Monday, March 24, 2014

The Other Masks For Star Trek: The Next Generation Is A Mediocre Novel.

The Good: Interesting basic concept
The Bad: Somewhat predictable plot, No real character development, Does not quite “get” all of the characters
The Basics: One of the earlier Star Trek: The Next Generation novels, Masks is more interesting for the planetary culture it creates than the story it tells.

One of the nice things about having a standing personal library that one schleps all around the country with each and every move is that one feels like they are building something. Perhaps the nice thing about having time to read again is discovering which books in that standing library deserve to actually be kept for the rest of one’s lives. Lately, I’ve been making my way through some of the more pulpy novels of my young adulthood, like the Star Trek franchise books. Lately at work, whenever I have had a break, I’ve picked up the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel, Masks.

Masks is Star Trek: The Next Generation novel #7 and it is a particularly easy novel to read. In fact, reading the book in fifteen minute to half hour bursts did not detract from the experience. Perhaps as importantly, this book – which I had not read in at least twenty years and was (inexplicably) noted in my possession database as being one of the Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation novels – hinges on such a predictable twist that when I encountered the seed element for the twist, I recalled the entire rest of the book without problem. Masks is not stunningly good literature, but it does establish an interesting setting well-enough to be memorable. Set during the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation (reviewed here!), Masks is in no way related to the seventh season episode “Masks” (reviewed here!).

The Enterprise arrives at Lorca, a planet where Federation colonists were lost two hundred years prior. They are ferrying the arrogant Ambassador Fenton Lewis, who has a murder conviction from the Ferengi on his record and a Lorcan Ambassador’s mask acquired through mysterious circumstances. The Lorcans all wear masks as part of an elaborate social system (and protection from the volcanic ash spouted up all over the planet). When the Enterprise arrives at Lorca, Riker begrudgingly allows Picard to accompany Lewis on his mission to find the leader of the Lorcans, the Almighty Slayer, wearer of the Wisdom Mask. But the magnetic ash from the planet’s volcanoes quickly cuts Riker off from the Away Team and leaves Picard, Troi, Worf and Lewis to fend for themselves. Riker insists on leading a second team, with Data and Pulaski (and two security officers) to the surface.

There, Riker’s team encounters Day Timer, an old peddler, who takes the Away Team on as apprentices. Picard’s team encounters Piercing Blade, an enigmatic woman who is headed to the same fair as Day Timer, though she hopes there to assert herself as the rightful ruler of Lorca. When Fenton Lewis is challenged for his right to wear the Ambassador’s mask, he loses it to Piercing Blade in combat and is shamed. While Picard cheats to survive his own combat with Piercing Blade, being forced to wear a Messenger’s mask is too much for Lewis and he runs off. The other Away Team gets to know Day Timer and his companion, a werjun (slothlike animal that fishes for the humanoids) named Reba. When Riker’s party encounters Fenton Lewis, the ambassador claims that Picard, Troi and Worf are dead. While Riker both searches for the bodies and tries to complete the mission of making peaceful contact with the Almighty Slayer, Picard tries to resist his growing attraction to Piercing Blade and keep neutral in the planet’s development. But when a Ferengi ship arrives in orbit, both Away Teams are put in peril.

Masks is not bad, but it is not at all incredible. Fenton Lewis is characterized as a strange combination of Okona and Dr. Stubbs from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He seems rough and tumble, but is just an arrogant jerk. That makes some of the conflict he creates seem belabored and hard to bear as opposed to making one truly care about it or him. In a similar fashion, some of the primary crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise do not sound like their television counterparts. Guinan has a much more active voice in Masks than she ever did on the television show. Geordi and Worf do not have quite the right narrative voices either, though some of that may be forgiven by how little source material was available when the novel was originally written. Kate Pulaski, interestingly enough, sounds fine.

What novelist John Vornholt does exceptionally well is create a setting. Lorca is a very distinctive planet and the idea of fire-resistant moss that protects the trees on the planet is a clever one. The bogs and volcanoes make for a setting that is dynamic and interesting. The use of the masks on Lorca then takes on a sensibility that goes beyond being a novelty, which is nice. The setting has a sense of being truly developed and original, as opposed to something cobbled together to service the plot.

As for the plot, Masks is somewhat droll on that front. There are reversals, almost all of which are centered around Fenton Lewis and that undermines the main characters familiar to readers from Star Trek: The Next Generation. The pace of the book might be fast, but not much happens and when it does, it is largely unsurprising.

Part of the problem is that the characters are more swept up in events than they are truly motivating them. As such, usually active and dynamic characters like Picard, Riker, Data and Worf are stuck simply going along with the guest characters . . . being led from point to point to an inevitable climax at the oft-foreshadowed fair.

In the final analysis, Masks is good light reading for Star Trek: The Next Generation fans, but it does not rise above what it is: a book based on a television show.

For other Star Trek: The Next Generation books, please visit my reviews of:
#3 The Children Of Hamlin By Carmen Carter
#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!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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