Surak’s Soul, by J. M. Dillard

I have reflected deeply on the situation.  The only way to properly maintain my Vulcan ethics is to return to the strictest original teachings of Surak.  For that reason, I cannot condone violence of any kind; and for that reason, I must inform you that I will no longer carry or use any type of weapon.
-Subcommander T’Pol of the starship Enterprise

Sometimes, there is nothing you can do.  You might not have the tools to fix a problem; you might not have the knowledge needed to help.  And sometimes, you’re just too late.  This is a lesson that Captain Jonathan Archer and the crew of the Enterprise are about to learn again.

Arriving at an alien world, after answering what Hoshi Sato believes is a distress call, the crew of Enterprise discovers that just about everyone on that world is dead.  The last ones die as the landing party tries to track down any survivors-and the last one assaults Hoshi, only be to stunned by T’Pol with her phase pistol.  However, his weakened condition isn’t up to handling that kind of hit, and dies from the blast.  This event (in combination with a couple references to an earlier episode in the series) causes her wonder if she has drifted away from the teachings of the most revered figure in Vulcan history.  This is the backdrop of the novel Surak’s Soul.

In spite of the title, the major plot of the book has little to do with Vulcan or Surak, although T’Pol’s crisis of conscience does color her attitude throughout the book.  The plot itself is driven by the crew’s attempts to discover exactly what killed the people of that world-and how to avoid that fate themselves, since the landing party had also exposed itself to whatever influences might have done the job.  They also pick up some aid from an alien life form that can only telepathically communicate through T’Pol; the alien may also have some insight on the fate of the inhabitants of the doomed planet.  Things are never as simple as it seems, however, as translations of the medical logs begin to point to a very dangerous conclusion.

Enterprise, I’ll confess, has been slowly losing my interest as a television series; certain storylines have irritated me greatly, and some of that may bleed over into reviews on the books based on this series.  But I’ve also liked Dillard’s novelizations of Star Trek movies, and that was a point in favor of Surak’s Soul.  Dillard has managed to capture the characters for the most part (more on that in a moment), as well as the feeling that Enterprise is, after all, the first human ship to go so far from Earth-and as such, every situation is a new one for them.  Interactions between the crew seem like they’ve come right out of the television series, especially in the conversations outside of “crisis mode”-and a couple make use of past events in the series.  It becomes a lot easier to write these novels when you have a better handle on the characters, and that only comes about after a number of episodes.

I did have a little bit of a problem with T’Pol’s problem, however; not so much that she was having this crisis-if there’s one thing the series has prepared me for, it’s seeing T’Pol acting a little too irrationally (for a Vulcan, that is).  As the quote above hints, T’Pol is quite unwilling to use any weapons, under any circumstances, to harm anyone-even in self defense.  While this is an admirable position in most circumstances, it’s not exactly what you want to hear from the person who is the second-in-command of your starship, who may easily be in a situation where she is to be responsible for a significant number of lives other than her own.  And the philosophy can be taken to excessive extremes (pointed out later in the book).  She also seems to be a little too trusting-where’s that healthy skepticism that keeps denying the existence of time travel in spite of several brushes with that phenomenon?  In spite of this, however, I rather liked a flashback while T’Pol is trying to work things out where a Vulcan Kolinahr master draws an interesting comparison between Surak and another man dedicated to peace (one who wouldn’t come to mind immediately on Vulcan).

All in all, Surak’s Soul seems like it would translate fairly well into an Enterprise episode, and likely would be one of the better ones (although not necessarily without it’s faults).  It’s not a deep novel, but it doesn’t have to be-Enterprise runs into a problem, a member of the crew undergoes a crisis, and some twists aren’t a bad recipe for a Star Trek book; and the fact that it isn’t a complicated plot makes it extremely easy to read.  Truth to tell, if someone were looking to start reading Trek books, Surak’s Soul would be a better choice than many.

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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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