Friday, 17 October 2014

Fall-ing Over: Concluding Thoughts and Dayton Ward with Peaceable Kingdoms

It feels as though The Fall has been a big part of my Star Trek reading for a serious amount of time.

As series' go I've thoroughly enjoyed it although book two was a bit of a low however the later releases were brilliant, especially The Poisoned Chalice so thumbing open Peaceable Kingdoms was going to have a difficult act to follow. If we choose an old cliche, all the chess pieces were set in play ready for the final act. As cliffhangers go I literally closed one book and picked up the next to find out what was happening.

So raise your SPOILER alert to RED as we discuss the conclusion to The Fall.

While Riker and his activities on Earth are involved in this story, the main focus shifts away from the centre of Federation space to the voyages of the starship Enterprise under the command of one Jean-Luc Picard. Tasked with orders from friend and now superior Will Riker, the flagship commander is out to find the last piece in the puzzle and explain to the reader what the heck is going on.

Strangely though the adventure then takes a sharp left and you find that most of the action focuses not on the Enterprise but Doctor Crusher who, along with transport twin Tom Riker become the main protagonists of the piece. It's not something I expected and nor is the direction that the story goes. Beverley certainly holds her own here and turns out something of the hero discovering exactly what is at the core of the mystery although I did feel that her Cardassian doctor friend was a shoe-in for the last book. If he'd been around for a bit longer his impact on the story might have been more weighty than it was having him just in the narrative for book five - but then that's one of the issues of having five different writers turn their hand at a segment in the series.

Tom Riker held a significant role in the previous The Poisoned Chalice alongside non-returning (and conspicuous by absence) Nog and Tuvok. Much more likeable as a character than in his episodic appearances Tom becomes key here too, ensuring the survival of the Enterprise doctor and her plot-device Cardassian friend. This strand of the story is necessary as it fills in the backstory but it does seem to come at the cost of the main conspiracy story around Admiral Riker and the events at Starfleet Command which could have been expanded and made much greater in substance. In fact I never felt that Riker and his associates on Earth were in any depth of danger since the focus was strongly off-world.

There is space in the narrative for Picard and crew to fly off and do some investigating work but on the whole this is a lot more ground-based than the cover might lead you to believe. The crew of the Enterprise are placed in a difficult situation but it takes most of the book to get there and when it does, as I felt with the whole of the last section and the effective conclusion, it was over far too soon. From the Enterprise's intervention to the final moments it all swept by so quickly after five books of build up and a final novel in the series which had done so well to explain and detail precisely what it had all meant.

The interim presidency of Ishan Anjar following the assassination of Nanietta Bacco has run clean through this story since Revelation and Dust and while each novel has added a different twist to events occurring around that singular moment and thereafter, each has also provided morsels of evidence that something much darker is at work than is at first expected. We've had several possible assassins, involvement of Cardassian separatists, secretive Federation operatives with unknown agendas and even a split within the very membership of the galaxy-spanning organisation itself but Ishan has always maintained a presence.

Fortunately we get to see a bit more of the Bajoran pro tem president in the fifth book both in the present and the past which opens up his character but not in the ways that I was expecting. There's a lot more to Ishan than you might think and the part he plays is much less black and white. His approach is logical but the ends and means are perhaps crossed. Of the whole series The Poisoned Chalice was the strongest and provided a much more satisfactory journey towards the conclusion and hinted that the characters within its pages en masse would have more to do with the solution than the majority actually did. 

Revelation and Dust provided the perfect springboard to the series, placing us at the new Deep Space Nine but then the limelight on those players is swiftly shifted elsewhere and even their reappearances in A Ceremony of Losses doesn't give a lot to the final book. What you do come to appreciate is that while that Ishan story is the anchor that collects the series together this is perhaps looking more to further the cast and expand their horizons. By the end of Peaceable Kingdoms the literary universe is in a very different shape to how it started and not just because it has a shiny new deep space station. 

So what does this series mean for the future of the Star Trek universe in novel form? In terms of The Light Fantastic which was the next book to be published, very little, since that focused on Data, Lal and Geordi and avoided any references to the events of The Fall. However there are several loose ends which didn't get nailed down even as Peacable Kingdoms reached its conclusion. Going back to Book One, Revelations and Dust, what happened to Kira after the experiences she had within the wormhole? That never got answered and for all intents and purposes I guess she's still there. How will having Garak as the leader of the Cardassian people change their role within the Alpha Quadrant? How will he deal with the True Way who have been a constant throughout the series and appear to pose more of a threat to the Federation than the conspicuous Typhon Pact?

Then there's the whole issue with Ezri being released from prison with no charges following the events of A Ceremony of Losses and The Poisoned Chalice. Are those events going to affect her command on the Aventine and will they have any repercussions in the future? What too of the new Deep Space Nine? What's going to be different for Captain Ro and her crew?

Maybe the biggest question has to be over the future of one Julian Bashir who is still incarcerated following his involvement with curing the Andorian people which might have included delving into some top secret materials. Looking into future releases I believe that we'll have something of an answer to that in an upcoming Section 31 story - more on that as soon as we have a copy. The conclusion, as I noted, is somewhat rushed and not satisfying in the slightest given that I've spent a good few months reading away at the four previous installments, gathering information and building up expectations to a dramatic and jaw-dropping conclusion to be a little perturbed however the announcement that the Enterprise and her crew will be boldly going again on a deep space, long-term mission sounds highly promising and authors looking to dive into the exploits of Picard, Worf and the crew must be rubbing their hands with glee to know that the universe is their oyster and anything can happen. As with Voyager, the unknown will surely bring greater richness to literary Star Trek as we step further into the reaches of space.

Star Trek: The Fall: Peaceable Kingdoms is available right now from Simon and Schuster priced £6.99 ISBN 9781476718996. You can also check out our reviews of the other four novels in the series by following this link

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