This week, while we’re all cooped up inside on account of the pandemic, Worf and his team are stranded outside in the desert heat. But when the attacker they capture escapes his bonds, they’re going to get more to drink than they asked for. Who’s holding up the best? Who’s going to be the most embarrassed when this is all over? Does Mark McHenry have excellent parents or terrible ones? All this and more in Survival, the book that needs to review its Pokémon weaknesses.
Picking up right where Line of Fire left off, tensions are running high among the Starfleet cadets and Klingons stranded after the attack on the Dantar IV colony. Everyone is sweaty, hungry, and thirsty, and Zak Kebron is still throwing hands at every Klingon that even slightly cheeses him off. But for Soleta, a Vulcan, it’s downright balmy outside, and while strolling the area near their camp, she finds the wreckage of the ship they just phaser-cannoned out of the sky. An unknown assailant attacks her, and she just barely manages to take him down even with an extra-strength nerve pinch.
Much to Zak’s chagrin, the attacker is a Brikar. Worf asks Soleta to do a mind meld, obviously oblivious to what a big ask that is, but since it’s better than the Klingons’ idea of torturing him, she agrees to it. The Brikar, named Baan, reveals that his people are tired of doing things the Federation way. They want unlimited expansion privileges, and a fleet is on the way to, ahem, “discuss” the matter; Baan himself ran the colonists off Dantar IV because the Brikar have a hidden base there they apparently wanted to start using again.
Starfleet certainly can handle the Brikar armada, but for a handful of cadets and Klingons, even one presents a challenge. Baan breaks free of his bonds, appears to kill one of the Klingons, incapacitates Mark McHenry, and activates a failsafe that floods the hidden base, which the kids are inside exploring. Once again, the cadets set about earning that Dream Team nickname as they put their heads together and try to figure out how to stop a madman on the loose and keep “Cause of death: drowned on a desert planet” from appearing in their obituaries.
After two books that were solid enough, if not exactly in my demographic, it feels like the Cadet Worf trilogy finally starts losing steam in this one. Survival is kind of screwed by the young-reader format; apart from the climax, there’s not a lot of meat on its bones, and it’s clear it would have been better off being the second half of a single volume. As has shown to the par for the course, the short page count once again means that some characters are liable to get short shrift in the matter of proper development. It’s another hundred-and-change pages of uneasy alliances, racial tensions, and big action setpieces, and it’s good that this arc draws to a close here, because the returns are really significantly diminishing at this point.
This is a little bit what I was afraid of with these YA books: that they would be thin gruel, that there simply wouldn’t be a whole lot to talk about. It’s to Peter David’s credit that it took until the third book for that worry to manifest, but I’m not about to force the usual word count. Most of my feelings about Survival are fairly straightforward and start with “not as”—i.e., it’s not as good, not as fun, not as well-executed, as what came before. It’s a shame the last book of the Worf triad didn’t quite stick the landing, but alas.
MVP & LVP
- My MVP for Survival is Soleta. Even though she’s come across a little snooty and lacked any real meaningful backstory, Soleta has been my favorite of the cadets introduced in these books. This story gives her the most to do of any of them yet: finding and exploring the wreckage, incapacitating Baan, mind melding with him, and getting an indelible scene where she plays along with Worf’s lie that she derives pleasure from sucking all the thoughts out of a person’s head to spook Baan into a confession. Strong Vulcan characters are rare in TNG, so I’m always glad to see one come down the pike.
- The LVP of the week is Zak Kebron. The “bruiser with a hair-trigger temper” archetype gets stale fast, even across three pretty short books. But of all the things he gets angry about, the revelation that the Brikar are behind the raid isn’t one of them. I would have liked to see him work through some irritation and guilt about that, maybe struggle with the idea of his own people taking a big dump all over the good example he’s trying to set by representing them in Starfleet. But he mostly just goes, “Yep, they sure are a bunch of jerks all right” and leaves it at that. Singularly unsatisfying.
Nuggets & Stray Bits
- Apparently Mac’s parents told him Peter Pan was a biography and Alice in Wonderland was a travelogue. He does not appear to be joking about this at all. Which raises a question: are his parents awful people for deadpanning bits of sarcasm they had to know their son wasn’t going to understand as such or take in the spirit in which they were intended? or are they well within their rights to indulge the privilege all parents should get to enjoy, which is to tell your kids stupid nonsense and see if they swallow it? Normally I wouldn’t say there’s anything wrong with pulling a Calvin’s dad, but also, like, read the room, yanno? (pp. 77–79)
- Zak invokes the name of Kolker, a deity you may recall from a novel set aboard a certain deep-space station of Cardassian origin. (p. 90)
- The Klingon cruiser Azetbur arrives to pick up their team—a pretty deep cut for a book aimed at pre-adolescents. (p. 107)
- James Fry’s pencil art has been uniformly outstanding across all three of these books, but the picture of the base flooding on page 93 may well be his crowning achievement:
I love everything about this picture. I love the roiling frothiness of the waves, captured with nothing more sophisticated than No. 2 graphite. I love the expressions of fear on each of the Klingon characters’ faces. I love how Zak just looks mildly inconvenienced—like, he should be a lot more concerned! Water moves are super effective against rock types, buddy! I love how far shampoo technology appears to have come in the 24th century—every one of these people (except Zak, natch) has managed to maintain a luscious mane I am openly jealous of even in searing desert heat. But most of all, I love that bit where Soleta is just getting absolutely pummeled in the face by the rushing wall of water. That should not be funny at all, yet somehow it is hilarious.
I do not recommend Survival, although if you read the other two, it’d be kind of silly not to shoot for the hat trick. The trilogy simply runs out of gas at this point, and in general isn’t as engaging as the others. The next kid-lit adventure moves the action over to Deep Space Nine, and not a moment too soon; a change of locale and focus will hopefully recharge this line’s batteries quite nicely.
NEXT TIME: Volcanoes and tempers are both ready to erupt in Firestorm