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EuroTragedy A Drama in Nine Acts
Ashoka Mody
Progress: 52/672 pages
The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914
Richard J. Evans
Progress: 186/928 pages

Exploring an untapped part of the Star Trek universe

The Rift - Peter David

Returning to Vega after their adventure on Talos IV, the U.S.S. Enterprise encounters a rift in space. After taking his ship through the rift, Captain Christopher Pike and his crew meet the Calligar, an advanced civilization in the far-off Gamma Quadrant; while initial interactions are promising, the Enterprise is forced to return to Federation space before the rift closes. Thirty three years later the rift opens again, giving the Federation the opportunity to renew the contact, this time with a team led by Captain James Kirk in the Enterprise-A, though this time the Calligar leader precipitates a crisis that jeopardizes both amicable relations and the Federation representatives sent to establish them,

 

On one level it's surprising that, even after a profitable half-century of developing the Star Trek franchise, so little has been done with the previous crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise; indeed, there are even more works about author-created characters than there are ones featuring the Enterprise under Jim Kirk's predecessor. Peter David uses the limited material from the original pilot to provide a depiction of a very different Enterprise crew, giving his work a freshness that is often lacking in a Star Trek novel. His concept of a periodically-opening rift to a distant part of the galaxy is also an interesting one, serving as a nice way to tie events to the Enterprise crew with whom fans are more familiar. Yet the second part of the novel is more disappointing, as the plot follows tired characters into well-worn grooves with a predictable course of events. Though David enlivens this part with some knowing jokes and a nice little twist, it still doesn't live up to the originality and promise of the first half of the book.

Reading progress update: I've read 152 out of 274 pages.

The Rift - Peter David

After finishing Joe Haldeman's World Without End, I thought I might be reaching a burnout point on my Star Trek novel reading. I tried a couple of the others in the older "Star Trek Experience" series, but they didn't really grab me (it didn't help that one of them, David Gerrold's The Galactic Whirlpool, was about yet another world-ship), and neither did a couple of the other early Pocket Books that I tried. But then I decided to jump ahead to one of the later novels, and it proved the right decision. Peter David's novel started out strong with the Enterprise crew from the original pilot — Captain Christopher Pike, Number One, Dr. Philip Boyce, and the rest — encountering a tear in space. This gives the author surprisingly fresh ground in which to develop a Star Trek tale, and David really does well with it. By contrast the second half of the novel, which is set on the Enterprise-A three decades later, seems much more tired, perhaps in part because the idea of the same aging crew (I mean, come on, a captain as first officer?) still occupying the same posts after all that time has long strained my credulity. It helps, though, that David writes with a knowing wink and the premise is interesting enough to keep me turning the pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 52 out of 672 pages.

EuroTragedy A Drama in Nine Acts - Ashoka Mody

Dammit, there is just something about this book that rubs me the wrong way. I can accept his contention that the single currency project had inherent flaws, but there is something in his approach that is just too one-sided for me. I lack his training in economics and immersion in the subject, but I can see an undercurrent of confirmation bias in his writing that makes me approach this more as a polemic than a measured analysis.

Reading progress update: I've read 29 out of 672 pages.

EuroTragedy A Drama in Nine Acts - Ashoka Mody

I'm starting to think that Mody's book is suffering from the flaw common to a lot of books written by economists, which is that economics is the be-all and end-all in terms of understanding human behavior. If that were true, then the next rational actor I meet wouldn't be the first.

Back to basics

Windows on a Lost World - V.E. Mitchell

There is something appealingly basic about Victoria Mitchell's second contribution to the Pocket Books series of Star Trek novels. In it the Enterprise takes a team of archaeologists to a deserted planet. There they uncover evidence of an even older civilization than the one they were sent to investigate, one that left behind mysterious "windows" that are still active and were subsequently buried by their successors. An accident sends Kirk, Chekov, and one of the archaeologists into the window, where they vanish . . . and the Enterprise suddenly detects alien life on a previously uninhabited world.

 

What struck me about Mitchell's novel as I was reading it was how well her book captures the essential framework of an episode of an original series: the Enterprise explores something, encounters a problem that jeopardizes some of the crew, and then the rest of the crew works together to unravel the mystery and save the crew members in jeopardy. For this comfortingly familiar structure Mitchell provides a story that would have been impossible with the budget and effects of the series, with a refreshingly original alien species unlike any that had been envisioned beforehand. And even if the the the character traits and skill sets of her new characters are a bit too convenient for the story, overall the combination makes for one of the better Original Series novels, one that synthesizes well the best elements of the show and the possibilities of the written page.

Reading progress update: I've read 12 out of 672 pages.

EuroTragedy A Drama in Nine Acts - Ashoka Mody

I'm not even though the introduction, and I can already tell I'm going to have some philosophical issues with this book. Mody's argument that the whole European single currency was poorly thought out is one that I can buy, but I wonder to what degree he is overlooking the parallel political dynamics. True, fiscal union proved important to support monetary union. But setting aside the degree to which the EU provides development funds that function to a degree (albeit a limited one) as a common fiscal program, Europeans wreen't talking just about a monetary union in the 1960s, but a broader political one (e.g. the lofty goal of a "United States of Europe") as well. Hopefully Mody addresses this in his text, otherwise he is being excessively judgmental about the pursuit of monetrary union.

Reading progress update: I've read 150 out of 150 pages.

World Without End (Star Trek Adventures, #10) - Joe Haldeman

Now this was an excellent read! It's unfortunate that most authors who write Star Trek novels can't write as well as Haldeman.

A poor employment of a classic Star Trek trope

Mutiny on the Enterprise - Robert E. Vardeman

One of the most prevalent tropes of the Star Trek franchise is the disruptive effect of the outsider to the smoothly-functioning operations of the U.S.S. Enterprise. The ship picks up a person or small group of people, these people then introduce some foreign values to the crew, and then a few leaders (usually, but not always the captain) then address the disruption caused and reassert Starfleet order. It's a recurrent trope in part because of its versatility and the number of variations possible, but that doesn't make it any less of a trope.

 

It's no surprise that the trope would appear eventually in a Star Trek novel, and Robert Vardeman's book seems to be the first employment of it in print. Yet for the first use in a novel with all of the greater possibilities the medium entails, his use of it is surprisingly unimaginative. Picking up after the events of his previous contribution to the series, The Klingon Gambit, Kirk and company are assigned to transport a small team of ambassadors to a system where two planets are on the verge of conflict. Along the way they rescue Lorelai, a woman of an unknown species from her disabled craft. Once on board her pacifist philosophy and powers of persuasion quickly sow dissent among the crew. Though Kirk and Spock attempt to battle her influence, they soon find their mission in jeopardy in the face of the resistance of the crew, who are following Lorelai's siren song (get it?) instead of the orders of their superiors.

It's fair to note that just because a trope isn't terrible just because it's a trope, and the subsequent use of it in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Enterprise, and other franchise media demonstrate some of the creative possibilities still possible with it. This is why Vardeman's novel is so disappointing; rather than take it in rich new directions possible thanks to the freedom inherent in a novel, he prefers to deliver instead what could have been just another warmed-over episode of the original series. There is little development of the plot and even less of the characters, as Vardeman relies upon the work of the series and what limited effort he put into his previous contribution to coast through. Even his main antagonist is defined more by her powers rather than any inherent motivation beyond "It's her job," and her employment in the story's resolution is predictable from the moment her abilities are defined. To be fair it's an improvement over his previous novel, but that reflects more the very low bar set by his earlier effort than a dramatic improvement in quality between the two books. Perhaps a subsequent novel would have been even better, but I can't say I'm regretting that he never wrote another one for the franchise.

Reading progress update: I've read 192 out of 192 pages.

Mutiny on the Enterprise - Robert E. Vardeman

I was about halfway through this book when I realized that the sense of deja vu I was feeling wasn't the consequence of encountering yet more plot elements recycled from the TV show, but because I had read the book before. Clearly it wasn't a very memorable experience.

No gambit, and barely any Klingons

The Klingon Gambit - Robert E. Vardeman

One of the more apt criticisms of the Star Trek franchise is about the repetitiveness of their plotting. Though the original premise of a starship exploring the galaxy opened up a variety of possibilities, it wasn't long before crew encounters were primarily limited to godlike aliens (often in energy form), faux-Edens, and dangerous machines that needed to be talked into destroying themselves. From the standpoint of a television show (especially the original series), such repetition is perhaps understandable given the constraints imposed by special effects and budgets. It's also what makes the franchise's novels so different; freed from such mundane constraints, practically anything is possible,

 

This is why Robert Vardeman's novel is so frustrating. The title suggests a story involving the Enterprise crew grappling with some fiendish Klingon plot to take over the Alpha Quadrant or perhaps an interstellar battle in which Kirk matches wits with the captain of a Klingon warship. What Vardeman delivers instead is a tepid mystery that for fans of the original series will seem all too familiar, as the author takes elements from two of their episodes and mashes them together after making just a few minor alterations. The Klingons are less of a fearsome threat in the story than they are a secondary plot device, and their "gambit" (to the degree that there even is one) boils down to seeking a MaGuffin and nothing more. The whole thing is a waste of a good title, a neat cover, and the hours of time spent reading it, as fans are best advised taking a hard pass on this one.

A great invocation of the ideals at the heart of Star Trek

Crisis On Centaurus (Star Trek: The Original Series, #28) - Brad Ferguson

The Star Trek franchise is filled with thrilling tales of Starfleet crews exploring strange new worlds, battling hostile alien species, and even resolving personal conflicts. What you don't see too many stories of, though, are ones about the politics of humanity in their far-off future. Sure there are some (the "Terra Prime" storyline from the Star Trek: Enterprise series comes to mind), but they stand out for their rarity and for understandable reasons. After all, just how appealing is a novel about politics in a world of starships and aliens?

 

Brad Ferguson's novel demonstrates the falsity of such assumptions. On the Earth colony of Centarus, a political extremist detonates a device that wipes out an entire city. Though plagued with a series of computer problems, the Enterprise is dispatched by Starfleet to provide assistance. They arrive to find a planet coping with an unprecedented crisis, with hundreds of thousands dead and the technological infrastructure upon which Federation citizens had come to rely wiped out, forcing the Enterprise crew to overcome a variety of technological problems as they attempt to aid the population, all while dealing with planetary leaders with a slightly different agenda.

 

Like so many stories from the first quarter-century of the franchise, Ferguson's novel incorporates elements of the Cold War into it, serving as both commentary and cautionary tale. Yet the novel's great strengths are in its plot and Ferguson's portrayal of a starship crew rising to the challenge by addressing the problems before it. In that respect it invokes the idealism of the franchise by showing humanity at its best while also criticizing those elements which fly in the face of the values at the heart of Gene Roddenberry's creation. It is these elements which make Ferguson's novel one of the best produced in the Pocket Books series, as well as demonstrating the rich possibilities that exist in developing other, less-frequently explored aspects of the Star Trek universe.

Spock's adventures in the Alpha Quadrant

Black Fire  - Sonni Cooper

During a shift in which the crew is training a group of cadets an explosion suddenly tears through the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Though weakened and suffering from a shard of shrapnel lodged next to his spine, Spock refuses medical treatment as he launches an investigation into the cause of the blast. Enlisting Commander Scott's help, Spock traces a missing yeoman to a barren planet, where the two men encounter small parties of Romulans and Klingons before the three groups are captured by an previously unknown aggressive species. In the months that follow Spock undergoes arrest, imprisonment, and a succession of exploits that will end on the bridge of a Romulan warship as it prepares to destroy the Enterprise and his former crewmates.

 

Sonni Cooper's book starts off with a bang and never lets up, as she races her readers through a series of twists and turns, burning through plot enough for three novels in the hands of other authors. The pacing is so rapid that it is easy to overlook the problems with Cooper's plot and the lack of development of the secondary characters, many of whom are distinguished more by their names and physical descriptions than by anything distinctive that they bring to the story. In the end this is very much Spock's novel, and fans of his character likely will enjoy the many adventures on which the author sends him.

Napoleon at his peak

Napoleon: The Spirit of the Age: 1805-1810 - Michael Broers

The second volume of Michael Broers's projected three-volume biography of Napoleon Bonaparte covers the five years of his life between the start of his campaign against the Austrians in 1805 and his marriage to Marie Louise in 1810. This was the period which can be regarded as Napoleon at his peak. With his victories against the Austrians in 1805 and the Prussians and the Russians in 1806-7, the French emperor exercised a dominance over Europe that was unprecedented. Yet one of the themes that emerges from Broers's narrative is the fragile nature of Napoleon's control, as he details the ways in which his power began to evaporate almost as soon as he won it.

 

As Broers details, the main reason for this was the circumstances in which it was won. When Napoleon led the Grande Armée our of its camps around Boulogne and into central Europe, he commanded one of the finest military forces in existence, one that was well trained and consisted of veterans of the many wars that France had fought since 1792. Yet it was an unsustainable force, one that Napoleon's regime scrambled to finance even as it won its great victories against the Austrians. The end of the Austrian campaign led to the discharge of many of those veterans, who were replaced by younger, less experienced conscripts in subsequent campaigns.

 

Though Napoleon still won many victories with his new recruits, this was just one of the many challenges he faced. Another was with his efforts to control the lands his forces occupied, as he proved far more successful in defeating the armies of the old order than he was in controlling their territories. Here Broers's expertise as an historian of the era is employed to his greatest effect, as he demonstrates how the French occupation of southern Italy in 1806 foreshadowed the problems the regime would face in Spain just two years later. Napoleon's efforts to establish his brother Joseph as king of Naples proved less than successful, as French reforms such as the end of feudalism quickly turned the Neapolitan aristocracy against the regime, forcing the French to maintain a military presence the region could not afford, and confronting Napoleon with a low-level uprising he did not know how to win.

 

Further hampering Napoleon's efforts to cement his dominance of Europe was his reliance upon his family as puppet monarchs. Here Broers astutely dismisses traditional criticisms of his use of them as rulers of the regions he conquered, pointing out that the practice was commonplace for ruling families throughout European history, Yet his brothers ultimately did not live up to the (often impossible) demands Napoleon placed upon them, and suffered the fore of his ire as a result. His frustration with them also informed his growing concern over the issue of succession, as his difficult marriage of Josephine had not produced the heir he so desperately desired. Though his efforts to wed a Russian princess ultimately proved fruitless, his negotiations with the Austrians proved more successful, and in 1810 he became the son-in-law of his twice-defeated opponent Francis II. Yet as Broers ends the volume he makes clear that the seeming solidity gained by the Napoleonic regime still rested on a foundation of sand, with Napoleon facing rebellions in occupied territories, resentful monarchs in the rest of the continent, and an ongoing war against Britain that showed no sign of resolution.

 

Broers describes all of this is a clear narrative that moves briskly through the many of events of the emperor's busy life. Drawing upon the bounty of the ongoing Correspondance générale series as well as recent scholarship on various aspects of his reign by the leading scholars of the era, he provides a fuller picture of Napoleon's rule than was possible for previous biographers. The result is a worthy successor to Broers's previous volume, Soldier of Destiny, and a book which further establishes his biography as the best one yet written about Napoleon Bonaparte.

Reading progress update: I've read 158 out of 158 pages.

The Klingon Gambit - Robert E. Vardeman

I'm glad to be done with this as it was a serious disappointment as a novel, one that conveys the feeling of work churned out quickly to meet a deadline. The plot is little more than an unimaginative synthesis of elements from various episodes of the original show, and the story is plagued with pacing issues and poor characterization. It makes for a real contrast with the previous entry in the series, which was superior in every respect.

Reading progress update: I've read 46 out of 158 pages.

The Klingon Gambit - Robert E. Vardeman

I'm nearly a third of the way in, and I'm not impressed. So far the novel is a pastiche of the original series' episode "The Naked Time' (the one where the crew gets infected with something that makes them lose their self-control) and I can't help but think that the show, as usual, did it better. But I can forgive that more easily than I can the casual racism. Here's just two examples:

 

Kirk nodded. The Asian knew his job and did it well.

 

"And if subspace transmission wasn't possible, you wouldn't have to do the report right away?" The Bantu woman's eyes sparkled.

 

Okay, I know this was published back in 1981, but they knew better even back in 1981! I keep thinking of the third season episode "The Savage Curtain," in which a racial reference to Uhura by "Abraham Lincoln" was portrayed as outdated and inappropriate. Seeing it in a novel written over a decade later speaks poorly of Vardeman -- and I doubt he wrote it without even giving it a thought.

Exploring the possibilities within the Star Trek universe

Shattered Light - Scott Pearson, David R. George III, Steve Mollmann, Michael  Schuster

After finishing the first of the Star Trek "Myriad Universes" collection, Infinity's Prism (which I enjoyed immensely), I decided to read another in the series. While also a fun read, it wasn't quite as good, for reasons that I'll explain in my summary of the three novellas contained in this volume.

 

"The Embrace of the Cold Architects" by David R. George III This story is based on a divergence in two episodes from the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Offspring" and "The Best of Both Worlds, Part I" Data's daughter, Lal, survives her cascade failure and Picard dies in the Enterprise-C's encounter with the Borg. While the resulting developments are interesting, George just has too much going on in this to unpack within the space of a novella.

 

"The Tears of Eridanus" by Steve Mollmann and Michael Schuster  In the 23rd century Earth belongs to an Andorian-dominated "Interstellar Union," and Hikaru Sulu commands the Interstellar Guard's Kumari. When he learns that contact is lost with the observation post on Erdanus (also known as Vulcanis) where his daughter is stationed, Sulu orders his ship there to investigate.

 

This is the most interesting of the three stories in terms of its premise. It's divergence is a radical one what if the Vulcans never embraced logic? This plays out on two levels: the consequences for the Vulcans and the shape of an Alpha Quadrant without their (and the Romulans') presence in it. There's a lot to like, but it doesn't gel quite as effectively as it might have.

 

"Honor in the Night" by Scott Pearson Based on the classic Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Trouble with Tribbles," a engine failure prevents the tribbles from interfering with the Klingons' plan to sabotage the Federation's effort to colonize Sherman's Planet. Yet from that disaster the officious Federation bureaucrat Nilz Baris builds a career that leads to the Federation presidency and peace with the Klingons, yet Baris's death leads to a reporter's investigation that may undo his life's work.

 

On this surface this seemed the most unpromising of the three. After all, just how good can a novella be that's built around a two-dimensional character from a single episode? Yet this proved the best of the three, thanks to of it's reimagining of subsequent Klingon-Federation relations (which is different but not too different from what fans of the franchise will remember), its sympathetic take on its central character, and the role played by the Klingons in the story. The great trinity of Klingon commanders from the original series — Koloth, Kor, and Kang — all make extended appearances, and there's a great twist at the end of the story that caps it all off nicely.

 

Overall this is a story that is well worth a Star Trek fan's time. Finishing it left me a little sad, as this was the final collection published and while the concept behind the series is a limited one I felt as though they hadn't quite exhausted some of the possibilities contained within it. I could even see myself reading novels spun out of the worlds the authors created for it, which is proof of the seemingly endless riches contained within the franchise.