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


Purchase:
Mass-market paperback: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk
E-book (Kindle): Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk

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.

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