Thursday, January 24, 2013

Boldy Going to a New Frontier

A week ago I wrote about reading Pulling Up Stakes by Peter David, aka PAD, mainly because I wanted to show support after his stroke, but then having the wonderful surprise of it being really bloody good. In that I mentioned I was also tempted by Star Trek: New Frontier.

My first geek love was Star Trek. Star Wars later stole it away, but it was the crews of Enterprise D and Deep Space Nine that I thoroughly adored. When I went to university, Voyager was midway through and I quickly lost interest, barely touched Enterprise, and was pretty appalled by Nemesis. But things weren't much better in the other franchise either.

Then there was a saviour. J J Abrams helmed a triumphic reboot of Star Trek and I was reminded how great a series it was. I still didn't do that much other than re-watch my favourite of the older movies and the Borg saga from The Next Generation. As I mentioned in the other Peter David post, I kept glancing toward New Frontier, but never got round to it. Until now. And it was brilliant.

New Frontier follows the adventures of the Starship Excalibur. A ship seen once or twice during the time of The Next Generation, here is given a full crew and series. Seen before in TNG could be a hallmark of New Frontier, as half its cast is made up of characters that guest starred in an episode or two. People like Robin Lefler as played by Ashley Judd, and Commander Shelby from Best of Both Worlds. But it's to David's credit that this never becomes the selling point of the series. It not only helps concrete the book in the world of Star Trek (should that be Galaxy?), but he nails the characters. More on that later.

But first the negative, if it can really be called that. Thank the Great Bird of the Galaxy I got the first four books as one collection. First of all they form one big story. There are separate incidents in there that make them work stand alone too, but mostly they're used as cliffhangers. It's comics writing in novel format, which is ironic considering how I first came to now PAD, but I'm not a hundred percent sure how I feel about that.

Also what would have been the first book is all prequel. You get the back story of Captain Mackenzie Calhoun, and a few other members of the cast, all taking place over the course of twenty years. But PAD pulls it off well. The stories are genuinely interesting, and the cameos certainly help. Hell, part of the book is all about the Next Generation crew. Read as a whole it didn't bother me in the slightest, but I couldn't help but feel that if I was just reading Book 1, I might feel a bit hard done by. Another part of what saves it is PAD's handling of the well established Next Generation crew and a few others. They all sound exactly how they should. In fact with Picard and Spock, David is so on target that as I read the lines I heard them as Patrick Stewart and Leonard Nimoy.

Then the ending not only mirrors the very beginning brilliantly, but feels like it could be straight out of the original series with Kirk. New Frontier really does capture the essence of Star Trek as a whole, and yet still feels like it's doing its own thing. If you're looking for something new in what has now become the Prime Universe, or even just something to keep you going between Abrams movies, this is definitely worth picking up. I'm already eyeing up the next two books. And yes, that early reference to the Great Bird is a reference to not only Gene Roddenberry, but something in the book itself. Something that had me grinning like a child every time I read it.

Star Trek New Frontier Omnibus (Star Trek) Books 1, 2, 3 & 4
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