I was going to use a reference to Princess Bride in my title – “Captured by pirates is good” … except right now that would be the most idiotic thing I could say. Especially since the actual quote is “Murdered”.
Proud Helios. It was there, I was there, I was uncommitted and noncommittal for my next book. I thought, a little Star Trek by a writer I know to be solid can’t be bad, right? After all, two of my favorite writers – top twenty listers both – were introduced to me through Star Trek novels: Diane Duane and Barbara Hambly, without whom my world would be just a little sadder. Nowadays, though, I intentionally avoid Star Trek (and other tv-based) novels, because they’re usually everything they’re cracked up to be: schlock. Except when there’s a familiar name on the cover… A well-done Star Trek novel is a strangely satisfying thing, a guilty pleasure that makes ice cream look nutritious. I’ve read books by Melissa Scott before; she ran (runs?) an online writers’ workshop I deeply wished I could afford, once upon a time; she was approached to write it. She would create an awesome ST novel, right?
It’s not bad, I need to hasten to say right about there. The writing is perfectly fine. I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare, and didn’t get it; I also wasn’t expecting slush, and didn’t get that either. I was expecting the sort of writing I found in the books I’ve read of hers (like The Armor of Light and The Roads of Heaven). It’s been almost as long since I read a Melissa Scott as it’s been since I saw DS9, though, so … who knows? It has its awkwardnesses; it’s not as clean as it might be (for example, too many mentions in one chapter of Kira’s “mobile” or “animated” face), but it’s better than most.
The sticking point with ST novels, and what won me over with a rabid loyalty to Miladies Duane and Hambly, is characterization. In the case of TOS, I knew those characters better than I knew a lot of 3-D humans, and cared about them at least as much. So I suffered through a lot of bad writing when I still insisted on reading every ST novel. This is the deal-breaker with most based-on-someone-else’s-world books, and why they’re so often not worth thinking about. It doesn’t matter if the plot is good, bad, or ugly, if Captain Kirk – or, more importantly to me, Dr. McCoy (who can easily be made into a caricature) is given life, the author wins. (D & H both did Bones proud.)
It’s been a very long time since I saw DS9 – probably since the show was still on the air, and even then I don’t think I kept watching to the end. (They brought Worf in. I hated Worf.) (A lot.) (They kept *almost* killing him – broke his back once, iirc – and never completed the job. It was demoralizing.) But I knew the characters pretty well; I liked it well enough, though I was never passionate about it. Funny thing is, though this book was published in 1995 while the series was still in full swing (93 – 99), it feels a little like MS was writing it from my current vantage point. Each character is represented by a characteristic or three – Sisko is a deep voice and a longing to spend more time with Jake. Dax is serene and, often, amused. Odo is scowling and not quite trusted or trusting. O’Brien is harried and worried about his family. Bashir is young and … no, that’s about it. Kira is hot-headed and hates Cardassians.
It’s kind of a shame. The series had a lot of meat on its bones; there was a lot to work with there: the interplay of Bajorans and Starfleet and Ferengi and all, the unusual status of the Federation there with the wormhole opening up the universe a little more , and the lurking presence of the Cardassians – it’s a neat set-up. The station should be a character itself, a cranky hey-you-kids-get-off-my-deck sort of character, the underlying Cardassian design fighting with the bright, light, streamlined Federation influences trying to reform it. (I may just have to queue it up on Netflix.)
There isn’t much of any of that here. And it’s a little sad that even the bad guys were rather flat – bad guys who are, after all, pirates, a word which even in these days of Somali and Mexican terrorists still carries with it the waft of roguery and adventure rather than horror and murder. The story … well, in Star Trek there were, at its worst, two kinds of new faces. One was a red shirt – an unknown character who would go down with a security detail and, shortly, die. The other was the alien-of-the-week, who would drive the plot. In this novel it was fairly clear from the beginning that the one major new face was going to be more than expected, and was going to surprise the characters, if not the reader. The big reveal of her actual identity was very much a “yes, and?” moment.
There is a spoiler on the back cover that someone was going to be captured by the pirates, and, really, this took a lot of wind out of the sails of what might have been a suspenseful chase scene. Or series of scenes. Okay, it was one long disjointed and somewhat tedious series of scenes. Would that there had been either wind or sails…
If this had been as good as I half-hoped it would be, I might just have made an effort to seek out other decent Trek-based novels – or, gosh, even Firefly or some other part of the Whedonverse. Instead, it’s probably going to be another ten years now before I read another Star Trek novel – and the only Firefly I’m going to be reading is the Steven Brust Firefly novel I downloaded from his website. (Which, I find, is free on his website because there have been and still are no immediate plans to produce Firefly novels. Which is weird, given the number of rabid and literate Browncoats out there. Out here.) It’s Steven Brust – it has to be good. Right?