Monday, July 8, 2019

Thin Air

Star Trek #93
New Earth, Book Five of Six
Thin Air by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith
Published August 2000
Read May 16th 2019

Previous book (New Earth): #92: Book Four: The Flaming Arrow
Next book (New Earth): #93: Book Six: Challenger

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

Spoilers ahead for Thin Air

From the back cover:
Many light-years away from the safety of the Federation, the Starship Enterprise stands guard over an alien world whose unique natural resources could change the balance of power throughout the galaxy. The ship's crucial assignment: to maintain a Federation presence on the Planet below, to defend the world's newly arrived inhabitants from hostile aliens, and to fight a solitary battle against all who would claim the planet's riches for their own.

Against all odds, Kirk and his crew have preserved the struggling Federation colony on Belle Terre, but their heroic efforts may have been in vain In a last-ditch attempt to drive the entrenched settlers off their new home, the alien Kauld have contaminated the planet's atmosphere with a destructive biochemical agent that will soon render the entire world inimical to human life. With only weeks to spare, Spock races to find a scientific solution to their dire predicament, while Kirk takes the battle to the enemy, determined to wrest the secret of their salvation from the very forces out to destroy the future of this new Earth!

My thoughts:

The newly-established colony at Belle Terre is once again threatened by the Kauld, and similar to the previous novel, The Flaming Arrow, the attack is an unconventional one. In that case, a huge laser was directed at the planet which would destroy the colony; in this novel, the attack is more methodical and insidious: the introduction of a substance that would initiate a chemical reaction, creating a sort of thin foam that covers the surface of the planet, suffocating everyone and everything in its path. The description of the effect this smothering substance has on people caught in it was horrifying to say the least.

Thin Air is a huge improvement over the previous novels in the New Earth series. Everything seems to come together well in this installment, including pacing, characterization, and the writing in general. The threat is a unique and terrifying one, with a lot of thought put into it. More so than at any other point in the series, I was concerned for the well-being of not only our hero characters, but the inhabitants of the Belle Terre colony as well. The attempts made by Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the crew to combat the chemical weapon deployed on Belle Terre made a lot of sense, and the ultimate solution was logical.

Belle Terre is once again attacked in this novel, but not in a conventional manner; rather, elements from beneath the surface explode, forming a type of suffocating "foam" that will render the planet uninhabitable.

Rusch and Smith get the characters' voices perfect in this novel, which makes sense given their experience in writing Star Trek fiction. Additionally, this novel seemed to flow well from the novels before it, a feat that is impressive given the series' track record so far. Plot points hinted at in the previous novels are picked up here, making the story feel a part of a cohesive whole, rather than a patchwork of disjointed stories by different authors, as the previous novels have.

There is a subplot that I found interesting as well: certain members of the colony seem to have a sensitivity to the olivium that is being mined in the system. These children have been quarantined on the medical ship. The mother of one such child is aboard as well, and I found myself enjoying the story as she fights for her son's survival against what turns out to be a corrupt medical officer. The budding romance between the mother and the captain of the medical ship was fun, and I found myself truly caring about these characters whom we had only just met.

Similarly, I found Lillian Coates' part in the novel quite compelling. At one point, she is trapped in an area being affected by the suffocating foam, and her plight had me totally engrossed. She showed remarkable resourcefulness before having to brave the environment and being rescued at the last moment by a team from the Enterprise. Far from being a typical "damsel in distress," Coates did everything she could to survive, and I found myself wondering how I would fare given the situation she was in.

The fact that the story is "just" yet another attack on the colony by the Kauld that Kirk and company have to save them from does count against this novel, but it was done in a unique enough fashion that I am pretty much willing to forgive it. It is unfortunate that it has taken five books for this series to finally hit on a story that works for me, as the overall concept is a fascinating one and deserves better than to wallow in predictable and disjointed plots. Thin Air stands as a truly good entry in the series, but does not make up for the failings that preceded it.

Final thoughts:

The first novel in the New Earth series that I genuinely really enjoyed! The authors have crafted a unique and fascinating problem for the characters to overcome, and the descriptions of the effects of the Kauld suffocation weapon were vivid and visceral. A great entry in the series, but it is quite unfortunate that it took five books to get here. Here's hoping for a strong finish in book six!

Also by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith:

My next read:

Next up is my video review of the recent TNG novel, Available Light, by Dayton Ward!

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