on 11 February 2005
David R. George III hasn't been the most prolific Star Trek writer, but he has been one of the most effective recently. With two wonderful Deep Space Nine books to his credit (Mission Gamma: Twilight and co-authorship with Armin Shimmerman of The 34th Rule), he has rapidly become somebody who I *must* check out when I see his name on a Trek book. In Serpents Among the Ruins, part of the Lost Era series of Trek books, George does yet another great job, this time rehabilitating the character of Captain John Harriman, captain of the Enterprise B (seen in the movie Star Trek: Generations). In the movie, he's kind of an inexperienced dweeb, lessened in order to make Captain Kirk seem that much greater. George obviously wanted to do something about that, and he's created a book with wonderful characters and a tense atmosphere.
This story pretty much has everything a Trek fan could want: Klingons & Romulans, interesting Federation characters (including Demora Sulu, our favourite Sulu's daughter), tension, a little bit of humour, and a huge action sequence. It also provides us with an early look at Elias Vaughn, who later (in the Deep Space Nine relaunch series) becomes first officer of the station. Having become very familiar with Vaughn from the Deep Space Nine series, it was interesting to see how he started out. How much has he changed? This is his first field mission for Starfleet Intelligence, so we do get a lot of nervousness and a little bit of angst when something happens that he's never done before. While I did find the angst a little annoying at times (while realistic, I thought the book dwelled on it just a bit much), Vaughn is an interesting character who we want to learn a lot more about.
The most impressive thing about the book, however, is Harriman. As I said, the only exposure to Harriman that most of us have received is in Generations, and it's not a good one. There is also Peter David's The Captain's Daughter, but I read that so long ago that I have no idea how he was characterized in it. It's now eighteen years later, and Harriman has become a very skilled commander, well-loved by his crew and respected by Starfleet admirals (except his father, which really becomes an issue in the book). He's also extremely interesting to read about. At times, his introspection goes on a bit too long, but most of the time it's very enjoyable to get inside his thought processes.
The rest of the characterization is done extremely well too. Sulu is Harriman's first officer (she was just a new helmsman in the movie, but she became first officer about ten years ago) and we get a lot of insight on her, as well as some on her relationship with her father (in hindsight, though, as Sulu does not appear in the book). When she has to take over the ship, she shows that she's ready for a command as well. The Romulans are distinct and very intriguing, and the Klingon political intrigue is extremely well-done, though sometimes the Klingon politics doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the book. This may lead into the next Lost Era book, which deals with the Klingons and Cardassians a few years in the future, so it's not a major point. Even the rest of the bridge crew for Enterprise have enough character hooks to make them interesting, even if they aren't truly three-dimensional. All the way around, characterization is one of George's strong points.
The other strength is the way the book is written. The chapters are a countdown to the incident itself, adding to the tension and making the reader want to keep going. The prose is extremely good for a Trek novel, bringing the reader deeper into the story with every page (and you have to keep turning that page). George handles both the quiet moments and the inevitable action sequences with equal aplomb. The last hundred pages are pulse-pounding, as Harriman's plan comes to fruition but obstacle after obstacle seems to keep getting in the way. I had to stop for breath when I finally reached the end of this section, it had me that riveted. Finally, I have to give him credit for painting a bullseye on the forehead of a character and then *not* killing him/her off! In fact, George does the exact opposite. Bravo!
The only problem with this book is that there is some repetition of little plot details that isn't really necessary. I know this happened a few times, but the most prominent is the condition that befalls Ensign Fenn. George has Sulu tell us about it in her thoughts at least twice, both times in great detail. There are other times where George does the same thing with information, compelling me to say to myself "we already know this, can we move on?" While this could be seen to emphasize how important something is, Fenn's condition doesn't really affect the plot much (which also indicates that the subplot could have been cut). It became a bit annoying at times, but I was quickly engulfed in the story once again and forgot about it.
Serpents Among the Ruins makes use of a lot of Trek history, which could be a good thing considering there are none of our "favourite" characters in it. Thankfully, George doesn't hit us over the head with continuity explanations. Instead, he gives us a solid tale that you will want to race through to see what happens next, but at the same time you'll want to read it slowly so you can savour it. Personally, I raced. I can't help it. It was that good.