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Alexander Chase Tackles TOS Novels THE LAST ROUND-UP and JANUS GATE BOOK 3 in Mixed Review

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Posted: 08:12:11 on July 09 2002
By: Steve Krutzler
Dept: Reviews - Books | Divine Treasury forum

Buy now to support TrekWeb!Star Trek
by Christie Golden

Pocket Books, 2002
Hardback, 287 pages

Written for TrekWeb by Alexander Chase, edited by Steve Krutzler

In STAR TREK: THE LAST ROUNDUP by Christie Golden, Captain James Kirk and the crew brace themselves for a cataclysmic disruption in space-time existence and race against time for the survival of the universe. Having reached the end of his Starfleet career, Kirk prepares to retire, only to discover that his destiny as a galactic hero will follow him no matter where he goes. As Kirk, Scotty and Chekov join in the development of a new colony on a planet in a remote corner of Federation space, the devious Falorians seem to have something up their sleeves. When Kirk and his colleagues start getting suspicious, they must take matters into their own hands as the edge-of-the-seat adventure unfolds.

Christie Golden's THE LAST ROUNDUP is Star Trek in the finest tradition of Gene Roddenberry's legacy, barring the exceedingly cheesy title itself. Set after the events of STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY and before Kirk's first "death" in STAR TREK GENERATIONS, Golden seamlessly weaves together a story possessing the grandiose tapestry of The Original Series crew's big screen action-adventures and the inane humanity and optimism of the The Original Series itself. THE LAST ROUNDUP finds Kirk and Scotty restless with boredom in their retirement, and an equally restless Pavel Chekov unable to find an open captaincy, setting off at the request of Kirk's nephews Alexander and Julius to help establish a colony world called Sanctuary. The colony is tp be founded on Alexander's pacifist vision of a world where technology is deployed for the peaceful benefit of all. However, that vision begins to fall apart as the Falorian gift of this "paradise" world to some of the Federation's finest scientific citizens turns out to be part of a larger ploy involving the Orion Syndicate, a threat to warp travel and millions of lives, and an ancient grudge against the neighboring Huan, cousins of the Falorians and their former oppressors.

While the action-adventure component of the story unfolds at a brisk pace to a satisfying conclusion, gifted-wrapped with a great big red bow in Roddenberry's optimism that there are no truly evil people (only evil actions caused by misunderstandings and a lack of empathy for one's fellow beings) it is in the characterizations that THE LAST ROUNDUP truly blossoms. At the core of the story lies the fascinating evolution of Kirk's relationship with his nephews and an eager to please, brilliantly drawn Huan female Starfleet Academy Cadet named Skalli, who has been thrusted upon Kirk to serve as his advisor. In the end, THE LAST ROUNDUP is not about Kirk's heroics or legend, but about the effect he has had - or good or ill - on the people around him. As THE LAST ROUNDUP conveys Kirk's personal ledger in this regard, though strong in many ways, it is not untainted as evidenced by the distant, absent uncle role he choose after the death of his brother Sam. The effect of this on his nephew Julius is substantial and Kirk's subsequent questioning this choice of putting career ahead of his brother's young sons at the end of this story is profound, if not wholly filled with regret. In Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks' Captain Miller talks about rationalizing his choices and the loss of his men in battle, that for very one he lost he must have saved 10, perhaps even 20 times that number. In his relationship with his nephews Kirk takes the same tack as in THE LAST ROUNDUP he comes to a similar understanding. While Kirk feels justified in his choices for the greater good he knows that they have had consequences at the more individual level.

However, even better than this aspect of THE LAST ROUNDUP, is the evolution of Kirk's relationship with the young Huan Skalli from his initial irritation with her youthful enthusiasm, her need to please and extreme emotionalism (nicely contextualized in Kirk's thoughts as an opposite to his relationship with the unemotional Spock) to Kirk's growing respect and admiration for those qualities in her. Golden's Skalli is a wonderful character and a joy to behold in every scene she appears, from her initial awe at the legendary Captain James T. Kirk to her growing understanding of the meaning of the words Kirk taught at the Academy.

That this relationship ends in a mentor-tutor friendship of remarkable depth speaks volumes about Golden's ability to handle characters. In fact, at the end of THE LAST ROUNDUP, it becomes clear to Kirk and the reader how he can continue to "make a difference" by shaping the minds and careers of young cadets like Skalli as a teacher. A conclusion that actually rings truer than the "going out in a blaze of glory" finale that many fans expect of such a titanic hero. This reader was even left with the impression that a story about Kirk's experiences as a teacher at Starfleet Academy with reference to the volume of source material (television episodes and the movies) about his command decisions and tactical situations might be a worthwhile project and a joy to read for fans -- one this reviewer urges Ms. Golden to tackle with relish. There may even be hope to see more of the Kirk-Skalli relationship.

Some minor points are that in Ms. Golden we have a Trek writer who can accurately capture the inane humanity of Doctor McCoy's characterization without making a caricature of a character who spends all his time complaining. What a refreshing change even if McCoy's role in this story is brief. But it's and insightful one, especially in the closing scene with Kirk and Spock.

One minor beef is while it is completely believable that Kirk and Scotty - metaphorically bored to tears in retirement - would take on this colony venture for the mere sport of it, it doesn't ring true that Chekov would do so, and his inclusion in the story seems forced merely to justify the awkward pairing of Chekov, Scotty and Kirk in STAR TREK: GENERATIONS. Quite frankly, I find to hard to believe that any Starfleet character aggressively pursuing a captaincy would simply abandon that ambition in favor of becoming a colonist, however temporarily, much less turn down an open first officer position on another ship while awaiting a captaincy. Chekov's actions in this regard go totally against the grain of the character and Kirk's life-long impact on the character of "making a difference". It does reek of a writer jumping through contrived loops to include a character (see Worf in STAR TREK: INSURRECTION). But this is but a minor quibble and all THE ORIGINAL SERIES characters are given a chance to shine at their best in THE LAST ROUNDUP, no matter how small or big their roles may be. It is also a pleasant experience to read about some of the follow-ups to events in THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY with regards to the peace negotiations with the Klingons and Chancellor Azetbur honoring the debt owed to Kirk in true Klingon fashion.

Christie Golden's THE LAST ROUNDUP will be a joy to read for most Star Trek fans. If only they could have given it a better title.

TrekWeb's Rating:

Buy now to support TrekWeb!Star Trek: The Original Series
Book Three of Three: PAST PROLOGUE
by L.A. Graf

Pocket Books, 2002
252 pages

Written for TrekWeb by Alexander Chase, edited by Steve Krutzler

The thrilling relaunch of Star Trek: The Original Series continues. The Janus Gate, a portal altering time and space, continues to realign history, even as Spock and Montgomery Scott work feverishly to figure out a way to return the battle-scarred versions of Sulu and Chekov to the future they know and recover their own Captain Kirk. In Star Trek: The Original Series: THE JANUS GATE: BOOK THREE-PAST PROLOGUE by L.A. Graf, this becomes even more difficult as Spock and Scotty realize they must undo changes in both the future and past to ensure everyone's existence and the future of the Federation.

Well, the good news in THE JANUS GATE: BOOK THREE-PAST PROLOGUE is that L.A. Graf does not rely upon the Metrons hitting the reset button to bring the story to a conclusion and history back into alignment. In fact, there are no Metrons (or Gorn) to be found anywhere in this final segment of the three book series.

The even better news is that the PAST PROLOGUE has a surprisingly effective - and dark in the same vein as The Original Series episode "City on the Edge of Forever" - conclusion to its story. This gritty realism, founded on the logical action of a principal character not named Spock, comes as quite a surprise after the large amount of standard Trek fluff populating most of the story.

The bad news is THE JANUS GATE is a single book masquerading as three. L.A. Graf's story needs to be badly tightened up and given a merciless editing. At least a third of the content in THE JANUS GATE series appears to be filler designed to package a three book series when the story would have been far more effective if this third had been excised and THE JANUS GATE marketed as a single, large Trek novel of around 500 pages. This reviewer won't comment on the obvious strategy of 'spanking the customer' or 'milking the fan base' that this represents.

I will, however, insert a comment about the confusion caused to this reviewer by book descriptions on the jacket for Books One and Three of THE JANUS GATE that have nothing to do with the content of the books themselves. For example, PAST PROLOGUE refers to Kirk being thrown back in time to the Tarsus IV massacres of Kodos the Destroyer and Lieutenant Kevin Riley being the Enterprise crew's only hope to retrieve their captain. Needless to say, Kodos the Destroyer is nowhere to be found in THE JANUS GATE, nor does Kirk end up on Tarsus IV, and Riley's role in PAST PROLOGUE could not be described as anything more than a cameo. I will also point out that contrary to the press releases for the books (see above and the June 6, 2002 review of Books One and Two here ), Scotty appears so rarely in this series as to be considered extraneous. Finally, there isn't any attempt to return the older Chekov and Sulu to the future in PAST PROLOGUE.

THE JANUS GATE very much revolves around Sulu, Chekov and Uhura's viewpoint of events though Kirk and Spock clearly remain the principal protagonists who drive the action. What PAST PROLOGUE really has to offer is about the emerging friendship between Chekov and Sulu, about Uhura's loyalty to - and gaining strength from - her captain; as well as Kirk's reevaluation of his relationship with his father, George Kirk, through the prism of adult eyes. All of this is interesting but it is very thin in comparison to the bulk of material Graf serves up to the reader, once again requiring you to trudge through a lot of material just to find the good stuff.

PAST PROLOGUE has a lot of weaknesses. Graf's characterization of McCoy remains woefully weak but fortunately McCoy has only a small role to play in this last volume. The "threat" of an alien race called the Shechenag (coming across as very similar to The Next Generation's Sheliak seen in the episode "The Ensigns of Command") introduced at the conclusion of Book Two sets up circumstances strongly reminiscent of The Original Series episode "The Tholian Web". There is even a "web" in PAST PROLOGUE which has to be defeated to retrieve a lost captain.

These are just a few examples. PAST PROLOGUE is better than its predecessors, and on its own is probably a three star novel despite its problems, but as part of a series it only accentuates the weaknesses of the prior two books. If you really want to read THE JANUS GATE don't waste your money on the first two books and just skip to this last volume. As a time travel story everything does reset in the end of the story - and no one remembers events; just vague intuitions. However, it occurs through character actions and sacrifices rather than the snap of a Metron's fingers. Actually, do Metrons snap their fingers? Do Metrons really have fingers to snap? You won't find out in THE JANUS GATE.

Graf does leave the reader with the impression that these intuitions might have been strong enough to guide Kirk's later actions towards the Gorn in The Original Series episode "Arena". Some fans might view that as a cheapening of the message in "Arena." As for this reviewer, I'm just going to ignore it.

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