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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-03-08 17:01
Star Trek: The Fall: The Poisoned Chalice by James Swallow
The Poisoned Chalice (Star Trek: The Fall) - James Swallow

This is the 4th novel of the "The Fall"-miniseries. The race to catch the culprit for Bacco's assassination continues. The Titan is recalled to Earth where Riker's promoted to Admiral. He's wondering about the reason for that when he receives a transmission from Picard who tells him that the Tzenkethi aren't responsible for the assassination, that it was Cardassians. So Riker starts snooping since the Ishan-administration still maintains the culpability of the Typhon Pact. And he sends Vale on a mission to find out the truth about what happened with Bashir and the Andorians. Meanwhile, Tuvok is recruited for a covert operation to capture the assassins, together with Nog and Tom Riker.


So, the story is pretty much divided into 4 plotthreads. All of them advance the plot surrounding the assassination, but unlike the other 3 novels of the Fall, this one isn't really a stand-alone novel. You definitely need to have read the "Revelations..." and "A Ceremony of Losses". 2 of the plotthreads, namely Vale's and Troi's are about uncovering the Andor-story... which is interesting in and of itself because the Ishan-administration managed to practically bury Bashir in a secret facility, just to shut him up. And they aren't really willing to listen to the Andorians, either. So, no one except for those directly involved (meaning Ishan, Bashir, Dax) really knows what happens, and what the administration did and knew. Therefore while it is important to take those steps within the narrative to uncover the conspiracy, for someone who read "Ceremony", who therefore knows what happened, these parts of the story are a bit repetitive, despite questions of loyalty by Vale's temporary crew etc.


That leaves Tuvok (and Nog and Tom Riker... I still don't really understand why he had to be included, to be honest) being part of a mission that ever gets more immoral when the perpetrators are delivered to a Klingon torture base instead of to Earth so that they can stand trial. Will Riker finds out about the mission and who ordered it, and eventually comes to the rescue... unfortunately, all evidence pointing towards Ishan is lost. The mission is quite straight-forward and predictable, that leaves Riker's part as the only actual plotthread holding some suspense because why was he promoted? And who's spying on him?


I think the last question is the most interesting one because as it turns out, Ishan apparently has a wide network of operatives who are willing to do anything, moral or immoral, to further their cause. And he himself as a Bajoran is willing to ally himself with isolationist Cardassian splinter groups to get rid of enemies. So, while the Fall is a pretty engaging mini-series so far, the Poisoned Chalice itself didn't impress me as much as its predecessors, unfortunately, because it suffers a bit from the "penultimate part of series"-syndrome, paving the way for the conclusion, but not actually leading any of the plotthreads there itself. Which is a bit frustrating perhaps.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-01-01 15:48
Star Trek: Terok Nor: Day of the Vipers by James Swallow
Day of the Vipers - James Swallow

This book covers the years 2318 to 2328 - or rather, the day of official first contact between peace loving, religious Bajor and expansionist, war-torn Cardassia, up till the official start of the occupation.


It all starts when a Cardassian ship returns a lost Bajoran trading ship to Bajor. What is first seen as a friendly gesture by a race that some district ministers have contact with, leads to settlements of a persecuted religious minority (which bears similarities to Bajoran faith) and the presence of Cardassian military forces in Bajoran space. But Dukat and the Obsidian Order won't rest until Bajor is firmly under Cardassian jurisdiction.


This is a gripping account of the beginnings of Bajor's occupation, of how Cardassia slowly gains influence using puppets, sycophants, infiltrators and agitors and the actual occupation is practically a fait accompli even years before. It's a fascinating tapestry Swallow weaves about a forbidden religious minority that finds sanctuary on Bajor (but is used as a stepping stone in every way imaginable), about Dukat who abhors Bajor's richness in food (especially considering that his family is practically starving and immersed in civil unrest), its complacency, its strong religious foundation, about a kai who was shown in a vision an emissary would come, about the Obsidian Order's modus operandi and about the friendship of 3 Bajorans who are directly and indirectly affected by Cardassian presence on Bajor.


There are a few questions that remain, such as why Cardassia doesn't just invade, because Bajor has practically no defense ressources and invasion (or turning Bajor into part of their Union) was the goal from the start. At first Cardassia's still tied up with other military operations, so I'll grant them the first 5 years. But then? Perhaps it's the fact that although Bajor's in fact a conquered territory, that the Order managed to use their assets in a way that in the end it looked like the Bajoran government sanctioned, even asked for Cardassian troops to keep the peace. At least that's the reason (among others) why the Federation doesn't interfere. Bajor, after all, is an independent planet who decides its own fate - only that it doesn't really here.


But it's an intriguing tale about what it takes to make overt military action practically unnecessary, to destabilize a planet's government so that it practically asks for invasion. Compelling, and a bit frightening (especially given the recent talk about outside influence on elections) to think that one only has to manipulate a few spokes in order to get the whole wagon to tumble down. Definitely recommended - even if there are few better known characters in it, such as Dukat or Kotan Pa'Dar whose enmity with Dukat is explored a bit here. It just takes a while to really get going, but once it does it's difficult to put this book down.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-03-15 12:43
Star Trek: The Original Series: The Latter Fire by James Swallow
The Latter Fire (Star Trek: The Original Series) - James Swallow

This book is set between the original 5-year mission and the Animated Series - Chekov leaves the Enterprise, and Arex and M'Ress join the crew. But, honestly, for the story itself it doesn't really matter.


A couple of years ago, the Enterprise helped a Syhaari ship that was stranded in deep space - one of the first ships of that species to venture into space travel. Now, the Enterprise returns to their homeplanet to formally start negotiations. They are quite surprised to discover that the Syhaari space engines are now far more developed, and designed quite differently than just 2 years ago... so what happened? And to make matters more difficult a giant planetoid appears to enter the star system, and not peacefully.


The main point of criticism is that this book offers little in terms of surprise, the plot was rather predictable from start to finish which is the reason why I'm rating this only with 3 stars - I just had the feeling I've read a plot like this before... multiple times. Nonethess, Swallow manages to tell a gripping tale about ambition, racism, caring only for self-advancement, mindless revenge - and of the overlying ability to collaborate and compromise to the benefit of all. It's easy to see parallels to present times. The characterization of the main characters is top-notch, but that's what I expect of a writer like Swallow. So if you're willing to overlook the predictability-issue and like the TOS-setting and crew, you're in for an interesting story.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-01-25 12:12
Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Sky's the Limit by various
The Sky's the Limit - Marco Palmieri,Christopher L. Bennett,Greg Cox,Keith R.A. DeCandido,Kevin Dilmore,David A. McIntee,Steve Mollmann,Susan Shwartz,James Swallow,Geoff Trowbridge,Dayton Ward,Richard C. White,Thomas F. Zahler,Bob Ingersoll,Scott Pearson,Amy Sisson,Michael Sc

This is an anthology of stories set within the various seasons of TNG and the movies. Overall a good reading experience, even if the quality of the stories differs.

I read the framing stories, Meet with Triumph and Disaster/Trust Yourself When All Men Doubt by Schuster & Mollmann, as one story - I didn't quite know what to make of the first story until I read the conclusion, got the hint about Tapestry and of course Wolf 359. It's still not one of my favourite stories but it ultimately worked well enough for me.

Acts of Compassion by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore is a good story, but unfortunately not the extraordinary one I'd have liked to read. Maybe it was just too straightforward, no twists in loyalties, no surprises... but it was nice to "see" Tasha once again.

Redshift by Richard C. White is an average story - the downside is that Pulaski's mannerisms were a bit over the top for my taste. At least she got some slap on the wrist until, of course, her ideas about the drills save the day... but throughout season 2 she was the odd one out, she just didn't fit in - and this story does nothing to remedy or explain that fact.

Among the Clouds by Scott Pearson absolutely reminded me of the Temeraire books, the living ships, the aerial battles - a very interesting premise, superbly executed, a definitely fitting contribution to a TNG-anthology.

Thinking of You by Greg Cox... Well, at first I thought "Urgh, Lwaxana *and* Barclay?!?" I never cared too much for either character but Cox managed to play on all the eccentricities of both characters, the duo just works, and add Ro to the mix - and set the whole thing on a holodeck with frogs as opponents, lots of bugs etc, stir well and you get a real page turner. Definitely one of my favourites here.

I also enjoyed Turncoats (by Susan Schwartz) quite much although I have to admit that I quite forgot all the Romulan characters Schwartz and Sherman introduced in their Vulcan's XY books (and I so far haven't even read the Vulcan's Soul trilogy) - so I liked the follow-up to "Face of the Enemy" which is my favourite Troi episode, but I couldn't appreciate all the nods to her created miniverse, something I'll remedy once I had the time to read Vulcan's Soul.

Ordinary Days by James Swallow: I admit to once upon a time watching TNG also because of Wesley - granted, he was badly written, but then I could simply relate to him in a way I couldn't to any of the other characters. Of course, that changed when I grew older and I always hoped to see more of him in the light of "First Duty"... trying to fit in, getting into the wrong group, peer pressure etc. So I very much appreciated this little glimpse into an alternative universe where he's not the genius who lives up to his promise, but rather someone who desperately tries to fit in, to be ordinary, to find his way on a path that's not so clearly defined and makes some poor choices. While the setting intrigued me, I have to agree with Trent that this story ultimately missed the opportunity to actually show the impact of Wesley's decisions. Perhaps the focus shouldn't have been so much on Wesley himself, but on the crew dealing with his choices, questioning themselves perhaps why Wesley made his choices of leaving everything behind, and why Picard and Data die (just because Wesley wasn't there doesn't mean no one else is brilliant enough to come up with ideas that work after all)... I'd have loved to see an Enterprise where Wesley isn't expected to live up to promises of geniality but allowed to be an ordinary adolescent without being forced in a certain direction. One doesn't exclude the other, after all. That's what I, now as a grown-up, criticize most about his treatment in TNG and to a lesser degree in this story. There has to be some sort of middle way between the boy-genius and the rebellious/ostracized Wesley of this story. And I also agree that the ending seemed a bit abrupt, though I really enjoyed reading the way the Traveler influenced Wesley's life up till Dorvan. All the criticism aside, I actually liked "Ordinary Days" quite much... and given the restraints of 30 pages it tells an interesting and gripping story. But I think the premise would have warranted a story of the likes of Myriad Universes.

'Twould ring the Bells of Heaven by Amy Sisson was a bit too predictable a story to me. I thought it obvious that those rings were a lifeform. Troi's angsting didn't quite grip me but at least I wasn't annoyed by it, either - though some of her decisions were a bit too random to actually make sense at the time she made them. And Data's monologue/PoV was a bit too reminiscent of Geordi's of just a few stories before.

Usually, Christopher L. Bennett's writing style doesn't really agree with me - but Friends with the Sparrows was a phenomenal exception. I loved going back to the Tamarans and their language, the use of Data and his emotion chip - and the way some still see him more as a tool than a sentient being... Well, there's nothing to criticize about this story at all. Along with "Thinking of You" definitely the highlight of this anthology.

Suicide Note by Geoff Trowbridge worked well enough for me - but like "Turncoats" I guess I'll appreciate it even more once I've rewatched the relevant TNG-episode.

Four Lights by Keith R. A. DeCandido is a bit the opposite to "Friends with the Sparrows", a story that I was very much looking forward to, but that then didn't quite work for me as well as I had hoped for - perhaps it's the "stylistic quibble"... I'm not fond of a 1st person PoV, neither of present tense used in stories which both distracted me a bit too much of the confrontation between Picard and Madred. Oh, I absolutely loved Madred's mind games, and Picard's obsession but somehow I'd have wished for - well, more of a defeat of Madred's at the hand of Picard, not just Picard's common sense once again reasserting itself. Of course, rationally I realize that Picard practically had no other choice than to step back from the interrogation in order not to lose himself once again, and recognizing that was Picard's victory - but it did feel as though Madred's won again... Ultimately that ambivalence came across in a very poignant manner, but still I found that this story somehow lacked KRAD's usually easy style that just sucks one into the story and doesn't let up till the finish.

'Til Death by Bob Ingersoll & Thomas F. Zahler... well, the picture of Riker running around with a gaping hole in his chest has some merit, but somehow it reminded me a bit too much of Spock missing his brain. But I, too, loved Riker's final message and the way he ultimately defeated his opponent. I have to admit that Riker's not my favourite character, he's too much overshadowed by Picard and, especially in the movies, Data - but I always loved his ability to think beyond the obvious and to turn disadvantages into advantages... as he does here. And kudos to the writers for not going down the most obvious road and pair him up with Deanna on this mission but with Crusher. And so, a story that I had lost all hope for right at the beginning turned out to be a very pleasant surprise.

I enjoyed On the Spot by David A. McIntee quite a bit - definitely not because of the little plot to destroy the Enterprise, but... well, it's a simple story, set in the aftermath of Data's death, and it actually deals with this aftermath. Worf lost a friend (and 2 others with Riker and Troi's transfer), he's suddenly dealing with a job that he never wanted... and then there's Spot, a cat that finds itself on loose ends. Both, Spot and Worf are creatures of habit - and both find themselves in new situations and don't quite know how to deal with that. Spot's, of course, only the focal point, the real development's with Worf - and I have to say that I definitely find this development credible and well told.



review originally written in 2009

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