Monday, 3 November 2014

Star Trek: Web of the Romulans - M.S. Murdock



Title: Web of the Romulans
Author: M.S. Murdock
Published: 1983
Chronological Period: 2267

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“Web of the Romulans” by M.S. Murdock is a Star Trek Original Series novel set early in the Enterprise’s 5 year mission and is the only Star Trek novel that Murdock wrote. The story is based around the Federation’s response to the peculiar actions of Romulan Empire which are leading some people within Starfleet command to believe that an invasion may be immanent. The Enterprise is dispatched to the Neutral Zone to monitor the situation and soon the crew find themselves face to face with a Romulan ship whose commander is willing to do anything he can to ensure the completion of his secret mission.

The main aspects of the story regarding Kirk’s face off against the Romulan commander were very reminiscent of the TV episode “Balance of Terror”. Whilst the end result of the face-off is rather different I still found that it made the book feel rather un-original due to this being the core action elements of the novel. This all exacerbated by some rather bad pacing. It takes quite a while before the book actually gets on to any of the action scenes and then when they do occur they are interrupted by the narrative jumping to some of the other slower paced sub-plots.

An additional thing that I noted is that the portrayal of women isn’t the best and I am sure some people could easily classify it as being slightly misogynist. For example, Uhura’s main role in the novel is to look “fragile” in her bathrobe and then there is the loyal centurion on the Romulan ship who it turns out may only be loyal because she actually loves her commander. Yes, I have seen much worse in other books but the portrayal of women here wasn’t the greatest and I haven’t even touched on the computer who was given a female persona and then fell in love with Kirk and started to act like a 12 year old girl.

There are of course some positives within the novel such as the very fact that it does take an interesting look at the Romulan Empirs. I found the moments spent on the intrigue within the Preator’s court or the way in which the Romulan Commander interacted with his crew to be rather enjoyable if a bit limited in scope. I do wish that Murdoch had maybe tried to spend more time exploring the political and cultural side of the Romulan Empire in more depth.

Overall, this wasn’t really the best of Star Trek. Whilst the close look at the Romulan Empire was interesting the bad pacing and rather un-original aspects of the plot let it down. If you are a fan of the Romulans then I would advise you to still give the book a read but if you are just interested in general Star Trek fare then there are much better novels out there.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Star Trek: Heart of the Sun - Pamela Sargent & George Zebrowski



Title: Heart of the Sun
Author: Pamela Sargent & George Zebrowski
Published: 1997
Chronological Period: 2267

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“Heart of the Sun” by Pamela Sargent & George Zebrowski is an Original Series Star Trek Novel that takes place early on in the 5 Year Mission. My first comment about it is that it displayed the issue I have noticed recently with cover blurbs not matching what actually happens in the novel. Whilst the blurb details that the story is about the Enterprise trying to stop an asteroid hitting a planet it is actually about the Enterprise trying to stop an asteroid which contains some mysterious technology hitting the planet’s sun which in turn may affect the planet itself. It isn’t the biggest of differences to be honest but I still hate the way that this type of thing can make Star Trek books appear rather amateurish.

Anyway, the story we do get here is pretty standard Star Trek fare and isn’t anything special although it is solid enough. It is a reasonably smart and thoughtful novel that tries to put forward some interesting points on the issues of becoming an overly insular society. The authors also do a reasonable job with the characters as on the whole they acted in the manner I would have expected them to.

However there are some issues with the plot itself, for example the reason for the Enterprise being at the planet Tyrtaeus II did feel rather derived and unlikely. I just don’t believe that in the future an entire planet’s computer database wouldn’t have a proper back up system in place to protect it against viruses etc.

The real problem with the novel though is that it could at times get rather dull, there was a lot of contemplation and investigations going on with very little action or adventure. Now, this on its own wouldn’t have been much of an issue to me as but unfortunately towards the middle of the book the authors manage to repeat the same things over and over again. I don’t know how many times I had to read about the crew trying to move the asteroid or discuss the risks of Spock heading over there but it was too many. This continuous repetition of points just slowed the plot down and left me feeling rather bored.

Overall, this is a pretty standard Star Trek story with an interesting enough premise but told in a rather inefficient and at times rather dull manner. I did enjoy some aspects of the story but now that I have finished it I suspect it will quickly fade from my memory as it just hasn’t left any lasting impression.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Star Trek: The Original Series: River of Blood (Errand of Vengeance Book 3) - Kevin Ryan



Title: River of Blood (Errand of Vengeance Book 3)
Author: Kevin Ryan
Published: 2002
Chronological Period: 2266

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“River of Blood” is the final novel in Kevin Ryan’s “Errand of Vengeance” trilogy. The novel continues to follow the exploits of Kell aka Jon Anderson, a Klingon spy currently serving on the USS Enterprise. In particular the story is focussed on the defence of Starbase 42 against a Klingon attempt to obtain a large quantity of starship-grade dilithium crystals which are held on the planet below.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this series of novels, with particular interest deriving from the development of the various “lower deck” characters. Therefore it was a little bit disappointing to see that Ryan has changed tack with this book and has pushed the character elements of the story aside in order to create one big action packed finale. This different focus does result in a fast paced and thoroughly entertaining novel but it felt like it was missing something.

Another issue related to this different focus is that Kell himself is reduced to a very minor role. It feels to me like Ryan had maybe developed the character too quickly and was left with an entire novel in which he just had to give the character some sort of ending; an ending which I have to say was pretty predictable. I did note that this does allow Kirk and the main crew to take more of an active role in the story which will I am sure appeal to some people but I was a little bit disappointed as I had really enjoyed the freshness of concentrating on Kell and the other “minor” characters.

Whilst this review does appear a bit negative I do want to clarify that I did enjoy the book, it is a fun read and the characters acted and behaved in a manner I have come to expect. In addition, it was nice to see that whilst the character elements in the novel were diminished Ryan has tried to give all them at least one important moment with Admiral Justman in particular getting an exceptional finale.

Overall, this book is a decent finale to the series with entertaining action scenes aplenty but it was probably my least favourite due to the reduction in character elements and the loss of focus on Kell’s story. The series as a whole has been a wonderful adventure for me and I have really enjoyed its focus on the secondary characters which has given it a very fresh feeling. It is a bit of a shame that this experiment was abandoned and most books have gone back to following the main three crew members but either way I am now looking forward to reading Ryan’s follow up series “Errand of Fury” which continues the story of Klingon-Federation tensions right up until the events of the TV episode “Errand of Mercy”.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Star Trek: The Original Series: Killing Blow (Errand of Vengeance Book 2) - Kevin Ryan



Title: Killing Blow (Errand of Vengeance Book 2)
Author: Kevin Ryan
Published: 2002
Chronological Period: 2266

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“Killing Blow” is the 2nd Novel in Kevin Ryan’s “Errand of Vengeance” trilogy that takes a look at the tension between the Federation and Klingon Empire which results in war as seen in the Star Trek Original series episode “Errand of Mercy”. The main focus of the novel continues to be on Kell, the Klingon infiltrator who is current disguised as a human aboard the Enterprise. Kell has come to realise that the way in which the Empire portrays Kirk and humanity as a whole is not accurate, in fact his viewpoint has changed so much that he has ended up in a relationship with a human woman called Leslie Parrish. However, despite his reservations he is still determined to complete his mission and assassinate Kirk.

When I started reading this book I wasn’t expecting much as middle novels in trilogies do tend to be weakest of the three. However, Ryan has managed to continue the overall plotline adequately whilst also giving us an interesting and enjoyable story specific to this novel. There are of course still some elements of the novel dedicated to setting things up for the finale but the inclusion of a specific mission to follow that contains a start and finish ensures that the when you finish the novel you still feel satisfied with the conclusion.

In regards to the writing, the quick pacing and action packed storyline ensures the novel feels like an episode of the TV series with us never dwelling to long on any one area. Also, the loss of red shirted personnel left, right and centre really reinforces that Original series feeling. Probably the only element that really differs strongly from one of the TV episodes is that most of the viewpoints are from people outside the regular cast. These new characters introduced in the first novel continue to grow and provide a feeling of freshness to the Star Trek Universe.

Overall this was an enjoyable continuation of the Errand of Vengeance trilogy which continues to highlight and develop the lives of the “regular” people aboard the Enterprise. In addition, Kell’s personal struggles are well portrayed and whilst we know that Kirk won’t be killed, how Kell’s journey will conclude does remain a mystery and I am eager to see how this will be resolved.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Star Trek: The Original Series: The Edge of the Sword (Errand of Vengeance Book 1) - Kevin Ryan



Title: The Edge of the Sword (Errand of Vengeance Book 1)
Author: Kevin Ryan
Published: 2002
Chronological Period: 2266

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“The Edge of the Sword” by Kevin Ryan is the first in a trilogy of Star Trek novels known as the “Errand of Vengeance” trilogy that revolves around the slow build up to war between the Federation & the Klingon Empire as seen in the TV episode, “Errand of Mercy”. This novel mainly follows the actions of a Klingon infiltrator who has been sent to the Enterprise to assassinate Kirk. However we also get to see what is happening to the spy’s brother who is on-board a Klingon ship, witness the events as they unfold at Starfleet Command and finally we get to see what is happening with the main Enterprise crew itself.

First off I have to say that I really enjoyed the book, I specifically appreciated seeing life on-board the Enterprise from the viewpoint of the red shirts within Security. In the TV series they were treated as throwaway characters but here we get to see a group of professional and proud people who understand and acknowledge the high mortality rate but are determined to do their job. This slightly different viewpoint also give the novel a fresh and interesting feeling which was highly appreciated by me as I try and read through the entire Star Trek collection.

In regards to the plot, well it was well-written, exciting and action packed but to me it felt secondary to the exploration of the life of a red shirt and Ryan’s attempts to link various TV episodes and events into his overall Klingon-Federation story arc. This attempt at trying to resolve aspects of the Original Series’ very episodic format into a coherent flow was impressive and worked very well.

As for the characters, well the new ones are all lovingly crafted by Ryan and I found myself quickly coming to like them all. They really do take over the narrative of the story so if you are a big fan of Kirk, Spock and McCoy then you may be disappointed as they felt rather side-lined. Personally, I liked this diversion from standard Star Trek formula, especially as the new characters are all interesting and well developed but there may be some out there who don’t.

One of the weakest aspects of the novel in my opinion however was the way in which the Klingon seems to resolve his feelings on Kirk. I appreciated how he slowly came to accept his fellow Security officers as he worked and fought alongside them but with Kirk it all felt a little bit too rushed and easy. I found it hard to believe that he would suddenly flip his viewpoint in the way he does. In my opinion it would have been nicer and more realistic to see a much more drawn out process.

Overall, this was an enjoyable first book in the trilogy and it was wonderfully utilised to set up the new characters and viewpoint from the Security team. The new viewpoints used by Ryan have resulted in a much more action packed Star Trek novel than I am used but this just helped to increase the feeling of freshness around the entire thing. I am now really looking forward to seeing where Ryan is going to take the characters and the story next.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Star Trek 11 - James Blish


Title: Star Trek 11
Author: James Blish
Published: 1975
Chronological Period: 2266 - 2268

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“Star Trek 11” by James Blish is another of his collections of Original Series scripts adapted into short story form. The seven stories included in this collection are all from season one and are as follows:

What Are Little Girls Made of?
The Squire of Gothos
Wink Of an Eye
Bread and Circuses
Day of the Dove
Plato's Stepchildren

As seems to be the norm with Blish’s adaptations, they tend to succeed or fail to the same extent as the episodes themselves did. For example “The Squire of Gothos” was an episode I really enjoyed on the TV screen and I also found myself enjoying it here in this collection. Whereas “Bread and Circuses” rather silly Roman theme irritated me when I saw I first saw it and I quickly found myself feeling the exact same irritation here.

I won’t really go anymore into the various stories as most of you will know them anyway but my enjoyment of this collection was rather mixed. This probably shouldn’t be a surprise as several of these stories were taken from the rather weak third season. One positive is that Blish does capture all the episodes very well and I could easily visualise them all. Although this wasn’t really a surprise to me as his adaptations have always been competent and as this was his 11th collection he was fairly experienced at writing up the episodes and characters.

Overall, I do find myself repeating myself a lot when reviewing Blish’s collections but what is true for one of them is pretty much true for them all. Quite simply this novel was another competent attempt at capturing the Star Trek episodes that should appeal to anyone wanting to enjoy a quick and painless reminder of the Original series stories.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Star Trek: Shadow Lord - Laurence Yep



Title: Shadow Lord
Author: Laurence Yep
Published: 1985
Formats: Hardback/Paperback
Chronological Period: 2266

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“Shadow Lord” by Laurence Yep is a book which had me in two minds regarding how much I liked it. Basically, as a stand-alone sword and sorcery styled fantasy book it worked quite well but as a Star Trek novel it fails on several levels. The book was obviously not meant to be set within the Star Trek Universe and I can only assume that the author knew the Star Trek publishers were accepting submissions and therefore tried to get his story to fit.

Anyway, the plot itself is based around Prince Vikram who is being taken home to his native world of Angira by the Enterprise. Vikram has spent a fair amount of his youth living on Earth and is now meant to be bringing his knowledge of the Federation back to Angira to help his people. When Spock and Sulu escort him down to the planet they soon get caught up in a revolution led by conservative factions who dislike the way that Vikram’s father has been damaging their ancient traditions with his modernising programme. Vikram is soon the only royal left living and alongside the two Enterprise crewmembers he must fight by the sword in order to survive.

So my first issue with the story is in regards to the planet Angira itself which appears to be only just now entering the industrial age. As I read the book I couldn’t understand why the Federation would be involved in this planet at all, the population were being badly treated and the technology seemed obviously to be pre-warp. Surely the Prime Directive would have ensured that the Federation wasn’t allowed to get involved at all? This issue is further enhanced by some of the contradictions in regards to how the planet’s culture is treated. At one point Sulu is worried about the effect that his taking command of the Prince’s military forces could have but no one seems to mind that Spock was planning to modernise the planet’s star charts and that Vikram was going to share his knowledge of the Federation which could surely have more profound ramifications.

The next issue in regards to the characters as it appears that Yep didn’t even bother trying to learn about them. Spock in particular is terribly portrayed; he smiles, holds hands and basically doesn’t conform to the Spock we all know and love. Quite simply the characterisations shown in this novel are probably some of the worst I have seen to date. However, the secondary characters are a different thing entirely; free to do what he wanted in this regard, Yep has crafted some interesting and well developed characters. It is just a shame that they are overshadowed by the way in which he has failed to correctly capture the Enterprise crew.

Don’t get me wrong the story itself is actually quite fun and elements such as the sword fighting sequences and military engagements were enjoyable and interesting to follow. However, as a Star Trek novel it fails quite badly with the terrible characterisations and lack of Prime Directive being two of the most obvious issues. To summarise, I think this story would have worked well as a stand-alone fantasy novel but it all feels completely out of place as a Star Trek adventure.