Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Star Trek: The Original Series: The Weight of Worlds review

You may have noticed that in my exploration of Star Trek literature, I’ve been pretty selective. With the exception of Spock Must Die! by James Blish and Planet of Judgement by Joe Haldeman, all of the novels I’ve read were written or co-written by Peter David. David happens to be a writer I’m already familiar with having read some of the comics he’s written. Admittedly, I’ve been playing it pretty safe by staying within my comfort zone but how can any respectable fan of the adventure of any Star Trek series call themselves a fan if they’re reluctant to explore. Really explore, not the timid posturing I’ve been doing so far. I’ve tried to rectify that by reading Star Trek: The Original Series: The Weight of Worlds by Greg Cox.

You know what? I like the comfort zone. There were good Star Trek novels in the comfort zone. Cox takes the story into another dimension and it’s not one I’d like to revisit again because it lacked definition and was rather predictable which made for a boring read.

The novel begins with an attack on the Ephrata Institute which is located on the edges of the final frontier. The institute is the residence of numerous scientists, physicist and artists and the search for knowledge is the focus of daily life. An unexpected attack occurs and Ephrata is quickly taken over by the Crusade of the alien race known as the Ialatl. After hearing a distress message, Captain Kirk and the Enterprise travel to Ephrata to investigate. There they find the Ialatl with their weaponized gravity technology and they fight to liberate Ephrata from the tyranny of the Crusade as well as for the freedom of thought and diversity of the galaxy. I’d say more about the plot but I would undoubtedly spoil the book in the process. There’s just not a lot that happens in this novel and what does can be puzzled together from the first few chapters. Instead, I’ll talk about the areas where the book failed for me.

The Ialatl’s science is relies heavily on the manipulation of gravity. We mostly see it used in their architecture, as a means for transportation and as a weapon. Weaponized gravity is a pretty darn cool idea up until the point where you think about it for a little bit. In the book, it’s used both as an offensive and a defensive weapon but it really fails to be convincingly used as defence. I can’t help but be reminded of the magnetic bullet proofing experiment from Mythbusters. I’m referring to the “Electromagnetic Watch” experiment from the first James Bond Special in they test the myth that an electromagnetic watch can generate such a strong magnetic field that it can successfully deflect a bullet. It horribly fails because the bullet moves as such rapid speed that even the most powerful magnet the Mysthbusters could get their hands on wasn’t powerful enough to deflect the bullet in any measurable way. In the book, a strong gravitational field surrounds an Ialatl and it is powerful enough to stop phaser fire from penetrating in. Phaser fire simply plummets to the ground before hitting the target. That’s a terrible idea! Even though science fiction series such as Star Trek regularly demands that fans suspend disbelief but this is pushing it. It would work if we replaced phaser fire with arrows because arrows are slow and actually have some mass to them. The problem with phaser is that they shoot a beam made up of nadion particles. Does a beam made up on nadion particles even have mass? I search online and couldn’t find the answer but I’d say that there is no way the phaser beams would ever be significantly affected by an individual gravity shield especially when more conventional (by Star Trek standards) deflector shields exist. 

Scotty and Uhura take command of the Enterprise in Kirk's absence.

Another problem with this novel is the aliens. The Ialatl aren’t as much poorly developed as they are undeveloped. We know very little about them. The live in a different dimension and after discover out dimension with its multitude of planets, cultures and species, the Ialatl collectively lost it. A religious cult preaching the Truth developed and after using their knowledge of gravity to produce weapons, decided to go on a Crusade to our dimension to eradicate anything that does not comply with the Truth. What is the Truth? Hell if I know, I just read the book. Cox doesn’t give us an idea of what the Truth is beyond vague descriptions that if it’s not exactly like the Ialatl, it’s not part of the truth. It’s essentially religious bigotry Cox plays it against the concept of IDIC which stands for Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations which is at the heart of Vulcan philosophy. It’s mentioned in the novel but it’s not developed beyond that. Cox definitively leaves the heavy lifting to the reader but not in a way that is challenging and rewarding, rather in a way that screams of underdeveloped ideas.

There are more problems with The Weight of Worlds but I don’t feel like reliving a book I didn’t enjoy reading in the first place. I mentioned earlier that Cox’s story was pretty predictable and boring. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that he wears his influences on his sleeves, much like Starfleet officers wear their rank on their uniform sleeves. The Ialatl are clearly based on early Msopotamian cultures. The name itself harkens to that but their appearance as well as their architecture and the sport-like challenge Kirk undergoes while in their dimension reinforce that idea. It’s not a good example of a well thought out or well executed alien species. The whole idea of the Crusade is also bland and unoriginal. History books are filled with stories of the original Crusades (more than 15 of them). If Cox took the time to study a bit of history before writing The Weight of Worlds, it surely doesn’t show.

I’m being harsh because the novel wasn’t all bad. There were actually some nice character moments. Cox might not have studied his history but he sure as hell watched and rewatched episodes of TOS. He has the characterization of the senior officers down pat. The dialogue for Spock was one of the things I rather enjoyed reading. It was also nice that Lieutenant Uhura got several chapters focusing on her. Without revealing too much, she gets to do far more than work at her regular post. Sulu also gets a significant amount of exposure but most of his scenes are focused on the action as opposed to giving her something truly interesting to do. He mostly runs around Ephrata trying to escape the Ialatl and sabotage their operation. As much as I like Kirk, Spock and McCoy, it’s always nice when the other characters are put in the forefront.

Am I being too harsh on Cox because his name isn’t Peter David? Maybe, but I doubt it. The Weight of Worlds wasn’t nearly as exciting as it was intended to be and while good characterization can save a book, it’s not always enough to prevent it from being bogged down by a insufficiently developed plot and alien culture. I picked up The Weight of Worlds with lofty goals of expanding my boundaries and exploring the vast cosmos that it Star Trek tie-in fiction. Instead I got a book that played it far too safe to ever be considered a good read. Don’t believe me? Well give my copy a read. You can find it at the local used bookstore where it will spend the rest of its days.

No comments:

Post a Comment