Holograms and Star Wars
Light holographic pastimes share shelf space with a eugenics war and the Battle of Betazed in this spring's Trek book offerings.
The concluding volume of Greg Cox's masterful Eugenics Wars duology reveals the real scandal of the early Clinton years -- nothing involving sex in the White House, but the fact that U.S. citizens were kept out of the loop about the rise of the Great Khanate and its connection to militia groups, Balkan violence and global warming. The Eugenics Wars Volume Two is just as much fun as its predecessor, weaving Trek history in and out of recent headlines mostly through the point of view of one of history's more entertaining secret agents, Teri Garr look-alike Roberta Lincoln. Though Gary Seven's 'cat' Isis has mysteriously vanished, the rest of the gang from the previous book is accounted for, along with just about everyone from the 20th century ever mentioned on Star Trek.
Back again are rocket scientist Shannon O'Donnell, transparent aluminum developer Walter Nichols, Nomad inventor Jackson Roykirk...plus Shaun Christopher, destined to become the first man on Saturn, and Claire Raymond, whose cryogenically frozen body was (will be?) revived by Captain Picard's crew. There are no coincidences in this version of history, wherein well-armed U.S. militia members, Latin American Marxists, African dictators, feminist separatists and a millennial suicide cult all have secret ties to Chrysalis -- the secret lab that gave rise to Khan and dozens of other genetically engineered super-humans now scattered around the globe.
As with the previous novel, one doesn't have to have seen 'Assignment: Earth,' 'Space Seed' or The Wrath of Khan to enjoy this story, though the more familiar the reader is with Trek, the more in-jokes and familiar faces will emerge. Yet the story stands on its own and brings in a great deal of local contemporary color -- a Guy Fawkes celebration on Charing Cross Road featuring revelers dressed as Mike Tyson and Hillary Clinton, a magnificent temple in Maharashtra, the Polynesian isle of Muroroa. Since Khan's struggle for power takes place mostly underground (literally and figuratively), the battles take place all over the globe: on a submarine beneath the surface of the Adriatic Sea, at a fort in Arizona, in the tunnel beneath the English Channel. Dozens of new characters interact with those from the previous novel; my personal favorites are a band of genetically enhanced super-women who save the world Xena-style from horrific biological warfare.
Cox's obvious affection for Trek comes through as strongly as his knowledge. He gets in a couple of plugs for his own publisher -- Far Beyond the Stars, here credited not to Steven Barnes but Benjamin Russell (the fictional author whom Captain Sisko hallucinated), and Chicago Mobs of the Twenties, the book that made an entire planet hungry for a piece of the action, published by Simon and Schuster in the 1990s. Cox is also an obvious fan of pop culture, working everyone from Tonya Harding to Ross Perot.
Fans of this first Eugenics Wars will love this sequel and folks who skipped the first one because they didn't care about Khan's youth may actually like this one better -- the titular character is more recognizable, the events are closer to our own era and the framing story seems less intrusive. Despite the focus on Khan, though, this is really Roberta Lincoln's book, and she's one of the finest heroines Trek has ever seen. Makes me sorry the television show "Assignment: Earth" was supposed to launch never got made.
A witty parody of a noir detective novel, Dean Wesley Smith's A Hard Rain will appeal greatly to fans of Next Gen's holo-mysteries...and will probably bore non-fans to tears, particularly since the expected science fiction payoff at the end never arrives. But a whodunit's supposed to contain unexpected twists, and this one certainly does -- the biggest being that despite the Star Trek imprint and the familiar faces on the cover, this book really belongs on the mystery shelves of your local bookstore.
The protagonist for more than half of A Hard Rain is Dixon Hill, the fictional detective played by Captain Picard in such episodes as "The Big Goodbye" and "Manhunt." The action that unfolds on the holodeck happens in real-time; the framing story, about a disaster unfolding on the ship because of a holographic crime, is told in flashback, with a ticking clock counting down to the minute when the theft occurs. In a nutshell, LaForge and Data are testing a device on the holodeck to keep the ship from being pulled into an area of space dramatically called The Blackness, which will destroy the Enterprise if the ship gets dragged in. But a malfunction during a holographic test costs them a valuable piece of equipment called the Heart of the Adjuster, which is hidden somewhere within the world of Dixon Hill. Unless Picard's fictional alter ego can solve the mystery, his crew will die in the real universe.
Naturally, it's silly that the holographic safety controls can't be reset to let the crew find the Adjuster, but we've seen enough equally ridiculous holodeck stories over the years that this issue doesn't interfere with the story. To complicate matters, Dixon Hill's San Francisco is always dark and foggy, and glitches in the program allow for unexpected resets -- walls rearrange into older configurations, dead characters to come back to life. The detective is assisted by the Luscious Bev and the strangely literal Mr. Data as he hunts for what looks like a golden golf ball -- a sphere of auriferite that the Adjustor requires to function. In a city rife with crime lords and women with shady pasts, there are suspects everywhere, but the real culprit turns out to be someone Dix never even thought of interrogating.
Smith writes with humor and energy, giving Data hysterically cliched observations in perfect noir style. Crusher is unfortunately largely relegated to a typical role for women in potboiler novels -- her great body gets as much press time as her brain -- and Picard seems to be enjoying himself a little too much for a captain whose ship will be horribly destroyed if he can't solve his holographic mystery. Fans of "A Piece of the Action" or Smith's Adventures of Captain Proton are certain to enjoy this book, and even people sick to death of holodeck stories may be pleased by the lack of technobabble and campy wit.
I'm not a fan of war stories, not even the excellent Dominion War saga that energized Deep Space Nine. That said, Charlotte Douglas and Susan Kearney's The Battle of Betazed is a first-rate addition, both as a war story and a glimpse into how the Federation-wide crisis affected Next Generation characters -- particularly Deanna Troi, since the struggle takes place on her homeworld. In a throwaway television line, we learned that Betazed had fallen. The concern on DS9 focused on the fact that this put the Dominion within striking range of Vulcan and much too close to Earth. But surely every TNG fan thought of Lwaxana and Deanna Troi at that moment, and wondered.
At the start of The Battle of Betazed, Elias Vaughn asks for Deanna Troi's help in freeing a telepathic serial killer, one of the most hated and feared men known to Betazed. The killer, Tevren, possesses knowledge and understanding of how to use mental weapons disavowed by the Betazoids. Troi deplores the plan, and loathes the intimacy she must enter into with a mass murderer. But she also deplores the Cardassian experiments being conducted on her people, and finally realizes that Betazed must strike back...even if to do so they must risk altering their peaceful mentality. At moments Troi's dilemma resembles Clarice's from The Silence of the Lambs, wondering whether she must learn to think like a murderer in order to stop a greater evil.
For people wondering why we never saw the Enterprise crew fighting alongside the DS9 staffers, this book provides answers; it also reveals how Lwaxana fought for Betazed, how Worf's former shipmates responded to the death of his wife, and how Deanna and Will fell back in love after years of agreeing to put aside their personal feelings for the greater good. DS9 fans will be pleased to note that Worf and O'Brien play pivotal roles in the novel -- Worf commands the Defiant, while O'Brien provides expertise about Cardassian engineering. Fans of the DS9 relaunch novels may also be pleased about Vaughn's role, though I found his character intrusive in a way that's hard to articulate. I realize the Trek editors are trying to integrate the new characters they've introduced into the universe, but Vaughn's already been cited as being in so many important places, playing a part in so many events...it's almost like reading a Mary Sue character inserted into an otherwise great piece of fan fiction, where one gets tired of the author trying to force someone new into the action.
Voyager fans may be most interested by the Cardassian villain Crell Moset, the Mengele0-type doctor from "Nothing Human" whom Torres refused to allow to treat her even in holographic form. The medical horror story is as awful to read about as the combat situations. Unfortunately, the big ethical dilemma of the story -- whether Troi and her people will be forced to adapt the methods of murderers in order to defend themselves -- gets resolved via a gimmick, denying readers the gut-wrenching morality crises of Dominion War episodes like "In the Pale Moonlight."
This is the novel's weakest point, but given the abundance of virtues -- the cinematic action sequences, the mental anguish, the love story, the continuity with DS9 and other Trek -- it doesn't detract overall from enjoying the skillful storytelling. Even the ugliness of war can't diminish that.
The Hologram's Handbook is truly a volume for EMH fans (and only EMH fans, given that it's nearly $15 for 84 pages, which are certainly enough). This slim volume is written from the point of view of Voyager's Doctor, and perfectly in keeping with the EMH's personality -- the tone is condescending, patronizing and full of self-pity. Readers will learn more than they want to know about holographic etiquette, the fear of decompilation and what pass for holographic bodily functions...though those hoping for salacious details about the Doc's romance with Denara Pel or the "son" he fathered in "Blink of an Eye" may be disappointed, though it's amusing to learn that the early programs for his private anatomy were based on the, uh, equipment of Tom Paris.
There's little else left to the imagination, and lots of questions about holograms answered that many people wouldn't even think to ask in this purported guide for holograms to getting along with organics. Lacking the political edge of the later Voyager holographic episodes, this isn't a guide to revolution but a witty look at potential upgrades and career choices -- not to mention opportunities for meeting chicks. Even though the Doctor is one of my favorite characters, the self-aggrandizing tone gets to be a bit much -- it's perfectly in keeping with the Doctor's personality, but one longs for a sidebar with Tom Paris' sarcasm, Seven of Nine's brutal honesty or even Janeway's imperious disregard for holograms.
Illustrated with photos from the show (Doc and more Doc) and cartoons by Jeff Yagher (Iden from "Flesh and Blood," a good friend of Picardo's), this book reads like an extended joke taken a bit too far -- those who cheered every Doctor episode of Voyager will be thrilled, but those who felt he was getting a bit too much screen time at the expense of other characters may be rolling their eyes by the "Pros and Cons of Hololife" chapter. A substantive, serious section on TNG's Moriarty dilemma or even some humorous non-Doctor stories (like Dixon Hill's exploits in A Hard Rain) would have made this book meatier and more accessible to a more diverse audience.
Because of the nature of his series and character, Picardo can't access events across the Trek universe the way Michael Jan Friedman and Robert Greenberger do in Q's Guide To the Continuum, so it feels a bit claustrophobic. The comedic commentary makes for some great laughs -- people who have seen Picardo at conventions may already have heard some of the punch lines. Still, those people are going to be this book's best audience. I would recommend 'The Hologram's Handbook' to Voyager fans, specifically to people who either truly love or truly hate the Doctor (there's ample ammunition for the latter). Fans of holograms in general won't get any real insight into the mechanisms that make it function, and fans of other Trek shows will find too much self-referential material to come in without a previous understanding of the character.
Click here to buy The Eugenics Wars Book Two, A Hard Rain, The Battle of Betazed or The Hologram's Handbook from amazon.com.
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