Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Star Trek: The Original Series - The Shocks of Adversity

The Enterprise ends up catching a lift this month as Kirk and crew deal with The Shocks of Adversity

It's one of the more unusual stories I've encountered in the Simon and Schuster range and is the first to effectively be a "bottle" story with most of the action taking place on board the ship with only an initial away mission giving the crew a breath of Class M air. As usual, beware because I might just allow a few spoilers to slip in...

First though, let's do a bit of scene setting. As the ship navigates the fourth year of it's five year mission, an encounter with an apparently hostile alien race stirred up with a case of mistaken identity means that the Enterprise is severely damaged and left stranded light years from a Starfleet repair yard. Begrudgingly Kirk accepts aid from a ship from the Goeg Domain, a group of aligned worlds and races, who agree to tow the starship to their facility for the necessary repairs. All seems simple enough but give it a few chapters and then things really start to heat up.

William Leisner is not a Star Trek author I am so far familiar with but his style is distinctly different to everything I've encountered before with The Original Series. It seems, well, smoother. The narrative flows well and there appears to be much more depth to the story which did mean I was keeping track of events very closely. The central "guest" aliens here are the Goeg Domain and their enemy the Taarpi. It's a story that does seem to draw some parallels with current conflicts in the Middle East as well as events which occurred some 70 years ago in Europe. While this is very subtly done it draws on something that perhaps other Star Trek novels have failed to deliver on - the ability to hint at real world events within the story. 

Going back to Roddenberry himself this was one of the things that pervaded the 1960's show and a prime example is A Private Little War of course. Here those parallels are underplayed to the crisis facing an increasingly powerless Kirk as his ship receives unwanted but necessary assistance far from home.

One thing that becomes evident is that you do need to understand the Goeg Domain pretty quickly here. The shame of it is that while I enjoyed the story all I could think of when reading anything to do with this new people was "Xindi". Effectively the Domain is set up in something similar which in itself was a slight alteration of the Dominion but I could have done with Leisner perhaps signposting a little more clearly which strand of the Domain characters were from more often. Indeed, there is a scene where some survivors are rescued and it took me a while to recall, find and read back what race they were and its significance to the tale.

It's a great concept and it does all work to the conclusion however there is a sense very early on that you know where this might be leading. Indeed, once the Enterprise is coupled to the 814 - the Goeg vessel, it's the ONLY thing you think about. Each page becomes a step closer the inevitable and it doesn't disappoint.

The characters that Leisner chooses to focus on from the Goeg vessel are wonderfully written. The captain, Laspas is not two-dimensional and seems to grow as the novel progresses. In fact I found the more interesting passages of the book to focus on Laspas as well as his engineer N'Mi and also the doctor. We learn about their culture through these characters and how they fit into the structure of the Domain. Piece by piece the picture builds and we understand what is going on within this society. Leisner has even managed to create some of their mythology to help within the frame of the story and take his creations from being simple guests to significant characters in their own right - and there's even the option for a sequel dropped in their as well. Surely an opportunity not to be missed?


For the main crew each is treated well and gets a decent amount of time to play here thanks in no part to The Shocks of Adversity being heavily set on board the Enterprise and the 814. Not only that but both M'Ress and Arex from The Animated Series get in on the action for some of the time which feels a little unusual. I found myself having to reset my brain occasionally to stop it from drifting into animation and try to keep the setting in the "real" 3D world. While their appearances are not in any way necessary nor do they have any effect on the direction of the novel it's good to see their inclusion and an author not afraid to mix these two eras of Star Trek history together.

I did find myself feeling sorry for Kirk here and that's another strength to Leisner's writing. James T gets a rough deal, no two ways about it. An away mission goes slightly wrong,. his ship gets attacked and he's quickly driven into a corner with very few options to choose. For a man who doesn't favour the No Win Scenario this seems to be the nearest he gets to experiencing it first hand. He has absolutely no way to go other than trust the Goeg commander. If you're expecting a lot of action then I'd say you might be a little disappointed because while there are significant action sequences throughout which add to the intensity and discomfort that permeates the story it's much more about Star Trek's origins.

Now I did mention an away mission there and yes, there is an obligatory redshirt in the scene. This character does pop up now and again through the story as another voice in one aspect of the observations of the Goeg doctor who is paired off narratively with McCoy. He does act to balance against the more grouchy chief medical officer but even then you know he's this time's disposable cast member and it leaves only a little impact. In fact in comparison to other recent The Original Series novels McCoy is decidedly ungrouchy. Nice change to see him in a strong position with something to do which exposes a major part of the story as you will see.


Spock on the other hand seems to be a little sidelined here and it's unusual not to see him at the forefront of the action but it's probably Scotty and McCoy who get larger roles within the book due to their pairings with crew from the 814. These relationships are key in that understanding of the races in the Domain. Seeing it through the eyes of the doctor and chief engineer we see how events unfold and change through the course of the book as the reluctant partners become uneasy with each other. How Leisner has written Doohan's character here is a great reminder at how he could be a serious crew member and not a more comedy element that we are greeted with during the last two JJ Abrams outings. This is a man with priorities and a love of his ship. Using the areas of expertise of the main "narrators" gives them a way in with the Domain representatives but actually leaves you with very little new information about the Enterprise crew themselves - something I only really thought about after turning the last page.

Leisner's characterisation might not be super-brilliant but it is sufficient here where the themes, I personally feel, are of greater importance and show how far humanity has come in comparison by this point in the Star Trek future. It's much more about the situation here, the slow build-up, the reveal and the importance of the matters that are uncovered. Leisner's Goeg and Taarpi concepts are well developed and their explanation and execution Spock-logical.

The Shocks of Adversity allows us to examine the Domain and the Taarpi in detail and come to our own decisions as we go. It's also a wonderful example of how propaganda can be effective and we get to see this from all angles. I wouldn't want to spoil too much of the book but we are directed into several opinions and viewpoints along the way which are reflected in the conclusion and ensure that we are of an opinion of right and wrong by the time the encounter is complete.

Placing the crew effectively at the mercy of their hosts does take a little something away from the action and almost neuters the regulars. In a way they become the observers who nod us in the direction of events and allow the guest characters a stronger role here and that isn't a bad thing. It can be all well and good for the crew to be prominent but I've found recently where the narrative has had a slight twist (Allegiance in Exile) it's made for a great read. Kirk, Scotty and McCoy are in the front line but we learn as they do. 

The fact that the ship is at the mercy of these "allies" is portrayed through the slow feeding of information and I found this especially evident in the activities of Sulu and Chekov while they served on the 814. You can fee the unease and Leisner has done a wonderful job of crafting in just that edge of suspicion through the story. Everything seems to be just that bit too good and trusting from the off but in some ways this adds to the nature of the story because the seeds are laid so well and the powerless nature of the crew on the Enterprise seems to pass to the reader who is equally in a position unable to do anything about events.

To conclude though this was a good read. It's not one that will go down as a classic however it's a solid story that does have hints of other Star Trek series however it's unusual tag of the Enterprise being in a weakened position and maintaining that for some time is a great twist and shows that the ship and crew aren't as immortal and unstoppable as we might have believed on occasion in The Original Series. It's certainly a different angle to view the regulars from.

William Leisner is a solid writer who focuses more on background and events than perhaps the nature of his characters but again, this is a refreshing change as there seems to be a great deal of importance placed on the characters being representative of their TV counterparts and how close they have come to the portrayals by Shatner and co. I'm beginning to come to the conclusion that like JJ Abrams authors should write the characters in their own way. Leisner doesn't stray from the fold but a more relevant and observational tale means that we get into exploring those final frontiers with a different perspective.