Thursday, October 13, 2011

Taking Wing (Star Trek: Titan Book 1) review

    Ah, William T. Riker.

    For those of us who grew up on Star Trek: The Next Generation, William Riker was the shit. One of the big mistakes studios made about the Wesley Crusher character was assuming that kids would identify with the fourteen-year-old awkward youth on the Enterprise-D.


    Ask any actual child who their favorite character was and it would be Worf, Riker, or Data. That's because kids don't ever want to identify with other kids unless they're Johnny Quest. Even then, the majority of tykes probably prefer Race Bannon breaking the necks of whoever is curently imperilling our hero. I think it's because every child secretly resents being one to some degree.

    Childhood is a state of powerlessness and just about all of them want to grow up and take control of their lives ASAP. Of course, once you do get that responsibility, we long for the innocence of youth but that's the grass is always greener dilemma.

    William Riker, for those unfamiliar with Star Trek: The Next Generation (why would you be reading a book about his adventures then?), is sort of Captan Kirk-lite.  He was the brash ladies man who was always eager to get into the thick of things. At least, that's how I remember him. Come to think of it, I don't actually recall him getting into nearly as many scraps as Kirk. Usually, whenever someone needed to get beaten up, it would be Worf. Likewise, all of the command decisions were made by Picard, with the notable exception of "Best of Both Worlds."

    So, really, Riker exists mostly on Jonathan Frakes' charisma. Which, as anyone who watched Gargoyles will attest, is not inconsiderable. Anyway, the Star Trek: Titan series is about Riker's continuing adventures as the captain of the U.S.S. Titan. It's set after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis when the death of the Romulan Senate was actually the biggest problem the Romulans had to face. Man, is it awkward to read about that now, given what we know happens to Romulus in the new Abrams Star Trek movie.

    The premise of Taking Wing is rather familiar to those who have read the Star Trek: New Frontier series. The Romulan government has effectively fallen and Starfleet is sending in the U.S.S Titan to keep order. I've actually used that premise a couple of times in Star Trek RPG games (tabletop for those dinosaurs - like me - who remember such things). The ship is outfitted with the most diverse crew in Starfleet history, consisting of a vertible Star Wars cantina of oddball creatures, and is also going to be paying host to Deanna Troi (Riker's wife) as its chief ambassador.

    Honestly, I'm rather iffy about a number of things in this premise. The first is the assumption Federation starships are particularly un-diverse to begin with. Yes, costuming budgets mean that the majority of people we see on the television shows are humans, but that doesn't mean "below deck" there's not a hundred or more oddball aliens. One thing the Abrams Star Trek movie did right was populate the U.S.S Kelvin with numerous creatures we never saw before and that was set a century before the events of TNG. The Federation is a coalition of races and I doubt it's ever practiced segregation.

    The second is that Starfleet would just send in one ship to keep order or one at all. Romulus having its government decapitated is either grounds for a full scale relief effort by Starfleet or it's something they shouldn't be involved in at all.

    Oddly, I don't particularly mind having Riker's wife as effectively the ship's co-authority. Starfleet has always functioned to its own oddball set of rules and they're in different branches of the Federation.

    The central conflict in the book is the Romulan Praetor vs. the Tal'Shiar (Romulan Secret Police) vs. the Romulan military vs. the Remans (Psychic Nosferatu-looking Space Ukrainians for lack of a better description). The U.S.S Titan has to navigate a political mine-field and figure out some way of achieving peace between the various factions. Complicating matters is Ambassador Spock who is the leader of the Unificationists (an analogue to Christians in Pre-Constantine Rome), a semi-friendly Romulan Commander, Klingons, and a undercover Tuvok from Star Trek: Voyager.

    Overall, I liked the book but I felt the writing was a little dry. Captain Riker and Deanna Troi were written well enough that I could "hear" their voices and that's always good. Likewise, I really enjoyed Commander Donatra who I wish Dinah Meyer had gotten the chance to do something with in Star Trek: Nemesis (I still think she was the best part of the short-lived Birds of Prey series). Spock is a very difficult character to get wrong, he's become a classic archetype like King Arthur or Sherlock Holmes. Even Tuvok felt very much "in-character" from what I remember of him.

    However, just about everyone else left me feeling kind of-flat. The stand-out Expanded Universe character for me is Christine Vale, who is perky and likable. I like to think of her as played by Allison Mack for no other reason than I think she deserves some more roles in science fiction. Just about everyone else doesn't get enough time to really get an introduction. It's mostly, "Hey, I'm [insert name]. I'm a [insert race], and I'm happy to be here. Oh my, aren't all those other aliens weird?"

    Still, I'm glad i read the first of the series and I'm definitely intrigued enough to continue onward. Know I'm a hard act to please with 10 out of 10 reserved for only the absolute best fiction there is. I enjoyed Watching the Clock slightly more but I don't feel comfortable just giving this a six.


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