I finished reading the latest Star Trek: New Frontier book, “Stone and Anvil” (2003, hardcover edition). I read Star Trek books depending on the plots and characters and writers writing (and how frustrated I am with “Star Trek: Enterprise”). I’ve enjoyed Peter David for his good humor and fascinating characters. They do tend to get cartoonish and outlandish – but if done right, his writing is good reading.
Basically, “New Frontier” follows the adventures of the crew of the USS Excalibur (yeah, there are some blatant allusions to the Arthurian mythos), led by Starfleet Capt. Mackenzie Calhoun – a Capt. Picard protege who was M’k’n’zy of Calhoun on his home planet Xenex. When he was a teenager, M’k’n’zy led his people to overthrow the alien overlords, the Danteri, who were never the nicest of people. Since then, Calhoun, as he is now known to the humans and so on, is barely holding onto the grips of modern civilization and Federation ideals of diversity, democracy, exploration, and so on. Reminding him of those things is his sidekick, Elizabeth Shelby (best known as the tough blonde Starfleet officer of the “Star Trek: the Next Generation” penultimate Borg episode, “Best of Both Worlds” (wherein Picard became a Borg)).
In “Stone and Anvil,” Calhoun is confronted by the sad reality that one of his most loyal officers, Ensign Janos, is a murderer of one of Shelby’s subordinates. But, how did this happen and why; and meanwhile, Peter David (as usual) shifts from the storyline taking place in the present to chapters where we examine Calhoun’s past – how “Mac” got through Starfleet Academy (struggling) and came to accept his destiny as a Starfleet officer (grudgingly, yet loving the idea of command) even if it meant moving away from the love of his life (and, fortunately for him, regaining her later on; but it took about 11 books to get there).
The book is very much about one man’s journey (Calhoun), in parallel to another man’s downfall (Janos). I had quibbles about Peter David’s writing of the “Now” parts (i.e., the Janos storyline, wherein the Excalibur crew try real hard to help him) – the humor got a little overdone (Calhoun, you see, has the strangest crew on this side of the galaxy); but the “Then” parts (i.e., Calhoun’s past) were nicely portrayed – Calhoun was such an imperfect young man and he knew it – sort of, but he learned it the hard way. I still think that Peter David’s portrayal of Shelby tended on the Ally McBealish side, but I liked how she had her more sensible moments (in both the “Then” and “Now” parts). All in all, good subway reading.
Postscript (I thought I’d make this a comment, but, nah…): if you’d like, you can check out my thoughts on the previous New Frontier book, “Gods Above”, wherein Calhoun and Shelby deal with Beings who say they’re gods, but sure are mean about it. Thankfully, “Stone and Anvil” ended without the usual cliffhanger – heartwarming/heartbreaking ending. Peter David really ought to give his New Frontier books endings like these more often.