Saturday, November 05, 2011

The Romulan War: To Brave the Storm (spoilers)

The end of the two-part Romulan War saga feels like the end to the Enterprise relaunch we've had thus far, tying up threads set up in the various Martin and Mangels then Martin solo novels. It's hard to tell whether the Enterprise post-finale books as we've known them are over now, but the last couple of chapters really provide a sense of everything being wound up and finished off.

But setting that aside, how is it? For me, at least, frustrating. For a number of reasons. First, I never thought the Romulan War really needed a big epic event, and according to some sources this was originally planned as a trilogy and later cut back to two books. As a result I'm torn between thinking it all went on too long and thinking the second book shows the signs of being something very different from what was originally intended. Where the first book, Beneath the Raptor's Wing, took a panoramic view of events, with a wide variety of perspectives, characters, and settings, To Brave the Storm has a tighter focus on the core characters. I liked the first book's approach at times, because we've seen plenty of space battles with our series regulars; we haven't seen the effects on politicians, journalists, and working stiffs.

And the tighter focus on the core characters leads to my second problem. I never had any issues with the decision to keep Trip Tucker alive. We never saw him die, just a centuries-later holodeck reenactment. So far, so good. But I never for one minute found anything believable about Trip Tucker, Federation spy in the Romulan Empire. Even when every character knew that Trip was a spy, they let him live for a variety of unconvincing reasons. And even after years of being a spy, judging by several scenes in To Brave the Storm, Trip never got the hang of talking or acting like anything other than the guy he was on TV. Every second character he encountered, at least, should have wondered what the hell was up with this guy, who looked right but talked cornpone and had inappropriate and blazingly obvious emotional reactions any number of times.

Third problem: though I liked some early Martin and Mangels books, I've found a lot of them, including several solo Martin books, seemed to just go on and on without anything happening. Characters move around a lot and talk a lot but nothing is really accomplished. And I very much had that feeling for the first half of this book.

But then something happened. Maybe it was just the need to deal quickly with all those balls in the air, but the last hundred-odd pages drew me in. I started actually enjoying the book and wondering how things were going to play out. A lot of the answers were predetermined -- Earth wasn't going to lose the war, Trip wasn't going to die, and so on -- but I started getting curious as to how the pieces would come together, and whereas I'd stalled any number of times in earlier chapters I raced through the last several chapters.

Overall, then, a flawed conclusion to a flawed series of books building on a flawed TV series. But one that ended up being a somewhat better experience than I was expecting.

(If you were wondering what I was on about last time, saying it could be hard to review a good, satisfying book, do you get it now?)


At 10:06 PM, Blogger D. Browning Gibson said...

Wow, Steve, you summed up accurately my own experience of To Brave The Storm.

The scope was so much less than Beneath The Raptor's Wing . . . yet that first book left me quietly bored, like I didn't want to admit I was bored because this was--finally--the literary expose of the Earth-Romulan War. Almost 50 years in the making.

So I could appreciate the finale's tighter focus. And I still found myself bored at times. I gave Martin the benefit of the doubt and assumed my boredom was predicated on how the war had to be depicted given certain constraints already established that dictated how it had to be prosecuted.

(Thinking back, I think I was looking or hoping for something more emotionally engaging as I found the years of the Dominion War on televised DS9.)

But, like you, at page 241, Chapter 24, when Trip informs T'Pol that the Romulan fleet is massing at Cheron and Archer meets with Gardner, I found myself hooked. I raced to the end. I enjoyed the novel immensely. Until the very end. The epilogue fell flat for me.

Looking back, I'd loved to have read more about the aftermath of the war that led to the founding of the Federation, the venerable Phoenix rising form those ashes. A 22nd century Articles Of The Federation. (Keith? Where are you?)

Throughout the post-ENT finale novels, I cheered that Trip hadn't died. Yet, like you, I kept thinking, "How is this man still breathing if he can't hide his humanity any better than he does?"

Humanity otherwise known as cornpone.

In this novel, I thought his Trip-ness came through like an amateur spy. Oops, that is what Trip is. But if he was that amateur, he should have been killed. That the Romulans didn't immediately suss him out required a suspension of disbelief that I couldn't make without lots of Scotch. Single malt. Isle of Jura, thank you.

I hope that we get further tales of the Federation post-war, but if the Enterprise NX-01 was decommisioned, it does seem that the NX-01 crew will have scattered. And I'm not sure I want to read novels that seem forced in their attempts to bring the crew together. I, for one, would like to read more of the tales of this crew, but I wonder: where do we--they--go from here as a crew? I'm not sure.

It is similar to my thoughts about the powers-that-be at Pocket Books not knowing what to do with the DS9storyline when the series was jumped five years to be contemporary with the TTN and TNG books.

As always, thanks for your reviews, your insights, the opportunity for me to put into words my reflections about what I've read.

(Now, as an aside, I hated A Choice Of Catastrophes. I forced myself to read it in three days because it was so bad. I know you liked it. I just found it a bad cartoon of Star Trek.)



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