Sunday, 31 August 2014

Star Trek: The Original Series: That Which Divides review

It's the first book I've ever read by Dayton Ward. To be honest, I'm only reading it because it's a Star Trek book. To be even more honest I only picked up this particular book because there wasn't much to choose from on the half shelf of Star Trek novels that were at the bookstore. I picked up this book along with The Weight of Worlds by Greg Cox because the back cover made them sound the most interesting amongst the selection that was there, not because I had heard good things about these particular authors. While I really didn't like The Weight of Worlds I was still hopeful for this one because Ward appears to be relatively popular by fans of the Star Trek literature. 

In That Which Divides, the Archer-class U.S.S. Huang Zhong is investigating a rift in the Kondaii system. The right only opens for a fixed amount of time and when doing so, it gives access to the Dolysian planet access to another planet called Gralafi. They mine a specific ore on Gralafi which is used as a source of fuel for powering their entire home planet. On their way to meet with the Huang Zhong, the crew of the Enterprise soon find themselves investigating the crash landing of the other Federation ship as well as cleaning up the remains so that the less technologically advanced Dolysian’s are not influenced (as a people) by the Federation’s presence in the area. All of this activity near the Romulan border naturally attracts them and soon the Enterprise is not only dealing with the Romulans but also discovering the true nature of the planet Gralafi and the rift in space. Soon these events all start to threaten the Dolysian’s way of life as the rift will soon be closing and the Dolysians need to resupply their mining operation beyond the rift.

I’m not sure if I mentioned this but The Original Series isn’t my favourite Star Trek series. I like the characters well enough but the show itself hasn’t aged well, in my opinion. Unlike many other fans, I can’t even appreciate it for being a retro science fiction show. I’m usually not too bothered by old special effects (not bad effects, mind you, just old) but there is something about TOS that doesn’t work for me. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I prefer the TOS movies. I love those movies, even the terrible ones. There is something about the old members of the Enterprise crew that really works for me. They have such pathos and personal history that I can’t help but be mesmerized by their new adventures. The problem I face is that most TOS books take place during the original five year mission aboard the Enterprise. If someone knows of any novels that take place later in the chronology of the series, during or after the movies, I would love to know about it. Anyway, here I am with another TOS novel and I’m unfortunately disappointed again.

Some of my disappointment comes from the story and plot itself. A good example is when the Huang Zhong decides to land on Gralafi to do some repairs because they need to access parts through the outside of the ship. I’m not sure how that would be easier to do on the planet. It seems to me like any repairs would be easier to do in space because of the absence of gravity and allowing for better access all around the ship’s exterior. I could understand the need for landing on a planet if some of the repairs would require that the ship’s seal be broken but that isn’t expressed in the novel. I think the only reason the Huang Zhong need to land on the planet is because it need to crash land on the planet and get destroyed in the process. Without the destruction of the ship, the Enterprise likely wouldn’t have had much to do on the planet when they arrived. They would have been kept rather busy by the Romulans. Instead, they spend just as much time on the planet investigating what’s going on there and that allows the plot to move along.

Another thing that also didn’t make sense is that the Kalandan’s base is underground. In and of itself it is fine and doesn’t pose a problem but when you consider the fact that the Dolysians entire reason for being on Gralafi is to mine the planet. Planets are very large, certainly, but when you’re doing mining exploration chances are you would have stumbled on the underground base of the original inhabitants of the planet. I also think it’s difficult to believe that the Kalandan only had one base on the planet.

Those and other issues I had with the story are actually minor. I’m nitpicking because I’m disappointed that what started as a very interesting book quickly declined to become a boring narrative with no life. The characterization of the Enterprise crew is solid. Their dialogue is believable and fits nicely with the dialogue from the TV series. The idea of the artificial rift, the mining planet, the conflict with the Romulans and even revisiting the Kalandans from the TOS episode “That Which Survives” but even with all of those positives, the book falls flat. It’s boring and I’m pretty baffled as to how a book with so many good elements can have no real substance, no engaging qualities. I liked all different parts of the book, including Ward’s writing which fit nicely with the tone of TOS. Come to think of it, that might be part of the problem. It feels too much like the episodes with the difference that it’s not a teleplay, it’s a bit and thus includes narration and the narration slowed down the pace of the book so much that it resulted in a boring entertainment experience. I haven’t read tons of Star Trek fiction but even so I know there are several other novels I would recommend to someone before I would even mention this novel. Maybe I would recommend it to you if you told me that TOS is your favourite and you wished more books were just like individual episodes of the show. Maybe then.

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