Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Rediscovering Enjoyments In My Roots: Star Trek: The Next Generation The Children Of Hamlin Is Enjoyable!

The Good: Concept, Guest characters are interesting, Decent plot structuring
The Bad: Long build-up to the obvious revelation, Terrible editing/inconsistencies, No real character development, Illustrates a stunning lack of understanding of the Star Trek Universe
The Basics: Carmen Carter is given the unenviable task of an early Star Trek: The Next Generation novel, but delivers some interesting ideas in The Children Of Hamlin!

As part of this year’s renewal of reading (and a commitment to read quite a bit more than just graphic novels each and every day), I have been going back through my library to both enjoy books I have kept in my collection for years as well as new-to-me books I have lugged around for several moves and not gotten around to reading before now. Star Trek: The Next Generation The Children Of Hamlin, the third Star Trek: The Next Generation novel published by Pocket Books, falls into the former category. In fact, when I was barely into the book again, I checked into my database of all my possessions and I was surprised that I noted that this was one of my top ten favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation books of all time. I think that notation was probably a reflection on my youth, more than the inherent quality of the book.

That is not to say that Star Trek: The Next Generation The Children Of Hamlin is bad; it is not. In fact, the idea of The Children Of Hamlin is a good one, it is unfortunately plagued by two things: 1. It allows for no real character development among the main crew and 2. It is set in the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation (reviewed here!) – in fact, perceptive readers will easily realize that the conference that Deanna Troi is alluding to in the wrap-up at the end of the novel is the one from which she is returning at the beginning of “Skin Of Evil” (reviewed here!), which saw the demise of Tasha Yar – and novelist Carmen Carter admits in the acknowledgements that she did not know the show all that well when she wrote the book. Carmen Carter was the writer of one of my favorite original Star Trek novels, The Dreams Of The Raven, but after rereading The Children Of Hamlin, I am somewhat dreading rereading that book.

Fundamentally, the problem with The Children Of Hamlin comes down to the character front. Carter creates an engaging plot concept for the book, but because it is so plot-heavy, it leaves no real room for character development among the main crew. As a result, the two main guest characters largely overshadow the familiar characters. This is accented by the fact that the main characters sound just a little off from the familiar Star Trek: The Next Generation characters viewers of the series are used to (and it one was just picking up the book to read, the novel gives no character insights or descriptions of the characters!).

Following a devastating attack on the U.S.S. Ferrel, wherein two civilians appear to be at the center of the ship’s destruction by an alien race, the U.S.S. Enterprise arrives to save the survivors and fend off the attacking aliens. The Enterprise is engaged in a simple transport mission at the time, ferrying a colony of Oregon Farmers to their new colony world when they get the Ferrel’s distress call. The Enterprise rescues much of the skeleton crew of the U.S.S. Ferrel from a large ship that seems to be made up of giant bubble-like constructs. When the Ferrel’s captain dies, Captain Picard and his crew discover most of the survivors are surprisingly tight-lipped about exactly what happened, though Picard learns the mission they were on had to do with the survivors of a destroyed colony some fifty years prior.

Picard’s authority is soon trumped by special orders which give mission control of the Enterprise over to Andrew Deelor, one of the two civilians. He reveals that the Hamlin Colony Massacre fifty years prior – where all of the adults were killed, metals were stolen, and the children of the colonists disappeared without a trace – resulted in the children being taken hostage and the Federation has quietly been working to recover the hostages . . . and their offspring who were born in captivity. The alien race, the Choraii, are willing to trade their human captives (one at a time) for only a few pounds of metal and the Enterprise is assigned to trade some lead for a child, a baby, the Choraii ship B Flat has in its possession. But when Deelor’s translator, Ruthe, knowingly leaves behind an adult human on the B Flat, the Enterprise’s mission becomes more aggressive, much to the chagrin of the colonists aboard.

First, what is wrong with the book. Am I the only one who actually watched Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (reviewed here!)?! Seriously. I ask this because in that film, Dr. McCoy utilizes a specialized medical device (that he carries on him as part of his standard medkit, apparently, given that the crew was aboard a commandeered Klingon ship at the time!) to heal Chekov’s brain when Chekov drops several stories, lands on his back, and presumably crushes his skull and suffers massive brain damage. Don’t like it? Too bad, the movie made it canon for the Star Trek Universe! So when, very late in The Children Of Hamlin, Dr. Crusher is bitching about how, during an evasive maneuver, a crewmember got hit on the head with a plant and might never recover, I literally did a facepalm move and groaned. If you’re going to write in the universe, know the universe!

Similarly, the underlying concept of the trade in The Children Of Hamlin is a sloppy or ridiculous notion. Deelor and Ruthe are trading one of the “hostages” for five to twelve pounds of lead, lead which they brought with them from the Ferrel. Does Carmen Carter not understand, even at this point in the run of Star Trek: The Next Generation how replicator technology works?! The Star Trek universe has, essentially, alchemy technology and given the ridiculously low quantities of metal the Choraii are willing to trade for their humans, the Enterprise could conceivably track down every Choraii ship (or lure them out of hiding by beaming hundreds of pounds of pure metal replicated from the ship into space) and trade for all the humans, no problem.

Finally, Carmen Carter’s editors fell down on a number of details. On page 17, the U.S.S. Ferrel is a Constitution class starship, but the rest of the book it is a Constellation-class starship. And while I applaud Carter’s initiative for naming characters, the Oregon Farmers names are just ridiculous and unimaginative. How the human name Dennis evolved into Dnnys (the Oregon Farmers are all human) makes little sense, but as ridiculously, there is no way I can figure to read “Dnnys” and not pronounce is “Dennis,” so the names just become needlessly complicated.

So, how does The Children Of Hamlin even rise into the average territory and get a recommendation from me? First, the alien race is an imaginative one and Carter very cleverly never lets the readers “see” them. The Choraii are defined through music and sound and that level of originality is truly inspired.

Second, the character conceit surrounding Ruthe may be belabored, but it works. As a young person, I am sure that Carter actually caught me with who Ruthe was supposed to be. However, re-reading the book as an adult (and as a writer), her “secret” seems terribly obvious. In fact, Carter goes to such lengths to avoid giving any of the character’s backstory, while giving her clear, extensive knowledge of the Choraii (no one ever asks how she was able to translate musically for the Choraii?!) that there almost seems to be a big glowing arrow above the woman throughout the book. Carter plays a nice red herring – she has a very underdeveloped plotline that has Riker attracted to her and her being indifferent to his advances – so the execution of the final reveal for her character is surprisingly good.

Wesley Crusher and the Oregon Farmers plotline is surprisingly well-executed, despite their names. The Children Of Hamlin is a simple, fast-read and while it seems like it might be an obvious set-up for a sequel, none ever came. Carmen Carter did the best work possible given the time the book was released and it may have some flaws, but an imaginative story of desperately working for a higher principle is not something The Children Of Hamlin has a deficit of!

For other Star Trek: The Next Generation books, please visit my reviews of:
#61 Diplomatic Implausibility By Keith R.A. DeCandido
Imzadi By Peter David
The Return By William Shatner


For other book reviews, please check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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