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Star Trek tie-in novels are an acquired taste and I dont mean a 50 50 divide like marmite; more like the 0.5% of pregnant woman currently munching on a frozen fish finger covered in coal powder. Essentially this means that for people who have never watched the show the books are not going to be of much interest. However, for those that have seen a few episodes the books fit into the different incarnations of Star Trek very easily. Star Trek novels usually act as an extended episode of the show and seeing as we know the characters already the author can get stuck straight into the story without all that pesky character development. So is Soldiers of Fear yet another poor tie-in, or does in buck the trend?
Imagine you could use pure terror as a weapon; much like the Sandman in the recent Batman film. Even against a stronger foe you would be able to defeat them by crippling their minds. This is the weapon that a mysterious race known as The Furies have created. 50 years ago they entered known space and tried to take over, only for Captain Kirk and his crew to send them packing. Well they are back and this time they have five ships and the ability to turn all humanoids into shivering wreaks. With one outpost already destroyed, can the men and women of the Star Trek Enterprise control their fear long enough before 100s more enemy ships arrive? If they fail, it could mean the end of the universe as we know it.
For the Invasion series to work we have to believe that The Furies are a race that could actually take over Federation Space. As a Star Trek fan, who do we know that could do this? The Romulans, Cardassians or Klingons in their day. Perhaps the greatest threat would be The Borg who have no emotion and just aim to assimilate all. Therefore, for The Furies to be an honest threat and for this book to work, they need to be comparable to The Borg. Let me tell you; they certainly are not.
The Furies use a weapon that disables their enemy through fear. If this worked then perhaps they could easily take over other races whilst they were incapacitated. They look like the traditional demons that people fear but it is the technology they possess that holds the real key. Therefore, when members of the Enterprise are able to subdue the effects of the weapon within 30 pages and before half the book is finished you kind of know they dont actually pose much of a threat. In fact, they are so weak that when Picard chooses to destroy some of their ships with the minimum of diplomacy you question who the real monsters are. I think that even the authors realise that this book is a non event when they describe some of the aliens as being pink and fluffy not all Furies look evil!
Like in most Star Trek tie-in novels there is little, to no, character development as they have to fit in with the series and can not change how the characters appear on the screen. This means that we go through the usual Riker/Worf/Troy triangle and Data emotional confusion. Normally this would be ok because you know what you are getting when you pick up these books, but the authors had an opportunity to really explore the fears of the crew and we instead are offered very little of what makes them tick.
One other major area of criticism is in part due to the book and part due to the very nature of Star Trek. In the early stages of the novel we are introduced to a friend of Riker's called Lieutenant Sam Redbay. He happens to be a top test pilot that has just come aboard. Perhaps later in the book this disposable character will create a story dynamic? Like the guys in yellow, you knew were going to be killed, this new character is a really weak way of concluding the story without actually affecting the Star Trek universe as a whole. Due to the huge popularity of the films and shows there is little that the authors can do about this. This book is set between TNG films so can not kill off anyone that may have appeared later. The powers that control Star Trek basically tie the hands of any author that is interested in doing something different.
The positive parts of this book are that it is a quick and fun read and that it does not really outstay it welcome. You know what you are going to get out of these titles and Soldiers of Fear offers nothing more. However, the problems associated with the book undermine any fun you may have and make you glad when it is finished. With a contrived character and bad guys who are not scary (but whose entire plan revolves around them being terrifying), means that the book fails. Why you would need two people to write this derivative gumpf is beyond me.
Author: Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Price: amazon uk - £3.31
P.S. Although part of a series, this book can easily be read as a standalone title.