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Review: Star Trek: New Frontier: The Returned by Peter David September 7, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Star Trek.
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Three more Netgalley reviews in one, produced in exchange for free advance e-versions. I’ve put all three in one post, so beware of spoilers.

Part I

New Frontier fans will love this. Others may wonder what the fuss is all about.

There’s no denying the importance of New Frontier in the world of Star Trek fiction. It was the first books-only series and it was a hit with readers. Things have changed over the years, including the editorial staff at Pocket, and it’s been a while since the last New Frontier novel. That may be part of the inspiration for the title, but there are plenty of returns in the story, as well. Longtime New Frontier fans will be glad to see many of the old gang, who scattered somewhat over the course of the series, back together in action. And there are other returns, including various characters in the storyline set on New Thallon. So I expect fans will be very happy with this new installment.

Me, I’m not so sure. This is Star Trek written as Marvel comic, complete with superheroes. The dialogue tends to be wisecracking banter or portentous and stilted. And a lot of stupid setups are required to let the regulars get their buttkicking highlights. One of the most important planets is guarded only by a dozen Starfleet marines, instead of ships, satellites, force fields, automatic weapons arrays, sensors, and other 24th century tech. Why? So Mackenzie Calhoun can kick butt and almost do something he shouldn’t. Characters consistently make dumb decisions so they can blow up in their faces later. Characters who should be able to think of obviously solutions to technical issues fail to, so that other characters can reveal their brilliance. It gets tiresome. But it’s short and it moves quickly.

This is not a good jumping on point for new readers, because it basically picks up in the middle of a few storylines. But I’d be surprised if anyone who’s already a New Frontier fan is anything other than thrilled.

Part II

Fast moving but frustrating

Like its predecessor, this is an action-packed tale in which many of the characters can kick a lot of butt and none can think their way out of a paper bag. Characters impetuously jump into action and then decide they should have looked before they leaped. They’re constantly surprised when their choices have repercussions.

This one, more than the first may have longtime fans questioning a few decisions, but by and large it’s New Frontier for New Frontier fans.

Part III

Well. Definitely a must-read for New Frontier fans and possibly a what the heck?! experience for the unconverted.

It may seem like an easy shot to say that Peter A. David, who’s written a lot of comics for Marvel, DC, and other publishers, writes New Frontier more like a Marvel comic than any Star Trek TV series, but I think there’s some truth to it. And for some readers, that’s probably what draws them in. It’s a uniquely over the top and action-packed take on the Star Trek universe.

Part 3 of the saga wraps up everything set up in the first two installments — unsurprisingly, as it was originally announced as a single novel. It’s been said that, depending on sales, this may be the end of this particular series. If so, at least the D’myurj storyline and the Thallonian storyline are wrapped up, and there’s some character resolution as well, but PAD also drops a revelation or two that can lead to new stories if the series continues. Either way, job done.

I still have some issues with this miniseries within the series, though. Throughout all three parts, characters are much too eager to jump into violent hand-to-hand combat as their preferred method of dispute resolution. Captain Calhoun in particular commits some acts of violence that should have him drummed out of Starfleet and into a psych ward, but at the end of the book everyone seems to be happy with him staying in command of his ship. A surprise guest star whose identity is revealed at the end of the second part is also played as much more of a bloodthirsty and physically violent character than we’ve seen him in a very long time. The flipside to all this is that characters keep deciding the only way for them to resolve an issue is to let themselves get killed. It’s kill or be killed, except during the sex scenes, and one of them is pretty unpleasant, too. Nobody is capable of thinking their way out of a situation. What the D’myurj do doesn’t make much sense; what their enemies do doesn’t make much sense; how Calhoun tries to deal with them doesn’t make much sense. No one pays attention to what should be obvious developments just so they can be shocked by utterly predictable things they missed.

One minor example of the characters’ not thinking about anything but just blindly acting based on emotion, and this isn’t much of a spoiler: one Starfleet officer has had a baby with the late leader of an alien empire. She takes it for granted that the baby must some day lead that empire because of the divine right of kings or something, and no one questions it; no one says, maybe this empire would be a much better place as a democracy. It’s just not an issue. Of course this months-old baby is the only logical choice for leader of an interstellar empire not allied with the Federation because that’s what his dad wanted, and of course Federation/Starfleet people should interfere with the empire’s internal politics to make it happen.

But. It’s fast-paced, full of action, brings together a lot of the old gang again, ties up some story lines, and sets up a couple of things that could be explored in future books. So it does what it set out to do, and no doubt many readers will wonder how I could have any problems with it. It really is essential reading for New Frontier fans.

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