Wednesday, July 31, 2019


Star Trek #94
New Earth, Book Six of Six
Challenger by Diane Carey
Published August 2000
Read June 26th 2019

Previous book (New Earth): #93: Book Five: Thin Air
Next book (The Original Series): #95: Rihannsu, Book 3: Swordhunt

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

Spoilers ahead for Thin Air

From the back cover:
Far from the reaches of the Federation, the Starship Enterprise has been guiding the development of a once obscure planet upon whose fate the future of the galaxy may now depend. The Enterprise has been the sole representative of the Federation, fighting a constant battle to protect the colonists from enemy aliens and standing alone against all those who have their own designs on the colony world. 

But all adventures come to an end. It is time for Captain Kirk and the Enterprise to turn over the guardianship of the colony to another ship and crew. The new ship arrives in the midst of a deadly attack on the colony -- and is destroyed. With the Enterprise off fighting a new and powerful enemy that threatens the colony as well as its enemies, Commander Nick Keller, first officer and ranking survivor of the decimated crew, is marooned and at first alone -- but he must find a way to complete his original mission and come to the aid of the Enterprise in what might be its most desperate hour.

My thoughts:

In this, the sixth and final novel in the New Earth miniseries, we find the focus of the main plot shifted away from the usual gang of Kirk and company. Rather, the main character is Commander Nick Keller, who we are introduced to as the second officer of the U.S.S. Peleliu. The Peleliu is a Starfleet picket ship, assigned as Enterprise's replacement at Belle Terre. En route to her new assignment, the Peleliu comes under attack by the Kauld. The first officer is killed, and Keller must step up into the position. As the captain of the Peleliu becomes more and more erratic, Keller finds himself in the unenviable position of deciding whether or not he should be relieved of command.

Meanwhile, a strange robotic mechanism seems to be repeatedly stealing quantities of mined olivium ore. Kirk and the Enterprise set off in pursuit, having to leave Dr. McCoy and Commander Uhura behind, as they have failed to report in. In fact, the two officers have been captured by an antagonist we first met in book one: Billy Maidenshore, the criminal who attempted to sell out the colonist fleet to the Kauld, has commandeered a prison vessel and taken Uhura and Bones as prisoners. Using Uhura's expertise, Maidenshore has maintained his cover and used the vessel to amass a fortune in olivium.

Challenger put Uhura and McCoy together in a fight for their lives, a pairing that isn't common in Trek.

When the Peleliu is critically damaged due to the actions of her captain, the Belle Terre colony is left without protection with the Enterprise away chasing down the supposed olivium thieves. Keller finds himself having to come up with a solution fast, after having arrested his captain and removing him from the field. His answer: to build a new starship using scraps and parts from the Peleliu, as well as other ships that have been decommissioned from the Belle Terre fleet. While the idea seemed to be pretty far-fetched, I actually found myself really enjoying this part of the novel, especially with the involvement of Scotty who is on hand to help Keller put his plan into motion.

I also enjoyed the resolution to the olivium storyline, with the revelation of where the material comes from and why the lifeforms behind the robotic probe were taking it from the colony. Additionally, we learn more about the fate of the Rattlesnake, a ship that went missing in the novel Belle Terre. The ending of this part of the story had a much more sci-fi twist than I was expecting, given the tone of the rest of the novels.

While I am still not a fan of the Billy Maidenshore character, I felt that he was used to much greater effect in this novel than he was in Wagon Train to the Stars. The eventual comeuppance he gets at the hands of Bones and especially Uhura was very satisfying indeed.

I quite enjoyed the characters that were introduced in this novel, and it is a shame that the Star Trek: Challenger book series didn't continue past its single entry, Chainmail, part of the Gateways crossover series. I enjoyed the "aw, shucks" nature of Commander Nick Keller, and liken him to a kind of Malcolm Reynolds of Firefly type character. There was one moment, however, that kind of took me out of the story, when Keller goes on an extended monologue about the value of big business and how they are the best form of charity there is. Capitalist ventures that succeed and are very profitable are the best thing for a planetary ecosystem to thrive, says Keller. I guess he's as much of a libertarian as Diane Carey is. No surprise there, I suppose.

Chainmail is the only other novel to feature Nick Keller and the crew of the Challenger.

The New Earth series has been a very mixed bag, with most of the entries failing to live up to the promise that the overall premise offered. However, I noticed a definite turnaround with the previous book, Thin Air. How does the final installment, Challenger, stack up?

Surprisingly, quite well! With one or two small hiccups, Challenger bested my expectations and turned out to be a great wrap-up to an overall-lackluster series. I would actually have enjoyed seeing these characters more in later novels, a fact that surprised me.

Final thoughts:

Challenger is an excellent conclusion to a series that has been frustratingly hit-or-miss, and mostly miss. The series overall could have used a big dose of cohesiveness, with each book flowing better into the next one. Instead, the series is very disjointed, but Challenger manages to bring everything to a satisfying close. There is a line on page 247 about how the space shuttle Challenger was the only shuttle that NASA lost, which has sadly not aged well. If only that prediction had come true! Overall, the novel was a fun read, with only a bit of a digression into a libertarian screed that kind of pulled me out of the story. Other than that, though, Challenger beat my expectations quite handily!

Also by Diane Carey:

My next read:

My next review is for Star Trek: The Next Generation: Q & A by Keith R.A. DeCandido.

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