Book Review: Star Trek: New Frontier: Missing in Action
Publication Date: February 28, 2006
Publisher: Pocket Books
· Peter David
· Star Trek.com
· Peter David
by R.J. Carter
Published: February 17, 2006
I don't make it a habit to read much of the Star Trek books. I don't necessarily avoid them -- I just have a lot to read, and thus I must prioritize. I use certain rules. What's the newest? What's the smallest?
And, of course, the important question: Who wrote it? Books by certain authors bubble up to the top of the stack, like beach balls in a swimming pool. Neil Gaiman. Scott Westerfeld. Patrick Carman.
Peter David makes Star Trek books that are interesting to non-fans (or at least fans who aren't quite so ardent as others.) Among his best works are the popular Imzadi and The Q-Continuum. In Q-Squared, he actually tied together something that had bugged me about Q ever since John DeLancie first appeared on the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation, namely: What's his relation to Trelayne from the original Trek? (You'll have to read it for yourself to find out -- and it may or may not be related to this book in specific.)
Missing in Action is one of the New Frontiers series of stories that take place in the Star Trek universe, using mostly characters of David's creation, yet strongly tied to people and places fans already know, whether it be ones as well known as Captain Elizabeth Shelby (seen in TNG) or Arex and M'Ress (only seen the Star Trek animated series.)
Mackenzie Calhoun is the captain of the U.S.S. Excalibur. He's a risk-taking maverick who has cheated death enough times for even those closest to him to think there's maybe something a little spooky about the guy. He's a wise-cracking hero in the vein of Indiana Jones, whom I consistently found taking mental shape in my head using the form of Bruce Boxleitner (perhaps because David was involved with the Babylon 5 space opera.) While enroute to the New Thallonian Protectorate to head off a civil war, the Exalibur inexplicably finds itself confronted by a spaceship that dwars the Federation vessel as though it were a fly against a blue whale. It's weapon is one that opens a wormhole in space, tossing Calhoun and his crew completely out of this universe and into one where all of space is a viscous jellylike substance where the laws of physics -- even the laws of Star Trek physics -- no longer work. It's a universe where two races are each bent on the genocide of the other. Only one side has the technology that can return the Excalibur home -- the other lays claim to the moral high ground. Calhoun has to decide which side, if any, he's going to side with.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Captain Kat Mueller of the U.S.S. Trident (late of Captain -- now Admiral -- Elizabeth Shelby) encounters an adrift Romulan vessel: the Spectre, helmed by former Federation officer, Soleta. The death of the Romulan Praetor has created a vacuum of power, leaving the Spectre without support and up for grabs by all. Barely escaping intact, the Spectre goes to the Federation for help -- much to the chagrin of both the crews of the Spectre and the Trident.
The relationships in David's series of books are deep, intricate, and complex. Elizabeth Shelby is married to Mackenzie Calhoun, who also had prior relations with Kat Mueller. Soleta left the Federation when it was learned she was part Romulan and seen as a traitor -- yet she saved Elizabeth Shelby's life and holds a deep admiration to emulate Calhoun. Mac's son, Xyon, is in love with Kalinda, the sister of the leader of the New Thallonian Protectorate, Si Cwan, who is married to Federation Lt. Robin Lefler. Which is about the only way I can lay out the players without writing a review the size of the book itself.
The aforementioned civil war is the result of Kalinda's wedding -- not to Xyon but to the son of another lord -- which ends with the groom dead in Kalinda's room. When a traitor to New Thallon creates an opportunity for a deadly bombing, Si Cwan sends his wife away for her own safety, resulting in a Desperate Housewives squad of Federation officers -- Shelby, Mueller and Lefler -- to disobey Starfleet orders and head back to New Thallon to search for the missing Excalibur and investigate the true causes of the political tensions.
The strength of David's writing when he's on is seen in his dialogue. It's written with such a natural flow that even a Vulcan can toss out a smartass comment and it still comes across with believability, such as this scene where Excalibur medical officer Selar questions Xy about his activities:
There are subplots left dangling here -- specifically involving Tania Tobias and her visions -- which will no doubt figure largely in future New Frontier novels. And there are other plotlines that find themselves wrapped up with finality in this book, as the embattled New Thallonian Protectorate undergoes a shocking change that longtime readers of the franchise will not see coming, guaranteed.
Selar watched her go, then turned her attention back to Xy. Her eyebrows knitted as she glanced at the work he was carrying. "And what are you up to?" she demanded.
"Trying to develop somehting that may kill the captain."
"Let me know how that goes," replied Selar, as she turned and headed back to the observation ward.
As I said, I don't read a lot of Star Trek books. But I'll read Peter David, anytime. I've used Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game to hook people who don't like science fiction into reading science fiction. I've used Alan Moore's Watchmen to hook people who don't like comic books into reading comic books.
And I have a wide variety of product to choose from to hook people who don't like Star Trek into reading Star Trek -- and they're all written by Peter David. Hey, it worked for me.