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Book Review

Book Cover

Star Trek
Forged in Fire


Authors: Michael A Martin and Andy Mangels
Pocket Books
RRP: £6.99, US $7.99, Cdn $9.50
ISBN-13: 978 1 4165 4716 7
ISBN-10: 1 4165 4716 9
Available 04 February 2008

A vicious pirate known as the Albino is cutting a deadly swath across space, creating turmoil in the Klingon Empire that threatens to spill into the Federation. But this criminal also has a secret that could shake the halls of Imperial power, and his genocidal plans against the race that bore him will have consequences even he cannot imagine, as several unlikely allies join swords to bring the Albino to justice: Hikaru Sulu of the USS Excelsior; Klingon captains Kor, Koloth, and Kang; and a hot-headed young Federation diplomat named Curzon Dax. Tempered in the flames of their shared adversity, a captaincy is forged, a blood oath is sworn, and a hunt begins that will stretch from one generation to the next...

Just above that synopsis on the back cover of this novel, Pocket Books proudly proclaims this to be: “AN UNTOLD TALE OF STAR TREK HISTORY REVEALED AT LAST.”

However, the untold tale in question isn’t really that of Hikaru Sulu taking command of the Excelsior, despite the title and the cover illustration. That story has previously been told in DC Comics’ second series of Star Trek comic books. This novel, in which Sulu initially serves as first officer before eventually taking over from Captain Styles, needn’t necessarily invalidate the comics, though. In a flashback sequence, we learn that Styles had intended to retire but then changed his mind, and that Sulu had been led to believe he would be coming on board Excelsior as its commanding officer rather than as its second in command. It’s therefore possible that this book can be slotted into the DC series between Sulu departing the Enterprise in the expectation of gaining his own command, and his first full comic-strip adventure as Excelsior’s captain. (Authors Michael A Martin and Andy Mangels are also pleasingly vague about the past history of Excelsior and Sulu’s involvement in the Genesis controversy - perhaps because, in the first DC series, Sulu spends several months aboard Excelsior serving under the command of Admiral James T Kirk.)

The real untold story here is that of Kor, Koloth, Kang and Dax’s original encounter with the Albino, a vendetta that is not resolved until eight decades later, in the Deep Space Nine episode Blood Oath.

The authors connect the origin of this adversary with the Enterprise two-parter Affliction / Divergence, which attempted to explain the smooth-headed Klingons observed during The Original Series, but which failed to resolve why Kor, Koloth and Kang are smooth-headed in the original show yet bumpy-headed in Blood Oath... You can see where this is, um, headed, can’t you? Yes, you guessed it: during the course of Forged in Fire’s 480 pages, we learn the convoluted reasons why the three Klingon captains (and the rest of the smooth-headed Klingons) get the bumps, so to speak. Along the way, Martin and Mangels also work in explanations for the lumpy-headed Trill seen in The Next Generation’s The Host and what became of the Glommer from the animated episode More Tribbles, More Troubles.

Now (as you can probably tell from some of my opening comments), I like continuity as much as the next fan, but the trouble with this book is that it seems to exist primarily for the purpose of tying up loose threads in Star Trek mythology, rather than to tell a good story.

There are many good narrative elements here, such as Sulu’s struggle to attain command and win the respect of his crew, and Curzon Dax’s similar baptism by fire as a young diplomat attempting to earn the respect of the Klingons. However, in addition to getting bogged down by Trek mythology, the novel’s structure is a considerable obstacle. It takes too long to get where it is going, with many detours and pit stops along the way. In terms of time, the narrative is all over the place, starting off with prologues set in 2173 and 2295, before jumping back to 2218, then staying mostly around late 2289 and early 2290, with occasional flashbacks to 2248 and 2269, and closing chapters that take place in 2293, 2295 and 2363. The initial time-hopping makes it hard to get into the book, and the fact that Sulu is placed out of the action for a large part of it doesn’t help. The final nail in the coffin is the fact that, ultimately, we know the villain will escape, because of course he appears in Blood Oath.

Bridging story elements from numerous aspects of the Star Trek franchise - Enterprise, The Original Series, The Animated Series, the movies, The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine - Forged in Fire is sure to have widespread appeal, but it’s something of a slog to get through.


Richard McGinlay

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