Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Star Trek: Voyager - Protectors - Long Awaited Return...?

Since the announcement of a new Star Trek: Voyager book I had been unable to contain my excitement, especially as I was asked by +Clive Burrell to do the review. 

I eagerly awaited its arrival looking forward to spending some time with my favourite characters in the Trek universe. I anticipated it would take me a week tops to read this book being one of those obsessive people that when I start something I'm like a dog with a bone. 4 weeks later I finished the book, and that's only because I spent six hours on a train with nothing else to do.

Let's start at the beginning....

That appears to be an ironic statement in itself as unbeknownst to me this is book four? of an on-going series. Not normally one to be phased by this situation, like my colleague +Mark Thwaite  I love Star Trek and have never had any problems jumping into the middle of a storyline before. With this book I felt like an original series red-shirt, beamed down to a planet to face my impending death.

The book beings with Vice Admiral Janeway; having been offered command of the Full Circle fleet, or what remains of it following the events in the previous books, she has been ordered back to Starfleet headquarters for a review following her assimilation by the Borg, her death and subsequent reanimation by Q. This storyline centres more on the political aspect of Starfleet command and their attempt to remove Janeway from service. 

Her time is spent with various counsellors discussing her actions following the destruction of the transwarp hub in the series finale Endgame; her mother and sister; and a subplot involving the Paris family whereby Tom Paris' mother is attempting to gain custody of his daughter Miral and Janeway is attempting to resolve the situation.

This plot explores the vulnerable side of Admiral Janeway and her insecurities in leading the fleet. Feeling responsible for the devastation by the Borg following Voyager's return Beyer shows a different side to Janeway, one which didn't sit right with me. I don't know whether this was because I've always seen Janeway as a strong character who plays a motherly role to her crew and now she is doubting herself and all the decisions she has made. Is this something Janeway would do? I don't think so. Can I also add that the relationship between Janeway and Chakotay... Really, did no-one else watch seven seasons of Voyager because there was no chemistry there!!!

Meanwhile in the Delta Quandrant, the USS Voyager commanded by Captain Chakotay and USS Demeter commanded by Commander O'Donnell have travelled back to a system that was referenced in the season two episode Twisted. In order to prove to Starfleet that continuing exploration in the Delta Quadrant is worthwhile, Harry Kim convinces Chakotay that the waveform first encountered nine years ago downloaded a distress call into Voyager's database which wasn't discovered until years later after Harry had deciphered the message. Voyager sets course, with the aid of the newly installed slipstream drive, to find the waveform and offer assistance. However, nothing can be that straight forward can it? 

This was an interesting take by Beyer on what really can only be described as a classic Star Trek episode, something weird happens and that's the end of it. Not really exciting enough to continue, Ms Beyer would disagree. I think Voyager encountered a lot more interesting species that could have been continued in a novel but it seems that opinion isn't shared.

Discovering a cloaked area of space inhabited by the titular "Protectors" who are trying to save a dying ecosystem called the Ark Planet, both Chakotay and O'Donnell must decide whether to help the Protectors and if this violates the Prime Directive. The relationship between O'Donnell and his first officer is quite strange with O'Donnell spending most of the time in his quarters while his first office is in his place on the bridge. This may be explained in a previous book but is very confusing to a new reader to the saga.

This is the main arc of the book and centres around what can be described as a first contact mission and finding ways to circumvent that pesky prime directive in order to help the waveforms. Sound boring? Yeah it is. It's one of the 'nothing really happens' episodes in the middle of the season and is forgotten quite quickly. In fact I've got the book to hand as I type this because I'm struggling to remember what it was actually about.

Can things get more interesting I hear you ask? Well.... there is another plot set in the Beta Quadrant that involves a Borg who has been severed from the collective. Starbase 185 encounters a ship heading towards them with unrecognisable life signs. The occupier of the ship is beamed to the Starbase and it is later revealed to be Axum, last seen in season seven's episode Unimatrix Zero. A former love interest of Seven of Nine, Axum was able to experience Unimatrix Zero whilst regenerating. Following the destruction of Unimatrix Zero, Axum became a resistance leader in the Beta Quadrant and was never heard from again. How will Seven of Nine react to this news I wonder.....

Being near death there is only one person in the universe they can call to save the day, and that would be Voyager's very own Doctor. This is where I imagined things would get complicated, the classic love triangle comes into play, but the Doctor's behaviour wasn't right, he was indifferent to Seven of Nine. At first I thought the translation of the character onto a different medium couldn't match the talents of Robert Picardo, but it seems that someone has been playing with the Doctor's programming which is explained towards the end of the book.

Meanwhile on board Voyager Seven of Nine is having vivid dreams of Axum which doesn't sit too well with her current beau Counsellor Cambridge. (That's right, the budding romance between Chakotay and Seven of Nine didn't develop following the conclusion of the season finale, one of the many changes that Beyer has introduced into the series that I struggled to follow).  A new Borg concept is explored here, drones severed from the collective contain technology known as 'catoms'. This isn't explained particularly well, it seems that they play a part in healing an injured drone, something which Starfleet Medical are very interested in. As Seven of Nine has these catoms in her body Starfleet Medical have requested her presence in the Alpha Quadrant.

Another thread to this plot is a disease that Starfleet Medical believe is spread by these catoms hinting they have ulterior motives for both Seven of Nine and Axum, something which isn't explored in this book but looks set to continue in the next instalment. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

The book moved at impulse speed right up until the end when we suddenly jumped to warp seven with an ambush and a space battle. This was as exciting as the book got and it wasn't until this point that I actually wanted to continue reading. Split between space exploration and the personal lives of the crew I felt like something was missing..... excitement maybe.

Phrases such as "Like most expectant mothers, B’Elanna had been hoping for ten little fingers and ten little toes. The rest, including the child’s gender, was gravy. But something in the knowledge that this was her son, Tom’s son, filled her with awe." Didn't endear me to the book.

This quote is taken from the first chapter of the book and using the phrase gravy in a Star Trek book isn't something I expected and filled me with a preconceived notion of where it was all heading.

 I wanted to love this book but found myself deeply disappointed with ninety per cent of it. The redeeming feature was the last couple of chapters where something exciting finally happened. Would I go back and read the other books in the series?... No, I'm afraid Beyer hasn't drawn me into the series with this book which felt very much like a filler to tie the readers over until Acts of Contrition will be released in September. Although this is something that can be done in a television series I don't believe a book should be setting the scene for the forthcoming instalments. A television series is commissioned for a season so filler episodes are expected but a viewer only has to wait a week for the saga to continue. With a novel the reader has to wait considerably longer and may have forgotten about the sequel altogether, something that is likely to happen with this book.  Will I read the forthcoming continuation? I think I will, the last few chapters peeked my interest and I'm hoping that the author was just setting the scene for the upcoming epic battles about to happen. Looking at the synopsis for the sequel it seems I might be in luck. Janeway has taken her rightful place in the Delta Quadrant commanding the full circle fleet and several of Voyager's old adversaries have come together to form a pact to bring down Voyager's new alliance with the ominous Confederacy of the Worlds. Sounds promising to me.

Star Trek: Voyager: Protectors is available now from Simon and Schuster priced £6.99 ISBN 9781476738543

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