I like John Jackson Miller’s writing. His work on the Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith novellas and short stories went a long way to establishing a unique identity and twist for a well-worn concept. Although I bailed early on his Knights of the Old Republic comic book, I can appreciate that it has its fans and was pretty popular.
Then Miller applied his craft to the Star Trek universe, namely for Star Trek: Titan in a novella that is a follow-up to the previous novel, James Swallow’s The Poisoned Chalice. How does it fair?
Unfortunately, not so well.
I have a few problems with Absent Enemies. It’s not the prose, which is fine, functional in telling its story. It’s not the pacing, which works for the story format. It’s not the Next Generation diplomatic mission type of story, diverging from Titan‘s core premise of strange new worlds a la the Original Series.
The story is just flat-out dull.
The problem is split across a few areas. First, while the story references the events of “The Next Phase” – and indeed part of the plot hinges on events from that episode – it just feels like a retread. I found myself guessing a few plot points ahead of time, and while not everyone will have the same experience (or have even watched the original episode), it really took me out of the story.
Another area is that some of the characters (Riker in particular) just don’t come across as themselves. The diplomatic situation with the Ekorr was a frustrating experience in the story’s prelude, but their reactions at having to return are almost whiny and out of character. I kept trying to read it as a bit of farcical fun, in the way serious television shows would have occasional goofball episodes to switch things up (I’m looking at you, X-Files and “Jose Chung is From Outer Space”). I really enjoy those types of stories. Hell, Peter David made it into one of the best aspects of Star Trek: New Frontier early in the series’ run. But whether intentional or not, it fell flat for me in Absent Enemies.
And, on a complete side note completely unrelated to the prose: I understand that the eBooks aren’t going to receive the same treatment for covers as the books, but this one was just really a lame Photoshop job. Stock shot of the ship over a planet and standard Titan cover layout? Lazy, lazy.
Overall, it’s a shame, because I was looking forward to Miller’s take in the Star Trek universe, and still want to see more. This particular story didn’t work for me, and hopefully it was a fluke. Absent Enemies is just devoid of life.