The evaluation of an abandoned planet by fourteen Enterprise crew members on two shuttlecraft; and the diversion of the mighty starship on – in essence – a milk run to supply a space station with medical supplies sounds innocuous enough, but Michael Schuster and Steve Mollmann present anything but in their new Star Trek novel, “A Choice of Catastrophes”. The TrekMovie review below.
REVIEW: Star Trek: A Choice of Catastrophes
by Michael Schuster and Steve Mollmann
Mass-market Paperback – 352 pages
PocketBooks – August 2011 – $7.99
While the Enterprise makes her way to Deep Space Station C-15, taking Doctor McCoy along on account of regulations, Kirk and Spock lead two shuttlecraft to the planet Mu Arigulon V. The world looks and feels abandoned, but with the swift disappearance of a crew-member and other oddities beginning to pop-up, Kirk and Spock are forced to reconsider their situation. Faced with a short schedule before the Enterprise joins them to conclude the mission, Kirk and Spock’s crews are operating independently, however the duo has little idea of just how alone they are.
The Enterprise, on her way to the planet, has managed to encounter her own problems, namely a massive spatial sandbar that impedes the ship’s progress. Time and time again, no matter what is attempted, the ship remains imperiled as a mysterious power begins to wreak havoc – first with people, then with the ship.
“A Choice of Catastrophes” is hardly a monster novel, in spite of the way the overview above may sound… it is far better thought out than that. A credible and mysterious threat to the crew allows McCoy a chance to really engage and command the story, while still giving a balanced exposure to Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the supporting cast. Sulu and others get time in ‘the big chair’, while lesser characters such as Security Chief Giotto get exposure and development. All of this is welcome, but it comes at a cost.
“A Choice of Catastrophes” begins at a solid clip, but begins to slow down considerably as things move along. It is only in the last fifty to sixty pages that the pace builds back up again. While this may be an intentional formatting choice on the part of the authors, it feels very artificial and does not serve the story well. The opening itself is so cold as to feel very unlike most of classic Trek (either televised or prose). This, ultimately, is probably more a matter of taste, but all the same, it feels out of place.
McCoy is the focus for "Choice of Catastrophes"
The A and B stories of Schuster and Mollmann’s book are flipsides of a coin, in a sense – at least that’s what you become aware of fairly early on. You get the idea that once one side of the problem is solved, both sides will be taken care of which, fortunately, is untrue. The true climax, the ultimate resolution of the crisis, robs McCoy’s role in solving the mystery of its power and gravity in the book. In essence, McCoy’s hard work was minutes or hours from being useless, and given the pacing of the Enterprise side of the story, it’s hard to truly see how that brief time would have had any significant bearing on the recovery or loss of the ship’s crew.
A major strength of the book is the development of the culture of Mu Arigulon V. Their nature, syntax, and culture is gently and credibly developed over time as a result of the explorations of Kirk’s party, a slowly evolving translational matrix, and discoveries of analogous equipment that gives a universal translator the data and reference points it needs to expand its abilities. Beholding this development is, perhaps, the most worthwhile aspect of the story.
The great weakness of the story, however, comes at the cost of McCoy. Throughout the mission, his intrinsic self-doubts begin to plague him as he struggles with the Enterprise’s steadily worsening situation… and yet, for whatever reason, it feels as if this is happening to another McCoy. Of course, most novel readers will know about his divorce, the daughter he barely knows, and other similar pieces of background information, but to the casual fan, McCoy always seems rather self-secure. Certainly irascible, but never self-loathing. Deep-seated doubts are the only way to make credible sense of the very real effects that his ‘detractors’ present him as his exploration of the quandary at hand unfolds, but such pre-existent loathing goes far beyond anything that could be credibly derived from the on-screen performance of DeForest Kelley. The McCoy of “A Choice of Catastrophes” would be more credible if Karl Urban was the McCoy template; but you’ll never hear Urban’s voice here. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that McCoy doesn’t have issues (in either universe), but as a standalone story, this one depends on them far too much to feel like a proper introspective work of the good doctor.
Ultimately, “A Choice of Catastrophes” is an average Star Trek novel… its excellent world-building and unique threat are greatly tempered by its treatment of McCoy and the let-down of the ‘push-button solution’ that, arguably, really saves the day. The story is genuinely good, but the execution needs more work.
More recent Star Trek novels
There are more new and recent Star Trek novels to keep you going, including Star Trek: Voyager: Children of the Storm (TrekMovie review), the novella collection "Star Trek: Vanguard: Declassified" (TrekMovie review) and James Swallow’s "Star Trek: Cast No Shadow" (TrekMovie review). And if you want a story from the new Star Trek movie universe, the most recent release is "Star Trek: Starfleet Academy: The Gemini Agent," by Rick Barba.
And due in stores this week is Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore’s "Star Trek Vanguard: What Judgment Comes," which is the penultimate novel in the series which started in 2005. The final Vanguard novel, "Storming Heaven" by David Mack is due in 2012.
Pocket Books provided TrekMovie with a copy of this book for review.