Thursday, June 12, 2014

In Series

Jack Campbell (the pen name of former Navy officer John G. Hemry) couldn't keep the revived war hero Black Jack Geary and his lost fleet lost forever. So he got them home, only to find that he had new enemies to face -- from alien races with unknown agendas to elements within the government he serves uncomfortable with his fame and potential power.

In The Lost Fleet: Steadfast, Geary has completed a diplomatic escort mission with some new alien allies, the horrific-looking but mostly friendly Dancers. The Dancers are ready to leave Earth, but Geary has to rescue kidnapped crew first, and then once the ships return to Alliance space, he finds himself tasked with what seems like a simple mission to return refugees from Syndicate Worlds space to their home planets. But no mission connected to Black Jack Geary is ever just what it seems, either in the eyes of those who create it or in the way Geary carries it out.

Campbell's own years in the service allow him to communicate a good sense of what it's like to be in a military environment. Geary, as a man put in suspended animation near the beginning of a hundred-year war and awakened near its end, operates just out of phase with the people around him, not sharing their experiences and worldview nearly as much as he thinks he does. Campbell also brings a good sense of that unease to his work, and writes a top-notch space battle.

Steadfast may seem like it offers a lot of what Campbell has presented before, but he adds some new elements to the story of just how the Alliance government tries to deal with Geary and how Geary responds that keep the narrative moving forward. It's not as newly-minted as it was when the series began in 2006, but it hasn't lost all of its freshness yet.
One of the problems that Star Trek fiction had during its glut years was that a large amount of the books being written weren't much better than the fan fiction that had circulated via photocopy and fanzine in the years before the show became a big hit on the big screen. In fact, some of the fan-written work was better than the "official" stories coming out under Paramount and Pocket Books' approval. The recent scaling back of the production line might have helped stem this problem, but if Greg Cox's No Time Like the Past is any indicator, it's an issue that will be sticking around.

The Enterprise is carrying an ambassador to negotiate with a planet that has been giving aid to Orion pirates and smugglers. He's offering Federation help to them if they'll kick the Orions to the curb, but the Orions themselves have a couple of tricks up their piratical sleeves. In the midst of a sneak attack by the raiders, Captain Kirk and company are aided by a mysterious blonde woman whose cybernetic implants and no-nonsense demeanor make her stand out as much as her shooting accuracy. With good reason, because the woman who calls herself "Annika Seven" is actually former Borg drone Seven of Nine, thrown back in time from her own journey with the lost Voyager. She's trying to re-assemble a time-displacement disk that has thrown her back from her own time to Kirk's, and do it before her need for her Borg regeneration tube causes her to collapse and shut down.

The rest of the story is a quest among the Enterprise's earlier missions to find the other pieces of the disk, pursued by the Orions and attempting to ferret out the identity of a possible spy. Cox clears at least one high bar; he manages to make the ham-handed message of the broadcast episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" even more ham-handed with his revisit to the planet involved. Dead red-shirted characters, a womanizing Kirk, clueless ambassadors -- if there's a Star Trek cliché that Cox misses, it's not for lack of trying. He even ends his story with a "Well, whaddaya know?" kind of time-travel paradox that, not twenty pages earlier, he used in the exact opposite way.

There's nothing offensive about Time, although the sad thing is that there's probably a really interesting story somewhere in the mixing of the former Borg drone Seven of Nine with the original series crew. But now that Cox has written this book, that story won't be told.

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