Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Reading Harbinger: Chapter 1-4

In which everyone heads to Vanguard.


What Happens:
2265. The U.S.S. Enterprise is on its way back from the edge of the galaxy at reduced speed because of damage from its most recent mission. It is more personal matters that trouble Captain James T. Kirk, specifically guilt over killing his best friend Gary Marshall, or rather the super-powerful and megalomaniacal being Marshall had become. A pep talk from Dr. Not McCoy (Mark Piper) fails to lift his spirits before he is distracted by a hail from Starbase 47, aka Vanguard. While this is convenient - the Enterprise requires repairs - Kirk is surprised to find a fully operational starbase in the Taurus Reach, so far from Federation space. He becomes suspicious when Spock confirms that the building of Vanguard must have been fast-tracked.

I'm not sure why Vanguard hailed the Enterprise instead of the other way around. Granted, they didn't at first realize the station was even there, but...does Vanguard hail every Starfleet ship that comes close? Maybe they do! I suppose they have to do something to let people know where they are, since they're new. It's not a problem, it's just a thing that jumped out at me.

Anyway. Chapter 1 starts with Captain Kirk and the Enterprise, so now I'm wondering if that's for familiarity's sake or they play a bigger role in the story then I thought. Speaking of (lack of) familiarity, Dr. Not McCoy totally threw me. He's a real character - he was in the episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before" but I have no memory of him at all.

I sympathize with Kirk here, unable to sleep because of guilt and grief over his friend. He jumps at the mystery of Vanguard and it's easy to think that he might be driven by a need to distract himself, even though we know he's right that Something Is Up.


What Happens:
On Ravanar IV, Cervantes Quinn sneaks into a mining camp in order to steal a sensor screen. It goes poorly - he trips an alarm, breaks the screen, and has to run. He escapes his pursuers through some cleverness and prior planning and leaves the planet in his ship, the Rocinante. He sets a course for Vanguard, wondering what he's going to tell his employer, an Orion named Ganz, when he gets there. Commander Dean Singer urges the Starfleet scientists underground (for whom the "mining camp" is just a cover) to shut everything down and sends a message to a T'Prynn on Vanguard about the intruder and the need for a new sensor screen.

No one is attacked by sentient mold. YET.

I loved this chapter. It made me think, "yeah, now we're getting going." Which is maybe weird, because it's still pretty much set-up, but stuff HAPPENED. There was an action sequence! So far it's been people talking about things and thinking about things. And I love reading about people talking and thinking about things, but I also love reading about people doing things.

I've never understood the whole idea of  character-driven vs. plot-driven debate, even when I've put myself in the former camp. It seems like a false dichotomy, plot is what characters do (and also what happens to them). You can't separate them. The most awesome plot ever will feel hollow if the characters are empty, and a whole lot of character study without plot may be interesting, but it's not a story. (This is one my biggest problems as a writer, I am a terrible at plot.)

The two aren't opposed. Plot illuminates character. Take Cervantes Quinn, we get an clear view of who he is and what he's about right here. Aging, shady but not evil, clever but not a genius (he thinks it's weird a mining camp would have a sensor screen, but it doesn't occur to him that the camp could be a cover for something else, for example), world-weary (should that be galaxy-weary?), sardonic... The Don Quixote allusions are suggestive, too. What, exactly, they suggest, I don't know yet.

We even get a pretty good view of his boss, Ganz, who doesn't even appear. That bit about him forcing people to pour him drinks on demand and shooting anyone who pours him something he doesn't like makes him sound like a psychopath.

This chapter was also funny. The comedy of errors when Quinn attempts to steal the screen had me snickering. Then there's this:
Using a sonic screwdriver he'd swiped from a rather daft chap back on Barolia...


What Happens:
Lieutenant Ming Xiong, A&A officer (er, excuse me, X&A officer), on his way back to Vanguard from Ravanar IV in the U.S.S. Sagittarius, transfers to the U.S.S. Bombay for the rest of the trip. The somewhat socially-awkward Xiong is more comfortable with the eccentric and informal crew of Sagittarius and is touched by the gift of a personalized jumpsuit like those worn by the crew. On the Bombay, he gets an annoyingly noisy Tellarite bunkmate.

Not much to say about this one. Not because there's anything wrong but because it's all about introducing us to Xiong and to the crews of the Sagittarius and the Bombay, which Mack does skillfully. And of course, Sagittarius was first mentioned back in Chapter 2, because Quinn waited until the ship was well away before making his abortive raid.

I feel for Xiong, though, man. I'm not a misanthrope, either, but am totally introverted and talking to extroverted, friendly people can be a trial. And you can't shut them up without feeling churlish. People wanting to talk (or whistle) when I want to sleep? Just, argh.

Allusions Even I Caught: The Sagittarius is an Archer-class scout, no doubt for Jonathan Archer; its first officer is one Commander Clark Terrell, who will come to a sad end as captain of the U.S.S. Reliant in The Wrath of Khan.


What Happens:
The Ruling Conclave of the Political Castemoot of the Tholian Assembly is in disagreement over what to do about the new Federation presence in the Taurus Reach, which they refer to as the Shedai Sector: some want to drive them away by force, others think they must colonize the area themselves despite this being forbidden by the long-ago First Assembly, other counsel letting the Klingons and the Federation fight it out. The argument is interrupted when a powerful something takes control of their entire telepathic network, the Lattice. Though it only lasts a moment, the Tholians are enraged and terrified. As one, they agree that whatever just attacked them must be destroyed...and they know where it is.

So we meet our antagonists! Telepathy bores me in fiction generally, but the color theme here is a twist that kept my interest from bleeding away. What also caught my interest? SHEDAI. The Shedai metagenome, which saved (or, more precisely, will save) the Andorians from extinction. That's what going on with the mold. Which maybe just attacked the Tholians! SEE I KNEW IT. 

Okay, probably not the mold. Evil telepathic mold sounds pretty stupid. But it amuses me. Speaking of the attack, it was not amusing at all. It was creepy and while the Tholians aren't very likable, I don't blame them for being totally, totally freaked out.
But there was no peace to be found; a piercing wave of psionic power held the Tholian race in its crushing grip. In a flash, every Tholian mind knew the icy touch of enslavement.

Well, that's all for this post. Next time, we actually get to station Vanguard.

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