Saturday, April 23, 2011

The fun returns

Warning: there may be spoilers below. I don't know, I haven't written it yet, so be careful.

The Typhon Pact books had some great moments, but they tended to be pretty grim. And after books like the galaxy-changing Destiny trilogy, some fans at TrekBBS and elsewhere have found that the Typhon Pact books were just dark and depressing loaded on more dark and depressing. Personally, I don't agree that the book line has overdosed on the dark side... but that doesn't mean I'm not ready for some lighter reading. And for two months in a row, we've gotten books that (despite occasional moments of sadness and loss) bring back the fun.

David McIntee's novel Indistinguishable From Magic is packaged as a Next Generation novel, but it focuses on Geordi LaForge and Montgomery Scott aboard the engineering ship Challenger. There are a lot of guest appearances, too, from Berlinghoff Rasmussen, Guinan, Leah Brahms, and many more. It may seem a bit much, but the story was originally planned to be two separate books, so the fanwank^H^H^H^H^H^H^H continuity references seem a bit more concentrated than they might otherwise have done.

Basically, what we have here is something of an epic-scale Starfleet Corps of Engineers kind of story, with the old science fictional sense of wonder working on overdrive. It's fun, dramatic, funny, surprising, and touching. It does suffer a bit from having two books' worth of plot crammed into one book, but it's a big book. And I enjoyed it. After reading McIntee's Doctor Who fiction over the last decade (and some Trek- and Space: 1999-related stuff), I'm glad to see him get the chance to deliver a full-length Star Trek novel. And it's no disappointment. May it be the first of many.

Also not a disappointment, despite a somewhat awkward structure and truckloads of continuity porn, is Christopher Bennett's latest, Watching the Clock, the first novel to centre on Dulmur and Lucsly of the Department of Temporal Investigations, as introduced in DS9's "Trials and Tribble-ations." Bennett takes characters who had only a few minutes of screen time and makes them believable characters. He also provides a lot of thoughtful explanations for the many seemingly incompatible uses of time travel in the last 45 years of Trek history, and manages to wrap up some long-unanswered questions -- not least about the confused mess that was Enterprise's Temporal Cold War.

Bennett, more than most writers, sees and writes Trek as science fiction, emphasis on science, and this book is no exception. He's clearly done a lot of thinking, and he shows some of his homework, but keeps the book flowing well enough that it never devolves into a series of expository lumps.

Like Indistinguishable From Magic, Watching the Clock has its share of dark moments, but again the overall tone is one of fun and adventure, of taking the elements of Star Trek to build a big, epic story across years and light years. Both books are set firmly in the current Trek books continuity, but they're not about exploring what happens next in any of the ongoing storylines. They're big fun standalone adventures, and they should make a lot of fans happy.