after all, it's Starfleet, they must have geniuses other than just the crew of the Enterprise!

Speaking of Kirk, we get a reprise of the central personal conflict of this point in his career: he wants to be a captain, and Starfleet wants him to be an admiral. His game of one-upmanship with Fleet Admiral Nogura is amusing, but ultimately the debate gets a little tired. During the period between The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan, Kirk seems to pinball between captaining the Enterprise and taking a post at Starfleet Command. There have been so many novels detailing one role or another during this period and divining some crazy reason why he has to command the Enterprise again that it borders on lunacy. Of course, they're all non-canon and certainly don't have to conform with one another, but suffice it to say I was completely unsurprised that the issue was raised yet again in this novel.

Captain or Admiral? No one can decide, least of all Kirk!

The only major issue I had with the novel was the very poor science involved in the weapon the Romulans use against the Federation. At various times, it is described as a virus (which doesn't make sense), and as an ionizing agent with chemical properties that, again, make very little sense. In many ways, it is simply a MacGuffin, a plot device, whose workings don't really make a huge difference, but I would have appreciated a little more thought put into it so it didn't come across as so completely nonsensical.

There is also an interesting new alien character who goes by the name of Obo. Exceptionally talented at repairing equipment and also oddly perceptive at times, I didn't quite know what to make of him. He was interesting enough that I would enjoy seeing more of him, but there were times in the novel that his part in the story seemed oddly incongruous with what was going on around him. I did appreciate the relationship he had with his "guardian," for lack of a better term. The way he gets aboard the Enterprise is somewhat contrived, but as the story gets going, I kind of came to appreciate him. To a certain point.

Final thoughts:

Overall, an excellent novel detailing the life of one of my favorite ancillary Star Trek characters. I've always wished that Saavik was featured more in the Trek films, and I'm glad that she finally gets her backstory told in this novel. The Pandora Principle would go on to influence further stories about Saavik, including one of my favorites, Unspoken Truth by Margaret Wander Bonanno. Only the sketchy science surrounding the main plot of the story detracts a little from The Pandora Principle, but it is still a very interesting novel that goes to some unexpected places.

More about The Pandora Principle:

My next read:

Next review is for the final book in the A Time To series: A Time for War, A Time for Peace by Keith R.A. DeCandido!

Monday, March 11, 2019

Honor Bound

Star Trek: I.K.S. Gorkon
Book Two
Honor Bound by Keith R.A. DeCandido
Published December 2003
Read November 20th 2018

Previous book (I.K.S. Gorkon): A Good Day to Die

Next book (I.K.S. Gorkon): Enemy Territory

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E-book (Kindle): | |

Spoilers ahead for Honor Bound

From the back cover:
The Order of the Bat'leth: founded after Kahless' ascension to Sto-vo-kor, the Order was tasked with rooting out dishonorable behavior and spreading the word of Kahless to the Klingon people. In the subsequent millennium, the Order has become more ceremonial, but now Chancellor Martok has called the Order back to its original function – to preserve the cause of honor. 
Captain Klag of the I.K.S. Gorkon – the newest inductee into the Order – has given his word to the Children of San-Tarah that the Klingon Empire will leave them in peace. But Klag's old rival General Talak has ordered him to go back on his word and aid Talak in conquering the San-Tarah's world. Now Klag must stand against his fellow Klingons – but will even his fellow members of the Order of the Bat'leth, not to mention his own crew, follow him into disobedience? Or will they betray him to Talak? 
The crew of the Gorkon faces its greatest trial in a glorious adventure that will be remembered in song and story throughout the Empire!

My thoughts:

Honor Bound, which is the second book in the I.K.S. Gorkon series, is the culmination of the story began in the previous novel, A Good Day to Die. The Children of San-Tarah have emerged victorious over the crew of the Gorkon and won their freedom. Under the terms they negotiated with Klag, the Klingon Empire will allow the San-Tarah to remain separate from the Empire.

However, Klag's superior does not agree.

General Talak, who is leading the expedition into this new area of space, has ordered Klag to go back on his word and conquer the San-Tarah for the Empire. Klag, being the honorable Klingon he is, refuses, instead taking up arms against his fellow Klingons in defense of the San-Tarah, and calling in the cavalry: the Order of the Bat'leth, which recently accepted Klag as a member. The Order, while largely ceremonial these days, was founded as a group that would bring the word of Kahless to the rest of the galaxy and uphold his vision of honor. Martok, during the induction ceremony, reminded the assembled Klingons of the original aim of the Order, which Klag takes to heart.

What results is a large, bloody confrontation between Klag's and Talak's forces, both in space above San-Tarah and on the surface of the primitive world. On Talak's side is Klag's brother, Dorrek, who believes that Klag has behaved dishonorably and opposes him at every turn. There is a lot of family history at play here, and in the end Dorrek is expelled from their house by Klag. Suffice to say we are not done with Dorrek, and he remains a force to be reckoned with in future novels.

The Gorkon series shows Klingon warriors in action as the main drivers of the plot; protagonists rather than antagonists, and thus shows us the Star Trek universe from a perspective different from the one we are used to.

While there is certainly a lot of action and bloodshed in this novel (What do you expect? They're Klingons!), there are many terrific character moments that serve to make me love the crew that KRAD has assembled for this series. Wol, leader of the 15th squad of troops on the Gorkon, has consistently been one of my favorite characters in all of the novels featuring this crew. In this novel, she comes face to face with her past when she realizes that the Klingon warrior she just slew in battle is her long-lost son, a young man who has grown up never knowing who his mother is. This realization is heartbreaking for the reader, and it really gives you a sense of what Wol lost when she assumed this new life.

Kurak, the Gorkon's engineer, is also featured. As the chief engineer, she has been under-performing for the simple reason that she does not want to be there. A renowned ship-designer, she has been forced to serve the Klingon Defense Forces because there must always be a member of her house in the military by family tradition. The chief of security of the Gorkon, who also has ties to Imperial Intelligence, has basically blackmailed her into performing her duties by threatening the life of the only male heir of her house and holding the prospect of her having to remain in the Defense Force over her head.

Klag, of course, has a lot to do in the novel as he must face his brother and General Talak, all while still getting used to his new arm, surgically replaced by Dr. Boraq. While most Klingons don't embrace what the Federation would call "modern medicine," Klag has allowed his doctor to attach his deceased father's arm as a replacement for the limb he lost during the Dominion War. Many Klingons see this as an abomination, and Klag must overcome both the forces that oppose him and his own over-confidence.

Klag confronts dishonor both in the Klingon Empire at large and in his own family.

In the end, Klag and his crew emerge victorious after Klag defeats General Talak in single combat to settle the matter once and for all. Thanks to the Order of the Bat'leth, honor is satisfied and Chancellor Martok's approval for Klag's actions is given. The ultimate ending, however, was completely unexpected, at least by me: The Children of San-Tarah, having realized the benefits that joining a larger community would bring, decide to cede their world to the Klingon Empire after all. Seeing marvels such as the Klingon's advanced weapons as well as their medical technology convinces the leader of the San-Tarah that they cannot afford to remain isolated and "primitive." This ending turned the typical Star Trek situation on its head, and served almost as a bit of a jab at the Federation's "prime directive."

Final thoughts:

The I.K.S. Gorkon series continues to surprise and delight in book 2. As I have said in other reviews, I was initially skeptical about a series that focused mainly on Klingons and not on the Federation, but I am very glad to have been proven wrong. This series is a heck of a lot of fun to read, and gives readers the chance to see the Star Trek universe from a different perspective. The crew of the Gorkon is every bit as diverse and interesting as a Starfleet crew would be, and anyone who enjoys good Star Trek stories that are told very well would be well-served to pick up this series.

More about Honor Bound:

Also by Keith R.A. DeCandido:

My next read:

My next review is for Star Trek #49: The Pandora Principle by Carolyn Clowes.

Literary Treks 261: A Gem of a Novel

Star Trek #44:
Vulcan's Glory
by D.C. Fontana

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

With the exception of the glimpses we see in "The Cage" and "The Menagerie," not much is known about Spock's early days aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, or the crew that he served: Captain Christopher Pike and his stalwart first officer Number One. Now that Star Trek: Discovery is exploring this time period and these characters, we feel the time has come to look at some of the books that chronicled Pike's captaincy, starting with one authored by a true veteran of Star Trek writing.

In this episode of Literary Treks, hosts Bruce Gibson and Dan Gunther talk about Vulcan's Glory, a novel set during the early years of Spock's Starfleet career and his first mission aboard the Enterprise, written by Original Series writer Dorothy "D.C." Fontana. We discuss the references to past Star Trek such as The Animated Series, the crew of the Enterprise under Pike's command, how well we feel this connects to Star Trek: Discovery, the historical artifact known as "Vulcan's Glory," Pike's mission to the devastated planet Areta, a mysterious murder plot aboard the Enterprise, Scotty and his engine room hooch, and wrap up with our final thoughts and ratings.

At the top of the show, Bruce and Dan review the final issue of IDW's Star Trek vs. Transformers and respond to feedback from The Babel Conference about Literary Treks 259: He's Gotta Grow Some and Just Do It

Literary Treks 261: A Gem of a Novel
Star Trek #44: Vulcan's Glory by D.C. Fontana

Previous episode: Literary Treks 260: Sorry to All the Sela Fans
Next episode: Literary Treks 262: We Almost Had a Spit Take

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Literary Treks 260: Sorry to All the Sela Fans

The Next Generation:
Death in Winter
by Michael Jan Friedman

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

Following the film Star Trek Nemesis, novels in the Star Trek literary universe were given more of a free reign to play with the familiar characters and situations, creating what has been termed the "novelverse." Without any more televised or filmed adventures for the crew of the Enterprise-E on the horizon, authors could take the story in new and exciting directions. One of these directions involved the culmination of the "will they/won't they" romance of Jean-Luc Picard and Beverly Crusher, as well as a new source of turmoil for the Romulan Empire.

In this episode of Literary Treks, hosts Dan Gunther and Bruce Gibson discuss the TNG "relaunch" novel Death in Winter. We talk about Beverly's transfer off the Enterprise, the state of the Romulan Star Empire, an undercover mission into Romulan space, Worf and Geordi's role in the story, the love between Picard and Crusher, and wrap up with our final thoughts and ratings.

At the top of the show, we discuss your feedback from the Babel Conference on Literary Treks 258: Inaccurate Operas Will Be Performed of This Day!

Literary Treks 260: Sorry to All the Sela Fans
The Next Generation: Death in Winter by Michael Jan Friedman

Previous episode: Literary Treks 259: He's Gotta Grow Some and Just Do It
Next episode: Literary Treks 261: A Gem of a Novel

Friday, March 1, 2019

A Time to Heal

Star Trek: The Next Generation
A Time to Heal by David Mack
Published September 2004
Read November 13th 2018

Previous book (A Time To): A Time to Kill

Next book (A Time To): A Time for War, A Time for Peace

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E-book (Kindle): | |

Spoilers ahead for A Time to Heal

From the back cover:
A cataclysmic war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire has been miraculously averted, and a new government is finally in place on the planet Tezwa. But deadly secrets still threaten the fragile peace accord. 
Rebels still loyal to the old Tezwa regime have captured Commander Riker and are willing to kill to achieve their goals...the Orion Syndicate is interfering in the rebuilding -- and may also be involved in much more than that. But the most devastating revelation of all threatens the very foundations of the Federation itself -- leaving Captain Picard to possibly face the very conflict that he labored so hard to prevent....

My thoughts:

 A Time to Heal is the eighth book of the A Time To series, and the conclusion of a duology consisting of this book and the previous one, A Time to Kill.

While I have enjoyed the A Time To series overall, there is one aspect of the format that has been bugging me. The stories themselves are interesting and engaging, but in previous duologies, the stopping point between books one and two have seemed arbitrary. Usually, there's some sort of cliffhanger, and it feels like "Part I" and "Part II" of a Star Trek television episode. This may indeed have been what the authors were going for, but it irks me when a book doesn't feel like a complete story, even when it's an installment in a series.

However, A Time to Kill and A Time to Heal do not exhibit this issue. The story in this novel is very different from A Time to Kill. While the story does indeed continue in Heal, the pacing and atmosphere of both books are very different. And each novel feels like a complete story, which I was very appreciative of.

From the very start, A Time to Heal distinguishes itself from the previous book. While A Time to Kill was a fast-paced action/adventure, A Time to Heal is much more contemplative. If the first book is the story of the invasion and capture of Tezwa, the second is the story of the long slog of occupation. Reviews I've seen online say that the novel is "slow going," and comparing it to A Time to Kill, that's certainly true. But it's telling a very different story, and I felt that the pacing was entirely appropriate for the events of the novel. Starfleet forces, now occupying Tezwa, are trying to bring aid and support to the population, all the while under constant attack by forces loyal to deposed leader Kinshawn. As David Mack said in Literary Treks 250, if A Time to Kill is the 2003 invasion of Iraq, A Time to Heal is the long, brutal, and bloody 8-year occupation that followed.

Deanna Troi faces her demons in A Time to Heal.

Commander Riker, who was captured by Kinshawn's forces at the end of the last novel, is imprisoned and tortured for information. On the Enterprise, Deanna Troi questions one of Kinshawn's generals, who has been captured by Starfleet. This section of the story was certainly difficult to read, but it comes with some hard lessons, both for Deanna and for the reader. Deanna, desperate to get Riker back, ends up resorting to interrogation methods that push the boundary of the definition of "torture." These methods, of course, turn out to be ineffectual, proving that torture is designed not to get information but simply to inflict pain. At the end of the novel, Deanna has to come to terms with her feelings and what she has done.

A Time to Heal isn't, by any stretch, a light tale. There are some heavy themes being explored in its pages, but David Mack does an excellent job of crafting an engaging story that explores these issues in a mature and thoughtful way. War is never pretty, but Star Trek has tended to present a fairly sanitized version of war. Not so in this novel; men and women whom we have come to know well in the A Time To series are senselessly killed, and horrors are visited upon the crew and the people of Tezwa that would look very familiar to anyone who has been in armed combat.

War is stupid, senseless, and bloody. A Time to Heal presents that awful truth in a stark and uncompromising way.

Star Trek's vision of warfare tends to be very sanitized. Not so in A Time to Heal.

The fallout from these events continue into the next novel, A Time for War, A Time for Peace by Keith R.A. DeCandido. The conflict on Tezwa and the resulting suffering stems from actions taken by President Min Zife of the Federation, and his decision to cover them up rather than face the consequences. And the consequences that result from those decisions affect the Star Trek literary universe, even up to the present releases.

A Time to Heal also has a lot of great character work for the rest of the TNG cast as well. Geordi gets some interesting stuff to play with as he slowly pieces together the basis of the conspiracy that the Federation president has been party to; Picard and Crusher face the fact that their relationship has deteriorated as Beverly decides to move on to Starfleet Medical; and in a bit that I loved in particular, Riker acknowledges that his hesitation to move on to his own captaincy has had a detrimental effect on not only his own career, but that of Data, who deserves to move up into the first officer position at long last. Tragically, us fans who have seen Star Trek Nemesis know that he will not have the chance to take that promotion.

Final thoughts:

Overall, A Time to Heal is an excellent novel, showing the true difficulty and associated horrors of a prolonged military occupation. David Mack pulls no punches with this one, subjecting our heroes to a quagmire that was clearly inspired by real-life events in our very recent cultural memory. While the subject matter is certainly dark, Mack never loses sight of the humanity of the characters, presenting us with a story that will, sadly, be relevant for a long time to come.

More about A Time to Heal:

Also by David Mack:

A Time To...

My next read:

Next up is my review of the second book in the I.K.S. Gorkon series: Honor Bound by Keith R.A. DeCandido.