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Star Trek Corps Of Engineers: Grand Designs: An Anthology

01/08/2009. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy Star Trek Corps Of Engineers Grand Designs in the USA - or Buy Star Trek Corps Of Engineers Grand Designs in the UK

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pub: Simon and Schuster. 634 page enlarged paperback. Price: 9.99 (UK), $16.00 (US) $19.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-4165-4489-0.

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This fine big handsome lump of a book contains six novelettes which I will review one by one. The title refers to large engineering works which feature in a couple of the stories. Our heroes are the Starfleet Corps of Engineers, riding the U.S.S. da vinci all over the galaxy to fix things.

'Ring Around The Sky' by Allyn Gibson features a grand design indeed, an artificial ring around the entire planet Kharzh'ulla, connected to the surface by several space elevators (copyright Arthur C. Clarke) like a bicycle wheel with the planet as its hub. The ring and one of the elevators have been damaged by the Jem'Hadar at the end of the Dominion War and the Kharzh'ullans have asked Starfleet for help.

The planet is a Tellarite colony world where over time the inhabitants have assumed a less stocky shape than the Tellarites back on their home planet. The U.S.S. da vinci is sent with Tellarite Tev on board as he has experience of the ring. He also has personal issues with the Kharzh'ullan Minister of Transportation, Eevraith, who is in charge of the ring. Obviously, as a dedicated Starfleet engineer, he mustn't let this interfere with his mission. Allyn Gibson tells a respectable yarn, true to the traditions of the Federation. The personal issues are well-handled and the science is convincing. The only minor flaw is Tev's habit of snorting every few pages. He could spread a lot of swine flu that way.

'Orphans' by Kevin Killiany has a multi-generational colony ship passing through Federation Space right now but only six days from Klingon Space. The two powers have launched a joint mission to investigate it, the Federation represented by our pals in the da vinci and the other lot by an assortment of proud, grumpy Klingon officers and one sensible Klingon engineer. The ship is a huge cylinder, rotation giving it a pseudo-gravity but was damaged a few centuries before and may have been driven off course. The inhabitants are at a mediaeval level of technology and seem to have forgotten their purpose and their newborn babies are suddenly all dying.

The story is told from several viewpoints, switching between Klingons, Federation men and the ship's natives. Some literati think a single viewpoint is the best way to narrate, focusing on the angst of one individual, but I've always liked multiple viewpoint stories. As usual, the Prime Directive goes out the window and the Feds interfere with gusto. In fact, the Prime Directive is not even mentioned. I didn't mind as this story reminded me of the Robert A. Heinlein classic 'Orphans Of The Sky', to which the title is indubitably a gracious nod, and gave me a warm nostalgic glow.

'Grand Designs' by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore has the da vinci embroiled in a tussle between a colony and its homeworld. Rhaxan III wants to join the Federation and its colony world, Rhaxan V, also wants to join but independently. Ambassador Gabriel Marshall is in charge of the negotiations and there is friction between him and Captain Gold, for since the days of Kirk there is always friction between ambassadors and starship captains.

The colony and the homeworld embark on a course of mutually assured destruction, thanks in part to Federation interference in their affairs. This was a thoughtful story and did raise questions about the Prime Directive.

So did 'Failsafe' by David Mack. Here a faulty Federation probe has landed on Teneb, an M-class planet which has several nation states with differing levels of cultural and technological development, similar to Earth just before World War III, namely, similar to Earth now. The Venekans are the world's dominant super-power with lots of military hardware.

They are conquering the X'Mari, a more primitive people who stone women to death for crimes like being a spy. The Venekans are clearly bad guys but the X'Mari are not saints neither. Mack writes action well and our heroes get shot, cut and blasted severely at his hands as they try to recover the probe and avoid cultural contamination. However, this kind of heavy-handed allegory leaves me cool. I want strange new worlds in my Science Fiction, not this one by a different name.

Elizabeth Lense, ship's medical officer, is the star of 'Bitter Medicine' by Dave Galanter. Two Allurian vessels have made contact with an alien ship and seem to have become infected with a deadly virus. A small team of three crew members are sent from the da vinci to investigate the ship, wearing environmental suits. They find a little boy on board, alone, living off canned food. He is immune to the disease and everyone else on board is dead. Lense rashly promises to save him.

This touching story about the maternal instinct conflicting with cool Starfleet professionalism was written by a man (Gosh!) and was my favourite in the book. It was also the shortest. At sixty pages it could be read in one sitting which probably helped that singleness of emotional impact that Poe declared to be the prime benefit of the short story form. The author bio tells me that Dave Galanter co-owns and, discussion sites which I am happy to plug here because I liked his story so much.

The book closes with 'Sargasso Sector' by Paul Kupperberg which will suit those Trek fans who like fantasy dressed up as Science Fiction but didn't do much for me, alas. The da vinci crew have to clear a path through a sector of space where millions of ancient vessels are gathered, a sargasso caused by a unique combination of gravitational currents just as Earth's Sargasso Sea is a becalmed area caused by ocean currents.

This good idea was turned into a slightly silly story when the da vinci comes under the influence of an Uncertainty Drive, yes, like the one in the Douglas Adams books (credit is given) but FOR REAL! The story is about probabilities, supposedly. It was well put together and the underlying paradox was cute but it wasn't quite my cup of tea.

Out of six novelettes, three good, one excellent and two near misses that were by no means terrible. All in all, I passed many pleasant hours with the crew of the da vinci. At 999 pennies this bumper collection offers good quality escapism into the world of Trek and a chance to make the acquaintance of a new and interesting Starfleet crew. Well, new to me anyway, though this is the nineth book in the series and there are e-books, too. Trekkies are bound to enjoy it and even some less enlightened humanoids will get some pleasure. Recommended.

Eamonn Murphy

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