Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Star Trek: Enterprise: Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures

My last encounter with Enterprise as a series was the final episode back in 2005 and that was, as we will all remember, less than stellar.

So this latest Enterprise novel from the halls of Simon and Schuster is something of a voyage into the unknown. A lot seems to have happened since the final episode and in essence only the characters actually align this to the show in any manner. So be warned there might be SPOILERS as we open the pages and read on...

There is no Enterprise and for me the whole nature of the show was about those first exploratory steps and initial technological advances. It's a difficult concept to grasp but in some respects it is honouring the memory of the short-lived series by expanding the story into the evolution of the Federation.

In A Choice of Futures things have moved on and the beginnings of the Federation are starting to evolve but as always there are some dark nasties looking to cause trouble from the wings and disrupt everything. Our familiars from the series have all moved on, whether into command of other starships or more senior positions at least. Even dead ones seem to have, as seems to be the trend with Star Trek, the ability to return from beyond the grave.

I have two differing opinions on this novel. One says to me that Enterprise novels should be confined to the arc of the series but in another heartbeat I know that moving events forward in time and defining the galaxy of the 23rd and 24th Centuries. What we get is kind of a mix up of lots of things and at the end of it not a lot to show. 

I spent a great deal of the first 200 pages not really getting where this was going. There were some nice chats about promotions, lots of talking about what they might do, some chats about relationships, a few words about an enemy called the "Mutes", a bit of eating and two thirds of the book seemed to have drifted by. I was not impressed and I got the sense that there was a lot of filler here. Most of the focus is on Archer, T'Pol and Reed with Sato and Mayweather filling out the background. For a lot of the time they are barely more than bit parts which is a shame but reflects exactly how they were in Enterprise.

Don't get me wrong, Christopher L Bennett tries to make this interesting but it's as though he's not got a lot to work with and fills out the novel with lots of nice little character bits but no serious, hard-hitting stuff until much later but the problem is that by that stage I really didn't care. I was looking forward to getting into this book BUT the problem is that it's all buildup with a group of characters that just don't seem to lift off the page and do anything vaguely interesting.

Archer for one seems totally neutered as an admiral, spending time hoping around between ships and the Federation Council playing mediator. Sitting on that very council is Enterprise guest-star favourite Shran and his initial introduction belays that the character has chilled out since we saw him in the series. That in itself is a real shame as I would have hoped that this individual would have managed to light some kind of fire within this book and make it engaging. Sadly that's not the case and Shran spends a lot of time doing a lot of time sitting around...chatting.

The villain here in the form of the Mutes just don't get that threatening and I never really believe their case because the bulk of the book does what it does best - talks about them, builds them up and then leaves them in a position which can only make them something of a disappointment. Their reveal could have been great and pivotal to the plot but after dragging out the "action" for a long time I didn't care that much. Sorry; I just wasn't fussed.

Aside from the fact that Enterprise is missing the Enterprise in all but a few off-hand "oh yeah, this is based on that series" references the crew are just bland, even more so than many fans may regrettably recall from the series. Bringing Trip "back" from the dead might have seemed like a great idea somewhere along the line but it just adds a further insult to the injury that was These Are the Voyages.... While that might not have been the author's fault you do get the sense that he's had to work with it. Trip should have stayed dead because it only makes that error of a final episode even more horrid and his return feels apologetic - did we even need him to be in Section 31?!

OK, OK, it's pretty apparent that I am not giving this book a good review but there are some great redeeming points within the pages that are worth finding through all the misjudgements and stilted pacing. Bennett works a treat in around the transporter systems and their potential dangers. It's a great notion and something that only a couple of characters (McCoy and Pulaski) ever really hint at. Here those concerns are met and covered; the only thing is it's thought another one of Those Chats that litter this publication. 

Nicely for those who like a good bit of continuity we also get to meet one of the former Dax hosts, Tobin who is working on a project for the Federation of, without doubt, the utmost importance. It's a nice nod to the franchise and Deep Space Nine in particular which I would never have expected to be referenced in an Enterprise novel. There are more nods to the Kir'Shara, the Xindi and even, oddly at a time when I've just discovered a show is being made about Garth of Izar, Axanar which played such a pivotal role in his life and career (here's the link to their Facebook page)

Perhaps though a highlight of the book and one that did stick with me throughout was a section dealt with starship design and why the Federation would be going along the lines of Earth's ships rather than those of the Vulcans or the Andorians. It's a decent answer and I'll give that one to Christopher L Bennett, it's a question that I'd never asked but when it was proposed here it did make me think. The reasoning is particularly nicely explained. I also did like the way in which one story strand brought back the USS Essex and Captain Bryce Shumar who were featured in The Next Generation's Power Play. I didn't expect their addition so it was a nice diversion in the plot. The challenge with these s well as the extra crew involved on the Endeavour and the Pioneer is that they aren't the main cast and as such their relationships and input into the story just don't excite. Sorry, but while it does feel like they are essential to the story their personalities are a little on the flat side.

In the last year I've read a lot of Star Trek novels for SKoST and this has to be bottom of the pile by some distance. It would even make me reconsider reviewing any more Enterprise novels in the future. The recent Eaglemoss release of the NX-01 relit my interest in this much maligned spawn of Star Trek and when I come to rewatching the series in some months time I hope that time has been kind and that A Choice of Futures isn't how it was back in the day.

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