By the Book, by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Everything about first contact seemed so clear when we left Earth.  Now nothing does.
-Captain Jonathan Archer of the starship Enterprise


The final frontier had to start somewhere….

In the days before the Federation was born, humanity finally got its act together enough (with perhaps a little Vulcan help…very little) to build a starship to meet their galactic neighbors.  That’s pretty much all you need to know about Enterprise.  The latest Star Trek franchise, it’s got a great premise-even Kirk had a Federation to defend, and knew of many alien races already.  Enterprise is a bit more pure in the fact that everything is new:  the technology, the aliens, and the crew.

By the Book is the first Enterprise original novel.  Knowing this, I will attempt to be kind.

Early in their maiden voyage (probably just after the second episode, although it isn’t explicitly stated, for those interested in continuity), Captain Jonathan Archer and his crew come upon a planet that has just managed to send up something with warp technology-which is a criteria that Vulcans have been known to use to open communications with a world.  Captain Archer, always interested in a new experience, is eager to initiate first contact with the race that sent up their test flight, the Fazi.  His science officer, the Vulcan T’Pol, advises against it, mainly because she feels that their incredibly structured society isn’t really up for handling an unexpected appearance by aliens.  Not surprisingly, Archer ignores the advice; the results are kind of predictable (hey, the back cover tells us it’s disastrous!  How blatant can they get?).

Complicating the issue is the existence of a second alien race also living on the planet, completely isolated from the Fazi; and considering the damage Archer’s already done with his first contact, he finds himself a little bit of a loss as to how to repair that damage, and find out more about the other race.

Okay:  the things I liked about this book.  While it might not jive completely with series continuity, I enjoyed seeing Archer begin to see that maybe the Vulcans had a point with their hesitance in aiding Earth get out into space and contacting strange new worlds.  I loved the use of the minor characters who have appeared in the series so far as well, and I hope other authors follow up on that concept (as I recall, there are plans with Pocket Books to go a step further with the Original Series sometime later this year or early next year).  I also liked the problems that the crew had in dealing with the Fazi and the other race; they haven’t exactly got a lot of experience at this, and seeing Archer flub things-while perhaps a little cruel-was rather fun.

Things I didn’t like:  I can sum this one up pretty easily.  A major, major portion of the book consists of the minor characters playing a role-playing game.  Now, I don’t have a problem with role-playing; I’ve done it in the past, and I have some rather amusing memories from doing so.  The problem is that it doesn’t translate well into fiction.  No, this isn’t a slam on role-playing game novels-they don’t go into the mechanics, and this one does.  Basically, it reads exactly like a session.  While I understand the reasoning about it in the book-it allows the participants to let off some steam-I think it took up way too much of the book, and when that kind of thing happens, I begin to think that it’s been included to pad the book.

By the Book is a decent first book, but not as good as others.  It beats Ghost Ship for the Next Generation, but it doesn’t come anywhere near The Siege for DS9.  The authors admittedly probably didn’t have much to work with, this early in a series, but even so, I feel that this book could’ve been better.

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