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Star Trek Typhon Pact: Seize the Fire

I’m finally ready to catch back up with this year’s four-book series of crossover Star Trek novels from Pocket Books: The Typhon Pact.  This series represents the latest installments in Pocket Books’ exciting efforts from the past few years to push the 24th century Star Trek adventures forward past their last on-screen appearances (the movie Star Trek: Nemesis and the ending of Deep Space Nine and Voyager).  In Keith R.A. DeCandido’s excellent 2009 novel A Singular Destiny (read my review here), we learned that a number of the Federation’s deadliest enemies — the Romulans, the Tholians, the Gorn, the Breen, and others — had banded together to form a new interstellar alliance called the Typhon Pact.  This was obviously going to lead to trouble for our heroes, particularly with the Federation still reeling from the decimation wrought by the Borg invasion (chronicled in David Mack’s also-excellent 2008 trilogy of novels, Star Trek: Destinyread my review here).  The new Typhon Pact series focuses on characters from many of the different Star Trek series, and explores the repercussions of the creation of this new alliance.

Book one of the series, Zero Sum Game, was DS9-centric.  It followed Julian Bashir and Ezri Dax (who now commands her own starship, the USS Aventine) on a mission to infiltrate the Breen.  (You can read my review of Zero Sum Game here.)  After a few months away, I’ve finally found the time to move on to book two of the series: Seize the Fire,which is written by Michael A. Martin.  This novel shifts the focus to Captain Riker and the crew of the USS Titan, and explores the society of the Gorn.

At the start of the novel, a terrible natural disaster completely destroys Sazssgerrn, the only planet in the Gorn Hegemony on which their warrior caste were able to lay their eggs.  While the Gorn political structure struggles to find a solution to this species-threatening problem, several radiation-damaged Gorn warriors who survived the planetary catastrophe begin forming their own mad plans for the future of their race.  When they discover a massive, ancient structure that appears capable of terraforming an entire world in an instant — just like the long-lost Genesis technology could — they appear to have found the instrument by which to achieve their plans.  Unfortunately, in eco-sculpting an entire planet, this device would also completely destroy any life already existing on that world.  When the Gorn attempt to test this new device on the inhabited planet of Hranrar, only Captain Riker and the USS Titan appear to stand in the way of the annihilation of the millions of Hranrarii.

I quite enjoyed Seize the Fire, although between this novel and Zero Sum Game it’s clear that this Typhon Pact series is unfolding far differently than I had expected.  Rather than a series of tightly-connected novels that would advance the over-all story of the political (and perhaps military) confrontation between the United Federation of Planets and the Typhon Pact, these first two novels have been stand-alone tales that seem more designed to explore the different cultures of the Typhon Pact races in greater depth.  Other than repeated references to a fleet of Typhon Pact ships that are heading to Hranrar to support the Gorn (a ticking clock that gives Riker less than a day to resolve the situation), Seize the Fire doesn’t really have any connections at all to the larger 24th century continuing story-line.  (The novel would have been pretty much exactly the same without any of the Typhon Pact background.  Just substitute “Gorn fleet” for “Typhon Pact fleet” and the novel would be totally unchanged.)

That’s something of a shame, but it didn’t impact my enjoyment of this exploration of the Gorn culture.  I found it to be a much more successful piece of world-building than the attempts in Zero Sum Game to tell us more about the Breen.  While Mr. Martin, too, falls back on some familiar cultural archetypes in his depictions of Gorn society (a strict division into caste structures is nothing radically new), I enjoyed the way he was able to synthesize some of the occasionally contradicting information that we’d learned about the Gorn in their few prior canonical (one episode of classic Trek and one episode of Enterprise) and non-cannonical (a variety of books and comic books) appearances.  And even though the appropriation of the Greek name/term Myrmidon was somewhat random, I thought it was a cool way to create a non-human sounding rank for Gorn officers.

For a writer as experienced as Mr. Martin, I was surprised to find that there were a few moments in the early-going of the novel where I felt the writing was a bit shaky.  For instance, there’s a description of a Gorn commander’s voice as sounding like “two tectonic plates grinding together” which is amusing but quite familiar to any fans of Peter David’s Star Trek: New Frontier series (where a similar description was often used to describe the voice of the huge rock-like security officer Zak Kebron).  Then there’s a confusing bit of business concerning the geography of the Titan relative to the two main groups of Gorn in the story (a flotilla of five ships who represent the Gorn government, and one other ship that was commandeered by the survivors of the ecological disaster that destroyed the breeding ground at Sazssgrerrn).  (Anyone bored by this can skip to the next paragraph!)  The Gorn ship S’alath (the one controlled by the Sazssgrerrn survivors) notices the Titan‘s arrival in their system of space.  One Gorn observes that the Titan is heading towards a system that they just finished surveying (the Gorn are desperately looking for a world whose ecological conditions will be right for a new breeding ground).  In the next scene, we see the Titan arrive at a planet orbited by the five-ship Gorn flotilla, which has just discovered the enormous ancient terraforming device.  Wait a second, I thought the S’alath had just surveyed that system and found nothing!  I can maybe buy that maybe the Gorn flotilla arrived just after the S’alath had left, but did the S’alath crew really not notice the huge floating piece of alien technology?  It stretches credulity, and really confused me at a critical part in the early going when the characters and geography were just getting set up.  (I started wondering if I’d misunderstood where the ships all were in relation to one another, or if the section I’d just read about the S’alath noticing Titan maybe was supposed to have taken place dramatically before or after the events in the pages that followed it.)  These might seem like minor complaints, but there were a surprising number of those moments in the early part of the novel that just seemed a bit “off,” like perhaps one more editorial pass would have been helpful.

I must also comment that I was really bugged by the Prime Directive “dilemma” that Riker finds himself faced with early in the novel.  Once he realizes the potential danger facing the Hranrarii — the total extinction of their population — he frets that he’s unable to take any action to protect them because they haven’t yet developed warp drive.  Their species therefore falls under the protection of the Prime Directive, and he’s forbidden to do anything that might affect the natural progression of their society.  The notion that this would potentially cause Riker to choose to allow millions of Hranrarii to perish is ludicrous.  (By the way, my criticism is not only leveled at Mr. Martin.  There were several episodes of the various 24th century-set Star Trek shows that interpreted the Prime Directive in this fashion, and I thought those episodes were ludicrous as well.)  The Prime Directive’s purpose is to PROTECT these young civilizations.  If protecting these societies is Starfleet’s goal (and clearly it is), then allowing them to ALL DIE in the name of protecting them is the silliest thing I’ve ever heard of.  Clearly saving the lives of every single Hranrarii is worth the risk of some minor contamination of their culture (because they might, for example, observe a starship in their sky).  That could be problematic for their development as a culture, to be sure (to be confronted with potential proof of the existence of life beyond their world), but surely that’s better than allowing them all to die.

Now where is the line, you might argue?  The Prime Directive is designed to prevent a Starfleet captain from taking action that he might think is for an alien society’s greater good, but that actually will, in the long run, result in a terrible contamination of that society.  I certainly agree that that is the case.  That’s clearly the purpose of the Prime Directive, and it’s an enlightened principle.  But I think that it’s also terribly clear that a Starfleet captain acting to prevent the extinction of an entire race clearly falls on the line of action that is GOOD for the long-term health of that society!  To argue otherwise just boggles my mind.

OK, enough negativity.  The story really picks up steam in the second half, as Riker has to find a way to deal with the splintering Gorn factions, attempt to salvage the incredibly powerful technology of the terraforming machine, and save the lives of the Hranrarii, all without prompting a major confrontation with the rapidly approaching Typhon Pact fleet.  Although the spotlight of the novel falls primarily on Riker, I appreciated that Mr. Martin takes the time to check in with many members of the Titan‘s crew.  Since he was one of the creators (along with Andy Mangels) of the Titan series, it’s fun to have Mr. Martin back on board.  I was a bit disappointed, though, that there wasn’t much development for any member of the Titan crew.  Quite a lot of characters get a scene or two to themselves, and Riker, Vale, Troi, Dr. Ree and others have plenty to do in the adventure, but there’s not a whole heck of a lot of character development.  At first I thought that Tuvok would be a focus of the novel, as early on we spend a decent amount of time learning about his past connections to out-of-control terraforming technology.  But that fell by the way-side as the book progressed.  Rather than character development, the focus of the story was on the adventure story and on the development of the Gorn culture, and I can’t really complain too much about that.  Not EVERY Titan novel has to dramatically change some of the characters!

Though I would’ve loved to have seen more of the story threads from A Singular Destiny and Losing the Peace carried through to this novel, Seize the Fire is a fun, fast-paced Star Trek adventure in the classic style, and a fine new installment in the continuing voyages of Captain Riker and the USS Titan.

I’m looking forward to book three of the Typhon Pact series: The Rough Beasts of Empire by David R. George III.  I’ll be back here soon with my thoughts on that one!

Previous Star Trek novel reviews:

Star TrekUnspoken Truth

Star Trek: The Next Generation — The Sky’s The LimitDestiny trilogyA Singular Destiny, Losing the Peace,

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine — DS9 relaunch overviewThe Soul KeyThe Never-Ending Sacrifice,

Star Trek: Voyager — Full Circle

Star Trek: Titan — Book 1: Taking WingBook 2: The Red KingBook 3: Orion’s HoundsBook 4: Sword of DamoclesBook 5: Under a Torrent SeaBook 6: Synthesis

Star Trek: Typhon Pact — Book 1: Zero-Sum Game,

Star Trek: The Lost Era — Book 1: The Sundered

Star Trek: Mirror Universe (Books 1 & 2) — Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Shards & Shadows — Star Trek: Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire — Star Trek: Myriad Universes (Books 1 & 2)

Beyond the Final Frontier — Josh’s favorite Star Trek novels

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