Warning: This review contains spoilers for previous New Frontier novels, most notably Treason.
Many a young Star Trek fan has imagined what it would be like to create a new ship and crew and take them on adventures around the galaxy. Many of those young fans make a start, and then give up when they realize that (a) carving out a chunk of a universe with established rules can be kind of difficult and (b) they’ll never sell their idea to CBS/Paramount/Simon & Schuster.
And then there’s novelist and comic-book author Peter David, who brought us Star Trek: New Frontier, carving out a chunk of a universe with established rules and selling the idea to his editors.
For fourteen years, David has been sharing with us the adventures of Captain Mackenzie Calhoun of the U.S.S. Excalibur — his unorthodox style, his unorthodox crew, his unorthodox worldview. In fact, if New Frontier had a single word to describe it, that word would be… well… unorthodox.
And in his latest New Frontier novel, Blind Man’s Bluff, he continues in the fast-paced adventure vein that his fans have come to enjoy.
To recap: in Treason, David’s previous New Frontier novel, the crew is introduced to a powerful new enemy, the D’myurj (sound it out) and their servants, the even-more-powerful armored soldiers who possess an Achilles heel in the form of a vent in said armor. They kill many people on Captain Mueller’s U.S.S. Trident, and generally wreak havoc on the galaxy, until Selar (first introduced in TNG’s “The Schizoid Man” as Dr. Crusher’s colleague) undergoes a Vulcan mental break known as “treason” and ends up destroying most — but not all — of the D’myurj in hopes of finding a way to save her son from what is essentially progeria. She succeeds, but the cost is her own life.
Blind Man’s Bluff picks up shortly after the events of Treason. It’s focused mostly on Calhoun, although there are notable appearances by the entire Excalibur crew, as well as some others. After paying a little lip service to the existence of Admiral Shelby, Captain Mueller, and those who died on the Trident, we find ourselves on Xenex, Calhoun’s home planet, where he is attempting to marshal his people into a guerilla force to fight off the Brethren. As the book continues, layers of the D’myurj/Brethren plot are peeled back and we find out exactly how Calhoun was marooned on Xenex and why he’s fighting in the first place.
The b-plot of the book is almost better-developed — and definitely easier to understand — than the a-plot. Morgan Primus, mother of Robin Lefler, became joined with the Excalibur’s computer system some books back. She is gaining power at a remarkable rate — rather like Barclay in “The Nth Degree” — and Calhoun realizes she’s becoming a danger not just to his ship but the entirety of Starfleet. Via Soleta, who you may remember now has her own spy ship, he enlists the help of Seven of Nine and The Doctor in a plot to get Morgan off his ship, once and for all.
As I said earlier, Blind Man’s Bluff is a fast-paced adventure story, which makes it a lot of fun to read. It also contracts its view somewhat, focusing only on the Excalibur (in recent novels, we’ve dealt with both the Excalibur and the Trident, as well as Space Station Bravo, and while David is perfectly capable of casting a wide net, it’s nice to get back to a smaller-scale story). He does bring back almost every character from the previous novels — at least, the ones who are alive (including Calhoun’s sons Xyon and Moke as well as Admirals Nechayev and Jellico) — but the story is really all about the main characters from the Excalibur. While Calhoun is off fighting on Xenex, his first officer Burgoyne and the rest of the gang — Calhoun, Tobias, Xyon (Burgy’s son, not Calhoun’s), and Mitchell must deal with Morgan.
While the novel did have its sticky points — the Nechayev plotline particularly confused me, and I really wasn’t expecting its resolution; also, it seemed as though too much time was spent on the crew of the Dauntless — David’s writing managed to keep me well and truly interested in everything that was going on. In addition, he hung a bit of a lampshade on his own writing style. In fact, there’s even a scene where Burgoyne laments the fact that everyone on Excalibur has their verbal responses set permanently on “sarcasm”. He does overplay Calhoun’s previously-stated tactical and combat skills to excess, perhaps to hang another lampshade, perhaps to help new readers understand just how powerful the Brethren actually are. Whichever it was, it really didn’t work for me. I guess it was necessary to make the hero more mortal, but he’s so immortal (thanks to the way he was written in the past) that there really wasn’t any other way.
David said in a recent interview that this might be the last New Frontier novel — his contract with the publisher is coming to a close and he hasn’t heard about any extensions or re-signings yet. It may be that he wanted to close the series with a bang, killing off another major Star Trek character — you may recall he also offed Admiral Janeway in Before Dishonor — but while I found the novel to be a good one, I wasn’t really satisfied by the ending. I feel like there’s a little more story to be told, and that a few loose ends remain to tie up. It’s not like a sequel hook; it’s like there’s a third book in a trilogy that’s waiting to be written. I hope it is.
In the foreword to Peter David’s Q-Squared, he says that some readers find his books quick reads, but this one will take longer because it’s more complicated. I finished it in one Saturday afternoon. Blind Man’s Bluff took about two-and-a-half hours, despite being 352 pages long. I’d say that fans of New Frontier, and even fans of Star Trek tie-ins, would enjoy this book. It’s not a book for new readers — especially given that there’s very few threads back to major characters in any series except Voyager — but despite my issues with it, it’s another stellar piece of Peter David Star Trek fiction, and I look forward to whatever comes next.
Note to Parents: This book contains occasional adult humor and an awful lot of violence. I don’t recall any sexual situations, although there is a scene of partial nudity. If your kids can handle Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, they’ll be able to handle this book, but if Khan’s mangled face gave them nightmares, you might want to skip this book for a while. Of course, you should use your own best judgment where your children are concerned.