Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Are You Awake? Prepare for Sight Unseen

Many, many, many moons ago I did some fan-fic writing and thought some sequels to The Next Generation episodes.

One of those episodes was a follow up to a rather bizarre episode from The Next Generation entitled Schisms and I had a crew being kidnapped and having to fend off the unnamed assailants once again. 

Sequels to TV stories also seems to be the order of the day with Simon and Schuster as The Savage Trade, Takedown and now Sight Unseen have all chosen to revisit events and races from the franchise's past. Just as a matter of course though I'm going to be dropping a few spoilers!

James Swallow's last novel was the brilliant The Poisoned Chalice, part of the rather epic The Fall quintilogy and my favourite of the whole series. In that respect this novel, which also focuses on the Titan, had one hell of a lot to live up to and I was a little concerned it wouldn't. Would Sight Unseen have the great story and lots of things blowing up that I hoped it would...???

Managing to hold on to his admiral's rank following The Fall, William T Riker gets his ship back as a mobile command centre and takes the USS Titan out to transport him as a new sector commander. His former first officer, Christine Vale finally gets a full promotion to captain and there are two new faces to join old familiars including Tuvok and Melora Pazlar. 

Both, of course, have their suspicious pasts whether from the planet featured in Enterprise's North Star and the new XO allied on the wrong side during the Nana Bakku assassination furore. Investigating the disappearance of a merchant ship and the Saber Class USS Whitetree it becomes quickly apparent that the Solanae are back.

The who? OK - remember I mentioned Schisms? Well these are the creatures from that story - one of the show's weirder moments and responsible for the amazing changing holodeck table because they're back, appear to be kidnapping sleeping crew and performing their experiments once again. Both the Dinac ship and the Whitetree have become victims to the creatures and it's not long before James Swallow ramps up the action to 11 and sees the Titan in seriously grave danger. Fair to say that she takes a lot of punishment during this book as the Solanae advance. Indeed their "second wave" is a mark of enemy brilliance by using the ship against the crew - almost a bit A-Team there Mr Swallow.        

As we said there are two significant new characters here. The first officer, Dalit Sarai is one whom you should despise but the wonderful thing is you just don't. She's brilliantly described early on in the story to make you look at her as an outsider and potential traitor however when we see her facing off against Captain Vale we begin to understand a whole lot more about her reasoning and why she is seen as a "supporter" of fake-President Ishan Anjar. Building the picture of an untrustworthy officer from the threads of The Fall is a sweet continuation of the story in a new manner and I found that Sarai was actually one of the best things about Sight Unseen; I believed in her conviction. Also new is Lieutenant Ethan Kyzak from North Star - y'know, the planet from Enterprise

The Skagaran officer is a bit of a loner too and his journey through this story only really kicks into gear in the later sections of the book. He's just as out of place as Sarai but both of them seem to find their way by the end of the adventure in sub space. Where this character could be taken I'm not sure as Sarai's arc does offer much more potential as you will discover in the course of the book. Let's just say that there are a few layers to this individual and it's not as clear cut as you may be lulled into believing towards the end. The crew does include Tuvok and also Melora Pazlar but one more notable returnee is Sariel Rager. 

Now a lieutenant commander she was one of the crew exposed to the Solanae in Schisms and was rescued by then-Commander Riker. In The Next Generation she was just another handful-of-episodes conn officer but here her life since then is mapped out a little and we get to see how this individual has developed since her tie on the Enterprise. That experience has shaped her life and almost determined a change in career. Her inclusion in Sight Unseen is very welcome and honours not just The Next Generation but that specific sixth season episode in all its obscure glory.  While the main story pits the Titan crew against the Schisms aliens, an equally interesting exchange is between Admiral Riker and his chosen successor for the ship captaincy, Christine Vale. 

Their relationship really is tested within Sight Unseen with boundaries pressured and lines still clearly in need of defining. It can't be easy for Vale to have her former commander onboard as a sector chief and still have a hankering for the centre chair. Swallow's work on their conversations and attitudes is perhaps the bigger draw for me with this story and kept me reading.  Yes, there are some great additional characters in Sarai and Kyzak but the wealth of backstory that is drawn on here to escalate the personal conflict especially from Riker's perspective is exemplary. 

I was always a fan of the bizarre nature of Schisms and this sequel asks just as many questions as it answers and luckily there's not even a hint of a holographic examination table anywhere to be seen. I don't want to blow too much smoke but I would go as far to say that this has been one of my favourite Star Trek novels for some time and recommend it to anyone who is familiar with The Next Generation and (but not essentially) that classic weird episode. Perhaps the only thing that was missing was a sequel to Ode to Spot Good stuff Mr Swallow (sorry it took a while to get this read) and I look forward to your new The Original Series outing!

Sight Unseen is available now from Simon and Schuster priced £7.99 ISBN 9781476783161. Are you a fan of the Titan series? Is this what you expected from their latest mission?

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