Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Continuing With The I.K.S. Gorkon: Enemy Territory Is A Triumph Of Creativity Over Quality.

The Good: Interesting alien design, The end picks up nicely.
The Bad: Pacing issues, Unlikable characters, Simplistic writing style, Allusions and self-referential nature, Repeated plot.
The Basics: Poorly written, with an uprooting of anything familiar in the Klingon military structure, Enemy Territory spends a lot of time focused on aliens readers won't care about.

In the realm of the Star Trek novels, there are very few concepts that are as ambitious as the idea behind the I.K.S. Gorkon series. Even Peter David's Excalibur novels are essentially recasting the traditional Federation starship, despite the way they go off into an area of the galaxy that has become David's own within the Star Trek universe. The I.K.S. Gorkon series, however, has the difficulty of presenting an alien crew and culture while having them explore the unknown and still be interesting to human readers. This is a problematic concept and while it is ambitious and novelist Keith R.A. DeCandido is creative, he falls a little shy of being able to make it work, at least in this, the third novel in the I.K.S. Gorkon series.

Truth be told, I read Enemy Territory, the third book in the I.K.S. Gorkon stories of Klingon exploration and expansion on its own because the first novel with the Gorkon crew I read, Diplomatic Implausibility (reviewed here!) underwhelmed me. Keith R.A. DeCandido redeemed himself some in my eyes with his novel and novella in the Twist Of Faith omnibus, but having little interest in Klingon culture I was not inclined to read the two books in the series before this one. Judging by how often they refer to the events in those adventures in Enemy Territory, I do not feel like I am missing much at all. Indeed, Enemy Territory holds up well-enough on its own without reading the other books that one could pick this one up and get into it . . . if it were worth picking up at all.

A tight-knit religiously dogmatic empire on the corner of explored Klingon territory, the Elabrej Hegemony consists of a central planet and a few outer worlds where the citizens are working toward independence. The Elabrej are headless sexpeds who are beginning to explore the galaxy in ships made of interconnecting spheres, despite their religious doctrine which dictates that they are the only intelligent life in the galaxy. They get something of a wake-up call when their exploratory vessel encounters the I.K.S. Kravokh, captained by Wirrk. Wirrk dispatches one vessel, but is soon met by an Elabrej fleet which destroys his ship.

Meanwhile nearby the I.K.S. Gorkon is dealing with the aftermath of a battle which forced Captain Klag to fight a sect of mutinous Klingons. Having taken aboard some Klingons from other crews, security chief Lokor is anxious about a possibly mutiny among the ground troops and he begins to institute preventative measures against a coup on Klag's life. When the Gorkon gets word about the destruction of the Kravokh and the presence of some of its crew as prisoners on the Elabrej homeworld, the Gorkon moves to intercept to save their brethren's lives. As they find themselves outmatched by a fleet of Elabrej ships, the crew falls divided among some of the planets in the Elabrej starsystem where they join with the rebels to attempt to get their crew back, putting at risk the entire central government of the Elabrej Hegemony!

The essential problems with Enemy Territory is that it is exceptionally hard to care and it is made much more difficult by the sheer amount of new information thrown at the reader. First, while the crew of the Gorkon has a pretty standard rank system (based on Naval ranks) the reader is compelled to deal with a second ranking system for the ground troops with generic ranks like "Leader" at the same time they are assimilating the position and caste names of the various strata of the Elabrej Hegemony. For such a short book, with a race that most readers know will be gone by the end of the book (the Elabrej bear the "episodic" portion of the serialized Gorkon novels), most readers will not want to invest the emotional energy to keep everything sorted out and straight.

As well, Keith R.A. DeCandido seems to be operating on what the last writers in the Star Trek franchise had to deal with; Klingon names. For sure, it is confusing when all of the names begin with "K," but it also makes it very clear when one is referring to a known Klingon character versus one of the Klingons on the Gorkon, a Klingon on the Kravokh, a Klingon killed on San-Tarah OR one of the Elabrej. While DeCandido uses Klingons who were named in the television series without "K" first names, for years, that was how Klingons were easily defined and having so many new characters with so many different little affiliations in this book is needlessly complicated for a 320 page novel.

But more than that, an inordinate amount of time is spent with characters who it is hard to care about. Captain Klag is largely a secondary character as the various spies and intelligence agents and officers are fleshing out their stories and half the book is preoccupied with characters in the Hegemony and telling the story from their perspective. That last part, the Elabrej getting their voice in, is worthwhile and interesting, save that DeCandido gives voice and focus to the least interesting of the Elabrej, the members of the Hegemony. The government officials spend most of their time bickering with the theological authorities and while there is some amusement to be had there - especially for the Bush Administration allusions DeCandido sneaks in - the rebels who are fighting against the religious orthodoxy are far more interesting. As a result, chapters are spent with characters that the reader will be rooting against and with the repetitive descriptions of spaces (we get that everything in the Hegemony is spherical!) waste space more than make interesting and fleshed out settings.

In the details, DeCandido truly falls down in Enemy Territory. On pages 169 to 175 there is a space battle described which knocks the Gorkon out of the Elabrej sky. The problem here is that the battle was not proofedited at all. As a result, Elabrej ships appear, more than the number that appear are destroyed or crippled before untouched ships that never appeared begin firing. In short, how many ships the Gorkon is up against changes virtually with every line and DeCandido and his editors did a poor job of making sure it all made sense before the book was published.

Outside that, the book is rather simple in its writing style and diction. Anyone with a fifth grade education ought to be able to read it and while there are mentions of sex and violence (these are Klingons, after all!) there is nothing too graphic for younger readers to read.

This, too, is part of the problem. The characters who have been mentioned in other works are rarely mentioned, so when they are, their characterizations are more abrupt and explicit than actually developed. For example, Chief Engineer Kurak is now a drunk and Rodak and Leskit are virtual nonentities. Similarly, Toq has more references to his backstory and to being recently promoted to First Officer than any development now that he is first officer. The result is a sense of stagnation in the characters who those who watched the television series' would know.

Even Captain Klag is far from heroically developed in this novel. In Enemy Territory, there is some concern that some of the enlisted soldiers are mounting an attempt to kill him and take over the Gorkon. Klag, though, is not characterized as anything or anyone heroic, he simply goes about working on getting his newly-grafted arm to function better and he defers virtually all of the major decisions dealing with the conspirators. In other words, it is not his heroics that either deal with the conspiracy against his captaincy or with the Elabrej problem, but rather those around him who do all of the work. Without counting pages, I would suspect Klag is on less than a quarter of the book's pages. In other words, he is not a strong Star Trek captain, not even a Jonathan Archer!

The last portion of the book devolves into a fast-paced action adventure book as one of the Kravokh's crew escapes and begins a killing spree on the Elabrej and Toq joins with the Separatists to rescue the Klingon survivors, but by that point it is hard to care. Even more disappointing - for someone who has only read one other "Gorkon" novel - is the way DeCandido resolves the book the same way he resolved the other one I read! This, too, is disappointing and while the idea of a new and different crew in the Star Trek universe is a clever one, DeCandido fails to sell readers on this particular one.

For other Star Trek books, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Gene Roddenberry
The Klingon Dictionary by Marc Okrand
Avenger by William Shatner


For other book reviews, please check out my Book Review Index Page for organized lists of the books I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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