Muddled doesn't come close to describing my reaction to reading Paul S. Kemp's Forgotten Realms: Shadowbred. I was of two minds when I was reading this novel: 1) Kemp writes at a fast clip, moving the plot along, but not at the expense of developing character depth, and 2) What the hell is he referring to? This novel represents the main reason why I have been so hesitant to read any shared-universe novels, as there are so many references to past events covered in other novels by other authors that I was thoroughly confused at times, despite this being an opener to a trilogy . . . ! . . .I almost could understand what was transpiring, but not quite. Since Kemp has written virtually exclusively (minus a short story or two, I believe) in a shared-universe setting, I really have nothing else by which to judge his work. . . I suspect someone much more familiar with this setting would have enjoyed this novel much more than I did, precisely because they would understand the underlying "language" and thus be able to see where all the parts fit.Of course, you can say the same thing about fictional universes, such as that of J.R.R Tolkien, which started out as exclusively literary, as opposed to television and movies. But I think Larry is right when he implies that there a tension inherent to tie-in fiction between the fandom on the one hand and, on the other, "civilians" simply looking for a good read who may not be obsessive followers of the franchise. So how do you write a good Star Trek, Star Wars, or Halo novel? (Yes, Halo novels exist!) Do you accept that your primary audience is likely to consist of serious fans or do you also try to accommodate "outsiders" as well? Since tie-in fiction is generally considered low-brow, how do you react to that? If someone writes a genuinely good story - with strong character development, evocative prose, and engaging plot - that also just happens to be a Star Trek novel, is it still just mass-marketed brain candy? Or is it possible to transcend that?
Peter David is, in my opinion, one author whose books do indeed have crossover appeal for both Trekkers and general sci-fi fans alike. Problem is, because they are Star Trek novels, some people are just not going to give them the time of day. And Before Dishonor is probably going to only prove their suspicions correct, just as Forgotten Realms: Shadowbred almost did for Larry. Before Dishonor feels like the whole thing was written in about two hours. It also lacks any subtlety whatsoever. Special K of the blog Bookish described Stephenie Meyer as someone who "writes with all the grace of a sledgehammer," and, much as a I hate to say it, that's also how Peter David comes across in Before Dishonor. Okay, I get it: there is a conflict between fate and free will. You do not have hammer it into me. The only reason this book is even worth reading is because it sets the stage for what will happen in later Trek books, such as Greater Than the Sum and the Destiny trilogy (which I haven't read yet, but would love to). But what made Before Dishonor especially disappointing was that it was also a direct sequel to another David novel, the absolutely amazing Vendetta.
Vendetta is epic. (I know, I seem to use that word a lot, but I really mean it!) It's about an ancient quest for revenge against one of the most feared and relentless races in the cosmos. It's about the human quest for knowledge and adventure, and the folly of going too far in pursuit of an unattainable goal. It is a tale of love and obsession and spectacular battle scenes, with a good dose of humor thrown in. Delcara, the sole survivor of a race obliterated by the Borg centuries ago has acquired an incredible weapon, of which the infamous doomsday machine from the original series was but a prototype. It is a ship that consumes planets for fuel, and it is possessed by the vengeful souls of yet another culture wiped out by the Borg. And if they have to annihilate half the galaxy to destroy their destroyers, so be it. All that matters is the vendetta, but Captain Picard still believes Delcara is worth saving.
"She was . . ." He paused, trying to find words. "She was a concept. A symbol. The idea of her came to mean more to me than the actuality of her. What she represented was so pure, but the reality was far from that. In the end I tried to make her into what I had envisioned her to be, and what she could never be. And yet, in a way, she is. Was. She was everything I could have asked for. Unreachable. Untouchable. Always out there, guiding me onward. I seek to touch the stars, Mr. La Forge. To brush my fingers across them, and search out the mysteries they hide. She was all of that. All of that and more."I would classify Vendetta more as science fantasy than the traditional "hard science fiction" rubric Star Trek usually falls under (it's closer to Star Wars in that respect). A lot of the story involves what one character disparagingly calls "metaphysical claptrap": haunted ships driven by will alone and love at first sight linking two strangers across light-years.
"You contradict yourself, Captain."
(For another Vendetta excerpt, click here.)
Q-Squared is another great David offering. You can never go wrong with Q, a member of the Q Continuum, a race of godlike beings with omnipotent powers who are nevertheless very annoying. David goes even further and adds parallel universes, a good helping of chaos theory, and Trelane, a bratty child Q who is tired of being told what to do. Apparently, even the all-mighty Continuum can seriously screw up, because some omnipotent genius has put Q in charge of Trelane. Oh, at first it's amusing (Picard even laughs in Q's face) but then Trelane makes Winnie-the-Pooh come to life in the Enterprise school and things rapidly deteriorate.
Worf looked up from his station and said, "Captain . . . security reports that they are under assault by . . ." He paused in confusion. ". . . a plush yellow bear."Petulant and upset at being subsequently thrown off the ship, Trelane builds a machine that will allow him to tap into the chaos that holds together all the myriad multiverses. The result, of course, is pure anarchy.
And then he saw and he understood and the universe . . .The story had also been following two other plots in two different Star Trek universes, including one in which Captain Jack Crusher is still alive and divorced from Beverly (after Wesley's death), who has just entered into a secret relationship with First Office Commander Picard. As the three multiverses collide together and all hell breaks loose, Jack Crusher's ensuing insanity effectively mirrors the chaos that lurks within all systems, from chemical reactions to planetary weather to ecological population growth and fluid dynamics, to molecular vibrations and plate tectonics, to economics, the multiverse, and the human heart.
was and was not
and he was and was not and oh look there was a piece of the universe fragmenting off and there was another growing to take its place and it was constantly shifting
and Trelane did not know where to look first so he looked everywhere first and everywhere last and in between he looked everywhere else. . .
and there was laughter laughter all around and perhaps it was coming from him and perhaps it was coming from elsewhere and the Heart of the Storm raged and it wasn't just the storm it was the universe the pulsing heart of the universe my God (who?) he had entered the heart of the universe the living breathing core of the multiverse that surrounded him that tied all things together and made them what they were and weren't and should be and shouldn't be. . .
I've also greatly enjoyed David's very own New Frontier series, although I've only read the first four. Apparently, there are seventeen! I really gotta get caught up there. . . The books are a seamless blend of both original and established characters. There is also plenty of David's trademark good humor and smoothly-flowing plot that will always keep the reader guessing and never leave them bored. Each member of the Excalibur crew is richly and individually drawn with a multilayered backstory that only adds to David's intricate but easily understood storyline. That's another thing David does well: keeps the plot from getting too tangled. Right now I'm wondering whatever happened with that love triangle involving the female Vulcan in the grip of pon farr, the male human who is also part Greek god, and the promiscuous dual-gendered alien. And then there was the planet that turned out to be a giant egg that hatched the Great Bird of the Galaxy.
Additional David novels to check out:
There are others, but let's not get too hasty. But we will forget Before Dishonor ever happened.
Note: Star Trek novels do not take place in the "official" Star Trek universe, and may contradict information that later appears on the Trek television shows or movies. (Star Wars is just the opposite: books and comics are as much a part of the story as the films are.) For example, in Vendetta it is stated that there are no Borg women, but it has since been abundantly proven otherwise.