STAR TREK: THE LOST ERA – SERPENTS AMONG THE RUINS
By David R. George III
Pocket Books MMPB
309 pages, $6.99
Date of Publication: September 2003
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Synopsis: The year is 2311. It is a year of infamy, a year that later generations will remember as one that altered the course of history at the cost of thousands of lives. It is the year of the Tomed Incident, and its tale can at last be told.
Review: Political and military intrigue often make for interesting stories, particularly when they are well plotted and well told. As a fan of Tom Clancy’s novels THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, RED STORM RISING, and CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER, I have enjoyed the balance between compelling action and strong characters with intriguing backgrounds. Such is the case with David R. George’s novel SERPENTS AMONG THE RUINS, the second entry in the LOST ERA series, a look behind the curtain at the events of the Tomed incident that led to an extended period of isolationism for the Romulan Empire until their return in TNG’s “The Neutral Zone.”
As the story opens, things are not looking good for the three big superpowers in the galaxy, the Federation, the Klingon Empire, and the Romulan Star Empire. Even after the Khitomer Accords of 2293, it seems that the old rivalries and hatreds have surfaced again, amidst rumors of secret weapons testing by the Federation. Behind the scenes secret plots stir to overthrow one of the top leaders in one of the powers in an attempt to sow seeds of mistrust among the other parties and bring about chaos.
Even with the rumors, Starfleet goes ahead with a project 25 years in the making: the launch of the starship Universe, a prototype vessel with experimental hyperwarp drive. Leading the mission is Admiral John “Blackjack” Harriman, father of Captain John Harriman from GENERATIONS fame, and a grizzled warrior with an axe to grind against his own son after the events of Peter David’s novel THE CAPTAIN’S DAUGHTER.
Two decades earlier, Captain Harriman threw his father into the brig for attempting to attack the crew of the Excelsior to stop them from rescuing then-Ensign Demora Sulu from a Tholian outpost and for disobeying orders of a superior officer. Once in lockdown, Admiral Harriman realized the correctness of his son’s command decision but never forgave him for his betrayal. It is this spirit of unforgiveness that permeates the tension between father and son once again in SERPENTS.
When the launch of the test ship goes awry, resulting in its destruction and the deaths and severe injuries of 51 Starfleet officers, among them Admiral “Blackjack” Harriman, fuels the rumors from the Romulan and Klingon consuls of Federation weapons testing. Mistrust and hatred soon appears on multiple fronts: along with the political, the military and personal fronts are also great threats. At the heart of these rumors, an old enemy of the younger Harriman’s plots his revenge by attempting to take the Tomed, the flagship of the Romulan Empire, through the Neutral Zone into Federation space. Starfleet orders Harriman and Lieutenant Elias Vaughn of Starfleet Special Ops to head up a dangerous mission: thwart the Tomed’s flight into Federation territory.
The major strength of the novel is George’s knowledge of military tactics and political strategy. The events of SERPENTS easily mirror modern-day military and political situations, particularly in the subplots involving the Klingon and Romulan ambassadors. Machiavellian in nature, he reveals that those resisting change are do not seek peace and know no other way but conflict. George keeps the action progressing smoothly, continually building one beat at a time to a powerful crescendo by story’s climax. The end result offers no easy resolutions for all parties involved, as fans of TNG know of the end result of the Tomed Incident.
George also reveals through SERPENTS the theme of unforgiving spirits in the novel, whether it is a strained father-son relationship, bitter rivalries between old foes, or decades-old hatred among political factions. Captain John Harriman is a seasoned officer who has grown past the mistakes of his youth into one of the Federation’s leading diplomats and starship captains. But even the best of men have secrets lurking about in their pasts, as he is reunited not only with a vengeful Romulan officer bent on his destruction, but also the bitterness between father and son. George shows that the younger Harriman has learned to live with forgiveness in his heart, but sadly his father hasn’t. In an emotionally gripping moment between “Blackjack” Harriman and the Enterprise’s first officer, Commander Demora Sulu, George reveals to us that sometimes the 'serpents' go with us even into death and beyond.
The best part of the novel is that George shows that even with the best of intentions none of the central characters are perfect. From Captain Harriman to his father, to Demora Sulu, to a vengeful Romulan officer, to the Federation, Klingon, and Romulan ambassadors, everyone wears flaws that make them all the more, well, human.
George holds no punches in presenting a nicely balanced mix of Machiavellian plots, bitter hatreds, strong characterizations, and suspenseful and often shocking actions. SERPENTS AMONG THE RUINS is a great novel and one of the best STAR TREK books of the year. Highly recommended.
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