Star Trek

Author: Michael Jan Friedman
Pocket Books
RRP 6.99, US $6.99, Cdn $10.50
ISBN 0 7434 4856 1
Available 06 September 2004

When one of his crew transmits sensitive data to an unknown party, Jean-Luc Picard is both surprised and concerned, especially since Admiral McAteer has cast doubt on Picard's ability to command the Stargazer. When three starships in succession fall to an alien armada, Picard fears for the security of the entire Federation...

The benefit of creating an almost totally new starship crew, as author Michael Jan Friedman has done with his Stargazer series, is that unexpected things can happen to them, and it might not necessarily all be OK by the end of the story. A recurring character could conceivably die or, in the case of this novel, turn traitor. In terms of storytelling, this is an exciting prospect.

The downside of having a set of characters that is unique to a series of novels is that ideally you need to have read the previous books to fully appreciate the current one. Readers who haven't experienced the first four Stargazer novels might well, like me, find the first forty or so pages of Enigma alternately tiresome and confusing. These opening chapters are over-burdened with character moments, many of which follow on from previous books.

What the narrative could really have done with was a good dramatic kick-off, such as a devastating attack on a starship. Such an attack does take place, but only after about 60 pages. From this point on, however, the plot sails along very nicely indeed.

In common with a lot of Star Trek novels (because there are no budgetary restrictions by way of makeup, costumes or special effects), the Stargazer crew contains a respectable number of alien life forms. These include Kastiigan, a (literally) long-faced Kandilkari science officer; Obal, a Binderian security guard; Phigus Simenon, the reptilian Gnalish chief engineer; and Urajel, an Andorian engineer, to name but a few. Even weapons officer Vigo, a name familiar from the Star Trek: The Next Generation television episode The Battle, is an extra-terrestrial: a powerfully built Pandrilite. For me, most intriguing crewmember of all is Ensign Jiterica, a gaseous low-density Nizhrak, similar to the Companion in the original series episode Metamorphosis. She has to squeeze herself into a human-shaped containment suit in order to carry out her duties, though she experiences a greater degree of liberty during this book.

Another memorable character, though not one of the crew, is Admiral McAteer. Dissatisfied with the progress of the young Captain Picard, this miserable old git wants to relieve Jean-Luc of his command. With McAteer, Friedman has succeeded in creating a thoroughly objectionable individual.

The plot of Enigma is rather slight, but after a slow start it builds to a respectable warp speed.

Richard McGinlay

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