Posts Tagged ‘typhon pact’

Book Review: “Seize the Fire” by Michael A. Martin

One of the things that I love about the Star Trek: Titan novels is that the editors at Pocket/Simon & Schuster allow the authors to really expand upon the scientific points in the stories. Even when the point of the story is to expound upon the Typhon Pact, science still gets done. In Seize the Fire, the second Typhon Pact novel, there’s enough science and technology to keep Titan fans happy, and as the story wears on, the action is enough to keep the editors feeling like the book is moving along at a good clip.

To recap, the Typhon Pact bands together six traditional Federation enemies (Romulans, Gorn, Breen, Tzenkethi, Kinshaya, and Tholians). Seize the Fire covers the Gorn, who we first (and only) met in the original series episode “Arena”. The Gorn suffered a defeat that day, leading to a thriving Federation colony on Cestus III (I believe the current President is from there). In other adventures, Riker was involved in an uprising to overthrow the Gorn government, so he has some backstory with them. But really, this book — like Zero Sum Game did for the Breen — establishes who the Gorn are, their caste system, their technology and terminology, and the way they behave around other races. The beginning of the book outlines that the Gorn warrior caste lost their one major hatchery, and now have to look for a new one. Fast-forward about a year, and a Gorn fleet has found an ancient alien artifact that could be used to terraform (ecosculpt, as they call it) a planet on the outskirts of explored space into an ideal hatchery world.

Except that the planet is already populated.

In comes Titan, who doesn’t want to see the indigenous race be destroyed by the terraforming device. The problem is that the people on the planet — Hranrar — haven’t demonstrated that they have warp-capable spaceships, so the Prime Directive is in play. It’s up to Riker and his crew to stop the Gorn from killing the Hranrarii before Typhon Pact reinforcements arrive… and before Gog’ressh, a renegade Gorn captain affected by radiation poisoning, destroys the ecosculptor in an attempt to remake the warrior caste in his own image.

One of the great strengths of the Titan novels has been characterization, and author Michael A. Martin — one of the co-writers of the first two Titan novels, which defined the crew and ship — includes updates on everyone we want to know about. Other than the main three characters (Riker, Troi, and Vale), he spends quite a bit of time on series regulars Evesh, Modan, Dakal, Torvig, and Dr. Ree. Unfortunately, being constrained by the story and the fact that he has to get from A to B to C kind of limits and two-dimensional-izes some of the main characters. To wit:

  • Commander Vale is annoyingly snarky. We get it, Christine — you’re a female Kirk.
  • Emo-Efrosian chief engineer Ra-Havreii continues to find things to whine about.
  • Other than a passing reference to her holopresence system, Melora Pazlar has very little to do in the way of character development. She’s Lieutenant Commander Exposition this time around.
  • Commander Keru is suspicious of everyone. At least he’s stopped moping around about Sean. That happened eleven years ago. I realize it sucked, but… man, eleven years!
  • We have some supernumaries on the bridge by name of Lavena and Rager. How is Rager still only a Lieutenant, anyway? She was an ensign on TNG, and one would think that the Dominion War would’ve kicked her up at least another grade by now.

The story is really about the Gorn — a couple of tech-caste characters are given main focus in the novel, along with Gog’ressh, and it is they who provide much of the impetus to move the plot forward. The main Star Trek characters are Riker (by virtue of being the captain) and Tuvok (who has some experience with terraforming devices — the term “Genesis” is bandied about quite a bit). Also added to the mix is SecondGen White-Blue, from the previous Titan stand-alone novel; he (it?) is an artificial intelligence who has made friends with Torvig. I think we’re supposed to get some sort of ironic vibe from that (Torvig is a cybernetic being; White-Blue is a machine intelligence who wants to learn more about organic life forms), but I didn’t. And finally, Mr. Gibruch, the second officer, appears to be a cross between Predator and a pipe organ — a cool image, but I didn’t feel invested enough in his character to really care about him.

While the climax of the story had plenty of action and a satisfying ending, I think overall the book had some flaws that should have been addressed. First and foremost, we don’t actually see Tuvok’s role in the climax — it just sort of happens, and then is vaguely discussed in the denouement. Secondly — and also related to Tuvok — there’s a flashback to show us why he hates Genesis-type devices so much, but it isn’t paid off satisfactorily (at least to my mind). And speaking of italicized sections, there’s a bit with the ecosculptor that feels like an artifact of an earlier story, perhaps something that the author edited out in revision and didn’t remove before the final cut. It makes sense, I guess, but again, no payoff.

Overall I found this to be a stronger novel than Zero-Sum Game, although I felt there were areas that could have been improved or expanded upon. Also, there was plenty of filler to cut, and while I know how hard that can be, sometimes your favorite scenes (like the whole bit with Noah Powell) just have to go. As with the Breen in the previous novel, we definitely got insight into the way the Gorn work, and I commend Martin for his excellent work there, but parts of the book were too two-dimensional or slow for me, and as I said previously, there wasn’t enough payoff*. Still, for having to somehow work the far-away spaceship into the main plot, this was done far better than many Voyager stories that somehow were shoehorned into what was happening on the homefront. And even if you don’t read Typhon Pact but you like Titan, you’ll like this book. A solid Star Trek outing all around.

* I think that, at the end, Martin was laying the groundwork for a Big Boss that Titan can take on in future novels, but I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t know more about what was coming. Contrast that to Treason by Peter David, where the new Big Boss for Calhoun and co. is clearly laid out by the end of the novel.

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.