nicky2910's book reviews

I've always been an avid reader. And I love writing about and discussing the books I read.

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: S. C. E.: #25 Home Fires by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore

Star Trek S.C.E. #25 - Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore, Ward Dayton

This is the first of the Wildfire-aftermath stories. It features Corsi, who along with Stevens, returns home and learns why her father has always been so biased against her joining Starfleet - because during the Cardassian war, Starfleet asked to install sensor equipment on his ship to spy on the Cardassians... What should have been a run of the mill-trade run turned into a standoff with Cardassians, and his brother, Corsi's uncle, had to pay for it.

 

This story deals with guilt, regret and prejudice (and of course, stupid mistakes which lead to tragedy). In the small-universe-syndrom one of the Starfleet operatives Aldo Corsi had to deal back then, was William Ross.

 

Corsi is doubting herself, because, while she was incapacitated, lots of her staff died on the daVinci, and Duffy had to make the ultimate sacrifice; and of course, Stevens just grieves for his best friend. Frankly, I'd have liked to see the focus more on Stevens instead of on Corsi, because I'd rather have seen a best friend deal with his very personal grief than stuck up, duty-bound Corsi deal with her professional regrets. I'm not saying that Corsi's grief doesn't come across as very real (and the background story about her father and uncle did touch me), but given the often stated relationship between Duffy and Stevens as best friends I think that not exploring that angle a wasted opportunity. There should have been more, even clichéd tears, whatever, but not just Stevens as a sidenote to shed some light on Corsi... especially not in this "aftermath"-situation.

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: S. C. E.: #23 & #24 Wildfire by David Mack

Wildfire Book 2 - David Mack Wildfire Book 1 - David Mack

Why did it take 20 parts until SCE finally picked up speed, to actually get to the heart of it?!? What KRAD began in War Stories, is continued here: the SCE finally gets a living and breathing soul.

 

The daVinci is called for a rescue mission. The USS Orion launched a testrun of a device called "Wildfire" in the atmosphere of a gas giant which could change the fate of star (like the Genesis device did for planets), but something went wrong, and the Orion no longer replies to calls. At least the Wildfire-device should be salvaged since it could be used for more devious purposes. The team find the Orion derelict in the gas giant's atmosphere, and the Wildfire device primed for detonation - but before it can be disarmed, pretty much everything in the salvage operation goes wrong... and the daVinci itself faces destruction, and the crew certain death.

 

This was Mack's first solo work in Star Trek - and possibly, this is what he had envisioned for "Starship Down", the episode he wrote for DS9 and that this story is frequently referring to... and even back as a novice TrekLit-writer he knew how to shake up a series (although he went on to greater dimensions in later works). Interestingly, whereas he concentrates on the action later on, here he focuses on the personal stories, relationships, courage & heroism, and duty & self-reflection, which works astonishingly well. And I have to admit that I got a lump in my throat in part 2, quite a few times actually, yet it's strange that Gomez's reaction didn't move me half as much as Stevens's. But maybe that's going to change once I've read the aftermath-stories to come - and there's no doubt, that I'll continue with this series now. I simply can't stop here, hanging on the edge of grief and despair, without any of the emotional gratification of a good "what happens next". Well done, Mack.

 

I also appreciated the fact that the main character's death in this novel is a final one. We have a body that's been declared dead - so I'll expect consequences in the next stories (that have already been hinted at here).

 

Just a couple of factual nitpicks (which threw me out of the very emotional last chapter just a tiny bit):

 

A victim dying of suffocation due to CO2 intoxication without any outward pressure like strangulation etc. won't show any petechial bleedings on the face/sclera - simply because petechia are caused by the venous flow being interrupted while the arterial flow's still pumping blood into the tissue. And if there's no blockage in the venous system, there won't be any petechia.

 

And modern CPR uses a 30:2 rhythm (compression:breathing) regardless of the cause of the cardiac arrest, not 8:1 like it was described here - though, of course, since this was a case of CPR given pro forma, let's not be too strict about that.

 

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: S. C. E.: #22 War Stories, Book 2 by Keith R. A. DeCandido

War Stories 2 - Keith R.A. DeCandido

This story focuses on a mission of the daVinci back in the Dominion War. Gomez, Lense and Faulwell weren't yet on board, Stevens and P8 Blue were just transferred onto the ship.

 

And quite honestly, as much as the first part of "War Stories" appealed to me because it granted insight into the characters (aside from showing them as brilliant geniuses), this part falls short in the characterization part. What we get are wisecracks, ideas pulled out of their a**es, in short, business as usual. It's still an interesting story, but not what I was hoping for when book 1 finally showed some inkling of light at the end of the dark tunnel of technobabble, ingenuity (make no mistake, ingenuity isn't bad, as long as there's some kind of personality to back it up) and smartass remarks.

SPOILER ALERT!

Worlds of Star Trek: DS9: #1 Cardassia by Una McCormack & Andor by Heather Jarman

Cardassia and Andor - Una McCormack, Heather Jarman

"The Lotus Flower" depicts the problems and antagonism Keiko is facing in her multispecies effort to render Cardassian soil fertile again. Meanwhile, the new castellan Alon Ghemor and Garak are fighting to keep the fledgling democracy alive in the face of isolationist movements.

 

This is quite a good story about the rise of isolationist movements, about the recruitment of young people for extremist purposes (because they lack certainty and purpose over their own future), and about finding where you belong in a democracy that is still forming after the age-old reign of dictatory leaderships. Quite a mirror of modern politics... if just finding similarities and common ground (or at least having the intention to do so) were so easy in real life, many atrocities could be prevented, I guess.

 

"Paradigm" forces Shar to confront the loss of his bondmate Thriss, his guilt and his position in Andorian society... all while being under pressure by his "mother" and having increasing feelings for Prynn Tenmei.

 

I'm afraid I'm not going to become a friend of Jarman's style any time soon. Her prose doesn't flow as well as that of other authors and I had the feeling of being stuck on a single page for ages. So that's a definite negative point. On the other hand, by the end I was fully engaged in this story and moved by the final few scenes. Shar's being pressured by practically all sides, reminded of his duties in a diminishing Andorian society (due to reproductive issues which led to a population of 3 billion dwindling down to a mere 90 million) but also fighting for his own freedom. Because how can anyone in a society that only revolves around bonds, that are matched artificially instead of naturally, and parenting duties be free? What about individual desires such as careers or partners outside a bond? And what about those who can't withstand that pressure (like Thriss)? This is quite a melancholy story about a person who fights to escape but in the end decides to go through with his societal obligations after all, even though the outside pressure (and inborn guilt) is more or less removed from him. A decision which left me pensive.

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: S. C. E.: #21 War Stories, Book 1 by Keith R. A. DeCandido

War Stories 1 - Keith R.A. DeCandido

Now, this is more like it.

 

Overseer Biron of the Androssi gets ahold of the personal logs of the daVinci-crew during their assignments in the Dominion War and peruses them in order to get an idea of how they could consistently defeat him. He starts with Dr Lense, Bart Faulwell and Sonya Gomez.

 

So, this finally offers some insight into the crew. It starts of with Dr Lense who, after having been questioned for being an augment after having beaten Bashir at medschool, returns to her ship, only to find herself the only doctor alive during battle. Bart Faulwell is asked to lead a team, trying to decrypt Dominion messages, and falls in love there. And Sonya Gomez has to improvise her way out of a mission gone wrong, all the while being the calm beacon of strength for her crew.

 

Granted, all the stories deal with past events, before the crew of the daVinci was even formed, but they serve to further portray the characters which before have remained quite bland due to the concentration on technobabble and ingenious ideas. I'm eagerly awaiting Book 2.

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Missing by Una McCormack

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Missing - Una McCormack

While Ro is approached by Odo to act as an intermediary in the question of missing Cardassian prisoners of war in Romulan space, first contact is made with a new species, the People of the Open Sky, laid back, friendly, with lots of children. Meanwhile, Katherine Pulaski has joined the Federation ship Athene Donald dedicated to exploration, and crewed by a multitude of species, even non-allied ones like a Tzenkethi. In the last moment, SI commander Peter Alden joins the crew to Pulaski's displeasure. He was supposed to be accompanied by another Tzenkethi, but somehow she missed their departure just as a robbery occurs on DS9. And within days they make first contact with an advanced species, the Chain.

 

Suspicions, prejudices, secrets and spies could be the tags to this novel. Everyone is suspicious of everybody else, especially Pulaski of Alden, Alden of the Tzenkthi crewmember, Blackmer of the missing Tzenkethi on DS9 etc. That gets tiresome quite fast because even if some of the suspicions are warranted, they don't influence the main story. And then there's the Chain who after learning about the People's presence on DS9 demand their extradition based on prejudice. That Starfleet even considers that demand without any kind of proof is ridiculous at best and perpetuated prejudice at worst. Frankly, I could have done without the waxing about war orphans and the history-lessons about the Romani on Earth because common sense and an adherence to the rule of law where evidence is needed before any kind of claims are heard, would have sufficed to solve that issue - even if, of course, the Chain ship was superior in force to the Athene Donald. But why does no one suggest to just accompany the Chain ship to DS9? That would have removed the immediate threat and offered the opportunity to deal with the issue directly.

 

What I enjoyed very much was Odo's portrayal, his sense of justice coming through again, be it in dealing with the PoW-issue (and Garak) or with the missing Tzenkethi Corazam who is somehow groomed by Alden to return to Ab-Tzenketh as a spy for the Federation but finds herself for the first time making a stand for herself. Alden himself turns out to be quite an interesting character, a scientist turned spy. I'm curious to find out more about him, especially his background with the Tzenkethi, and whether or not he really can shed his ties to Starfleet Intelligence.

 

Crusher's interim stay on DS9 as CMO remains rather bland, as do her issues with returning to the Enterprise and Picard that tie back to "Silent Weapons" when Picard protected her instead of the president. I don't know, perhaps it's because it's been years since I read the Data-trilogy, and in the Fall novels the rift between Picard and Crusher was more of a pretense for outside observers so that her leaving the Enterprise makes sense... but all that introspection here doesn't work for me. And DS9 itself suffers from a lack of interesting crewmembers. The only ones that actually get some kind of "screentime" are Ro and Blackmer, with appearances by O'Brien, Tenmei and Nog (though the latter two are absent here), so I wonder: How can a space station so vast be led by just 2 or 3 officers? Where is the rest of the crew?

 

Overall, "The Missing" leaves me feeling ambivalent. There are a few things I'd like to follow up on, but those were unfortunately few and far inbetween.

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: S. C. E.: #20 Enigma Ship by J. Steven York, Christina F. York

Enigma Ship (Star Trek S.C.E., #20) - J. Steven York, Christina F. York

This time, the da Vinci encounters an alien ship marauding in space, swallowing up any ship that crosses its path - at the latest a Starfleet ship. Is the ship even intact and its crew alive still? And if so, how are they going to be rescued?

 

What follows is an interesting tale about reality, dreams and how to differentiate between those two. Definitely one of the better entries so far, at least story-wise. At some points the characterization is lacking (not only in the overall sense as was the case with most of the other previous parts), but also that at some points I had the impression that this story should be set much earlier in the season, as some of the issues coming up (Soloman etc) were dealt with much earlier already. So, that's kind of redundant.

 

I'll keep reading until Wildfire which is said to be turning point, right now - but if, by then, the series hasn't managed to entirely captivate me, I'll likely give up on it. The characters are still too bland, the stories too superficial to satisfy me.

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: Articles of the Federation by Keith R. A. DeCandido

Articles of the Federation (Star Trek) - Keith R.A. DeCandido

Star Trek meets The West Wing should probably be enough to sum up this novel that is set after "Star Trek: Nemesis" and "Star Trek: Titan: Taking Wing" and tells of United Federation President Nan Bacco's first year in office.

 

There are numerous problems, the Reman situation after Nemesis, the aftermath of the events on Tezwa and the resignation of her predecessor (see "A Time to..."), B-4's legal status, a disastrous state dinner just to name a few, and we learn of them like in glimpses, filtered through various middle-men until the matter gets deemed important enough to reach the president's ear.

 

And this is perhaps this novel's biggest problem: It tries to emulate The West Wing a bit too much, we are led from meeting to meeting, people even meet on the hallways at random... but the characters themselves remain rather bland. Well, The West Wing had 7 seasons, this novel just 390 pages, and you can't cover everything within those. I love West Wing, it's one of my favourite programmes, especially the earlier seasons, so, of course, I was struck by the similarities. Once again, a morally sound president comes to power and has to sometimes do things of a shade of grey (or cover them up)... and of course, she has multiple wisecracking conversations with her highly-intelligent staff and an obsession with trivia and baseball. Somehow, I think all those quirks and meetings work better in a visual medium but I know I'm in the minority here, since within the TrekLit-fandom this is one of the most highly regarded novels.

 

But until the last quarter or so when a few moral issues were raised (such as a reporter uncovering what really happened on Tezwa and that Admiral Ross practically forced then-President Zife to resign, and let him be taken and executed by Section 31, or a Tzenkethi-child needing a surgery only a Starfleet doctor can perform who had been imprisonned by the Tzenkethi for 4 years), there was little to no emotional anchor for me. Granted, I was reasonably entertained, at some points amused (i.e. the translation of "ad astra per aspera"), but that was it. Unfortunately.

SPOILER ALERT!

Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold

Mirror Dance - Lois McMaster Bujold

This is a novel that grows on you. When I first read it back in 2005, I reasonably liked it. Except for Cordelia's Honor it was the best part of the saga up till that point in the narrative, but I didn't love it. So I only reread parts of it, but never in its entirety - until now. And boy, this time I absolutely fell in love with it. It has a bit of a slow start (which costs it the half star-reduction), but once the shit hits the fan it's one tour de force of psychology and emotion that keeps you biting your finger nails.

 

After 2 years, Mark turns up and basically kidnaps the Dendarii posing as Miles for a raid of House Baraputhra's cloning facilities on Jackson's Whole (where he was created as well). Miles races after him and arrives just as the mission fails spectacularly. He ends up shot in the chest and put in a cryotube which then gets lost in the following chaotic retreat. Mark and Elena have the unenviable task of relaying the news to the Vorkosigan parents which means for Elena a return to a difficult past - and for Mark a step into an uncertain future. But the race to recover Miles (dead or alive) isn't over, and Mark won't stop until there's certainty of his clone-brother's fate.

 

This is Mark's story, who he was, who he is and who he ends up to be. The various roles he has to or chooses to play showcase this, from impersonation, to reluctant and unsure son, to brother and business man - dealing with doubt, guilt, and all the aftereffects that his upbringing with Galen (which is elaborated on here) left him with. Add to that the torture he's put through here, and you get a young man who's somehow toeing the line towards insanity, but nevertheless has never felt more sane and true to himself. It's a veritable tour de force to come to that point, and some chapters are incredibly difficult to read (the black gang's emergence) and make no mistake, Bujold doesn't pull any punches here. This might be the most explicit book in terms of violence and torture against one of her main characters in this saga so far (and overall), and even immoral acts perpetrated by a main character, but it's so rewarding nonethess. Honestly, up till now I've never liked Mark, but in a way Bujold managed to bring him to life in just one (albeit very long) book just as much as she did with Miles. And the Vorkosigan-universe is richer for it.

 

Miles himself takes the backseat here, but of course he gains a new perspective in life - having an brother, not just a clone, for once not being in the heart of things... and a glimpse of mortality. But his resurrection doesn't come without a price as we'll see. Among all the psychology and character-drama the plot surrounding the Duronas and the despicable machinations on Jackson's Whole get a bit sidelined. But I guess we'll revisit both. Overall, I love the image of reciprocity in this novel: every action has a reaction, just like in the Mirror Dance, a popular dance on Barrayar, and that's transferred to practically everything that's going on here.

 

Other than Mark himself, the parts that most fascinated me (and the ones that I kept coming back to) are set on Barrayar: the effects Miles' not-quite death has on the Vorkosigans, Mark's introduction into this family, Aral's health crisis which suddenly turns an academic question of succession into a very real one, Cordelia going toe to toe with Simon Illyan, even the small glimpses and huge nudges of Gregor and Kareen Koudelka who both accept Mark for who he is from the start - not just as Miles's clone, but as an individual.

 

Overall, a stunning novel.

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: The Fall: Peaceable Kingdoms by Dayton Ward

Peaceable Kingdoms (Star Trek: The Fall) - Dayton Ward

This is the conclusion of the "The Fall"-miniseries. And come to think of the series as a whole, I still question the decision why the parts aren't numbered on the cover. Especially here, it's an illusion to maintain the statement that every single part can be read on its own without prior knowledge - yeah, that may apply to "Shadow" (and Revelations since it's the first part), but to the others (especially Chalice and Kingdoms) not so much. So why not be upfront about it and put the reading order on the covers?

 

But back to this novel:

 

While it brought the series to an ultimately satisfying (if a bit predictable) conclusion, the only really engaging parts where the flashbacks and the introduction of the Cardassian doctor. Everything else (Enterprise being redirected, Starfleet ships pitched against each other, last minute-rescues etc) felt a bit repetitive after the other parts of the series. "Ishan"'s story was an interesting one, it shed light on the occupation, its cruelty in exploiting Bajor and the Bajorans, and it highlights its last days, the sort of burned earth-policy the Cardassians employed. But to be honest, I didn't quite understand the reason for the identity change in the first place since the Cardassians don't change Baras' features to match the original Ishan's and kill all those who could identify Baras (and the late Ishan) anyway. So while the actual twist worked well, the reason behind it seemed contrived and that wasn't really explored all that well. But then again, I thought it would go in a sort of Iliana Ghemor/Kira Nerys-direction...

 

I also liked the way that exploration should be back on Starfleet's agenda after all the political upheaval. That's what has been missing since well before the Relaunch-novels, as the 9 part series "A time to" that came before Nemesis also dealt with political upheaval and conspiracies on the highest level. So it's time to go "where no one has gone before" again.

 

Otherwise the novel spent pages upon pages repeating itself (and its predecessors) which let my attention wander a bit - never a good sign. I observed the need to endlessly summarize previous chapters in quite a few ST-novels (David R George is another author who employs that manner of story telling...) now, and I wonder why that is necessary as I don't think the readers are incapable of retaining the memory of what they've just read. Fortunately, the action picked up speed in the second half of the novel, but during the first half it was a real chore to wade through those repetitions. I think much of the space used for those "summaries" could have been used exploring the aftermath, Ishan's removal, Bajor's reaction, the actual election (even if the election of the Andorian candidate was a foregone conclusion), even the race to get the information back to Earth/Louvois. Riker's end of the story, his confronting Schlosser, even the part where they got Velk out, all that got awfully short-changed. Why not show the actual events instead of just mentioning them in a conversation after the facts?

 

So, overall this is a rather average novel - it was an entertaining story, but it could and should have been more.

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: The Fall: The Poisoned Chalice by James Swallow

The Poisoned Chalice (Star Trek: The Fall) - James Swallow

This is the 4th novel of the "The Fall"-miniseries. The race to catch the culprit for Bacco's assassination continues. The Titan is recalled to Earth where Riker's promoted to Admiral. He's wondering about the reason for that when he receives a transmission from Picard who tells him that the Tzenkethi aren't responsible for the assassination, that it was Cardassians. So Riker starts snooping since the Ishan-administration still maintains the culpability of the Typhon Pact. And he sends Vale on a mission to find out the truth about what happened with Bashir and the Andorians. Meanwhile, Tuvok is recruited for a covert operation to capture the assassins, together with Nog and Tom Riker.

 

So, the story is pretty much divided into 4 plotthreads. All of them advance the plot surrounding the assassination, but unlike the other 3 novels of the Fall, this one isn't really a stand-alone novel. You definitely need to have read the "Revelations..." and "A Ceremony of Losses". 2 of the plotthreads, namely Vale's and Troi's are about uncovering the Andor-story... which is interesting in and of itself because the Ishan-administration managed to practically bury Bashir in a secret facility, just to shut him up. And they aren't really willing to listen to the Andorians, either. So, no one except for those directly involved (meaning Ishan, Bashir, Dax) really knows what happens, and what the administration did and knew. Therefore while it is important to take those steps within the narrative to uncover the conspiracy, for someone who read "Ceremony", who therefore knows what happened, these parts of the story are a bit repetitive, despite questions of loyalty by Vale's temporary crew etc.

 

That leaves Tuvok (and Nog and Tom Riker... I still don't really understand why he had to be included, to be honest) being part of a mission that ever gets more immoral when the perpetrators are delivered to a Klingon torture base instead of to Earth so that they can stand trial. Will Riker finds out about the mission and who ordered it, and eventually comes to the rescue... unfortunately, all evidence pointing towards Ishan is lost. The mission is quite straight-forward and predictable, that leaves Riker's part as the only actual plotthread holding some suspense because why was he promoted? And who's spying on him?

 

I think the last question is the most interesting one because as it turns out, Ishan apparently has a wide network of operatives who are willing to do anything, moral or immoral, to further their cause. And he himself as a Bajoran is willing to ally himself with isolationist Cardassian splinter groups to get rid of enemies. So, while the Fall is a pretty engaging mini-series so far, the Poisoned Chalice itself didn't impress me as much as its predecessors, unfortunately, because it suffers a bit from the "penultimate part of series"-syndrome, paving the way for the conclusion, but not actually leading any of the plotthreads there itself. Which is a bit frustrating perhaps.

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Long Mirage by David R. George III

The Long Mirage (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) - David R. George III

This novel picks up right where "Ascendance" left off with Kira reemerging from the Wormhole.

 

And hers is by far the most interesting part of the novel. First of all, she reunites with Altek Dans, and then returns with him to Bajor where she's faced with a schism within the clerical community - ones who like her believe the Prophets to be gods, and others who deny that fact, backed up by the artifact found on Bajor's moon. Once again her trust issues come forward, trust issues concerning her superiors, in this case the kai and her management of the situation. Granted, Kira's been burned quite often, but this becomes a bit tiresome because it renders her character stagnant if she's faced with the same problems whereever she goes, be it as an officer or as a vedek.

 

I enjoyed the Altek twist. It's obvious now and mind-boggling that this option didn't even occur to me. But in this case the endless repetition about him being from the distant past succeeded in pulling the wool over my eyes. I'm curious to see where this plotthread on Bajor is going next. I'm glad that the love-triangle with Ro and Kira wasn't really an issue, although I hoped for a better resolution with Ro because despite her (then) unsolved relationship with Quark, what she shared with Altek rang true.

 

Absolutely loved Kira's short reunion with Odo. Their relationship felt so real within the series, and George managed to rekindle that with just a few phrases. I'm also curious as to where Odo's is going next with the Dominion-refugees. I just hope that despite all the difficulties on Bajor and with the refugees, Kira and Odo are allowed to spend some time together.

But unfortunately all this marked just a third of the novel, the other 2 thirds didn't work so well for me as I'm simply not interested in either Vic or Morn. On the other hand, those plotthreads are led to a (temporary?) conclusion, so that's something at least. Quark and Ro's relationship is over. Wouldn't have minded them being a couple, but not if Ro keeps cheating on Quark and/or their goals for the relationship continue to differ. I could have done without the endless repetition of how hurt Quark is, or how sorry Ro is for hurting Quark... again, the situation is not that complex. Nog's obsession with restoring Vic was heart-felt, given that he in a way owes his recovery to Vic. But the situation within the programme dragged on way too long, and I'm not sure I like the sentient/non-sentient-conundrum. First of all, what's the agenda of the scientist? And secondly, we already had such a question with Data, the Doctor and with Moriarty. I'm not sure I need this issue on DS9 as well.

So overall, I really hope the next novel will focus on Bajor, DS9 (the crew still needs fleshing out after all), Odo, bring back Sisko... now that all those loose sideplots with Vic, Morn, and the Ascendants (in previous novels) have finally been resolved.

So overall, I really hope the next novels will focus on Bajor, DS9, Odo, bring back Sisko... now that all those loose sideplots with Vic, Morn, the Ascendants (in previous novels) have finally been resolved.
SPOILER ALERT!

Conclave by Robert Harris

Conclave - Robert Harris

The pope is dead... and 117 cardinals are about to seclude themselves in the conclave to elect a new pope. No, make that 118. There are 4 favourites, but as the saying goes: Who goes into the conclave as pope, comes out a cardinal.

 

Although it's mostly talk and introspection, Harris manages to keep one yearning for more. Especially his point-of-view character Lomeli who presides the conclave is a surprisingly relatable protagonist, with doubts and a crisis of faith that's heart-felt, especially the conflict between faith in Christ and faith in the institution of the Catholic Church. I think that's an important difference because lots of people have lost faith in the Church but not necessarily in God or Christianity. Unfortunately, for some officials that's often the same thing and those people, now looking for a new spiritual home, are left adrift, ripe for the picking for demagogues with unsavoury goals hidden within sweet promises.

 

In the end it's not so much a story about the election of a new pope but of a man regaining his own faith. That's where this novel very much succeeds. As it does in portraying a range of characters, from super-progressive, to manipulative, ambitious, world-weary, some deeply flawed, others shaped by circumstances.

 

However, the plot itself doesn't hold many surprises and much is left unsolved (the events in the outside world, the old pope's last weeks etc), but I imagine that's due to the constraints of the conclave's seclusion which doesn't lend itself to starting investigations. Still, I was captivated throughout but mainly to see if my predictions were right (and they were, every one of them), rather than because of unforeseen twists and turns. And I could have lived with that because it's still a gripping tale of introspection and psychology. But the final twist (especially since it's obvious from a mile away) was a bit too much and went beyond credibility, even more so in modern times. I think that Harris wanted to add something unique into his story - and I agree that at some point such a development will and has to come to pass. But the way this twist was introduced doesn't necessarily mean progress for the Church itself as long as an agenda that speaks of lasting and fundamental change within the structure of the Church isn't mentionned. And let's face it, the respective character and the story itself didn't need this. So, somehow, I can't help but think of this twist as some kind of trendy publicity stunt, and an unnecessary one at that, mind you.

 

Therefore, the ending did put a bit of a dampener on my enjoyment of this novel - but it's still a good and suspenseful tale.

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: The Fall: The Crimson Shadow by Una McCormack

Star Trek: The Fall: The Crimson Shadow - Una McCormack

This novel is another excellent entry about Cardassia by McCormack and closely follows "A Stitch in Time" and "The Never-Ending Sacrifice".

 

Tthere's a new political movement coming to power, Cardassia First, populist, isolationist, xenophobic, just on the eve of the withdrawal of the Federation from Cardassian soil. Civil Unrest is threatening, just as a Bajoran Starfleet officer is killed. Then Nan Bacco is assassinated, and the withdrawal put into question by the pro-tem UFP president. Garak and Picard work tirelessly to prevent open civil war on Cardassia and maintain the shaky alliance between the UFP and Cardassia.

 

Cardassia is a perfect example for a state that has never really known democracy, just an oligarchy or dictatorship, and now, still fighting the effects of the Dominion War, poverty, pollution etc, it's on the brink to fall back into old systems. I appreciate the matter-of-fact way of story-telling instead of swinging the moral hammer, because, yes, we see this every day, and how many states that only recently embraced democracy have fallen back into the abyss?

 

Garak's one of the most complex figures in all of Star Trek. He's a murderer, a spy, he dragged (together with Sisko) the Romulans into the Dominion War... but somehow he retained or regained a (shrewd as it might be) moral compass. He's not acting out of a need to prove himself or to gain advantage for himself, but for the good of Cardassia. And right now, what he perceives as the good of Cardassia aligns itself with reality. Let's see what happens when he's actually in power.

 

I enjoyed the letters which start almost every chapter, sent and unsent, by Garak to Bashir (and one to Parmak, his closest friend on Cardassia) because they bring insight into his thoughts and anguish. I loved the painting by Ziyal which is sort of his shrine to her and how he uses his memory of her to remain within moral borders. And I love Bashir's one reply warning Garak not to become his father.

 

McCormack leaves the reader to figure out all the emotional intricacies, just as she did in The Never-Ending Sacrifice. Her prose isn't really made for action-sequences, but it's perfect for relaying emotions, motivations... and slowly captivating her readers until they're hooked and can't put the novel down until it's finished.

 

This, together with A Stitch in Time and The Never-Ending Sacrifice is certainly a must-read novel regarding Cardassia.

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: The Fall: A Ceremony of Losses by David Mack

A Ceremony of Losses (Star Trek: The Fall) - David Mack

Shar asks Bashir for help when studying the Meta-Genome provided by the Tholians leaves the Andorians stumped in their search for a cure for their fertility crisis. Bashir obtains a whole copy of the Meta-Genome and invites fellow-geneticistis to Bajor to come up with a cure. And they are successful, but not everyone actually wants to help the Andorians. And so Bashir risks everything to reach Andor himself.

 

I have to admit, I actually detest the way Bashir's kind of flaunting his superior intellect around and, of course, comes up with an ingenious cure. But, in this case, my anger and disbelief rather rests with the rest of the Starfleet officers we know, since at least Bashir's motivation is true and heartfelt. I emphasize that because there always are those who just obey without question - but the characters we know, we saw develop over 25 years, should be above mere obedience. And I realize that in a military hierarchy you can't just question orders left and right, but sometimes when things are as obvious as here, there can't be any doubt or hesitation. So, especially Ezri with her 9 lifetimes worth of experience didn't really endear herself to me.

 

And so, we have a president pro tem of the Federation after Bacco's assassination who's using the Andorian secession to build his own base of power, practically using the Andorians as example for what is to come if ever any other member of the Federation should even contemplate an exit (blockade, misinformation, even covert military action, keeping a cure from a species on the verge of extinction). We have the Andorian government who are also withholding strands of the genome to the scientists because the ruling party wants to have a tighter hold on the rule first (fighting the progressives who'd arguably benefit from a cure which consists of rewriting the genetic code of the whole species). And we have the Typhon Pact who are trying to entice the Andorians into joining by giving them bits of the genome. All around, it's bad to be an Andorian right now.

 

In the end, the cure is delivered, it works, Andor is reapplying for membership in the Federation and the leader of the Progressives announces her candidacy for President fo the Federation, opposing the president pro tem. Maybe another nitpick here: the Typhon Pact and the government (before it's voted out of office) are awfully impassive, considering they have major stakes in the game. But by then, the book focuses more on Bashir than on the whole political situation on a larger scheme.

 

Bashir himself faces a life-sentence for treason in using the meta-genome.

 

The novel itself is, as per usual for Mack, well written, suspenseful and fast-paced. Since I haven't read the earlier novels depicting the Andorian crisis and secession, the background here is a bit missing. Another unheard plea to the publishers to include a "previously on"-section... Just one thing, though: if it needs 4 people to conceive one child, small wonder that the process is prone to flaws. Just one little aberration, and the whole balance is off.

 

Overall: engaging.

SPOILER ALERT!

Star Trek: Terok Nor: Day of the Vipers by James Swallow

Day of the Vipers - James Swallow

This book covers the years 2318 to 2328 - or rather, the day of official first contact between peace loving, religious Bajor and expansionist, war-torn Cardassia, up till the official start of the occupation.

 

It all starts when a Cardassian ship returns a lost Bajoran trading ship to Bajor. What is first seen as a friendly gesture by a race that some district ministers have contact with, leads to settlements of a persecuted religious minority (which bears similarities to Bajoran faith) and the presence of Cardassian military forces in Bajoran space. But Dukat and the Obsidian Order won't rest until Bajor is firmly under Cardassian jurisdiction.

 

This is a gripping account of the beginnings of Bajor's occupation, of how Cardassia slowly gains influence using puppets, sycophants, infiltrators and agitors and the actual occupation is practically a fait accompli even years before. It's a fascinating tapestry Swallow weaves about a forbidden religious minority that finds sanctuary on Bajor (but is used as a stepping stone in every way imaginable), about Dukat who abhors Bajor's richness in food (especially considering that his family is practically starving and immersed in civil unrest), its complacency, its strong religious foundation, about a kai who was shown in a vision an emissary would come, about the Obsidian Order's modus operandi and about the friendship of 3 Bajorans who are directly and indirectly affected by Cardassian presence on Bajor.

 

There are a few questions that remain, such as why Cardassia doesn't just invade, because Bajor has practically no defense ressources and invasion (or turning Bajor into part of their Union) was the goal from the start. At first Cardassia's still tied up with other military operations, so I'll grant them the first 5 years. But then? Perhaps it's the fact that although Bajor's in fact a conquered territory, that the Order managed to use their assets in a way that in the end it looked like the Bajoran government sanctioned, even asked for Cardassian troops to keep the peace. At least that's the reason (among others) why the Federation doesn't interfere. Bajor, after all, is an independent planet who decides its own fate - only that it doesn't really here.

 

But it's an intriguing tale about what it takes to make overt military action practically unnecessary, to destabilize a planet's government so that it practically asks for invasion. Compelling, and a bit frightening (especially given the recent talk about outside influence on elections) to think that one only has to manipulate a few spokes in order to get the whole wagon to tumble down. Definitely recommended - even if there are few better known characters in it, such as Dukat or Kotan Pa'Dar whose enmity with Dukat is explored a bit here. It just takes a while to really get going, but once it does it's difficult to put this book down.

Currently reading

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