Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Mining It: Greg Cox' The Antares Maelstrom

One of the benefits of a lockdown situation is that I can catch up on some Star Trek novels.  

Next up on the reading list is Greg Cox’s The Antares Maelstrom. Trekkies will immediately know this location from The Wrath of Khan being one of the places the movie’s protagonist will chase Kirk around before he gives him up. Here for the first time we get to find out just what it is during a mission set in the era of The Original Series

With a mining boom on Baldur III putting pressure on resources, the USS Enterprise is dispatched to assess and control the situation. The destination for fortune seekers however is on the other side of the notorious Antares Maelstrom placing Deep Space Station S-8 under incredible strain. The outpost is the final waypoint before making the trip to Baldur III and is totally unprepared for the demand. At the other end of the scale there’s the planet itself now also feeling the pain. 

Set up as a minor colony, the residents and visitors are now overworking the power systems with new equipment not yet on line. In fact the settlement has the ship which brought the colonists to the planet sitting right at its heart as a source of power and not in the best or most stable condition. As you would come to expect from a Star Trek adventure its up to Kirk and crew to deal with the variety of colourful rogue characters, local authorities and the slightly incapable staff of S-8 and iron out all the issues. 

What Greg Cox does differently is in establishing three story threads. This seems like a lot to handle but it actually works to flesh out the book and develop a much broader picture of the crew and the area in which this story takes place.

It's also not a book that you can dip in and out of for this very fact. You need to be able to trace what's happening with Spock and Chekov on their side mission to Yurnos while also tracking precisely what is going on with Scotty and his work on Baldur III's ancient Thunderbird colony ship and then there's Sulu managing the situation back on S-8. The fourth strand admittedly is the tie back in to the Enterprise but for once Kirk and the iconic vessel take a serious backseat once the captain has given out his orders.

Spock and Chekov is a great partnership although their story ultimately doesn't seem to provide a decent conclusion however the balance of emotion to logic within their narrative is excellently presented. The youth and exuberance of  the ensign to Spock's more mature attitude plays well in their convert mission although it doesn't seem quite as important to the whole as we get from Scotty or Sulu.

We've seen in previous Star Trek novels the way in which Sulu's character has been moulded and directed from his helm duties in the series to give him more command responsibility which is something I know was hit on massively in David R George's excellent Allegiance in Exile many moons ago.  It's a nod to his future role on the Excelsior and a certain fondness for the lieutenant who does get a lot more to do in the novels than he ever did on screen. 

Scotty's role in The Antares Maelstrom is a lot more action hero than he ever got chance to do in The Original Series.Usually his exploits were contained to the Enterprise engine room and Cox here allows him some time out on an away mission leading him into danger but nothing that the Miracle Worker can't handle. Scotty doesn't benefit from the expanse of personality that is handed to Sulu. The engineer pretty much works by the book and keeps it in line while Hikaru is allowed a little character breathing space to be able to deal with all the different individuals and situations he encounters on S-8.

There is the usual abundance of references back to specific episodes. Again we're faced with them being flagged and signposted. I know the book has to be accessible to casual viewers/readers but it continues to feel that we have to have them explained. With Discovery and Picard we have avoided such visual brutality, allowing these Easter Eggs to be something to catch on repeat viewings. The novels just don't even attempt to be subtle. Please, can we have a story where we don't need to refer to other events purely for the fanbase wink? Please? 

The Antares Maelstrom is quite a satisfying read taking us off-ship, away from the familiar grouping of Kirk, Spock and McCoy with two of those three being inconspicuously benched for most of the novel. This one works well because it steps away from established Star Trek expectations putting Sulu and Scotty most prominently well outside their comfort zones but utilising the skills that we know - or will know them for. 

It's a good book and a therapeutic break from the current franchise dominance of Discovery and Picard with a refreshing take on long established characters and a story that is constantly on the go. Go pick it up!

You can order The Antares Maelstrom from Simon and Schuster HERE

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