Friday, July 15, 2011

Alternate Universe Warfare Begins In Spectre

The Good: Decent plot, Moments of character, Good Star Trek Knowledge
The Bad: Very much Shatner's voice, Predictable plot twists
The Basics: When agents of the Mirror Universe invade, James Kirk finds himself attempting to thwart an all-out war between dimensions.

William Shatner's first trilogy of Star Trek novels vacillated between egocentric, pointless and then finally decent. It was somewhat surprising, then, that he was granted the right to write a second batch of Trek novels. Spectre is the first of his second wave and it picks up where the overall decent Avenger left off.

James T. Kirk is retired and living on Chal, fighting with a stump and letting the universe pass him by. However, when he attends a seminar for the temporally displaced, he is captured by Kathryn Janeway. Not the Kathryn Janeway who is on the U.S.S. Voyager trapped somewhere in the Delta Quadrant, but rather a freedom fighter from the Mirror Universe of Star Trek's episode "Mirror, Mirror" (reviewed here!) and continued through Star Trek Deep Space Nine.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the galaxy, the U.S.S. Enterprise encounters the U.S.S. Voyager in a remote region of space. It does not take long for the Voyager to be revealed as a fake and the crew of the Enterprise-E is captured by agents of the Mirror Universes' oppressive Alliance. Now, Kirk is in a race to keep the Alliance from engaging in an all-out war with our universe and Captain Picard and crew find themselves engaged in a battle to keep the Alliance from stealing his ship to crush the Rebellion in the mirror universe.

The first thing of note about Spectre is that this is very much a William Shatner novel. If one reads his Tek books, everything is constructed with plas- (presumably a prefix for plastic). Well, in Spectre we have plasteel everywhere on an asteroid penal colony and it is details like that that make the novel instantly problematic. In short, much of Star Trek attempts to make events and characters seems as real as possible. Outside the technobabble, there is little attempt to flesh out the future, focusing instead on character development.

Shatner's novel has more of a science fiction/action-adventure feel to it and that feels less Trek than, well pretty much any other Star Trek author. Fortunately, in Spectre, Shatner has gotten the hang of the voices of the characters he is writing and that does work out well for the book. Even having the characters sound right pales given the volume of exposition in the novel.

Indeed, much of Spectre is spent with characters articulating what is going on. As the different factions in the novel piece together their part of the puzzle, their voices and the narrator's tend to blend and the truth is, most readers will have a pretty easy time picking up the plot, despite how convoluted it might appear at various moments.

That said, Spectre is entertaining. This is a Mirror Universe infiltration story and it largely works. Kirk's character arc actually works; content to be retired until his past catches up with him, Kirk is drawn into the conflict when it becomes clear that the genocide carried out against the humans and Vulcans in the Mirror Universe is a direct result of his interference in "Mirror, Mirror." So, while he is drawn in by his past, Kirk soon finds reason to become more intensely involved when Teilani (his love interest from the prior three Shatner Trek novels) is abducted, under the ridiculous pretense of keeping Kirk from the action.

The novel is the first part of a new mini-series and it does end in a cliffhanger that makes one want to pick up Shatner's next Star Trek book, which is Dark Victory. Who will like Spectre? Well, it's pretty much geared toward fans of the franchise. Co-authors Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens are experts in the Star Trek universe and they help pack the book with insights into the bigger picture of how things in the Trek universe fits together. This, however, is likely to isolate people with only a casual interest in Star Trek. It is also accessible to people who like simple pulp, fast moving convoluted-plots that have little depth to them. Most of the "surprises" in Spectre aren't surprises at all, being fairly obviously foreshadowed in earlier parts of the novel.

A good read for an afternoon when one wants a fast-paced trip through the Star Trek universe, but certainly not one of the enduring Trek novels that has actual literary merit. Decision was a razor decision and I opted against recommending simply because most of the people I know would not be grabbed by it.

For other Star Trek novels written by William Shatner, please check out:
Ashes Of Eden
The Return


For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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