Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Summon the Thunder: not too spoilerific thoughts

Enterprise, JJ Abrams's movie, the JMS/Zabel pitch... there's been a lot of emphasis on somehow restoring Star Trek to its roots while telling stories for a 21st century audience, and a lot of controversy. Meanwhile, at Pocket Books, the editors and writers just get on with it with a minimum of fuss and bother.

Vanguard's second novel moves the planned story arc forward in several respects, answering a few questions, telling us more about the new characters introduced in Harbinger, fitting the events into the context of early TOS, and putting things in place to move the story forward, no small feat. But it also introduces a number of new characters. Like Harbinger, Summon the Thunder has a significant body count, and both books make you care about the characters who don't make it to the end of the story. It isn't just a series of anonymous redshirts.

We also get to see some real plot development as well. Though it was clear from Harbinger that the mystery of the Taurus Reach had some connection with the Tholians, we learn more about that connection here, in ways that suggest that this series may end up doing for the Tholians what the DS9 relaunch has done for the Andorians, though this time from an outside perspective, as there's no real Tholian viewpoint character thus far. And the Romulan involvement, which at first had me thinking "again with the Romulans," as the once-neglected culture has had a lot of exposure in recent novels (and forthcoming novels as well), makes a lot of sense, as it's meant to have repercussions not only in the books but in TOS itself, this book occurring before "Balance of Terror." It's a typical example of the consolidation/expansion technique the Pocket books have been doing in recent years, pulling together threads from the actual TV episodes and movies, while at the same time pulling back and showing us more of the backdrop against which those episodes and movies took place. It's all making the Star Trek universe a more complex and believable setting.

With its ancient galactic mystery, the Vanguard concept seems to resemble the JMS/Zabel reboot in some respects, though obviously that's purely coincidental. What Vanguard gets right that the S/Z reboot gets wrong is two important things: it doesn't depend on familiar faces, and it has the kind of large ensemble of characters an epic series needs.

So what can I say about Summon the Thunder? The good: some characters' motivations are made more understandable; some relationships are beginning to develop in new ways; some mysteries are being untangled. In fact, as plot-heavy as the series seems likely to be, given the existence of a story arc mapped out by Marco Palmieri and David Mack, it's the characters I find myself most interested in. That's the challenge that any new Star Trek TV series or movies will have to meet, too. The epic scope of the stories being told in Vanguard (and the Deep Space Nine relaunch and the Titan series, the two other current Trek book series Vanguard most resembles) matters because the characters matter. It isn't just about watching the pieces of the plot coming together, the way Babylon 5 sometimes was.

Not as good: in a couple of spots the prose is a little clunky. Pennington's dialogue could use a little work, too; he's supposed to be Scottish, and writers have mentioned that to an extent he's modeled on Ewan MacGregor, but he comes across as at times as a typical Hollywood Brit of the kind you'd never actually find in south London, Manchester, or Birmingham, much less Glasgow or Edinburgh. Still, any book with a sentence like "As my grandfather used to say, this furshlugginer veeblefetzer's gone all potrzebie" (p. 264) is clearly a work of genius.

So I'm looking forward to more Vanguard, but I'm also looking forward to catching up with my SCE reading. It's good to know there are more adventures with the Lovell crew that I haven't read yet, and I fully intend to get up to speed.


At 5:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would you suggest reading 'Distant Early Warning' before 'Summon the Thunder,' or do you think it really makes no difference?

Jon P

At 5:41 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Hi, Jon. I'd recommend reading DEW first, because it's set earlier and the mystery in the story is given away in STT.

At 11:46 AM, Blogger Dayton said...

Thanks very much for the review, Steve! Glad you liked the furshlugginer line :D


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