Star Trek The Lost Era (Book 2): Serpents Among The Ruins (2311)
Well over a year ago, I re-read The Sundered, the first book in the Lost Years six-book series, published by Pocket Books about a decade ago, that set out to depict events of the “lost” seventy years or so between the last on-screen adventure of Captain Kirk and co. (the launch of the Enterprise B in Star Trek: Generations) and the beginning of Star Trek: The Next Generation (with the launch of the Enterprise D in the series’ pilot episode, “Encounter at Farpoint”). After re-reading The Sundered, I had intended to go on and re-read the next several books in the Lost Years series, which I had remembered loving. But I never got around to it! Last month, though, after re-reading the Captain Sulu adventure Star Trek Excelsior: Forged in Fire, which was also set during those “Lost Years,” I decided to move on and re-read the Lost Years Book Two: Serpents Among The Ruins, written by David R. George III.
As with Forged in Fire, this novel is absolutely phenomenal, an exceedingly well-writen, epic saga that weaves together numerous strands of Star Trek history, hints and pieces drawn from many different sources from among the different Trek movies and TV shows, to create a sprawling, exciting adventure. This novel, even more than Forged in Fire, is drenched in Star Trek lore. This is exceedingly geeky stuff (and I love it!), as the novel draws upon a few very minor lines of dialogue from a couple of TNG episodes (“The Neutral Zone,” “The Defector,” and “The Pegasus” of something called “The Tomed Incident” and “The Treaty of Algeron” (which made the use in the Federation of a cloaking device illegal, and was the Federation’s last formal contact with the Romulans for almost almost a century) and creates from those two events a huge story.
The novel centers on John Harriman, Captain of the Enterprise B. Peter David’s novel, The Captain’s Daughter, did a great job of rehabilitating Captain Harriman from his cartoonish, borderline idiotic depiction in Star Trek: Generations, and this novel builds strongly on that work (and indeed references it several times). David R. George presents us in this novel with the strong captain that Harriman should always have been — a man deserving of captaining the Federation’s flagship, now a seasoned veteran, right smack in the middle of a flashpoint of conflict between the Fedeation and the Romulans, a conflict that, by the time of the events in this novel (2311, eighteen years after the events of Star Trek: Generations), has been boiling for years. The novel also focuses on another member of the Enterprise B’s crew — Demora Sulu. No longer the ensign that she was in Generations, Sulu is now Captain Harriman’s first officer (and, by the novel’s end, she has moved into a different role that I absolutely loved — it just felt totally RIGHT, even though it had never before been suggested in a Star Trek movie, TV show, or novel). With Demora Sulu as well, David R. George III has built upon the work done by Peter David in The Captain’s Daughter, fleshing out Demora and turning her into a very interesting character.
Serpents Among the Ruins focuses heavily on the intergalactic politics of the time, extrapolating from information in both canonical TV shows and movies, as well as prior Star Trek novels. The Federation’s long-simmering antagonism with the Romulans is building to a boiling point, with interstellar war expected by both sides. Making matters more complicated is that, despite the signing of the Khitomer Accords (the peace treaty between the Federation and the Klingons, as seen in Star Trek VI), there is no certainty that, should war break out with the Romulans, the Klingons would side with the Federation.
Over the course of the novel, in addition to spending time with Harriman and Sulu, Mr. George introduces us to several very interesting Romulan and Klingon characters. We get to check in on Chancellor Azetbur (Gorkon’s daughter, as seen in Trek VI), whose hold on the reigns of the Klingon empire is slipping. Then we meet several new-for-the-novel characters. There is the Romulan ambassador Gell Kamemor (a character who has lived beyond this novel and, indeed, has suddenly become a figure of great prominence in the recently- published 24th century-set Star Trek novels). There is Klingon ambassador Kage and his young, loose-canon aide, Ditagh. Back on the Enterprise B, we get to meet many of the ship’s command crew. (I would have loved to have seen more novels chronicling this crew’s further adventures on board the Enterprise B!) In a nice nod to Trek continuity, we also meet a young Romulan named Vreenak (who would prove to be an untrustworthy figure in the TNG episode “Unification Part II.”
I love how this novel brings together so many different little story threads and characters, from across the Trek timeline, into a terrific adventure. I love what a meal Mr. George has made of the tiny little on-screen references to “The Tomed Incident” and “The Treaty of Algeron.” I love that Captain Harriman and Demora Sulu are anchoring the book. I love how closely the events of this book follow those of Peter David’s novel The Captain’s Daughter (including the inclusion of Captain Harriman’s stern father, Admiral “Blackjack” Harriman, and I love that we get to see the fallout of John Harriman’s standing up to Blackjack from the end of The Captain’s Daughter).
The only thing about this novel that I don’t 100% love is the tricky little secret scheme that is revealed at the end of the book, as a device for our heroes to prevent the start of a bloody interstellar war. I criticized this type of plot device heavily when it popped up in Una McCormack’s otherwise-solid recent Typhon Pact novel, Brinkmanship (click here for my review), and I don’t love its inclusion here. I think that Mr. George does a better job with the secret little scheme that he features at the end of his book than the one from Brinkmanship, mostly because a) he does a great job of building the suspense, in the later third of the novel, as to what the heck is really going on, and b) because the scheme as depicted in this novel is much more complex and interesting. But in the end, it doesn’t work for me. (You’re telling me that no one, at any point, tried to identify those 4,000 people supposedly dead on all those Federation outposts? No reporter started asking questions? No family member of one of the apparently dead officers started poking around? That just seems exceedingly unlikely to me.)
But even with this one issue, I stil find Serpents Among the Ruins to be a masterful novel, one of my very favorite Star Trek novels. It’s a wonderful tale, epic in scope, and drenched in Trek history and a careful attention to Trek continuity that absolutely delights me. A spectacular piece of work.
Previous Star Trek novel reviews:
Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Sky’s The Limit, Destiny trilogy, A Singular Destiny, Losing the Peace,Immortal Coil, Cold Equations Book 1: The Persistence of Memory, Cold Equations Book 2: Silent Weapons, Cold Equations Book 3: The Body Electric
Star Trek: Voyager – Full Circle
Star Trek: The Lost Era – Book 1: The Sundered (2298),
Star Trek: Mirror Universe (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Shards & Shadows – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire — Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Rise Like Lions – Star Trek: Myriad Universes (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Shattered Light