Read again? I hope not.
Yeah, I'm back to Trek novels again. And again, it's been nearly a decade since the last time I read this one. I know I've changed over those years; I've become a lot more attentive to an author's style, pacing, ability to tell a story, and how well they capture the "world" if they're playing in someone else's universe.
Let's be real: Only Roger Zelazny could write a damn good "Amber" novel. The new series by Betancourt lacks Zelazny's style, pacing, ability to tell a story, and doesn't capture the feel of the original. One blurb on one of the books applauds Betancourt for his use of words and characters from the Amber novels. As if vocabulary is the key to it.
It's not. His series has a "based on the events of..." feel. And that brings us to V.E. Mitchell, who uses words such as "Enterprise" and "transporter" and "Kirk" and "Spock" quite often in "Windows"--and by that metric, this should be a damn good Trek novel, right? Eh. It doesn't feel like "Star Trek." The characters don't feel right. They all speak so similarly that at times one might think Spock is playing in a one-Vulcan show based on the book, where he portrays everyone else. C'mon--when does Bones McCoy ever talk like that? Or Scotty? Gotta beam up one point just for that.
Kirk and his merry crew are assigned to lug a team of Space Archaeologists to the Careta system to snoop around in the ruins and look for their mummies. One of the archaeologists comes from a staunchly matriarchal world where women are muscle-headed ass-kickers, and of course she throws her weight around and acts like a sexist pig (sow?). Chekov won't admit it, but I think he digs her. Sulu will kill her if she tries anything.
They find something that had been boxed up tight and then buried under tons of stone. Once they dig it out, they've got an artifact that looks like a large two-paned picture window standing alone in a river valley. One pane is black, the other shows a grassy field or prairie. There's a lot of scanning and discussion, after which Chekov and Talika the Muscular are yanked through and vanish. Some of their equipment appears before another of these artifacts elsewhere on the planet. Kirk gives Spock a little time to figure out what's happened before grabbing a few red-shirts and jumping through the original window to pull off a search and rescue.
I'll spare you the pain of reading about it. The teleport thingie turns them into Space Crabs. That's not a spoiler; the "suspense" of the story is "Can Spock find a way to turn everyone back?" The answer? Spock opens a Red Lobster (well, a Green Lobster--he's Vulcan, y'know) and goes into business. I could dig that.
It takes Mitchell 64 pages to get Chekov and Talika into trouble--about one-fourth of the book--and another twenty for Kirk's follow-through. There's something to be said for taking one's time when it's done effectively, but the story thus far--while cool in concept--just drags, so I'm locking phasers and shooting down another point. I'd like to have seen things tightened up so this happens in the first couple of chapters. Get the trouble going quickly!
Then, once we the audience know what's going on, Mitchell throws some convenient plot devices into things to make sure the Enterprise crew doesn't figure things out too quickly. What's that? Kirk and the red-shirts go into the artifact, and suddenly all the probes and sensors are zapped? Gee, that's too bad. They can still follow the six Space Crabs, though, and this brings us to the most mind-bogglingly stupid plot device I think I've ever seen, and what brought me to nerve-pinch this book down to 2/5.
Spock ponders and thinks and all that stuff; McCoy shows up every once in a while to badger the hell out of him, then--going on the assumption that the Space Crabs are in fact the missing Enterprise Six--Spock decides to try talking to one of them. He beams down with a few people, approaches the Space Crab...and it gives no sign of awareness of him. So Spock FREAKING CALLS THE FREAKING SHIP AND ORDERS THEM TO BEAM THE FREAKING SPACE CRAB UP. It freaks, they try to freaking stun it, it freaking dies. No security protocol, no simply scanning the thing where it sits or setting up some crab boil, no putting it in a net or something, but beaming the damn thing up to the ship. This is nothing more than an excuse to get a Space Crab aboard for McCoy to do an autopsy on it, and since the book was written in 1993, I can't say it's the dumbest thing since Han Solo shot first, since that came a few years later.
I remember writing in my review of Peter David's "Vendetta" novel that it hadn't weathered well the decade since I'd last read it, and that that could mean the rest of the books fared less well. I seem to remember "Windows" as a favorite, but yesterday is long gone. It's a shame, because the concept had promise.