Saturday, March 20, 2010

Star Trek--TOS #31 Battlestations! (Carey, Diane)

Rating: 2/5
Year: 1986
Genre: Sci-Fi/Star Trek
Read again? Nope.

Hot on the heels of "Dreadnought" comes its sequel, with Diane Carey reprising her starring role in her own book!

It's only been a few weeks since the end of "Dreadnought!"; Piper--now a Lieutenant Commander--is sailing the Caribbean aboard James Kirk's sailboat, the Edith Keeler (really? Ugh.). Bones and Scotty are along as crew. They're boarded by Security types. Someone has stolen transwarp technology! Kirk and Scotty are beamed away to be questioned. Piper bravely hides below decks until she can engineer a brilliant escape from the remaining guards.

She gets the ship to either Haiti or the Bahamas--doesn't really matter, but Carey muddled things here--and finds the ship Kirk told her would be her first command. See, Kirk knew Something Was Up, just like in the first book, and he wants Piper as his ace in the hole because she's so damn brilliant and stuff.

Her ship is a Space Tug--and two of her adventure-mates are back: Scanner, the rumpled redneck tech genius and Mereta the med tech. Oh, and Bones McCoy comes along.

The mission: go to Argelius to find the transwarp thieves (conveniently disguised as mad scientists from Central Casting), meet up with Kirk and Spock, and save the Universe.

Carey's weak on the math and science stuff, but it's her clumsy narrative and dialogue that really make me wonder how she got more work after these two dogs.

I'll be reading a few of the later books, because she did get better.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Star Trek--TOS 29: Dreadnought! (Carey, Diane)

Rating: 2
Year: 1986
Genre: Sci-Fi/Star Trek
Read again? Oh, no.

This was a painful read, coming on the heels of Roger Zelazny's "Amber" books and J.M. Dillard's "Star Trek: The Lost Years." Those were all good books.

This one wasn't.

"Dreadnought!" is Diane Carey's first Trek novel. At first I thought the clumsy sentence construction, strange word choices ["fifteen hundred hours in the afternoon"], and bad dialog were intentional, given the book's first person narrative. But the deeper I went, the more it felt like a piece of ego-trip fan fiction starring Diane Carey as the heroine, right down to Boris Vallejo's cover art on the book: a James Bond-ish couple who are supposedly Carey and husband/collaborator Greg Brodeur.

It seems that many others feel the same way; there's even a term for such a character: "Mary Sue."

A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader. Perhaps the single underlying feature of all characters described as "Mary Sues" is that they are too ostentatious for the audience's taste, or that the author seems to favor the character too highly. The author may seem to push how exceptional and wonderful the "Mary Sue" character is on his or her audience, sometimes leading the audience to dislike or even resent the character fairly quickly; such a character could be described as an "author's pet".

The main character could certainly be called an "author's pet." We're given Lieutenant Piper of Proxima Centauri. As the story opens, she's in the center seat of the USS Liberty, taking the Kobayshi Maru simulation, and she very nearly beats the no-win scenario. Captain James Kirk is watching and gets her assigned to the Enterprise.

Piper--just Piper--gets aboard and soon finds out that Enterprise is shipping out to investigate the theft of a dreadnought-class battleship prototype, the Star Empire. The Space Terrorists who took the ship left a message requesting that Piper be present at an arranged rendezvous with the stolen ship. Her bio-readings will be the key to talking to the thieves.

No, there's no big investigation. No, she's not immediately named a Person of Interest and implicated in the theft. Hell, LIEUTENANT Piper's not even required to wear a proper uniform! That outfit on the Farah Fawcett-haired chick on the cover is what Piper wears for the entire story. Author's pet.

Characterization is spare. Spock is mysterious, perks his eyebrow, and argues with McCoy; Kirk is sexy, commanding; McCoy is a wiseass who argues with the Vulcan. There's little military bearing or professionalism in any Starfleet officer we encounter. Too casual and familiar.

As the plot limps along, we find that Vice Admiral Vaughn Rittenhouse was the head of the Dreadnought project and that he commissioned the ship with nefarious intent: to subjugate the Federation's enemies (and its own people if need be) and force everyone to live happily together (hence the clever name of the ship). He's installed lackeys at many levels of Starfleet, from ship captains to high-level officials, intent on pulling a military coup.

The people who stole the ship did so to block Rittenhouse and bring attention to the crisis. Kirk seems to have figured out that something was up; he wanted Piper as a tool for digging into things because he recognized her obvious abilities, I suppose--but Piper's played as naiive, damn near ignorant of starship or Fleet operations...makes me wonder why she went to the Academy if she couldn't remember any of that stuff.

The story had some potential; in a seasoned writer's hands this could have been a much better story--especially if we lost the ego tripping.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Star Trek--TOS: The Lost Years (Dillard, JM)

Rating: 5
Year: 1989
Genre: Sci-Fi/Star Trek
Read again? Yes

It's been more than 10 years since my last time through this one. It's about as good as I remembered. Good to see my memory working properly for once.

It's the end of the USS Enterprise's five-year mission [somewhere between the end of the original series and The Motionless Picture] The ship's going into an 18-month refit, her crew going on to other assignments.

James Kirk, now 35, is offered a promotion he doesn't want, from Captain to Rear Admiral, from starship to "troubleshooting" diplomatic situations and being a public face for Starfleet, which is still stinging after an attempted coup by Vice Admiral Vaughn Rittenhouse. After fighting it for six months and threatening to resign, he gives in. Kirk is assigned to work with Vice Admiral Lori Ciana--and their first "troubleshooting" assignment drives the rest of the book.

Spock has his choice of several teaching job offers--Starfleet Academy and the Vulcan Academy being the most noteworthy. When he learns that Kirk has taken the promotion, Spock chooses to stay on Vulcan.

Leonard McCoy leaves to do research on the Fabrini--and to rekindle a romance with Natira, but is heartbroken to find that she's gotten married. He hooks up with Dr. Keridwen ("Dwen") Llewellen and does a short lecture tour, sharing his research on advanced Fabrini medical technology. They end up at Vulcan, where they hang out briefly with Spock and his fiancee'.

The first 118 pages are the First Act, getting everyone into place.

There's a dispute between two populations of Space Cows, the Djanai and the Inari. The Djanai are kind of like Amish Space Cows--their religion requires them to shun technology, live simply. The Inari are technocrats and are the ruling minority of Djana--and they've desecrated holy land with their factories and technology. It's assumed that the Romulans are stirring up trouble, since Djana is in a strategic location for both the Romulans and the Federation.

Kirk and Ciana attend a reception where the Space Cow ambassador and key Federation Council members will try working things out. Things go wrong: Ambassador Sarek (Spock's father) and Uhura are taken hostage, beamed out of the conference center by Space Cows who want to sabotage the peace talks.

So now Kirk and Ciana have to go to Djana to try getting the hostages back AND to get the Space Cows moo-ing to each other again.

McCoy gets himself kidnapped by a Vulcan carrying the spirit of a long-dead Vulcan Mind Lord bent on training Romulans (they used to be Vulcans, y'know) to use his fearsome powers.

"Lost Years" isn't a great Star Trek novel, but it's definitely not the worst. It's cleanly-written, a fun read with strong characters and a good grasp of the "feel" of "Star Trek". Though Dillard takes 118 pages to spin up the plots, there's no dragging.