Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Vanguard: Harbinger

While I make my way through Summon the Thunder, I might as well add more content to this blog. And what better way than recycling old material from the now more or less defunct


I keep trying to come up with some cover-blurb-style catchy one-liner summing up the book, and it's not easy. There's too much happening in the book to try to convey it so simply, other than going for something positive but uninformative, like "Vanguard is another winner for Pocket Books and David Mack." There's intensity, tragedy, intrigue, adventure, humour, sex, strongly drawn characters, well-used guest stars, everything you could want in the first book of a new series. There are elements of the story that wrap in the first book and tantalizing story arc elements that will carry over into the next book and beyond.

In other words, I like it.

I can imagine some of the comments some people are bound to make. Lesbian Vulcan? We've seen it in New Frontier. Undercover Klingon spy? We've seen it in Errand of Vengeance. Appearance by a core TV series cast? We've seen it several times. Cervantes Quinn? Another of the original series's lovable rogues. They'll say it, but they'll be wrong. T'Prynn being haunted, effectively, by a katra is a chillingly effective idea, the sort of thing that shows how many ideas are implicit in Star Trek but somehow aren't obvious until someone actually runs with it. Sandesjo... still a bit early to tell, though I suspect she may be a little more conflicted than the average Klingon spy. Neither character can be easily pigeonholed.

As for Cervantes Quinn, he's not the comic relief character I thought he'd be. The name certainly echoes Cyrano Jones, complete with the literary/historical illusions of the first name combined with the more prosaic surname, but I can't imagine the tribble-selling Jones surviving some of the things Quinn experiences. Even Harry Mudd, who has a harder edge than Jones, might think twice before getting involved with an Orion crime boss like Ganz. (Incidentally, is it safe to assume David Mack came up with Quinn's name? The name of Quinn's ship is certainly appropriate for a guy named Cervantes, but it's hard not to think that the starship Rosinante is a Rush reference.) And of course you can't actually just use Jones or Mudd, because Kirk et al. haven't encountered them yet. Quinn is also a bit reminiscent of Quark, but Quark was in a comfortable, privileged position compared to Quinn, having the stability of a fixed business establishment and the assistance when necessary of Odo and Starfleet, despite his occasional
criminal activities.

Speaking of references and in-jokes... I spotted a few, but in general didn't find them disruptive to the story's flow. I assume the Yocarian mentioned on p.204 is inspired by Yossarian from Catch-22; the sonic screwdriver is an obvious tip of the hat to Doctor Who; and there are a couple of lines from Casablanca aptly used on p.356. No doubt I missed some, but that's fine. It's not only possible to overdo that sort of thing, there are writers who overdo it regularly.

The appearances by familiar characters were well done. Setting the story early in the TOS timeframe gave us a different look at the usual faces, and some not so usual, like Piper, D'Amato, and M'Benga, who got more character moments here than they did on TV. Having the Enterprise crew encounter a Starbase they didn't expect to find, during that long trip home from "Where No Man Has Gone Before," added to the mystery of the situation. In short, though we've seen the original crew so many times by now, Vanguard finds fresh new ways of making use of TOS.

As for the new characters, I like the fact that Mack gave some physical descriptions as well as a good mix of species and races. Despite the large cast, we were also able to see a number of the characters grow, change, and experience relationships. The character work was strong enough that I really was surprised when the Bombay was destroyed. Its officers weren't just nameless redshirts, and the battle scene is, I think, going to have people talking.

As for the "DS9 in the TOS era" tag some people have already stuck on it... in some respects, it reminded me more of Babylon 5, which did a lot more with the idea of ancient alien mysteries than Trek generally did, and the new Battlestar Galactica, with its frankness and openness about sex (I also sometimes found myself picturing Reyes as looking like Edward James Olmos). That's not to say that the book feels like a knockoff or an imitation of something else; they're just minor points in common. Vanguard has established its own identity.

Like DS9, though, it looks like this has the potential to be very much a character-driven series. There's no shortage of plot that can be developed from the setting and situation, with the Tholians, Klingons, Orions, and Shedai, but the characters could easily inspire a number of interesting stories that don't necessarily have a lot to do with the major arcs. If Vanguard does as well as I expect it to, maybe a few books down the road we can hope for an anthology of short stories based on the individual characters, along the lines of The Lives of Dax or No Limits.

Vanguard itself is well described, not only through the wonderful schematics but also through the way the story takes us to so many different places within the station. We've effectively been given a tour of the station and it's an environment that I can already picture some areas of pretty well.

I'm happy. I think the people who've enjoyed the DS9 post-finale books, the Lost Era books, Taking Wing, Articles of the Federation, Ex Machina, and the other widescreen Trek fiction we've been getting will also be happy.


At 4:04 PM, Anonymous Ross said...

"Lesbian Vulcan? We've seen it in New Frontier .."

We have?!?! When?
(thinking I need to go back and re-read the NF novels, to find the Lesbian Vulcan action....)

At 4:12 PM, Blogger Steve said...

I might be getting mixed up, because I can't find anything to confirm my memory. Maybe there were gay male Vulcans in NF. Not at all the same thing, I guess...


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