"The Captain's Table"

by Michelle Erica Green

I never reviewed the Captain's Table books individually when they came out, mostly because I didn't feel like reading the Mackenzie Calhoun book, and I never tracked down the Captain Pike book. But I rejoice about the six-in-one volume subsequently released by Pocket Books. The omnibus contains all six original paperback novels in 1107 pages, plus an additional 32 pages of biographies of the captains. Like the previous all-in-one volumes containing the Invasion books, the Day of Honor books, the first three of Shatner's Kirk novels, and the first four New Frontier stories, this collection has the disadvantage of being larger and heavier than one might desire for light reading - it's a pain to take to the park. However, it has the advantage of costing a mere $16.95 for all six novels, which cost about $6 apiece individually. So the omnibus is well worth its weight.

The series is set at a fabled intergalactic watering hole, the Captain's Table, where any and all ship captains are welcome...regardless of whatever strange permutations of time and space are necessary to bring them there, and they do get stranger as the series goes. Each captain tells a tale in his or her own words. Like all multi-author and multi-series crossovers, this volume has something for everyone, yet different readers will prefer different stories based on their interests in the different characters.

I'm not sure we're supposed to take any of these stories as factual, let alone canonical. And I might as well admit I still haven't read the Captain Calhoun story; I didn't follow Peter David's New Frontier books closely enough to compare Once Burned to the rest of the series, and this relatively unknown captain's story doesn't hold my interest the way, say, Picard's does. I expected to have a similar problem with Captain Pike's story, but Jerry Oltion tells a terrific tale of the perilous early Enterprise voyages, so while I wasn't emotionally engaged the way I was reading Sisko's first-person narration, I still enjoyed it.

I suppose everyone here knows my personal bias for Deep Space Nine and for Kathryn Janeway, so I'll focus on those books. Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch's The Mist is simply a delight - sort of a perverse twist on The Mists of Avalon in which Merlin has gone mad and abducted a warship. Sisko tells one hell of a fairy tale, all while trying to eat jambalaya and avoid conflict with a pompous Klingon and a greedy alien who trades in stories. Unlike some of the other captain's tales, he has most of his crew around him for much of the story, so we get to see Sisko's perspective on Kira, Dax, Bashir, and the rest. We also get to see a worthy Klingon adversary and some amusing figures at the bar, including two people who sound suspiciously like, well, Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

I'm assuming this book is set in an alternate universe, especially since Sisko says the Bajoran wormhole leads to the Delta Quadrant rather than the Gamma Quadrant in the early pages. Sisko would have his listeners believe that the Defiant was once brought into a phase-shifted region of space called the Mist, where the inhabitants can see everything going on in the universe but the rest of the universe can't see them. A conniving leader wants to bring Deep Space Nine into the Mist for reasons of his own, so Sisko must forge some unlikely alliances to keep the Bajoran station visible by the wormhole, lest the Cardassians move in. A battle erupts in both normal and phased space. There's not a huge amount of depth - Jake barely gets mentioned, and Kasidy doesn't once cross Sisko's mind - but the combination of action in the tale and humor around the bar make for a terrific yarn.

Fire Ship, Diane Carey's Voyager installment, is also a good story, but the woman calling herself Kathryn Janeway in this story bears little resemblance to the Starfleet captain familiar to television audiences. So jarring are the differences that I suspected Fire Ship originally had non-Trek characters, and the author merely changed her protagonist's name and a few background details to fit into the series. Certainly Janeway undergoes great trauma which could change her personality - in the early pages of Fire Ship, her ship is apparently destroyed while she escapes in a life pod. She adopts the name "Kay" and begins to work for a vessel of technologically inferior aliens...all male, and one gets the sense that there might have been some fun with that if the story hadn't been sanitized for Star Trek.

Characteristically, Janeway seems to expect the boys to turn command over to her once they realize her competence, and that's exactly what ends up happening. But her loyalty to the men of the Zingara becomes so great that when Voyager rises like a phoenix, she actually refuses responsibility for the Starfleet vessel, telling Chakotay she must stay with her new charges. Unfortunately, I can't say it's out of character for Janeway to ignore the needs of her crew and spend most of her time worrying about both her authoritarian image and her hair, but the idea that she'd let Voyager get home without her - or even believe that it could - simply boggles the mind.

Briefly, I will note the other books. L.A. Graf did a terrific job getting Sulu's voice right in War Dragons, but sex-conscious Kirk sounded off to me. Michael Jan Friedman's Dujonian's Hoard mostly made me aware of how little we'd heard Picard's internal voice on The Next Generation; I honestly can't say whether the author made him sound too informal, or if it's just that I have no idea how Picard sounds when he's being informal. I recommend the Captain's Table unhesitatingly, though there are ups and downs in the individual stories, and probably readers out there who loved Once Burned and didn't like The Mist. That's what's great about omnibuses.

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