#1-6

I read a book a bout karaoke and then a series on the Vulcan/Romulan/Reman history through the present.

Kicking off 2009 with a bunch of books read. I’m sure this spurt will be the only one of the year, but at least it’s a good place to start.

1. Don’t Stop Believin’: How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life by Brian Raftery

I reviewed this one for Blogcritics, so I’ll write more about it later in the January roundup. I will say now that it is an engaging read and inspired me to be a bit more regular in my karaoke outings.

2. Vulcan’s Forge by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz

This is a Star Trek book, as one might surmise from the title, and it’s the first of five connected books by these two authors, spread out over a number of years. The events take place in the present day, which is set shortly after Kirk was taken by the Nexus as seen in Star Trek: Generations, as well as in the past, which is set around the time when Spock officially enters adulthood. As one might expect, the events are connected, both by the individuals involved and the similarities of the locations.

Spock is a favorite character of many fans, and I am not an exception. Sherman and Shwartz clearly spent a great deal of time getting inside his head, and the readers benefit from this. Throughout the book, we see his inner struggle between his Vulcan and Human heritages. It’s one of the things I like most about him – that struggle between multiple identities and ways of life, which are all valid and true to himself.

The story itself, though, was only passable, and the best thing I can say for it is that it set up the events told in the next book.

3. Vulcan’s Heart by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz

This book, in contrast to the first one, stays almost entirely in the present, which is set around the time of Picard’s captaincy of the Stargazer. The story begins, however, a few years earlier with the betrothal between Spock, who is now an Ambassador for the United Federation of Planets and no longer a Starfleet officer, and Commander Saavik, who is well on her way to becoming a Captain.

These two end up separately traveling under cover to the Romulan homeworld to help dissidents (and the Federation) stop the corrupt government’s plans to start an interstellar war. Unfortunately for both, they don’t realize until it’s too late that they have begun to enter pon farr, which adds an unexpected layer of difficulty and danger to their respective missions.

Sherman and Shwartz deftly weave in events familiar to those of us who have already seen their aftermath, such as the fate of the Enterprise C and her crew, and draw connections between events and people that are pleasantly unexpected. I was so wrapped up in this book that even though it was very late and I was very tired, I couldn’t fall asleep until I finished it.

4. Vulcan’s Soul Trilogy Book One: Exodus by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz

This was the book that inspired me to read the others first. When I bought it and read it a few years ago, I didn’t realize that it was the start of a trilogy and the middle part of an over-arching story line, so I struggled to fill in the gaps of information referenced by the authors. It was not a pleasant experience, but it inspired me to collect all of the related books and read them, as I have done now.

This book tells a version of the events of the Vulcan philosopher Surak’s life that led to the embrace of logic over emotionalism and the eventual end of the devastating wars on Vulcan. However, rather than the usual history that those who left Vulcan at that time to become Romulans were those who rejected Surak’s logic, this story tells of scientists and others who embraced logic and decided to take their knowledge out of the war machine equation in order to preserve the Vulcan race, as it seemed that the eventual destruction of the planet was inevitable.

The Vulcan/Romulan history is only part of the story, though. The book alternates between the history (“memory”) and the present, which is set shortly after the end of the Dominion War. An unknown and powerful species calling themselves the Watraii have destroyed a Romulan colony and have declared that they want nothing less than the total destruction of the Romulans, who they claimed stole their homeworld. Admiral Spock and Captain Saavik, along with Admiral Chekov and the Romulan exile Ruanek, are sent on a clandestine mission to somehow stop the Watraii and attempt a peaceful negotiation with them, if possible.

Now that I have read the two books that introduced some of the characters involved, such as Ruanek, and the events referenced, this book makes a little more sense than it did the first time I read it. However, the jumping around of times and places makes it very difficult to follow what happened when, even thought the authors have helpfully noted the years when appropriate.

5. Vulcan’s Soul Trilogy Book Two: Exiles by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz

Unfortunately, not everyone who left with the ships were followers of Surak, and not everyone who left made it to what became Romulus and Remus. This book tells the story of their 100+ year journey across uncharted space, and their search for a livable planet that did not already have sentient life on it.

It seems that the politics and fighting that drove them into space have followed them there. Ultimately, this leads to death and betrayal, and we learn more about the history of the Remans — the Vulcans who made Remus, Romulus’ non-rotating twin planet, relatively habitable — and the reason for their second-class status in Romulan society.

Meanwhile, in the present, tensions between the Watraii and the Romulans remain high, as well as those between the Romulans and the Federation. The Romulans believe that the Federation’s unwillingness to side with them against the Watraii is a betrayal, particularly since the Romulans had fought along with the Federation against the Dominion. However, the Federation is unwilling to trust their long-time enemy and sometime ally, particularly since it is not unreasonable to believe that the Romulans would have taken a planet that was not theirs, as the Watraii claim.

Once again, Captain Saavik and Ambassador Spock lead a clandestine mission to retrieve a valuable historical object that the Watraii stole from the Romulans, as well as to rescue Chekov who had been captured by the Watraii and who the had believed to be dead. This time, they are joined by Captain Scott and Commander Data, as well as Ruanek, of course.

By the end of this book, it is fairly clear where the story is going, and I had a pretty good idea of who the Watraii are and the source of their beef against the Romulans, but Sherman and Shwartz had a few more surprises left for the next book.

6. Vulcan’s Soul Trilogy Book Three: Epiphany by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz

While it is true that the Romulans are essentially the same race as the Vulcans, with a few adaptations that came from the radiation exposure in their long voyage and the biology of the planet they found, it is not true that the Remans are the same. We learn why in this book, and it is not at all what I expected. We also, finally, learn the origins of the people calling themselves the Watraii.

Things are not going very well in the present, either, and once again the usual cast of characters are called in to rescue a captive and stop a war, with a little help from Captain Picard’s Enterprise. As you might expect, they succeed.

The book ends on an odd note. You might recall the female Romulan Commander from the original series episode “The Enterprise Incident.” She wasn’t given a name in the episode, as far as I can tell, but Sherman and Shwartz have dubbed her Charvanek. She has played an important role in the events of the previous four books, and surprisingly, the authors chose to make her reflection upon the events between the cessation of hostilities with the Watraii, through Shinzon’s praetorship, and finally to whatever may come after the events depicted in Star Trek Nemesis. It’s an interesting element of character development, but it also leans a bit too far towards being an info dump.

#1

I’m starting over on the 50 Book Challenge. Last year I read 23 books. This year I hope to get closer to my goal. To assist in that, I’m trying to change the way I read books.

For most of my life, reading a book meant reading the book cover-to-cover in one go. I don’t have the time or energy for that anymore. My body won’t let me read until dawn and still function at work. So I stopped reading because I didn’t have the hours set aside to do it.

Now I’m trying to keep a set sleep schedule: 10pm-6:30am. I need eight hours of sleep in order to be fully rested, and this gives me enough time to dink around in the morning before going to work (as I am doing right now). This means that if I want to read, I have to do it before 10pm and stop at or around 10pm. I didn’t know if I had enough discipline to put down a book when the time came, but I was able to do it with the first book of 2007, so I’m hopeful.

The Empty Chair is the fifth book in Diane Duane’s twenty-two year long tale of the Romulans. The first four books (My Enemy, My Ally, The Romulan Way, Swordhunt, and Honor Blade) have been collected and published in an omnibus entitled Rihannsu: The Bloodwing Voyages which was released last month along with The Empty Chair. I have been eager to read this final book ever since I finished the cliffhanger Honor Blade in 2005, and I was quite frustrated with my local bookstores for not carrying it. However, I was able to pick up a copy during my holiday travels.

The plot is complex and well-executed, but as with most Duane books, it isn’t as much about the plot as it is about the characters. She is one of few authors who writes Kirk so sympathetically that he doesn’t come off as an arrogant ass. I have particularly enjoyed the character development and insight into Rihannsu (Romulan) culture that this series of books has provided, and The Empty Chair neatly brought everything full circle to end the adventure with sufficient closure.

It’s much longer than the other books, clocking in at 421 pages (mass market paperback). I suspect that Duane would have preferred to split it into two novels, since there are a few minor plots that were not fully played out, and the ending battle seemed a bit rushed and anti-climactic compared to other events in the book. However, it is still a satisfying read.

Any interested readers should pick up copies of the previous books first before tackling this one. Although it can stand on its own, there are many references to previous events, and it would help to know the details and the weight they carry. Even though I have read those books in the past couple of years, I found myself struggling to remember exactly what happened and who was involved.

I’d like to go back and re-read the entire series without the long gaps between books, but that will have to wait. I still have 276 unread books in my house that await my attention. Sigh.