Posts Tagged ‘star trek’

Book Review: “Paths of Disharmony” by Dayton Ward

Boy, does it suck when everything goes horribly wrong. For 200 years, these dudes have been our friends, ever since we helped them make peace with these other dudes who were our friends even longer. But now they’re all pissed at us. So let’s send our most awesome dude to their house and hold a giant party, inviting everyone. That’ll totally work! Until the few asshats who kind-of-sort-of know these friendly dudes’ roommate call in all their asshat friends and start throwing down.

That’s pretty much the entire plot of Star Trek: Typhon Pact #4: Paths of Disharmony. Also known as the one with Captain Picard and the dreadlocked Andorian on the front cover.

In all honesty, this is quite possibly the best of the Typhon Pact novels so far, and I’m not really surprised at that. It’s the most popular ship and crew in Star Trek, plus a race that has really gotten kind of short shrift in televised Trek (Enterprise notwithstanding), plus a classic Trek “let’s go to a planet and solve a problem” episode. It’s written by Dayton Ward, who has done some really great Trek writing over the years. And, of all the Trek tie-ins written since the end of Voyager, this one brings together the largest amount of the most popular crew (four-sevenths of the central TNG cast).

Paths begins with the Enterprise being sent to Andor, a staunch Federation member for more than 200 years, because their people are up in arms that genetic research is being done to help them find ways to reproduce that don’t involve four distinct sexes. Lieutenant Thirishar ch’Thane, late of the Deep Space Nine relaunch, is a part of that team. Support on Andor is turning against the Federation, and the Andorian presider hopes a scientific conference will be the answer. Like I said, pretty standard TNG at this point.

Aboard the Enterprise, we find Picard, Beverly, their son Rene (who is now one year old), Worf, and Geordi. Added to their number are science officer Elfiki, contact specialist (and somewhat annoyingly Mary-Sue-ish*) T’Ryssa Chen, security chief (and Worf-squeeze) Jasminder Choudhury, assistant chief engineer Taurik, and ship’s counselor Hegol Den. Picard is mentally battling with himself as to whether or not he should take a promotion to Admiral (or even Ambassador), and he and Beverly are definitely looking to make things a little more stable for their son. Geordi is having love issues (a common theme for him). And everyone is worried about the Typhon Pact.

Upon arrival at Andor, the crew splits up into their traditional small groups — Picard does some diplomacy and is enticed to visit an archaelogical dig; Beverly works with the genetic scientist who caused all this trouble; Geordi builds a power station; Choudhury has to secure the conference building; and up on the ship, Worf is left in charge. Through all of this we meet many secondary Andorian characters, as well as a lot of enterprising young men (and women) — mostly in security. About 40 percent into the book, a rebel group of Andorians strikes at the Federation personnel, but it’s not until halfway through — the traditional cliffhanger point — that we see who’s really behind all of this anti-Federation settlement.

As one would expect, after the Typhon Pact drops a bombshell that shakes the Andorian people’s trust in the Federation, the true villains make a series of attacks somewhat reminiscent of the Picard-on-the-surface-Riker-on-the-ship that we saw in Insurrection. Our heroes must stop these terrorists.

You can guess how that turns out.

In exactly the same way that Rough Beasts of Empire didn’t, Paths of Disharmony manages to make me care about all the secondary (and even the minor) characters enough that I didn’t get lost when we jumped from place to place. With the exception of a huge digression (Picard’s archaeological trip, which seemed to me to be an excuse to tie in Enterprise), the writing is well-paced and the action is gripping.

I know there are at least two more Typhon Pact books in the offing, but they’ll be hard-pressed to top this one. Definitely worth it, for both casual and die-hard Star Trek fans who are looking for the next chapter in the lives of our Next Generation friends.

* I don’t blame Ward; he didn’t invent the character, and he actually gives her some respectable things to do in this episode.

Book Review: “Rough Beasts of Empire” by David R. George III

I’m really hoping that the Star Trek Typhon Pact tie-in novels aren’t going to suffer from the odd-numbered curse all the way through, because I don’t think I can handle spending another $8 on book five if it’s going to be as disappointing as Rough Beasts of Empire, the third book in the saga.

I had really hoped Empire would be great. After all, the author, David R. George III, wrote what was to my mind the best installment in the Lost Era, Serpents Among the Ruins (if you like Trek and you haven’t read it, you should rectify that situation immediately). George has also written other very enjoyable books in the Trek universe. But, unfortunately, this Typhon Pact novel just doesn’t cut it.

I’m usually a fan of multiple interlocking stories that come together at the end. I even liked Love Actually, despite the extremely-tangential way some of the storylines touched each other. But compared to Empire, that film’s stories were completely intertwined.

There are four distinct stories in Empire, and the only way to explain them is to keep them separate, like they are in the novel.

The Tzenkethi. As with the other Typhon Pact novels, Empire exists to show us a Star Trek race that we haven’t seen. The Tzenkethi are a merit-driven caste society of beautiful beings with no bones and a very unique approach to the use of floor (and ceiling) space. Their names are so complex that I can’t even remember what the main Tzenkethi character was called. Something with an A at the end. Anyway, this Tzenkethi was sent to be the Typhon Pact’s ambassador to Romulus, although she had a secret mission. Which was addressed so infrequently that I totally forgot about it until the very end.

Vulcan-Romulan Reunification. Spock is still on Romulus, trying to bring both sides together. This was by far the least interesting of all the storylines because, (a), we’ve been dealing with it in novels for far too long and, (b), we know it’s never going to succeed. It’s just an excuse to get a picture of Leonard Nimoy on the cover of the book. In any case, an assassination attempt is made upon Spock, which leads him to approach Praetor Tal’Aura* with a groundbreaking proposal.

The Romulan Senate. The Ortikant family, led by Gell Kamemor**, is heavily involved in the reformation of the Romulan Senate under Tal’Aura.

Captain Sisko. I firmly believe that this is the story George wanted to tell when he started writing this book. It is the most interesting, the most nuanced, and the most compelling. In the beginning, we see Sisko commanding the starship New York during the Borg war in Star Trek: Destiny. This actually happens before the first two Typhon Pact novels, which confused me at first, but I got over it. Anyway, after the battle, Sisko goes home to Kasidy and his family, but remembers that the Prophets told him he would only know sadness if he made a life for himself on Bajor. So he makes the questionable decision to leave Bajor and return to Starfleet. He is assigned a starship on patrol along the Romulan border, where he becomes Emo Sisko.

There’s also several minor sub-plots, including the return of a somewhat-overused-as-a-plot-device character, the summit between Empress Donatra and Praetor Tal’Aura, the observations of Senator Durjik, and an out-of-nowhere flashback to Sisko’s experiences during the last Tzenkethi conflict which completely pulled me out of the story.

The plots above only barely touch, and I don’t feel as though they were adequately tied together (especially Sisko’s, which only very slightly interacted with any of the others). I really feel this is two books — Sisko’s story, and the Romulan story. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really get into the Romulan story because it was too boring, and I couldn’t really get into the Sisko story because I can’t believe that Sisko would walk away from his family just because the Prophets told him to. I can think of at least three better ways to get Sisko into the story, and I’m probably not the only Trek fan who read “reunification” and thought “oy vey, enough already.”

I realize I’ve been pretty negative overall, but mostly what I’m negative about is the plot and the story. George’s writing is still top-notch, even when he’s dumping scads of exposition, and as with the other Typhon Pact novels there are plenty of hooks into other Star Trek shows and books that fans will remember and recognize. I just don’t think this book was interlaced enough with its A and B plots to really interest me; therefore, I’ll have to recommend that you give this one a pass and just read the spoilers online.

* You may remember her from Star Trek: Nemesis as the Romulan woman who left the Senate chamber just before everyone turned into stones and crumbled to dust.

* See Serpents Among the Ruins, where she was the chief Romulan negotiator on the Treaty of Algeron, best known for preventing the Federation from developing or using cloaking devices.

Book review: “Zero Sum Game” by David Mack

In the summer of 1988, my mom picked my sister and me up from our summer camp and said that my dad had gotten hurt at work (his foot) and was in the hospital. We were going to go see him, but since we’d be there for a while, she’d take us to the bookstore first. I remember picking out a book, and then on the way to the front, I noticed a whole shelf of Star Trek novels. I grabbed the one with the coolest cover.

That was my first exposure to non-YA genre fiction. The book was Diane Duane’s My Enemy, My Ally, still one of my favorites.

Since then, I have read hundreds of Star Trek novels across all five series. I used to read every single one, but now I pick and choose. I’ve been pretty judicious lately. However, I decided I’d give the Typhon Pact novels a try, and started with the first one, David Mack’s Zero Sum Game.

Although marketed as a Typhon Pact novel, Zero Sum Game is really a DS9 book at its heart. It also kind of requires that you’ve read the Destiny trilogy so you know about the characters, and that you’re at least aware of the events in Keith R.A. DeCandido’s A Singular Destiny (read the spoilers; I found the book kind of boring and Mary-Sue-ish). For those who aren’t: Ezri Dax is now the captain of the starship Aventine, and her crew contains folks from DS9 and TNG — including Simon Tarses. The Typhon Pact is a group of traditional Trek enemies that formed in the wake of the Borg invasion chronicled in Destiny; it includes the Romulans, the Tholians, the Gorn, the Breen, the Kinshaya, and the Tzenkethi. I seem to remember the reason for their creation as being pretty flimsy, but that’s neither here nor there. It seems as though the Typhon Pact novels are going to humanize Trek enemies who haven’t gotten a lot of play over the years. First up, the Breen, who speak in machine language and whose faces have never been seen. In the DS9 years, the Breen allied themselves with the Dominion, and that’s really about all you need to know.

In Zero Sum Game, Starfleet Intelligence has learned that the Breen are developing a slipstream drive to rival the Federation’s fastest propulsion technology, which is installed aboard the Aventine. Dr. Bashir, who has done a few missions for SI in the past, is tapped to infiltrate the Breen because he is genetically-enhanced, thereby giving him the ability to learn, process, and react faster than your average SI agent. His briefing is conducted by the other enhanced individuals Bashir met during DS9, including Sarina Douglas, with whom he’d fallen in love at one point. He agrees to go on the mission, with Douglas as his partner, and after an overly-convoluted plan to get them inserted into Breen space on the correct planet, they get their — and every Trek fan’s — first view of what the Breen are really like.

And that is, by far, the best part of the book. Not the action sequences, not the narrow escapes from death, not the way Douglas overcomes her captors or Bashir fights moral battles with himself over killing, and definitely not the B-plot of Dax trying to keep the Aventine on the Breen border so they can pick up Bashir and Douglas when their mission is complete. All of the plot and action is average Trek, and there’s actually quite a lot of improbable goings-on that seem to work out perfectly for our heroes. Even the ending is pretty unbelievable, and the coda wasn’t as surprising (to me, anyway), as I think it was intended to be.

But the Breen… ah, the Breen. I’d hate to spoil it all by saying everything Mack came up with to make them interesting, but the reason they really wear those masks and armor is almost worth the price of admission. As with many Trek novels, there’s plenty of space to explain and describe things that just can’t be covered in a television episode, and Bashir and Douglas’s mission to the Breen world is enough to fill a couple of episodes by itself.

The novel is $8, whether it’s electronic or paper, and I’m quite pleased that Mack writes such long stories because there’s almost nothing that annoys me more than paying $8 for something that’s only 225 pages with large print and big spaces between the lines. While all Kindle books use more or less the same font size and kerning, Zero Sum Game is 352 pages in print, so I definitely didn’t feel cheated by paying $8 for it. However, after the heart-wrenching character deaths in SCE: Wildfire and the sweeping grandness of Destiny — probably the best cross-series saga available in the Trek universe — I felt a little let down by Zero Sum Game. I’ll still read Mack’s next book, because he can easily reach the bar he set with Destiny, but I don’t feel as though I needed to read this novel the way I needed to read Destiny or Invasion or The Lost Era.

A few last words on the Typhon Pact miniseries: I happen to be the kind of person who can’t stop reading a series once it’s started, so I’ve already bought the second in the miniseries. It’s the Titan entry, and I happen to enjoy the Titan novels — they seem to have taken the mantle of the single-episode novel that TNG and TOS used to have, back in the day. I also understand the concept of needing a Big Boss now that the Borg are out of the picture. I even understand wanting to show us the Trek races we don’t know very well and humanizing them so we sympathize. But I’m not sure the Typhon Pact is a credible enough enemy, and I don’t fear them the way I feared the Borg or the Romulans. Where these books will shine is the exploration of the lesser-known enemy races, and also in the interactions between characters. Mack wrote Dax’s crew as a cohesive unit, and I don’t remember if he invented Lieutenant Kedair but she is definitely an interesting addition to the cast; the way he showed us the Breen was also quite well-done. So far in Book 2, I’m learning quite a bit about the Gorn.

I think my problem is that I’m just not as excited about these books as I was for Destiny, or for new entries in New Frontier, or even for stand-alone Trek novels like in the 90s and early 2000s. And I think that really does a disservice to both Star Trek and to the novelists they’ve tapped to write these books — Mack, Michael A. Martin, David R. George III, and Dayton Ward, who have written some really great Star Trek fiction in the past. Perhaps when taken as a whole, after I’ve read them all, the Typhon Pact miniseries will feel like a complete storyline and I’ll feel better about recommending the entire series. But not yet.

The Speed of Sci-Fi

In the Star Trek novel Doctor’s Orders — which you really ought to read if you like Trek — there’s an offhanded remark made about how an additional 80 terabytes of data storage were added to the Enterprise computers in advance of their science mission to 1212 Muscae V.

I first read this novel in 1990, when it was released — I’d been reading adult-targeted SF (mostly Trek novels) since 1987*, but it wasn’t until I reread DO earlier this year (for about the 25th time) that I noticed there’s five percent of that in my living room alone.

The whole point of futuristic sci-fi is to look ahead, extrapolate what might happen, and write stories about it. Well, Diane Duane either extrapolated hard drive space based upon what she had in her personal computer*** and how much space it took to store various files or — more likely — did some research on computing and extended it to the future.

By the time I was selling computers, in 1995, 40GB was de rigeur (IIRC). This little factoid tells you just how far we came in the five years after the book was published.

If you really want to see how fast the speed of sci-fi moves, read some Robert Heinlein novels. It seems to me like, in each decade, Heinlein readjusted his expectations of where we would be in 30, 40, or 50 years. In Stranger in a Strange Land, which to the best of my knowledge takes place in the late 20th century but was written in 1961, Jubal Harshaw stores data on reels of tape. By the late 20th century, I was using disks, although we still sold tapes in the store. Contrast that to Friday, written 21 years later and occurring in the mid 21st century — data and other material can be stored in tiny cases of sorts, such as the one Friday has implanted behind her navel. Well, on my desk right now I have two sticks of data no bigger than my index finger, each of which hold 16 gigabytes — eight hundred times more storage than on my first computer’s hard drive, and it’s only been 20 years.

As a writer of science fiction, I often find it difficult to predict exactly what’s going to change, and when. In 2004, I had a Motorola v600 which was, at the time, a pretty awesome cellphone. Also in 2004, I started writing a novel in which everyone carried an ID card that you could “run” through a “comp”. The ID contained your credit information, your rank and position (if you were in the military), and various other data. The book takes place in the 2900s, and the technology is not human-based (for reasons I won’t get into), so I suppose I can get away with it for that reason, but by the time we hit… oh, I don’t know, 2025… the concept of needing a physical card will probably have gone the way of the dinosaur, in favor of keeping everything on your cell phone or implanted in a chip under your skin.

The point of that paragraph is this: by the time I had written the first 10,000 words of that (as yet unpublished — and incomplete) novel, the technology was already dated. Imagine how authors feel when they finish a book, get it edited, get it on the publication schedule… and then, two months before it’s released, something new is invented that makes the book obsolete.

That’s the speed of sci-fi.

Oh, there are more glaring examples — 45 years ago, we thought the Enterprise bridge was totally futuristic, but when the show Enterprise came out, somehow there was more technology on Archer’s bridge than on Kirk’s. Somehow, communicators and tricorders — and the engine room — looked way cooler in 2151 than 2266. I know, I know, we can make cooler-looking stuff now, so why don’t we, right? But even then, Archer and T’Pol didn’t have anything like an iPhone, and the closest thing Kirk got to an iPad was that electronic slate thingy Yeoman Rand brought him every episode.

And don’t even get me started on Babylon 5. If you thought the speed of sci-fi was fast, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen the crazy throw pillows and patterns on that show. Londo has a pillow in the first season**** that looks like it was made from one of Bill Cosby’s more cubist sweaters.

I think this is why so many authors are writing sci-fi after some sort of watershed event — the earth being flooded or the oceans drying up, a nuclear holocaust or other extinction-level event — and why they’ve always done so. If there’s a fundamental shift in the world itself, technology doesn’t matter so much. Sure, in the 2100s, humanity had space technology (according to Sean McMullen’s amazing Souls in the Great Machine, which I’ll be reviewing soon), but after Greatwinter, all sorts of old-technology-that-is-new-again was developed because we didn’t have spaceships and laser guns and computers anymore. It provides a clean slate.

Compare that to Section 3A, a recent story of mine in which everyone has a lawyer. According to a lawyer friend of mine, that could be coming sooner than we think.

I’ll end this article by appropriating a page from Alasdair Stuart‘s playbook and slightly modify a well-known quote: sci-fi moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

* In 1987, my mom picked me up from summer camp and told me and my sister that my dad had seriously injured his foot, and we were going to see him at the hospital. On the way, we stopped at Bookstop** because, as my mom put it, we’d be at the hospital for a while and she didn’t want us to be bored. I went to the sci-fi section and found a whole shelf of *gasp* STAR TREK BOOKS!!! I made my mom buy me three, and that was it. I was hooked on genre literature.

** There was a computer store right next to Bookstop. It was a CompuAdd dealership. I got my first “personal” computer — that is, one I didn’t have to share — from that store.

*** In 1990, I had a 20MB hard drive, a processor slower than 25mHz — probably an 8086 or 80286 — a 5.25-inch hard drive, and a dot matrix printer that I could make print in color if I swapped out the ribbons by hand. Oh, and a 13-inch 256-color EGA monitor. We had a mouse and a joystick, but neither worked very well, so we mostly used the keyboard. My OS was MS-DOS 3.something, and I used XTree Gold as my file manager.

**** I just watched the first season last month, so that’s why it’s in my head. I don’t memorize the decor of every show I watch. Really.

The futuristic city image in this post comes from Click the image to view it on their site.