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review 2018-07-07 16:47
An ideal Star Trek novel
Yesterday's Son (Star Trek: The Original Series #11) - A.C. Crispin

Two years after the U.S.S. Enterprise's visit to the dying planet Sarpedion, a young crew member finds evidence that, when transported to the past during his time there, Spock fathered a son. Determined to rescue the boy and his mother, Spock, Kirk, and McCoy use the Guardian of Forever to journey to the planet's prehistory, where they meet Zar, Spock's son, and bring him back to their time. Though Zar acclimates quickly to his new surroundings, bonding with his father proves difficult until an incursion by the Romulans forces the two to work together — and Zar to confront his future.


A.C. Crispin's novel was one of the first of the Star Trek Pocket Books series that I read, and one of the ones I remembered most fondly. I was a little worried that revisiting it would cheapen my recollection; instead it only deepened my appreciation of what the author achieved with it. Crispin manages to achieve an ideal balance between the original series (integrating details and characters from five episodes) and her own creations for the book. Foremost among the latter, of course, is Spock's son Zar; while not an original idea (with the introduction of Kirk's son in the movie Wrath of Khan predating this book by a year), he is introduced in a way that is extremely faithful to the series. Yet the strongest element of the book is Zar's relationship with his father, which manages the difficult trick of being emotionally moving while remaining true to the depiction of Vulcans. Taken together, it makes for a model of what a Star Trek novel should be, setting a high bar for the many works that followed.

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review 2018-07-06 15:22
Rich premise and great characters, but a predictable plot
Crossroad (Star Trek, Book 71) - Barbara Hambly

While engaged in the exploration of the treacherous Crossroad Nebula, the U.S.S. Enterprise detects a vessel that shouldn't exist: a Constitution-class starship with more advanced design elements, yet bearing signs of considerable age and wear. With the ship on a course for Tau Lyra III, a planet with a pre-warp civilization, Captain James Kirk beams aboard the half-dozen members of the ship's crew and detains them for their evident intent to violate the Prime Directive. But the crew soon escapes captivity and takes over the Enterprise, holding it hostage until their ship is repaired and their voyage to Tau Lyra is resumed. As the crew struggles to retake control, the mounting evidence makes it clear that the anomalous ship is indeed from the future and that its crew is waging a war against the greatest tyranny in their galaxy: the Federation.


Barbara Hambly's novel is one that I looked forward to reading for two reasons. The first was the back cover description, which promised a rare Star Trek time travel novel involving interaction with the future. It's always interesting to me to see where authors project the future of the Star Trek universe as heading, especially at a relatively early stage in the franchise before the shows locked in the canon. Here Hambly doesn't disappoint, fulfilling every expectation she set for me with her previous contribution to Pocket Books's Star Trek novels, Ishmael (which I still retain fond memories of despite having read it decades ago). Indeed, she provides a very rare bird indeed: a future Federation corrupted by a sinister organization that uses plagues, psionics, and advanced FTL travel to dominate the Alpha Quadrant.


The richness of Hambly's premise and the development of her characters (both from the series and her own creations) are undeniable strengths of her book. And yet I found elements of her plot cripplingly tiresome. Far too much of the story follows the predictable patterns of a series episode: alien crew escapes detention and takes over the ship, the crew faces a threat at odds with lofty Federation ideals, and a daring plan involving phaser fire is needed to save the day. To be fair, there are a couple of unexpected twists and turns, but by the end of the novel I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed by the overall result. While Hamby's book is definitely in the better half of the novels in the Pocket Books series, it nonetheless fall short of what it could have been given the material with which Hambly gave herself to work.

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review 2018-07-01 16:02
Exploiting an underutilized resource
Web of the Romulans - M.S. Murdock

Ever since I watched the first series, I felt that the Romulans were the orphan stepchildren of the original Star Trek show. Appearing in just two episodes, evidently they were shunted aside in favor of the Klingons for the simple reason that the makeup for the latter was cheaper. Nevertheless, their first appearance (the superb "Balance of Terror") hinted at a long involvement with the Federation that went unexplored, which made them a promising source of material for authors when the original novels started rolling out in earnest in the 1980s.


Though M. S. Murdoch's novel wasn't the first in the Pocket Books series to include Romulans (a few were included in Sonni Cooper's Black Fire, published six months previously), they were the first in which the Romulans served as the main antagonists. When the novel begins theirs is an empire in crisis, ravaged by a plague that is decimating the population. Faced with their destruction, the Romulans embark on an audacious plan designed to obtain the cure from he nearest available source — a planet on the Federation side of the Neutral Zone.


As the first book to utilize the Romulans as the main antagonists, Murdoch has a good deal of latitude, and it testifies to her restraint that she doesn't overdo it. Her Romulans are true to their depiction in the original series, and point to the rich possibilities that would be developed by subsequent authors and in subsequent series. Yet this is offset by her incorporation of a subplot in which the Enterprise's computer falling in love with Jim Kirk, creating chaos aboard the ship as a result. While such a contrivance is necessary for the plot, the silliness of the concept Murdoch uses (which originated in a story she wrote for a fanzine in the previous decade) detracts from the gravity of the situation facing both the Romulans and the Federation, and might have been better saved for a novel lighter in tone.

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review 2018-06-30 18:31
Too many contrivances hamper this novel's strengths
Three Minute Universe - Barbara Paul

"The galaxy is on fire." With these words, James Kirk summarizes the latest threat the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise is forced to address: an expanding wave of heat that has already annihilated an entire solar system, including the home world of the Zirgosians. Their investigation takes them to the remaining Zirgosian colony, where they find a massive spaceship in orbit controlled by the "Sackers," a species so physically repulsive that sentient beings cannot stand to be in their presence. The crew soon discovers that the Sackers are at the center of the mystery, with a plan that effectively holds the entire universe hostage unless their demands are met.


Barbara Paul's novel offers readers what is many respects a textbook Star Trek story: the crew faces a seemingly insurmountable challenge, then proceeds to save the day through a mixture of intuitive psychology and teamwork. It's an interesting tale both for the species she introduces and the unusual combination of Kirk, Scotty, Uhura, and Chekov working to deal with the situation in which they find themselves. Yet too much of the novel comes across as contrived, with the Sacker threat both epically dangerous yet in the end ridiculously easy to resolve. Squaring the difference between these two contrasts might have made for a truly excellent Star Trek novel, but as it is the book's strengths can't quite overcome its flaws.

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review 2018-06-29 09:14
The trailblazing Star Trek novel
Spock Must Die! (Star Trek Adventures, #1) - James Blish

While engaged in a surveying mission light years from Federation territory, the starship Enterprise receives word that the Organians — the advanced beings who enforce peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire — have suddenly vanished. As the begin the months-long journey back through Klingon space to investigate, Scotty develops a new version of the transporter, one designed to teleport a person across the galaxy instantaneously. When it is used to send Spock to the Organian homeworld, however, the transport fails, producing two indistinguishable Spocks. Captain Kirk is now faced with the task to deciding which one is the true Spock, and which is the reversed duplicate of his friend who must be destroyed.


Such is the premise of James Blish's novel, which is something of a historical artifact. Originally published in 1970, it is the very first original Star Trek novel written for adults, the progenitor of the shelves of novels, novellas, and short story collections that have been published since. In this respect Blish was blazing a trail followed by everyone since, which makes reading it from today's vantage point an interesting experience. Longtime fans will find more than a few idiosyncracies and anachronisms in its pages, while the story's resolution is so overblown as to leave the reader wondering whether Blish seriously believed that it would hold up. Such reactions, though, point as well to the underlying pleasure of the book, which bears virtually none of the weight of the overstuffed franchise and still holds value as a result.

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