Ossus Library Index Star Trek Index

HAVE TECH, WILL TRAVEL

An e-book collection by Keith R.A DeCandido, Kevin Dilmore, Christie Golden, Dean Wesley Smith, and Dayton Ward (2002, Pocket Books)
Starfleet Corps of Engineers #1-4

The crew of the USS da Vinci explore derelict spacecraft, alien, Federation, and sentient, as well as a sentient computer.

 

 

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Read September 19th to October 6th, 2005  
   

The Starfleet Corps of Engineers is a series that I have been wanting to get into for a long time. I regularly read the reviews on TrekWeb, and the stories sound exciting. However, I am not willing to pay what amounts to a monthly fee for reading these stories (and currently they are only available with a hefty exchange rate). My library has the first couple of softcover collections available now, which means that I can at least start the series at a reasonable price (free) and see if the rest are worth buying.

Having said that, there are four stories included in this collection, and all four are of different nature and different quality. In general, although I just got to know the crew and their missions, I am enjoying it.

The introduction to the series comes in the form of The Belly of the Beast, and if this was my only introduction to the series, knowing nothing else about it, I might not have continued on. The story is intriguing, and carried with it a sense of doom that gave me some anticipation, but the writing style was awkward and even possibly immature. Still, as I mentioned, it kept my interest, somehow. I wish the dialog was better, but it was enough to get to know Captain Gold a little, and Sonya Gomez a lot. The others on the crew were not focused on enough to give them enough depth, but for a 100 page story, two characters are really all that can be acceptably developed.

We see the crew through the eyes, ironically enough, of Geordi Laforge, who was on-hand when the Enterprise disabled the monstrous ship in the first few pages. This is actually where most of the bad dialog comes, from the Next Generation crew. Once we get on board the USS daVinci, I rather enjoyed what we saw. The crew was crisp and alert, relaying information to Captain Gold quickly and efficiently. I guess they aren't all engineers, either, with the security and medical officers, linguist and cultural specialist, possibly the helm, and others also forming a large part of it.

The giant ship was explored routinely, even too easily. Starfleet engineers have always been way too proficient at adapting alien technology to their own, and that makes this job even easier. Once Geordi taps into the computer with a couple of connections, the ship is opened up to them. More realistic is the Bynar pair, who can communicate with computers better than any human -they can even speak binary. Apparently all computers are based on binary code in the Star Trek universe.

Making their way into the belly of the beast, they find the luxury passengers and its crew -all in the black-hole warp core, and being ingested by the young of some parasitic and telepathic race. It then becomes a race to leave and destroy the ship before the SCE crew becomes the next meal. One of the Bynars doesn't make it out, leaving the remaining one, 110, in mental tatters. Geordi arranges to have the ship explode, and they barely make it out in time.

I like the way the author set up the hardships right from the beginning. There was no sudden technobabble reason that the transporters couldn't work deep within the vessel. That was  described very early on, when even the Enterprise couldn't detect anything within the ship -or on the surface, until it blasted a hole through the first thirty levels. When they described how wonderful a find this ship was, however, containing all sorts of new stuff that Starfleet had never perfected, I knew it had to be destroyed. Ah, well.

Fatal Error was much more to my liking, and featured a more uniform cast. It also featured some alien perspectives, which I always enjoy. The aliens in question are the Eerlik, who developed a massive computer on their moon, which controls everything on the planet, from space travel to communications and more. When the computer starts to malfunction, the obvious reason is that somebody or group is not content with the way their society has become so reliant on the computer and wants to change things. The obvious culprits are the Pevni, who colonized another planet in the solar system fifty years earlier, not wanting to be so reliant on the computer in the first place. I did not expect the remaining priest to be the one who orchestrated everything, but I suppose that I should have. It makes sense to introduce the killer up front, and reveal him later!

The da Vinci arrives on the scene because the computer called them, knowing that something was somehow wrong. I liked the way 110 was so reluctant to join the mission because of the loss of 111 (although I wonder if the author knew how 111 was going to be killed, because it is mentioned in such a vague way). He has suddenly become an interesting character as he struggles to become an individual -and apparently wants to remain an individual, despite the customs of his planet. The Federation must be so full of people who defy their customs, that I can't imaging how there is any culture left! From Worf, Rom, Nog and later Quark, Kira and Sisko (being the Emissary), and Bashir, just about everybody on Deep Space Nine was an outcast. I wonder how many more of the da Vinci crew will become outcasts as the series progresses.

Most of the story takes place on the computer moon, as 110 tries to fix it, and Gomez and security chief Corsi try to keep everybody on their team alive, because there are security traps that the computer has lost control of, as well as the remaining Pevni saboteurs trying to kill them. I must mention here that I think the nickname that Corsi has, "Core Breach", sounds really stupid. Having a derogatory nickname amidst such a close-knit crew seems unlikely, but the name itself is unwieldy and doesn't even make much sense. Unfortunately, it appears to be used in all the stories, at least the ones in this book. In the end, the crew manages to restore control to the computer, of course, but the Eerlik decide that perhaps less automation by a single computer would be a wiser course for their future.

Another very intriguing story, Hard Crash uses the situation of an apparently suicide run against a planet with a giant ship to allow the crew to make a series of errors, though none of them prove fatal. This story completes the transition of 110 from a paired Bynar to an individual, where he takes the name Soloman, otherwise known as "solo man". The ship is sentient, and was designed to bond with its pilot, who was searching for a new homeworld for their people after a devastating war. But the pilot's bonding implants began to malfunction, and she started to die, yet she didn't want to tell her bond-mate, so it didn't even know when she passed away. Crazed by the lack of attention, and not knowing why it was going crazy, it rammed the planet.

The SCE crew takes the pilot back to the da Vinci, which the ship interprets as a kidnapping. 110 had attempted to interface with the ship, but was thrown halfway across the bridge by an electrical feedback. He did, however, manage to make a connection with the ship. Engineer Duffy also grabbed a tricorder from the ship, which told him the story of the pilot. When 110 relayed the information to the ship, it was aghast, but decided to continue its mission. 110, for his part, decided not to bond with the ship, though he was sorely tempted.

The crew makes some interesting mistakes, Geordi among them. By the end of the story, Geordi is taken back to the Enterprise, but here he is the Borg expert, and because of the cybernetic implants, the crew think the girl is some new form of Borg. They also misinterpreted the bonding controls in the ship, thinking that the pilot had been impaled and tortured by them. Some of the mistakes seem silly from our point of view, but not the crew, who knows less than we do. Completely off topic, I get the impression that one of the main crew members, the linguist, is gay. It is quite subtle, and very nicely played, rather than an all-out storyline that announces it full of clichés and simply for the sake of it.

The last story in the collection is actually a cliff-hanger! I don't know whose idea that was, but it doesn't make sense to split up the two parts of Interphase when put into collections! The story was obviously written before the last season of Enterprise, but I wonder if the continuity can still be made to work. It all depends on what happens to the USS Defiant in part two. This is the Defiant that was lost into a mysterious rift back when Kirk encountered The Tholian Web. The Tholians rediscover the rift and the Defiant more than a century later, and due to increased relations (though they are still very chilly) after the Dominion War, they inform the Federation.

So the crew must deal both with a derelict ship and some very touchy Tholians. The ship is the interesting part for most of this story, as they find all sorts of unexpected things, including dust that is actually the decomposed remains of the crew (gross!) and an unknown Tholian device in the cargo bay.

When the da Vinci, under Duffy's command, starts pulling the Defiant out, they encounter unexpected resistance, which presents a cool engineering side of things. Not presented as technobabble, the engineers talk to each other in real language, assessing and reassessing their work. Then, of course, the Tholians fire on the Defiant. The device in the cargo bay was not supposed to exist anymore, having been used on the Klingons a century earlier with apparently devastating results. It appears to be some sort of web technology like the one they tried to use on the Enterprise way back. The Tholians correctly assess that upsetting the Federation by destroying two ships is better than letting the Klingons know what happened 100 years ago!

The cliff-hanger ends with the Defiant pulled back into the rift, which closes, and the Tholian ship turns its attention to the da Vinci. This is, of course, Duffy's first command. To make matters worse, Doctor Lense and an alien named P8 Blue (Patty) are stranded outside the Defiant, Patty with a concussion, after passing through a wall when the ship began to phase in and out. The ship returned to solid after they passed through!

This story can still end with the Defiant passing through time once again into the past of the Mirror Universe, depending on how part two ends, which would preserve its place in Star Trek continuity, in-line with the events established in one of the last episodes of Enterprise.

The author didn't do quite as good a job as in the previous one at giving us a truly satisfying story. I found that there was too much description of history in a passive manner, rather than through the crewmembers. Still, it was enjoyable enough.

The authors of all the stories did a good job in allowing the characters to dominate the scene. Although Star Trek must as a rule deal with lots of technical plot, the characters were given enough time to stretch and reveal themselves. Soloman (formerly 110) is the only one who really grew, because of the loss of his bond-mate, but the series has many more stories to tell in which the crew can develop. The two middle stories of this volume were better than the others, but all were enjoyable, nonetheless.

My favorite parts of these stories always come in the form of the terrific interaction among the crew. I also like that Scotty is the head of the SCE, and that he trusts Captain Gold. He is condescending to the bureaucrats, as always, but has a good banter with the people he talks to, just as the da Vinci crew has good banter between themselves. They can joke around, and still have meaningful conversations, though Duffy has too many humor events, which make him seem rather immature -some things that might work better on a screen than on paper. I want to know what episode of TNG Gomez spilled hot chocolate on Captain Picard! This is a caring crew, even after only four stories, with some past relationships still somewhat in the past (Gomez and Duffy, for example). Two crewmembers were previously on the Enterprise, and at least one was on DS9. This all gives us the opportunity to explore all sorts of different roles.

 
   

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