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Star Trek: Cast No Shadow

December 28th, 2011
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In the new novel by James Swallow, seven years have passed since the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The Klingons and the Federation have begun to take their first, tentative steps towards a lasting peace.  However, there still exist many, on both sides of the Neutral Zone, who have no interest in seeing peace emerge between these two intergalactic powers.  When a series of devastating terrorist attacks wreak havoc across Klingon space, it seems that the last surviving member of the Chang/Cartwright conspiracy may hold the clue to unravelling the identity of the terrorists:  Valeris, formerly of Starfleet, now in prison with little possibility of parole.

I adore Star Trek VI, so right away this novel had my interest piqued.  The years immediately following the final adventure of the original Enterprise haven’t been that well mined , so I really enjoyed this look at how the Klingon/Federation political situation progressed following the ending of Trek VI. Mr. Swallow digs deeply into the Star Trek mythos to present a compelling tale of intergalactic espionage that addresses several meaty story threads left hanging by Trek VI.

The focus on Valeris is long overdue.  Though it wasn’t all that risky of the makers of Star Trek VI to make the one new character be the traitor, Nick Meyer’s sharp script and Kim Cattrall’s tart performance combined to create a very memorable character.  I enjoyed having the chance, reading Cast No Shadow, to peel back some of the layers of this enigmatic Vulcan.  It’s fascinating (ha ha) to dig into Valeris’ point of view, and I enjoyed the novel’s periodic flashbacks into Valeris’ history.   We learn how and why she became involved in Admiral Cartwright’s conspiracy, and in the devastating final flashback, we uncover the source of her un-Vulcan-like enmity for the Klingons.

Although he is featured extremely prominently on the cover, Spock is not that central to the novel’s story.  This was a big disappointment to me.  I assume that Mr. Swallow cannot control the content of his book’s cover art, but when I pick up a novel with Spock and Valeris on the cover, I assume that the novel is going to focus on the relationship between Spock and Valeris!  While their contentious relationship is addressed, it is not at all the novel’s focus.

Instead, in addition to telling Valeris’ story, the novel also focuses on the tale of a young Elias Vaughn’s first mission in the field.  Devoted fans of Pocket Books’ Star Trek novels of course know that Vaughn, a created-for-the-novels character, was a key player in the post-finale Deep Space Nine novels.  Several Trek novels, over the years, have explored the long-lived Vaughn’s early history (such as the superlative The Art of The Impossible, by Keith R.A. DeCandido).  Vaughn is a terrific character, and Mr. Swallow does a terrific job at bringing him to life and not only fleshing out his backstory but also crafting a really compelling adventure for him.  This is a story that definitely deserved to be told, and Mr. Swallow does the telling with great skill.  It’s just that I was expecting a story about SPOCK and Valeris, not Vaughn and Valeris.

I think I would have been more at peace with Spock’s dropping out of the story so early on in the book had we been given one final scene of closure between him and Valeris towards the end of the book.  That didn’t happen, which really surprised me.  I had exactly the same complaint about another recent novel that also aimed at fleshing out a Vulcan woman with whom Spock had a somewhat contentious — and possibly romantic — history: Lt. Saavik, in Margaret Wander Bonanno’s novel Unspoken Truth. (Romantic history, you might ask?  Well, the read-between-the-lines implication of events in Star Trek III and Star Trek IV is that Spock impregnated Saavik in the throes of pon farr on the Genesis Planet, and that is why she stayed behind on Vulcan in Trek IV. Unspoken Truth’s story doesn’t go that way, but the early part of the novel does a terrific job at exploring the pain Saavik felt at her sudden, awkward schism from her former mentor after his katra re-fusion.  Saavik’s fate, and the question of what happened next between her and Spock, is one of the great unanswered questions of the Star Trek films, and I was sure that, at the end of Ms. Wander Bonanno’s novel, we’d circle back to see some sort to resolution of Saavik and Spock’s relationship.  But, frustratingly, that scene never came.  I felt the same lack of closure in Cast No Shadow. There are some great scenes, early in the story, that explore Spock and Valeris’ shattered relationship (caused not just by Valeris’ betrayal, but by Spock’s forcing a mind-meld upon her so he could discover the secrets of the conspiracy). I was sure that, after the events of the novel, we’d be given one final scene between the two Vulcans.  I was really interested to see Valeris’ reaction to Spock, after being put in the same situation he had been.  I was really bummed that that scene never came.

But let’s get back to the positives.  I just alluded to the moment, late in the novel, in which Valeris suddenly finds herself exactly where Spock had been, seven years before, on the bridge of the Enterprise. It’s a brilliant moment, and when a character spits the words “I do not remember” back in Valeris’ face, I got chills.  Suddenly the entire raison d’etre for the whole novel snapped into clear focus.  I applaud Mr. Swallow’s story-telling skills, and his crafting of a natural, believable way to put Valeris on the opposite side of a situation so similar to the one that had caused her to bitterly hate (beneath her Vulcan facade) her former mentor.  It’s a phenomenal scene, and it elevates the entire novel.

I also really dug the way Mr. Swallow peppered his story with connections to other Trek adventures, both official and non-canonical.  I was intrigued to see a reference to the destruction of the Enterprise A at Chal (an event depicted in the novel The Ashes of Eden, by William Shatner and Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens) as well as Lt. Valeris’ time spent serving on the Enterprise as a cadet (which was established in a lovely story from DC Comics’ Star Trek Special #2, published back in 1994.  (Yes, I am a geek.)  The story, “A Question of Loyalty,” was written by Steven H. Wilson and illustrated by Rachel Ketchum.  Interestingly, that story makes slightly more explicit the subtextual suggestion from their scenes in Trek VI that there was something romantic going on — at least a spark of romantic attraction, if not an actual relationship — between Spock and Valeris).  These little easter eggs are a ton of fun to spot, and they cement the novel within the greater Star Trek universe.

James Swallow has written some terrific Star Trek novels, and Cast No Shadow continues that streak.  Mr. Swallow is a writer to whom I am starting to pay close attention, and I eagerly await his next work set within the Star Trek playground.

Previous Star Trek novel reviews:

Star Trek — Unspoken TruthTroublesome Minds

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 GameBook 2: Seize the FireBook 3: Rough Beasts of EmpireBook 4: Paths of Disharmony

Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations — Watching the Clock

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)Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Shattered Light

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

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