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The Great Starship Race by Diane Carey

  I love Star Trek. And when I say Star Trek, I mean the original series. I am a huge fan of the adventures of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. That love carries over to a love of reading Star Trek novels. I've read a lot of Star Trek novels and they range from really good to downright awful. The ones I have read from Doane Carey have usually been pretty good. Best Destiny and Final Frontier were well written and really fleshed out the universe. So when I found an older Star Trek novel of hers, THe Great Starship Race, I had high hopes for an enjoyable read.

Boy was I disappointed. The book starts with a jump to the past (at least in the timeline of the novel it's the past, though still the future for us) where a Romulan ship encounters some aliens, a meeting that goes terribly wrong for everyone involved. Then a jump ahead to a first contact between a lonely planet and a Federation starship. Then another small jump to the resent day of the story. This drawn out introduction sets up the villain, but makes for an overly long stretch before we even get to see our favorite starship crew, who are after all the only reason we are reading the book at all. 

The alien race that figures in the story has a mystery ability which is all too obvious before the story is over, though not during the first chapter which makes for a very confusing telling of those events. The people of the planet Gullrey unfortunately get reduced to the status of McGuffin. They are the reason there is a race, and the reason that the Romulans show up for the race. Other than that and as the intended victims of the Romulans they play little part in the story, their ability being used as a reason for the Romulans' fear of them but not actually playing any constructive part in the story. The characterizations of the crew are pretty good for the most part. Kirk comes across as a bit abrasive, but that was true in the show from time to time.

The Romulans get a lot of "screen time" in the novel, with the chapters alternating between them and the crew of the Enterprise. This felt like a method to fluff up a story which was too thin to support an entire novel on it's own. I don't feel that every villain needs back story or to be empathetic. But we seem to be more concerned with taking into account the Romulan view and building sympathy for them than we are with doing the same for the people whom the Romulans are attempting to wipe out. Besides, in a Star Trek novel I want to spend my time on the Enterprise and with her crew. Not on a Romulan ship, and not on some random earth ship.

Which brings me to the weirdest part of this book for me. I have been aware that there is a strange subset of Trekkies even as far back as the early 70's who are also self described libertarians and devotees of Ayn Rand. They focus on the aspect of the show which glorifies "rugged individualism".  I don't recall Diane Carey dipping into politics in the other books I've read from her, but in this one it becomes clear she is in that group. The Federation ship which we end up on is crewed by a group from Arkansas, because apparently even in the 23rd century we will still be self segregating based on our place of birth. Speaking of segregation, these Arkies also subscribe to the whole "lost cause" romantic myth of the Confederacy and the Civil War, which seems really strange in a civilization where everyone lives peaceably under a global government. Theses characters also spend a little time talking about the preferability of small government. Of course this is before they get bushwacked by the Romulans not once, but twice, and have to be saved by the Federation starship, undercutting the point the book is trying to make.

The Romulan plot is pretty neat. The author does a good job of injecting some verisimilitude into the military aspect if the workings of the Enterprise. As a short story I think this could have worked well, focusing more closely on the characters I came to read about. But as it is, I kept losing interest and got annoyed with the weird political messaging that may have been more in vogue at the time, but already seems out of fashion now, much less projecting a couple hundred years into the future. (Of course, as I typed that I knew that there are still large segments of the U.S. population who love romanticizing the Confederacy.) But without the hillbillies in space or the continual gloomy musing of Valdus the Romulan commander, Carey would not have had enough material to call this a novel. Which I feel like it still barely qualifies as. As a big fan, I say skip this one, and go read Best Destiny and Final Frontier.

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