Wednesday, February 1, 2012

February 2012: "The Rings of Time"

The U.S.S. Lewis & Clark, under the command of Colonel Shaun Christopher, sets off on humanity’s first manned mission to Saturn. But the unexpected presence of a stowaway complicates the mission—as does a startling encounter with an alien probe. But when Colonel Christopher attempts to capture the probe, he suddenly finds himself transported across time and space to a future era of space exploration... 

Stardate 7103.4 
The U.S.S. Enterprise responds to an urgent distress call from a mining colony orbiting Klondike VI, a ringed gas giant not unlike Saturn. For unknown reasons, the planet’s rings are coming apart, threatening the safety of the colony and its inhabitants. Searching for a way to avert the disaster, Captain James T. Kirk and his crew investigate a mysterious alien probe that has just entered the system. But when the probe is beamed aboard, Kirk abruptly finds himself floating in space above Saturn, wearing an old-fashioned NASA spacesuit, with the Enterprise nowhere in sight... 

Two missions. Two crews. And a time-twisting crisis that spans the centuries...

by Greg Cox
Mass Market paperback – 384 pages
Pocket Books – February 2012 – $7.99

As the USS Lewis & Clark approaches Saturn in the 21st Century, and the USS Enterprise enters the Klondike System in the 23rd, things start looking rather Janet Lester-ish as the crews of both vessels race to save lives in Greg Cox’s "The Rings of Time".

Set near the end of Kirk’s original five year mission, the Enterprise is sent to protect, evaluate, and – if necessary – evacuate the Skagway mining colony as it faces the catastrophic breakdown of the astrophysical balance of its planetary companion. Ultimately, little seems possible until odd annoyances become clear signals for how to proceed, and the Enterprise crew is forced to take the advice of an astronaut from out of time.

Meanwhile, back aboard the Lewis & Clark, the first crewed mission to Saturn is unfolding in ways the history books will never divulge, and in ways that could hold some degree of danger for the future. Of course, an equally out of time ‘astronaut’ is tasked with saving the day… as well as a few other stereotypical hero duties, before Saturn’s past becomes a harbinger of Skagway’s future.

"The Rings of Time" is an outstandingly well paced book (I finished it in three reading sessions over about 26 hours) that keeps you turning pages with abandon, and yet there are some oddities that you pick up along the way.

First, Cox’s current outing is definitely tied to the Khan trilogy from a decade ago. This isn’t a problem, as all the important details are filled in so that you don’t have to go back and do any remedial reading, but having read the preceding books definitely enhances the enjoyment of the present story. Hints and clues about the evolution of spaceflight are found throughout those books, and do a good job of setting the stage for what one sees as Christopher’s mission to Saturn gets underway.

Shawn Christopher, son of John Christopher (L- TOS "Tomorrow is Yesterday") and his mission to Saturn (R- patch from ENT "First Flight") features prominently in "The Rings of Time"

Second, it becomes pretty obvious that folks are being played a lot quicker than serves the story well. By three-quarters of the way through, it’s impossible – knowing Cox’s writing lineage – to not have made a connection to a suspect for the insanity that is evolving, which makes the conclusion of "The Rings of Time" fall to earth with a thud. It’s not enough to ruin the story completely, but it lets a lot of air out of the balloon and leaves one wondering if a more creative wrap-up (or, for that matter, baseline situation) couldn’t have been found. The same goes for the means of Kirk and Christopher’s ‘exchange’… the story could have been told as Kirk’s reviewing of the Lewis & Clark’s logbook for clues to the Skagway crisis, or some other vehicle could have been chosen; certainly the final product feels like something of a retread on many levels.
And yet this is a surprisingly compelling retread to read. Pop culture references abound (I never thought I would see Lady Gaga mentioned in a Star Trek novel), and give the story a somewhat kitschy feel, almost like the TOS episode "Assignment: Earth" which Cox used, together with "Space Seed" as the basis for storytelling in his preceding books about the events of the Eugenics Wars. This is a positive kind of kitschy, to be sure… it has to be to keep you turning the pages. And so, while the story leaves a lot to be desired, the storytelling overcomes the flaws and hands over a book that truly works in spite of itself.

Will this be a top pick for the year? Probably not. But "The Rings of Time" is an enjoyable journey with some friends back to a kind of storytelling we don’t get that often in Star Trek these days – stories that are fun, serious, engaging, and completely ludicrous… all at the same time.

No comments:

Post a Comment