Thursday, December 23, 2010

Beneath the Raptor's Wings

The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor's Wings
© 2009 Michael A. Martin
450 pages (Trade Paperback)



Humanity's enthusiastic expansion into the Cosmos and Earth's leadership in forming the Coalition of Planets have earned it an enemy in the Romulan Star Empire. Ambitious, sinister, and ruthless, the Romulans  intend on striking down all those they cannot control. After repeated failed attempts to sow discord between the Coalition allies,  the Star Empire decides on a more direct approach: war.  Armed with fleets of their own and the ability to hijack the computers of other ships,  "those who march beneath the raptor's wings" are intent on crushing humanity beneath them.

Though the Coalition Compact supposedly guarantees Earth  support from her allies,  the Vulcans are reluctant to be drawn into a conflict with their long-seperated cousins, whose very existance embarrasses them. Andor and Tellar are far more enthusiastic, but when their flagships are turned into Romulan playthings,  they, too question the use of coming to Earth's defense.  Earth, defended only by a handful of NX-class starships and a dozen or so older Daedaluses, stands alone against enemies whom they've never seen face to face. Captain Archer and his fellow captains must hold the line in the wake of multiple defeats while political intrigues and episonage abound.

The TOS episode "Balance of Terror" set a few elements of the Earth-Romulan war in stone. It was a primitive affair, fought with nuclear bombs and missiles, and fought expressly between Earth and Romulus. Martin manages to reconcile this with the much more modern feel of Enterprise and the existence of the Coalition, while at the same planting seeds for the idea of a stronger union -- the future Federation. Beneath the Raptor's Wings is a busy story: though Archer and Tucker's separate stories constitute most of the book, they're joined by more than few other plot threads and viewpoint characters, including Romulans. While this isn't disjointing, the frequent thread shifts (there are 85 short chapters) did take some getting used to. As is common with most Trek books in this generation, Martin seeds continuity references and in-jokes all over the place.

The book is essentially a combination of war story and espionage thriller with a good bit of politics thrown in. It kept me reading -- I think I read most of its 450 pages in one day, which was rather wearisome but I did not want to stop.  (It was well after midnight when I finished, and I came close to going to sleep on the floor where I was reading.)  Though I know the war eventually concludes in a rough draw (which established the Neutral Zone), Martin still managed to make me feel concerned about Earth's extensive losses, and I could never predict the course of the action.

Treklit readers, especially Enterprise relaunch fans, will find it worth their while.

Related:
Starfleet: Year One, Michael Jan Friedman. This book is set in the last part of the Earth-Romulan war, though it was published before Enterprise and is sadly not reconcilable with the modern canon. That's a shame, too, because this book along with the first Stargazer book sold me on Friedman, and offers a compelling look into the founding of the Federation and the formation of Starfleet and its mission goals. It's also very much in the feel of TOS -- a believable predecessor.

While Daedalus are treated as obsolete buckets from yesteryear in Raptor's Wing, in Starfleet: Year One, they're the cutting edge and every captain in Earth's space fleet wants to sit in the prototype's captain's seat. 

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