This week, Trump believes Worf’s study group can make a Federation/Klingon co-op colony great again. But when a mysterious ship with tech from both factions turns the colony into a crater, the team realizes they’re going to be using their Academy training for a different kind of mission. Does Paul Dini have the most cameos in Star Trek novel history? What exactly does Tania Tobias want from Worf? And did Zak Kebron just “not all Klingons” Worf? All this and more in Line of Fire, the book that’s seven inches from the midday sun.
Line of Fire
Author: Peter David
Published: October 1993
Timeline: A few months after Worf’s First Adventure
Prerequisites: None, since this book so tidily recaps its predecessor that it renders reading it virtually unnecessary
So Worf’s been at the Academy a few months now, and despite the fact they haven’t won any Olympic basketball medals, his study group has become known as the “Dream Team”. The group’s achievements and diverse make-up have attracted the attention of one Professor Alexander Trump, who thinks they’re the perfect bunch to serve as liaisons to Dantar IV, the site of a joint venture colony between the Federation and the Klingons, where they’ll help solve various civil disputes.
The team reaches Dantar IV, and man, it’s a hot one. Amid the sweltering heat, Worf is named team captain by Professor Trump and quickly emerges as a talented mediator. Worf’s dispute-resolution skills attract the notice of the equivalent team of Klingon counterparts, particularly their captain, a young woman named K’Ehleyr. When Zak goads some of the more hotheaded Klingon representatives (much as he did to Worf on his first day at the Academy), Worf puts a stop to it. He does a pretty decent job at rebuffing K’Ehleyr’s passive-aggressive interference, but it doesn’t stop Tania Tobias, who spent of all of Worf’s First Adventure with barely restrained goo-goo eyes for Worf, from getting chippy with him for wearing the leader hat when he chides her for not doing more to stop the fight, and for good measure she also accuses him of overtly preferring the company of Klingons.
But interpersonal drama soon gets tossed on the back burner when a ship in orbit fires on the colony. It’s a Klingon ship, but it’s using Federation phasers, a combination seemingly engineered to maximize the discord already fomenting among the inhabitants of Dantar IV. The Dream Team puts the ship out of commission by repairing a busted phaser cannon, but not before the aggressors deal comprehensive and irrecoverable damage to the colony. Since there’s only enough room in the escape shuttles to hold the population of the colony plus the critically injured Professor Trump, the Dream Team agrees to stay on the planet and rough it until they can be rescued, which is where the adventure draws to a close for the time being.
What I admire the most about Line of Fire is that David doesn’t allow the growth of individual characters to grind to a halt just because they managed to form a working relationship by the end of the first book. There are still disagreements and differences of philosophy aplenty. A particularly nuanced and well-done scene shows just how far Zak Kebron still has to come along when he calls Klingons “a peoples with a history of treachery”. Worf calls him out on it in private, and Zak tells him not to take it personally because he isn’t one of those Klingons. It’s a scene with some slimy parallels to rationalizations I often heard people make growing up. Zak learning how to get along with Worf is not the same as Zak learning how to get along with Klingons, a shrewd distinction I was impressed to see David identify.
So far, the “cadet Worf” arc continues to be able to entertain and satisfy both children and adults, though here it may actually begin to favor the latter a little too much. K’Ehleyr only appeared in two episodes, but the history between her and Worf is way more complex and fraught than a barely-hundred-page kid’s book seems capable of properly introducing and tackling. There were many times while reading that I openly wished this wasn’t such an explicitly kid-geared story. Not that I wanted something “adult” in the prurient sense in which Peter David typically means it, but she does seem a bit heavy to toss into a Worf story for kids. I don’t hold it against the book too much, because there’s a chance we’ll get to dive deeper into it in Survival, when presumably the Dream Team will have nothing to do but sit around surviving, but it does still leave Line of Fire in a sort of awkward middle spot.
Still, Line of Fire maintains the threshold of quality established by its predecessor. We’re getting away from the “gee, school sure is tough!” stuff and into more typical Trek action-adventure fare, which could end up going either way, but I remain optimistic. The Starfleet Academy line has been well handled in its first two outings—I mean, to be fair, only one author has shepherded it so far, but that author is doing pretty a good job, so I don’t feel out of line having reasonable hopes for the next one.
MVP & LVP
- It feels a little lame and obvious giving MVP to Worf, but I guess on a certain level it makes sense. For one, David has to create a path that allows Worf to stand out so that it tracks when you follow his journey to its culmination with him being on the Enterprise. And, although not the brightest or even the strongest, he’s carrying this team. Soleta and Tania Tobias are capable officers, but don’t really do anything to jump out ahead of the pack (though Soleta effects a generator repair from inside a power conduit, which isn’t nothing).
- LVP this week is Mark McHenry. The whole “everyone underestimates him because he’s a space case” bit is one with diminishing returns, and he’s not got a lot else going for him besides that so far. Other than fleecing some officers out of a pile of poker chips, it doesn’t turn up any gold comedy nuggets here.
Nuggets & Stray Bits
- I somehow managed to acquire a British copy of this book. It is slightly smaller and somewhat less flashy in its external presentation, though I kind of doubt page number references are significantly affected.
- Obviously no one in 1993 could have anticipated the meteoric political ascent Donald Trump would make a quarter-century later, least of all someone writing a Star Trek novel for kids and using his last name for a character of, uh, significantly sturdier moral fiber. So it is that through the power of the inexorable forward march of history, the choice to use that particular surname has retroactively produced some truly hilarious sentences, such as:
- “‘Trump. I know of him. A good man.'” (p. 33)
- “[Worf] found himself impressed … by the aura of power that seemed to radiate from the man” (p. 10)
- “…after a long and distinguished career, Trump had loudly announced that it was time for him to start taking it easier” (pp. 9–10)
- In more wacky name hijinks, one of the Klingons is named Gowr, which my brain constantly wanted to autofill.
- David works his daughter Ariel into a shout-out. (p. 24)
- After cameos in The Romulan Way and The Disinherited, Paul Dini scores the hat trick, appearing here as the Federation administrator at Dantar IV. Trek writers really like that guy! (p. 42)
- A callback to TOS appears when Professor Trump is noted as a two-time winner of the Z.Magnees Prize, as it is spelled in Memory Prime, though here it’s the Zee Magnes Prize. (Neither is correct, incidentally; the correct rendering, located somewhere between the two, is the Zee-Magnees Prize.) (p. 46)
- David references his own original creation, the Kreel. They’re the only species the Klingons consider even more obnoxious than the Brikar. (p. 50)
- From the “About the Illustrator” segment in the back of the book: “In 1984, seduced by the irresistible combination of insane deadlines and crippling poverty, [James Fry] embarked on a career as a freelance illustrator.” — I’ve known a handful of freelance illustrators, and I think if they were to describe this passage using a string of emojis, it would look something like
I recommend Line of Fire. A good continuation of the Starfleet Academy saga that builds on the relationships created in Worf’s First Adventure but doesn’t fall in the trap of taking it for granted that their interpersonal differences are permanently solved and that everything’s clean and tidy. Bringing K’Ehleyr into the mix shows a continued commitment to refuse to hedge on deep lore, but that particular move may prove somewhat impenetrable for the intended audience. Overall, about the same level of quality as the first one.
NEXT TIME: Odo buys into The Big Game