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Endless sifting through the rubble does not excitement make
on 12 November 2004
First, there was Star Trek: Nemesis. Then, there was the bright idea by Pocket Books to tell us what led up to the movie. Thus was the "Time to..." series born. It consists of a series of two-part stories by different Trek authors. The first, appropriately enough, is A Time to Be Born, by venerable Trek novelist, John Vornholt. It's an intriguing concept, as the movie had all of the characters ready to move off in different directions, and it would be nice to see how they got there. How is the first book? It's pretty interesting interspersed with some horribly dull parts.
Rashanar is the site of one of the most horrific battles of the Dominion War, and it is now a floating graveyard. Littered with wreckage and gravitational anomalies, the site has become a draw to many greedy species intent on salvaging as much as they can, most especially the Androssi. The Enterprise is assigned security duties at this site, trying desperately to keep the scavengers away so that Starfleet can recover its dead. However, hidden away in all of these fluxes and the warp in the space-time continuum is something sinister, something that can drain the power from any ship it discovers. Their mission will bring Data to a decision point, a decision that could end Picard's career. Unfortunately, the crew may not be alive long enough to care.
There are some really good parts to this book and they make it well worth reading. Unfortunately, there are a few too many scenes of various shuttlepods tip-toeing through the wreckage, playing dead, and otherwise flying around to make it a thoroughly engrossing book. Vornholt tries to make these scenes interesting by providing a lot of character interplay, but he doesn't always succeed. There were times when I was reading where I wished one of these ships would just explode so that *something* would happen. I think I get what Vornholt was trying to do with these scenes, ratcheting up the tension by having it build through the reader not knowing what's going to happen, but sometimes enough is enough.
Thankfully, there aren't too many of these scenes, and the rest of them are very good. The scene where Picard, Data and LaForge explore the wreck of the Asgard is filled with tension, especially when they happen upon the Androssi for the first time. There are also some good scenes between Geordi and Data as they are exploring, especially when they finally find what is hiding in the graveyard. The pace finally picks up when the Enterprise gets back to Earth, even as the action slows down, mainly because I was intrigued by what was happening to Picard back there. Would he be drummed out of Starfleet? What would be the outcome of any court martial? Did he do the right thing?
Vornholt does a good job with the characterization for the most part. He should, as he's been writing these characters for years. The only character who felt a little off was Captain Leeden, mainly because she bounced between competent officer and screaming harpie and back again, sometimes in the same scene. Unlike Counselor Cabot later in the book, Leeden does it for no apparent reason. I know Rashanar is supposed to put everybody under a lot of stress, and she has been there for quite a while, but I just found this to be a little too drastic. Vornholt nails the regulars, though. He also has created an interesting race in the Androssi, and the two main ones we see (Ghissel and her pilot) are well done. Ghissel is a woman on her way up, and the coup that she claims by pulling one over on Picard is nicely done.
There is one bit of characterization that is really badly done, however. That is the various romantic relationships. Troi and Riker don't have very many scenes together as a couple, but the two Androssi do, and it's extremely juvenile. It's also incredibly pointless, considering what happens to them. While I found Ghissel and interesting character, I didn't find that this relationship added anything to her character at all, and I have to wonder why it was included. Even some of the descriptions of Troi and Riker are a little too "cute" for my taste.
Overall, though, Vornholt has created a very satisfying novel. Some bits of prose are a bit clunky. I have no idea why he keeps introducing Wesley as "The Traveler" every time Wesley comes on the scene, and then starts using his name. Wesley is a Traveler, but either use it consistently or just say Wesley. Don't do both. However, this is a minor point and Vornholt generally carries the reader's interest throughout. Even the boring exploration parts are relatively short. The second half of the book is wonderful, too, so don't' be disheartened if you find the first part even more boring than I did. It does pick up.
A Time to Be Born is a very good start to the series. I'm hoping that the rest of the series continues this, or even picks it up.