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Star Trek The Lost Era (Book 1): The Sundered (2298)

February 26th, 2010
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Back in 2003-2004, Pocket Books released a terrific series of novels entitled The Lost Era that chronicled the approximately seventy-five years between Captain Kirk’s death in Star Trek: Generations and the launch of the Enterprise-D in “Encounter at Farpoint,” the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I thoroughly enjoyed this series when it was initially released, and I’ve been wanting to re-read these novels for several years now.  Since the cliffhanger at the end of Taking Wing (the first novel in Pocket Book’s Star Trek Titan series — read my review here — following the exploits of Captain William T. Riker’s new ship) referred directly to the events of the first Lost Era novel, The Sundered, I decided to go back and re-read that novel before proceeding on to Titan book 2, The Red King.

Set in 2298, five years after Star Trek: Generations, The Sundered presents us with an adventure of Captain Sulu and the U.S.S. Excelsior.  Star Trek VI introduced the idea that former U.S.S. Enterprise helmsman Hikaru Sulu had been promoted to captain of the Excelsior, and The Sundered picks up his story as the veteran master of that vessel.  Also aboard the Excelsior are several familiar faces: Pavel Chekov is Sulu’s first officer, Janice Rand is his communications officer, and Christine Chapel is his chief medical officer.  As established in the Voyager episode “Flashback,” the young Vulcan Tuvok is also on-board, though struggling to deal with the illogical nature of all of the non-Vulcans in Starfleet.  We also learn that a young Leonard James Akaar (born in the Original Series episode “Friday’s Child” and re-introduced in the last several years of Star Trek novels as a stern elderly admiral in the post-Nemesis Next Gen era) is on board as well, and had at the time a close friendship with Tuvok.

At the risk of repeating what I have written in previous Trek novel reviews ad nauseum, I am continually delighted by the interconnectedness of the last decade’s worth of Pocket Book’s Trek novels.  Though set almost a hundred years earlier, The Sundered fits in perfectly with the current batch of post-Nemesis Next Gen novels and with the new Titan series, providing a number of interesting pieces of backstory for characters featured in those other novels.  (It of course helps that The Sundered was written by Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels, who also wrote the first two Titan novels, Taking Wing and The Red King.)

I haven’t even mentioned the main thrust of The Sundereds story yet.  Tenuous peace talks with the violent, xenophobic Tholians (enigmatic aliens first introduced in the classic Original Series episode “The Tholian Web”) are imperiled when the Excelsior crew discovers the Tholians’ escalating conflict with a race of aliens from outside the Milky Way galaxy called the Neyel.  Parallel to that unfolding story on the Excelsior, Martin & Mangels chronicle the tale of the ill-fated Vanguard colony, one of five L-5 colonies in near-Earth orbit that were constructed in the 21st century.  Beginning in 2053 (about a decade before Zefram Cochrane’s first warp flight, as seen in Star Trek: First Contact) we follow the travails of the men and women aboard Vangaurd… as well as their descendants as their story unfolds over two centuries following a disaster that changes their destinies forever.  No surprise, the story of Vanguard eventually crosses with that of Sulu & co. in 2298.

Telling two stories in parallel is a tricky bit of business.  It can be easy for one story to begin to overshadow the other, with the reader getting more involved in one tale and then resenting time spent away from those characters on the other story.  But Martin & Mangels do an excellent job of keeping the two unfolding narratives in balance, cutting back and forth from one story to the other without upsetting the flow of either tale.  They also take their time in allowing the Vanguard story to come to fruition.  Though attentive readers will certainly begin to guess how the two stories connect long before they actually do, the eventual revelations that Sulu & his crew discover arrive at what feels like a natural point in the story, before one gets impatient for the revelations or annoyed at why the Excelsior crew haven’t figured out what you already have.

The Vanguard storyline in The Sundered is a juicy old-fashioned sci-fi tale, which nicely balances the Excelsior portion of the story that is steeped in Trek lore.  It’s great to learn more about what happened to the featured members of Kirk’s command team after his death, and I also enjoyed Martin & Mangels’ exploration of the bizarre Tholians (a terrific alien species that was only seldom glimpsed during the various TV shows).

The Sundered is a very solid stand-alone Trek adventure story, but it is also a key piece in the ever-growing puzzle of the expanded Star Trek literary universe.  Martin & Mangels will continue exploring Hikaru Sulu’s time as Captain of the U.S.S. Excelsior in their excellent 2008 novel Forged in Fire, and the friendship between Tuvok and Akaar that is presented here plays a key role in their first two Titan novels, as does the Neyel race.

I’ll be back here shortly with my thoughts on the second Titan installment, The Red King, which functions as a direct sequel to The Sundered, even though it takes place about a century later.

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