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Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Sky's The Limit: An Anthology edited by Marco Palmieri

01/01/2011. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Sky’s The Limit: An Anthology edited in the USA - or Buy Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Sky’s The Limit: An Anthology edited in the UK

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pub: Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster. 412 page enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 9.99 (UK), $16.00 (US), $18.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7434-92558-3.

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This book contains within its very blue and pretty cover twelve short stories set in the Next Generation era of ‘Star Trek’, one comicbook extract and two pieces of text that someone thinks might pass for stories. They don’t. Written by Michael Schuster and Steve Mollman they are the first and last items in the book but they are not stories. The first is ’Meet With Triumph And Disaster’ which tells us about Captain Thomas Holloway, an engineer in charge of building the new Enterprise. On launch day, he meets some VIPs, shows them round the ship and tells Admiral Satie that he does not want to lead the ship on its voyage. He wants to stay home with the wife. ‘Not to worry,’ she says, ‘there is another chap available.’ That's it. There is no drama, no conflict, no plot. The end piece is ’Trust Yourself When All Men Doubt You’ and it has Picard looking into Holloway’s career and reflecting on it. Again, there is no drama, no conflict and no plot. Both these things are well-written and not displeasing but they are not stories, damn them! It might have been better to label them Preface and Coda. It might have been better to leave them out altogether and have two more stories, because the stories are, on the whole, very good.

‘Star Trek’ is probably better suited to short tales than to novels. James Blish wrote short adaptations of the original series and Alan Dean Foster did the same thing with the animated series which kind of shows that an episode translated to text is a story, not anything longer. The tales here present are varied but have some common themes so I will review them according to that rather than in order of appearance.

First, Cardassians. 'Act Of Compassion' by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore won't set your heart racing but at least it has a plot, some conflict and a bit of action. Doctor Beverley Crusher and Tasha Yar go aboard a Cardassian ship to tend to some captured Federation spies who are being repatriated as a peace gesture but need medical attention. Some of the crew disagree with the peace gesture and trouble ensues. 'Four Lights' by Keith R.A. DeCandido is another tale of Cardassians but with an ambiguous conclusion. A neat conclusion was probably tempting and he was wise to avoid it. The Dominion War is at its apogee and Picard has Gul Madred as a prisoner on board the Enterprise. Gul Madred is the chap who tortured him in the two part TV episode 'Chain Of Command' in scenes that strongly echoed Orwell's '1984' but were no less powerful for that. Now the tables are turned. This might be the best story in the book.

Pleasingly, several stories in this volume actually feature genuine science fictional science as a key plot element. Doctor Katherine Pulaski is the star turn in 'Redshift' by Richard C. White. Her experiments with intra-ship transporting to get medics promptly to danger spots cause trouble at first but bear fruit when some interesting aliens attack. More and even better Science Fiction is on show in 'Among The Clouds' by Scott Pearson. Enterprise receives a distress signal from some silly extra-terrestrials who have destroyed their planet with global warming, impelled by the profit motive to continue using fossil fuels until it was too late. Light speed limitations mean the signal is six hundred years old but the resourceful aliens have meanwhile managed to re-locate to a moon circling a Jovian-style gas giant elsewhere in their system. The use of flashbacks was maybe a bit overdone but there was a lot of inventiveness in the adaptations of the fool global warmers to their new environment. There's hard SF, too, in ‘T’would Ring The Bells Of Heaven’ by Amy Sisson as Deanna Troi leads her first away mission to investigate Saturn-style rings on a distant colony. Things go wrong and Deanna has to cope with a broken android and uncooperative locals. Another well crafted mix of science, plot and character.

The infernal holodeck features in 'Thinking Of You' but not on the Enterprise. This one is on board the luxury yacht owned by Troi's mum, Lwaxana. She is negotiating a peace treaty with some frogs. Lieutenant Reginald Barclay and Ensign Ro are sent to assist and create a swampy environment to make the aliens feel at home. Author Greg Cox is one of those chaps who does novelisations of film, television and comics as well as ‘Star Trek’ stuff. Snobs condemn this type as hacks but I do not. His professionalism shows in this neat story where a hat featured at the start to illuminate character plays a key part in the plot solution. A nicely integrated bit of craftwork and there was humour, too, which helps.

There’s a bit of an editing failure in ‘Ordinary Days’ by James Swallow when one character offers another ‘a datapadd with a milk pale hand’. In forty-two years of watching ‘Star Trek’, I have never seen such a piece of equipment. This is a sort of alternative life story for Wesley Crusher where he ends up living on a frontier planet with a wife. That Traveler chap is involved. The planet is due to be handed over to the Cardassians as part of a peace treaty and everyone must emigrate but they don’t want to go, mostly because they have Native American blood and issues with this sort of thing. An interesting and perceptive tale which makes me regret my grammatical pedantry above a bit.

In 'Friends With The Sparrows' by Christopher L. Bennett, Data is trying to improve relations with the Tamarians, difficult chaps who speak in metaphors. His emotion chip goes wonky under the stress. Like the holodeck, the emotion chip is by no means my favourite ingredient in ‘Star Trek’. For me, Spock and Data are examples of logic and reason that humans should try to emulate and when they try to be like us instead I get really, really angry. However, this was a neat story with a satisfying conclusion and the lessons Data learned could be applied to us all. Data’s cat is a star in ‘On the Spot’ by David A. McKintee, bonding with Worf after the android’s death. I thought it would be too, too cute and mushy but happily, the fiercer ways of cats and Klingons were to the fore.

Bob Ingersoll and Thomas F. Zahler wrote ''Til Death' without any consideration for reviewers who have to put the title inside apostrophes and make it look odd with a double apostrophe at the start. I forgive them because it was okay, not brilliant. It starts with Ryker mortally wounded just one month before he is due to marry the beautiful Deanna.

Like 'Among the Clouds', it is told with flashbacks, mainly so they can start with a beloved character in crisis. The cost benefit ratio of a narrative hook that depends on a sometimes laborious flashback structure might need more thinking about. Are readers so dull they're going to put the book down because there isn't mortal danger in paragraph one? I hope not.

As an extra super-bonus there's a comic strip at the back, an extract from a TOKYOPOP Manga anthology. Manga art means all the characters look about ten years old so the effect is a bit 'Bugsy Malone' but the story was pretty good with Vulcans going bonkers at a ceremony to celebrate Surak's birthday.

This volume shows once again that franchise fiction is not to be despised. Great writers may invent immortal characters of their own but competent scribes can still turn in a good job in a pre-fab world. Author Clive James once modestly claimed that all he does is turn a phrase so it twinkles a bit in the light. Good ‘Star Trek’ writers do for the characters what Clive does for a phrase. If manoeuvred cleverly into new positions they reveal new facets and twinkle a bit in the light. This is an interesting and enjoyable book.

Eamonn Murphy

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