House of Cards (Star Trek: New Frontier #1)
Pocket Books, 1997
I suppose it is a good thing when my biggest complaint about a book is the value proposition in buying the book itself, something we have seen in my other book reviews so this should be old-hat for you guys. With a cover price of $3.99, which is a purchase price of $4.32 after taxes, I would like to think that I am getting more than the approximately 168 story pages offered by this book. As I am typing this it occurs to me that I buy comics every week which offer only 22 story pages for a dollar less so maybe I should just shut the hell up on this particular topic. Perhaps it is best if we just move on to the actual contents of the book and forget this ever happened, shall we?
House of Cards introduces us to the new characters of M'k'n'zy, a Xenexian freedome fighter cum Starfleet officer, and Soleta an half-Romulan half-Vulcan scientist who seems to, despite her desire to be Vulcan, have a slightly rebellious streak to her. The book begins twenty years in the past with M'k'n'zy, who eventually changes his name to Mackenzie to get around people mispronouncing his name, as he fights the Danterian occupiers of his home planet as a teen. I will admit that at first I was concerned with how this might turn out, particularly since rather than just a short chapter this introduction to M'k'n'zy takes up over a quarter of the book, however in the end David's storytelling instincts were correct and this introduction does an excellent job of creating the character who will be central to the forthcoming tales.
After introducing us to M'k'n'zy, David then spends about twenty pages introducing us to Soleta and another twenty or so introducing us to Selar, the Vulcan medical officer who appeared in the TNG episode "The Schizoid Man," before we are finally brought to the present day (that being the time shortly after the events depicted in Star Trek First Contact). In the present we meet several familiar faces from the Enterprise-D as well as Admirals Jellico and Nechayev and are brought up to speed on the collapse of the Thallonian Empire, the ensuing humanitarian concerns, and Starfleet's response, which is to dispatch a single ship to observe and render aid where necessary.
When it was published in 1997 House of Cards represented a new and risky venture in the Star Trek universe. Peter David, John J. Ordover and Pocket Books were going to slip free of the bonds of Star Trek's familiar characters and explore new main characters, moving beyond the various cults of personality that each individual Star Trek series represents and pushing Star Trek as a setting and a theme. This was a risky move, despite the acclimation David's work had met with in fandom, due to the nature of Star Trek fandom. As I rule I dislike lumping a diverse group of people together however, with the notable exception of hardcore Transformers fanboys (and don't get me started on those chowderheads) Star Trek fans seem to truly be the most hidebound and vocal fans in sci fi, often dismissing new things out of hand before even giving them a chance to succeed or fail on their own merits.* Fortunately for all concerned it appears that the New Frontier experiment succeeded, quite possibly beyond anyone's expectation. With sixteen New Frontier novels now published, the recent release of the first New Frontier comic from IDW and the start of the Vanguard line of novels in 2005 it seems that perhaps fandom is more open minded than I give it credit for. Of course it does not hurt that this initial book was an enjoyable read. It was nice to escape the familiar faces and concentrate on new characters and new stories.
* For example look at all of the hubbub about J.J. Abrams changing the design of the Enterprise for the new movie, much of it coming before 99.99% of fandom had seen ANY smidge of the ship. I would also like to note that this sort of attitude is THE EXACT OPPOSITE of the ideals enshrined at the core of Star Trek. I think there are some interesting parallels between hardcore and hidebound Trekkies who have lost sight of the forest for the trees and many modern Christians who have done the same and this just furthers the idea that radicals of ANY stripe are not a good thing.
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