Thursday, March 10, 2011

Star Trek: Vanguard - A Breath of Fresh Trek Air

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a formal book review. It’s also been too long since I’ve been able to gush about any.

Maybe that’s because it’s been a long time since I’ve had the time to sit and actually read books.

Last fall I was given the opportunity to read and review the first book in the new Star Trek series: Starfleet Academy. These are series of books meant for the young adult market and set within the characters of the 2009 film “Star Trek.” This is also commonly referred to by fans as the “Abramsverse” or “NuTrek.”

While I read the first few chapters of the first book in the series entitled “The Delta Anomaly,” I got hung up on the first paragraph of the fourth chapter and nearly flung the thing against my office wall.

Anger and extreme disappointment barely describe how I felt at that moment.

I haven’t picked up the book since.

Nothing against the author mind you, he was just playing to his demographic (21st Century teens), but that one paragraph summed up everything I loathe about “NuTrek” – what I see as a complete destruction of characters who used to have character.

I won’t tell you what the paragraph said, but I will tell you that if you are a mother or father of young female children, don’t recommend this book to them for it will only serve to reinforce gender-specific stereotypes – stereotypes I always had hoped Trek writers could, just for once, not rely upon because they’re just easier to use – especially in the time period of The Original Series.

So imagine my surprise when I began to undertake reading a series of books, set in the time period of The Original Series (The “Prime Timeline” – not NuTrek) where the authors actually overcome the fact they’re burdened with a canon that contains miniskirts and boots.

I began reading the Star Trek: Vanguard series just after my attempt at reading the Starfleet Academy series and since these books are what I had always hoped to see, I’ll recommend these books over any so-called young adult books currently being published.

I’m dead serious. If I had a teenager (male or female) who was remotely interested in Star Trek because of the new movie, I would buy every single one of the Vanguard books and hand it to them with a bow and say “THIS is Star Trek.”

I will admit, it’s a bit easier for these authors to avoid the automatic pitfall of fandom rage about “messing with their characters” because canon characters, by and large, aren’t in these books.

Maybe that’s what makes them so special.

The Vanguard series currently has five books to its pedigree: Harbinger by David Mack (2005); Summon the Thunder by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore (2006); Reap the Whirlwind by David Mack (2007); Open Secrets by Dayton Ward (2009) and Precipice by David Mack (2009).

There is also a set or stories of Vanguard contained within the six-part prequel in the Corps of Engineers book entitled Distant Early Warning by Kevin Dilmore and Dayton Ward (2006).

Forthcoming tales are:

Declassified; a set of short stories based on the Vanguard station by Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore, Marco Palmieri (whose take on the station I am most eager to read) and David Mack. This book is due for release in the very near future.

What Judgments Come by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore which is set for release in September of this year and;

Storming Heaven by David Mack, due for release in 2012.

Now to get to why I enjoy these books so much:

Simply put, these are the books that “fill in the blanks.” They accomplish what so many people yearn for in Trek – new stories, new tales with new characters – without ever diminishing or tarnishing canon characters.

The book series is set on a starbase (Starbase 47 – a nice wink o’ the eye right there) on the edges of “The Taurus Reach”, an expanse of unexplored space with borders that touch upon Klingon and Tholian territories – species with whom the Federation has never really quite developed fruitful relationships.

Always skirting around the edges of impending war, the station was built virtually in secret in order to press the Federation’s presence into an area where three years before, an amazing discovery was made. The discovery prompts the Federation to build Starbase 47 as a base from which the Federation might be to not only mine its potential, but also in as an effort to hide the discovery from potential enemies who may want to use that knowledge against the UFP.

The command of the station and recipient of the weight of the stresses that come with such responsibility is Commodore Diego Reyes. He is gifted with a staff of pros: a human JAG officer Captain Rana Desai; a Starfleet Intelligence Officer, the Vulcan T’Prynn; Diplomatic lead, a Chelon named Jetanien; CMO Dr. Fisher and scientific genius, Lieutenant Ming Xiong – and he tries like hell to lead the group through truly undiscovered country.

The station has three ships assigned to it, the U.S.S. Sagittarius, commanded by a Deltan man – Captain Nassir; the U.S.S. Endeavor who is lucky to be under the command of a female human, Captain Atish Khatami and the U.S.S. Lovell a Starfleet Corps of Engineers ship whose CO, Captain Daniel Okagawa and SCE Lead Mahmud al-Khaled oversee the regular flow of miracles performed by their less-than-regulation crew. Other civilian human and alien characters round out an incredible universe which becomes a joy to swim in.

But here is where I really need to voice my personal reasons for loving this series:

I am a notoriously unforgiving person when it comes to the characterization of women within the Star Trek universe (regardless of the time period.)

It comes from the stance that I believe that women will be treated as equals and will expect nothing less in 200 years’ time. I do not tolerate the writers’ crutch of stereotypical behavior of 20th Century women being invoked upon a 22nd Century woman who has supposedly lived without such stereotypes from the moment she was born.

There may be miniskirts in these books, but let me assure you, these women do not wear them to get men.

These books are stuffed to the gills with real, human (even if they’re alien) women. They don’t take shit from men because they’re women. And better yet – to date, NONE of the men ever treat a woman as a subordinate merely for having breasts and a vagina.

Not once is a man written to treat a woman without the person-to-person respect that its automatically due because she is in fact, first and foremost – a person.

Sure, there may be sexual tension and relationships, but hell – that goes BOTH ways! And these books let that happen naturally – not because a guy’s always a letch and not because a woman is supposed to be a virgin-whore.

There’s even a thoroughly believable homosexual couple and their sexuality isn’t even an issue – as it shouldn’t be in any Trek tale.

The “off-duty” relationships in the books are real, powerful – sometimes gut-wrenching and painful, sometimes funny and charming, but it’s the “on-duty” relationships that I could sing about. The level of real professionalism is perfectly mixed with what I know is possible in a paramilitary setting and Mack, Dilmore and Ward have nailed it.

That’s all there is to it.

I would never hesitate to hand these books to any young woman (or man) and say – just try, try to do half as good as the people in these stories, and you’ll be just fine.

And really, that’s what I seek from Trek anyway – stories that tell me that yes, things are still going to be tough in the future, but there’s always hope.

I am now officially hooked. Can’t wait to see what happens next.

If you’re interested in this series, you might find it very difficult to find the printed version of the 3rd book, 'Reap the Whirlwind.' I have no clue why the publisher can’t seem to place this title out for reprints, but they have not. If you own an eReader/Kindle, etc., do yourself a favor and just download it. You will avoid a huge hassle and an extraordinary price-tag for the printed version. (I ended up paying $17 for a used paperback from the Public Library in Houston! It still has the stamps and tags on it!)

Hope you enjoy!


  1. Thank you for the Star Trek: Vanguard review. I'm happy that you enjoyed it, and probably for the same reasons. I just wish I could read them too. I've been a Star Trek fan from the beginning, so that puts me firmly in the 50+ age bracket. Aside from the 50's, I have enjoyed poor eyesight my whole life. I can't see the damn tiny print in those Vanguard books. Ok, I can see it, but its so small that I have difficulty reading more than just a few minutes at a time. Its frustraiting, downright painful and annoying.
    For some reason the publishers, or the powers-that-be, where ever they are decided that younger folks should enjoy them more than me. That sucks like a big black hole.
    I'm starting a chant: Want large print! Want large print! Want large print! Etc...
    Linda Owens

  2. Linda!

    First - thank you for reading my blog!

    Secondly; I completely understand. My grandfather was totally blind. I grew up reading books to him. I think I made out on the deal to be honest. So I can grasp your frustration with the lack of large print books!

    I know they're not cheap yet, but they are coming down in price - but eReaders/Kindles have a fabulous capability of being able to increase the font of an eBook!

    I bought my eReader 2 years ago and have given it an amazing work out! As a matter of fact I own all of the Vanguard books both in print and in eBook format! (Yes, I bought them twice - that's how much I loved them!)

    Thirdly (is that even a word? It doesn't look right - lol) I'm right behind you in age! Huzzah for women who love sci-fi!