Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Book Review: Star Trek Online: The Needs of the Many

This is a different kind of book: It's a Star Trek novel (there are plenty of those) but it's tied to the MMORPG. That's an unusual case. It's also unusual in other ways.

For one, the book is set in 2409. Original Trek took place in the 2200's, and Next Gen Trek was set in the 2300's, so this book (as is the game) is set in the future of the original timeline and recaps much of the "future history" after the last Trek movie set in that timeline - Nemesis. It includes nods to other Star Trek novels as well, from the Vanguard series (TOS era) to the Titan series (TNG era) which is a nice touch.

The other unusual aspect is that it's not a novel, or at least it's not a single coherent narrative like most other Trek novels, nor is it a collection of short stories. It's written as a series of historical interviews looking back at the past 30 years or so and covering specific incidents in Trek history over that time. From Data's return to the breakdown of Federation-Klingon relations to conflict with Species 8472 and many others, there is a lot of interesting material here.

The format though is a problem. It reads more like a series of blog posts than a narrative or set of short stories. It doesn't even read like a history book - I have plenty of real-world history books and none of them choose this particular device and for good reason. Each one is an interview with character X on development or event Y. Some of the characters are well known, like Worf or Geordi LaForge, while others are not. The presentation comes across more like the notes that a historian would use to write a historical account of something rather than what they would actually publish.

As far as sitting down and reading it front to back, well, it was tough and this is mainly due to this choice of structure. The writer doesn't spend much time with any one character or one event, so this is much more of a survey/overview and there's not much depth there. While there are several parts I thought were fine, there were several segments I thought would make an interesting novel by themselves, or at least a good short story.

The silver lining here is that if you were looking to run a Trek RPG set in this time period, this format gives quite a few interesting ideas with just enough context and ties to the existing Trek universe to let a GM run with them and turn them into something interesting. Having all of the trappings of the TNG era Trek with further progression of the timeline to take those big characters off of the main stage  and one interpretation of the future history of Trek to use as a backdrop - that has a lot of potential for a good campaign.

So, to wrap up:

  • As a novel, especially compared to other Trek novels, this is terrible
  • As a tie-in to the computer game, it's interesting and does let you know how things got  to where they are in the setting if you're new to it
  • As a source book on the Trek Prime universe circa 2400 it's actually pretty good

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