Thursday, May 04, 2006

Last Full Measure

Last Full Measure cover

The last Enterprise novel, Dave Stern's Rosetta, felt almost like a generic SF adventure novel, with not a lot connecting it closely to the established Star Trek universe, and a focus on a lot of newly created species and cultures. Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels's Last Full Measure, on the other hand, dives right into the show's continuity, offering a story set during the third season's Xindi arc.

Martin and Mangels do some things that the show never really accomplished. First, the book deals with the tense relationship between the Starfleet crew and the MACOs; second, it features Travis Mayweather, a character criminally underutilized on the show, as a major viewpoint character. This is one of the things Pocket has often done right: picking up on aspects of a Trek TV series that should have been explored more deeply but never were. It's why I enjoyed so many of their Voyager novels while finding the show a chore to watch; the novel writers just seem to think more deeply about the premise and the characters than the TV writers did. In this case, for example, I liked their depiction of Reed's discomfort with Archer's violence and willingness to use torture.

As for the story, it's full of action and intrigue, as the Enterprise gang are led astray by a plot by Degra to keep them from interfering with Xindi plans by setting a ruse for Archer to fall for. As on the show, we see events from both the crew's perspective and the Xindi Council's. There's also an A story and a B story, as Archer and a few others follow one lead while Mayweather and a group of MACOs follow another, each team facing its share of peril. At times the pace and the action mean the characterization takes a bit of a back seat. Not that Martin and Mangels get anything wrong; it's just that I expected we'd learn a bit more about certain characters than we actually did. Still, at least these MACOs weren't the interchangeable guest stars we saw too often on TV. And the arc involving Mayweather and his MACO bunkmate Chang, though it could be seen as the cliched buddy action movie arc in which two very different men who dislike each other are forced to work together and come to respect each other, makes sense. Neither Mayweather nor Chang has to change completely and tell the other he's right; instead, each of them, with his skills and background, proves important to the team's efforts in ways that are true to the characters.

Then there's the framing bit. Margaret Clark has said the end of the book would offer a clue to the approach the books would follow as they move beyond the series finale, with respect to the controversial death of Trip Tucker. In any other case, I'd think that if a character is killed, he or she should stay killed. But the way that Trip was killed in "These Are the Voyages" made so little sense, and had so little visible emotional impact on the other characters (not to mention being seen only in a holodeck recreation centuries later), that I'm open to the possibility that he didn't die. The end of the book answers one question but leaves many more unanswered, opening a lot of stoytelling opportunities for future Enterprise novelists. That works for me.

The downside: more damn in-jokes. Oh, how I hate in-jokes. Any time I notice that the author is making an allusion to something outside the fictional world of the novel, it takes me out of that immersive reading experience. This time around, it's Star Wars. We get Tatooine, Mos Eisley, Jabba the Hutt, the cantina band, for crying out loud, the Millennium Falcon. I can only wonder how the authors resisted having a couple of lines of dialogue like "That's no moon" and "I'm getting a bad feeling about this." Even though I am a reliable crank on the subject of in-jokes, I really, really think this one should have been cut. There's no thematic resonance between Last Full Measure and Star Wars. They're not playing off an established similarity between something onscreen in Enterprise and Star Wars. It doesn't demonstrate any kind of creativity, and it's not like Star Wars is some obscure but fondly remembered bit of SF that needed a tip o' the hat. And even if it did, how many pages does it need to go on for? If there was no purpose other than to have a little fun, did it really need to be there?

Overall, definitely a must-read for Enterprise fans, and a generally solid military action-adventure story for Trek fans who enjoy the darker side of the Trekverse.


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