Saturday, June 29, 2019

Burning Dreams

Star Trek
Burning Dreams by Margaret Wander Bonanno
Published July 2006
Read April 30th 2019

Previous book (The Original Series): Vulcan's Soul, Book Two: Exiles
Next book (The Original Series): Mere Anarchy: Things Fall Apart

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E-book (Kindle): | |

Spoilers ahead for Burning Dreams

From the back cover:
Before James T. Kirk, another captain stood on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise, spearheading its mission of exploration into the uncharted reaches of the galaxy. He was a man driven to perfection, a brooding soul whose haunted eyes reflected the burden of the impossible standards he set for himself, and for whom his longtime science officer, Spock, one day would risk everything. Yet, little is truly known about the enigmatic Christopher Pike, the events that defined him...or the secrets that consumed him. 
From the embers of his early childhood among Earth's blossoming interstellar colonies, to the terrifying conflagration that led him back to the world of his birth; from the mentor who would ignite young Chris's desire to return to the stars, to the career he blazed in Starfleet that would end in supreme sacrifice -- the path of Pike's astonishing life leads through fire again and again. But even amid the ashes of Talos IV, the forbidden world on which he would live out the remainder of his days, the dreams smoldering still within his aging, radiation-ravaged breast fan the flames of Pike's spirit to accomplish one final task....

My thoughts:

At the time that Burning Dreams was written, not much was canonically known about the history of Captain Christopher Pike. We have the original pilot episode, "The Cage" (re-purposed for the only TOS two-parter, "The Menagerie"), and that's it, canon-wise. Outside of canon Trek, there has been a bit more exploration, notably in the novels: Vulcan's Glory by D.C. Fontana and The Rift by Peter David being a couple of notable examples. But no one had tried to tell the life story of Pike, which is the ambitious goal of Margaret Wander Bonanno's Burning Dreams.

Christopher Pike's history is the focus of Burning Dreams.

The framing story has him arriving at Talos IV at the end of "The Menagerie" to live out the rest of his days in their care along with his former cage-mate, Vina. Getting to know one another, Pike begins to tell her his life story, beginning in his youth on the frontier world Elysium. Accompanying his mother and Heston Prescott, his step-father, young Chris spends his formative years helping Heston with his attempts to tame this new world and aiding a hired hand, Charlie, in raising horses. Tragedy strikes, and an out-of-control fire claims the life of his mother and step-father, and Charlie and Chris leave Elysium behind and return to Mojave on Earth.

Charlie, who is a crewman in Starfleet, inspires Chris to attend Starfleet Academy and become an officer. We see pieces of his Starfleet career as he ascends the ranks and becomes a model officer, eventually rising to the position of first officer under a questionable captain. Eventually, Pike learns that he was placed on that vessel to expose the crimes of his captain, showing how he would come to be known as an officer with impeccable moral character.

Burning Dreams was a fun novel to revisit, given the recent season of Star Trek: Discovery in which the classic character was played by actor Anson Mount. Reading this novel, I pictured both him and Jeffrey Hunter at various points. The Pike of Burning Dreams tended to echo the more brooding style of Hunter's portrayal, but both interpretations of the character seemed applicable to various parts of the novel.

Bonanno's characterization of Pike lent itself to both Jeffrey Hunter's and Anson Mount's portrayals of the character.

Overall, Burning Dreams is a fascinating study of the Pike character, delving into the experiences that turned him into the man we saw both in "The Cage" and Discovery. At times, a few of the plot turns and revelations felt a bit "soap opera-y," but Bonanno mostly does an excellent job of getting to the root of what makes this character tick. Pike's later life is one filled with tragedy, and his past reflects that same theme.

One aspect of the novel that I want to touch on is a part of the story set decades after Pike was left on Talos IV. Spock, receiving a telepathic summons from the Talosians, returns to Talos IV believing Pike to have passed away. His supposition turns out to be correct, and he is being summoned to take possession of Pike's remains for return to the Federation. This part of the novel ends on a surprising and very welcome note of hope, as not only have the Talosians done a great service to Pike by letting him live out his remaining years in their care, but he has returned the favor by putting Talosian society on a path to recovery from the holocausts of their past. Burning Dreams ends with the thought that Spock might argue for their admittance into the Federation due to the huge amounts of progress they have made as a society thanks to Pike's help. It's a wonderful note for the novel to end on and brought a big smile to my face.

Pike's legacy includes possible redemption for the Talosian species.

Final thoughts:

A touching novel that explores the life of Christopher Pike with a depth not achieved by any other work featuring this character. While some parts seem a bit on the melodramatic side of things, for the most part, Burning Dreams is a wonderfully written biography of what has become one of my favorite characters in Trek. It doesn't completely mesh with what we've come to know as canon with Pike's portrayal in Discovery, but that doesn't make it any less worth reading. Bonanno does an excellent job bringing this character to life from just one prior appearance in canon. Definitely recommended!

More about Burning Dreams:

Also by Margaret Wander Bonanno:

My next read:

Next up is my review of the second Star Trek: Titan novel, The Red King by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Flaming Arrow

Star Trek #92
New Earth, Book Four of Six
The Flaming Arrow by Kathy Oltion and Jerry Oltion
Published July 2000
Read April 16th 2019

Previous book (New Earth): #91: Book Three: Rough Trails
Next book (New Earth): #93: Book Five: Thin Air

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

Spoilers ahead for The Flaming Arrow

From the back cover:
Beyond the borders of the Federation, Kirk must bring peace and security to the final frontier. His new mission: to defend an isolated human colony an a newly discovered world, deter aggression from neighboring alien races, and ensure the survival of a brave new Earth. 
Belle Terre's stubborn colonists have survived the countless hardships and natural disasters of their new home, only to face a deadly foreign enemy. The alien Kauld, intent on claiming the world's unique resources for their own are determined to destroy the human settlements at any cost. Months away from any hope of Starfleet reinforcements, the Starship Enterprise is all that stands between Belle Terre and an all-out alien invasion. But Kirk and his valiant crew may not be enough to save the planet from a relentless assault by the ultimate superweapon!
My thoughts:

As I continue reading the New Earth miniseries, I find myself hoping that the overall story improves with each successive book. The overall premise is an interesting one: the Enterprise shepherds a long-term colonial effort as the colonists attempt to tame a new world. However, the execution has fallen short of expectations. The absolute low-point of the series for me, so far, has been book three, Rough Trails. So, going into this book, the fourth in the series, my expectations have been lowered significantly. It can only go up from here, right?

Thankfully, that does seem to be the case! The Flaming Arrow tells the story of a Kauld attack on the Belle Terre colony using an unorthodox method: a huge space laser, with a beam light-minutes long, which will completely obliterate the colony and its inhabitants if allowed to hit the planet. The laser is deployed from deep in space, away from the prying eyes of the Enterprise and her crew, and travels towards Belle Terre at the speed of light, relatively slow in the world of Star Trek.

I enjoyed the "low-tech" weapon deployed in this novel, as it made for an interesting problem to overcome for our heroes. The problem-solving employed by Spock as the Enterprise gathered clues and began its search for the laser beam was interesting to read about, and I also appreciated the roles that Scotty and McCoy had in the story. The two of them are out on a recon patrol using a small vessel, and their adventures made for some interesting reading, with the pairing of two characters who don't usually have a lot to do together.

Scotty and Bones had a fun B-plot together, reminding me of their quest to build a whale tank in Star Trek IV.

There were, however, aspects of the story that didn't sit well with me. For one thing, many of the characters we've come to know in previous novels seem off in this installment. Lilian Coates, who lost her husband earlier in the series, is one of the colonists we've learned a lot about through the course of the last few books. Her actions in this novel seemed out of place compared to her characterization in the previous novels, but of course that could be a symptom of so many different writers contributing to the overall narrative.

Speaking of which, the disconnect that I experienced in Rough Trails continues in The Flaming Arrow, in which situations and the overall state of the colony feels completely divorced from what has come before. There is still some stubbornness among the colonists, but nothing approaching the hatred many of them had for Starfleet in the previous novel. I wish there had been more of an effort to reconcile the differences between the various novels to make the entire miniseries feel more cohesive.

Final thoughts:

Some interesting ideas contribute to an overall gripping story, but many of the drawbacks in the rest of the series continue to play out here. Characterizations and situations feel off from what has been established in other novels in the series, and the aimlessness of the series continues to mar what should be an interesting concept. The plot by the Kauld in this novel was interesting enough to hold my attention, but overall I'm still not sold on the New Earth series as a whole.

My next read:

My next review is for the Christopher Pike novel, Burning Dreams, by Margaret Wander Bonanno.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Literary Treks 272: A Fun Borg Romp?

Star Trek: The Next Generation
by J.M. Dillard

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E-book (Kindle): | |

The Borg are no longer a threat thanks to the decisive blow delivered to them by the crew of Voyager upon their return to the Alpha Quadrant... or so everyone believes. When Captain Jean-Luc Picard begins to once again hear their thoughts in his mind, he knows the truth: The Borg are back in the Alpha Quadrant, with plans not just for assimilation, but annihilation. Starfleet is skeptical, but Jean-Luc is certain that if he does not act immediately, the entire Federation is in jeopardy.

In this episode of Literary Treks, hosts Dan Gunther and Bruce Gibson discuss the TNG novel Resistance by J.M. Dillard. We talk about the return of the Borg, the Enterprise's new Vulcan counselor, drama among the secondary characters, Picard's relationship with Locutus of Borg, the nature of the Borg Queen, and wrap up with our final thoughts and ratings.

At the top of the show, we judge the upcoming Discovery: The Enterprise War by its cover, and report on the sad news of artist Keith Birdsong's passing. We also respond to feedback from the Babel Conference about Literary Treks 270: Kirk is Dabbing Like a Warp 4 Loony!

Literary Treks 272: A Fun Borg Romp?
The Next Generation: Resistance by J.M. Dillard

Previous episode: Literary Treks 271: To Thine Own Self Be True
Next episode: Literary Treks 273: Unintended Consequences

Friday, June 21, 2019

Articles of the Federation

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Articles of the Federation by Keith R.A. DeCandido
Published May 2005
Read April 2nd 2019

Previous book (Post-Nemesis Continuity): Titan: Taking Wing
Next book (Post-Nemesis Continuity): Titan: The Red King

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

Spoilers ahead for Articles of the Federation

From the back cover:
Following the surprise resignation of Federation President Min Zife after the disastrous Tezwa affair, Nan Bacco of Cestus III has won a hotly contested election to become the new chief executive of over one hundred fifty planetary civilizations and their colonies. But no sooner does she take office than the Romulan Star Empire falls into chaos. With tensions already high, a Reman refugee ship is sighted approaching a Federation outpost, its intentions unknown. 
As the first year of the Bacco Administration unfolds, the Federation Council is slow to work with its new president, and not always supportive of her policies or her appointments to key council positions; a successful first contact suddenly becomes a diplomatic disaster; and the sins of President Zife prove difficult to lay to one celebrated Starfleet officer's career reaches a turning point.

My thoughts:

Outside of Star Trek, one of my favorite television shows of all time is The West Wing. I kind of categorize it with Star Trek: The Next Generation: both were shows about professionals working together to solve problems without rancor and animosity; seasoned, competent men and women led by a leader who wants only the best for the world, without personal greed or ambition getting in the way. Perhaps an outlandish fiction when it comes to politics, but certainly something I admired and wished the real world would aspire to.

Articles of the Federation is basically The West Wing in the 24th century, and I couldn't be happier!

Articles of the Federation combines two of my favorite things: it is basically The West Wing in the 24th century. In Star Trek, we usually follow the adventures of the officers of Starfleet as they explore space, defend the Federation, and engage in diplomacy. In this novel, however, we get a look at the Star Trek universe through a different lens: the civilian government of the United Federation of Planets, led by the newly-elected President Nanietta Bacco and her cabinet. The novel covers the first year of the Bacco administration, dealing with newly-admitted Federation members, crises involving the Federation's members and their neighbors, and fallout from the scandal that took down the previous administration of Min Zife.

While there are many familiar faces in Articles of the Federation, the novel features original characters not seen on television for the most part. Nan Bacco herself has long been one of my favorite litverse characters, and it was great to see so much focus on her here. Bacco's chief-of-staff, Esperanza Piñiero, is another character I appreciated. Following Bacco from her time as governor of Cestus III, Piñiero knows the president better than anyone else and is an invaluable member of her team. I also appreciated Jas Abrik, Bacco's security advisor, who joined the Bacco administration after serving as campaign manager for Bacco's main rival in the election, Arafel Pagro. His status as a sort of outsider leads to some interesting tensions in the novel. Finally, another of my favorite characters is Kant Jorel, the press liason for the Bacco administration. A Bajoran, Jorel's handling of the media was a highlight of the novel for me.

Articles of the Federation serves to move various plots in the post-Nemesis shared continuity forward, including the disarray in the Romulan Empire following the defeat of Shinzon in Star Trek Nemesis. A refugee crisis involving the Remans is one event that the new administration must navigate, as is the potential rocky relationship with the Klingon Empire following the actions of Min Zife, which are still being kept secret. This book also introduces a Trill reporter named Ozla Graniv who is hot on the trail of the Tezwa scandal, and the administration must find a way to keep the events a secret to protect the Federation's relationship with the Klingons.

It is truly a shame that we never got an Articles of the Federation 2, as I truly enjoyed this novel and hold it up as one of the greats of the entire Star Trek novel line. I am happy, however, that the characters we see in this novel will continue to make appearances in many more novels to follow. Articles of the Federation impacted the novels in a big way, and going forward, there would be a greater focus on the politics of the Federation. If nothing else, I appreciate that this story allowed the scope of future Star Trek stories to widen, so that we don't just see the impact of decisions on the crew of a ship or a station, but rather to the Federation as a whole and the government in particular. Star Trek features a vast universe in which many stories are possible, and politics and governance are some of my favorite arenas for compelling stories. Thank you, Mr. DeCandido, for putting the government of the Federation front and center and allowing us a peek into this fascinating corner of the Star Trek universe!

Final thoughts:

While this novel came out in 2005, for some reason I never got around to reading it until just this year, despite the fact that the subject matter is right up my alley. This has proven to be a glaring oversight, as Articles of the Federation has now firmly established itself as one of my all-time favorite Star Trek novels. Full of memorable characters and finally showing how the government of the Federation operates on a day-to-day basis, this novel was a heck of a lot of fun to read. I wish there was a lot more focus on the governance of the Federation in Star Trek, as it is fertile ground for new and different stories set in my favorite science fiction universe!

More about Articles of the Federation:

Also by Keith R.A. DeCandido:

My next read:

Next up is book four of the New Earth miniseries: The Flaming Arrow by Kathy & Jerry Oltion!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Taking Wing

Star Trek: Titan
Taking Wing by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels
Published April 2005
Read March 26th 2019

Previous book (Post-Nemesis Continuity): The Next Generation: Death in Winter

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

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

Spoilers ahead for Taking Wing

From the back cover:
After almost a decade of strife against foes such as the Borg, the Cardassians, the Klingons, and the Dominion, the United Federation of Planets is at the dawn of a new era. Starfleet is renewing its mission of peaceful exploration, diplomacy, and the expansion of knowledge. Among the starships spearheading that endeavor is the U.S.S. Titan, commanded by Captain William T. Riker and manned by the most biologically varied and culturally diverse crew in Starfleet history.

But their mission does not begin according to plan.

In the wake of Star Trek Nemesis, Praetor Shinzon, slayer of the Romulan Senate, is dead. The power vacuum created by his demise has put the Romulan Star Empire, longtime adversary of the Federation, at the brink of civil war. Competing factions now vie for control of their fragmenting civilization, and if the empire should fall, that entire area of the galaxy may destabilize.

To restore order to the region, Titan 's long-anticipated mission of exploration is delayed as Starfleet assigns Riker to set up power-sharing talks among the Romulan factions. But even as the first tentative steps are taken toward building a new Romulus, the remnants of the Tal Shiar, the dreaded Romulan intelligence service, are regrouping behind the scenes for a power play of their own. With no other help available, Riker and the Titan crew become the last hope to prevent the quadrant from falling into chaos.

My thoughts:

When Star Trek Nemesis first hit theatres, I remember thinking that it would be very cool to be able to follow Riker to the Titan and learn about his adventures as the new captain of that vessel. We didn't have to wait too long as Simon & Schuster picked up that particular ball and ran with it, introducing the Star Trek: Titan novel series in April of 2005. It was clear that the idea for the series as a whole was as a re-invigoration of Starfleet's primary mission to "boldly go where no one has gone before," with the Titan leading a new mission of discovery. However, there was one small detail to contend with: as Riker told Picard at the end of Nemesis, Titan's first mission would be go to Romulus to help pick up the pieces after Shinzon's coup and attempted attack on the Federation.

This novel marks the beginning of the voyages of the Starship Titan under the command of Captain William T. Riker.

I didn't pick up the series right away, instead first reading it in 2009. I remember being very interested in a new "strange new worlds" series, with an increased focus on exploration. The initial foray into Romulan politics didn't interest me very much, and I kind of saw it as something I had to get through in order to get to the good stuff.

Fast forward ten years, and my attitude has completely changed. Reading Taking Wing this time around, I found myself fascinated with the Romulan political situation and the various players involved. I think part of the reason for the changed attitude comes from having already read the rest of the Titan series. Whereas the first time around, I was endlessly fascinated with the diverse crew and learning their stories and always wanting to get back to that part of the novel, this time I was already familiar with this crew and the diversity of Titan, allowing me to focus more on the story and really get into it.

Titan arrives at Romulus to take part in power-sharing talks between a number of factions vying for control of the Romulan Empire, including the self-proclaimed Praetor Tal'Aura, the Tal Shiar, Spock's reunification movement, the Remans, the military, and other aspects of the Romulan government. As one would imagine, backroom plots and intrigue abound as each group maneuvers to gain power in the Empire.

The Romulan military, represented by commanders Donatra and Suran, has a stake in power-sharing talks on Romulus.

As I mentioned above, I found the Romulan political story to be quite intriguing. Characters such as Commander Donatra (whom we first met in Nemesis) are more complex that it would appear at first blush; when you think you have someone's motives and plans figured out, they often surprise you by going in a completely different direction.

An interesting addition to the story is Commander Tuvok, who was caught on Romulus while carrying out an undercover mission to make contact with Ambassador Spock's reunification movement. This character has a long history with Admiral Akaar, who is also aboard the Titan for the mission, adding some interesting unanswered questions about their backstory.

Commander Tuvok finds himself aboard the Titan after being rescued from a failed undercover mission on Romulus.

The final resolution to the Romulan power-sharing plot was unexpected and an interesting turn of events as Riker engineers a situation in which all sides agree to the Klingons acting as an intermediary and admitting the Remans as a protectorate of the Klingon Empire, while still residing within the Romulan sphere of influence. It is a solution that is unorthodox to say the least, and it will be interesting to see how it affects events moving forward, especially given what we know will happen to the Empire in the books to come. No spoilers on that point here, however; you'll just have to keep reading the books if you want to know more!

The end of the novel features a surprising cliffhanger in which the bulk of the Romulan fleet has disappeared into the "Great Bloom," the anomaly that resulted from the destruction of Shinzon's warbird in the Bassen Rift (Star Trek Nemesis). Commander Donatra enlists Riker's aid in trying to determine what has happened to the ships, and of course both the Titan and Donatra's warbird, the Valdore, are pulled into the anomaly only to reappear heaven knows where... TO BE CONTINUED!

Final thoughts:

While I enjoyed Taking Wing the first time around years ago, I found myself enjoying it even more this time. The Romulan political story was fascinating, and I discovered much more to like about it reading it now. I also really love the crew of the Titan, and find the diverse species to be interesting and compelling to learn more about. I'm looking forward at making my way through the Titan series again as well as the other books that make up the post-Nemesis continuity!

More about Taking Wing:

Also by Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels:

My next read:

Next up: the landmark novel Articles of the Federation by Keith R.A. DeCandido!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Way to the Stars

Star Trek: Discovery
The Way to the Stars by Una McCormack
Release date: January 8th 2019
Read January 11th 2019

Previous book (Discovery): Fear Itself
Next book (Discovery): The Enterprise War

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

Publisher's description:
Despite being an inexperienced Starfleet cadet, Sylvia Tilly became essential to the U.S.S. Discovery finding its way back home from the Mirror Universe. But how did she find that courage? From where did she get that steel? Who nurtured that spark of brilliance? The Way to the Stars recounts for fans everywhere the untold story of Tilly’s past.

It’s not easy being sixteen, especially when everyone expects great things from Tilly. It’s even harder when her mother and father are Federation luminaries, not to mention pressing her to attend one of the best schools that the Federation has to offer. Tilly wants to achieve great things—even though she hasn’t quite worked out how to do that or what it is she wants to do. But this year, everything will change for Tilly, as she about to embark upon the adventure of a lifetime—an adventure that will take her ever closer to the stars….

My thoughts:

Click here to watch my video review of Discovery: The Way to the Stars, or click play on the embedded video below!

Final thoughts:

The Way to the Stars is an excellent bit of backstory for one of my favorite Discovery characters. The young Sylvia Tilly comes to life with a past that seems far too familiar to many people. Over the course of the story, she begins to chart a new course in her life and grow into the person she will become by the time we see her as a cadet in season one of Discovery. This book contains some great life lessons for those among us who may have struggled with the expectations of their peers and their parents. 5/5.

More about The Way to the Stars:

Also by Una McCormack:

Next time on Trek Lit Reviews:

Next up is my review of the first book in the Star Trek: Titan series: Taking Wing by Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Literary Treks 271: To Thine Own Self Be True

Star Trek: The Original Series
The Captain's Oath
by Christopher L. Bennett

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

Captain James T. Kirk: one of the true legends of Starfleet. Awarded command of the U.S.S. Enterprise at a very young age, Kirk made his mark on the galaxy with an impressive career commanding one of Starfleet's most prestigious vessels. But what made him the captain he would become? And how did his experience commanding smaller starships prepare him for the years spent commanding the Enterprise?

In this episode of Literary Treks, hosts Bruce Gibson and Dan Gunther talk about Christopher L. Bennett's new TOS novel The Captain's Oath. As a special bonus, the author shared his thoughts with us about aspects of the novel which we will share with you! We discuss the different time periods covered in the novel, Kirk's early years as commander of the U.S.S. Sacagawea, the fascinating cast of original characters created by Christopher L. Bennett, the mysterious threat posed by the Agni, Kirk's first mission as commander of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the disparate parts of continuity referenced in The Captain's Oath, and wrap up with our final thoughts and what Christopher L. Bennett has coming soon as well as where he can be found online.

At the top of the show, we review issue #2 of Star Trek: Year Five and respond to listener feedback from The Babel Conference for Literary Treks 269: Kellogg's Spock 'n' Krisp.

Literary Treks 271: To Thine Own Self Be True
The Original Series: The Captain's Oath by Christopher L. Bennett

Previous episode: Literary Treks 270: Kirk is Dabbing Like a Warp 4 Loony!
Next episode: Literary Treks 272: A Fun Borg Romp?

Friday, June 7, 2019

Enemy of My Enemy

Star Trek: Voyager
Spirit Walk, Book Two
Enemy of My Enemy by Christie Golden
Published December 2004
Read March 18th 2019

Previous book (Voyager): Spirit Walk, Book One: Old Wounds
Next book (Voyager): String Theory, Book One: Cohesion

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

Spoilers ahead for Enemy of My Enemy

From the back cover:
Captain Chakotay and his sister, Sekaya, are being held captive beneath the surface of Loran II by a Changeling--an outcast Founder masquerading as Chakotay's second-in-command, Andrew Ellis. To Chakotay's horror, the Changeling gives the two prisoners over to the infamous Cardassian scientist Crell Moset, who plans to use Chakotays's Sky Spirit-enhanced DNA to create a super species that will bring him the fame and acceptance he craves. 
Leaving Chakotay and Sekaya to their fate, the Changeling assumes Chakotay's image and infiltrates the Starship Voyager, putting the entire crew at risk. Dr. Jarem Kaz and Lieutenant Harry Kim, increasingly suspicious of their captain's odd behavior, turn to Admiral Janeway and Lieutenant Commander Tom Paris for help. As Paris races to save Voyager from catastrophe, the real Chakotay must undertake a "Spirit Walk" that could set him and his sister free--or lead to their ultimate destruction....

My thoughts:

In the previous novel, Old Wounds, we discover at the very end that Chakotay's first officer, Andrew Ellis, is actually a Changeling, the shapeshifter leaders of the Dominion. In fact, Ellis has been a Changeling for a number of years, having been replaced prior to the Dominion War. On the surface of Loran II, the Changeling has captured Chakotay and his sister, Sekaya, turning them over to Crell Moset, the Cardassian war criminal who performed horrific experiments on Bajorans during the Cardassian occupation of Bajor.

If nothing else, Enemy of My Enemy makes up for the lack of plot in Old Wounds by leaps and bounds. My biggest complaint about that novel is that nothing really happens; in this novel, a ton of plot is crammed in, making this story very heavy on the back end when you consider both books as one tale. However, much of it strained credibility and left me feeling ambivalent.

First of all, the main villain: a Changeling who was judged by the rest of the Founders and had his shape-changing ability taken away, much like Odo at the end of DS9's fourth season. He has gotten back a limited amount of his ability thanks to the research and experimentation of Crell Moset, who is aiding him in creating his own private army of Jem'Hadar-like creatures to be the soldiers in a new Dominion. He believes himself to be more intelligent than everyone around him, when in fact he has several glaring blind-spots that cause him to eventually fail in his plan. While I like seeing things from his perspective (which reveals him to be inept and fairly psychotic), I found it frustrating that he was portrayed as so incompetent. I don't know if this was the author's intention, but he really does come across as a bumbling idiot by the end of the novel.

The most interesting aspect of the story for me was Dr. Jarem Kaz, once again. The emergent personality of his previous host, Gradak, keeps vying for attention given the suffering that he and his fellow Maquis suffered at the hands of Moset. At the climax of the novel, Kaz allows Gradak to take complete control and gives him his moment of vengeance. However, things take an unexpected turn when Gradak doesn't kill Moset. Instead, he confronts the war criminal and makes him feel to the depths of his core the ruthlessness and brutality of what he has done. It was a supremely satisfying conclusion to that part of the story.

Dr. Crell Moset confronts the horrors of his past thanks to Gradak, previous host of the Kaz symbiont.

As for the rest of the novel, however, I found myself disappointed. While I had held out some hope that the Native spirituality aspect would be better than it was in the Voyager television series, that doesn't turn out to be the case. The reason for capturing Chakotay and his sister is due to the fact that they have "Sky Spirit DNA" (Chakotay more so because he got an infusion of it in the Voyager episode "Tattoo"). I have to admit that this is a storyline that I wish would just go away. In that episode, it is revealed that Native North American groups thrived thanks to the intervention of the "Sky Spirits," aliens from the Delta Quadrant who elevated Native North American humans and caused them to flourish. While I'm sure this wasn't the intention of the writers, it comes across as a "white savior" story as the Sky Spirit aliens are, of course, played by white people. Similarly, in this novel, Chakotay is oddly unable to make a decision about using his "Sky Spirit" power until Wesley Crusher shows up and tells him it's okay. No, really. That happens.

The subplot that I was most interested in gets very little attention in this novel as well. With Tom Paris having been called into service by Admiral Janeway, B'Elanna Torres is left on Boreth to continue her research into her daughter's role as the Kuvah'magh, prophesied savior of the Klingon people. While I was hoping for more movement on this plot in this novel, instead it's only very briefly touched on. At one point, two menacing-looking Klingons enter the library that Torres is studying in. Towards the end of the novel, she gets a handwritten note telling her that "the Kuvah'magh is in danger." That is the entirety of the advancement in this plot. Similarly, one of the other aspects I enjoyed in the previous novel isn't even touched on in this one. I rather liked the conflict that was brewing between the old-guard Voyager crew and the new arrivals. However, this aspect of the story wasn't even referenced in this second part. I do understand that both this and the Kuvah'magh story are setup for later novels, but I was frustrated that my favorite aspects of the story got very little attention.

Final thoughts:

Overall, an unfortunate disappointment. The conclusion to the novel was, in my opinion, confused and jumbled with some troubling aspects that have bothered me ever since their introduction in the Voyager television series. I find the contrast between these novels and the later Voyager "relaunch" stories by Kirsten Beyer to be staggering. While I'm sorry that Christie Golden's run in the Voyager series wasn't more successful, I'm happy that Beyer's books were able to take the premise and do new and interesting things with it. Full Circle is one of my favorite Trek novels, and luckily the story of Voyager doesn't end with this novel.

More about Enemy of My Enemy:

Also by Christie Golden:

My next read:

My next review is a video review of Discovery: The Way to the Stars by one of my favorite Trek authors, Una McCormack!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Rough Trails

Star Trek #91
New Earth, Book Three of Six
Rough Trails by L.A. Graf
Published July 2000
Read March 13th 2019

Previous book (New Earth): #90: Book Two: Belle Terre
Next book (New Earth): #91: Book Four: The Flaming Arrow

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

Spoilers ahead for Rough Trails

From the back cover:
Months after their departure from Earth, the struggling colonists have barely established a precarious toehold on Belle Terre, a ravaged world still recovering from a catastrophic planetary disaster. Fierce cyclones, storms, landslides, and flash floods make the survival itself a never-ending challenge. While Captain Kirk and the Starship Enterprise patrol the sector, on guard against predatory aliens and greedy space pirates, officers Chekov, Uhura, and Sulu stay behind to assist the hapless settlers in their desperate battle to put down roots in the turbulent soil of and angry planet.

But the imperiled colonist are fractious and intensely individualistic group, not inclined to take orders or direction from their Starfleet guardians. Chekov and the others find their ingenuity and diplomatic skills tested to their limits -- to save a people who don't want their help!

My thoughts:

I tried reading the New Earth miniseries years ago, but wound up not being able to get through it. Picking it up again this year to do these reviews, I couldn't remember where in the series I had abandoned it the first time around. As I got into Rough Trails, it all came flooding back to me.

That flooding pun was unintended, but I'll go with it.

In Rough Trails, the Belle Terre colonists struggle with the fallout from the events of the previous novel. Called "The Burn," the devastation wrought by the olivium moon explosion has thrown the colony into complete disarray. Radioactive fallout blankets parts of the colony, and some communities have descended into virtual lawlessness. All in all, the colonists of Belle Terre and their protectors from the Enterprise are having a pretty miserable time of it.

The plot of the novel kicks off when the shuttle that Chekov is hitching a ride on disappears, crashing while en route to a Belle Terre community. Sulu, Uhura, and Scotty must work to find their missing crewmate while confronting another looming disaster: a large impact crater containing a huge amount of water is threatening to spill its banks and flood a number of communities.

I have to be completely honest: I found this a very difficult novel to get through. The passages describing the hardships faced by the colonists and the crash survivors aren't just bleak, they are downright funereal. Seemingly endless passages going on and on about how dismal and hopeless the situation had become made this a really hard book to want to pick up once it had been put down.

This novel's focus on Chekov, Uhura, and Sulu over the more "main" castmembers was one of the aspects I enjoyed.

However, there are a few things about the novel that I did appreciate. First, the fact that it focuses on the "secondary" characters of Chekov, Uhura, and Sulu was most welcome. The Star Trek television series, films, and most of the books tend to fixate on Kirk, Bones, and Spock, and seeing a story where they were nearly non-existent was a very welcome departure from the norm. Second, there were a few twists in the story that I truly didn't see coming. The true nature of the "antagonists" for much of the novel, the Carsons, was really quite interesting. I had resigned myself to the Carsons being your typical rote villains, when it turned out they were anything but.

Probably the most frustrating thing about Rough Trails is the seeming discontinuity between this novel and the one before it. In Belle Terre, the Enterprise crew has just managed to save the entire planet after having evacuated its inhabitants. At the end of that novel, things seem optimistic and the colonists plan to inhabit the far side of the planet, virtually untouched by the explosion of the olivium moon. In this novel, however, the colonists have established a large number of disparate communities, eking out a hardscrabble existence in the wake of the natural disaster the explosion has caused, and resenting the hell out of the Starfleet personnel for reasons that seem hard to fathom. The colonists have descended into violence, at times completely out of control, and things seem completely disconnected from the previous novels. I like the idea of exploring these issues, but the change in conditions between the novels seemed far too abrupt.

Final thoughts:

Some interesting ideas are explored in this novel, most notably focusing on characters other than the "big three," but it is not enough to make me recommend it. The overwhelming bleakness made it a very difficult book to get through, and the disconnect between this novel and the previous one was very confusing. The ending made up for it a bit, but many of the plot elements and the behavior of the colonists seemed very out of place when put in the context of the rest of the series.

My next read:

Next up is the conclusion of Voyager's Spirit Walk duology: Enemy of My Enemy by Christie Golden.