Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Stuff of Dreams

Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Stuff of Dreams by James Swallow
Release date: March 25
th, 2013
Read March 26th 2013

Previous book (The Next Generation): Cold Equations, Book III: The Body Electric
Next book (24th Century Continuity): The Fall: Revelation and Dust

Click to purchase The Stuff of Dreams from! (e-book only)

Spoilers ahead for The Stuff of Dreams!

About the book:

Simon and Schuster have not provided a "back cover blurb" this time around, so my brief summary will have to suffice:

The Stuff of Dreams features a return to the Nexus, the mysterious space-time anomaly from the feature film Star Trek: Generations. Soran's machinations during that film have altered the course of the ribbon to such a degree that its orbit is significantly different from its previous route. It will soon enter Kinshaya space, one of the member states of the somewhat antagonistic Typhon Pact. On the scene is the starship Newton, and when the Enterprise joins her, the Newton's captain outlines his plan: destroy the Nexus before it can make its way into Kinshaya space and fall under the control of a potentially hostile nation. While Picard disagrees with this course of action, he goes along with it, seeing the greater good that it serves. However, things soon go awry when a saboteur derails the mission and the Kinshaya insert themselves into the goings-on.

My thoughts:

The Nexus: an enigma, and a damned annoying plot device at times!

The Nexus has long been one of the most vexing plot devices in Trek. Its appearance in Generations was used, for the most part, as a way of bringing Captain Kirk into contact with Captain Picard with seemingly not a lot of thought as to the true power of the phenomenon. The writers gave it far too much power, in my opinion. In that film, Guinan tells Picard that when he leaves the Nexus, he can go "anywhere, anytime." While that ability is used to face-palmingly little effect in Generations, The Stuff of Dreams handles the Nexus's effects much more intelligently. One character really does use the Nexus to go somewhere very far removed from the current situation in a way that I would expect that ability to be used.

Soran's echo's appearance is very
welcome in this novella.
Of course, if one writes a story about the Nexus featuring Captain Picard, he or she would be very remiss if the story didn't feature Picard re-entering the Nexus at some point. The Stuff of Dreams delivers on this point. Through Picard, we witness the power and enticement of this strange pocket universe which feels like being "inside joy," as Guinan described it. For me, Picard's experiences during this second trip into the Nexus were the highlight of this novella. His encounter with Soran's echo, in particular, was very revealing and gave layers to that character which were evident but not fully explored in Generations.

One of my recurring complaints with regards to ebook novellas is that the shorter form makes them feel rushed or incomplete. Not so with The Stuff of Dreams. Swallow has crafted a story that fits the format perfectly. Nothing is too rushed or left unsaid. The story has a very clear beginning, middle, and end, and it is paced perfectly.

Final thoughts:

A quick, fun read that adds a lot to the mythos of the Nexus and Picard's experiences from Star Trek: Generations. One thing that I kind of appreciated was that this story kept the origins of the Nexus obscured. A number of the characters ruminate on the reason for the Nexus, but nothing concrete is revealed. I believe that oftentimes, Star Trek is guilty of "over-explaining" things, and in this instance, the fact that the origin and purpose of the Nexus remain a mystery is a good thing. One more thing about the story for which I was also thankful is the lack of an appearance by James T. Kirk's Nexus "echo." I went into the story expecting that it might happen and was pleasantly surprised when it didn't. It wouldn't have added anything to the story, and I'm glad that Mr. Swallow resisted the temptation to include such an appearance.

More about The Stuff of Dreams:

Also by James Swallow:

My next read:

Computer troubles have delayed my publishing of my review of John M. Ford's How Much for Just the Planet?, but I'm hoping to have those issues resolved soon. Currently, I'm reading Greg Cox's latest novel, new this month, The Original Series: The Weight of Worlds.

Friday, March 15, 2013

In the Name of Honor

Star Trek #97: In the Name of Honor by Dayton Ward
Published January 2002
Read December 7th 2012

Previous book (The Original Series - numbered novels): #96: Honor Blade

Previous book (The Original Series - published order): The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh #1

Next book (The Original Series - published order): The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh #2

Click to purchase In the Name of Honor from!

Spoilers ahead for In the Name of Honor!

From the back cover:
Delicate peace talks between the Federation and the Klingon Empire become complicated when Captain Kirk discovers that Starfleet prisoners of war are being held captive on a remote jungle planet.  Now, with the unexpected assistance of an old adversary, Kirk embarks on a daring rescue mission, knowing that if he fails, the Federation will deny all knowledge of his intentions.
But powerful forces within the Klingon government are determined to keep the shameful secret of the hostages' existence, even if it means obliterating every last trace of the prisoners - and anyone who comes to save them!

My thoughts:

Over the past two years of writing for Treklit Reviews, I have come to appreciate the work of individual authors much more than when I was just a casual reader of Star Trek novels. With an on-going franchise like Star Trek, it seems that the tendency is to overlook the name of the author on the cover and simply see the large "Star Trek" at the top of the page and think you know all there is to know about the book. However, producing this blog and going a little more in-depth into the books themselves has led me to a greater appreciation of the styles of the individual writers. One particular author whose work I have consistently enjoyed is Dayton Ward, who often writes with fellow author Kevin Dilmore. Having enjoyed both his solo and joint efforts, particularly in the Vanguard series, I decided to look into his earlier work. To that end, I recently read In the Name of Honor, Dayton Ward's first full-length Trek novel.

Published in 2002, In the Name of Honor holds another distinction: it was the final Star Trek novel published under Pocket Books' old "numbered novel" scheme. This era marked a period of transition for Pocket Books, and in much the same way, the story of In the Name of Honor takes place during a time of transition for the Federation and our heroes.

Then-Ensign Garrovick, now Commander and first officer
of the USS Gagarin, and a prisoner of the Klingon Empire.
Set in the period between Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, In the Name of Honor takes place during one of my favourite periods of Trek history. This time period seems to be very much unexplored, and I find it to be a very interesting time for the Federation. While peace talks take place between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, Captain Kirk learns that several Starfleet personnel are being held at a Klingon penal colony, survivors of an attack on the U.S.S. Gagarin. Among these survivors is first officer Commander Garrovik, who was once a young ensign aboard the Enterprise, and who is the son of Kirk's former commander and mentor. Along with long-time adversary Koloth and helmsman Commander Sulu, Kirk ventures undercover deep into Klingon territory to free the prisoners before the Empire can completely cover up their transgressions in this matter.

At the heart of In the Name of Honor is the conflict between the old-guard Klingons who wish to cover up their secrets and the Klingons who come onto the scene in the TNG era: the followers of Kahless who believe in honor and eschew the despicable, dishonorable practices of yore. I really enjoyed Ward's portrayal of the Klingons here, and the conflict between the two groups and the coming change is a topic that works well for stories about the Klingons in the TOS / film era.

One aspect of the story that didn't quite sit well with me was the 180 degree turn that Kirk's character took at the end of the novel. Throughout the book, he is learning that not all Klingons are bloodthirsty murderers, and through Koloth, he is discovering that many of them follow a code of honor. However, at the end, after witnessing the atrocities committed by a few Klingons, he decides that the entire race is beyond redemption. To be fair, this is more of a problem with Kirk's characterization in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The change in Kirk's outlook is jarring, but I suppose it was the best that Ward could do given where Kirk ends up in Star Trek VI. As much as I love that film, Kirk's attitude (and the attitudes of many of the cast) is completely at odds with how the character had been portrayed up to that point. Compare Kirk's "Let them die!" in The Undiscovered Country to his complete disbelief and abhorrence of the very idea of "race hatred" in the TOS episode "The Day of the Dove."

Final thoughts:

Korax, another minor character from
TOS, features as the  commander of the
Klingon penal colony in this novel.
An exciting, action-packed, and well-written novel from Dayton Ward. I especially liked his take on the Klingons, and his writing lent them a diversity and depth that is sometimes lacking in other works. The turnaround for Kirk at the end, while necessary for the setup to Star Trek VI, felt a little off. Again, though, that is not the fault of the writer, but rather where the character is in the film. The scenes in the prison camp were particularly well-written, and I found myself empathizing with the minor characters who had been created for this story. I also enjoy seeing characters who had minor roles in televised Trek showing up in the novels and given a bit more to do, and In the Name of Honor uses a number of those characters very well. A truly solid novel, and one of the better TOS novels from this era that I've had the pleasure of reading!

More about In the Name of Honor:

Also by Dayton Ward:

My next read:

Next on the catch-up list is a classic: John M. Ford's How Much For Just the Planet?. Coming soon!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Devil's Bargain

Star Trek: The Original Series: Devil's Bargain by Tony Daniel
Release date: February 26
th 2013
Read March 3rd 2013

Previous book (The Original Series): Allegiance in Exile
Next book (The Original Series): The Weight of Worlds

Click to purchase Devil's Bargain from!

Spoilers ahead for Devil's Bargain!

From the back cover:
Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise are sent to evacuate the Omega sector frontier colony Vesbius - a pioneer settlement that is on the brink of an extinction-level event, threatening not only all of the colonists, but biological products that are vital to Starfleet. However, rescue efforts are being thwarted by the colonists themselves, who refuse to abandon Vesbius, claiming that their lives depend upon staying, while giving no reason why. It is after these irrational decisions that First Officer Spock makes a radical suggestion: Perhaps an unexpected ally could aid the colony and help complete the mission...

My thoughts:

Here it is, the second TOS entry in the 2013 Trek book lineup, a lineup which seems to be inundated with Original Series "5-year mission"-style stories. In an age where Star Trek novels are no longer constrained by the "put all the toys back on the shelf as you found them" rule, this type of story may seem a little out of place. However, while I generally prefer the stories that push the boundaries of what Trek is and has been, this type of retro, "old-school" Trek story is a fun return to the days of yore.

The Enterprise must save a planet
from an asteroid impact. Sure, it's
been done before, but the jeopardy
is well-presented here.
Tony Daniel, a newcomer to Trek lit, has crafted an interesting and compelling story here. On the one hand, we have a planet imperiled by an imminent asteroid collision. Not the most original concept in science fiction, and indeed, even in Trek, but the stakes and the drama are well-presented and compelling. The asteroid threatens the population of Vesbius, a colony that once belonged to the Federation, but seceded when they began to experiment with altering the human genome in contravention of Federation law. Now, their changed genome means that they are unable to leave the surface of Vesbius for extended periods, making an evacuation impossible. Believing that the Vesbians' plan to weather the impact in underground caves is a futile one, Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise embark on a mission to Janus VI (see: "The Devil in the Dark"). There, they plan to enlist the aid of the Horta, creatures who are able to move through rock as easily as you or I move through air. The plan is to have the Horta slice up the asteroid so that the Enterprise can break it apart using phasers and tractor beams, and move the pieces of the asteroid so that they do not impact the planet. Complicating matters is a terrorist group called the Exos, who believe that the Vesbians should be modified further to allow them to evacuate.

Devil's Bargain is a competent entry in the world of Trek lit. Daniel has captured the characters' voices pretty well, while at the same time taking our characters out of their regular roles and pushing them to encounter new situations. These scenarios largely work. Especially interesting to read was Spock coming into his own as a strong "patriarchal" figure, in some ways coming to an understanding of Sarek's own behavior towards him. Kirk is also in fine form here, and Daniel has written the crusty Dr. McCoy to perfection.

There are shades of Khan in the attitudes
and actions of some of the colonists of Vesbius.
When I first heard that this novel was going to be about the Horta, I was pretty excited. I love the exploration of these particular aliens because they are so different from the usual "forehead of the week" that Star Trek is sometimes known for. The openness and compassion of the Horta is juxtaposed with the bigotry and racism that is displayed by a number of the Vesbians in the novel. The theory, of course, is that the genetic tinkering bred superior feelings in a few of the Vesbians, in much the same way it did with Khan Noonien Singh and the Augments. One character displays open hostility towards Spock and is an adherent to a conspiracy theory in which the Vulcans are the true power in the Federation, and Humanity is led around on puppet strings by the Vulcan High Command. With this much overt racism towards a Vulcan, one can imagine how he feels about the Horta. My favorite scene in the novel comes when a young child expresses interest and curiosity about one of the Hortas and attempts to touch him. Her mother freaks out, and tears the child away. This is a perfect illustration of the idea that bigotry of many kinds is a learned behavior, and not something that usually comes naturally to children.

Spock and Horta: a winning combination!
I think my favorite character in this novel is the Horta known as "Slider Dan." Besides having a great name, it was fascinating following his journey as he became enraptured with the idea of space travel and his formation of the "Star Clan" of Horta. Given his desire to join Starfleet Academy, I kept hoping that he would be revealed as Naraht, the Horta crewmember that has appeared in a number of Trek novels and comics, including Diane Duane's My Enemy, My Ally and The Romulan Way, which she wrote with husband Peter Morwood.

Final thoughts:

An enjoyable outing for Kirk and the crew. I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of the racism and bigotry of a few of the Vesbians with the willingness to offer aid displayed by the Horta. Some interesting parts for Spock to play in this one, as well as the excellent characterization of the Horta characters, especially "Slider Dan." The numerous continuity nods were also nice, and it's clear that Tony Daniel is someone who known his Trek. I'm definitely hoping to see more from this author in the future!

More about Devil's Bargain:

Also by Tony Daniel:

My next read:

In the coming weeks, I'm going to be making a concerted effort to finally get caught up on reviews. Up next is In the Name of Honor by Dayton Ward. Look for that soon!