Genre: Star Trek
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Book Review by Fraser Ronald
Have you read this book?
While the anthology Star Trek S.C.E: No Surrender is not the finest work of literature I’ve ever read, it certain was entertaining. The collection presents four short stories (maybe they are novelettes–what’s the cut-off?) about the Starfleet Corps of Engineers (the S.C.E of the title), specifically the starship U.S.S. Da Vinci. Unlike a favourite anthology of mine–Thieves’ World, at least the first three books–the stories all focus on the same group of characters, though, as in the various Star Trek TV incarnations, each character has a moment to shine.
The eponymous story, “No Surrender”, is actually the weakest, in my opinion. The story revolves around an old friend of Captain David Gold, long since alienated, involved in a mysterious malfunction on an orbiting penal space station. With a Federation ambassador on board, it becomes a Star Fleet problem and the U.S.S. Da Vinci’s problem.
Now, I can’t fault the writing or characterization. In fact, I’d like to praise both. Jeff Mariotte, the author of this particular story, delivers very sound writing with an excellent flow and good rhythm. The story offers glimpses into the characters it follows, enough not to overwhelm the story and still make the character’s seem alive on the page.
My problem is not with Mr. Mariotte’s technique or delivery, it’s with the plot. First, I was struck by the science of it. Granted, it’s imaginary science–Star Trek science–but I couldn’t get over the fact that no matter how much a space station is bouncing around, if the artificial gravity is working, the people on that station would not be tossed around like rag dolls. By its very definition, artificial gravity is created on the ship making any ‘floor’ or ‘ground’ section ‘down’ and filtering out effects of exterior gravity, like that produced by–let’s say–a planet the ship is orbiting. Perhaps the artificial gravity of this particular space station works differently or my understanding of the intricacies of Star Trek artificial gravity is lacking, but I couldn’t help but think how much easier it would have been just to remove the artificial gravity. If nothing else is working on the station, why should that?
Secondly, and most acutely, I had a real problem with the plot. It seemed to me that while there were lots of ‘expected’ threats (as in ‘I’m worried that problem X could happen and endanger the mission’) none of these really materialized. I can’t really get into it without plot details, but I’ll use an analogy. Let’s say the story is about a shuttlecraft that has engine problems, and the planet is experiencing earthquakes. All the characters say stuff like ‘I saw giant footprints back there’ and ‘the earthquake could easily bring these mountains down on us’ or even ‘If those giant’s are hungry, they might attack and eat us.’ Great. The problem is, what if, besides a few rocks falling nearby, none of the above actually does happen? So, there is a discussion of the threats but none of them materialized. Perhaps it’s a bad analogy, but at the end of the story I was kind of left with a ‘that’s it?’ Not the ‘that’s it’ one gets at the end of a really good story or book when one wants more, but the ‘that’s it’ of ‘you mean I got all worried for nothing?’
Still, the story “No Surrender” entertained me and introduced me to the cast of characters. Important note: I could perfectly picture Commander Sonya Gomez throughout the book because I had always considered her the most attractive of the regular Enterprise crew… that is unless you count Ensign Lefleur, but I digress. Sonya Gomez is the First Officer of the Da Vinci, so we get to see… er, read a lot about her, which was cool. It gave me a link back to Star Trek: The Next Generation, which–I must admit–is my favourite of the Star Trek incarnations (though they really need to get around to having a kick-@$$ Wrath of Khan-type movie).
In any case, the next story is “Caveat Emptor” in which the Da Vinci runs across a ship full of nice Ferenghi. Yeah, exactly, when the Ferenghi are being nice, you know there’s trouble. This story ties directly in to an episode from Star Trek: The Original Series, which is cool as Captain Montgomery Scott (you remember Scotty, don’t you) is head of S.C.E. and makes appearances in the book that are literally ‘called in.’ In any case, Mike Collins and Ian Edginton take the idea and run with it. There’s plenty of good Ferenghi humour (as in the Ferenghi characters are funny rather than the Ferenghi are telling jokes) as well as an interesting premise behind the polite capitalist traders.
This is also the story where a character arc that spans the next two stories begins. I think it’s great that this could be inserted into three disparate stories, but it’s a real badge of honour for all the writers in this collection that the anthology remains consistent in character, tone and quality. Sure, some of the stories are better than others–I’d have to say that “Caveat Emptor” is my favourite, but that’s more because Ferenghi humour amuses me–but I wouldn’t call any story in this collection bad. It’s actually nice to read a collection in which the stories run a spectrum from very good to better.
In any case, if you like Ferenghi, I think you’ll enjoy this particular story. It really feels like a cross between the more action-oriented and macho ST:TOS and the cerebral and socially relativist ST:TNG. I really, really wish that stories like this, with writing like this, were more common on the TV. I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach the ST renaissance on TV is heading for a cliff.
In “Past Life” by Robert Greenberger, an alien artifact is found on a planet that is considering Federation membership but has a long-standing xenophobic tradition. This one actually read like one of the standard Trek tales, like that episode one sees in every incarnation of ST. Not that it was unwelcome, and I found it an excellent opportunity to learn more about the characters. If nothing else, this is a good middle story. While there’s nothing particularly challenging, it keeps one ‘in situ,’ continuing a sense of relationship with the characters and watching the character arc that began with “Caveat Emptor” grow. There is–with character and atmosphere–a tangible link between this work and the other stories in the collection that made it valuable if not inspiring.
Finally comes “Oaths” by Glenn Hauman. This is a plague story, and while plague stories are also common in ST lore, this one is more about the doctor than the sickness. Captain Gold has noted that Doctor Lense has become disconnected, both with her work and with the crew. As the Da Vinci is too small to include a counsellor, Captain Gold takes it upon himself to try to get to the bottom of Dr. Lense’s apathy. Then the Da Vinci finds itself at a plague-world with a disease so virulent, Starfleet Medical might arrive only in time to clean up the corpses. The captain, the crew and the entire population of the planet must rely on Dr. Lense to save them.
As a character story, this one great. It really focuses tightly on Captain Gold and Dr. Lense. It also doesn’t cop-out. There is no ‘cure through work’ or sudden moment where all the doctor’s problems dissipate. The character growth seemed plausible. Whether the answer to the plague problem is scientifically valid, I can’t say. I don’t know much about virology or what-have-you, but in the context of the story, I believed it.
Overall, I’d say this is a very strong collection and while some stories had some problems, overall the quality of the writing and characterization is high. Characterization trumps all other aspects of a work for me, so that may be why I enjoyed the collection. All of the writers make these characters live and breathe. I knew these characters by the end of the books; I knew them and I understood them. Thankfully, the consistent quality is matched by consistent characterization so one does not need to relearn characters that have inexplicably changed.
I would highly recommend this book to fans of Star Trek. To other readers, this might be a good choice if you are considering taking the Star Trek plunge. Short stories require less investment by the reader and there is a minimum of techno-babble and ray-guns that some attribute to popular science fiction and especially to Star Trek.