So, although the SCE series isn't over, this is (as of October 2012) the last printed compilation of stories, and the last collection of stories before the series was officially relaunched as Corps of Engineers, reverting back to its digital only format.
As this whole collection is a series of flashbacks and memories explaining what certain characters (or indeed the SCE itself) were doing at various points in history, you could be forgiven for feeling a little disappointed that the characters and the ongoing plot points seem to have been left dangling.
On the other hand, if you've become invested in this series as a whole, this selection provides some nice background to some of our favourite characters, as well as a nicely placed prequel story for another series.
1. Progress fills in some blanks on Gold's early career - i.e. when he was captain of the USS Progress - as well as picking up from the conclusion of the TNG episode "Pen Pals". The planet in that episode is getting ready to welcome the Federation with open arms, but is still feeling the effects of its turbulent past. Also, some light is shed on what happened to Pulaski after transferring off the Enterprise (beyond a rather vague reference in Voyager's "Endgame" over a decade later).
This is probably the weakest of the six-part series, but is by no means unenjoyable. The present day segments pick up the threads from Pen Pals and Gold's story and promise to set up a new chapter in the series.
2. The Future Begins is a rather ambitious story trying to describe what led Scotty to become the SCE leader after the last time we saw him, Picard was giving him a shuttle to go off and explore the galaxy. More ardent readers of the various Trek novels will have encountered him at other points, and may have noticed inconsistent information being provided. The authors try to reconcile all that information here in what makes for an interesting and sometimes touching tale of a living legend out of his own time.
3. Echoes of Coventry has a rather peculiar title that doesn't give much away (I assume for the majority, though a certain group of history buffs might get the reference straight off). I won't give away the relevance of the title, but will say I did greatly enjoy learning some more about Bart Faulwell. The last time he had this much light shed on his past was way back in the War Stories two parter.
While not a wall-to-wall action story, this story places Bart in a top secret cryptography mission in the height of the Dominion war. The author has a good grasp of his subject matter, and delves into Bart's mind as an enlisted linguistics expert - about as far from phaser fodder as anyone in Starfleet can get. A really enjoyable read.
4. Distant Early Warning is by far my favourite story from What's Past and focuses entirely on Al Khaled and the SCE crew on the 23rd century USS Lovell. As this is more or less a straight out Vanguard story, we're treated to the usual plot twists and double bluffs I've come to expect from the series and sheds further light on the shady Starfleet operation in the remote Taurus Reach.
5. 10 is Better than 01 is probably the first (and only) in-depth look a Trekkie has ever got at the Bynar culture. This story is told with a minimal emphasis on standard narrative, and instead tells its story via log entries, inter-departmental memos and Federation database entries. It's a device used to good effect and really highlights the differences between the standard Federation culture we're familiar with and the mostly forgotten Bynar way of life.
Some of the log entries could be quite jarring at times, as the person making them frequently spoke in a way we're unfamiliar with when it comes to Star Trek's personal logs - they frequently use dramatic flourishes and story telling techniques you wouldn't generally use if you were making a diary entry.
However, this doesn't massively detract from the book, and we come to understand what leads Soloman (then part of the 110/111 unit) to join Starfleet, and why he's remained after his bond-mate was killed.
6. Many Splendors is essentially the life story of Sonya Gomez. After appearing in only a couple of second season TNG episodes, she mysteriously disappeared; which gives this story plenty of leeway to fill in the gaps. We find out her motivations and thoughts as we see her progress from an over-eager young Ensign winning a place on the Enterprise, to maturing and making her way to Commander of the SCE team on the Da Vinci.
It's a well thought out and interesting tale, and really helps flesh out the character that little bit more.
Overall, this was a fairly decent outing, and a fitting celebration of Star Trek's 40th anniversary. Any trepidation I felt at being left hanging with regards to the ongoing Da Vinci missions was well and truly put to rest.