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Book Review: Star Trek: The Next Generation: Indistinguishable From Magic June 28, 2011

by Robert Lyons , Filed under: Books,Review,TNG , trackback

TrekMovie continues catching up on recently released Star Trek novels to help with your summer reading list. Today we take a look at "Star Trek: The Next Generation: Indistinguishable from Magic," a new standalone novel from David A. McIntee which reunites engineers LaForge and Scott and brings back some of the concepts (and cast) of the former Starfleet Corps of Engineers eBook series.

 

 

REVIEW: Star Trek: The Next Generation: Indistinguishable From Magic


David McIntee
Pocketbooks – March 2011
Mass-market Paperback – $7.99

When the starship Intrepid, a contemporary of the NX-01, appears to have been destroyed in the aftermath of the Earth/Romulan War, little more consideration is given to the history of the ill-fated ship until its hulk is found drifting hundreds of light years from its point of disappearance by the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701 E). With more urgent matters at hand, and the need for specialized techniques to assist in providing an honorable homecoming for the Intrepid, Starfleet dispatches the USS Challenger under the command of Captain Montgomery Scott to take hold of the situation. Commander LaForge stays on the scene with the Challenger, and the real genesis of the first story is set up. So if you were wondering, that is the USS Challenger on the cover, and this book is (mostly) set after the recent Typhon Pact 24th century novel series.

One of the most outstanding elements of McIntee’s outing, is the fact that it is really two novels in one. After the first storyline resolves itself (and leaves a tantalizing tidbit of its own behind), a new story picks up the evidence and moves into an even more ambitious storyline; one which results in deeply personal discoveries for LaForge, and decisions of great consequence for Scotty. However, as both stories focus around mysteriously located Federation starships, the break between the two makes up a paltry portion of the overall book, and it is hard to divorce the feeling that flows from both stories from one another.

McIntee is quite ambitious in the scope of characters, with a cavalcade of guest stars including: Leah Brahms, Reginald Barclay, Sela, Berlinghoff Rasmussen, Sonya Gomez, even Spock. However, while both stories have very interesting concepts, both scientifically and dramatically, the story is unable to escape from the small-universe syndrome brought about by so many significant names that work their way into the story from other sources. For the most part, they all have some reason to be present, though, I would argue, not reasons that couldn’t have been handled by new character.


Berlinghoff Rasmussen, Leah Brahms, Spock, and Sela – just some of the many familiar characters who show up in "Indistinguishable From Magic"

As far as characterizations, McIntee is hit and miss. At times Scotty seems far more wistful than he should be, given his current situation. LaForge is spot-on, as is Reg Barclay. Rasmussen’s background is credibly expanded upon, but Nog feels a bit off. By far the worst treatment from McIntee’s keyboard is reserved for Sela, whose constant bitterness towards her mother takes (at least in this reviewer’s opinion) a single line in one episode and makes far too much out of it. It is hard to imagine how the Sela portrayed in “Indistinguishable From Magic” could rise to any kind of seniority in the Romulan military, political, or intelligence communities.

“Indistinguishable From Magic”, for all its flaws, is a highly imaginative and creative tale. The execution falls a bit flat, but the concepts McIntee explores will stimulate some thinking on the reader’s part. There are some wonderfully profound moments in the story, but it’s just hard to shake out the small-universe scope of the overall tale.

"Star Trek: The Next Generation: Indistinguishable from Magic," is available now at Amazon.

More Star Trek fiction for summer reading

There are more new and recent Star Trek novels to keep you going for this summer, including Christopher L. Bennett’s "Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching The Clock" (see TrekMovie review). There is also the just-released "Star Trek: Vanguard: Declassified" collection with stories by Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore, Marco Palmieri and David Mack. And if you long for the Delta Qudrant, there is Kirsten Beyer’s "Star Trek: Voyager: Children of the Storm." TrekMovie will have reviews
of the Vanguard and Voyager books in the coming weeks.

And if you are looking for adventures in the new Star Trek universe, and are a younger reader (or young at heart), there is the young adult "Starfleet Academy" series. The third book in the series, "Starfleet Academy: Gemini Agent," by Rick Barba should is just arriving in book stores. It joins "Starfleet Academy: The Delta Anomaly" (also by Barba) and "Starfleet Academy: The Edge" (by Rudy Josephs) released late last year.

Pocket Books provided TrekMovie with a copy of this book for review.

Comments

1. bill hiro - June 28, 2011

So Scotty has command of a Galaxy class starship? Didn’t see that coming.

2. HARRISON!!! - June 28, 2011

Isn’t there another novel about the Columbia NX-02 winding-up crashed on some random planet in the Gamma Quadrant?

Seems like there were a lot of ships going missing back then… It’s a wonder Earth won the war!

3. JamesinGeneva - June 28, 2011

@Harrison, yes the series by David Mack covered the Columbia and how it tied into the creation of the Borg. I’ll leave it at that, except to say if you haven’t read David Mack’s recent trilogy, PICK IT UP! Best Trek read I ever had.

I’m glad someone reviewed this book, Indistinguishable from Magic. It reaffirms what I’m finding, that it’s not easy reading. If it were an outline of a star trek story, it would be great. The fluff in the middle though just doesn’t flow very well. To compare, I read all three of David’s books in less than a week. It’s taken me two weeks to get through half of IfM with very little desire to continue reading it. Sorry Author!

4. Richard Dawson's Ruffled Shirt - June 28, 2011

I really wish these novels would stop being sprawling epics that play solely in Pocket Books’ own “extended universe”. Makes it annoying to go to a bookstore and grab a Trek book when, except for the rare TOS release, you have to have read 28 other books before you pick this one up. They were at their best when they ran BOTH “episodic” novels and a yearly continuing series. I think it’s time to go back to that format. But sales figures probably prove me wrong there. That’s fine. Sales can’t be much better, considering the “Star Trek” section is dwindling at every bookstore I’ve been to.

5. Father Robert Lyons - June 29, 2011

@4 – I feel your pain in one sense, though to be fair, we are not going to be getting any more Post-TNG Trek in the foreseeable future (and perhaps won’t be getting any Prime Universe Trek again), so the only way to continue to grow and develop the universe is to expand an extended universe.

That being said, it can get frustrating to try to keep track of all the ins and outs of the various books, and like you, I often miss some of the one-off ‘episode’ type books of days past. If you haven’t read it, Una McCormack’s “Hollow Men” is a DS9 story that was written as a standalone even after the Relaunch got going, and it is an excellent read.

The good news, however, is that the old Trek paperbacks are still readily avalible in most used book stores (and, these days, lots of them are on Kindle and other eReaders). I have most of the numbered TOS novels, and a fair amount of the TNG ones as well. I have read most of those TOS books (not so many of the TNG ones), and still enjoy most of them to this day.

Rob+

6. Schiefy - June 29, 2011

It is amazing that there are over 700 tv episodes of Trek and now almost as many books (I haven’t counted my collection which includes pretty much every Trek fiction book published!).

Although some of the books are better than others and some manage to rise to the level of excellence of the best sci-fi works out there, I keep reading them because I simply do not want the adventure to end (esp. with the TOS crew) and the books help to keep my favorite characters alive. Sometimes it is hard to keep the “real” Trek separate from the “unofficial” canon of the books but kudos to those authors over the years who have been able to add nuances to the characters of Trek that the shows were unable to fully explore!

7. Bobby - June 29, 2011

Good book. I just finished it last night finally. (Coincidentally! Yeah I am behind too.)

I agree it had a few flaws (I would have picked different ones than the reviewer), but overall it was a really good ride.

It really is a standalone book, much moreso than other recent novels. There is a bit of mention of events in other novels, as far as who the current Romulan Praetor is, and he had to do a bit of soft shoe to get the characters together from their current spots in the expanded universe.

But really, you could read it with no knowledge of anything beyond what’s on screen and be just fine. All of the characters listed are characters from the filmed TNG and beyond universe, or new characters. There really aren’t any “expanded universe” main characters. I think the main issue he had to work around is people who ARE familiar with the novel universe wondering things like, “How the HECK did Barclay get here? He’s in the frapping DELTA quadrant!”

:)

8. Bobby - June 29, 2011

#5 – Her other book, “The Never-Ending Sacrifice,” was amazing too. A must-read if you’re a DS9 fan. Though it did tie into the relaunch stuff toward the end. Basically it told the DS9 “saga” from the perspective of a civilian living on Cardassia. (Rugal, from the early DS9 episode “Cardassians.”)

I love the new expanded universe and I love how everything ties together. But I also miss the one-off “lost episode” kinds of books taking place during the series’ regular run. Seems these days like every time they do a standalone it is some sort of a “lost era” book instead.

Those kinds of stories used to be the bread and butter of trek lit, but now they’re as rare as the “event novels” used to be in the old days. It’s funny – I got sick of those “regular episode” kinds of stories, in the 90s, to the point that I stopped reading Trek. The new order of continuity and constant “event” novels is what got me back into it, in the last 10 years or so. But now the old familiar standalone novels are so rare I would kill for one, and I’ve long since caught up on all of the old ones I’ve missed. :)

Greg Cox has a new standalone TOS 5 year mission book coming. I am really looking forward to that one.

9. Nick Cook - June 29, 2011

I really enjoyed this one. And as Bobby pointed out above, this one is pretty much standalone.

10. Victor Hugo - June 29, 2011

4. Star Wars did it for years, as it was clearer and clearer that Han Solo and Leia would never appear again on the big screen.

11. cjc960 - June 29, 2011

Once again, a Star Trek novel where name dropping replaces good writing.

I’ll pass on this one, too, and I’ll keep passing until I see a novel where the author is able to resist the temptation to copy and paste every guest star name from Memory Alpha into their manuscript.

12. Bobby - June 29, 2011

It wasn’t really name-dropping. They’re all fully fleshed out characters, and just like you remember them. It’s more like a character mashup, or a “team-up” novel.

I’ve read books like what you are describing and this definitely wasn’t that.

It had more or less the same number of main characters that you’d get in a traditional TOS / TNG novel. Except this time they’re just a mix of characters that normally wouldn’t interact. Which makes it a tremendous amount of fun.

(Though I still think Barclay BEAMING HOME from the Delta quadrant is stretching it. Though again, Scotty spent 90 years in a transporter buffer…)

Can you really say the writing wasn’t good if you haven’t read it? I thought the writing was very good. Character-wise, it had the feel of the Starfleet Corps of Engineers series. Lots of engineering types.

13. I'm Dead Jim! - June 29, 2011

I’m surprised that Scotty would be commanding a Galaxy Class starship, or any Federation starship. I think he once told LaForge that only ever wanted to be an engineer. Plus, didn’t he buy a boat? :-)

I know, it’s only a book.

14. Damian - June 29, 2011

Pocketbooks is still releasing prime universe original series novels that do not tie into one another, if you are looking for standalone novels. Like others mentioned, this novel is more or less standalone. It does tie into current events (it even reaches back to the Genesis Wave novels from a few years back) but it is by no means necessary to read everything that came before. I thought it was an ok book, though I agree with Lyons that it does try to cover too much at one time. Yes, the characters could have been replaced by anonymous characters, but that does not particularly bother me to any great degree.

I like the continuing stories of the relaunches. In a way, I feel like I’m a part of an exclusive club. Let’s face it, you are never going to see The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager or Enterprise on screen again. You can hope, wish all you want, but the JJ Abrams universe is the new on screen reality from now on. The books are all we have if you are a fan of those shows. I’ve read all the relaunches up to this point and it’s nice to see at least the stories continue. It’s neat to read a book that references a prior book I have read and know what they are talking about.

15. BCSWowbagger - June 29, 2011

I view the assertion that the on-screen prime universe is dead with *great* skepticism. The JJ movie trilogy (or quartet, if we’re lucky) will be done within five years, and that will be the end of the JJ-verse. They’ll kick the show forward to the 25th century and launch a new TV series in the primeverse, with occasional references to the past but not so many that you’ll have to see the old shows to enjoy it.

I, too, miss the days of the numbered books and standalone stories with my familiar starship crews and any interbook continuity being viciously excised. I read TNG books so I can enjoy an episode of TNG in print. Same with Voyager. DS9, I can understand the need for a relaunch, because it was a serial show, but… I really couldn’t care less about all this Destiny/Typhon Pact melodrama. Just gimme an anomaly-of-the-week and Data failing to understand humor on the Enterprise bridge.

But, like other posters have said, that’s probably a minority opinion. Good to know I’m not alone, though.

16. John - June 30, 2011

I’m with those who want Star Trek books to go back to the 90s format when many stand alone stories with our favorite crews were produced. I don’t care about the continuity of the post nemesis books and I’m done with the books until more stories that takes place between the series run are publised.

17. Richard Dawson's Ruffled Shirt - June 30, 2011

15, 16 and others

THANK YOU! I am not alone! If only there were a decent used book store around my area, I might be able to assemble a collection of some of the better TOS, TNG and DS9 (not that any of them, “The 34th Rule” aside were real hot, if I remember correctly) numbered books and “giant novels”.

18. Bren (Destructor!!!) - June 30, 2011

Hooray for actual artwork on the cover, not just a bunch of photoshopped publicity photos!

19. Danpaine - June 30, 2011

15. BCSWowbagger – June 29, 2011
I view the assertion that the on-screen prime universe is dead with *great* skepticism. The JJ movie trilogy (or quartet, if we’re lucky) will be done within five years, and that will be the end of the JJ-verse. They’ll kick the show forward to the 25th century and launch a new TV series in the primeverse, with occasional references to the past but not so many that you’ll have to see the old shows to enjoy it.

I would dig that. Nice prediction.

20. Matthew M - June 30, 2011

Really annoying that authors, writers, novelists whatever feel they have to bring in a dozen old characters from all the series’ (apparently no one gets old or die) to tell 1 story or even a trilogy of stories. Stupid. Very stupid.

21. Damian - July 1, 2011

20–I agree that McIntee brought in too many characters. He used characters from the Voyager books, Titan books and Deep Space Nine Books. He used convuluted reasoning to get Barclay back from the Voyager fleet in the Delta Quadrant and have to send him back at the end so he can be in Beyer’s Voyager Book. The same with Dr Ogawa and the Titan. It’s like he tried to bring in characters from all the relaunches to the Challenger. I’m curious to see when I read “Children of the Storm” if Beyer incorporates Barclay’s little detour.

19–What I meant is the TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise was dead as far as on screen goes. I should not have said the prime universe. I agree that it’s entirely possible to see another series on screen from some future date. It’s just that those series that I mentioned will never be seen on screen again, and it’s nice to read a continuing story on those series in the novels. At least the story goes on.

Me, I’m of the opposite opinion of some of those here. I prefer the continuing stories in the spinoffs (I do like the one off stories for the original series). All the spinoffs were continuing stories. DS9 was the most serialized, and Enterprise’s last 2 seasons, but really, all the spinoffs built on prior episodes to some extent. It used to drive me nuts when I read the old numbered novels and they were continually contradicting one another. I like the fact that there’s some consistency now. As an avid novel reader, I also like when I read a book that references events from a prior book that I know what they are talking about. To me, it almost makes it seem the editors are finally doing their job, making sure the overall Star Trek story is less contradictory (much like the Star Wars books have an internal consistency).

Now McIntee’s book is much more independant. You do not need to read the novels that came before to read it. It does follow from the Destiny and Typhon Pact series, but you don’t have to know squat about them to read the book. I’m ok with that.

What I’m hoping to see is the relaunches continue at least to the events leading up to Nero’s time travel to the past, to see how the authors set it up. We have reached 2382, so there are 5 years to go to get to that. Will the authors gradually build up to the Countdown comic series, or will they create their own story?

22. Dom - July 1, 2011

What are the sales like for novels from the old continuities these days? I imagine they must be tiny!

23. Damian - July 1, 2011

22–They are not making any best-sellers lists. They are obviously enough for them to keep publishing them though. It’s hard to get a read on how they are doing. I hope it’s enough to keep the Star Trek line going. I enjoy reading all the continuing stories and would be disappointed if they get cancelled altogether. The Deep Space Nine and Enterprise lines have gotten thin. I mean, one Enterprise book every two years and we finally got to the Romulan War. And there are no DS9 books in the pipeline at all now (I’d actually like someone to fill in the time between “The Soul Key” and the Typhon Pact–there were some hints thrown out there, but no developed stories). Also, what about the Titan books. There was one in the Typhon Pact series, but now I see no plans for any Titan Books in the near future. You leave too much of a dry period with no stories, people are going to lose interest when they finally do write a DS9 or Titan book.

24. Damian - July 1, 2011

Actually, what I’d like to see is a regular rotation of original series, TNG, DS9, Voyager, Enterprise, Titan, New Frontier and Vanguard books. At least one of those a year. Then throw fill in with your occassional trilogy and other books that don’t necessarily fit in with any of the other series (i.e. DTI, “Articles of the Federation”, Mirror Universe, etc type books). In this way, everyone would be satisfied at least once a year, depending on your preferences. I would keep the relaunches going for the spinoffs and have original stories for the original series similar to the old numbered books (though I would try to keep stories from contradicting each other). Maybe have occassional original stories of the spinoffs as an extra (i.e. DS9′s Hollow Men). The Titan Books are also good for single story novels. While they do follow from prior books, they are pretty well self contained stories.

I wouldn’t mind seeing someone pick up another story from the Stargazer line. I just started reading Michael Jan Friedman’s books and they are a pretty good read.

25. Just a Fan - July 1, 2011

My biggest problem with the newer books – TNG/DS9/VOY relaunches – is that they don’t have the original crews working together anymore. What I mean is that in the post nemesis books many characters have been re-assigned, others have been killed others have been promoted etc and many new characters have come in to the picture in key positions but I’ve failed to invest emotional in them. I understand that’s life (death, separation etc.) but when I read a star trek book I don’t need reality. What I need is to be able to enjoy a good story with my favorite crew. I agree with Damian and others that they could continue with the relaunches for the fans that enjoy them but also they could give new stories that take place during the series run for the rest of the fans (or even ‘what if’ stories).
As for the sales I believe they are significant less than in the previous decades. For once there are far less Trek novels being published today than there used to be which indicate that there is less demand.
It is my impression that the star trek fandom is very diverse (which is good, we can’t all want the same things – ‘Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations’) so there should be a diversity in the books too to satisfy as many fans as possible.

Sorry for my big post

Live Long and Prosper!

26. Michael H. - July 2, 2011

#4, 15, 16, 25 I agree completely. Couldn’t have said it better my self

27. Damian - July 2, 2011

In a way, the continuity of the books is what keeps me buying them. One, because I want to see what happens next, and two, I’m afraid I’ll miss a significant event. If the books were all standalone books, I probably would not be as concerned if I missed a couple books. I’ll be honest, I was in college in the 90′s and rarely got up to the book store. I am missing a whole bunch of books from about 1993 to 2000 and since most of those were standalone books, I don’t feel any pressing need to run out and try to find them. A few years ago I started up again, and since the spinoff books were continuing stories, I had to go back and pick up some of the older books I missed. In a way Pocketbooks increased their sales with me because I had to pick up some older books I missed. If those were all standalone books, it would not have mattered.

Some day, I may look for some of those older books I missed when I catch up on all my reading, but it’s not a big deal if I don’t. In my particular case, Pocketbooks has guaranteed loyalty (at least to a point) because I want to see what the next story holds for all my favorite series. Now I will agree that the authors should make sure they are putting out good stories to keep the readers coming back. If you keep putting out clunkers, people will stop reading them. David Mack’s Destiny books were a great read. The Typhon Pact Books less so (though David Mack’s was good as always). I got through them but they did not grab my attention like the Destiny stories.

28. Andreas - July 9, 2011

I remember the time when I used to read a Star Trek book and really enjoy it, when I was able to leave out the stress from school, university, exams and embark on epic adventures with my favorite crews. Unfortunately that’s not the case anymore. All the latest novels I’ve read are about consecutive wars, destruction of whole worlds, death and desperation. I also don’t like how some writers have handled the characters. Personally, I’m not going to spend a dime on another Star Trek book until the writers, editors and publishers start listening to the fans. A series of books set during the series run like many suggested would help recapture the essence of Star Trek.

29. Lost Trekker - July 12, 2011

This is why Trek literature is dying a slowly and painful death. Because the publishers don’t give a damn about what fans want. They have decided that this is the direction they want to take the franchise and they did it alienating the fans that don’t like that direction. But the thing is that the novels are not canon, they’re published fan fiction and the publishers should consider the fans more giving them more options to choose from. Pushing all the books into one direction to fit in their own unofficial continuation of the series is a huge mistake. There are fans that still enjoy the form that Star Trek universe have taken in the latest novels and that’s great for them but there are fans that don’t. Here’s a simple solution: from the 10 books they’re published every year keep the 5 of them in continuity and with the rest tell AU stories/what if stories, stories that take place before each series end etc. like it was in the 80’s and the 90’s. I believe the last best seller Trek novel with the exception of the newest movie novelization it was more than a decade ago. That can’t be a coincidence.

30. Lexomatic - July 18, 2011

#25 Just a Fan wrote:
“What I mean is that in the post nemesis books many characters have been re-assigned [...] and many new characters have [arrived] in key positions but I’ve failed to invest emotional[ly] in them.”

I agree. With the proliferation of post-TV “Trek” novels, several related challenges in writing convincing characters become apparent. If the author fails on any of the following points (not everybody is a Diane Duane), the novel may feel lightweight. With all five factors, the challenges multiply.

1. Starfleet crews are ensembles. An author is practically forced to create an entire core crew rather than focusing on a few. (Or the series story editor creates the crew, and each author must become competent with them all.) Then the readers have to familiarize themselves with the bunch. Compare to the “Doctor Who New Adventures” novels of the 1990s, where the recurring cast was, at most, four people.

2. Starfleet crews are standardized. How many variations on command/engineering/medical can you write? The “Titan” books mixed things up by including non-Terrans.

3. The characters established on TV have evolved. If the author and reader are still thinking of the actors’ characterizations (as well they might — TV is inherently more vivid, dimensional and immediate), how does the author convince us that the character has seasoned? (I.e., has undergone new formative life experiences.) With great difficulty, that’s how.

4. Book-original characters lack TV foundations. The author can’t rely on an actor who established a look, voice, and mannerisms.

5. The author can’t assume the reader has read the books in sequence, so can’t rely on the rest of the stable to carry the load. Key points must be reiterated, but without sounding like a rehash-infodump.

31. Corine - July 22, 2011

I personally gave up on the relaunces, too many character changes I didn’t care about. I’ve tried to like them but it just didn’t happen.

32. TJ Trek - September 18, 2011

obviously a lot of you guys are not so hot on this novel…or any of the new novels in general. But I for one thought this novel was really good. Reg and LaForge both felt like I remember them from the show, and it was cool to see Leah Brahms pop up. However I do agree that Nog and Sela felt a little forced. Over all though I loved it.

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