BOOK REVIEW: Last Full Measure, by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels

click here for a full index of all my Star Trek reviews

last full measure.jpg

Era: Enterprise, Season 3

Publisher: Pocket Books

Genre: Military SF

Pages: 336

Publication Date: 2006

Verdict: 4/5

 

Following the devastating Xindi strike on Earth, Enterprise seeks out the alien aggressors. On this voyage they are armed with a new weapon, the MACOs, elite soldiers who will stop at nothing to defend the Earth . . .

Last Full Measure occupies an odd slot in the history of Enterprise novels. technically, it’s the first book in the relaunch series that begins in earnest with The Good That Men Do. But it’s also set during the events of the series, season 3 in particular. Most of the other novels set during the series’ run have been smaller affairs, one off adventures that slot easily between existing episodes. But Last Full Measure forms a part of the Xindi arc that spanned the third season. Sliding new stories into such a serialised narrative is a hard trick to pull off, and Last Full Measure doesn’t quite succeed in this. Focusing on the side characters allows Mangels and Martin to inject real jeopardy into a setting famous for letting main cast members survive improbable odds. It’s still a shame though that you know these events will never be referred to on screen. In spite of this relatively minor quibble, however, Last Full Measure is a strong book that sets the ground for the brilliant relaunch.

One of the best things about a franchise as expansive as Star Trek is that it allows for all sorts of storytelling. Most episodes fit somewhere between space opera and social SF, but we’ve also got comedy (Lower Decks), romance (DS9‘s ‘Looking For Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places’), crime (Voyager’s ‘Ex Post Facto’), and heaps of time travel. Last Full Measure taps into a vein that Star Trek has dabbled with on many occasions, taking us into the murky realm of military SF. The introduction of the MACOs in Enterprise showed the possibility of a more militarised Starfleet that thankfully never came to pass. Major Hayes was a recurring character who embodied the MACO spirit, but the rest of his team rarely got any meaningful screen-time.  That’s corrected here, as it’s the MACOs who dominate this book.

The role of the military in Star Trek is a fascinating one. In one sense, everything about Starfleet apes a military force. They have uniforms, ranks, and fight battles. But they are primarily scientists and explorers. In Last Full Measure we see Archer grappling with the reality that some kind of military presence is essential as humanity expands. We see glimpses of his moral battle as he begins using force to get answers from a prisoner, which hits harder knowing he’ll take things even further later in his mission. But while Hayes is an eager participant, the question remains: Is the military presence affecting Archer’s judgement, or are they just following his orders?

We do get to see the PoV of two Enterpise regulars here. The first is Reed, who is an obvious fit for a story like this. His rivalry with Hayes has its seeds here, and we get a brief flashback to Reed’s childhood which explains a lot of his perspective on the necessity of violence. More surprisingly, we also get to see Travis Mayweather shine. Travis was served poorly in the show, even worse than Hoshi (who is unconscious for much of this book, by the way) and even in the novels he hasn’t seen much action. It’s nice to delve a little deeper into his character, and his dedication to Archer and lifetime’s experience in space prove an interesting counterpoint to the MACOs’ struggle adapting to shipboard life.

All in all, Last Full Measure is a very strong book wedged a little awkwardly into an existing narrative. Even though it’s largely free of consequence, there is a lot of good material in here.

THE WISHLIST: Black Library 2021 Releases

Black Library have been printing Warhammer 40,000 tie-in fiction for over two decades now, and for the past few years have been making regular appearances on my TBR Tower. They put out dozens of books a year, around a third of which I would say are of interest to me. As well as hardbacks and paperbacks, they are one of the few publishers putting out physical omnibus editions of some of their more popular series. On top of that, they release audio dramas that are quite frankly some of the best work in that medium. But one thing they’re not particularly good at is keeping readers up to date on upcoming releases. Despite having a dedicated Coming Soon page on their website, updates from Black Library/Games Workshop are few and far between. Books tend to be announced at odd times, and only get official pre-order dates a month or two in advance. This has become increasingly apparent in the past year, with COVID-related delays pushing dates around significantly. But this week was WarhammerFest, so we got a glimpse at a massive amount of books being worked on right now. The list I’m compiling now is by no means complete, but most of what I saw is of great interest to me so I’m making a note of it here. You won’t find any Horus Heresy works in my list, but if you’re a fan of the Astra Militarum/Imperial Guard, then I think you’ll be very bit as excited as I am.

First of all is a quick comment about things I didn’t see. I never really was grabbed by the Warhammer Horror line, but it’s a shame not to see any new releases on that front. Black Library’s continued diversification of content has been a great thing to see, and hopefully there’s more on the horizon. I was also disappointed at the lack of audio dramas on display. It’s been a while now since John French’s Cypher boxset was teased, and now I’m starting to doubt it’ll ever see the light of day. Black Library audios are every bit as good as their novels, so I’m hoping it’s an unfortunate effect of COVID rather than a scaling back of their media offerings. There was also no word on Pandaemonium or the near-mythical Interceptor City, but as we’ll soon see, Dan Abnett has been a very busy man.

Kicking off the upcoming releases is the Warhammer Crime range, My only delve into this has been Alec Worley’s brilliant Dredge Runners, but it’s nice to see continued enthusiasm for the city of Varangantua. Marc Collins’ debut novel Grim Repast will be the third novel in the line, and its existence has tempted me to pick up previous offerings from Chris Wraight and Guy Haley. There will also be two new anthologies to go alongside No Good Men, which will hopefully continue to be a home for newer Black Library authors.

Turning our attention to the main Warhammer 40,000 setting, the book that immediately catches my eye is The Twice-Dead King: Ruin, by Nate Crowley. This will be the second Necron PoV novel, after Robert Rath’s The Infinite and the Divine, which I will have to get the paperback of next month after the original hardcover sold out in phenomenally short time. Crowley has written Necrons before in the novella Severed, so he has pedigree here. This is also the first in a series, which promises plenty of xenos action. Hopefully the success of these non-Imperial books will see more xenos material being released, though my dream of a tyranid PoV novel may have to wait a while yet.

Remember I said Dan Abnett has been busy? Well that’s because there’s a new Gaunt’s Ghosts novel on the way. It’s not a continuation of the story after Anarach though. It’s called The Vincula Insurgency, and it’s a set in the early days of the Tanith First and Only, which I imagine puts it around the time of the first two novels. The Vincula Insurgency is going to be one of Black Library’s limited edition releases, with a whole load of extra material and a price tag to match. I expect this will be a Christmas release, which unfortunately means we might have to wait until 2022 for a regular hardback. As well as penning a new novel, Abnett is also editing a third Sabbat Worlds anthology, entitled Sabbat War. Hopefully this means the previous anthologies will see a reprint, as I am one of many who missed out on their first outing.

Most interesting of all is the fact that the Sabbat Worlds have been opened up to authors beside Abnett. Not just in the anthology, but in a pair of new novels. Nick Kyme’s Volpone Glory follows the Volpone Bluebloods, while Matthew Farrer’s The Serpent and the Saint takes us back to the world of Urdesh. I’m not the greatest fan of Space Marines (Iron Snakes is currently the only Sabbat Worlds novel I haven’t read), but the setting is so rich I’m likely to pick it up, while Kyme’s offering promises plenty of Guard action. On top of all this, there’ll be a limited edition reprint of the Sabbat Crusade source-book, an in-universe guide to the campaign that will doubtless appeal to Abnett’s readers. I myself am more interested in it from a roleplaying perspective, as it provides a brilliant idea toolbox for military SF gaming in general.

The Imperial Guard action doesn’t stop at the Sabbat Worlds, however. Andy Clark will be launching a new, as-yet-untitled series with Steel Tread, chronicling the exploits of a Leman Russ tank crew. I’m all for a bit of Imperial armour, but given the lack of series title and finalised cover art, I suspect this one may be some way off. The final novel of interest is one I thought may have been lost in production somewhere, as Justin D. Hill returns to the Cadian arc with Traitor Rock. Interestingly, this is now officially the Minka Lesk series rather than the Cadian series. I was lukewarm on Cadian Honour, but Cadia Stands was excellent, so this is a quick purchase for me.

I’m hoping all of these books (and more) will see release in the coming year, but COVID is likely to see a few more delays along the way. Even so, it looks like we’ve got a lot of grimdark military SF to look forward to, and I’ll be reviewing whatever I can get my hands on.

BOOK REVIEW: New Earth, by Ben Bova

new earth

Publisher: Tor

Genre: Hard SF

Pages: 384

Publication Date: 2013

Verdict: 5/5

 

A small group of scientists land on a new planet, a paradise world much like Earth itself. But they are eighty years’ travel away from Earth, and no one is coming to help them. Exploring this strange new world, the scientists discover they may not be as alone as they first believed . . .

Ben Bova died in November last year, and it was that news that made me really investigate his work. His was a name I’d seen on used bookshelves here and there, and no surprise as he was incredibly prolific, with three figures of books to his name. But he doesn’t seem to have hit the big time in the UK the way he has in the US, so it’s perhaps unsurprising it’s taken me a while to get to him. When I compiled my Heavy Hitters list, his name was up there. After a little investigation, it’s his Grand Tour series that immediately grabbed my attention. With over two dozen books, it’s a mix of smaller series and standalones that create a future history of our solar system and beyond. I decided to start with New Earth, which comes towards the end of the Gran Tour chronologically, but is one of the more standalone offerings. Now that I’ve finished, I have only one question.

Why, why, why, did I wait so long to read Ben Bova?

New Earth is an astonishingly good book, easily my favourite book I’ve read this year. Bova’s career spanned decades, and it shows in his writing. Thematically, it’s a very modern novel, with climate change and overpopulation being major concerns. But in the writing itself, the style is reminiscent of the clear-cut, no nonsense prose I associate with Asimov and the Golden Age. Hard SF has a reputation for being impenetrable and tedious. Bova proves that idea to be a fallacy. I can’t remember the last time I read a book this accessible. The concepts involved are headbenders, but I never felt stupid as I was reading. Bova doesn’t exactly hold your hand, but he takes his time to make sure you understand what’s happening. This is idea-driven science fiction at its very finest, and it plays with tropes I love in new and clever ways.

What really sets New Earth apart from almost every other book I’ve read is the pacing. There’s barely any conflict in this book whatsoever, and even that is limited to a few arguments between colleagues. There’s not a trace of actual, physical violence. It’s not that there’s no threat. Events on Earth and elsewhere are borderline apocalyptic, but it all feels very remote. The main thrust of the novel is incredibly cosy. The closest thing I can compare it to is Star Trek. A group of scientists land on a planet, explore it, discuss science and morality, and then reach an understanding that enriches their lives. It’ so simple, but elegantly so, and I wish there were more books like this out there. It’s unashamedly pro-science and deeply humanist at the same time.

Being part of a larger connected universe, there are a few things here that I’m obviously lacking context for. Interludes flash back to our solar system, and the characters here cross over from other Grand Tour novels. Despite the lack of context, my enjoyment of the book was never reduced. They feel like teasers for a larger universe, rather than detracting from the individual novel. This isn’t a Marvel situation where you need to know all the links, it’s a subtle reminder that there is more at work here than just one team of scientists, and absolutely makes me want to read more.

As an introduction to Ben Boa, I couldn’t have hoped for more from New Earth. If the rest of his work is up to this incredible standard, I may have a new favourite author on my hands.

THE WISHLIST: Second Chances and Reexaminations

A little while ago I made a list of Heavy Hitters: Big names in the SF world that I wanted to try out. I started thinking of that list when I thought about authors I hadn’t read but wanted to, but as the list developed, I realised a lot of those names were authors I’d sampled before, only to bounce off for whatever reason. This got me thinking about the way I approach new authors, and how many chances I give them.

As a general rule, if I enjoy a book, I seek out more books by that author. Some readers have a few must-buy authors, I’ve got a few dozen. If they continually put out good quality books, I’ll keep buying them as near to release date as I find them. This doesn’t always work out for me. I stuck with Elizabeth Moon and David Drake for some time after I stopped enjoying them, but I am unfortunately something of a completion. And when authors put out large volumes of books, I’m more forgiving off the odd less-than-stellar offering. I’m a huge Adrian Tchaikovsky fan, but his last two novels are not, I feel, up to his usual standard. However, his upcoming Shards of Earth looks right up my street, and my enthusiasm has not dimmed. I’ve read just about every piece of fiction Isaac Asimov put out, but if I’d started with The Gods Themselves, I may well have left it at that. As my Dune reread will soon cover, were it not for Kevin J. Anderson’s involvement, I probably would have abandoned Dune after the first book.

Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton, and Keith Laumer are all authors I have a mixed history with, but they’re all authors I’ll happily give a second chance to. A few of their books have been enjoyable, others significantly less so. I need more data before I can make a final judgement. In the case of Reynolds and Hamilton, I actively plan to read more of their work over the coming months. Whereas authors like Laumer, Henry Kuttner, and David Weber, I’m more likely to pick up their books second hand or on sale.

I’m not a big believer in ‘mood reading’ – the idea that a book has to find you in the right mood for you to enjoy it. Certainly, my opinions on a book can change over time, but some objective value remains constant, and if I can’t see that on a first reading, I doubt I’ll see it on a second. That being said, there are some authors I have a largely negative experience with that intend to revisit.

The first of these is Neal Asher. he’s one of the bigger names in British Science Fiction, and has a large universe with multiple series in it. All good so far. Several years ago I read Dark Intelligence, and I did not enjoy it. It was grimdark to the max, and relentlessly bleak. I’ve since learned that this may not be the best place to start with his work, and that Asher’s wife passed away as the book was written. All of his work is grimdark, but this may have pushed it too far for my tastes. Knowing this, I’m tempted to give Asher another go. Whether that is a reread of Dark Intelligence or a foray into one of his earlier series, I’m not yet sure.

Frederik Pohl is another author I may reread. Gateway had interesting ideas, but I found it a rather lifeless read overall. With the size of Pohl’s body of work, however, I’m sure there’s something in there that will appeal to me. He’s also an author I’m likely to come across more than once as I delve into the Gollancz SF Masterworks series, which is tailor made for a golden age junkie like myself.

Beyond individual authors, I’ve had a great deal of fortune giving second chances to literary universes. I wondered away from Star Trek novels for many years, but last year I rediscovered them, and now have multiple pages of desired reading in the franchise. So too had I left Warhammer 40,000 behind after an ill-fated attempt to get into wargaming. It was only a chance encounter with Black Library at Sci-Fi Weekender a few years ago that pulled me back in. Now, I feel like I’ve nearly reached my capacity for Space Marines, but there are dozens of interesting books being released every year, and I know I’ll find something there for me. It’s also been a long while since I held a Star Wars book in my hands, but I’m feeling that familiar itch, calling me back in.

If there’s a point to all this, it’s that you shouldn’t give up on a series or author because of one bad book. we all stumble at some point, and almost always pick ourselves back up. That book that’s not to your taste might just be the stepping stone to the best thing you’ve ever read.

BOOK REVIEW: RUR & War With the Newts, by Karel Čapek

-spoilers, but this was written a hundred years ago-

RUR

Publisher: Gollancz

Genre: Social SF

Pages: 349

Publication Date: 1920 (RUR), 1936 (War With the Newts)

Verdict: 4/5 (RUR), 1/5 (War With the Newts)

 

In RUR, the invention of robots leads to a new golden age for humanity, but when robots rebel, the future of mankind is threatened. Then, in War With the Newts, the discovery of an aquatic civilisation leads to a tragedy of exploitation and an incalculable death toll . . .

This Gollancz Masterowrks edition collects two of Čapek’s works, as the title suggests. I’ll start off by talking about RUR, as that’s the reason I picked it up. Rossum’s Universal Robots is a story I’ve been meaning to get to for several years now. I’m a massive fan of robotics in science fiction, so it makes sense to go back to the very beginning. As an aside, there’s a pleasant symmetry in RUR being written in the same year Isaac Asimov was born, given how the latter popularised many ideas about robots that have their roots in Čapek’s story.

Something I had largely forgotten in the time it took me to get to RUR is that this is a play. Despite having studied theatre for several years, I’m not a particularly big fan of the medium. It has its pros and cons, but by and large it’s not for me. That being said, I found RUR a fun exercise to imagine the staging of. It’s a pretty brief affair – three acts and an epilogue – and I reckon any student company could make a good go staging it. despite my vivid imagination, however, at the end of the day these are only words on a page, so you miss out on the more immersive aspects of theatre.

Even so, I really enjoyed RUR. With a hundred years’ experience with robot stories, it’s somewhat predicate, but that doesn’t detract from the genius of the ideas. Rossum’s robots are what I would think of as androids rather than clunky metal automatons, and even at this early stage the parallels between human and robot development are explicit. The Frankenstein complex is in full force here, and the play poses a lot of questions about the relationship between humans and work, hinting at some pretty depressing answers. Yes, the gender representation is very dated, but the ideas and the dialogue hold up incredibly well. If there was a performance of this near me, i’d definitely be tempted.

Sadly, The War With the Newts does not hold up so well. It’s easy to see why these two stories have been packaged together. Like the robots, the newts are immediately exploited by humanity, turned into cheap labour and forced to perform for human entertainment. There’s also a suggestion that they might be consumed for food, but that’s neither here nor there. Like the robots, the Newts eventually turn on humanity, and its with the same bleak inevitability of extinction that the story ends.

Though it’s a full-fledged novel, I found this one far harder to read than RUR. Novels of this age are always hit and miss for me, as my reading tastes are not the same as readers’ of the early twentieth century. This one is unfortunately a miss, with Čapek’s writing incredibly difficult to parse, and there were times when I debated setting the book aside for a while. The final chapter in particular is just openly bizarre, as Čapek argues with himself over how the story should end. A very literal case of author insertion, and a struggle to comprehend. There are good ideas here, but the presentation fell flat as far as I’m concerned.

Nevertheless, I’m glad I picked this up for RUR‘s sake. It absolutely deserves its place in the SF canon, and holds up a century after it was written.

BOOK REVIEW: Orders of Battle, by Marko Kloos

-Hold up, this is a sequel! Find my review the first six books here-

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Series: Frontlines (#7)

Publisher: 47North

Genre: Military SF

Pages: 260

Publication Date: 07/12/2020

Verdict: 4/5

Four years have passed since the Lankies were driven out of Earth’s solar system, and Andrew Grayson feels the worst may be behind him. But war has a way of pulling you back in, and Grayson soon finds himself agreeing to a top-secret mission deep into Lankie territory . . .

With Points of Impact having wrapped up the first major conflict between aliens and humanity, I assumed that the Frontlines series was done and dusted. Kloos moving on to his Palladium Wars series all but confirmed that theory. But then, at the tail end of last year, I noticed that a seventh Frontlines book had appeared on Amazon’s listings. It’s a direct continuation of the first six, albeit with a marginal time jump, and from what I can tell is the first of a new trilogy chronicling the exploits of Andrew Grayson. There’s no release dates for volumes two and three as yet, but I’m keeping an eye out.

Once again, we’re deep in the first-person, present tense with Grayson our only eyes and ears. This technique, along with the fairly brief page count, make for an immediate and gripping read. That being said, the pace is a little slower than I’ve come to expect of Kloos, reflecting the peacetime setting of this particular novel. The first half of the book is largely uneventful, serving to introduce the new status quo, and a cast of new characters. Once the mission begins, however, the action kicks up substantially, and we’re back in familiar Kloos territory. Danger and peril abound!

One thing to remember about Kloos’ writing is that the man knows his military terminology. Obviously this brings a sense of realism to the book, with soldiers acting and speaking like soldiers. But in the writing itself it can break the flow. Kloos (or rather the military) is fond of acronyms, and strings of block capitals jump out from every other page. Most of the time, the acronyms are explained, and I could keep track of the majority. Some of the time though, I just saw blocks of letters and moved on with my life. The attention to detail is appreciated, but I think a glossary you could flick to on occasion would be incredibly useful. Other than this small criticism, however, Kloos’ prose is lean, economic, and fires on all cylinders. It’s the sort of book you could breeze through in a free afternoon, and would enjoy all the while.

With its cliffhanger ending, Orders of Battle is evidently setting up the next book(s). That’s no bad thing, but it does leave you hanging. Not such an issue when you know when the next volume will arrive, but impatient readers may want to wait before getting back into the Frontlines series. As a foundation for further adventures, Orders of Battle does everything it sets out to do, but this does come at the cost of feeling a little incomplete in places.

Honestly though, the flaws are minor, and this is a welcome return to a familiar setting, and i greatly anticipate the next book, whenever that may arrive.

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Expanse, by J.M. Dillard

click here for a full index of all my Star Trek reviews

expanse.jpg

Based on a Screenplay By: Rick Berman & Brannon Braga

Era: Enterprise, Seasons 2-3

Publisher: Pocket Books

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 247

Publication Date: 2003

Verdict: 4/5

 

Earth has been attacked. A probe from regions unknown has devastated the western hemisphere. Recalled to Earth, Captain Archer uncovers a shocking truth: The probe comes not only from a species known as the Xindi, but is supported by a faction in the Temporal Cold War . . .

Enterprise‘s first two seasons were firmly in the tradition of classic Trek. Standalone adventures in which the crew explored new worlds and encountered new civilisations. And those seasons were really good. But with the third season, Enterprise embarked on a voyage like no other. Not even Deep Space Nine went quite as serialised, and I would say it didn’t go quite as dark either. Sure, Sisko was complicit in the murder of a Romulan official, but Archer resorted to torture and piracy to get the job done. It’s no wonder the Xindi arc proved to be so controversial, and at times it felt too dark for what the show had previously been. There’s no denying, however, Season 3 changed Star Trek forever.

Dillard’s novelisation covers the finale of Season 2 and the Season 3 opener (‘The Expanse,’ and ‘The Xindi,’ respectively), blending them into a single story that feels pretty seamless, even knowing the original form. As with the other novelisations, it’s a beat-by-beat replay of the script, though I think some scenes here may have been cut from the final broadcast. Either that or I didn’t pay enough attention on my last rewatch. It’s a quick read that skews heavily towards the visual over the internal. there’re no inner monologues here that you wouldn’t be able to read from an actor’s face, and the action sequences are quick and clinical in their presentation.

For such a short book, Dillard packs in an impressive amount. Knowing that the focus is on the Xindi for the journey ahead, you could be forgiven for forgetting the Klingon blood-feud between Archer and Duras that proves a constant threat through the opening half. The scenes of devastation don’t quite carry the same weight in prose as they do on the screen, but Lizzie Tucker’s death in the opening chapter tips the scales firmly back into the world of tragedy. Trip’s ensuing battle with survivor’s guilt channels the same anger as Connor Trinneer’s performance, and so too does Archer’s stubborn determination that, this time, the ends justify the means. Even if the darkest parts of the journey are months in the future, you can see the seeds being planted here.

Of course, including everything from the script doesn’t always work in Dillard’s favour. The beginning of Trip and T’Pol’s romance is just as awkward on the page as it was when I first saw it on TV. No matter Phlox’s optimism, it doesn’t do either character any favours. Then there is the low page count, which makes everything seem very packed-in. There’s no breathing space on show here, though it does convey the urgency of the Enterprise‘s new mission.

For all these misgivings, The Expanse is a concise and accessible entry to a turning point not just in Enterprise, but in Star Trek’s history. Almost as strong as the episodes themselves.

BOOK REVIEW: Daedalus’s Children, by Dave Stern

click here for a full index of all my Star Trek reviews

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Era: Enterprise, Season 2

Publisher: Pocket Books

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 370

Publication Date: 2003

Verdict: 4/5

Stranded and held prisoner in a universe that is slowly poisoning them, Archer and the Enterprise crew find themselves being used as pawns in an alien war. But the ultimate danger might not be so apparent, for the mistakes of the past are now haunting the present . . .

After a quick recap of the events of Daedalus, the concluding volume of this duology hits the ground running and doesn’t let up on the action until the very last page.The recap itself concerns the fate of the crew besides Hoshi and Trip, but rather than lengthy exposition covering their internment over the previous novel’s events, we join them on the eve of a prison break. Turns out they weren’t really doing all that much while Trip was gallivanting around a parallel universe. In this, it seems Stern has learned from his use of flashbacks in past books, covering the time jump in dialogue rather than in its own sections. I have to say, it works a lot better this way.

With Daedalus having done the heavy lifting last time around, this book is almost entirely action. This fits neatly with Enterprise‘s more action-oriented storytelling, but does make for a novel that is very fast-paced for what is (by Pocket Books standards) a fairly long book. Action that flows well onscreen doesn’t always translate well to prose, and though Stern’s writing is never stale, the constant fisticuffs and shootouts do grow a tad repetitive towards the end. That said, with the other Enterprise novels having been of a generally smaller, low-stakes variety, this two-parter does feel suitably epic in comparison, and a change of pace is welcome. infinite diversity in infinite combinations, and all that jazz.

Unlike part one, which was almost entirely Trip-centric, Daedalus’s Children balances viewpoints for more of the crew. Hoshi is still sidelined on account of universe-poisoning, but the rest are pretty well-served. Anyone who gives Travis Mayweather a key role is a good writer in my books. As you’d expect though, it’s the Captain who gets the real meat of the issue. From leading a prison escape to brokering peace between warring alien factions, Archer is on fine form here, even when matters grow more personal than you might expect of an alternate universe tale.

On that note, the nature of this universe is an interesting one. On the one hand, the literally poisonous radiation suffusing it reminds me a little of Georgiou’s struggles in the third season of Discovery. But in every other respect, Stern’s parallel world is a refreshing break from Star Trek‘s famous Mirror Universe. It’s a nice change to have our characters not run into alternate versions of themselves, evilly bearded or otherwise. I like the Mirror Universe as much as anybody, but having a wholly different universe appear here broadens Trek‘s horizons nicely.

Overall, the Daedalus two-parter is a fine piece of Star Trek literature. It’s not the best book out there, but it’s a little meatier than a lot of other offerings, and has wonderful moments for both plot and character.

BOOK REVIEW: Daedalus, by Dave Stern

click here for a full index of all my Star Trek reviews

daedalus.jpg

Era: Enterprise, Season 2

Publisher: Pocket Books

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 326

Publication Date: 2003

Verdict: 4/5

While investigating a spatial anomaly, Enterprise is boarded by hostile alien soldiers. Watching helplessly, Trip and Hoshi escape, only to find themselves pulled into a war that is not theirs to fight, on a ship that is slowly killing them both . . .

Welcome, one and all, to the Trip Tucker power-hour! Right from the start, Charles Tucker III was one of the main three characters on Enterprise, alongside T’Pol and Archer. Ably portrayed by Connor Trinneer, Trip brought a sense of grounded optimism to proceedings. One part charming engineer, and several parts Florida Man, Trip was immediately one of the most likeable characters, and embodied the pioneer spirit of those early adventures. In the later relaunch novels, trip becomes a Section 31 agent, which, while interesting, doesn’t quite feel like the man we spent four years watching. It’s nice then, to return to this earlier incarnation of the character, with Dave Stern firmly nailing everything that made the character iconic, while providing a little development here and there.

Trip is really the only character we spend any time with after the opening chapters, which is a bold choice. Star Trek works best as an ensemble piece, so having what is effectively a single-hander comes with a lot of risk, especially since this is part one of two. What I will say is that the partnering of Trip and Hoshi is one I can’t remember seeing in the show, and the scenes we do get with the two of them show what a pairing that could have been. I’m always up for more Hoshi Sato, and even if she is sidelined for much of the book, the stuff we do get is brilliant. On the Trip front, we get to see the man fighting by himself, grappling solo with issues that would usually have a conference to debate.

One element that does come up in this book once Trip and Hoshi have settled with their new allies, is the fact that this environment isn’t survivable in the long term. As countless helmetless away teams have shown, pretty much everywhere in Star Trek is conducive to human life, so it’s a refreshing change to have the environment itself by a serious issue for the crew. As well as providing an effective ticking clock for the plot, this also raises significant questions about the cavalier attitude Trek crews take with exploration. This isn’t Hard SF by any measure, but an acknowledgement of the dangers of space travel will always be appreciated here,

As with Stern’s previous book, the early chapters make heavy use of flashbacks to fill in information. These don’t work as well as they would on screen, often occurring mid-scene, but they don’t stick around for too long. In fact, I was left wondering when they would prove relevant as the story rapidly left behind Trip’s younger days. There is a link later in the book, and it’s a key one, but the use of flashbacks still feels quite unbalanced, and I’m less than convinced by the way Stern uses them here and elsewhere.

Altogether, Daedalus does an excellent job of setting up the second act, posing a lot of interesting questions along the way. There are a few missteps along the way, but this is a must for any Trip Tucker fans.

AUDIO REVIEW: The Autobiography of Kathryn Janeway, by Una McCormack

-You can find the rest of my Star Trek content by clicking here-

-This review contains some minor spoilers. Proceed with caution-

Janeway.jpg

Era: Voyager

Read By: Kate Mulgrew

Genre: Space Opera

Publisher: Tantor Audio

Runtime: 8hrs 20m

Release Date: 26/01/2021

Verdict: 4/5

 

Everyone knows the story of how Kathryn Janeway spent seven years lost in the Delta Quadrant, but now hear the tale spoken by the woman herself. Covering her entire life before, during, and after that fateful voyage, this is the story as you’ve never heard it before . . .

Though I flip back and forth on the rankings, Voyager usually emerges triumphant as my favourite Star Trek series. It had that classic sense of Trek optimism, championed science and intellect at almost every turn, and was generally a lot of fun from start to finish. Kirsten Beyer’s Full Circle novels went some way to filling the Voyager shaped hole in my life, and I still have more novels to read, but this here is something special. This is the most recent in a line of ‘autobiographies’ of major Trek characters, following in the footsteps of Kirk and Picard, but it’s more than that. For the first time, this has an audio version narrated by the actor behind the character. Kathryn Janeway may not be my favourite captain, but the promise of having Kate Mulgrew reprise that role was enough to have me pick up the audio edition. Incidentally, Kate Mulgrew’s other return to the role of Janeway is something I’m very much looking forward to seeing in the upcoming Prodigy animated series.

Having written some of her own, Mulgrew has a real knack for autobiographies. Given that we’ve spent seven years with these characters, there are few surprises along the way. But author Una McCormack wisely focuses on the emotional drive, filling in gaps and supplying motivation and follow-up for some of the show’s most infamous moments. Mulgrew’s narration is accordingly soft and measured, reflecting on a life plagued by misadventure. Maybe it was just the late nights I spent listening to this, but Mulgrew’s voice is incredibly soothing, sometimes passionate, often wry, and occasionally melancholic. It works on every level, and a better partnering of author and narrator is hard to imagine. The only reason it took me so long to reach the conclusion is the limited listening time available to me. On a long commute or holiday, I imagine these eight hours would drift by most pleasantly.

As you can imagine, this book explores a lot of Janeway’s life before Voyager, and I have to admit, the depth spent on her childhood wasn’t of that much interest to me. There are only so many happy memories I can tolerate before I want something to happen. Things really get going once young Janeway enters Starfleet. This being McCormack, we get a proper look at how the Cardassian conflict shaped those years of her life, tying Voyager into the larger narrative arcs of the Trek universe. The slice-of-life pacing continues, but now the individual incidents are more interesting to me, especially her butting of heads with one Captain Ward.

It’s where the story catches up to the series that things get interesting. Covering seasons with broad strokes, but singling out individual episodes for further study, McCormack brings a cohesion that the aggressively episodic show often lacked. I particularly enjoyed an aside reference to the events of ‘Threshold,’ and a rumination on Janeway’s controversial actions in ‘Tuvix.’ But we also get to see the character development of nearly a hundred and eight episodes condensed into a manageable few hours. Seven, Paris, and Torres shine the most here, but everyone has their moment in the sun. of particular interest is the final chapter, which serves as a ‘where are they now?’ of the main cast. It’s not in line with the tie-in novels, nor is it likely to be canonised by new series, but its a longer and more satisfying conclusion than the one seen on screen.

While it may not be the most thrilling book in the world, The Autobiography of Kathryn Janeway is well worth a listen for any Voyager fan, and hopefully a sign of more actors being brought back for future volumes.