Star Trek: Titan
Orion's Hounds

Author: Christopher L Bennett
Pocket Books
RRP: 6.99, US $7.99, Cdn $10.99
ISBN 1 4165 0950 X
Available 06 February 2006

As the
USS Titan ventures beyond the reaches of known space, the telepaths in her crew - including Diplomatic Officer Deanna Troi - are overwhelmed by an alien cry of distress, which leads the ship to a scene of shocking carnage. A civilisation of interstellar "whalers" is preying upon a familiar species of sentient space-borne creatures, the "star-jellies" originally encountered at Farpoint Station some 16 years ago...

The multi-species crew complement of the starship Titan makes this series the perfect playground for author Christopher L Bennett, whose previous Trek novel, Ex Machina, featured a similarly diverse crew assembled by Captain Willard Decker. Here we examine, among others, the cultural outlook of the cyborg Torvig, and the fearful and hostile reactions he receives from races whose main experiences with cybernetic beings have been attacks by the Borg; the giant, segmented K'chak'!'op ("Chaka"), who develops a reluctance to leave her quarters owing to the cramped conditions of the rest of the ship; and Melora Pazlar (depicted on the cover between Troi and the reptilian Dr Ree), who similarly craves her comfort zones due to the uncomfortably high gravity throughout most of the vessel.

There is also a weird and wonderful array of aliens outside the ship, as Titan explores a region of space that is home to an unusually large number of space-dwelling beings, including star-jellies (from the Next Generation pilot episode Encounter at Farpoint) and crystalline entities (from Datalore and Silicon Avatar).

As expected, the author diligently ties up a few of the Trek franchise's loose ends along the way, such as how Lore was able to communicate with the Crystalline Entity in Datalore when in Silicon Avatar this was only possible using a graviton beam. He also explains how Spock's comment in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, that "Only Nixon can go to China," could be a "human translation" of a Vulcan proverb, and remarks upon the parallels that exist between the characters of Willard Decker and William T Riker: the similarity of their names, roles and love lives. I, for one, have always been disappointed by the abrupt ending of the Voyager episode Tuvix. Did Neelix and Tuvok retain any memories of their joined existence? How did they feel about it? Thankfully, Bennett finally sheds some light on this subject.

Following the rhyming titles of the last two Titan novels, Taking Wing and The Red King, I suppose this book could have been called Jellyfish Things or Jelly Hunting! As it is, the title Orion's Hounds might lead you to expect green-skinned Orion traders to appear, but they don't - Orion refers to a very broad region of space, including the area of active star formation that is explored here.

The subject matter should strike a chord with British readers on both sides of the fox-hunting debate, since the author presents arguments from both the anti- and the pro- points of view. However, the situation has more in common with whale hunting (thanks to the giant and sentient nature of the star-jellies) and the hunting methods practised by Native Americans (their ritualised reverence for their prey). While attempting to negotiate an end to the hunting of intelligent creatures, Riker and his crew realise there is more to the situation than meets the eye.

In terms of pacing, Orion's Hounds is an improvement on the previous two Titan novels, by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels. Whereas Taking Wing and The Red King were both slow to get moving, Bennett's book wisely intersperses the early character moments with space-bound action involving the apparently cruel hunters, the Pa'haquel. However, the subject matter and the author's handling of it is more mawkish than the terrorism and religious fundamentalism that was depicted so vividly in Ex Machina.

Still, this is a jelly - er, I mean, jolly - good read.

Richard McGinlay

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