Star Trek: Titan – Sword of Damocles by Geoffrey Thorne
Star Trek novels used to be about whatever crew you were reading about showing up at a planet, finding something wacky and then spending the novel solving whatever crisis they stumbled across. You could jump in and out of the Trek novels without much knowledge of prior events beyond which characters you were reading about this week. Rarely did the novels build on one another and create some type of overall cohesive storyline or continuity.
Then came New Frontier and changed the equation. Now it seems as if every Trek novels wants to tie-in to either an on-going series or the entire novel line as a whole. And as with all things Trek, there are some that do it well (New Frontier, DS9) and some that just don’t quite spark my interest (Voyager). Somewhere in the middle are the voyages of the Titan, a spin-off from Next Generation featuring the adventures of Captain William T. Riker and his crew. The Titan is an explortion vessel and after spending the first three books dealing with the fall-out of Nemesis, “Sword of Damocles” finally feels as if it’s the first official stand-alone episode of this new series.
Not that you can’t or shouldn’t have read the first three to get everything that’s going on here. There are some subplots that will be richer if you know the background, but on the whole this is the first truly independent Titan novel and the best of the series to date. The Titan explores a region of space that disrupts the ability to generate a warp bubble and power the ship. Finding a nearby planet is the culprit, Titan sends a shuttle (they work out some technobabble way to get there) to investigate and ask the planet’s inhabitants to cease their experiments in order to allow the ship to go free. The storyline opens up some real-world implications in the application of the Prime Directive that are far more compelling than a lot of the standard Trek episodes that look at if a captain and ship have the right to interfere or not. The argument that it’s a nice policy until it bites you out on the frontier is fascinating.
The story does involve time travel, paradoxes and the notion of fate and destiny. However, in a story that could easily have been muddles under the weight of its various eras, paradoxes and solutions, the story stays straight-forward and it’s easy to figure out where the characters are and what is happening. The only bad part is that solution becomes fairly evident early on in the crisis and plays out pretty much as you’d expect for a Trek novel.
That’s not say it’s a bad thing. There’s a comfort in the obvious solutions of Trek novels at times and this one is no exception.
Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik
The fourth installment in the Temeraire series starts off slowly but ends with a bang and on a cliffhanger than almost made me glad I waited so long to read this one. (The fifth installment hits bookstores next week).
Lawrence and Temeraire reutrn from China to find Britian’s dragon population suffering a terrible plague that is weakening and threatening to kill them. The problem is complicated by Napolean’s attempts and threats to cross the channel and invade the heart of the British Empire.
Temeraire, back from China and having seen the attitude show toward dragons there, comes back wanting to generate more respect for his dragon brothers and sisters. Lawrence’s family induces him to use his new-found celebrity becuase of his work with Temeraire to become the front man for an anti-slavery movement with the British empire. Lawrence is not happy about this and only reluctantly agrees, seeing that the way the slaves are treated is much as how dragons are treated in his own country.
Temeraire is immune to the disease, leading to the hope that the African contintent contains a cure. Lawrence lead an expedition to find a cure and save the British fleet before Napolean invades.
And that’s just the first half of the story. The first half of the novel seems a bit slow until you get to the second half and Novik begins reap what she’s sown in the first half of the story. The last half of this book flew by in one sitting as Lawrence and Temeraire are forced to make a series of choices based on their conscience, leading to a lot of jaw-dropping moments and a genuine series-changing decision in the final hundred or so page. The book also ends on a cliffhanger, which Novik says was just where the story told her to stop and wasn’t an attempt to sell more of her next story. I believe her because the central conflict of this story is over and to rush the consequences of decisions made here would be to short-change readers and fans.
It does, however, make for one of the best cliffhangers to a book I’ve read in a long time.
After two novels that while good, weren’t quite as great as His Majesty’s Dragon, Empire of Ivory is a return to form for this series.