Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Strike Zone Review

Ever since I decided I would give reading Star Trek novels a try, I wanted to read some TNG books but I wasn’t sure if it was the best place to start. You see, I’m familiar with two Star Trek series. The Original Series and The Next Generation. I prefer TNG by quite a large margin. I decided to begin with TOS and it was good, I enjoyed both books I’ve read so far. I wanted to read more TOS but I wanted to try a TNG book more. The problem, as always, is where to begin? In his last Blogathon, Chad Nevett aided by Graeme McMillan did a couple of posts on the Star Trek novels of Peter David (here and here). I didn’t know Peter David wrote Star Trek novels! I’m a fan of some of his comics work. I’m not the biggest fan but his X-Factor stuff is great superhero comics. David’s also a funny author. Star Trek is no stranger to humour but I find it’s often a little stiff or, regrettably, falls flat. Still, my curiosity was picked.

After doing some research a few months ago, I found out that the bulk of David’s Star Trek writing took place in a series he co-created with John J. Ordover called StarTrek: New Frontier. It’s a spin-off of TNG. I plan on giving the series a try in the next few months but before doing that I wanted to give David’s TNG novels a go first. I wanted to do this for a few reasons. Because it’s a spin-off series, New Frontier might make references to things that happened in David’s TNG novels. Another reason is that David’s first Star Trek books were his early TNG stuff. Strike Zone, as far as I can tell, is his very first. Considering that, it’s pretty good. When comparing it to the TV series, it’s just plain good.

Peter David uses a similar tone to his prose writing as he does his comics writing. There is plenty of humour that, while being present throughout the book, doesn’t distract. Occasionally David goes too far with the jokes he has Data make but I feel it’s the sort of thing the writers of TNG would have included in their episodes had they all been episodes of two hours in length. One of the compliments I can make of Strike Zone is that it feels like a long episode of Star Trek: TNG. Long, but not bloated. The novel is pretty breezy which is somewhat surprising considering the crew of the Enterprise have to deal with some serious issues, diplomatic and personal.

One of the reasons the book doesn’t rise beyond good or the relative quality of a mid-range TNG episode is that a large focus of the book is on Klingons and their antagonistic relationship with the Kreel who are essentially scavengers. Captain Picard is ordered to escort a party of Klingons and another of Kreel to a deserted planet that was used as a weapons cache. On the way, he is to be aided by a Klingon diplomat and they're mission is to establish lines peaceful communication between both races. I’m not a huge fan of Klingons. I like them, but I won’t like an episode simply because they’re in it. I really like Worf though and he has some nice moments in the book. We learn about his childhood and it’s pretty heartbreaking. I’ve got a feeling David quite likes Worf because he plays a big role in Strike Zone and he also has nice little moments in A Rock and a Hard Place which I’m currently reading. To top that, David wrote three young adult novels focusing on Worf’s time at Starfleet Academy. As for the rest of the book that doesn’t focus on the relationship between the Klingon and Kreel focus instead on Wesley Crusher, which is a bit unfortunate. It’s not that I don’t like Wesley as a character; it’s that he’s often poorly used or his treatment by the crew of the Enterprise is completely unrealistic. Wesley suffers a pretty serious mental breakdown in this book but it was an interesting take on the character. David gave him some depth by giving us a look inside his head and his inner thoughts are filled with self-doubt. It’s not an original idea, an early TNG episode, “Coming of Age”, focuses just on that very subject.

It turns out that I like the TNG novels more than the TOS books by approximately the same margin that I prefer the second Star Trek TV series over the first. The characters are more interesting and the stories are also more interesting. I also think they’re better defined and because of that I hear them more clearly in my head when I read the book. In addition to that, David has a good grasp of their individual voices but he does do write a few things that don’t really ring true. The somewhat verbally abusive treatment of Data is one example. Despite all my criticism, I rather enjoyed Strike Zone. I’m impressed with David’s first foray in the Star Trek and I’m pretty hopeful that I will discover his stories, grasp of character and authorial voice improved with his later novels. If he kept me interested with a book filled with Klingons and Wesley, I’m sure he can get me to read just about any Star Trek book that has his name on the cover.

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