The Next Generation

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!)

Categories: Deep Space Nine, New Frontier, Star Trek, The Next Generation, The Original Series, Voyager | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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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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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The Battle of Betazed, by Charlotte Douglas and Susan Kearney


Who’d you say you got those codes from again?
Fellow I know on DS9.  The guy who fixes my pants.
-Commander William Riker and Chief Miles O’Brien

One of the things that bugged me the most on Deep Space Nine was how the flagship of Starfleet, the U. S. S. Enterprise was never there during the Dominion War.  Never involved.  Not even mentioned once.  You would think that with the biggest war to hit the Federation in the last couple hundred years that the Enterprise would at least put up a token appearance.  Didn’t even show up in the series finale.

But that didn’t mean that the Next Generation didn’t make itself known in other ways.  In one episode, Captain Sisko decided to bring the Romulans into the war against the Dominion, even though they were strictly neutral up to that point.  The reason:  Sisko had heard about the fall of the planet Betazed, where Counselor Deanna Troi was born and raised.  As usual, though, there was never any followup-even in a throwaway line.  Which brings us nicely to The Battle of Betazed.

The Dominion has built a Cardassian space station around Betazed, which they call Sentok Nor, where Dr. Crell Moset-a Cardassian exobiologist known for his rather…unpleasant…practices is performing experiments that could develop yet another front in the war.  There is a resistance movement (including the rather forceful Lwaxana Troi), but their numbers are thinning thanks to the Jem’Hadar.  But they manage to get a message out to Starfleet containing information about what they consider their last hope.

Enter Elias Vaughn-a covert operative of Starfleet who will one day become very important to Deep Space Nine.  Since the rather conventional methods of retaking Betazed have failed, he has the go-ahead to try something else.  That something else will involve the crew of the Enterprise, with a little helping hand from the crew of the U. S. S. Defiant.  A two pronged strategy-the first to get infiltrators aboard Sentok Nor, find out what they are doing, and blow it up.  The second is to go to a Betazoid colony and retrieve what the Resistance wants-a serial killer who kills with his telepathy, so that he can teach them.

Now, this makes a certain amount of sense-the natives of Betazed have always been established to be empathic at least, and highly telepathic at best.  The Jem’Hadar don’t really have any defenses against this kind of thing.  Of course, Deanna is horrified.  It goes against everything that the Betazoids believe, and is repellent to her.  Even so, however, she agrees to the necessity and agrees to help smooth the way on Darona-especially since she actually tried to treat the killer in question early in her career.

As far as it goes, The Battle of Betazed was an okay book.  To be fair, it had some good concepts; the reasons why the Cardassians stuck a space station around the world made sense, and the plans of Dr. Moset make a great deal of sense as well.  And as far as disabling Sentok Nor, it made sense to have the Federation’s foremost expert on Cardassian space stations involved.  And it made sense to for the Resistance to come up with the idea to find a way to fight that their oppressors couldn’t counter.  I liked it.

But, unfortunately, a good chunk of that enjoyment was fizzled at the resolution of the mess.  The authors kept themselves from opening a can of worms that you really aren’t allowed to do with Star Trek, but at the same time, it seems too deus ex machina for me.  Readers will know what I mean when they get to it.  So, what could have been a very good Star Trek novel becomes simply an okay one.  But at least it was nice seeing that Captain Picard and the Enterprise were at least doing something while the Dominion War raged.

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Immortal Coil, by Jeffrey Lang

Intuition.  Data has developed intuition.
-A realization reached by Jean-Luc Picard, Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise-E

One of the things that always baffled me about the Next Generation was the way people treated Commander Data.  It wasn’t that everyone seemed so surprised when they learned he was an android; that much I could understand.  What always threw me was how so many people in Starfleet seemed to consider it nearly impossible to create androids, when the Original Series had androids show up on it several times.  I didn’t really consider it something to bother me, but the thought has lingered there on and off over the years.

Well, Immortal Coil does a fair job in closing the gaps.  The time frame is deep in the Dominion War, which really doesn’t matter at all to the plot.  News comes to the Enterprise that Commander Bruce Maddox, a fellow who once wanted to take Data apart to see what made him tick, is working on a new project-one that will revolutionize artificial intelligence.  Unfortunately, some apparently doesn’t like it, and tries to blow him up.  The Enterprise is called to investigate.

In the meantime, Data’s “mother”, a Soong-style android named Juliana Tainer, based on Soong’s late wife and programmed to believe herself to be the real thing, has “died”, and Data experiences the emotions of despair, thanks to his emotion chip.  He comes to realize that barring fatal accidents, he will see each and every friend he has die of old age-if he’s lucky-and will likely feel the same emotions each time.  The distraction of dealing with the question of what Maddox was doing is a welcome one-as is an attraction to the latest security chief, Lieutenant Rhea McAdams-an attraction that is returned.

In the course of this book, Data will face certain truths about his own origins, and his ties to artificial intelligence in the Star Trek universe.  And there are portions of those origins that are bound and determined to stay mysterious.

I’m a sucker for Star Trek books that delve into the rich history that Trek has created-and there’s a lot to be had.  I really wish I could go into detail on one aspect, but it would really ruin one of the big moments of the book, and I can’t do that!  I will say, however, that it preserves the fact of Dr. Soong’s genius while making sense that certain events and individuals may have guided his steps-even if only slightly.  In addition, Immortal Coil is a pretty decent mystery, as the crew of the Enterprise tries to find out why Maddox’s work was blown up, and who was behind it.

But the best part of the book is the continuing evolution of Commander Data.  He’s dealt with death and love and everything in between before, but those were in days before he had his emotion chip installed.  Now, he’s experiencing them in a new light, because he’s feeling those emotions instead of simply understanding them.  And as the quote above indicates, he’s beginning to make decisions that are not totally based on facts.

Oh:  another part of the book that was enjoyable.  There are short portions between parts of the book detailing the journeys of Dr. Soong and a couple of associates, which ties into the events of this book-but I’ll leave that to the readers to discover.  All in all, Immortal Coil turns in a good performance, and is probably one of the better Next Generation books out there.  Definitely read this if you are a fan of Commander Data, or a Star Trek Chronology buff.

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