Tag Archives: Vulcans

Book Review – Star Trek: Death Count by L. A. Graf

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Last week we stopped off in the Marvel Universe for a fun trip down memory lane. Today’s destination promises to be fairly exciting, even though it is a voyage forward rather than backward in time. Once again we return to the Federation of Planets for another adventure aboard the famous U.S.S. Enterprise, readers!

Aboard Sigma One, a space station a few days from the Federation/Orion border, Captain Kirk has gone out to dinner. Scotty and McCoy have whisked him off to a Scottish restaurant aboard the station in order to help him unwind. For the past three days, which were supposed to be used for shore leave by the crew, the men and women aboard the Enterprise have been pestered almost to death by four auditors from the Auditor General.

It seems the Auditor General has teams of auditors surprising starships throughout the fleet with on-site inspections. For the last three days the crew of the Enterprise has been running efficiency drills to prove they are following the regulations properly and can react to a stiuation as fast as possible, with the clipboard-wielding inspectors looking over their shoulders the whole time. In the process these four individuals have, unsurprisingly, made themselves an enormous nuisance to the crew.

This has put everyone aboard the ship on edge, meaning those who can grab shore leave are not letting it pass them by for any money. While Scotty and McCoy help Kirk relax, Chekov has convinced Sulu to help him try and beat a record set by another ship’s crew on the station’s piloting simulator. After failing the simulator’s sixth level, the door opens automatically, allowing Uhura to ask how much longer the two men plan to continue playing.

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Sulu answers the question by getting out before Chekov can reactive the machine. He then leads his two best friends to a plant shop he has already visited three times so far. On the way there the three bump in to some Orion police officers in riot gear. Since they are out of uniform, the men merely push past them instead of goading the Starfleet officers into a fight. Not long after they enter the plant shop, however, an Orion policeman comes to “inspect” the premises for something/someone.

His “inspection” consists mostly of wrecking the store owner’s property. This infuriates the businessman, who attacks the alien with a broom. Chekov and Sulu intervene on the man’s behalf after he is tossed across the room, earning the latter a free gift of plants, pets, and the lily pond they need to survive and be happy. Unfortunately, Chekov’s gift is entirely different; the Orions cast his actions as assault, leading Sigma One’s security forces to throw him in the station’s brig.

Meanwhile Kirk, Scotty, and McCoy’s relaxtion proves to be premature. Like a troubadour leading his not-so-merry band, the head auditor arrives at the restaurant, fuming about being barred from the Enterprise. Kirk is sanguine until he learns that he has new orders to go to the Andorian/Orion border – with the inspectors in tow.

Tense once more, Kirk goes to speak to the commodore in charge of the station, a friend whom he helped to promote to his current position. The commodore explains that since an Andorian scientist named Muav Haslev – who was developing some kind of technology for the Andorian military – disappeared from their space, the Andorians have blamed the Orions for the incident. The Orions claim they had nothing to do with his vanishing act, but no one believes them. And even without definitive proof, the Andorians are spoiling to pick a fight with the Orions. The sector between the two is heating up and threatening to embroil the Federation in a war with Orion, which is a neutral stellar nation.

Kirk is fine with this part of the assignment; he has done this kind of thing before, and knows how to handle it. His problem is the auditors. While traveling to the Andorian/Orion border is dangerous enough for him and his crew the way things stand now, taking four civilians (one of whom is extremely annoying and has a superiority complex) into a possible war zone isn’t his idea of a smart move.

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But as he soon learns, neither assignment is negotiable. The ship that was supposed to take the auditors next and deal with the Orion/Andorian issue at the same time recently suffered a containment breach of its warp core. Though the damage could have been much worse, it is bad enough; the vessel may never be spaceworthy again. She’s barely able to limp to Sigma One with the help of tug shuttles.

This leaves Enterprise to carry out the mission – exasperating auditors and all. Once Chekov gets out of the brig and boards the Enterprise with Sulu and Uhura, the ship heads for the border….

…Only to be struck by a burst of radiation that sends her instruments haywire. Sulu just barely manages to keep the starship from warping straight through Sigma One after the radiation scrambles the helm. The computer turned the Enterprise back toward the station thinking it is open space.

Returning to their normal course, the Enterprise gets under way at last, only to be intercepted a short time later by a disguised Orion destroyer. Following on its heels is an Orion police cruiser, whosse captain is intent on arresting Chekov for the incident back at the station. Upon learning the details of the confrontation on Sigma One, Kirk realizes the Orions set him up to get his security officer. After a brief word with the Orion commander, he has the Enterprise continue on to the border.

As he knows all too well, though, missions that begin this badly don’t get any smoother the longer they last. So when a transporter accident turns out to be a triple murder, Kirk isn’t really surprised, just angry and determined to find the culprit. But how can he catch a sabatour while keeping four number-crunching civilians determined to nose their way into vital systems safe and out of the way? The answer is…

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…Not for me to tell! If you want to know how Death Count ends, you will have to read it yourself. It is a good book, but unlike most L. A. Graf novels, it doesn’t include Uhura’s direct perspective of events. The three points-of-view explored in this novel belong to Sulu, Chekov, and Kirk. That is a fairly unusual choice for L.A. Graf. Normally, the writers using this pan name include Uhura’s viewpoint along with Sulu’s and Chekov’s to explore their characters, while giving fans a view of life from “below decks.” Kirk’s POV is included to show how he regards the three younger members of the “Enterprise Seven” as officers and people.

For some reason, Death Count breaks this pattern. While it is not irritating or a loss in any sense of the word, it does make one wonder. I only note it for the curious and for those L.A. Graf fans who have not managed to acquire this story yet.

Until next time, readers: “Second star to the right and straight on til morning!”

Death Count (Star Trek, #62) by L.A. Graf

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Book Review: The Vulcan Academy Murders by Jean Lorrah

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Guess who’s back…. (Cue the eerie music.)

Yep, your humble blogging host is once again at work providing you with entertainment, readers! August was a busy month, so forgive me if I seem a little out of practice here. It should clear up once I get rolling.…. 🙂

All right, today’s focus is The Vulcan Academy Murders, by Jean Lorrah. Before I describe this story, I have to tell you that one of the things readers of Star Trek fiction should keep in mind is that most of it is non-canon. Part of this is due to the fact that those who write novels for ST can never seem to get on board with each other to figure out where they can slip their stories into the official timeline. Some write stories set in the exact same time periods; others create stories set in wildly different decades or eras. It can be a little confusing to the uninitiated at first, and it can be irritating to the more experienced readers as time goes on. (I speak from experience. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing in these fictional quarters!)

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The other reason is that, unlike Star Wars, Star Trek’s timeline is rather skeletal. Chronologically, you have Star Trek: Enterprise, followed by the original series, followed by the original films I-VI, followed by The Next Generation. Then they’re all capped off with Star Trek: Voyager – or they were, last I checked. So while there’s a lot of room for stuff to happen in between these different stories, since no one has bothered to define the cut off limits or to explain how many years have elapsed, authors who are Star Trek fans just shoot darts at the timeline trying to hit it. L. A. Graf generally sticks the landing, as mentioned in this review here, but others tend to throw wide of the mark.

Jean Lorrah is one of these authors. While she is clearly a passionate Trek fan who greatly admires the Vulcans, her grasp of the timeline appears to be a bit… vague. At the very least, she didn’t give readers much of a hint as to when her story was set; all I can say for sure is that it takes place before we see Doctor M’Benga aboard the Enterprise. Her writing style also left something to be desired. Don’t get me wrong – she doesn’t write badly. But she could definitely have been clearer in her descriptions.

Okay, now we can discuss the story. The Vulcan Academy Murders starts out with the Enterprise battling a Klingon warship, which does not survive the fight. But before it is destroyed, it does inflict some serious damage on Kirk’s vessel, specifically the Auxiliary Control for the photon torpedoes. The two officers on duty there – Pavel Chekov and Carl Remington – manage to fire the kill shots before succumbing to a gas leak caused by a lucky hit from the Klingons.

Chekov is fortunate in that he comes through the battle ill but intact. Remington, on the other hand, is in serious trouble. Though McCoy manages to save his life, the boy’s voluntary nervous system is completely paralyzed. He can’t move – not even to open his eyes. McCoy fears that, even if Remington pulls through this initial battle, he may remain paralyzed and in bed for the rest of his life.

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Spock’s mother, Amanda

With no other way to confirm his mental health, Spock performs a mindmeld to see if Remington is still self-aware. Confirming that the boy is indeed conscious and able to reason, he explains that there might be a viable treatment which will save Remington’s life and sanity. Spock’s own mother is undergoing the same experimental cure on Vulcan; as it turns out, she was suffering from a degenerative disease that occurs in humans when they have lived in alien environments for long periods of time.

Up until now, there has been no means of curing the disease. But a human doctor on Vulcan who had this illness developed a treatment for himself that saved his life. It’s working on Amanda now, and it should be able to cure Remington, too. Since Enterprise is in need of repair, Spock invites Kirk and McCoy to come to Vulcan with him and Remington for “shore leave.”

Once there, they learn that a Vulcan woman is undergoing the same treatment after an regrettable accident with some machinery. Leaving all three patients in their force-field encapsulated regenerative tanks, Spock, Kirk, McCoy, Sarek, and the two doctors in charge of the project go out to dinner. One of these doctors is the human who invented the cure, Dr. Daniel Corrigan. The other is his Vulcan partner and friend, Sorel.

Dinner is a fine affair, but just as they’re about to pay the bill and head home, Sorel stiffens and clutches his chest. He can sense that his wife, T’Zan, is in danger of death. Rushing back to the Vulcan Academy, despite their best efforts the guys are not able to save Sorel’s wife. She dies in the medical room.

Though Corrigan immediately blames himself for this, Kirk openly suspects foul play. Over the next few days, he begins investigating the matter, believing that someone wants to sabotage the cure. When Remington dies as well and a fire is set in the Academy, Kirk’s suspicion that a murderer is loose becomes the only logical explaination for the cascading disasters….

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…And that’s all the spoilers you’re going to get, folks! 😉 My lips are now sealed – though I will add that, when researching this book to see if it was something I would enjoy, one of the reviews I read was written by a woman who said she had figured out the villain by page fifty. This blogger was hoping to beat that record when she started reading, and she did. I fingered the killer on page 49 and, despite a period of doubt, was proved right by the end. Haha! 😉

While I liked The Vulcan Academy Murders, as I said above, I did have a few problems with it. The writing style isn’t my favorite, and though it became tolerable after awhile, it still grated on my nerves from time to time. I must say that the method by which the author described Vulcan telepathy and how they form romantic, psychic connections was done well. It was entirely plausible and believable.

But I really didn’t like the way she handled Kirk. In some scenes he was fine, but in others Lorrah seemed to be actively dumbing him down. That was annoying; I like Kirk. He’s the best of Star Trek’s captains, and anyone who disrespects him in a major way (such as by poor writing) gets on my bad side. So long as he is portrayed well by an actor or a writer, I’m happy. But if the writers make him less than he is, as Lorrah did on a couple of occasions here, that leads me to give the book an automatic demerit.

Despite these objections, The Vulcan Academy Murders is a good story. If ST fiction isn’t your thing, or if my minor problems with this tale have convinced you that you would not enjoy the story, then you will probably want to avoid the book. But if you like Star Trek, a good mystery, and want to see Kirk look somewhat stupid, then this book might appeal to you.

Until next time, readers: “Second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning!”

Spotlight: Thundercats – Panthro

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Last year I did a post on one of my favorite television series, Thundercats. A fantasy/sci-fi series for children, Thundercats revolved around a handful of humanoid cats, some of the last survivors of their race. It had magic, science fiction (sort of), and cats. For me, it was irresistable.

One of the seven Thundercats in the series was Panthro, voiced in the ‘80s by the late Earle Hyman. The strongest of the Cats, he was almost unbeatable in hand-to-hand combat. Based on the panther, he had blue skin, was bald, and had ears that immediately put me in mind of a Star Trek Vulcan.

He quickly dispelled whatever illusions I might have had about his sharing the Vulcans’ stoic refusal to show emotion, however. Panthro was one of the most cheerful characters I have ever “met.” He loved to laugh, which I found contagious when I began watching the show. He was a happy warrior; in battle he liked to taunt his enemies, a wide smile on his face. In the first episode he jumped into a formation of Jackalmen, one of whom tried to hit him in the back with a mace.

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Quick as a cat, Panthro turned and caught the weapon’s head, chuckling as he did. “If you were as mean as you are ugly,” he said, “then maybe you’d be trouble!” After this, he promptly crushed the mace and started throwing punches.

The writers for the original Thundercats series stated that Panthro’s character was “based on strength.” This is why he was, physically, the strongest Thundercat in the series. But his might did not show just in his feats of physical power or fighting prowess. It showed in his hearty, barrel-chested laugh and firm commitment to his fellow Thundercats, along with his adherence to the moral Code of his home world, Thundera.

Panthro could be serious and he could be frightened. He could also be angered. But none of these emotions ever made him lose his head. He was strong enough to admit, at least to himself, that he was afraid or angry, and then focus on the task at hand.

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Panthro’s Nunchuck

Of all the Thundercats, Panthro was probably the best fighter, not only with his bare fists but with his signature weapon. This was a nunchuk with a red and blue baton attached at each end. A technological genius, Panthro hid different tricks in both batons that he could activate in certain situations.

His spiked suspenders could also be used offensively, though Panthro did not often activate them as weapons. The spikes could be fired from the suspenders so that they would plunge into a rock wall or some other surface. This would anchor Panthro and halt any tumbles he took, preventing him from falling splat to his doom. It was possible, too, for him to fire these spikes out and have them windmill around his torso, forcing opponents to back off fast.

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The weapon he loved most, though, was his Thundertank. Remember when I said Panthro was a tech genius? After the Thundercats crashed on Third Earth, he salvaged the machinery he could from their wrecked ship and put together the Thundertank. Though he later built other vehicles for the Thundercats, along with most of the machines in Cat’s Lair, the Thundertank was Panthro’s “baby.” Even Lion-O was not allowed to use it without his permission; the one time he did, he almost crashed it.

While he was not my favorite character in the series, I have to say, I loved Panthro a lot. In the 2011 series….I had a few issues with the way the writers re-presented him to modern audiences.

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Panthro 2011

Voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson – an actor whose talent I greatly respect – the writers made the 2011 series’ Panthro a bigger, brawnier, and taller Cat than he had been previously. I think I could have accepted this change, but the fact that they also made him broody and angry upset me a great deal. Gone was the laughing warrior with the wit that cut like ice and the quicksilver smile. In his place stood a glowering sourpuss (pun intended), who was occasionally used for comic relief and made to look the fool.

By this I mean that Panthro had one crippling fear in the original series. It was never explained, but it really did not need to be. Some people are afraid of things for no conceivable reason; you ask them why this or that frightens them, and all they can say is it does.

What could scare the strongest Thundercat, you ask? Bats.

Yes, bats were Panthro’s biggest terror in the original show. He knew fear from other sources, of course, but he could and did master those fears. Bats were the one thing he could not get over. And that was okay; like I said, some people have irrational fears they cannot conquer no matter how hard they try. This one chink in Panthro’s armor did not lessen his strength. It just made him human. (Yes, I know he is technically a humanoid cat, not an actual human. It’s called poetic license. Live with it.)

For the 2011 series, the writers made Panthro afraid of heights. They also made him unable to swim. Previously, every member of the Thundercats could swim. They may not have enjoyed it all the time or to the same degree, but they all knew how to swim. Taking that away from Panthro, making him afraid of water and heights – it made him seem like a big baby who was frightened of anything he could not hit or blow up.

That was and remains a wrong choice on the part of the new show’s writers, since it directly interfered with Panthro’s role in the story. Instead of being the strongest Cat in mind and body, Panthro was reduced to being merely strong on a physical plane. The new show’s writers cut out his real heart and put a mechanism in its place, which upset me quite a bit.

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Another change I found less than pleasant was the scar they put over one of his eyes. Then the new show’s writers cut his arms off above the elbows. That was the last straw. Bad enough they disrespected his strength, to go so far as to make him a double amputee in need of mechanical arms was a bridge too far.

Laughing warriors are in short supply in current fiction, readers, as proved by the 2011 writers’ mistreatment of Panthro. Strong heroes are also going out of style. Nowadays a laughing warrior is portrayed as a bloodthirsty psychopath, while strength usually equals stupidity. Both these depictions are harmful stereotypes which must be abandoned if fiction is to continue to be a vehicle for truth.

Panthro is not the only strong, laughing warrior in literature, of course, but he was one of the best. New writers could learn a great deal about making tough, hearty heroes by studying him. And I mean studying him for love of their craft, not for love of money. We saw the results of the latter in 2011; the finished 1980s product is far superior to the one the new writers handed us.

So if you are a fiction writer, and you want to know more about Panthro, I recommend you look up the original series. The 2011 show did not do him justice; neither did the comics, in large part. And please remember that a happy warrior is not a psychopath or a maniac who likes killing, destroying, or maiming.

A happy warrior looks and acts like Panthro. So does a strong hero. We need more of both.

Thundercats – HO!

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Book Review – Star Trek: The Covenant of the Crown

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Any Star Trek fan worth his salt will be able to tell you about the episode The Trouble with Tribbles. Tribbles, overgrown living puff balls, are soft, furry, harmless creatures that breed faster than rabbits. One of the things which make this episode so interesting is that it was written by a fan of the original series. That fan’s name is David Gerrold. And he wrote and sold The Trouble with Tribbles to Gene Roddenberry and the rest when he was twenty-three years old.

But Howard Weinstein did one better. He wrote a short, fan fiction story for his high school science fiction magazine called “The Pirates of Orion.” Later, in 1973, when Star Trek was made into an animated television series, Weinstein rewrote the story and sold it to the series creators. It became the first episode for the second season of the animated Star Trek series, retaining its title. Why is this important?

Howard Weinstein sold the story to the studio when he was nineteen and in college. That’s why it is important; he was the youngest writer for Star Trek ever, a position he may still hold. I cannot say for sure that he does, but it seems reasonable to assume this. At least, of the original fan base, he is the youngest writer they ever had, fan or otherwise.

Anyway, his love of Star Trek gave him the desire to become a science fiction writer. “The Pirates of Orion” was his first major success. The Covenant of the Crown, a novel set in the Star Trek universe, was his second.

In this story, McCoy is hiding in his room, curled up on his bed. Why?

It’s his birthday. And he is feeling old.

Captain Kirk is trying to talk him out of the room, and he finally convinces McCoy to get up and move by saying he wants the doctor to bait Spock while the Captain plays chess with him. They head down to the rec room on deck seven, Kirk opens the door….

On a dark room.

Thrusting McCoy into the room, Kirk watches the lights turn on and the crewmen pop up from behind the tables and chairs, shouting, “Surprise! Happy Birthday, McCoy!”

With this mission successfully completed, Kirk stands off to the side with Scotty to watch the festivities. Then he and his Chief Engineer feel the Enterprise kick into a higher gear. They make for the comm. as Spock calls Kirk to the bridge.

Star Fleet Command has called the Enterprise to Starbase 22 for a secret mission. Eighteen years ago, the planet Shad was thrust into a civil war due to Klingon meddling. Why? Shad is home to an ore known as Tridenite, a clean, efficient source of energy. The planet supplies twenty other planets with this vital ore. Half those planets are Federation, the other half are neutral. And they are all right next door to the Klingon Empire.

If Shad falls to the Klingons, they can take the entire sector because they will have control of the Tridenite.

Eighteen years ago, Lieutenant Commander James T. Kirk convinced Shad’s King, Stevvin, to escape Shad to protect his wife and daughter. It was supposed to be an exile of a few months, but it turned into an exile of eighteen years, during which time the queen died.

But the king and his daughter are alive. And with the Loyalist forces on the brink of winning the war – and falling apart as they try to divide the spoils before they even win – it seems it is time for the king to go home.

And he wants to; he really wants to go home. And Kirk wants to take him and his daughter home, to make up at least a little for leaving them stranded on an exile planet for eighteen years.

There is just one problem. The king’s daughter has a diabetic-like condition. She needs shots of a special serum, or she will die in a matter of hours. She is not physically as strong as she could be as a result. And the king himself, Stevvin, is dying.

Bonus points, McCoy and the king’s daughter start doing the Romance Two-Step. And if that did not complicate matters, throw in a few Klingon agents and a traitor in the King’s entourage, and you have a story filled with intrigue, romance, and danger. A little humor is added as Chekov tries to lose ten pounds he gained invisibly.

The Covenant of the Crown is a very good Star Trek story. With forewords by Howard Weinstein and David Gerrold, it also offers a window into what Star Trek fandom used to look like.

If you can, readers, find yourselves a copy of The Covenant of the Crown. If you do not like it, I am sorry to hear that. But I think it is a fantastic, fun story. It is at least worth one reading.

Live long and prosper!

Book Review: Star Trek: The Great Starship Race by Diane Carey

The Great Starship Race

Well, I did not begin posting about Star Trek fiction as soon as I had hoped.  But better late than never, right?

Today’s focus is Star Trek: The Great Starship Race by Diane Carey.  If you were to type the title of the book into the search engine of my blog, you would come up with several quotes from the novel posted here.  Not nearly so many as you would get if you typed in The Cherokee Trail, but you would get a good number nonetheless.

The Great Starship Race takes place in the Original Star Trek series timeline.  It focuses primarily on Kirk and his point of view, with occasional shifts to McCoy’s perspective.

But The Great Starship Race actually begins from the viewpoint of Valdus, a Subcenturion on the Romulan ship Scorah.  The Scorah and its supporting Swarm are out patrolling a sector of Romulan space when they stumble across an old spaceship with barely any warp capabilities.  Picking up the ship, they find five aliens aboard, aliens sent on a mission of exploration from their homeworld in the hopes of finding other life in the galaxy.

The aliens are friendly.  They fall all over the Romulans, they are so happy to learn they are not the only intelligent beings in the galaxy.  But when the Romulan commander tries to get them to reveal their planet’s location, things fall apart.  Somehow, someway, the nervous fright of the five aliens aboard the ship drives all the Romulans into murderous rages.  They kill each other and destroy the Scorah

All of them die except for one:  Valdus.  He is the only one to escape the conflagration, the only one to come back to sanity.  He is therefore the only one to realize how dangerous these aliens are to the Romulan people.

Fast-forward eighty-six years.  The Federation ship U.S.S. Hood, under the command of Captain Kenneth Dodge, made contact twelve years earlier with the people of Gullrey.  Now, twelve years later, the Rey are about to be accepted into the Federation.  And they are so happy about it that they are throwing a party, which will hopefully become an annual event:  the first Great Starship Race.

Among the competitors are four Starfleet ships – including Captain James T. Kirk’s U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701.

Captain Kirk is looking forward to the race on several levels.  Races are part of sailing history, so as a historian he is naturally happy to be participating in a race, the way that the sailing captains of the past once did.  On another level, he is looking forward to showing off his ship – his “favorite girl.”  And how can participating in a race not be fun?

He finds the answer to that question soon enough, when they are on their way to Starbase 16.  The starting line of the race, Starbase 16 sends a frantic call to the Enterprise about a Romulan heavy cruiser which has crossed the Neutral Zone.  It is headed for the base and transmitting interstellar truce.

What, you ask, is the Romulans’ reason for violating the Neutral Zone between Federation and Romulan space?  Oh, nothing really important – they just want to join the race.

If it were not such a dangerous situation, Kirk would laugh about it.  But a Romulan heavy cruiser in Federation space, whatever their proclaimed reason for entering, is no laughing matter.  He finds it even less funny when he meets the commander of the Red Talon:  Valdus.

And Valdus is none too happy when he sees Kirk.  Loathing using view screens for first meetings, Valdus sees something in Kirk’s eyes that disturbs him.  He knows Kirk is not a man who will give up, and that could be a problem.

As for Kirk, he can tell by looking at Valdus that the Romulan is not here to just run a race.  He knew that before he saw him, but seeing him convinces Kirk that there is something else to Valdus’ desire to join the contest, some dangerous ulterior motive.  And it has something to do with the Rey, whose planet is the finish line of the competition…

That is all I am telling you, readers.  The Great Starship Race is a really good piece of Star Trek fiction.  I think that it was one of the first Star Trek novels which I read.  The entire Enterprise Seven is present and accounted for, though Chekov gets short shrift in the dialogue and action departments.  Still, he is there.  That is what counts.

I do not know if Diane Carey wrote any more Star Trek fiction.  I think she did.  Either way, The Great Starship Race is a Star Trek story which I highly recommend to you.  So warp on over to the nearest library and see if they have a copy!  If they do not, then you should request it.  This is a story that ought to be on at least one set of library shelves!

Later,

The Mithril Guardian