Badlands, a two-volume series by Susan Wright about the unstable area near the Cardassian border, features many of the most popular elements of Star Trek in a well-paced, engaging new adventure. Wright, who wrote the terrific Best and the Brightest, brings together all four television series, as a dangerous mystery discovered by Kirk and explored by Picard is solved by Janeway and taken care of by Sisko.
Despite a few minor continuity errors - Janeway calling Sisko "Captain," for instance, when he was only a commander at the time of Voyager's launch - the books do an admirable job of keeping within canon for the shows. They remain consistent internally as well, with the Romulans and Cardassians featured as complicated bad guys. Villainous Gul Evek gains considerable depth here - we get to read his poetry, and witness the needless tragedy ending his career - plus we meet a dynamic Romulan smuggler who puts Kirk in mind of an Amazon.
In general, the characterizations are spot-on. Kirk (who named the Badlands, of course) checks out attractive females under his command even while he's suffering from radiation sickness. Tom Paris loses his cockiness without losing his rebel spirit, while the wonderful Seska schemes behind Chakotay's back in the hope of rescuing herself from his ship and his bed. The most moving scenes belong to Odo, who triggers the concluding chapter when he demands the neutralization of the Badlands anomaly because it was responsible for the death of the baby changeling that restored his shapeshifting abilities.
One of the nice things about these multi-series projects is that the writers can tie up loose ends left over from the shows. Hence Tuvok figures out the Cardassians' motives in the Badlands in an era when Deep Space Nine's writers hadn't yet decided on the course of the Dominion War. And there are connections across all the series, with Data studying Kirk's logs and Kasidy Yates working as a spy for Chakotay. Since all the events are set in the past, there isn't any substantial character development, but the adventure and spirit are very exciting.
A side note: Bookstores are finally carrying the sequel to one of my favorite gimmicky Trek collectibles, The Starfleet Daily Meditation Manual. The new edition of this unauthorized collection of pithy quotes, entitled Going Boldly On Your Inner Voyage, actually contains some of the best analysis of Trek's appeal that I've read in a long time. Author Mark Haskett occasionally reduces profound thoughts to pablum, but for the most part, he avoids all the pompous academic-sounding analysis of some recent Trek analyses and goes straight for such witty, useful advice as "The beginning of wisdom is...I do not know," and "Indulging in fantasy keeps the mind creative" (Data and Garak, respectively). I don't like the little conclusions the author draws at the end of each section - it's awfully reductive - but it's nice to read some grounded analysis of why Star Trek is more than just a TV show to so many.
Click here to buy Book One and Book Two from amazon.com.
Trek Book Reviews