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Star Trek Titan (Book 1): Taking Wing

February 5th, 2010
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I’ve written a lot on this site about Pocket Books’ series of post-finale Deep Space Nine novels, as well as the series of post-Nemesis Next Generation novels.  But I haven’t made much mention of another top-notch series of novels that has been a big part of Pocket Books’ exciting efforts to move the Star Trek universe forward: the continuing adventures of Captain William T. Riker and the starship Titan.

There have been six Titan novels published so far, with more on the way.  Before beginning the latest novel (set after the cataclysmic events of David Mack’s Destiny trilogy, which I reviewed here), I decided to go back and re-read the series in its entirety.  Over the next few weeks (hopefully it will be weeks, and not months!) I’ll be bringing you my thoughts on all the novels in the series.

Today, we’ll start with Taking Wing, the novel that kicked everything off, by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels.

After almost a decade of near-constant conflict with alien races such as the Borg, the Cardassians, the Klingons, and, of course, the Dominion, it seems that the United Federation of Planets has finally returned to a state of peace.  As such, Starfleet decides to return to its central mission of peaceful exploration and commissions the construction of a new class of starships, the Luna class, to be sent out into the unexplored regions of the galaxy to seek out new life and new civilizations.

Newly-promoted Captain William Riker (whose promotion to captaincy was one of the only decent story-points to be found in the final Next Gen film, Star Trek: Nemesis) is filled with excitement for this new mission of exploration, and he sets out to assemble the most biologically and culturally diverse crew in Starfleet history.  (More on the Titan’s crew in just a moment.)  Unfortunately, the events of Star Trek: Nemesis (in which the clone Shinzon led a Reman plot to murder the Romulan Praetor and every member of the Senate and usurp control of the Romulan Empire for himself, before he too perished in conflict with the U.S.S. Enterprise) have left the Romulan Empire fractured and in chaos.  Titan‘s mission of exploration is postponed so that Riker and his crew can travel to Romulus in the hopes of mediating some sort of power-sharing agreement and stave off a catastrophic civil war.

Taking Wing is an absolutely phenomenal novel — probably the strongest of the Titan series, and one of my favorite Trek novels from the past several years.  I really loved the Romulan storyline.  I enjoyed the way Mr. Martin & Mr. Mangels picked up the pieces from Nemesis — they really considered things that the filmmakers did not, such as what the consequences of Shinzon’s failed plot would be, and they crafted a thoroughly exciting and engaging storyline out of those questions.  There have been several novels that have fleshed out the world of Romulus (particularly the works of Diane Duane and Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz), and this book stands proudly with those.  Indeed, I really appreciated the way this story made a number of references to those stories as well as to many of the different filmed Trek stories that featured Romulans.  I like the way they playfully address the two different names that have been given for Romulus’ capital city; I loved seeing Pardek (from the TNG episode “Unification”) again (albeit briefly), I loved seeing Donatra (from Nemesis) again, etc. etc.  I really love the Trek novels that take the time to delve into the politics of the Trek universe (such as Keith R.A. DeCandido’s terrific novel Articles of the Federation), and one of the reasons that Taking Wing really shines for me is the attention to detail given to the lengthy sections that describe the fractious Romulan political situation.  Martin & Mangels don’t shy away from the complexity of the situation, and they avoid a too-easy solution to all of the problems.

The other aspect of this novel that is a lot of fun is all of the “world-building” that Martin & Mangels do for this new Titan series.  Much time in Taking Wing is spent introducing us to Riker’s crew.  There are some familiar faces: his wife Deanna Troi is on-board as Head Counselor and Chief Diplomatic Officer, Christine Vale (introduced in the “A Time To…” series of novels) is First Officer, and there’s also Alyssa Ogawa (a familiar nurse on the U.S.S. Enterprise from many seasons of Next Gen) and Melora Pazlar (from the 2nd season DS9 episode “Melora”) who supervises Stellar Cartography.

But, as noted above, Riker has set out to assemble as diverse a crew as possible, and so we are introduced to a number of wonderful new characters, several of whom are from entirely new-to-Trek alien species.  Among this inter-species crew is new Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ree, who is a fearsome Pahkwa-thanh (resembling a small dinosaur); Chief of Security Lt. Keru (who was introduced in the novel Section 31: Rogue as the lover of Sean Hawk, who was assimilated by the Borg in Star Trek: First Contact), a Trill; Commander Xin Ra-Havreii, the Titan‘s designer who takes over as Chief Engineer, who is an Efrosian (the same race as the President of the Federation in Star Trek VI and the “Deltan” Lt. Ilia from Star Trek: The Motion Picture); Science Officer Jaza Najem, a Bajoran: Engineer Torvig, a Choblik (a diminutive race equipped with bionic enhancements); Counselor Huilan, a S’ti’ach (who is described as resembling a blue-furred bear with extra arms and dorsal spines); Chief Geologist Bralik, a talkative Ferengi; Flight Controller Aila Lavena, a Selki (an aquatic species) and many, many more.

I haven’t even mentioned two other characters who I wasn’t expecting to see appear in this series, but who (as I was happy to see) have major roles in this novel.  The first is Lt. Tuvok, who I always felt was one of the only interesting characters on Star Trek: Voyager, and who is really well-used here (though boy is he put through the wringer).  The second is Admiral Leonard James Akaar.  Akaar’s birth was seen in the Original Series episode “Friday’s Child” — he was named after Kirk and McCoy because they helped save his mother’s life.  Recent Trek novels have made a major character out of the all-grown up Akaar, who is now an influential (albeit often grumpy) Admiral in Starfleet.

As you can see, there are an ENORMOUS number of characters who appear in Taking Wing.  (There are quite a few more who I haven’t even mentioned.)  But under the steady hands of Mr. Martin and Mr. Mangels, I never felt overwhelmed or confused, as a reader, by all the familiar and unfamiliar faces.  Instead, somehow, I felt that Martin and Mangels spent the time to give proper attention to each one of these myriad characters.  They strike a perfect balance between giving everyone something to do in this novel (no character felt extraneous to me) while leaving lots of room for the many interesting faces, new and old, on-board Titan to be further explored in future installments.

Taking Wing works successfully as a stand-along adventure, and also as the “pilot” for the new series of Titan adventures.  It is also a critical piece in the detailed, exciting post-Nemesis universe of interconnected Star Trek novels that the talented Trek authors have been producing for the past several years.  It is not to be missed.

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