Sunday, 27 April 2014

Greg Cox Takes Seven Back: No Time Like the Past

Of all of this year's Simon and Schuster releases, No Time Like the Past is probably the biggest risk.

The cover leaves you without a doubt who this crossover will focus on with both Kirk and Seven of Nine featuring. Indeed, not one of the more obvious partnerships in the Star Trek universe but hey, anything can happen especially when it comes to the written word.

From Kirk's perspective a delicate matter of diplomacy gets interrupted by the arrival of Orion pirates - and then the appearance of one former Borg drone. This leads into something akin to The Chase from The Next Generation as the crew of the USS Enterprise go sprinting around the galaxy with the green-skinned slavers in pursuit in an attempt to return Seven of Nine to the future.

Honestly? The plot is merely a device to bring Kirk and Seven into the same time and place. After about 100 pages I sort of forgot about the circumstances that had started it all as it became much more about the interaction between Seven and the characters from The Original Series, most notably Kirk, Spock and McCoy (just as it should be Mr Abrams). Straightforward it might be but the conversations between these people are key to the enjoyment of the book and to be fair it's much more of a reason to dive into No Time Like the Past.

The crew of Voyager do make a fleeting appearance at the start to send Seven on her way and while their essence is, sort of, captured, Cox has absolutely landed on what makes Jeri Ryan's character so memorable. The cold, almost emotionless, computer-esque logic is there in droves suggesting that he might want to switch to Voyager rather than The Original Series. Ok, there are one or two colloqualisms that I wouldn't have expected to have spotted (+Hayley Atherton I'm seeing these more now!) but I can let them go because this is a great enjoyable romp. For once it's not about the morality, a planet in danger, it's just a straight chase to the finish line.  I was totally engrossed in the narrative as Seven easily eludes Kirk's womanising charm and crosses intellectual swords to some degree with Spock. 

While Kirk is captain I think it would have been more interesting to give the focus of this book over to Seven/Spock as we had in Unification II with Data/Spock, putting another two of the observers of humanity together for key scenes. Between them here there are some wonderful little moments of one-up-manship that illustrate Borg perfection versus Vulcan stoicism and aloofness. That said, Kirk is not as strongly portrayed as the womaniser he seemed in The Weight of Worlds from last year. The captain is much more in control of the situation and while he has to share the spotlight with the Voyager character, it presents a much more even tale and, Greg, if you are reading this, No Time Like the Past is a big improvement on last year's addition to the catalogue.

Fantastically this story is rammed full of action sequences from starship chasing through to stampeding creatures and phaser fights galore. Be assured that Cox has hammered in as many redshirt deaths as possible within the 400 odd pages here. Why have one when you can stick in multiple disintegrations of your ever-expendable security force. Now I said earlier that the story is pretty much disposable stuff, it's the places that raise the game above average with trips back to key planets featured in The Original Series such as Gamma Trianguli VI from The Apple, Cheron from Let This Be Your Last Battlefield and Sarpeidon from All Our Yesterdays.

While you'd be expecting straight returns, Cox tracks us into the pasts of these worlds, allowing us a good, if fleeting, chance to understand more about what led these worlds to the point in which we viewed them back in the original show. Very clever that and not something I would have thought to do. It makes it much less run-of-the-mill and does entice you to keep turning the pages if only to see where the ship will be heading next and what untold secrets from The Original Series we will be allowed to spy on.

As you get further into No Time Like the Past however something weird does happen - it begins to fall a bit flat and, unfortunately, predictable. The chase relentlessly continues and then the cliches begin appearing. While it's great visiting different planets the format doesn't change each time - find crystal, incident, return to ship, resume chase. Not only that but the Federation ambassador plays to all the stereotypes; getting in the way and even has a sneaky little aide. More and more it becomes evident that the great idea of sticking Seven of Nine into the Kirk-era was just that - a good idea but once Cox became more deeply embroiled in the story that the plot unravels and the intriguing concept of The Original Series meets Voyager crumbles. 

Character-wise the secondary crew of Uhura, Sulu and Chekov really suffer here with very little to do apart from man their bridge stations. Fortunately given Seven's regeneration predicament which is extensively covered, McCoy gets a fair showing and even manages to be heavily featured in one of the Planet Incidents. His character is spot on, getting nicely crotchey and grumbly at all the right points. Scotty too gets some decent page time during the latter third of the book when the Orions play out a major set piece which should have been spotted a light year off. What leads to Scotty's lengthy appearance just seems extremely out of character for all concerned and seems as though the author ran out of chase sequences to plan. Again, Cox hits Scotty straight on the nail, all Highland expressions and all. The fear I do have that is avoided is that we don't descend into too many Northern cliches and haggis mentions. Good job.

As always with a Star Trek novel though there are a trunkload of references to the 79 classics scattered more than liberally throughout. I keep saying that there really is no need to flush a load of nods to The Original Series into every novel released. Great that we know the material but they do need to be reined in at some point soon because there is a great deal of repetition between authors - Khan here, Gorn there, Mugato on that page...I might start a campaign. One thing I am impressed with from Mr Cox is the redshirt body count. If one turns up you can pretty much guarantee they won't last the chapter. If they make two chapters they've somehow managed to get a reprieve. 

It's very unusual for me to find a Star Trek novel that deteriorates like this one does plot-wise. I loved it though just because it gives the opportunity to place two diverse characters into an unusual situation. The Kirk/Seven or in fact any Seven meets an Enterprise crewmember are the meat of this book and the plot really is secondary. It's all about how Greg Cox masters the interaction, the nuances and the sparkle of the characters he has chosen to feature. Here, I can say it's been a success on every level even if the story is average/below par and isn't a big thinker. It's something I didn't expect to think here however it sort of makes sense in the end. In comparison to his 2013 effort this is 100% the better read and I bounded through the 388 pages with ease. Three or four sittings will easily get you a good way through and you'll enjoy every last second of it. While not this year's biggest brain strainer in the Simon and Schuster catalogue it's a risk that has paid off. Go out and read it because it's a page turner that will entertain at the very, very least. I think you'll find that it's worth the price. Could this perhaps be the launchpad for more of these unexpected crossover episodes? Greg Cox, over to you.

So what were your thoughts on No Time Like the Past? Was it was to team up Seven and Kirk? Let us know below!

Star Trek: The Original Series: No Time Like the Past is available now from Simon and Schuster priced £6.99 ISBN 9781476749495

While we're on the subject of Simon and Schuster, we've also had confirmation direct of the rest of the year's UK releases.

Star Trek: Seekers: Second Nature - David Mack

Star Trek: Seekers: Point of Divergence - Kevin Dilmore

Star Trek: Voyager: Acts of Contrition - Kirsten Beyer

Star Trek: Section 31: Disavowed - David Mack

Star Trek: The Original Series: Foul Deeds Will Rise - Greg Cox

Included here are the cover shots (unconfirmed) for Beyer's Voyager novel as well as The Next Generation and The Lost Era novels due out June/July and a mock up cover for Seekers that looks pretty good too.

I also discovered that the "secret project" book due out in November was actually an updated, expanded and long awaited Ships of the Line featuring all the images that have lavished the series of calendars since the original book arrived about eight years ago. The first was a brilliant breeze-read with every image a brilliant interpretation from a large range of artists. Knowing what material we will be getting means I'll be adding this to the collection without a doubt. Sadly no plot details are forthcoming at the moment for any of the novels noted here but you can guarantee that as soon as we get them, they'll be on here.

You can also look back at our preview in January which detailed all the releases from January's The Peaceable Kingdom through to Seekers. That also includes the Enterprise novel Tower of Babel and The Original SeriesSerpents in the Garden. Just for you, here are the cover shots for those two which are due out in April and May respectively. 

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