The first book in the Badlands series of Star Trek books by Susan Wright is a bit of a letdown from what I had heard about it. The concept of the Badlands isn't a bad one, an unknown and mysterious area of space where something is lurking, and all four of the Star Trek crews have to deal with it in their own time. Something strange is lurking there, damaging ships and making the crew sick, and the different ships have to figure out whether it's something natural or something much more malevolent. However, this first book just falls completely flat for me.
First of all, as a series, I think that Pocket Books' penchant for tying all four Trek series together in a book series, where they all interact with the same storyline, is starting to wear a little thin. It's becoming a bit too unbelievable that they all interact with the same problem this many times, though this time Voyager isn't on the other side of the galaxy, which is a switch. I realize that it's a marketing ploy to entice readers of all the various series, but I hope Pocket Books starts to tone this down a bit. At least all of the other ancillary series aren't involved.
Secondly, it gets off to a bad start with this book. The only book I have read of Susan Wright's is the Voyager book Violations, and I remember liking it a great deal. This novel, however, seems written for a much younger level than I remember most Trek books being written. The sentence structure seems very simplistic, and I just had a feeling I was reading a Young Adult book. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I did find it quite jarring. Maybe I just wasn't ready for that.
The characterization seemed a bit off as well. The most glaring example was Ensign Ro in the TNG story. This story takes place directly after the TV episode that introduced her, "Ensign Ro." This episode established her as a hothead with a lot of rage seething inside her. Even given that, though, I think Wright took her a little too far. Ro is a Bajoran, a race of people who have been subjugated by the Cardassians for years. When two Cardassians are brought on board, she has trouble dealing with that fact, exploding in a rage a couple of times. However, for me, that doesn't jibe with the episode. First, she acts like this even before the Cardassians come on board. Secondly, she always struck me as somebody who seethes inside, and would refuse to let a Cardassian see that he is affecting her. She seemed too explosive for me, and not the Ro I'm familiar with.
Finally, I think the stories suffer from feeling truncated. I think both of them could have used a bit more story, almost as if they both deserved their own book. I would not like the idea of this being a four book series, just because it would seem like more Pocket Books marketing. However, the stories do suffer from being squeezed into two books. The second story suffers from this more than the first one does. Kirk's story could just use a couple of scenes of falling action, because as it is, the story just ends. Obviously, one plot thread isn't finished because it has to be left for the subsequent stories to deal with. However, the rest of it just comes to an abrupt halt, with one thread having been dealt with and another one just hanging there.
The TNG story, though, feels very unfinished. In the plot thread that must continue for the next book, Data ends up making some scientific observations about it and that's about it. Two Cardassians come on board, see the crew fall ill, decide that the Federation is full of weak people, and take some of their intelligence back to the Cardassian Union. There is some resolution to the theme of the story, which is that one of the Cardassians has a fascination with Data as an artificial life form. Data neatly turns the tables on him, and the Cardassian is left with much to think about. It just seems like this story could have used some more meat to it.
One more complaint, and I'll make this a brief one. Please, spare me the "Kirk's yeoman is really in love with him and oh, isn't he a wonderful captain, I can't let him see that I'm a weak person" schtick. It got old in the original series, and it was particularly annoying here. Even more annoying is that, once Wright includes it she doesn't do anything with it. It almost seems like it's there just to make Kirk seem like an even more heroic figure.
I know this review consists of all negatives. I did, however, enjoy the book, faults and all. It is a quick read, which helps. The stories themselves, truncated as they are, are interesting if you're a Trek fan. I would certainly recommend that a Trek reader take a look at these, though I might suggest that you save your money and check them out from the library. There are better Trek books out there, and this one is just a nice side story.