Thursday, July 21, 2011

Shatner's Trek Continues In A Mildly Entertaining Work With Preserver!

The Good: Interesting - if convoluted - story, Moments of character, Knowledge of the Trek Universe
The Bad: Continued Escalation of Improbable Events, Quality of writing
The Basics: When Captain Kirk and his mirror universe counterpart search for a weapon of massive power, what they find instead is a harbinger to the apocalypse.

The fundamental problem William Shatner has had with his Star Trek novels is that while he knows Captain James T. Kirk, he has little knowledge of the Star Trek franchise outside that. His co-authors, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, more than make up for his ignorance in this regard. What his co-authors seem unable to do is to cover Shatner's writing style, which continues in Preserver to be problematic.

Every few chapters in a William Shatner novel, the stakes are ratcheted up with the intent to create suspense and dire circumstances. Instead, the reader is treated to an escalation of improbable events framed in such a way that the reader wants for there to be no catharsis, just so it would all make sense. A perfectly good example in Preserver involves Captain Kirk floating out in space after his mirror universe doppleganger, Tiberius. Tiberius has a significant head start and Kirk goes through all sorts of death defying acrobatics in space to catch up to the other man. The problem is in the phrasing of so much of the writing. Kirk notices he is going to miss Tiberius by meters and the battle is lost. But then, there's suddenly more air to jettison to change his vector. And that takes the exact amount of time needed to try again. But then, he misses on the first pass. But there's a solution to that problem and so on and so forth. Far more realistic and gratifying than the unending series' of impossible to achieve events that happen would be Kirk failing.

But, because Shatner is the author and Kirk is fairly invincible in these novels, that's unlikely to happen.

Picking up where Dark Victory (reviewed here!) left off, Captain James T. Kirk rushes back to the Klingon Homeworld with a cure for his dying wife. Once she is cured, he immediately takes off to make good on the unholy alliance he made with Tiberius. Tiberius had the cure he needed, but the former Emperor exacted a high price for that medicine; he wanted a First Federation vessel that Kirk believes is still in a remote base in our universe.

Without giving away too terribly much, things don't quite go as Tiberius had hoped at the First Federation outpost and the circumstances are so radically altered as to shift the momentum of the conflict with the mirror universe. What began as a potential windfall for Tiberius turns into a vast conspiracy of events that suggest that the mythical Preservers are actively manipulating the two universes.

For those who are not familiar with the Star Trek canon, the Preservers are Star Trek's reasoning that all the aliens in the franchise look essentially the same. Billions of years ago, the oldest race in the galaxy seeded various planets with the building blocks of life. They became known as the Preservers in the Star Trek novels and on Star Trek The Next Generation, the episode "The Chase" revealed their nature.

What works with this whole idea is that the disparate elements of the Star Trek universe are brought together. Preserver offers a fairly sane reason for things like the duplicate Earth that is seen in the original Star Trek ("Miri"). It does its best to explain the obelisk from "The Paradise Syndrome" (reviewed here!) and even takes a stab at how our universe and the mirror universe diverged. It's an ambitious project and for the bulk of the book that is exploring the vast Preserver Conspiracy, it works.

The stakes are decent; the end of the universe is predicted to happen and James Kirk or Tiberius appear to be the cause. That might seem fairly obvious, but it ends up being generally well-executed. As Kirk and Tiberius and Picard and the Enterprise crew try to uncover the truth about the Preservers, Project Sign (a Shatner-conceived conspiracy involving the Federation's reaction to, possibly, the mirror universe) and the psychohistorian's predictions of the impending doomsday, the way that the Star Trek universe's various elements are tied together is smart and clever and at worst entertaining.

The problem is when it begins to diverge from that successful formula. This happens either when Shatner does his Shatner action-adventure thing or when the story takes an abrupt left turn into making new circumstances to fit the idea of this novel. Preserver starts with tying together various elements of established Star Trek lore like the mirror universe, the Preserver obelisks, the duplicate Earth(s), and first contact. But in order to go where the novel wants the story to go, it ultimately has to abandon these known quantities in favor of new ideas.

So, when the psychohistorians, Kirk and Picard hit a dead end on proving the Preserver influence through all the circumstantial evidence they have amassed, new facts pop up. For example, throughout StarFleet history, various ships have been assigned to Captains without real authorization codes from Command. Captain Kirk getting the U.S.S. Enterprise is supposedly one of those events. Given the plum nature of the assignment Kirk was granted, one must have figured there would have been more seasoned or qualified officers to get the Enterprise who would have checked such things as who ordered the commissioning (if for nothing else than to know who to have a vendetta against). That this plot-convenient "Preserver Influence" has been going on for hundreds of years makes no real sense.

And this concept resolves itself in a typically Shatner way; the characters he invented for his Star Trek novels become pivotal and therefore are enduring. Sadly, it is the last section of the book when Shatner commits the reader to enduring more of Captain Christine MacDonald (from his prior novels) that the book loses all credibility and interest. One is likely to finish it at that point simply because they have invested so much time reading the prior two hundred pages (though to be fair, the novel's qualitative turn down doesn't happen for another fifty pages after that).

Ultimately, I'm recommending Preserver for fans of the Star Trek franchise. While the book may not be high literature, it's entertaining before it reaches the conclusion from all the threads it tries to tie together. And, despite my problem with how they get there, there's a pretty decent moment near the end of the book that surprised me.

The truth is, for the surprise, I didn't think the writer Shatner had it in him. But, of course, he did. He's Shatner.

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


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

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

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