Monday, 21 July 2014

The Lost Years: One Constant Star - What Have We Missed?

There's a big gap of canon material between the end of the Enterprise-B scene in Generations and the flashback scene in All Good Things...

Which means it's a huge opportunity for the novels to mine and One Constant Star is my first step into this void with David George III as my guide for this adventure captained by Demora Sulu.

I received three novels in this package - this novel plus Serpents in the Garden and Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel - but George's addition to the series was always the one I'd been looking forward to reading since it was announced. I do enjoy reading the ever-expanding universe through the eyes of Kirk, Picard and all the others but in One Constant Star there really are no constraints apart from contradicting anything televised. This is a blank canvas of extraordinary scale even with the characters themselves since we only had brief glimpses of them onscreen in 1994 and then only in the case of then Enterprise-B captain John Harriman and his then-helmsman, Demora Sulu.

Kicking off with a mission featuring those two characters, we're then flung forward from 2309 to 2319 and a mission to a seemingly deserted world called Rejarris II where all, of course, is not as it seems. There's no suggestion this will be anything but incident filled (and a happy jaunt down to the surface and back for some flower picking would make for a fairly dull read) and the haunting, desolate nature of the planet leads into mystery solving coupled with monsters, portals, phaser-fire and occasional character back-story filling.

The latter point is pretty essential since we haven't met any of the main characters bar two and for a newcomer to The Lost Era I found this to be rather handy. There were also some references to other events within the "Time Gap" but this was a book surprisingly light on nods to any of the televised series and I really appreciated that. In fact, I found that not tripping over countless hat-tips to Khan, the Klingons on Organia, Tribbles or the Khitomer Accords a refreshing change. It also demonstrates that the writers can be free within the text and not have to rely on established material when they need to show their expertise in the franchise. There are a few peppered throughout but please, can we take this as a good example of how to respect the fans and not overload the references for the future just to show the author's understanding/justification of the franchise.

I'll also give a nod to the rear cover here because it's not the usual "blah-blah" plot synopsis and leaves some fairly big chunks of exposure for the reader to uncover as the story evolves - and I don't mean in the last 20 pages. In fact Harriman's return to the story once we've set the tone in the prologue isn't as soon as you'd expect and it allows the crew of the Enterprise-B under Demora Sulu to get a decent shot at page time. It's a fairly eerie start to the main part of the novel but there's always a tag to keep you turning the page and I've been hoping for a Star Trek novel like this for a few months now. The environment we start out in is not deadly or terrifying but acts as a great counter to the later events and setting while also presenting several questions that only time with the subsequent 300+ pages will help you answer. The lack of concrete evidence and fact that we begin with in One Constant Star is just a fraction of the tapestry that will keep you enthralled page after page.

While I'm not super-familiar with this literary crew due to my lengthy sojourn from the novel releases over the last decade or so, George made me give a damn about them from very early on. Yes there's the usual blurb on background to set out where they've come from but One Constant Star is much more about a crossroads in their careers with at least three of the main characters facing fairly life-changing situations as part of the central plot - and that's even before Harriman makes his arrival. Aside from Demora Sulu, the key people in this expansion are Commander Xintall Linojj, a Boslic who saw much of her childhood under Romulan occupation and has the mental scars to prove it and Security Chief/Second Officer Tenger, an Orion who chose a different path in his career than you might expect from the green-skinned slavers. 

I didn't feel that these characters were stereotyped either and having an Orion onboard did make for more interesting situations; I'm not sure how the maroon on green would look in reality but I found the security chief involving since he is placed into a commanding situation very early on. Linojj too was compelling to read more, again, for her journey here rather than the tragic backstory. Capable when placed into a command situation the events of One Constant Star do challenge her perception on life and I hope that all three of the command staff get more outings to explore the after-effects of this adventure.

Demora too has her fair share of action here although most of it is while separated from her command and in a hostile environment. Her predicament really left me with some serious worry lines because I could not see a glimmer of how their strand would be completed, even as I entered the last third of the book. It doesn't place her into some enemy confrontation, more of a fight for survival with some genuinely terrifying challenges to deal with.

Harriman too has benefitted from 20 years of literary review and is definitely a better, more rounded captain than he came across in the opening segment of Generations. Alan Ruck attempted to do him some justice in the spin-off Of Gods and Men but he seems to develop much more on the page. While Harriman's impact is limited within the story to a prologue and a return later (not really a giveaway since it's in the back cover synopsis) he's much more likable and while his return is almost Kirk-Generations in it's timing it makes a lot more sense and certainly adds to all that has happened.

In fact the now-Admiral Harriman dominates the latter third of One Constant Star and made it eminently more readable. His relationship with his wife is perhaps a fraction cliched but the reasoning behind his actions is commendable - there's even a point where something that makes very little sense gets a fairly rational explanation before we can nitpick it to bits. I really loved his return to the Star Trek fold - a shame he never got more canon screen-time to develop.

The Enterprise crew meanwhile is a lot more diverse than it's predecessors thanks to the removal of a movie or TV budget although the more significant individuals are humanoid and since Harriman's elevation to the admiralty there have been changes. In comparison to the unbelievably static nature of Kirk's crew's careers, there are certainly more things happening in the lives of all those we meet here. This doesn't mean it's necessarily easier to relate to them but they are very accessible within the events of the novel and feel that touch more human when we see that there has been some progression in their lives. Oddly there's no major villain here either so the whole focus of the novel is on the crew for once. It's only when you get nearer the conclusion that you realise it's not the standard Enterprise versus Some Form of Evil but more about how events affect those who are unwilling participants. It's a survival story; a learning curve if you will, maturing some very green explorers into greater characters - many of whom I hope to meet again in future volumes of The Lost Era.

Explaining just what happens here would ruin this rather excellent read and I found it very hard to read or do anything else until I'd closed the final page. The twists aren't on every page but I would advise you to be aware of those throwaway lines and occasional side-points that crop up because they're not as throwaway or occasional as you might be thinking - and as I thought while I hammered through the story. While the story uses the lesser-spotted Enterprise-B as the vehicle here, it doesn't play that big a part in the narrative and I might have liked to see more of her in action although, again, I do nod to the author for keeping fixated on the human element here and placing the perils of the cast above the metallic hull of an Excelsior Class starship.

That alongside the more in-depth character evolution is what seems to stand David R George III ahead of his contemporaries at present. Both Allegiance in Exile and Revelation and Dust have been two of my favourite novels from the Star Trek line in the last year or so and with One Constant Star that trend has easily continued. The only issue I did have as I closed in on the final page was how easily it did seem to get wrapped up after such an impressive buildup and threads of potential but it's all resolved so hurriedly and I think it could have benefitted from a bit more exposition and maybe two chapters more. For those of you who are perhaps looking for Star Trek that is a little more varied to read than a return to the adventures of Kirk or Picard I would give this one a big recommendation. I do have a personal leaning towards the movie era and with George I felt that I had returned there once more. I certainly keep my fingers crossed that more of The Lost Era is uncovered for us to enjoy and that the next one carries on just where One Constant Star leaves off.

Star Trek: The Lost Era: One Constant Star is available now from Simon and Schuster priced £6.99 ISBN 9781476750217

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