Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Shadow Lord

Star Trek #22: Shadow Lord by Laurence Yep
Published March 1985
Read May 6th, 2012

Previous book (The Original Series): #21: Uhura's Song
Next book (The Original Series): #23: Ishmael

Spoilers ahead for Shadow Lord!

From the back cover:
Angira is a primitive, violent planet--and young Prince Vikram returns from Earth filled with new ideas.
When Sulu and Spock accompany Vikram home, they walk into a bloodbath: reactionary forces, afraid of any modernization, have seized Vikram's rightful throne.
Suddenly, the men from the Enterprise are on an underground journey with a prince who is coming of age.  the future of Angira is at stake, and each man's survival depends on his skill--and daring--with a sword!

My Thoughts:

Well, where to begin?  Star Trek novels, I think it's fair to say, can definitely be hit or miss.  It's no secret that the earlier Star Trek novels had their fair share of misses, but there were obviously some great early books as well.  Highlights from this time are Diane Duane's My Enemy, My Ally, and what many consider to be the best Star Trek novel ever written, John M. Ford's The Final Reflection.  Unfortunately, Shadow Lord is miles away from being considered among these classics of Trek literature.

The story begins with the Enterprise ferrying Prince Vikram home to his native world of Angira.  The Prince has spent his youth living on Earth and learning about the Federation's ways.  His goal is to take this knowledge back to his homeworld in order to help his people "modernize."  First of all, Angira is at about the level of the 18th or 19th century, basically just now entering the industrial age.  Why is the Federation sticking their noses into this society?  What happened to the prime directive?  The prime directive does get some lip service toward the end of the novel, when Sulu is concerned that he has interfered in the natural development of Angira's affairs when he briefly takes command of the Prince's military forces.  However, Spock is working to modernize Angira's star charts and everything that Vikram learned is being introduced to the society as well.  How do these not count as "interference"?

Another problem with Shadow Lord is the portrayal of the characters.  I fear that Laurence Yep is very unfamiliar with Star Trek, as he gets a number of basic things plain wrong.  On a number of occasions, Spock is actually described as "smiling"!  Also, he takes the hand of a character during the novel in order to comfort her.  Gone is the pragmatically logical Spock of the original series who has forsworn emotion, and in his place is a man who shares none of the characteristics of the Spock we know and love.

There were a couple of things in the novel that did vindicate it a little.  The sniping between Spock and McCoy was well-written, and rang somewhat true.  Also, the descriptions of the sword-fighting and armies meeting on the battlefield were interesting; however, they seemed very out-of-place in a Star Trek novel.  I do wonder why this is a Star Trek novel in the first place?  As a work of original fiction, it seems competent and interesting, but the Star Trek elements seem tacked-on and forced.

Final Thoughts:

An interesting story, but very much not a Star Trek novel.  The characterizations were all wrong, the plot seemed completely out of place in a Star Trek story, and I question why this was written as a Star Trek adventure in the first place.  Sadly, I have to rate Shadow Lord quite low.

Final score for Shadow Lord is 2/10.  Interesting story elements, but the author's seeming-unfamiliarity with Star Trek makes the story suffer horribly.

My next read:

Novels I've read recently that still need to be reviewed: The Rings of Tautee by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, and Christopher L. Bennett's Ex Machina.  Typhon Pact: Plagues of Night by David R. George III coming soon!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Hollow Men

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Hollow Men by Una McCormack
Published April 2005
Read April 22nd, 2012

Previous published book (Deep Space Nine): Worlds of Deep Space Nine Volume 1: Cardassia and Andor
Next published book (Deep Space Nine): Warpath

Spoilers ahead for Hollow Men and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine!

From the back cover:
At the turning point of the Dominion War, Captain Benjamin Sisko of Starbase Deep Space 9, facing certain defeat by the relentless forces of the Jem'Hadar and the Cardassians, went through with a secret plan to secure the aid of the Federation's longtime adversaries, the Romulans.  What began as a desperate attempt to save lives became a descent into an abyss of deception, moral compromises, and outright criminal acts, as Sisko sacrificed every ideal he held dear in order to preserve the civilization that espoused those selfsame principles.
Now the aftermath of that choice is revealed for the first time as Sisko is summoned to Earth to take part in the first Allied talks to come out of the Federation's new partnership with the Romulans.  But Sisko's conscience weighs heavily on him, compelling him to seek some kind of penance for what he has done ... while elements within Starfleet itself set in motion a scheme to use Elim Garak as a pawn against a human political dissident who may hold the key to the outcome of the war.

About this book:

Hollow Men is a follow-up to the very popular Deep Space Nine episode "In the Pale Moonlight," a personal favorite of mine.  In that episode, Captain Sisko engages the service of DS9's enigmatic tailor and former spy, Garak, in order to create a forged depiction of a meeting in which the Dominion discusses a planned invasion of Romulus.  The purpose of this forgery is to convince the Romulans to enter the war against the Dominion on the side of the Federation.  The ruse is discovered, but the plan ultimately succeeds when Garak sabotages the shuttle of a Romulan senator, casting suspicions on the Dominion.  The Romulans enter the war, and the momentum of the conflict begins to shift.  Sisko is furious, of course, and wrestles with a guilty conscience for his part in the deception and subsequent assassination.

"That's why you came to me, isn't it captain? Because you knew I could do those things that you weren't capable of doing. Well, it worked. And you'll get what you wanted: a war between the Romulans and the Dominion. And if your conscience is bothering you, you should soothe it with the knowledge that you may have just saved the entire Alpha Quadrant, and all it cost was the life of one Romulan senator, one criminal... and the self-respect of one Starfleet officer. I don't know about you, but I'd call that a bargain."

Hollow Men deals with the fallout from that incident.  In the novel, Sisko and Garak are invited to Starfleet Command to attend a conference which both the Romulans and the Cardassian "government in exile" will be attending.  Sisko, still trying to come to terms with his feelings about the matter, is torn between informing his superiors of the truth of Senator Vreenak's death and keeping the secret.  Garak is very much against revealing what happened, and manages to convince Sisko to keep the information to himself for a time.  However, things come to a head when elements within Starfleet Intelligence seek to co-opt Garak for their own purposes.  Added to the mix are a former Starfleet officer and colleague of Sisko's, turned peace protester.

My Thoughts:

Hollow Men was a great read!  I admit to some bias, in that Elim Garak is one of my favorite Star Trek characters of all time, and Una McCormack writes him superbly.  Although Star Trek literature is often painted with the "low-brow" brush, Hollow Men is anything but.  Many issues are explored in this novel's pages, causing me more than once to put the book down and really contemplate where I stand on issues I felt were black and white.  For example, a sub-plot of the book is Odo's suspicion and pursuit of a former criminal aboard Deep Space Nine.  Odo suspects that he will attempt to steal a valuable shipment, but he has no evidence whatsoever.  However, he believes it to be all but certain that this former criminal will strike.  When Starfleet hands down a wartime directive that extraordinary measures may be taken to ensure the security of Starfleet installations, Odo uses this as an excuse to incarcerate this individual.  Now, I firmly believe that incarceration without due process is a violation of civil rights and liberties, but in this instance, Odo is proven correct.  Was he right in suspending the rights of the criminal?  (Incidently, it should be noted that Odo's capture of this being in no way prevented the theft.  What does that say about the effectiveness of heavy-handed techniques such as this?)

More than anything, Hollow Men is an examination of the thoughts and beliefs of Benjamin Sisko.  Wracked with guilt over the Vreenak assassination, Sisko does a great deal of soul-searching.  This led me to think of the people around him who have turned their backs on Starfleet ideals over the years, and paid the price for it: Cal Hudson, a Starfleet commander who turned his back on his uniform to join the Maquis, and was killed by the Cardassians.  Michael Eddington, an officer under Sisko's command who also joined the Maquis; he was captured by Sisko himself, jailed, and later killed by the Jem'Hadar.  Finally, Admiral Leyton, who sought to overthrow the presidency of the Federation and install a military dictatorship when he believed that the president wasn't acting in the best interests of the Federation.  In fact, in this novel, Sisko confronts Leyton about his actions, and how what Sisko has done mirrors them.  In gaining the aid of Mr. Garak and ultimately being party to an assassination, Sisko has also turned his back on the ideals of the Federation.  However, in this case, he is not being punished for it; rather, a great deal of good has come from that decision.  Understandably, this causes a lot of internal conflict for the normally principled and virtuous Captain Sisko, and Una McCormack writes this tension superbly.

There were a couple of small nerdly quibbles I had while reading Hollow Men: at one point, Garak seems unfamiliar with champagne.  However, if memory serves, Garak had already encountered champagne by this point, and in fact made a snide remark about Dr. Bashir's marksmanship with a champagne cork in the episode "Our Man Bashir."  Also, towards the end of the novel, the main power of Deep Space Nine is shut down, and the entire station is locked down and cut off from communications and aid from the outside world.  However, at this point in the series, the Federation's Ninth Fleet is permanently stationed at DS9.  Shouldn't they have been able to help?  As I said, these are merely the ramblings of a Trek-obsessed geek, and these minor quibbles did nothing to take away from the wonderful experience of reading this very well-written novel.

Final Thoughts:

With Hollow Men, Una McCormack has written a very "high-brow" novel, dealing with issues of betrayal, guilt, and redemption, while also expanding upon one of my favorite episodes of all time.  I highly recommend this novel to any fan of Deep Space Nine.  I also urge readers to check out McCormack's other Trek novels.  The Never-Ending Sacrifice, which I have also reviewed, was excellent.  And, in a few months, she has another novel coming out entitled Brinkmanship, published under the Typhon Pact banner.  Look for that soon!

Final score for Hollow Men: 10/10.  Superb, absolutely superb.

More about Hollow Men:

Also by Una McCormack:

My next read:

I'm a little behind on my reviews.  Look for write-ups of Star Trek #22: Shadow Lord by Laurence Yep, #78: The Rings of Tautee by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett.  Also being released at the end of this month is Typhon Pact: Plagues of Night, the first book of a duology by David R. George III.  Look for a review of that novel shortly after its release!

Friday, May 4, 2012

NEWS: Final cover for Titan's Fallen Gods

Pocket Books has released the final version of the cover for Michael A. Martin's Titan novel, which is the Star Trek novel for August.  The previous solicitation cover featured the USS Enterprise, leading some to wonder if the Next Generation crew would be appearing in the novel.  However, the final version has replaced the Enterprise with the USS Titan.

You can click here to pre-order Fallen Gods from  Fallen Gods will be released on July 31st.  

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Forgotten History

Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Forgotten History by Christopher L. Bennett
Published May 2012
Read April 29th, 2012

Previous book (Dept. of Temporal Investigations): Watching the Clock

Next book (Dept. of Temporal Investigations): The Collectors

Spoilers ahead for Forgotten History and the Department of Temporal Investigations series!

From the back cover:

The agents of the Department of Temporal Investigations are assigned to look into an anomaly that has appeared deep in Federation territory.  It's difficult to get clear readings, but a mysterious inactive vessel lies agt the heart of the anomaly, one outfitted with some sort of temporal drive disrupting space-time and subspace.  To the agents' shock, the ship bears a striking resemblance to a Constitution-class starship, and its warp signature matches that of the original Federation starship USS Enterprise NCC-1701--the ship of James T. Kirk, that infamous bogeyman of temporal investigators, whose record of violations is held up by DTI agents as a cautionary tale for Starfleet recklessness toward history.  But the vessel's hull markings identify it as Timeship Two, belonging to none other than the DTI itself.  At first, Agents Lucsly and Dulmur assume the ship is from some other timeline ... but its quantum signature confirms that it came from their own past, despite the fact that the DTI never possessed such a timeship.  While the anomaly is closely monitored, Lucsly and Dulmur must search for answers in the history of Kirk's Enterprise and its many encounters with time travel--a series of events with direct ties to the origins of the DTI itself ...

My Thoughts:

In Forgotten History, Christopher Bennett returns to the world of The Department of Temporal Investigations, the quirky government body that oversees and regulates all the temporal, timey-wimey stuff in the Federation.  This story takes us to the very founding of the department by showing us flashbacks to the events that necessitated the creation of the DTI.  Much like in Bennett's previous DTI novel, Watching the Clock, Forgotten History does an excellent job in explaining things from episodes of Star Trek that simply don't make a lot of sense when considered in the grand tapestry of Trek history.  Oftentimes, people tend to forget that Star Trek wasn't made with some kind of over-arching goal and narrative in mind; rather, it is a somewhat muddled hodge-podge of stories written over the course of 45 years by numerous writers.  Inevitably, something that writer B writes is going to clash with what writer A wrote years before.  In both this book and the previous DTI title, Bennett proves himself a master at bringing these disparate ideas together and creating a cohesive story from all the little bits that actually makes sense.  Forgotten History, for example, provides a valid reason why Starfleet crews aren't always going back in time using the seemingly-easy slingshot-around-the-sun method.  It seems that it's actually much more difficult than it seems, but then Mr. Bennett turns around and provides a perfectly cogent reason why Kirk and company are able to do it so easily in a Klingon bird-of-prey in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.  Another interesting so-called "ret-con" is the explanation provided for the alternate Earth featured in the original series episode "Miri," other than the old fall-backs of "Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planet Development" or "The Preservers did it."

Forgotten History also marks a return to the post-Motion Picture era of Enterprise history, a favorite period of Mr. Bennett's.  His enjoyment at writing in this time period is clearly evident.  I have yet to read his very well-known novel set in this era, Ex Machina, but it is on my list waiting to be cracked open, especially after reading this novel.  Indeed, as Mr. Bennett states in this novel, Forgotten History can be seen as both a sequel and a prequel to both Ex Machina and Watching the Clock.

The study of history has always fascinated me.  Disturbing to me is the realization of exactly how little we actually know about what happened in the past.  I was recently struck by these thoughts on a visit to the Seoul National Museum.  On display were relics from the distant past with authoritative labels explaining the significance of various symbols or garments.  It struck me that these are merely suppositions made by researchers rather than proven, reliable descriptions of what everyday life was like thousands of years ago.  Educated and researched suppositions, to be sure, but there is no way to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt what the past was really like without firsthand observation, which is obviously impossible at this point in our history.  We like to delude ourselves that we have a complete picture of the events, motivations, and repercussions of the past.  However, what we actually know is only supposition aided by various, biased views.  "History is written by the victors," as the ever-mercurial "they" say.  Forgotten History explores this concept somewhat, challenging what characters view as the immutable truth of their own history.  Heroes and villains of the past may only be in those roles because we've cast them as such.

James T. Kirk: Hero or villain?

Final Thoughts:

Forgotten History is probably the Star Trek novel I've been most anticipating this year.  For the most part, it did not disappoint.  Prior to its release, Christopher L. Bennett claimed that this novel could be viewed as either a Department of Temporal Investigations novel or as a novel of the original Star Trek series.  Indeed, after reading it, I can see how it can be both.  I'm a huge fan of the original series, and Bennett writes Kirk and crew very well.  The agents of the DTI took a bit of a backseat in this novel, and while I really enjoy the adventures of the original crew, I would like to someday see another book centered around the dour Lucsly and the slightly-more well adjusted Dulmur.

For Christopher L. Bennett's trademark explaining-away of discombobulated bits of Trek lore, and a damn fine story to boot, Department of Temporal Investigations: Forgotten History earns a 9.5/10 from me.  Excellent story, with Bennett's trademark humour and scientific acumen on proud display.

More about Forgotten History:

Also by Christopher L. Bennett:

My next read:

My next review: Una McCormack's follow-up to Deep Space Nine's "In the Pale Moonlight," Hollow Men.  Until then, LLAP!