Friday, 17 July 2015

A Rocky Road with Tony Daniel's The Savage Trade

I'll kick off with a spoiler alert purely because I don't want to ruin Takedown for anyone so either close or scroll down as I have a mini-rant!

We seem to have hit something of a Homage Focal Point in the literary universe with the last The Next Generation novel bouncing back to its fourth season and reintroducing the Cytherians, The Missing located Katherine Pulaski, Foul Deeds Will Rise returned Anton Karidian's daughter Lenore from The Conscience of the King and now in Savage Trade we're back in the company of the rocky The Original Series beings, the Excalbians. Yay.

With a starbase attacked and out of contact it could only be a mission for Kirk and the USS Enterprise and it doesn't take the crew too long to track the perpetrators - which is certainly a refreshing change  When they encounter the Excalbians however I wasn't sure if Daniel was taking the mickey and had lost the plot since we're introduced to one in the form of George Washington before revealing the name of the alien race last seen onscreen in The Savage Curtain from 1969.

It's a fairly uneven novel and certainly not one of my favourites. For the majority of the time I found it very difficult to take seriously as historical figures appear all over the place including Admiral Horatio Nelson and Benjamin Franklin among other notables. We are reminded that these are Excalbian "refugees" in disguise but still this is maybe a story concept too far as their actions post The Savage Curtain led down a terrible path that led to an encounter with something called the Demiurge which destroyed their world when they captured it for sport as they had with Kirk and Spock.

Having read Takedown recently I was hoping for big things from Daniel but Savage Trade hasn't supplied to my demand(!). In fact it felt like The Phantom Menace. While we could have had a good, action-filled story that harked back to The Savage Curtain and The Original Series the novel gets rapidly bogged down in negotiation, the establishment of an independent Excalbian group and the L'rah'hane who are absent for a massive portion of the time. I genuinely lost interest in the story and ended up taking a longer time to get through this than I expected and thereby longer to get to Crisis of Consciousness.

Tony Daniel has a great style and can write the characters very well. His Vulcan ambassador, Valek was a great addition to the standard cast especially when we got into the backstory of her and her twin brother's relationship with Spock. While she was intricately involved with the Excalbian storyline, the narrative between her and Kirk was far more inspiring and provided better character analysis than any other part of the story. There's even a bizarre Sybok throwaway line (literally one line) that will either make you smile or wince dependant on your appreciation for The Final Frontier. Valek starts out very much as the stoic Vulcan but has more character development than anyone else it seems and makes her the most compelling element of the story. A shame we'll probably never see her again. I also liked the play-it-safe Captain Anvit from the Montana who made for a nice diversion if only to "play" to the stereotypes of all other 23rd Century Starfleet captains except for Kirk. However, the introduction of these great characters still couldn't pull me away from the average-ness of this story.

One line won't put you off but I really felt like nothing happened. There was a bucket-load of promise at the beginning with this new enemy attacking, the Excalbians turning up in all their Earth-historical weirdness and a chase ensuing with the Enterprise carring one of those classic stuffy diplomats but like watching Time and Again after Caretaker you wonder right away where all that potential got flushed to? Where's the conflict? The danger and the power of the author to will us towards the gripping climax?

I got none of it. If Tony Daniel came up with the plot I can see that he has attempted to go for a different, more subtle tack which allows for more talking, expression and supposed exploration of the cast but this all gets wasted since the story drags like a warp engine in fluidic space. Even then the cast of Excalbian copies just doesn't cut the mustard. They don't exude their personalities and while Yarnek takes us back to the core of the third season episode of The Original Series even his rocky posturing within the body of George Washington left me somewhat cold. Daniel's last Star Trek novel used the Horta as it's main protagonist in Devil's Bargain and I'd be keen to see if his next novel will be a complete work of his own not borrowing elements from classic episodes.

What adds insult to injury might be the space pirates. One of the concepts that Gene Roddenberry himself avoided like the Terrellian plague and was bent ever so slightly for Gambit in The Next Generation's final year, it's one more piece in this uneven tale. There are some great ideas here including the discovery of the supposedly lost Hradrian race by Sulu and Chekov but then that element dangles for a few hundred pages before receiving an average, forseeable payoff battle that left me, once again, colder than space.

I am a fan of the Excalbians and of the original episode but the unique nature of the race along with the ethos of that story seem to have been lost and over complicated here. Personally I'd skip it and head over to Armageddon's Arrow or maybe Crisis of Consciousness which was released recently. If I've utterly missed the point on this novel I can only apologise but not my Earl Grey.

Is Savage Trade a better book than I make out or is it one to pass by?

Savage Trade is available now from Simon and Schuster priced £7.99 ISBN 9781476765501

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