It’s the beginning of March, and winter is nearly done, so it’s time to head out and grab a novel, and prepare to settle in for one final winter reading-fest. This week, the Library Computer is taking a look at “Forged In Fire,” the new Excelsior adventure by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels. We’ll also be catching up with Bones Rodriguez, and keeping an eye out on upcoming releases.
STAR TREK – EXCELSIOR: Forged In Fire
It’s lunchtime. If you are anything like me, when you get a hankering for a sandwich, you want it to be filling and tasty. You take the time to select the bread that’s just right, and fill it up with all the meat and cheese you can muster. Work in a good mustard, some seasoning, give it a slice, and you’ve got yourself a sandwich that will stick to your ribs for hours. Forged In Fire, the new Excelsior novel from Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels has many of these qualities. Good, high quality meat (no fillers!), excellent cheeses, and a nice blend of other seasonings. However ‘the bread’ reminds me a bit too much of those little half-thickness Weight Watchers breads that have little substance, and that add, well, very little to the sandwich. That being said, don’t let the low-calorie bread keep you from the feast… because Forged In Fire is a feast indeed!
In Forged In Fire, Martin and Mangels explore, predominately, the landscape of the Star Trek universe in the time period before Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Hikaru Sulu finds himself aboard the starship Excelsior, Federation/Klingon peace talks are in their infancy, and one hideously pasty guest star is wreaking havoc all across the quadrant.
As noted, the first several chapters (‘the bread’) get off to a slow start, partly because of the authors decision to jump around the timeline. It’s not really confusing, just a bit pointless. There are several excellent chapters in there (usually dealing with Klingons), but everything gels out of the blue in chapter thirteen. The story takes on a unique life of its own, and that life is owed to Bill Campbell, Michael Ansara, and John Colicos – the trio of actors who brought the Klingon captains Koloth, Kang, and Kor to life on screen. In the midst of the chapter, I forgot that I was reading a novel, I could simply hear their exchanges and envision the entire chapter as a filmed episode. Straight through chapter thirty-nine, the book simply did not let go.
At this point, I should be careful to note that "Forged In Fire" is an Excelsior adventure, not a Captain Sulu adventure. While Sulu features prominently in the story (including childhood flashbacks and looks at his relationship with Demora, his daughter), Sulu really isn’t the sole focus of the story. Curzon Dax plays a prominent role throughout Forged In Fire, with Original Series staples like Sarek, Christine Chapel, and Janice Rand all stepping in to take their place in the tale. Even supporting players like the Klingon ambassador, Kamarag, Kang’s wife, Mara, and Starfleet Admiral "Blackjack" Harriman are written with care and diligence. While their roles are minor, compared to Sulu, Kang, Koloth, Kor, and Dax, they come across with a depth of character that is often lacking when other novelists write bit parts.
One of the great surprises is the panorama of life that the authors are able to develop for the Albino, a one-shot guest start from the second season Deep Space Nine episode "Blood Oath". While the episode gave us what we needed to know about this cold-blooded killer, Forged In Fire is able to develop more fully the life and times of a furious outcast, providing the motivation for his actions throughout the book; actions that lead down the path to full resolution in that DS9 episode.
The background of Klingon smoothness is discussed in more detail (as are the various – usually unsuccessful – attempts to reverse the quite lack of forehead features), and, if you pay very close attention, Martin and Mangels provide an Easter egg of sorts that ties the differences in Klingon appearance to the two varieties of Trill host that have been seen on-screen in the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.
Looking back at "Forged In Fire," two particular thoughts strike me.
First, this book, more than any other Star Trek novel I have read, really felt like a ‘wagon train to the stars’. The relationship that develops between Dax, Koloth, Kang, Kor, and Sulu as the story unfolds reminds me of what I would expect to see in a good western; it’s simply set in outer space. If this is the kind of quality that Martin and Mangels can bring to the voyages of the Excelsior, then the series needs to be handed over to them to do with as they please.
Second, "Forged In Fire" could have done with about a hundred and fifty fewer pages – perhaps more. As noted, the opening and closing material could have been pared down and re-presented in a way that was a bit more interesting. I can only counsel the reader who finds him- or her-self frustrated in the early going to stick it out. This Excelsior adventure is absolutely worth the read.
"Excelsior Forged In Fire" is available now from Amazon
KIRK’S WOMEN ON FOX
Bones Rodriguez, whose book, “Captain Kirk’s Guide to Women” was recently released, was on Fox News last week and he brought a number of ladies with him, check it out:
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN TREK BOOKS FOR MARCH
Out now: The paperback printing of last year’s final installment in the "Vulcan’s Soul" trilogy, "Epiphany," by Josepha Sherman and Susan Shwartz.
Coming soon: late in March comes the first book in the "Terek Nor" trilogy, "Day of the Vipers", by James Swallow. Also available this month as an eBook, the conclusion of the Next Generation "Slings and Arrows" miniseries, "Enterprises of Great Pitch and Moment" by Keith R.A. DeCandido; a full-bore TNG/DS9 crossover story that leads right into the events of Star Trek: First Contact.