Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Lost Years

Star Trek: The Lost Years by J.M. Dillard
The Lost Years #1
Published October 1989
Read: November 22nd, 2011

Next book (The Lost Years): A Flag Full of Stars

Previous book (The Original Series): The Cry of the Onlies
Next book (The Original Series): The Kobayashi Maru
Spoilers ahead for The Lost Years!

From the back cover:
"The Lost Years" tells the story of Captain Kirk's final hours in command of the USS Enterprise, and how he, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy struggle to establish new lives apart from each other and the starship.
We see the newly promoted Admiral Kirk, in charge of a specially created Starfleet division, as he attempts to defuse a critical hostage situation; Mr. Spock, who in the midst of a teaching assignment on Vulcan, finds the one thing he least expected; and Dr. McCoy, whose unerring instinct for trouble lands him smack in the middle of an incident that could trigger an interstellar bloodbath ...    

About the Novel:

As the novel opens, we see the final hours of the life of a Vulcan Kolinahr Master named Zakal.  Far in Vulcan's past, around the time of the Romulan exodus, Zakal is dying of a grave disease.  Extremely adept at the mental disciplines, Zakal is an opponent of Surak's reformation movement.  A former student comes to collect his katra (essentially, his living spirit, or soul).  Zakal surrenders his katra to the student, but as he dies, he swears that he will have his revenge on Surak and his followers.

In the "present," it is the final hours of Captain Kirk's five-year mission of exploration.  The Starship Enterprise docks at Starbase One in orbit of Earth, and the crew prepares to leave for their next assignments.  Captain Kirk has been lobbying Starfleet for another starship command; specifically, that of the USS Victorious.  However, they have been silent on the issue of his next posting.  Kirk does not want to be promoted to Admiral, and threatens resignation from Starfleet rather than accept promotion.  (After seeing Star Trek: The Motion Picture, we all know how that turns out.)  Spock has his choice of two assignments: command of the science vessel USS Grissom, or a position teaching at Starfleet Academy.  McCoy plans on visiting the people of the asteroid-ship Yonada on their new world, and reconnecting with Natira (see: "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky" - TOS).

The newly-promoted Admiral Kirk

Kirk eventually accepts promotion to Admiral, serving as a "diplomatic troubleshooter" with Vice Admiral Lori Ciana, an action which ultimately leads to the resignations of both Spock and McCoy from Starfleet.  Although the three friends are all each following a different path, events and circumstances will bring them all back together again.  A diplomatic incident erupts when Lieutenant Uhura and Ambassador Sarek are kidnapped by agents of an anti-government movement on a distant planet, and the galaxy is threatened when Zakal's katra is released from imprisonment on Vulcan.

My Thoughts:

Generally, a quite enjoyable piece of Star Trek writing.  As I've stated in earlier reviews, I like when Trek literature attempts to fill in the gaps left by screen productions of Star Trek.  The Lost Years was an explicit attempt to do just that.  I've always wondered why Kirk, someone who loved being a captain so much, would accept promotion to Admiral, and in this novel we are given that answer.  Also, The Motion Picture always had me wondering why McCoy resigned from Starfleet, and why Spock did the same and decided to become a student of Kolinahr.  We get those answers as well, but in the case of Spock's transition to Kolinahr student, I felt that the explanation was a little thin.  I understood the difficulties he had faced in this novel, but I didn't think they were enough to drive him to attempt to purge all emotion and vow never to see his friends and family again.

The crisis faced by Admirals Kirk and Ciana was interesting, and I enjoyed the slightly different than human norm way of thinking of the aliens.  The crises faced by Bones and his new travel partner, Keridwen Llewellyn, also felt real, as though we were dealing with real people who experienced real emotions.  I did, however, feel that the parts dealing with Keridwen being precognitive were a little strange.  I am a self-admitted skeptic, and that definitely colours how I view things like "psychics" and other "non-scientific" things.  However, it's Star Trek, so if I can accept Vulcan mind-melds and Betazoid empathy, I guess it's not much of a leap.

I did enjoy the exploration of the character Lori Ciana who, according to Gene Roddenberry's novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, was one of the victims of the transporter malfunction in that movie.  The revelations of the kind of person she was and what she meant to Kirk in The Lost Years added just that much more emotional resonance to that already disturbing scene.

Vice Admiral Lori Ciana, victim of a particularly gruesome transporter accident.

Finally, I do have to add that while reading, I paint a pretty vivid picture of what is happening in my mind.  While I enjoyed the fact that The Lost Years fills in the missing events from a not-often explored period of Trek history, I resented that I had to picture the Starfleet personnel wearing the Motion Picture-style uniforms!

Really, Starfleet?  REALLY?

Final Thoughts:

Always a fan of works that fill in missing periods of Trek history.  J.M. Dillard does her usual competent job here.  I also appreciated how much she used the history of the Romulans as outlined by Diane Duane in My Enemy, My Ally and especially in The Romulan Way, seeing as I had just read that novel.  It was definitely a pleasant surprise!

Final rating for The Lost Years: 8/10.

Also by J.M. Dillard:

My next read:

Right now, I'm reading Excelsior: Forged in Fire by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels.  I'm also anticipating the release of David Mack's final entry in his mirror universe saga, Rise Like Lions, due next week.  Hard to say which one I'll review first!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Romulan Way

Star Trek #35: The Romulan Way by Diane Duane and Peter Morwood
Rihannsu #2
Published August 1987
Read: November 16th, 2011

Previous book (Rihannsu): My Enemy, My Ally
Next book (Rihannsu): Swordhunt

Previous book (The Original Series): Dreams of the Raven
Next book (The Original Series): How Much for Just the Planet?

Spoilers ahead for The Romulan Way and the Rihannsu saga!

From the back cover:
They are a race of warriors, a noble people to whom honor is all.  They are cousin to the Vulcan, ally to the Klingon, and Starfleet's most feared and cunning adversary.  They are the Romulans - and for eight years, Federation agent Terise LoBrutto has hidden in their midst. 
Now the presence of a captured Starfleet officer forces her to make a fateful choice - between exposure and escape; between maintaining her cover - and saving the life of Dr. Leonard McCoy.
Here, in a startlingly different adventure, is the truth behind one of the most fascinating alien races ever created in Star Trek:
The Romulans.

About the Novel:

The Romulan Way is the second novel in Diane Duane's Rihannsu mini-series.  Dr. McCoy is apprehended aboard a transport craft by the Romulan military and sent to the home of a Romulan noble to await trial and execution.  The head of the serving staff, Arrhae, is actually a Federation deep-cover operative, Lt. Commander Terise LoBrutto, who has been living on Romulus gathering sociological information about the Romulans.  It turns out that McCoy's capture was not accidental, and he has specifically sought out this operative on behalf of Starfleet Intelligence to determine why she has not filed a report in nearly two years.  The fear at Starfleet is that Terise has become too enamoured with Romulan society and is beginning to forget who she is and where she is from.  McCoy has a pre-arranged rescue planned -- will Terise go with him, or will she choose to remain behind?

The novel also tells us of the history of the Romulan people since the "sundering" -- the division of the Romulans and the Vulcans two thousand years ago.  Every second chapter gives us a little more of the history, including Diane Duane's take on The Romulan War between Earth and the Romulan Star Empire.

My Thoughts:

The Romulan Way was initially published as a stand-alone novel, with some elements that could qualify it as a sequel to My Enemy, My Ally.  With the publication of Swordhunt and Honor Blade in 2000, My Enemy, My Ally and The Romulan Way were re-branded as books one and two of the Rihannsu saga.  A fifth book, The Empty Chair, was published in 2006.

In the tradition of John M. Ford's Klingon novel, The Final Reflection, The Romulan Way seems to be a definitive telling of the history and customs of the Romulan people.  We learn much about Romulan ideology (like we did in My Enemy, My Ally), and also a great deal about the history of the Romulan people, who call themselves the Rihannsu.  Of course, a lot of this information has since been contradicted by what has become known as "canon" Star Trek; for example, events such as the Earth/Romulan War, the date the Federation was established as a political entity, and first contact with the Vulcans are all presented much differently in The Romulan Way than in televised Trek.  This is obviously completely forgivable as this novel was published years before Star Trek: First Contact or the television series Star Trek: Enterprise were produced.  Another small issue is with Romulus' sister planet, Remus.  Described as lush and beautiful in The Romulan Way, 2002's Star Trek Nemesis paints a much different picture.

The Romulan Way mentions that first contact with the Vulcans
was with the Federation, rather than with the post-apocalyptic
Earth as depicted in 1996's Star Trek: First Contact.

The harsh, arid surface of Remus as seen in Star Trek Nemesis.

The Romulan Way gives us a great insight into the codes of honor and "face-saving" traditions of the Romulan people.  This especially struck a chord with me, as I am currently living in South Korea teaching English.  As a Canadian, I was unprepared for how big a deal the concept of "saving face" is here.  Much like in Romulan society, it is important in Korea to remember that embarrassing someone higher in the social strata than you should be avoided at all costs (in the case of Korea, that is anyone who is older than you).

We see the return of many characters from Diane Duane's previous Rihannsu novel: Ensign (now Lieutenant) Nahraht, the Horta; also, Commander Ael and the crew of the Bloodwing make another appearance.  Not as heavily featured as they were in My Enemy, My Ally, they nonetheless play a crucial role in the plot.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Romulan Way, both for the intrigue and suspense of the plot and for the anthropological exploration of Romulan society.  Of special interest was Duane's depiction of the early days of Surak's reformation on Vulcan, and what led to the exodus of the Romulans.

Final Thoughts:

Very enjoyable and a fascinating read.  The Romulan Way has made me very excited to read the remaining books in the Rihannsu saga!  A few continuity issues briefly took me out of the story, but that is, of course, due to no fault of the author.

Final rating for The Romulan Way: 9/10.
My next read:

I've started reading one of the classic hardcovers from my library: The Lost Years by J.M. Dillard, dealing with the years between the end of Captain Kirk's five-year mission and the feature film Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Children of Kings

Star Trek: The Children of Kings by David Stern
Published May 2010
Read: November 10, 2011

Previous book (The Original Series): Unspoken Truth
Next book (The Original Series): Cast No Shadow
Spoilers ahead for The Children of Kings!

From the back cover:
A distress call goes out from a Federation outpost near the Klingon border.  The U.S.S. Enterprise, under the command of Captain Christopher Pike, responds.  Starbase 18 lies in ruin.  There are no survivors.  And there is no clue as to who is responsible for the attack, until Captain Pike's brilliant science officer discovers a means of retrieving parts of the station's log.  Lieutenant Spock has detected signs of a unique energy signature, one that he believes is Klingon.  There are unsubstantiated reports that the Klingon Empire has made a technological leap forward and created a cloaking device--code-named Black Snow Seven--that can shield their ships from even the most advanced sensors.  The destruction of the base and the unique energy signature that remains prove that the Empire has succeeded. 
For generations the Orions have been known as pirates, operating at the margins, outside of legal conventions.  A proud and powerful race, the Orions were once a major force in the sector, and they have been using the tension between the Klingon Empire and the Federation to rebuild their power.  Captain Pike is charged with trying foster cooperation between the Orions and the Federation.  A distress call from an Orion vessel offers him the perfect opportunity.  But the Orion ship lies is disputed space long claimed by the Klingon Empire, and crossing it could be the spark that sets off an interstellar war.

About the Novel:

The Children of Kings is set during the Captain Pike-era of Star Trek lore.  The Enterprise is responding to a distress call from Starbase 18, seemingly under attack by Klingons.  The starbase is destroyed, but not all is as it seems.

Dr. Boyce, the Enterprise's chief medical officer, is captured by Orions during a supposed rescue mission, which was merely a ruse.  Boyce is forced by the Orion leader (called the "tallith") to work on a serum designed to prolong life.  Meanwhile, the Enterprise crew is led to believe that Captain Pike has been killed.  With the arrival of a number of starships to augment the Enterprise in the area, command of Enterprise is given to Captain Dmitri Vlasidovich.

During the course of The Children of Kings, we learn more about the Orions, work with a renegade Klingon captain to rescue his father, and learn about the machinations of a pair of Starfleet Intelligence operatives determined to pin the attack on Starbase 18 on the Klingons and steal a prototype Klingon cloaking device.

My Thoughts:

Where do I begin?  The Children of Kings left me confused and befuddled for much of the time I was reading.  I was expecting a straight-forward Star Trek adventure taking place in the period of time before Kirk took command of the ship.  Indeed, several times we are told that the novel takes place three months into Captain Pike's five-year mission.  However, a number of things didn't add up that made this detail-oriented Trekkie bristle.  For example, the book makes mention of "red-shirts" a number of times.  However, during Pike's time, the uniform colour scheme didn't include red.  Number One, Pike's first officer, accesses a database belonging to the Ferengi Commerce Authority.  While the Ferengi had been encountered before this point in the television series Enterprise (see: "Acquisition"), formal first contact would not be made until Star Trek: The Next Generation, over one hundred years after this book supposedly takes place.  Certainly, enough would not have been known to be able to access one of their government databases.  Finally, the Klingons' development of a cloaking device at this time in Trek history does not track with what we know about when the cloaking device was created and by whom.

After many pages of head-scratching, I finally reached the end, where the author's notes informed me that the book did not conform to the "prime" Star Trek timeline, and instead should be read as a prequel to the "new timeline" movie, Star Trek, that came out in 2009. NOW everything makes sense!  If only this information had been included in an "historical note" or the like at the beginning of the novel, I would have been saved much confusion.  The unfortunate thing is that The Children of Kings doesn't even precisely follow the new Star Trek continuity either, as the adventure in the movie is mentioned as being the "maiden voyage" of the Enterprise.

Which Captain Pike?  Jeffrey Hunter or Bruce Greenwood?

 Which U.S.S. Enterprise?

Some of the writer's choices of language and style didn't sit very well with me, either.  For example, at two points in the book, Stern writes characters as thinking "not."  As in, the way we would make a lame joke in the 90s: "Are you coming to my party?"  "Yes... NOT!"  This really took me out of the story, and had me wondering why a book written in 2010 featuring characters in the 23rd century would make them sound like school kids from the mid-90s.

The positives:  It was nice to learn more about the Orions and their culture, and the opportunity to follow the lives of characters we don't know much about is always welcome.

The negatives:  I think that Trek literature affords the opportunity for writers to "fill in the gaps" in Star Trek history.  It would have been nice to see more of what happened to Spock and Pike's crew in the early days of their careers.  Because The Children of Kings doesn't seem to conform to any particular Trek continuity, it's frustrating that this is not accomplished.

Final Thoughts:

Confusing plot and setting elements, as well as a plot that leaves a number of threads dangling (What will become of the Orion government?  What will the fall-out with the Klingons and Starfleet Intelligence be?) made this a less-than-enjoyable reading experience.  This book had a lot of potential, and I feel it would have been much better had Mr. Stern stuck with one particular continuity rather than muddying the issue.

I'm currently enjoying book two of Diane Duane's Rihannsu saga, The Romulan Way, co-written with Peter Morwood.  Look for a review of that novel soon!

As always, LLAP!

Monday, November 7, 2011

What Judgments Come

Star Trek: Vanguard: What Judgments Come by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore
Published September 2011
Read: November 5th, 2011

Previous book (Vanguard): Declassified
Next book (Vanguard): Storming Heaven

Spoilers ahead for What Judgments Come and the rest of the Vanguard series!

From the back cover:
Operation Vanguard has risked countless lives and sacrificed entire worlds to unlock the secrets of the Shedai, an extinct alien civilization whose technology can shape the future of the galaxy.  Now, Starfleet's efforts have roused the vengeful Shedai from their eons of slumber.  As the Taurus Reach erupts with violence, hundreds of light-years away, on "The Planet of Galactic Peace," Ambassador Jetanien and his counterparts from the Klingon and Romulan Empires struggle to avert war by any means necessary.  But Jetanien discovers their mission may have been designed to fail all along ... Meanwhile, living in exile on an Orion ship is the one man who can help Starfleet find an ancient weapon that can stop the Shedai: Vanguard's former commanding officer, Diego Reyes. 

About the Novel:

In this, the second-to-last novel in the Vanguard series, we find most of our characters at a crossroads.  In "exile" aboard Ganz's ship, the Omari-Ekon, former Commodore Diego Reyes is surreptitiously contacted by Lieutenant T'Prynn via Dr. Fisher and Tim Pennington. The Vanguard operation relies on knowing where Ganz got the artifact he traded in the previous full-length novel (Precipice), so they convince Reyes to break into the Omari-Ekon's computers to steal the navigational data.  Attempting to do so without being caught, Reyes places himself in grave danger of being discovered by the Orions.

Another project being undertaken by the Vanguard crew is an attempt to contact the Shedai Wanderer, trapped within the crystalline device in the possession of Starfleet.  The experiments to contact her are being held aboard the U.S.S. Lovell, so that if anything goes wrong, the station will be (relatively) safe.  Of course, something does go wrong, and in true Vanguard style, huge sacrifices are made to ensure the situation is brought under control.

Meanwhile, Cervantes Quinn has once again fallen off the wagon.  With the death of his lover, Briget McLellan in the previous story, "The Stars Look Down" (found in the anthology Declassified), Quinn has turned his back on his new-found purpose and energy.  Instead, he has fallen into his old habits of drinking and getting into bar fights at his regular watering hole in Star's Landing.  Tim Pennington attempts to reach out to his old friend, but when all he gets in return is a right cross, Tim leaves Quinn to his self-destructive behavior.

On a Klingon colony planet, the Tholians deploy a weapon that, while originally meant to pacify the population, has the unexpected effect of killing every citizen on the planet.  The Starship Defiant arrives on the scene, finding the bodies of the Klingon colonists.  They discover a piece of Tholian equipment left behind and transport it aboard as evidence.  As they are leaving the area, they are being chased by Tholian vessels.  Soon, they receive a distress call, and change course to investigate.  I think I am not spoiling too much in revealing the end result of that investigation.  See "The Tholian Web" (TOS) and "In a Mirror, Darkly" (ENT).

Finally, on Nimbus III, the so-called "Planet of Galactic Peace," Ambassadors Jetanian and Lugok, along with Senator D'Tran, begin to see their grand project unravel.  The colonists have begun to fight among themselves, and soon turn against the government.  Ultimately, "The Planet of Galactic Peace" seems to be anything but.

With all these disparate stories coming to a head, we find ourselves set up for the final book in the Vanguard saga, Storming Heaven, coming in March 2012.

My Thoughts:

What Judgments Come is a competent, well-told outing in the tradition of the Vanguard series.  Dilmore and Ward have crafted a terrific tale of action, intrigue, and suspense.  I especially loved the format in which the story was told: the entire narrative is told as a flashback by Diego Reyes to Tim Pennington, who has found the former commander of Starbase 47 living essentially under "witness protection" on the back-water colony of Caldos II (featured in the abominable episode "Sub Rosa," from TNG's seventh season).  It is a couple of years after the main events in the novel, and Pennington wishes to hear what happened from Reyes' perspective.

As for the story itself, the feeling of setup is ever-present in this novel.  Many pieces are being put in place for the ultimate payoff in the final novel.  There are a number of shocking moments, chief among them the end of Orion crime lord Ganz's story.  This is one area where I felt that the story faltered a little bit.  When we were first introduced to Ganz, he seemed to be a formidable enemy whom we should rightfully fear.  However, in this book, he doesn't quite pack the same punch, seeming more like a cartoonish villain obsessed with revenge.

I'm very saddened by where Cervantes Quinn has found himself.  I desperately want his character to have a happy ending, but I'm not optimistic about it.  As his name implies, he is very much a quixotic character.  I'm hoping to see him come into his own once again, but as I said, I'm not counting on it.

The positives: Setting up the Vanguard storyline and the characters for the payoff in Storming Heaven has me really wanting to read more, and now!  March seems so far away.  At the same time, I will be very sad to see the story end.  I definitely have mixed feelings.  I am also apprehensive that the next book, written by David Mack, will kill off an unprecedented number of characters whom I have come to know and love.  I say this because Mack is notorious in Star Trek literature circles for killing off many characters.  However, this just makes me even more eager to read the rest of the story!

The negatives: Very few, with the exception of some of the characterizations.  As I mentioned, Ganz seemed off a bit.  I have mixed feelings about the Orion storyline; as the Omari-Ekon left at the end, I wasn't sure if I wanted them to come back in the next book or not.  The ending of their storyline fell a little flat in my opinion.  I don't think I would mind if they came back for a more satisfying conclusion.

Final Thoughts:

All-in-all, another excellent entry in the Vanguard saga!  I fear for the lives of the remaining characters, but I can't wait to see where this all ends up.

Final rating: 8/10.

Also by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore:

More about What Judgments Come:

My next read:

I'm finally caught up on all of the recent new releases of Star Trek fiction!  Until Rise Like Lions comes out at the end of this month, I have no new Trek fiction to read.  I've had a request from one of my friends to review one of William Shatner's Star Trek novels: specifically, The Return.  However, it doesn't seem to be available as an e-book, and I'm afraid my dead-tree copy is back home in Canada, on the other side of the Pacific Ocean from where I am.  Sorry Fergal!  Instead, I'll be reading one of the Original Series novels from a couple of years ago, The Children of Kings.