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BOOK
Star Trek: Vanguard
Harbinger

Author: David Mack
Pocket Books
RRP: 6.99, US $7.99, Cdn $11.99
ISBN 1 4165 0774 4
Available 05 September 2005


Returning from its first voyage to the edge of the galaxy, the damaged
USS Enterprise journeys through the Taurus Reach, a little-known area of space in which a new starbase has been unexpectedly established. Puzzled by the Federation's interest in a region so close to the borders of the Klingon Empire and the xenophobic Tholian Assembly, Captain Kirk puts his ship in for repairs at the space station: Starbase 47, also known as Vanguard...

This new series of novels has been pitched by Pocket Books as Star Trek meets Alias. Don't expect any Sydney Bristow-style stunts from any of the crew aboard Vanguard station, though - it's not that much like Alias. However, what the two series have in common are lots of people with intriguing secrets that other people want to discover.

The space station setting invites comparisons with Deep Space Nine, as do a number of its shady inhabitants, both enlisted and civilian. Like DS9, Starbase 47 is located in a political and territorial hornets' nest: a buffer zone between the Klingon Empire and the Tholian Assembly. A criminal, in this case an Orion merchant-prince called Ganz, offers various unscrupulous goods and services - for the right price - though admittedly Ganz is a far more violent person than the Ferengi Quark ever was. Other dubious characters include a secretive commanding officer, Commodore Reyes; a sexed-up Vulcan, Lieutenant Commander T'Prynn, who, in post-T'Pol style, struggles to keep her emotions in check; an adulterous journalist, Tim Pennington; a spy; and a thief. Unlike DS9, three starships serve and protect the station, rather than just the one, and this facility is top of the range and brand spanking new - though some areas are not yet fully operational.

All previous Star Trek spin-offs, both on TV and in print, have used familiar characters to help launch the series and ease fans into a new situation. For example, Pocket's Stargazer series featured a pre-Next Generation Picard, whereas the new Titan series includes a range of familiar names, including the post-Next Gen Riker and Troi. Each TV spin-off has taken the approach spoofed so well in The Simpsons Spin-off Showcase: for instance, keep one eye open during the pilot episode of The Next Generation, because Doctor McCoy stops by to wish the crew luck. Vanguard takes a similar approach: taking place during the time of The Original Series, this first book sees Kirk and his crew putting in for repairs, following events in the episode Where No Man Has Gone Before.

Other, more subtle allusions to the Trek franchise's past, contemporary and future mythology include references to Archer-class starships (an allusion to Star Trek: Enterprise), Scotty acquiring his bottle of green stuff (downed in the Original Series episode By Any Other Name), and the journalist's surname (a reference to the Pennington School, where Jake Sisko considered an internship to become a writer in the DS9 episode Explorers). During the course of events, we also see the Enterprise crew switch their Where No Man costumes for the bolder primary colours seen in later episodes of the original series, witnessing along the way Kirk's and Uhura's reactions to the introduction of those infamous miniskirts.

There's a good deal of scene-setting to be done in this novel. As a consequence, the first 120-odd pages are fairly slow moving. However, following a chapter so dramatic it brought genuine tears to my eyes, the pace and tension rarely let up. For the most part, the new characters shine, though the friendly advice and alcohol dispensed by Chief Medical Officer Ezekiel Fisher fail to distinguish him from Doctors Boyce and McCoy.

All in all, however, this book is - to quote the famous joke about lawyers, which brings a smile to Commodore Reyes' face at one point - a good start.

Richard McGinlay

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