Sunday, October 30, 2011

On a couple of recent novels

Can it be that I still haven't reviewed A Choice of Catastrophes by Michael Schuster and Steve Mollmann and What Judgments Come by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore? Apparently so. Well, then.

Sometimes there's no hook that really pushes me to blather about a book. Sometimes it just does exactly what it's supposed to do and I don't find an obvious angle. There's no odd new element, there's no fatal flaw, it's just a good, solid read. Both of these books fit that category. And that's not meant to be damning with faint praise. Readers shouldn't be disappointed by either of these books.

For fans who complain that there aren't enough standalone novels any more, that there aren't enough novels set during a TV series instead of expanding on what comes afterward -- shut up already. Read A Choice of Catastrophes. It tells a good, classic Star Trek-style SF story: some of the regulars are investigating a mysterious alien planet; others, including McCoy, are facing challenges of their own back on the Enterprise. It's familiar in the broad outlines but still fresh by virtue of being the first full length novel by the Schuster/Mollmann team. The focus on McCoy helps keep the book a bit different from most of the five year mission stories, as does the direction his storyline takes.

And, conversely, for fans who want serial storytelling with a cast of original characters, Ward and Dilmore are back with the penultimate Vanguard novel. And they tease us a bit with the structure of the novel -- the opening and closing are set after the end of the story, with two characters reuniting. So we can assume everyone doesn't get killed off, at least. Anyway, the book has a lot of storylines to deal with, and resolves at least a couple of them while setting things up for the grand finale. There's a lot of tension built up in certain storylines -- is Reyes going to make it out of this situation in one piece? is trying to communicate with powerful but apparently imprisoned aliens really a bright idea? -- and the tension is paid off in the book.

I think in some ways the book suffers a little by comparison to the last one, Declassified, because each of the four stories in that book could exercise a tighter focus -- a few characters, a single story. With What Judgments Come we're back to watching a lot of balls in the air, so early in the book the focus seems more diffuse, but things accelerate and come together. Only one book left. Damn.


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