Thursday, November 27, 2008

Destiny Book III: Lost Souls

I should have known better. I was really wondering just how dark the conclusion of the story would be, just how far David Mack was going to go, but instead the book had a surprisingly upbeat ending. Not for everyone, of course, and Nan Bacco quite rightly points out that the Federation and its allies have been badly wounded. But many of our regulars come out of the story in a better place than when they went in -- Picard and Troi in particular. It looks like the former Seven of Nine may come out of the experience as a very different person, though. Still, it's a good conclusion -- the threat is eliminated, but there's a new state of uncertainty that can generate a lot of possible problems for the Federation. And a lot of stories for the writers who'll be picking up the pieces.

Writing about the first book, I said, "I think a case could be made that it's conveniently coincidental that the Aventine and Titan missions are both connecting to the Caeliar at roughly the same time, but that's not something I'm going to worry about. This is fiction, and in fiction, we usually expect separate storylines to converge at some point." I really should have followed that line of thought a bit farther. I was initially a little surprised that we got some flashback sequences with Pembleton et al in this one, and briefly thought that it was primarily to give the books a parallel structure, each having a major flashback storyline, but it didn't take too long to figure out where things were going. It makes perfect sense, after all, but at the same time, the origin of the Borg is one of those things that's been played around with before and never seemed like a good idea (Shatner's The Return, a story in one of the Tokyopop manga collections). But if you have the freedom and the audacity to not only end the Borg story but also begin it, and you can do it in a way that makes sense in the context of both this particular story and the Star Trek universe as a whole, why not?

I find myself almost at a loss for things to say this time, because so much has been resolved that I don't have loose threads to pull on. The story's a temporal cloverleaf that loops back to a surprising beginning and ends in a satisfying conclusion. It's elegantly done. There must have been a lot of outlining and careful planning to work out how the time travel elements would play out, which characters would participate in which storylines, and so on. And it all comes together so well. This book couldn't have been written the way too many Star Trek TV cliffhanger stories were done, with the first part finished before the writers started on the second. It had to have been really carefully thought through, but from the reader's perspective, it feels almost effortless.

I read the first half of the book one Friday night after finishing another book. On Saturday I got up and read through to the end with only the briefest pauses possible. It's a long book, as are the first two volumes, but the momentum of the story pulls the reader through. And Mack's prose helps; it's clean, flowing, and effective.

Last time I mentioned the shagging line from the second book. One bit I liked this time around: at the bottom of the page, someone advises Martok that the Borg are advancing on several planets, including Rura Penthe. Who cares about Rura Penthe, I thought, and turned the page. "Who cares about Rura Penthe?" Martok asks. It's a little thing, but it makes what could have been just a continuity reference into a believable and funny moment. There are a lot of continuity references in the book, but they serve the purpose of the story rather than simply being padding for trivia buffs.

The book needed moments like the Cestus III family reunion scene; it was grim at times, and the visit to Deneva reminded the reader of the losses suffered, but there had to be some good, happy stuff. And the scene with Picard and Riker discussing fatherhood was great, reminding us of how well those characters worked together in TNG at its best, while also underlining just how far we've come since the show went off the air.

All in all, it's a great story that puts the reader and the characters through the wringer but ends positively and with a proper Star Trek sense of hope and new possibilities. It's sort of like the ending of Star Trek – The Motion Picture on a much bigger scale, with the Borg becoming Caeliar reminiscent of the V'Ger probe joining with Decker to create something new. And though there were inevitably be hardships for our heroes to contend with, at least the Borg are done with.

Now, of course, I can't wait to see what happens next.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Blast from the past

Paradise Lost: The Return of the Serpent Part One, written by Michael Carlin (DC Comics Star Trek 43, October 1987 issue)

(As reviewed in the lettercol of issue 47 by Steve Roby. I can't believe Robert Greenberger printed such a long letter. Yeah, I've been playing with the Star Trek: The Complete Comic Book Collection DVD-ROM, about which I was going to post a review, but basically, it would come down to this: this is an insanely affordable way to get a huge amount of Star Trek fun. And a lot of crap, too. But any Trek fan with the least interest in Trek comics should have already bought a copy. Anyway, one of the neat features is that each comic is scanned whole, cover to cover, including letter columns when they appear. I was a bit of a letterhack for a brief period, starting after university and ending around the time my old best friend from high school moved to town and I got my first serious girlfriend and I was working fulltime, so I didn't have as much time as I used to. Near as I can tell Bob printed eight more of my letters. One feature the DVD could use is searchable text, but that would probably have made the job a lot more difficult. And the end result a lot more expensive. But it was neat spotting letters from Ian McLean, John S. Drew, and Glenn Greenberg, who I assume is the same Glenn Greenberg who's written some Trek comics and SCE/COE stories, and it was fun reading Bob's own little bits in the lettercol.)

So here's the first appearance in an official Star Trek publication of a then 24-year-old blowhard.

Dear Bob,
What's wrong with Star Trek #43:

1) The cover. What is this, a kiddie monster comic? Many of your readers are adults and being one myself I'd like to see something a bit more dignified and sophisticated.

2) The monster. If, as Spock suspected, the monster was never truly there, why would one more phaser make a difference? I hope this will be explained, perhaps as part of Akuta's power. Remember, Star Trek is science fiction, not space fantasy. Provide explanations for what happens, and let them at least seem scientifically sound.

3) Another prime directive story -- complete with Kirk and the crew being seen as gods. Does "Mortal Gods" ring a bell? Or how about "Wolf on the Prowl," with its culture contaminated by Redjac to lure the Enterprise, including a depiction of Kirk? As if the orignial Star Trek didn't wear out the story potential in the Prime Directive.

4) The treatment of women in the story. Primitive societies don't necessarily have to be shown as sexist, as this one appears to be. Makora, at least, is a definite MCP. Bryce doesn't get a chance to do anything, she just waits around to be rescued by the men. A situation which allowed Bryce to escape on her own, perhaps with Konom's assistance, could have been more interesting.

5) Konom. A person who is so deeply opposed to violence that he almost allows himself to be killed by a big monster would be disturbed by violent acts committed by anyone. To make everything all right by having others do the fighting for him seems inconsistent.

6) "They're dead, Jim!" Whether the crew is dead or merely seems to be, it's been done, and everybody will be fine later on.

7) Akuta's mutterings, combined with two and six above, suggest an element of the supernatural. I hope I'm wrong on this one, because "supernatural science fiction" is oxymoronic.

On the brighter side, here's what I liked:

1) I liked the way the events on page 14, about Bryce, mirrored the events on page 13, featuring Konom. It was a nice touch.

2) Makora has become the bad guy and Akuta the good guy -- or is he? The characters are less predictable this time around.

3) Another Prime Directive story? Well, it is, but with a difference. There's no Phil Hodges or U.S.S. Horizon or Ron Tracey or Captain Merek or John Gill to blame. This time, Kirk is cleaning up his own mess. It's about time. The possibilities for this story are so numerous and diverse that I expect the complete story will more than make up for the things I disliked about the first part.

Steve Roby