Thursday, 18 June 2015

Going Rogue with Riker in Takedown

I'm right getting into these novels at the moment (and yes, well aware I'm a few months behind with this one but bear with me...)

The Fall was amazing, The Missing was a joy to read and now I've clamped my hands around the pages of John Jackson Miller's Takedown. Yep, it's one of those posts likely to be chocca full of SPOILERS.

While the Deep Space Nine novels have the unfortunate fact that they are more about a location than a set team of characters, The Next Generation novels have managed to retain Picard, La Forge, Worf (Beverley when she's not off-ship) and here, Troi and Riker. Actually, the crew of the Sovereign Class USS Enterprise hasn't changed that much in a good while with security chief Smrhova and Glinn Dygan at helm once again. Shame there's no Data but he's taking a very different line at the moment which, truth be told, I'm not totally getting.

So, to Takedown. It's a story that starts out pretty simply with a conference and a secret Federation mission which allows our regulars to be joined by Captain Ezri Dax and the USS Aventine then things seem to take a very rapid downward spiral centred around the respected admiral.

Takedown itself is allegedly a weapon which eliminates sub-space communications as the first step in a military offensive meaning that the enemy force can't talk to each other. Initially it's destruction seems to be the reason for Riker taking control of the Aventine but events escalate and soon it's the Aventine that's taking the offensive against key installations belonging to allied powers across the Alpha Quadrant.

This makes Takedown part thriller, part chase, part action movie as Picard and the Enterprise-E come back once more from their exploratory missions to go face to face with their former shipmate. It's an effective mix coming from an author I have not read anything by but Miller does seem to have grasped the Star Trek universe very effectively. There are a couple of precursory nods to days of the past, the Khitomer conference being one lined up very closely against the actions taking place here but it fits perfectly with the story. 

Oddly at times it seems that the Enterprise crew are nothing more than guest stars in this novel with a fair weight of the first half of the book occupied with Riker's actions and the events engulfing the Aventine. Given once the flagship arrives it becomes a more integral part of the story but I would now question the need for subtitles on the novels due to the mix of characters that has occurred since Nemesis. As with those Deep Space Nine novels, the boundaries have become somewhat blurred in the last 15 years. There's no Beverly, very little Troi and zero Data. 

Examining the characters it's difficult not to give too much away but needless to say that Jackson has done a steady job of bringing the cast to life. However,  even though I like his work I still can't take Ezri Dax as captain of one of the Federation's most advanced starships that seriously. I have real difficulty seeing past that green lieutenant from Deep Space Nine's seventh season.  In The Fall the Trill worked because she wasn't having to act in that senior authority role of starship commander and was playing off Bashir's renegade doctor role but here with her ship in dire peril the character fails to deliver the gravitas I would hope to expect. 

The Riker/Picard friendship continues to be well explored and switching their hierarchical relationship around with Riker as the more senior officer does add a new perspective to The Next Generation and Miller has both very well laid out here so it's easy to hear Stewart and Frakes in the roles. There were a couple of out of place colloquialisms that would be more suited to the 21st Century than the 24th but I ignored those since they were insignificant over 350+ pages.

The manner in which Takedown unfolds is perfectly paced, creating tension and danger from the first page and putting Admiral Riker right at the centre of a mortal dilemma. The peace summit he attends is key to proceedings and while the story is "narrated" by the admiral, his motivations and reasoning are unpicked very, very slowly. Indeed, the exposure of what is actually going on is intermingled with the activities of Dax and her crew attempting to regain control of the Aventine

The issue I do have with Miller's work is his choice of protagonist. While initially it might seem that it's going to be the rather sappy Romulan senator Bretorius there's a Higher Power working behind the scenes and while his involvement with the story are a good part of the story they aren't as major as you might be expecting. This Romulan isn't your run of the mill ruthless military-experienced leader, he's had a fairly poor career, less than distinguished and Takedown provides an opportunity for him to take advantage, becoming perhaps more than he might have expected and gaining a Warbird along the way. While the attention on Bretorius does detract from the other powers summoned to the Far Embassy for a mysterious summit his path through the novel is immersive and I did will him on for something more diabolical.

Trouble is, the Higher Power that gets the big reveal actually made he halt for a second because it seems to go against everything that we learn in the first half of the book about Takedown and all the knock-on effects of this apparent subspace super-weapon. I'm definitely not saying that it obliterated the second half of the book but it did feel like an under-delivery on the story. If the set-up from the first half of Takedown had been continued and there was a much darker exposition then this could well have been one of the best Star Trek books I've read for years. 

Due to what does happen, the novel takes an abrupt change in direction which means that there is something of a reset at the end for all but our unfortunate Romulan senator. I would have preferred there to be more serious repercussions considering the actions that occur even if there is foreign influence but you can't have everything and there has to be a point where you stop screwing over whoever gets to write the next novel in the series (!) which I believe is Armageddon's Arrow and will be reviewed by Dan Adams shortly (damn good cover there).

As a result Takedown has some great ideas, is very solidly written but left me a bit in the cold since it felt as though there was a brilliant opportunity to get gritty with The Next Generation. Mind, I am looking forward to Miller's next novel because if there's one thing he did manage it was to keep me turning the pages and wanting to see where it was all going to go.

Also a little additional note - I'd like to thank @kvreads from Simon and Schuster for her support in the last three years. I'd like to offer our congratulations on her new role in the business and wish Kate all the best! Keep in touch and thank you!

Takedown is available now from Simon and Schuster ISBN 9781476782713 priced £7.99

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