Thursday, September 16, 2021

The (Very) Good Doctor


It's not often that someone with as little reach as I have can start a book review with, "I was talking to the author, " but the future is a weird place, and Twitter allows that kind of thing to happen far more easily than back in my youth. (Or "the stone age" as my daughter calls it.) 

I've read many Star Trek books.  I used to grab them by the arm load at used book stores and sales, with no regard of the name on the cover. Likely some time around when I figured out I should follow comic books by the writer, not the character, I also figured out there were only a few of the Trek book authors I was really enjoying.

One of those was Diane Duane.

One day, I noticed someone on Twitter talking about stumbling on "Piece of the Action" on television, and not being able to turn it off.  Since it's still my favorite episode, I responded and there was a short conversation.  

It was Diane Duane!

In the course of the tweeting, I looked up which Original Series Trek books she'd written to refresh my memory, and learned something that stunned me.  She wrote Doctor's Orders, a book with the amazing concept of Doctor McCoy being put in the Captain's chair, twenty-one years ago, and somehow I had missed it.

It was on order before the tweets were finished.  The future is nifty sometimes.

She also pointed me to her original works including the Young Wizards series, which includes science fiction elements in the fantasy and I feel I'd enjoy them more than Harry Potter. (I did enjoy Potter, but these sound more like "me.")  Once the reading pile gets a little more under control I'll try them.

However, I bought and read Doctor's Orders almost immediately and it may be my favorite Star Trek Novel of all time.

Here's why it works:

Because it's me, I'll start with a contradiction. When reading a Star Trek book, I want it to feel like an episode, but it also needs to have more "stuff" than a usual episode to fill a novel. Yet it needs to not feel padded.

As an episode example, "The Tholian Web" deals with how everyone reacts to Kirk being missing, but we don't get to see his side  of it. Contrarywise, "The Mark of Gideon" spends most of its time focused on where Kirk went missing to, with short bits spent on those looking for him.

While how McCoy handles command and interaction with his allies and enemies is the main point of the book, we also get to follow Kirk's journey while missing, and through him learn about the planet's inhabitants.

Those inhabitants highlight another great point about the novel. While I want the story to feel like an episode, a book has the advantage of an unlimited effects budget.  The three races on the planet are all non-humanoid, each in a different way. They have shapes and abilities that would be tough to convey, even using today's effects.  The otherworldliness of them and their interconnection reminded me a bit of Asimov's "The God's Themselves."
(I really should re-read that one. I guess the pile just got bigger.)

Bonus points for making one of the races the ";At," and then making fun of the unpronounceable names convention in books by having the crew complain about the previous survey party using it without explaining what it sounds like.

Many excellent authors have written interesting Star Trek novels that focus on their own, new characters, with the cast of the TV series mentoring them, or appearing in the background.

I own, have read, and enjoyed many of these. 

However, what I enjoy more is a story about the characters I've grown to know and love over seventy-nine-ish episodes and a few movies, where they speak and act like I expect them to.

In another semi-contradiction, I want to see these familiar characters do things in situations I haven't seen before.

And since they were awesome in all of those episodes (and the movies) I want them to continue that awesomeness in new adventures.

Doctor's Orders delivers here as well.  Seeing them explore a "strange new world" fits in with what we've seen before. However, seeing McCoy in the command chair, and performing amazingly well, by using his knowledge of medicine and  psychology combined with his compassion and cantankerousness.  It lets a character we've seen many times shine in a new scenario.

And there are Klingons!  Things really go upside down when Kirk vanishes and its a roller coaster ride all the way through.

There are some original (or at least non-show) characters as well. Besides the the aliens, there is a new and worthy Klingon adversary, and other crew members.   

The ship's linguist, Lt. Janice Kerasus from several of Duane's works, fits in with the rest of the Enterprise crew, and is clever and competent.  Uhura gets time to show off her amazing skill in the area of languages as well.

And as a final note- not only is the story compelling, the characters spot on and just as fun as the series, and the aliens new and different, there are some cool additions to the lore of Trek.

We start to see the beginnings of the "Next Generation" attitude from Starfleet that keeps captains from joining landing parties.

And we get an in-universe explanation for why everyone on a space ship with artificial gravity gets thrown out of their seats when under fire.

It was so good, I'm tempted to read her "Next Generation" book, which means a lot coming from me.

What are you waiting for Trekkies, go get this one!

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