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What's that clunking noise?
on 24 November 2004
What is it with Star Trek two-part stories? The television series always had problems with conclusions, and now the book series is following suit. Unlike the television series, though, the book series is just taking flaws in the first book and expanding on them in the conclusion, making the final installment a step down from the first. Such again is the case with Voyager's relaunch novel, The Farther Shore. After writing my review for Homecoming, I read some other reviews that mentioned that Christie Golden's writing had way too many romance novel tropes. While I don't necessarily agree with that for Homecoming (or at least I don't agree that they were prominent), it is true in spades with A Farther Shore. The writing is trite and evokes too many "bodice-ripper" images for my taste. If this is the way the relaunch is going to continue (and it evidently is completely Golden's ball, handed to her by the editors), then I hope she learns to rein them in.
There are a lot of problems with this book, so I'll start with the good stuff. Golden continues to write the regulars well, as far as characterization goes. She's obviously a fan of the Janeway/Chakotay relationship, though she avoids them falling into bed together, instead giving them a "very close friends who could almost have been lovers" feel. Hopefully, she'll keep it that way in subsequent books. The friendship between them is very well done. Seven is still a little too emotional, but she otherwise is also written well. Torres, off on her own quest for her mother, is finally coming to terms with her dual-heritage, and the scenes between Torres and her mother are very interesting. In fact, the sequences on Boreth with Torres are the best part of the book. Too bad that they didn't have anything to do with the main plot. Also, the Borg plot is interesting in its own way, though I truly hope this is the last gasp of the Borg. Thankfully, the problem ends up being a lot less predictable than "they brought the virus with them," which is nice.
Unfortunately, while the regular characters are done pretty well, the others are not. The main villain of the piece, once revealed, is *way* overdone, sounding shrill at times. The Starfleet admirals that Janeway and others have to deal with also seem way too strident in their feelings toward the Voyager crew. Also, the final resolution, as hard as it is to get there, ends up being way too simple when it finally occurs. It's almost an afterthought, which is not a good thing. The leader of the holographic rebellion is written way over the top, especially when we get the scenes in his fantasy world. I found myself shaking my head way too many times in this book. I also have to wonder at the abrupt end to the holographic rights plot. Perhaps this is going to be picked up in future books?
Which leads me to the main problem with A Farther Shore: the writing. I can live with descriptions of men and women as "muscular" and "beautiful" without thinking a lot about it. I think that's what many reviewers had a problem with in Homecoming. But A Farther Shore takes it one step further, especially with characters we care nothing about. There is a sequence where many Starfleet personnel, as well as other workers, are replaced by holograms, and the real people are placed in some holographic world where they are slaves to the holograms. This is supposedly to teach them what it's like to be oppressed. These scenes involve characters we aren't familiar with at all, and the limited scenes they have in the book before this happens just didn't make me care about them. What's even worse, though, is the way the sequence is written. It seriously is like a romance novel come to life. Lieutenant Andropov is described as being extremely muscular, and the woman who he takes under his wing is quite beautiful. He's old enough to be her father, and thankfully we are spared any romantic entanglements, but we still get prose that's ripped from the bodice of those novels. It made me cringe every time Golden went back there.
Finally, there is one major internal continuity gaffe that is so bad only because the scenes happen one right after the other. In the first scene, the Trill doctor suggests that Data go off for the rendezvous with the other Voyager crewmembers by himself while he continues to work with the holographic Doctor in sickbay. The very next scene, however, is the rendezvous, and the Trill is right there. He speaks quite a lot, and it's obvious not a communication from sickbay. He is right there. Surely this should have been caught in editing even if Golden was writing the scenes out of order and forgot this?
A Farther Shore has an interesting premise with some good characterization (but some horrible characterization too), but the writing just fails it. Romance-lite, overbearing and overdrawn, this book just seems such a let-down after Homecoming. Problems that were below the radar rear their ugly head, and don't bode well for the series. I hope Golden can do better than this.