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review 2018-05-22 16:03
A poor employment of a classic Star Trek trope
Mutiny on the Enterprise - Robert E. Vardeman

One of the most prevalent tropes of the Star Trek franchise is the disruptive effect of the outsider to the smoothly-functioning operations of the U.S.S. Enterprise. The ship picks up a person or small group of people, these people then introduce some foreign values to the crew, and then a few leaders (usually, but not always the captain) then address the disruption caused and reassert Starfleet order. It's a recurrent trope in part because of its versatility and the number of variations possible, but that doesn't make it any less of a trope.

 

It's no surprise that the trope would appear eventually in a Star Trek novel, and Robert Vardeman's book seems to be the first employment of it in print. Yet for the first use in a novel with all of the greater possibilities the medium entails, his use of it is surprisingly unimaginative. Picking up after the events of his previous contribution to the series, The Klingon Gambit, Kirk and company are assigned to transport a small team of ambassadors to a system where two planets are on the verge of conflict. Along the way they rescue Lorelai, a woman of an unknown species from her disabled craft. Once on board her pacifist philosophy and powers of persuasion quickly sow dissent among the crew. Though Kirk and Spock attempt to battle her influence, they soon find their mission in jeopardy in the face of the resistance of the crew, who are following Lorelai's siren song (get it?) instead of the orders of their superiors.

It's fair to note that just because a trope isn't terrible just because it's a trope, and the subsequent use of it in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Enterprise, and other franchise media demonstrate some of the creative possibilities still possible with it. This is why Vardeman's novel is so disappointing; rather than take it in rich new directions possible thanks to the freedom inherent in a novel, he prefers to deliver instead what could have been just another warmed-over episode of the original series. There is little development of the plot and even less of the characters, as Vardeman relies upon the work of the series and what limited effort he put into his previous contribution to coast through. Even his main antagonist is defined more by her powers rather than any inherent motivation beyond "It's her job," and her employment in the story's resolution is predictable from the moment her abilities are defined. To be fair it's an improvement over his previous novel, but that reflects more the very low bar set by his earlier effort than a dramatic improvement in quality between the two books. Perhaps a subsequent novel would have been even better, but I can't say I'm regretting that he never wrote another one for the franchise.

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text 2018-05-22 00:39
Reading progress update: I've read 192 out of 192 pages.
Mutiny on the Enterprise - Robert E. Vardeman

I was about halfway through this book when I realized that the sense of deja vu I was feeling wasn't the consequence of encountering yet more plot elements recycled from the TV show, but because I had read the book before. Clearly it wasn't a very memorable experience.

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review 2018-05-21 19:27
No gambit, and barely any Klingons
The Klingon Gambit - Robert E. Vardeman

One of the more apt criticisms of the Star Trek franchise is about the repetitiveness of their plotting. Though the original premise of a starship exploring the galaxy opened up a variety of possibilities, it wasn't long before crew encounters were primarily limited to godlike aliens (often in energy form), faux-Edens, and dangerous machines that needed to be talked into destroying themselves. From the standpoint of a television show (especially the original series), such repetition is perhaps understandable given the constraints imposed by special effects and budgets. It's also what makes the franchise's novels so different; freed from such mundane constraints, practically anything is possible,

 

This is why Robert Vardeman's novel is so frustrating. The title suggests a story involving the Enterprise crew grappling with some fiendish Klingon plot to take over the Alpha Quadrant or perhaps an interstellar battle in which Kirk matches wits with the captain of a Klingon warship. What Vardeman delivers instead is a tepid mystery that for fans of the original series will seem all too familiar, as the author takes elements from two of their episodes and mashes them together after making just a few minor alterations. The Klingons are less of a fearsome threat in the story than they are a secondary plot device, and their "gambit" (to the degree that there even is one) boils down to seeking a MaGuffin and nothing more. The whole thing is a waste of a good title, a neat cover, and the hours of time spent reading it, as fans are best advised taking a hard pass on this one.

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text 2018-05-19 23:24
Reading progress update: I've read 158 out of 158 pages.
The Klingon Gambit - Robert E. Vardeman

I'm glad to be done with this as it was a serious disappointment as a novel, one that conveys the feeling of work churned out quickly to meet a deadline. The plot is little more than an unimaginative synthesis of elements from various episodes of the original show, and the story is plagued with pacing issues and poor characterization. It makes for a real contrast with the previous entry in the series, which was superior in every respect.

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text 2018-05-19 21:32
Reading progress update: I've read 46 out of 158 pages.
The Klingon Gambit - Robert E. Vardeman

I'm nearly a third of the way in, and I'm not impressed. So far the novel is a pastiche of the original series' episode "The Naked Time' (the one where the crew gets infected with something that makes them lose their self-control) and I can't help but think that the show, as usual, did it better. But I can forgive that more easily than I can the casual racism. Here's just two examples:

 

Kirk nodded. The Asian knew his job and did it well.

 

"And if subspace transmission wasn't possible, you wouldn't have to do the report right away?" The Bantu woman's eyes sparkled.

 

Okay, I know this was published back in 1981, but they knew better even back in 1981! I keep thinking of the third season episode "The Savage Curtain," in which a racial reference to Uhura by "Abraham Lincoln" was portrayed as outdated and inappropriate. Seeing it in a novel written over a decade later speaks poorly of Vardeman -- and I doubt he wrote it without even giving it a thought.

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