“ Genre: Sci-Fi / Fantasy / Author: Diane Carey / Unbound / 368 Pages / Book is published 2001-08 by Pocket Books „
If there is one area in which science fiction has an advantage over any other genre it is that it is free to do what it wants. Science Fiction can range from being almost normal; e.g. a story in which the only difference is that the detective can read minds, to the extreme reaches of the imagination. If you choose to set your books on another planet there is nothing to stop you having different species, buildings, physics, religions etc. You are basically free to do whatever you choose to. However, taking things to the extreme must be used cautiously, it is important to remember that the reader needs something to relate to be it a character or location. Too many sci fi books have amazing imagery, but no real heart. In Star Trek the crew of the various spaceships have come across many amazing alien things but can 'Star Trek Challenger: Chainmail' have imagination and heart?
'Chainmail' is a Star Trek that takes place in two separate dimensions split by a gateway in space. On one side we have the Starship Challenger, a cobbled together Junker that has been put in charge of protecting 'Belle Terre' a newly colonised planet. On the other side is a mysterious race that lives in a world full of metal and electricity. These people regularly sacrifice their lives to try and escape this side of the gateway. Both elements collide when a mysterious ship is found floating near 'Belle Terre', the crew of the Challenger investigate and find something unlike anything seen before - a ship full of seemingly dead aliens. With weapons more powerful than the Federation has ever seen can Challenger continue to keep the peace with this new threat on the horizon?
The first thing I should point out with 'Chainmail' is that it is based around the crew of the USS Challenger. As a Trek fan I had not heard of this ship and do not know any of the people involved! This does not bode well at all for people even less in touch with Trek lore than myself. In a twist of fortune the lack of known characters may prove an advantage to Diane Carey as she can kill off or change anyone she wants. I approached this book like the vast majority of non-Trek fans would approach one of these books - as a science fiction book in its own right.
In terms of ideas 'Chainmail' has one central premise that is imaginative and very interesting. The alien race abandoned on the other side of a wormhole is fascinating to read about as Carey has created a completely alien culture. The description of the way they gather energy lasts several chapters and is gripping throughout. This gripping nature is continued in the normal world as the Crew of the Challenger explore a strange organic ship. These two sections of the book make up the first third of the novel and are amongst the most interesting I have read in sci fi, never mind Star Trek. I was really intrigued as to how a race could survive in such a harsh environment and how they would differ from what we know. For about 100 pages Carey had me hooked.
Unfortunately the rest of the book was not as good. The first problem was that I found the imagery on show appealing, but the story confusing! The narrative seemed to jump around far too much and I could not get my head around what was happening half the time. This is not helped by the numerous characters that I had never heard of. Too many surnames bounding around meant that I was never truly sure who was talking to whom at any time. It seems a fault of Carey's that she cannot master the art of creating decent characters and character interaction.
Having read Carey's earlier Trek book 'Belle Terre' it seems to me that she is a bit of a ham fisted author. Yes, she is able to create some great concepts; it's just a shame that they are housed in just confusing and poorly written chapters. Despite the abstract nature of the book I was able to enjoy it just because on a pure science fiction level it was intriguing. This is a lot more than can be said for many books in the Trek series so for the concepts alone it is worth a read. Personally, I would have preferred a more accomplished Trek author like Peter David to tackle the issues on offer, but as poorly as they are written down the book was still enjoyable.
Author: Diane Carey
Price: amazon uk - £8 (second hand)