Star Trek

Rising Son, by S. D. Perry

risingsonA Herald, unforgotten, but lost to time, a Seer of Visions to whom the Teacher Prophets sing, will return from the Temple at the end of this time to attend the birth of Hope, the Infant Avatar.  The welcomed Herald shares a new understanding of the Temple with all the land’s children.  Conceived by the lights of war, the alien Avatar opens its eyes upon a waxing tide of Awareness.
The journey to the land hides, but it is difficult; prophecies are revealed and hidden.  The first child, a son, enters the Temple alone.  With the Herald, he returns, and soon after, the Avatar is born.  A new breath is drawn and the land rejoices in change and clarity.
-A portion of the prophecy of the Avatar

He has been a reporter and a writer.  He is close friends with the son of the Grand Nagus.  He’s seen the horrors of war, experienced the thrill of accomplishing a feat once performed by the ancient Bajorans, and acquired an extremely rare baseball card for his father just before the Dominion War.  He is the son of the Emissary.  And now, he is the star of his own book.  Jake Sisko has been missing in action ever since the events of Avatar, and not a peep had been heard from him until the very end of Mission Gamma.  The question has been hanging out there for quite some time now.  Now, the author who stuck Jake in the wormhole in the first place chronicles just what he’s been up to since in Rising Son.

As the reader may recall, Jake had read a prophecy that seemed to hint at the return of his father, Ben Sisko (former commander of DS9) from the Celestial Temple in time for the birth of his child-and it further indicated that Jake would have to go and get him.  So he took a shuttle and went into the wormhole near the station to do just that.  Unfortunately for Jake, he forgot one of the rules of prophecies (and really, as a writer himself, he shoulda known this one):  no prophecy is as straightforward as it sounds.

The novel opens up with Jake in a bad spot.  His shuttle is a mess, and he’s about to die-worse yet, he knows it.  He does, however, managed to get extremely lucky.  He is rescued before he succumbs fully to hypothermia (although it’s a close thing) by…well, a rather interesting group of characters in the Gamma Quadrant..  Their ship is called the Even Odds, and its crew consists of a hodge-podge of a number of Gamma Quadrant races, both familiar and new (and a couple of Alpha Quadrant races who have in the past had cause to be there).  They spend their time, as their captain Dezavrim put it, “looking for trouble”.  They’re a group of fortune-hunters, salvage experts, and retrievers, and their activities have gotten the attention of the Dominion (although things are pretty quiet with them lately).  And because they do business, they don’t really have the time to immediately ferry Jake back to the Alpha Quadrant.  And that begins a trip unlike any Jake has taken before, both physically and emotionally-and drives him to a meeting with destiny.

Where to begin?  Well, first, let me say that it was a distinct pleasure to open the first page and see the return of the first Gamma Quadrant species that the crew of DS9 had ever encountered.  It only got better from there:  the entire novel is sprinkled with exclusively Gamma Quadrant references.  For example, the war with the Dominion was known as the “Quadrant War”; the folks on the other side of the Anomaly (that’s the wormhole, for those who didn’t know) can be referred to as “Alphies”, and we meet again at least two other races known to exist in the Gamma Quadrant-races unaligned with the Dominion!  There’s even a brief segment that shows that the whole Gateways storyline had at least a little impact on Jake’s journey.

Then there’s the crew of the Even Odds.  Dez is the most interesting of the bunch (hey:  he’s the captain!  What’d you expect?), but Perry also has some other interesting crew members as well-such as Sraal, a life-form that interacts with machinery in a rather unique way; Pifko, who is certainly the most enthusiastic member of the crew; and Arislelemakinstess, a character I still haven’t been able to wrap my brain around (it doesn’t help that the character is actually kind of five characters, only one of which actually talks).  But it is Dez who takes an early personal interest in Jake, seeing perhaps a chance to be a better father to Jake than Dez’s father was to him; of course, he has to walk carefully, as he’s dealing with Jake’s memories of his own father, as well as the “Starfleet sensibilities” he was raised with.  The ship itself is an interesting one, as it has been patched together over time, and includes a portion of a subdeck that tends to migrate around (not to mention change size-although the ship itself doesn’t alter in size or shape).

But  make no mistake:  while the new characters and their ship are interesting, this is Jake’s story.  In the television series, we never really got to know Jake as well as I’d have liked; we knew he liked to write, and that he loved his father; he was best friends with Nog, and got along well with the entire crew of DS9.  Perhaps Jake didn’t even know himself that well, either-but in Rising Son, Jake manages to grow into a new role, at least for a while (in fact, he manages to overcome one of the more unpleasant episodes in his life in his time on the Even Odds).  And while I had a good idea of the end result from Mission Gamma and having seen the cover of this book before that, it was fun to see exactly what Jake Sisko was up to for the months he was missing; and the climax of the book will add a new dimension to the Bajoran religion as well (and I’m not talking about the obvious).  The Deep Space Nine saga continue to roll on, and Rising Son does a great job on advancing the DS9 storyline, and that of Jake Sisko-I sure hope that we haven’t seen the last of him in future books, because he does a respectable job as his own character here.

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New Frontier Omnibus, by Peter David

newfrontSometimes you simply have to assess a situation and say, “Dammit, it’s me or no one.”  And if you can’t live with no one, then you have to take action.
-Captain Mackenzie Calhoun of the U.S.S. Excalibur

Lately, it seems that Pocket Books has begun leaning towards Star Trek books that are more or less independent of the four main franchises (for those not in-the-know, that’s the Original Series, the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager).  According to the releases slated for this year, we’ve got a book that builds on the New Earth set of books, and the beginning of Deep Space Nine novels that take place after the series finale.  But these probably wouldn’t have been possible without the New Frontier books.

Peter David’s been writing Star Trek for a long time (at least as far back as the fifth original Next Generation novel), and has been regarded as a fan favorite.  That put me in a favorable frame of mind when there was the announcement that there would be a series of four books in 1997 that would take place with “a new ship, a new crew, and a new mission”.  With House of Cards, Into the Void, The Two-Front War, and End Game, readers were treated to the exploits of Captain Mackenzie Calhoun and the U.S.S. Excalibur.  These books were later re-released as a single collected edition.

The early portion of the book takes place in the past, showing the early life of the boy M’k’n’zy of Calhoun, on the planet Xenex, leading a revolt against a race called the Danteri; an incident on the planet Thallon with a Vulcan woman named Soleta and another Vulcan of considerable fame; and Dr. Selar (formerly of Picard’s Enterprise), returning home to Vulcan to deal with Ponn farr.  After that, though, we hit the present time-chronologically sometime shortly after the events of the movie First Contact.  A sector of space (221-G) has fallen into anarchy, due to the fall of the Thallonian Empire.  It is decided that the Federation should send a ship for humanitarian aid and exploration into Thallonian space.

The crew is a diverse one; Calhoun is a bit of a maverick, which is pointed out by a number of officers in Starfleet.  Elizabeth Shelby (seen in the Next Generation episodes “The Best of Both Worlds”) is a strict, by the book officer, but she has a past with Calhoun.  Zak Kebron is the Brikar security officer, who gets some of the best lines in these books, in my opinion.  Soleta and Selar get a fair amount of attention, due to a subplot that I wouldn’t want to ruin for anyone.  And these are just the characters who get the most time in these books, with a single, non-Starfleet addition, who just gets along quite badly with Kebron.

I had pretty high expectations for these books, and Peter David didn’t disappoint.  His past books have blended humorous moments with some deadly serious material, and for the most part he’s mixed them well.  He also has a reputation for exploiting the history behind the various Star Trek franchises.  He continues to do so here; this is probably what has contributed to the continuing success of the New Frontier novels (now up to 11 books and with at least one more scheduled in ’01).  But a word of warning:  this probably isn’t a series that should be started with someone who has no clue about Star Trek.  This is a series whose appeal is tied directly to the reader’s familiarity with the entire Star Trek line.

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Lesser Evil, by Robert Simpson

mgamma4I just wanted to thank you for your vote of confidence in me.  But I’m confused about what you said regarding my Starfleet status.  My commission was always supposed to be temporary.  I resigned it when I returned from Cardassia after the war.
Did you?  We must have lost the paperwork.
-Colonel (Commander?) Kira Nerys of DS9 and Admiral L. J. Akaar of Starfleet

Lesser Evil is the grand finale of the Mission Gamma books.  But is it truly grand?

On Bajor, things have gone to hell.  A major figure has just been assassinated, and it looks like someone in the Federation’s to blame.  At a time when Bajor was dead certain to be joining the United Federation of Planets, a bold move has derailed the process.  Needless to say, Kira Nerys is not happy with seeing the bright future that was opening up near the end of the last book go down the toilet.  For that matter, the Federation ambassadors aren’t too thrilled by it, either-and when a cloaking signature is found heading away from the station is detected, a Starfleet ship is dispatched to pursue, with a Bajoran officer (hm, wonder who) tagging along to help.  Ro Laren, on the other hand, isn’t at all certain that all is at it seems; and as chief of station security, she takes it very personally….

In the meantime, the mission in the Gamma Quadrant is reaching conclusion.  The previous books only have touched upon some of the highlights, as chapter one shows that they’ve made a bunch of new friends, some new enemies, and essentially done a pretty good job on fulfilling Starfleet’s charter to explore strange new worlds, and seek out new life and new civilizations.  But the Defiant stumbles upon something that isn’t at all new, and potentially very, very dangerous-and for Commander Elias Vaughn, something very personal-something that overrides his better judgment, but something he can not ignore.

And in a bit of a subplot, Joseph Sisko, father of that famous captain, is recovering physically from a collapse, but emotionally he’s a wreck, dealing with not only the loss of his son, but possibly his grandson as well.  We get to meet Ben Sisko’s sister (I didn’t know he had a sister; I guess I don’t qualify as being a serious Trekkie, I guess!), who seems to have a good head on her shoulders, but can’t figure out what to do about her father.  Luckily, her sister-in-law has a desperate idea that might help.

Of the four Mission Gamma books, this one certainly had the smallest page count; it also was the least impressive.  If this were an episode on television, I’d say this was a filler episode.  The encounter in the Gamma Quadrant seems contrived (even given the way the Orbs affected Vaughn, this stretches coincidence way too far); while I don’t have a problem with certain aspects of it (and I hate having to tip-toe around it, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise), the personal aspect makes little sense to me.  I also have a problem with the way it all turns out in the end.  This isn’t to say that there weren’t good points to it-because it does fill in some gaps in Vaughn’s background, which is good; and I did like the reasoning behind the reasons why the Defiant detected the signal leading to this encounter (although I refer to the personal reasons, not the coincidental nature of it).

On the Alpha Quadrant front; well, I didn’t see this one coming.  My predictions foresaw a certain shadowy organization (although I won’t rule out their involvement completely-they can make a guy paranoid!) behind all this.  However, the explanations create a nice tie between DS9 and the Next Generation-and explain a bit on just what was going on with Shakaar Edon before it all hit the fan in the last book.  Ro gets a chance to show off a bit, with a little help of the local Jem’Hadar soldier (nice to see him being useful again instead of scaring the locals).  I was also happy to see Kira getting a chance to show off a bit too, joining the Starfleet pursuit-especially when certain truths become known, which are setting things up for a very different kind of conflict that won’t necessarily be fought in space.  I’m also a bit cheered to see a little bit of the maverick in Admiral Akaar; “lost the paperwork”, indeed!

While Lesser Evil itself didn’t leave me with the same feeling as the rest of the series had, it did manage to put together a passable story (well, at least in the Alpha Quadrant); and we get to see the return of a number of characters-including the most tortured man in Starfleet, the slimiest character in the Dominion, and the-well, heck, I’ll leave the last couple as a surprise (and no fair peeking at the inside back cover).  It does advance the main storyline of Deep Space Nine, but it didn’t have the same “meat” to it as the other books had.

In closing, the Mission Gamma series seems to be pretty good; while it often seemed that the goings-on at Bajor overshadowed the Defiant mission, it did manage to blend the continuing storyline that fans of DS9 enjoy with the episodic stories that characterized the other Star Trek series.  We got insight on the most mysterious of the current cast, closure on some storylines, movement on the strange relationship between Quark and Ro, and a peek at the potential future for Bajor and the Federation.  All in all, I’d say Mission Gamma was a very respectable series.

So far, the Deep Space Nine relaunch continues to gather steam!

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Star Trek: Gateways, by Assorted Authors

Let us go and be brilliant, my friend.
-Ensign Thirishar ch’Thane to Lieutenent Nog, both of Deep Space Nine

Have a seat, and get comfortable; it’s gonna be a bumpy ride….

There were a pair of Star Trek episodes-one on the Next Generation, and one on Deep Space Nine-which featured devices from an ancient race known as the Iconians.  Specifically, there were devices called Gateways that could teleport individuals across interstellar distances.  Both the Gateways, for various reasons, ended up as rubble by the end of those episodes.  And now, they’ve inspired a massive Star Trek event, which crosses over all the franchises that have appeared in novelized form (except for Enterprise, for obvious reasons).  From the Original Series to the Next Generation, from Deep Space Nine to Voyager, and even the novel-only New Frontier and Challenger books-they all fall into the grand storyline called Gateways.

So why am I reviewing this all at once, instead of as separate reviews?

The main reason is that some of these books tie pretty close together.  In fact, all of the latter-era books happen at roughly the same time.  One of the best moments in these books is the conference between the leaders of various ships and stations; in the appropriate book, we see the same meeting under different points of view.  While I moderately loathed the method, the event itself was a great scene.  And a minor reason is because all of the books ended on a cliffhanger, with a number of major characters stepping into a Gateway to find “what lay beyond”.  Cute, huh?

So, I am presenting a series of mini-reviews.  I could, I suppose, do full reviews on each, but then I’d be until next year getting these done, and that’s just not happening.

The Original Series:  One Small Step, by Susan Wright

This takes place in the last moments of one of the third season episodes, “That Which Survives”.  One of the events of that show was the fact that the Enterprise had been flung a long, long, long way away.  That serves as the jumping point for this series, as Kirk and company attempt to unravel the mystery of the race of the Kalandans, who apparently all died out.  This seems to be disproved, however, by the arrival of a group of aliens masquerading as the Kalandans.  The truth is that this race is the Petraw, and they seem to be more along the lines of pack rats than any technologically advanced society.  So we get two groups of beings attempting to unlock the secret of the Gateway here.  I rather liked the book on the strength of the fact that this didn’t involve saving any worlds or galaxies, but simply attempting to understand a dead race, and keeping the technology out of the wrong hands.

Challenger:  Chainmail, by Diane Carey

This book is a follow up of the New Earth novels last year.  Commander Nick Keller explores an alien ship that his first mate and bosun ran into and promptly disappeared into.  Diane Carey has always written a good read, in my experience, and she manages to cover the presence of an alien race (or not so alien) on that ship and at their homeworld.  At the same time, though, the political situation between Keller and the allied race of aliens known as the Blood Many takes a bit of a hit.  Keller is so obviously unprepared for being a captain in the Starfleet mold, as he tries to hold together this alliance while staying loyal to his friends and shipmates and trying to figure out the mystery of the ship, its inhabitants, and its cargo.  This was probably one of the stronger books in the Gateways series, and worth picking up for its story alone.

The Next Generation:  Doors into Chaos, by Robert Greenberger

The first of three tightly-interwoven books, it sets up the situation in this era:  the Iconians have seemingly returned, and they have offered their Gateways to the highest bidder.  The bad news is that to prove their intentions, and to sweeten the pot, they’ve opened up all of their Gateways.  This has caused a great deal of problems across Federation space, not to mention the Klingons, the Romulans, et cetera.  The mission of the U. S. S. Enterprise and her crew is to muster up support for a coalition of governments to face the Iconians and to find out the truth behind this offer.  The crew splits up for this, to cover more ground quickly.  I anticipated this book more than any of the others (except for the next one), because the Iconians were of great interest to Jean Luc Picard, and I expected that anything about the Iconians was going to center on the good captain.  All the same, it did feel a little flat to me; probably because there were just too many supporting characters flying around, and it was beginning to get difficult to keep track of them all.  Still, it was a fairly solid book.

Deep Space Nine:  Demons of Air and Darkness, by Keith R. A. DeCandido

Tying directly into the events of the previous book, and following the events of Section 31-Abyss, we find that there are three major plots rolling here.  One, naturally, is the ongoing question of the Gateways, as none have been spotted anywhere near Bajor.  The second involves an effect of the Gateways, as one appears to be dumping large amounts of theta radiation to an inhabited world (fans of Voyager might have a pretty good clue here, although it’s explicitly pointed out in chapter one).  The third involves Quark, and his negotiation with the Iconians on the behalf of the Orion crime syndicate.  And through it all, a number of subplots from the DS9 series of novels continues to unfold, from Shar’s family problems, to Kira’s attempts to deal with her Attainted status.  It’s close, but I’d have to say that this was the strongest of the Gateways books; in such a close race, I stick with my favorite series.  But as I said, it was a real close call.

Voyager:  No Man’s Land, by Christie Golden

Still locked in the Delta Quadrant, Captain Janeway suddenly finds herself trying to cross a region of space that is decidedly hostile, in a natural sense-asteriods, singularities, and red giant stars.  Then things get really interesting, as a bunch of Gateways start opening all nearby Voyager, including a Hirogen vessel; not all of the vessels are really friendly, and Janeway has her hands full getting various starships to follow her across the “no man’s land” while trying to figure out how to get these people back to their own regions of space.  While I considered this the weakest of the books, that doesn’t necessarily mean it was bad; a sort of murder mystery takes place during the book, as well as the discovery that one of the races involved are slave-lords.  Still, there are aspects of the book that seemed outright silly to me.  It does make sense with the final book in Gateways, but as a single novel….

New Frontier:  Cold Wars, by Peter David

The Gateways are even a problem in Thallonian space, which requires not one, but two starships to investigate:  the Trident, with Captain Shelby, and the Excalibur, with Captain Calhoun, her husband.  This book kicks off as many of Peter David’s books-someone ends up getting killed.  There are a pair of Gateways on two different worlds, brought by mysterious benefactors; the problem is that the inhabitants of these worlds hate each other, and were engaged in exterminating each other before the former Thallonian Empire separated them by locating them on different worlds.  Starfleet’s goal is to investigate the Gateways in Thallonian space, and at the same time, stop the cycle of violence breaking out between these worlds.  This was the other contender for the best of the bunch; while the cast of characters are beginning to be so many as to be unwieldy (two different starship crews!), David still tells a good story within the framework of this mega-storyline, while still being able to tell a stand-alone tale.  Fans of the original animated series get a special bonus as well in this book.

What Lay Beyond

I can’t really say too much about this book without spilling major beans.  I can say that this is a collection of short stories that finish the cliffhangers for each novel, and each features the assorted captains, commander, and colonel of these books.  Since I can’t go into details, I will at least let you all know my preferences, from least favorite to most (surprisingly, it doesn’t necessarily follow my opinions on the previous books!).  Original Series, Challenger, New Frontier, Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and Next Generation.  The reason for this order has a lot to do with how these stories followed up on the events that closed the novels.  Some made more sense than others, and some I ranked higher because they made great sense.

Final thoughts:  as far as it goes, it was a pretty decent set of books.  I am, however, extremely annoyed at the fact that I had to pick up a hardcover to finish the books.  It doesn’t really affect me all that much, but than again, I tend to read all these books!  For folks who only follow the Original Series, or Voyager for example, it might be a little upsetting to realize that to get the whole story, you need to buy a hardback (or wait a year until it hits paperback) to finish the story!  I really wish they hadn’t done it that way, because I think it was done mostly as a marketing ploy.  Just my opinion.  But if you decide to pick up these books, with the understanding that they all conclude in What Lay Beyond, and with an intention to read all the books…well, Trek has had worse stories to work with.

(2015 note:  this will likely be the post with the most tags attached.  Whew!)

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Cathedral, by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels

mgamma3I don’t deny that I might benefit personally from a last-minute rapprochement between Bajor and Cardassia.  If the price of such a peace is that I throw all of that aside, then I will gladly do it.  I come among you not as a candidate for kai, nor as a representative of any religion.  I am here with one agenda only:  to bring our peoples together without any force or coercion-even the benevolent kind that the Federation would surely bring.
-Vedek Yevir Linjarin

The previous two books had one thing in common with each other:  I felt that the Gamma Quadrant side of the Mission Gamma story wasn’t nearly as engrossing to me as the DS9 side.  Well, Cathedral doesn’t reverse that trend…but it does stop it dead in its tracks.

On the station, we get to see the fallout of the last book’s tragedy.  Even that tragedy, however, is overshadowed by the ceremonies to celebrate Bajor’s entry into the Federation.  But a crisis that’s been hinted at in the last couple of books begins to become a bit more blatant, as an offshoot of the Bajoran Religion (and based heavily on the Book of Ohalu…you remember-the book that indirectly got Kira Attainted?).  However, it is hardly shown as an evil cult like the one with the Pah-wraiths were.  Not only do they try very, very hard to get Kira on board with them, but they also try to convince Vedek Yevir to reverse the Attainder on Kira.  In the meantime, life goes on in the station, as Quark and Ro make some hard decisions about their future, and Taran’atar continues to try to understand this extremely contradictory society.  And Vedek Yevir decides to take upon himself a mission (inspired by a “gift” from Kasidy Yates) that he views as the last, best chance for a mutual peace between Cardassia and Bajor.

Then we have the fun with the Defiant.  Nog, Ezri, and Julian are on a survey mission in a shuttle (which does NOT get blown up!), and they encounter a rather unusual phenomenon-a construct that is half a billion years old, and exists in substantially more than the traditional three dimensions.  They do, however, manage to get a little too close.  And that proves to have unexpected side effects:  for Nog, a wondrous blessing.  For Ezri, an unexpected separation.  And for Julian…a loss of his very self, as his genetic enhancements slowly start to go away.  All this, plus a pair of alien races that refer to the object as a cathedral, and who are most definitely antagonistic toward each other.

Maybe I was in a better mood reading this book, but I felt that the Gamma Quadrant mission easily matched the DS9 segments in Cathedral.  Maybe it’s the fact that nobody really has a handle on what the “cathedral” is; maybe it’s because the aliens genuinely seem alien (possibly because the universal translator doesn’t exactly work too fast in translating the languages here).  Or maybe it’s because this one focuses heavily on the Defiant characters I know best-the ones who we followed on the television show.  But the other characters aren’t shorted too much-Vaughn is still Vaughn, to coin a phrase, trying to deal with a pair of alien races and find a way to deal with the consequences of the shuttle trip; and Shar is dealing with his new problems, as he feels the price of joining this mission may have been too great.  Even so, the big character development on this one belongs to Julian Bashir; once, he wondered what he would have been like had he not been enhanced, which brings to mind a favorite quote from a Star Trek movie…”Be careful what you wish for.”

The characters on the station get to deal with the schism in the Bajoran religion; we don’t get as much a focus on it, as the book tends to cover certain characters each chapter; the ones that do, however, show that there are two major forces here:  Vedek Yevir and Vedek Solis Tendren of the Ohalavaru (who has announced his own candidacy for kai, the religious leader of the Bajoran people).  Tendren, interestingly enough, has a view of the Prophets that actually matched the opinions of their Emissary not so long ago; while Yevir continues to be guided by an encounter with Captain Sisko that he believes set him on a path to become kai himself.  Yevir’s the character that most stood out to me in this book-prior to Cathedral, I viewed him as a religious fanatic, a power-seeking zealot, yet one who was absolutely convinced he was right.  Well, that opinion didn’t change much; but this book makes clear that he also has the well-being of Bajor at heart.  He also has the most impressive scene in this series so far; and given some of the things that’s happened in Mission Gamma, that says a lot.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that First Minister Shakaar’s actions in the last book have not been ignored; and as one reads through this book, one begins to get the sense that not all is right with Shakaar.  Clearly, there is more going on here than meets the eye, and it may not bode well for the future.

Cathedral continues to demonstrate that Deep Space Nine is a place of deep mood swings; the highs are really high, and the lows are really low; and nothing demonstrates that more than the last two pages (how’s that for a teaser?).  I feel that Cathedral is the most balanced book in the Mission Gamma series, and it’s been the only one in which I looked forward to each Gamma Quadrant chapter as much as the DS9 chapter.  It’s a trend I hope to see continued in the finale of this series-although I suspect the events on the station will be a far more engrossing read-and once you’ve finished this one, you’ll understand why!

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A Time to Sow/A Time to Harvest, by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore

timetosow timetoharvest

A minute ago you said we were out of options and that there was no chance of finding anything new.
I was simply trying to get the EMH to shut up.  Have I mentioned yet how much I despise those things?
-Doctor Beverly Crusher and Doctor Tropp, U. S. S. Enterprise

In the time of Jonathan Archer, the Vulcan ship Ti’Mur picks up a distress call-one from a world in danger of complete destruction.  Unfortunately, it has traveled a great distance, and the Vulcans have to go pull Archer’s fat out of the fire-and so the mystery of the danger to the Dokaalan people goes unsolved….  Until now.  This is the present mission of the U. S. S. Enterprise in the books A Time to Sow and A Time to Harvest.  This is the second pair of novels detailing the events that bridge the gap between the Next Generation movies “Insurrection” and “Nemesis”; if you haven’t read the first books, A Time to be Born and A Time to Die, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea, but this pair of books brings the casual reader up to speed nicely on their own.

Things have rarely been so bad for Captain Picard and his crew.  Thanks to the events in the previous duology, the Enterprise is considered an unlucky ship, one that has a captain in the twilight of his career.  Doctor Beverly Crusher is considering taking a position as Surgeon General at Starfleet Medical; Commander Data is dealing with the removal of his emotion chip; and the ship is under orders to investigate a 200 year old mystery which can be best described as “low priority”.  This is not the kind of mission that the crew of this ship is used to having (the phrase “overqualified” comes to mind).

It isn’t much of a surprise to see that in one respect, the Enterprise arrives too late.  There’s not much left of the Dokaalan homeworld.  Yet the Dokaalan still live, and they’re in the midst of an ambitious project-transforming another world to allow them to settle upon it instead of surviving in a colony amongst asteroids.  However, it seems that this first contact isn’t greeted with universal joy; Enterprise arrives as one of the Dokaalan outposts loses life support-and it is discovered that it wasn’t an accident.  As the crew works to assist the Dokaalan, more acts of sabotage occur, some of the rescued Dokaalan are ailing, and unknown to the Enterprise crew, the flagship of the fleet is not immune to infiltration.  If that isn’t enough, there are others watching the work of the Dokaalan with great interest.

While in some ways this is a fairly standard Trek book (see crew; see crew meet aliens; see one faction like crew, and one faction distrust crew; mix), I felt it was a stronger duology than the last one.  Instead of trying to save a planet, they’re trying to help a race build a new one.  It’s a bit of a twist on the usual formula, and one I appreciated.  And I have to admit that I liked the Dokaalan attitude:  one has to admire a people who have managed to survive such adversity, and get to the point where it’s very likely that they’ll have a new true homeworld in their own time.

There are a number of nice character moments; Picard and Crusher having dinner again for the first time in a real long time; a few scenes with the newer members of the crew (Vale, Taurik, and Perim); and a message from a Federation Ambassador to the Klingon Empire to Will Riker, which may have a bit to do with a future transfer of his own.  Picard has to deal with the dangers of second-guessing himself after his recent fall from grace in Starfleet, while Geordie and Data have to deal with Data’s return to emotionlessness (although that quickly becomes the least of Data’s problems).  And I’ll give points to Ward and Dilmore for using an alien race that I certainly never expected to see again.  I take off, however, for how easily the Enterprise gets infiltrated-you’d think that after a war in which even tables could be shapeshifting Founders, the ship’s security procedures would be a mite better….

Still, A Time to Sow and A Time to Harvest is a solid bit of storytelling, both on their own and as a part of the continuing story arc.

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This Gray Spirit, by Heather Jarman

mgamma2The Cardassians aren’t our enemies any longer.  They’ve never been your enemy.  Your people served alongside them in the war.
Do you know their minds?
Bajorans aren’t telepaths, if that’s what you’re asking.
Do you have knowledge of their goals-their strategy?
I’m assuming they’re here to meet with the First Minister, but outside that, no, I haven’t tapped into their database or spied on their private discussions.
Then they are your enemy.  The unknown is always the enemy, Lieutenant.
-Lieutenant Ro Laren and Taran’atar, Chief of Security of DS9

You gotta love a book that starts out with an excerpt from Burning Hearts of Qo’noS.  It’s not central to the plot, but I just had to say it.

Mission Gamma continues with This Gray Spirit; it seems that Tennyson’s Ulysses is going to be the continuing inspiration for Mission Gamma, as both books thus far have opened with quotes from that work.  The last book ended on a very high note, having resolved issues both personal and galactic.  But this is DS9, the most edgy of the Treks out there, so as you might guess…things start to get a little out of hand.

There are about four plots moving along on this one; two center on the station, and two in the Gamma Quadrant.  I’ll cover the Defiant situation first; after all, the arc is called “Mission Gamma”.  The situation begins when the Defiant gets walloped by an attack by nanobots that cripple the ship.  It seems that the ship has blundered into a disagreement between a pair of races known as the Yrythny and the Cheka.  It turns out that the Cheka want to genetically engineer a servitor race (hm, that sounds familiar, don’t it?), and the Yrythny chromosomal segments that had jumped their evolution faster than usual (which they call the Turn Key).  The Yrythny aren’t enthused about being lab experiments.  To stir the pot a little more, the Yrythny are having some civil unrest from the two portions of their society:  the Houseborn, who are the “upper crust” so to speak, and the Wanderers, who are seen as flawed-and treated like it.  When Ezri Dax suggests a mediator, she discovers that she has been “volunteered” for the job.

As Ezri tries to find some way to find a middle ground between them, Shar ch’Thane is drawn into the Wanderer’s society; he also hopes to understand the Turn Key as well, in order to help the Andorian people.  Yes, at last, we get the full story (well, almost) behind the plight of the Andorians.  And it actually makes sense.

Speaking of the Andorians….  Back on DS9, the Cardassians come to call.  Well, specifically, Gul Macet (who still rubs many Bajorans the wrong way for looking so much like his more infamous relation, the late Gul Dukat), who has brought a Cardassian ambassador to the station to speak to present something to the Bajoran people…and perhaps resolve their long standing enmity.  That’s enough trouble to begin with; but Shar’s bondmates are also staying at the station, awaiting his return from the Gamma Quadrant; and one of them, Thriss, is giving every indication of being an extremely unstable person….

In some ways, we get the best of both Treks, in a manner of speaking.  The Mission Gamma is very much a Star Trek story, in that the crew of the Defiant is fulfilling the Starfleet charter of “seeking out new life and new civilizations”; and while it’s been seen before, the situation with the Yrythny would fit just fine for the Next Generation or Voyager.  And at the same time, we get the intrigue, politics, and character development that I’ve come to expect from Deep Space Nine.

And, naturally, we get the subplots moving along.  Taran’atar is about as untrusting a fellow as you could ask for, as shown in the above quote.  Quark and Ro actually go on a date (scary enough).  Bashir and Dax’s relationship again hits a bit of a bumpy spot due to his concern about her relying too much on her symbiont’s other memories.  And I especially like the nature of the presentation made by the Cardassians, bringing back memories of a character long gone.  (I was also moderately disturbed by what happens later….)

I admit that the book doesn’t stamp itself on my mind as much as previous DS9 offerings, but the last few chapters (including the epilogue) deliver some serious punches, and keeps the reader on edge waiting for the third book.

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A Time to Be Born/A Time to Die, by John Vornholt

timetobeborn timetodie

Captain, they will be in close range in fifteen seconds.  The Enterprise will never be in greater danger than it is at this moment.  I urge you to fire upon them.
I’ve never fired at another ship first-without provocation.
In another ten seconds, I and every system on this ship will be inoperable.  It is your decision, Captain.
-Commander Data and Captain Jean-Luc Picard, U. S. S. Enterprise

Between the movies “Star Trek Insurrection” and “Star Trek Nemesis”, a great deal happened in the Star Trek franchise.  The big highlights included the end of the Dominion War; the transition of the Starfleet officer, Worf to the ambassador to the Klingon Empire, Worf; and the epic return of the U. S. S. Voyager from the Delta Quadrant.  And sometime in the offscreen time, other things seem to have happened:  Data seemed to be emotionless again; Jean-Luc Picard began taking orders from Admiral Kathryn Janeway; Will Riker and Deanna Troi were ready to be reassigned to the U. S. S. Titan; Doctor Crusher was to return to Starfleet Medical; and Worf and Wesley Crusher showed up wearing Starfleet uniforms.  Clearly, a whole lot happened between movies, and fans were left wondering just how this all came about.

Fortunately, we can usually rely on some books to fill in the missing spaces.

A Time to Be Born and A Time to Die are the first pair of books in a 9 book cycle that will answer many of those questions.  This story starts out deceptively simple-at the largest mass graveyard of the Dominion War.  At the Battle of Rashanar, every ship had ended up destroyed-both Starfleet and Dominion vessels.  This is an unlikely event at best, and Captain Picard and the Enterprise are dispatched to investigate the mystery, while also driving off scavengers who see opportunity.  Picard is also curious about a number of spatial anomalies that seem to be infesting this region.  At the same time, though, he must work with another captain who has spent far too much time trying to bring out the dead of the battle, and with a race only nominally in the Federation-a race that remain a mystery to the Federation (and only really got invited in because of the situation with the Dominion).  Unbeknownst to Picard, however, there are dangers beyond simple scavengers lurking in the region of space the locals have come to call the Boneyard….

At the same time, the reader gets to catch up with the newest inductee to the mysterious beings known as Travelers-Wesley Crusher (once best known as the Trek character most requested to be tossed out an airlock-funny how life works sometimes…).  In a vision that is to be his greatest test, to see if he can maintain the detachment of the Travelers, he sees a chilling sight-the Enterprise undergoing the final countdown to self-destruct, and the ship’s destruction at the end.  Wesley must make the choice to let things unfold as he has seen, or act against the philosophies of the Travelers and act.

The choices made will lead to a number of serious changes for some of the Enterprise crewmembers, and not necessarily for the better.

I picked up these books with anticipation; I was really looking forward to reading about what happened between movies.  I came out of it with mixed emotions.  There were aspects of these books I really enjoyed-the appearance of the Androssi (familiar to S.C.E. readers), for example-gotta love their taste in ships; and the fact that Picard seems to be heading to the end of his career (or is at least perceived by some that way-and their opinions have weight).  I was also impressed with the truths behind the anomalies (which I’m not going into) and the method used to deal with those truths (which I’m also not going into-but it was damned clever).  On the other hand, I felt I was reading about some of the early episodes of the television series, due to the actions of “Ensign Brewster”, which I was iffy about.  It’s to Vornholt’s credit, though, that he has Picard understand the trouble of relying on assets that could vanish at any time.

There’s enough character bits for fans of almost every character; Riker gets to show off his leadership skills, Data is forced to make some tough decisions about himself (and some of those are imposed upon him), and Doc Crusher gets to demonstrate why she’s the worst poker player on the Enterprise.  Picard, though, is the one who gets to go through the ringer; he’s the captain, and anything that goes wrong falls squarely on his head-and a whole lot goes wrong.  His interactions with a Starfleet counselor in many ways leads to the meat of the second book.

The events in A Time to Be Born and A Time to Die fit their titles well, and while it may not be the strongest Star Trek effort I’ve ever read, they do a respectable job in opening this particular chapter in the careers of the captain and crew of the U. S. S. Enterprise.  Looking forward to the next pair.

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Gauntlet, by Michael Jan Friedman


Thank you, Number One.  I was beginning to actually feel capable of commanding a starship for a moment there, but you have managed to completely disabuse me of that notion.
-Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the U. S. S. Stargazer

Before Captain Picard took over command of the Enterprise, he had been the captain of another starship.  That starship was Stargazer. Stargazer has been visited before in novels, and on each occasion it was visited by Michael Jan Friedman; previously seen in The First Virtue and Valiant; the crew is seen again in the “present” day of Next Generation in Reunion.

Now, Friedman is writing about the adventures of that crew-with a significantly younger Jean-Luc Picard-in an ongoing series called, appropriately “Stargazer”.  Gauntlet is the first book in this series.  Captain Picard is given a task by Admiral McAteer-to recover a cargo stolen by the pirate White Wolf; and if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, catch the pirate, too.  Picard soon learns, however, that he is being set up:  due to political games in Starfleet, McAteer hopes to embarrass a rival admiral by making his protégé fail in his mission.  Even so, Picard is determined to prove that he can complete his mission-even where other captains before him have failed.

Making matters even more interesting, Picard gets saddled with a number of new crew members each have what could be considered fatal flaws.  Personally, I can’t imagine how some of these folks got into Starfleet in the first place.  You’ll see what I mean.  Luckily, his regular crew is still together, and are actually almost normal in comparison with the newer characters; of note are the human twins Gerda and Idun Asmund-humans who had been raised as Klingons, and one of whom is involved with a strange flirtation with the ship’s doctor; and the chief engineer, Phigus Simenon, a Gnalish with a cranky disposition.

On the plus side for Gauntlet, I rather liked the fact that Picard continues a habit seen much in the Next Generation-the conference with senior officers to figure out how to solve a problem.  The pirate White Wolf is an interesting character as well, although there was a twist or two that wasn’t as shocking as perhaps it should have been (I’ve been reading too many books, probably).  And the interstellar obstacles in the Stargazer’s path to get to the Wolf are just fun-an area of space that I’d hate to try to navigate.

The minus side, though, kind of overbalances it a bit.  I realize that it’s becoming the “in” thing with Star Trek authors to crew a ship with the most eccentric characters they can come up with.  It’s gotten very annoying.  Of the new crew members, only two or three of them look as if they belong in Starfleet-and that’s only because their little quirks aren’t as obvious.  Worse yet, though, is the fact that there is very little plot to this book, as it spends a great deal of time on the characters and how they interact with each other.  Ordinarily, I’m okay with over-balancing in favor of the characters.  I tend to like the characters to drive the plot a bit.  But in this particular case, all it did was make me wonder why some of them had gotten into the fleet, much less how they didn’t wash out of the Academy (I do blame Peter David for some of this; it seems he’s pioneered the habit of making odd characters Starfleet officers).

The biggest problem I have, though, isn’t really Friedman’s fault.  Between the Challenger books, New Frontier, DS9 relaunches, Original Series “Below Decks” launch, the new Enterprise books, and a future Voyager relaunch waiting in the wings, I can’t help but think that Pocket Books is over-saturating the Star Trek market.  Do we really need a Stargazer series?  It’s getting to the point where books on a favorite series is going to come out on a yearly basis more than a monthly.  Maybe I’m a dino, but I miss the days when one month had a Next Generation book and a Voyager book, and the next had an Original Series and a DS9 book.  It’s a trend that I’m not sure I like, and I hope that Pocket Books does some serious thinking about how much further they’ll go with this.

(2013 note:  things seem to have swung in the other direction now; the over-saturation comment seems to have been prophetic at this time.)

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Miracle Workers, by Assorted Authors


Mr. Duffy, did I ever tell ye what the most frightenin’ words I ever heard spoken on the bridge of a starship were?  Well, here they are:  “Mr. Scott, you have the conn.”.
-Captain Montgomery Scott

The second novelization of the e-book series involving the tech folks in Starfleet has an interesting range of stories this time around.  We get a conclusion to a two part story (from Have Tech, Will Travel), a surprise encounter aboard a Cardassian space station, and what could be considered a part murder mystery, part slash flick.

The first story on this one is “Interphase, Book Two”.  As with the first book, “Interphase” was written by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore.  When last we encountered the S.C.E., one team was aboard the Constitution Class U. S. S. Defiant, lost in the interspatial rift where it has been for over one hundred years.  The rest of the gang is aboard the da Vinci, dealing with Tholians who have inexplicably begun to attack.  This story does a decent job of balancing the action elements with the problem-solving ones, as Lt. Commander Duffy (second officer of the da Vinci) deals with the rather unfamiliar situation of commanding a starship in battle, while the team aboard the Defiant work to not only escape interspace, but deal with the revelations about how the Defiant got into this mess in the first place.

The second story is “Cold Fusion”, and this offering was written by Keith R. A. DeCandido.  This book actually takes place in between Deep Space Nine novels Avatar and Abyss.  The S.C.E. is called in to aid Deep Space Nine in repairing the damage done to it in the events of Avatar, and with the help of  Lieutenant Nog of DS9, they go to scavenge the fusion core from Empok Nor, a similarly built Cardassian space station long abandoned…or so they think.  We also get a look at a group of aliens called the Androssi, who are just as tech-savvy as the S.C.E., but are interested in profit (hm…techno-Ferengi….).  The story also shows that the S.C.E. had just as exciting a career before the time of these stories.

The final story was released as two e-books originally.  “Invincible” was written by David Mack and Keith R. A. DeCandido.  “Invincible” takes place at the same time as “Cold Fusion”, and centers on Sonya Gomez on the world of Sarindar; because of her experience and knowledge of subspace accelerators.  Unfortunately, between native superstitions and some ugly surprises, Sonya finds that she’s gotten more than she’s bargained for on this assignment.  Because this story was originally released as a two parter, it takes up the bulk of the book; I also found this to be the most interesting, as it focused only on a single Starfleet character, working under rather stressful circumstances (which I won’t go too much into here).  It also shows some of the usual blind spots that Starfleet officers have in this kind of situation.

Miracle Workers follows the same vein as Have Tech, Will Travel; while there were fewer stories in this book, they were substantially more interesting, hinting at a deeper history behind the characters and developing them further.  That really can’t be all that easy with the average size of the stories, but I find the pacing to be just fine.  One issue I did have with this book was the extra pages-nearly 100-dedicated to a minipedia detailing information from these two books.  To be honest, I’d have rather scrapped that and included another story (of course, I say this without any knowledge on which e-book followed “Invincible”, so perhaps it was the lesser of two evils).  I wasn’t fond of the minipedia for New Frontier books, and I’m equally unenthused about this one.  Aside from that detail, though, I found Miracle Workers to be a solid book, and worth a read.

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