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Returning to Star Trek: New Frontier (Part Two)

As I wrote about earlier this week, I have recently re-immersed myself in Peter David’s terrific Star Trek: New Frontier novels!

Stone and Anvil — This novel, published back in 2003, is one of my very favorite of Mr. David’s New Frontier novels.  It proved to be a wonderful culmination of the New Frontier story at the time, wrapping up a number of long-running story-lines while also bringing the series back full circle to tell the story of Captain Mackenzie Calhoun’s days at Starfleet Academy and his original romance with Elizabeth Shelby.  The book jumps back and forth between the two stories, with one chapter being set “Now” and the next being set “Then” (I always love the fun ways Mr. David structures the chapter headings in his books) and the strength of the novel is that each of the two stories is equally strong and compelling.  I never found myself, reading one of the story-lines, wishing that I was back in the other story.

In the present day, the book picks right up from the minute the brutal cliffhanger of the previous book, Gods Above, had ended: with Calhoun and Shelby discovering the brutally murdered body of Lieutenant Gleau in one of the ship’s turbolifts.  Gleau is a Selelvian (a race created by Mr. David) and over the previous few books Mr. David had been weaving a fascinating though unpleasant story in which Lieutenant M’Ress (one of two characters from Star Trek: The Animated Series that Mr. David has incorporated into New Frontier) felt that Gleau was using his race’s heretofore unknown mental powers in order to seduce her and then, when she turned down his advances, mentally torture her.  Of course, M’Ress is the first suspect when Gleau is found murdered, but the investigation quickly turns to another character, Ensign Janos, a huge, bestial, but fiercely intelligent character introduced by Mr. David several New Frontier novels back.  Mr. David has kept Janos’ background shrouded in mystery, though hints have been given that he is a Mugatu (one of the iconic alien monsters from the Original Series, seen in “A Private Little War”).  In Stone and Anvil we finally get Janos’ true story, and, well, it doesn’t end well.

Meanwhile, the very first New Frontier book had introduced us to the notion that Calhoun and Shelby (newly assigned as his first officer back in that first New Frontier adventure) had had a romance that had turned sour somewhere back in their past.  In the flashback chapters of Stone and Anvil, we finally get to see how they met, fell into a romance, and how that romance ended with their going their separate ways.  It’s a pretty sweet story, actually, and it’s fun to see Mr. David back telling a romantic story quite reminiscent of the one he told in his fantastic novel Imzadi, which explored the untold back-story between Riker and Troi (which also ended with them going their separate ways).  I loved this glimpse into Starfleet Academy during the Next Generation era.  Calhoun’s solution to the Kobayashi Maru scenario is a highlight of the book.

At the time, I thought Stone and Anvil was a fantastic book, a true return to form for the New Frontier series after two books (Being Human and Gods Above) that hadn’t been quite as compelling to me as the previous New Frontier adventures.  What I didn’t realize at the time that Stone and Anvil would prove to be a finale to Mr. David’s first wave of New Frontier stories, because the next book, After the Fall, unexpectedly jumped ahead three years.

After the Fall — The book begins with a funny note from “the management” telling readers not to look for a time-travel or alternate-universe “reset button” to the story.  That was a smart move, because in jumping ahead three years from the end of Stone and Anvil, Mr. David totally turned over the apple cart of the New Frontier universe.  The Excalibur’s half-Vulcan/half-Romulan science officer, Soleta, has been drummed out of Starfleet and joined the Romulan military.  Mackenzie Calhoun and Admiral Jellico (another minor character from Next Gen utilized to great effect by Peter David — Jellico took command of the Enterprise in the two-part episode “Chains of Command”), who had detested one another all throughout the run of New Frontier novels, are now best buddies.  Mac’s wife, Elizabeth Shelby, has been promoted to Admiral and commands Space Station Bravo.  Lieutenant Lefler has married the Thallonian noble, Si Cwan, whom she had pined after for so long, and Si Cwan has finally succeeded in rebuilding a Thallonian Empire, now a “Protectorate” made up of fifty-seven planets in the site of his former empire.  (The New Frontier story began with the collapse of the Thallonian Empire, bringing chaos to a whole region of space.  Mackenzie Calhoun’s initial mission in New Frontier was to take the Excalibur into the former Thallonian Empire to try to help restore some order to the region.)

The spark that ignites the story is the announcement of the engagement of Si Cwan’s sister, Kalinda, to the son of Si Cwan’s partner in running the new Thallonian Protectorate.  Calhoun’s estranged son, Xyon (who, in a previous New Frontier adventure, had fallen in love with Kalinda before pretending to be dead — it’s a long story) decides to go find Kalinda to convince her that she really should be with him, instead.  What he sees as a dashing attempt to woo his true love is viewed by everyone else, including Kalinda, as kidnapping.  Suddenly the whole sector is in an uproar, though the kerfuffle over Xyon and Kalinda serves to mask the appearance of a far more significant threat.

The over-all story of After the Fall is equal parts gripping and fun, as are all of Peter David’s best books.  I enjoyd the main story, but even more I enjoyed the returned focus on several New Frontier side characters who had been a little bit ignored in previous books: Mac’s estranged son Xyon; Mac’s adopted son Moke; Xy, the half-breed son of Burgoyne 172 and Dr. Selar (who was named after Xyon, who they all thought to be dead — again, long story…), and Kat Mueller, formerly XO of the Excalibur and now in command of the Excalibur’s sister ship the Trident.

The book ends in a brutal cliffhanger in which most of the characters think that things have been resolved but we, the readers, know that things are terribly, terribly wrong.  It almost killed me having to wait two years for the next installment back in the day.  The over-all story is much more enjoyable now that I can just put After the Fall down and pick Missing in Action right up.

Missing in Action — Mackenzie Calhoun takes the Excalibur back into Thallonian space in order to try to uncover the truth of what has happened to Kalinda and thrown the New Thallonian Protectorate into civil war.  But the Excalibur soon finds itself faced with an enormous, completely alien-looking space ship that, with apparently little effort, shunts the Excalibur into what appears to be a totally different universe.  Shelby on Space Station Bravo and Mueller on the Trident know nothing about what happened to Calhoun and the Excalibur, nor are they aware of what really has been happening in Thallonian space and who has been manipulating events to lead to the newly-erupted chaos and war in the region.  With Starfleet refusing to allow Shelby or Mueller to involve themselves any further in the internecine hostilities in Thallonian space, the two women — joined by Robin Lefler, formerly of Starfleet and now the on-the-run wife of the captured Si Cwan — must defy orders in order to save their comrades and family.

While the notion that Shelby, Mueller and Lefler will defy Starfleet orders to do what they think is right is a pretty anticlimactic plot development, I loved the grouping of those three characters and their return to prominence in the New Frontier story-line.  I also was delighted by the way in which another great female character, Soleta (now commanding a Romulan stealth ship) also re-enters the story.  It’s fun to see these strong female characters carrying the story.

The goings-on with Calhoun and the Excalibur in the other universe are a little less compelling to me, and one of the reasons why I didn’t find Missing in Action to be quite as strong a book as the previous two.  It’s not that the Calhoun side of the story is boring — no, we do get an interesting spin on the classic Star Trek trope of the Captain having to negotiate a peace between two seemingly implacable alien foes — it’s just that it was far less interesting than the “main” story with Shelby, etc.  Calhoun’s story felt more like killing time, just a way to get him out of the mix so that the Shelby/Mueller/Lefler/Soleta story could move forward.

I will say that I was shocked — in the best possible way — by a character’s death at the end of the book.  All of the last few New Frontier books, going back to Gods Above, seem to have ended with one of the large ensemble of characters being taken off the board.  Each of these deaths/etc. (not every character has been removed from the story through death, though removed they have been) has unsettled me, mostly because I so love all of these characters, a credit to Mr. David’s writing, though I can understand his desire to a) trim down his huge cast of characters and b) show that these stories have threat and danger that is real, and that unlike the Trek TV shows not everything would return to a happy ending at the end of each adventure.  But the death at the end of Missing in Action was Mr. David’s boldest move yet, taking out one of the series’ original main characters, and I have nothing but praise for his guts in doing so.  It surely threw me, as a reader, for a loop the first time I read it.

Having caught up with the New Frontier story, I was eager to move on and read the two most recent books that I had not yet read: Treason and Blind Man’s Bluff.  I’ll be back soon with my thoughts on those two books!

Note: Writer Peter David recently suffered a stroke.  Here’s how you can help.

Previous Star Trek novel reviews:

Star Trek – Unspoken Truth , Troublesome MindsCast No ShadowExcelsior: Forged in FireAllegiance in Exile

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Sky’s The LimitResistance and Q & ABefore Dishonor and Greater than the SumDestiny trilogyA Singular Destiny, Losing the Peace,Immortal CoilCold Equations Book 1: The Persistence of MemoryCold Equations Book 2: Silent WeaponsCold Equations Book 3: The Body Electric

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – DS9 relaunch overviewThe Soul KeyThe Never-Ending SacrificePlagues of Night and Raise the Dawn

Star Trek: Voyager – Full Circle

Star Trek: Enterprise — Kobayashi MaruThe Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s WingThe Romulan War: To Brave the Storm

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 DisharmonyPlagues of Night and Raise the DawnBrinkmanship

Star Trek: New Frontier – Series overview

Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations – Watching the ClockForgotten History

Star Trek: The Lost Era – Book 1: The Sundered (2298)Book 2: Serpents Among the Ruins (2311)Book 3: The Art of the Impossible (2328-2346)

Star Trek: Mirror Universe (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Shards & Shadows – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire — Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Rise Like Lions –  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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