Summer Reading Had Me a Blast
As August 2001 draws to a close, it's a good time to catch up on the latest Star Trek book releases. We have a few more weeks to wait before the televised premiere of Enterprise, which hopefully will end the brief Trek drought of this past year. The Deep Space Nine book relaunch is proceeding, but slowly. Uncertainties about the events of Nemesis could delay Next Gen and Voyager novels set in current time. More troubling, Wildstorm has few Trek titles on their lists of upcoming comic releases.
Fortunately, the Gateways series gets off to a good start this month and the S.C.E. books have remained strong -- though until the paperback edition of the first several novellas arrives in bookstores, readers without access to e-books won't know that. The final installment of the comic miniseries Divided We Fall wraps up that storyline in a satisfactory manner as well. So the summer ends on a high note for Trek readers.
Gateways, a seven-paperback series to be followed by an e-book coda, takes as its central conceit a group of vastly powerful portals that can transport matter and energy across enormous distances. The books hypothesize that an ancient civilization left the portals behind following the decline of their civilization, and that the technology to cross incredible distances could be recovered and used by a Federation-era species. Evidence of such technology was apparent in original series episodes like "The Gamesters of Triskelion" and "That Which Survives," the latter of which provides the backstory for the first Gateways novel.
Susan Wright's One Small Step takes on the daunting task of turning a laughable third season episode into a springboard for the Gateways project -- and, remarkably, it succeeds. For this reader, it's impossible to take hot babe Commander Losira seriously whether she's a murderous replicant or a sorrowful hologram, but Kirk's ongoing interest in the fate of her people and their civilization is all too easy to believe, given his frequent attentions to stunning alien women in distress. One Small Step tells of the immediate aftermath of the Enterprise's encounter with Losira and the initial race to possess the power of the Kalandan Gateway.
While Kirk and his crew try to unlock the secrets of Losira's station and fight the pathogen that killed the original settlers, a Klingon vessel races towards the source of the powerful energy their sensors have discovered in the region. Determined to possess the energy source even if the Federation gets there first, the Klingons head into a deadly encounter with the Petraw -- a mysterious species with a hive-like mentality, who use trade and subterfuge to assimilate alien technology. The Petraw also want to possess the Kalandan station. Because neither the Federation nor the Klingons can identify them, these masters of disguise decide the easiest course of action will be to pretend that they are the Kalandans, come back to retrieve their property.
Kirk immediately becomes suspicious, but when the Petraw save the Starfleet officers from the Kalandan pathogen and work with them to explore the station, most of the Enterprise crew accepts the aliens' arrival as fortuitous. Petraw leader Tasm will stop at nothing to sieze the Kalandan equipment, even if it means betraying her new Federation associates. But Tasm's pod-mate Luz has nearly gone crazy from homesickness during their deep-space mission, and will take any steps necessary to travel home in triumph, even if it means sabotaging her own pod's plans.
Wright does a superb job characterizing Kirk and McCoy, both of whom are targets of Petraw deception; it's rather charming that Kirk for once refuses to be seduced, while McCoy starts to fall victim to an alien female's charms. But long patches of technobabble mar the fast-paced, engaging plot. They just doesn't seem necessary in this volume, though perhaps the scientific jargon is meant to lay the groundwork for events in future Gateways novels. Despite the silliness of "That Which Survives," One Small Step zooms in on the intriguing aspects of Kalandan technology and begins to develop a fascinating culture that colonized the galaxy while human history was in its infancy.
One Small Step has a cliffhanger ending, leaving Gateways to the Challenger novel Chainmail. While it makes sense to pair these books since Challenger is also set in the Classic Trek era, I'm not sure it was a wise decision to make the second of seven paperbacks a spin-off of the bulky New Earth book series,. Readers who didn't finish the New Earth finale Challenger won't know anything about Captain Nick Keller and his crew. Even those who did read the first Challenger novel won't have nearly the same investment in Diane Carey's original characters as most do in the folk from Next Gen, Deep Space Nine and Peter David's long-running New Frontier books.
Since the subsequent volumes haven't been released yet, I don't know whether it's possible to skip the second book and pick up with more familiar characters. So I wonder whether those who get bored with Captain Keller will simply give up on the Gateways series -- particularly given the ever-increasing expense of collecting all the Pocket Trek books. I know I'm looking forward to the Deep Space Nine novel Demons of Air and Darkness, which furthers the DS9 relaunch as well as the Gateways series, much more than the Challenger story.
Demons of Air and Darkness is by Keith R.A. DeCandido, who also co-created the S.C.E. concept. Trek's first series of e-books consists of shorter, cheaper and more tightly woven stories than its novelistic counterparts -- and now that the books are available in Adobe format, nearly everyone with a computer can read them. Invincible Book One, by DeCandido and David Mack, explains what Sonya Gomez was doing during the events of the previous S.C.E. novella, Cold Fusion. Officially, she was helping the Nalori Republic get a subspace accelerator working. Unofficially, she was fighting monsters.
At the start of Invincible -- written entirely as log entries, letters and dispatches by the characters -- Gomez arrives on the planet Sarindar after Montgomery Scott seeks her out for the assignment. Gomez gripes that Scott has asked her to lead a team that hates Starfleet, hates the Federation, and particularly hates women except within tightly prescribed roles centered on bearing large numbers of children. In this regard Invincible may remind readers of Carey's Captain's Table novel, Fire Ship, in which Captain Janeway finds herself the sole female on a ship of men who think she could best serve them as a glorified maidservant.
However, Gomez has little in common with Janeway. For one thing, even though she worries about dating co-workers and struggles with the fact that she might one day have to order Kieran Duffy to his death, she doesn't reject a relationship as an impossibility. In fact, she very nearly describes Duffy as her mate to Razka, one of her few peers on Sarindar. Razka is trapped in a loveless marriage to five women who have borne him 17 children, and doesn't seem terribly enamored of his planet's gender roles. Others, like Kejahna, at first resist Gomez's command and fake illness to avoid working for her, but when Gomez protects them from a deadly creature known as a Shii, they begin to hail her as a savior.
Like the Emissary, Gomez becomes uncomfortable with the role she's been given, and longs to get the job finished so she can return to the Da Vinci. Still, she has high regard for the spectacular beauty of Sarindar, in wonderful descriptive passages that have mostly been missing thus far in S.C.E. -- perhaps because of the length of the novellas, or perhaps because the other scientists don't notice such things. Like Major Kira, Gomez gets rather uncomfortable around a Gallamite with a transparent cranium. Yet the doctor, Dolahn, has vital knowledge of silicon-based biology...and also has a sense of humor, advising her never to get sick under such primitive conditions.
Though initially she is able to repel the mysterious crystalline entity disrupting their work, Gomez is ultimately injured by the Shii and finds herself helpless as it carries off several of her men. Since the locals hail her as a "Sa˝uul," a curse-lifter, she has no choice but to lead the pursuit of the deadly creature. Like One Small Step, Invincible Book One frustratingly climaxes in a cliffhanger ending. In this case, at least, it's a short wait to the resolution next month in the second volume.
Speaking of conclusions, Mack and John Ordover's comic book series Divided We Fall comes to a triumphant end in the fourth issue, "United We Stand." Verad lies dead at his own hand, but his deadly plague will soon wipe out all joined Trill. The only way Beverly Crusher can stop it is to take on the knowledge of her one-time lover Odan...by becoming Odan, accepting the symbiont into her own body. Once joined, she uses the data obtained by Kareel to synthesize an antidote. Meanwhile, Picard on the Enterprise and Vaughn on the Defiant must risk the lives of their crew to save the people of Trill, joined and unjoined.
As in the previous issues, Ordover and Mack do a wonderful job juggling four separate storylines that all feed into the same central crisis. "United We Stand" seems more visually violent than the others, but that may be because most of the action takes place in the moment, rather than during flashbacks or as a backdrop for introspective dialogue. In the end, Divided We Fall is as much a love story (or a series of them) as the story of an insurrection that nearly destroys a species. The character work is as memorable as the drama. With clear, attractive artwork and pacing like a television episode, this is an example of the comics medium at its finest.
Next up for Wildstorm Comics: a hardcover anthology of three previous Trek miniseries. Pocket promises the rest of the Gateways books, more Deep Space Nine relaunch titles and several highly-anticipated hardcover sequels like the third Genesis Wave and second Eugenics Wars books. With a new TV series less than a season away and another film in pre-production, there's certain to be an explosion of new Trek in the near future.
Click here to buy One Small Step from amazon.com.
Trek Book Reviews