Sunday, 13 November 2016

The O'Brien and Nog Show: Jeffrey Lang's Force and Motion

There is a growing trend among the novelists in the expanded Star Trek universe to do the unexpected. 

With a seminal anniversary trilogy plus a story focusing on Roberta Lincoln, 2016 is becoming quite the page turner for the franchise. Force and Motion only adds to the brilliance coming out of the Simon and Schuster stable this year with a Deep Space Nine story that stays comfortably away from the namesake starbase and carries its ethos successfully to another location through the personas of Chief O'Brien and Lieutenant Commander Nog. As with other recent stories I've already mentioned it's actually the supporting cast that makes the book so captivating and here we have the very overdue return of Captain Benjamin Maxwell. 

So where's he been since he was booted out of Starfleet for killing a ton of Cardassians (The Next Generation's The Wounded)? Well it seems he's gone all Richard Kimble/Littlest Hobo/Highway to Heaven moving from place to place and becoming something of a hero in the process before landing up as a janitor on civilian science station Robert Hooke.

Of course even at this point he can't stay away from some form of incident and you know full well that the good intentioned arrival of Deep Space Nine's engineers will only exacerbate circumstances. 

Force and Motion deals with Maxwell's life after The Wounded exceptionally sprinkling the events of his life across the story from his time in rehabilitation in New Zealand through to his release and subsequent adventures. In a way the 'A' story based around the civilian starbase almost becomes the secondary interest as we get into the meat and bones of just who Maxwell is and the character that existed beneath the seemingly unhinged starship captain. In fact those moments also allow us a glimpse back into the earlier career of Miles O'Brien and his involvement with events post-Setlik III and following Maxwell's arrest for taking matters into his own hands.

Certainly both Nog and O'Brien benefit from the character exploration here and linking Maxwell to a later point in the chief's career offers the chance to see how their relationship has changed as well as their personalities. Nog is definitely a lot more mature and level-headed within Lang's Force and Motion while Miles is placed in a position where his loyalties and opinions are pushed into question by the reappearance of his old friend and commander.

Any Deep Space Nine novel will draw me to it in a flash but I wasn't initially too sure how one set away from the station nor contain the majority of the regular literary cast would work but I was soon put at ease through Lang's narrative. Force and Motion very quickly becomes a character piece once the scene is set. I think viewers opinions of Maxwell were never negative because it was clear to understand his motivations and this story goes to reaffirm that there truly was a good and dutiful man commanding the USS Phoenix.

The corrupted scientist storyline (Finch) woven here is perhaps the biggest failing within this wonderful character exploration. The lead scientist seems to purely act as a catalyst for the story rather than being fully fleshed out. Indeed, the two artificial spiders seem to have better development but he does offer a counter to Maxwell as the action heats up. It isn't rocket science(!) to work out who on the station has chosen a darker path nor that there is a creature of the week but Lang does provide some excellent set pieces to vary the story, even taking us outside into the vacuums of space to aid  a stranded transport. 

As said though it does feel that the real focus here is Maxwell and the story of the connection between O'Brien and his former commanding officer. That 'A' story does twist Maxwell and the Deep Space Nine visitors into its framework and place them in a genuinely dangerous situation which assists in keeping a fair pace with the story but even at that strands climax I was so much more impressed with the work that Jeffrey Lang had put into bringing the former Phoenix captain back from The Next Generation obscurity. He might well be one of the franchises best 'Whatever Happened To?' characters (along with Tom Riker) and here we finally get a decent answer that certainly has legs for future additions. Could Maxwell return? Yes please and I would be voting for this author to take on that challenge without question. 

Force and Motion is available now from Simon and Schuster priced £7.99 ISBN 9781501110733

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