Monday, April 7, 2008

Forged in Fire by Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels

On the surface, the new Captain Sulu novel, Forged in Fire, is full of a number of good ideas. How did Sulu gain command of the Excelsior? What precisely led to Curzon Dax’s blood oath with Kang, Kor, and Koloth to feast on the still beating heart of the Albino’? And how did the smooth headed Klingons get their ridges back?

However, these ideas are presented in an ultimately unsatisfying way. While the ridges subplot was handled well, it didn’t really fit with the overall narrative of the story. But the story is ultimately going to be unsatisfying when you start from such a flawed premise. The events of the DS9 episode ‘Blood Oath’ are the basis for pretty much the entir
e novel, and it establishes that not only did the Albino escape from the Klingons and Dax, he also managed to kill their firstborn sons. Therefore, we know when starting the novel that the Albino won’t be brought to justice within the novel, no matter what happens. 480 pages that lead up to an unsatisfying conclusion that we already knew was coming. Of course, this is assuming that a reader is familiar with the episode; if one isn't, the book probably seems to just abruptly end without any real resolution at all.

If Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels couldn’t bring something new and compelling to the story to give the reader a sense of closure, then maybe the conception of this novel should have been rethought. That said, their prose was capable, as always, and their characterizations were well done: from people we know well, like Sulu and Sarek, to original characters like Cutler, all seemed like realistic, believable people.

Limited scope is also an issue. While the plot appears at first to be complicated and spanning a range of times, the flashbacks merely serve to set up small plot elements in the story and aren’t returned to afterwards. The narrative essentially boils down to a terrorist attack, followed by our heroes chasing the terrorist for the next 300+ pages. It’s not any more complicated than that.

I sat down to watch ‘Blood Oath’ this afternoon after finishing the novel last night. I’d forgotten how uneven and undramatic it was. (Not to mention how bad an actor I find Terry Farrell to be.) But it did help me put a point on something that I find monotonous and unrealistic.

I understand that vengeance is not accepted behavior by the Federation of the 24th century, but why does every damn Klingon story have to drive this point home? Both Sulu in the novel and Sisko in the episode take great strides to make their abhorrence for the Klingon’s oath known. But are condemnation and understanding really irreconcilable things? Have we not all had feeling of vengeance that we haven’t acted upon? Could we not look at a man whose son has been killed and understand why he would seek the death of the killer even if we felt it would be the wrong thing to do?

For all the permissiveness and acceptance the Federation supposedly has for other peoples and culture, we don’t really seem to actually see it all that much. Perhaps it is the writers’s fault; they use humanity (the Federation) as the inflexible moral line, the white in what is actually a grey situation. But it would be nice to see some of the novel authors try and combat this practice, given that they tout their freedom to go places that the television shows couldn’t.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's a pretty spot-on review. The book was competently written as always, but the plot was a pretty dull straight line. Serpents Among the Ruins is a good example of how to do this backstory-filling right-- play against audience expectations, don't just fulfill them. That book went somewhere no one could have foreseen, but still fit perfectly with everything we knew beforehand, and it was a satisfying story in isolation. That's the sort of place Forged in Fire should have gone.

Like you, I figured that with the flashbacks we were in for a complicated plot spanning Klingon history. But all we got was a gratuitous tying in of "More Tribbles, More Troubles" with Enterprise's tedious forehead episodes.