Friday, April 12, 2019

Wagon Train to the Stars

Star Trek #89
New Earth, Book One of Six
Wagon Train to the Stars by Diane Carey
Published June 2000
Read January 8th 2019

Previous book (The Original Series): #88: Across the Universe
Next book (New Earth): #90: Book Two: Belle Terre

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

Spoilers ahead for Wagon Train to the Stars

From the back cover:
After saving Earth from the threat of V'Ger, James T. Kirk is called again to the final frontier. His new mission: to lead a valiant group of settlers to a distant world, to defend the struggling colony from alien threats, and to explore the diverse mysteries and dangers of a strange new Earth!

Far from the Federation, a newly discovered M-class world has been eyed as a potential home by a group of hardy and determined colonists. Starfleet can spare only one starship to escort the would-be settlers on their perilous voyage, but that ship is none other than the legendary starship Enterprise, commanded by the most well-known captain in the quadrant. Now Kirk finds himself responsible for the lives of 30,000 men, women, and children -- a task that grows all the more difficult when the expedition is caught in the middle of an ancient feud between two dangerous alien races!

Notable quote:
"I don't know why you let him get to you Jim. It wouldn't be the first time a corrupt carpetbagging hair-oil peddler decided he wanted some kind of public adulation and actually got suckers to vote for him by promising them whatever they want." 
Kirk leaned forward a little more, and met him with a glare of absolute agreement. "And anyone who promises you everything you want," he stated, "wants everything you have."

My thoughts:

Wagon Train to the Stars kicks off a six-book series that features the Enterprise  escorting a fleet of colony ships to a planet well off the beaten track. Along the way, they have to contend with pirates, differing attitudes, and even a villain within their own ranks. The colonists intended on making the journey alone, but Starfleet insisted on sending an escort along with them, giving James T. Kirk yet another excuse to eschew his Admiral role and once again sit in the center seat of his beloved U.S.S. Enterprise.

Making sure to ditch the "pajamas" they were saddled with in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Kirk and his crew don the "monster maroons" and head out into the unknown with a fleet transporting 30,000 colonists and their supplies to a far-flung world that lies well outside Federation space. The colonists are very independent-minded and wish to be free of the strictures of the Federation, intending to found the colony on this new planet, called Belle Terre, with the principles of self-determination and individual liberty. This is no surprise, given the political leanings of the author, Diane Carey, who is very famously libertarian.

Before embarking on the mission, Kirk ensures that his crew get the spiffy new uniforms, casting aside the "pajamas" from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

This, of course, leads to conflict between the leader of the colonists and the regimented Starfleet crew of the Enterprise, who are still tasked with protecting the flotilla even when it seems, at times, that the colonists don't want that protection. However, Kirk and his crew continue to provide the colonists with protection and administrative duties during their long trek to Belle Terre.

Speaking of administration of the fleet, this is another area in which Diane Carey's real life has a large influence over the novel. Carey is an avid sailor with a great deal of experience in navigating ships on the open ocean, experience that she brings to bear in writing this novel. The duties that the crew of the Enterprise have with regards to the fleet are couched in naval terms and the entire endeavor has the feeling of a terrestrial ocean-going voyage. Star Trek and naval tradition have long gone hand-in-hand, so this works quite well in my opinion.

Because this is the first novel in a miniseries, we get setup for a number of elements that will presumably play a role in the books to come. The first is a war between two groups: the Blood and the Kauld. For the most part, I enjoyed the fleshing out of these species and their long-standing feud. They look as though they will be an ongoing thorn in the side of the colonization efforts, and I admit to not quite knowing what to make of Shucorion, a Blood who is playing the long game and setting himself up to be a guide that the Belle Terre fleet must rely on. I have read a novel that takes place after the New Earth series, Star Trek: Challenger: Chainmail in the Gateways crossover series, so I know a bit about what the future holds for this character; I am quite curious about what will happen with him along the way.

One aspect of the story that I didn't really like at all was the primary antagonist: Billy Maidenshore, a con man and thief who has previously crossed paths with Kirk. His actions later in the story go so far beyond the pale that I can't think of him as anything other than a sociopath. I prefer the villains to generally be a bit more relatable, but there is nothing redeemable about this character. Any time he shows up in the story, I found myself mentally checking out, which is definitely an unfortunate reaction when reading any novel.

Instead of seeking out strange new worlds, the Enterprise leads a flotilla of colony ships with the mission to tame one.

New Earth is an interesting concept that has been done frequently in other science fiction settings, and it's fun to see it played out in the Star Trek universe. I find myself concerned, however, that it may not hold my attention for a six-novel series. This first novel wasn't bad per se, but I wouldn't exactly call it gripping, either. I can see this story working for a duology or even a trilogy, but I am curious to see how sustainable it is for six consecutive novels. Hopefully the novels that follow (by different authors, I might add) are much more exciting than this one was, or this may feel like a *very* long series indeed.

Final thoughts:

For the most part, Wagon Train to the Stars is a generally enjoyable beginning to the New Earth series, but it didn't really "wow" me. I'm curious to see how things go once the fleet finally makes planetfall, but there is nothing that really stands out as truly memorable or exciting. I did in fact start reading this series years ago when it first came out, but didn't make it very far before losing interest. I'm determined to get through it this time, however, and give it a fair chance. While this first entry is enough to keep my interest throughout, it doesn't make me excited to continue the series. That said, let's see where it goes from here! New Earth may yet surprise me.

Also by Diane Carey:

My next read:

Next up is book two in the New Earth series: Belle Terre by Dean Wesley Smith with Diane Carey.

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