reviewed by Carolyn Kaberline
An automated distress call from the U.S.S. Sphinx interrupts an Enterprise on its way to a Federation Science summit on Deep Space Station M-20. As the Enterprise answers the call, it soon finds the task more difficult than expected: The Sphinx is traveling at Warp 7 and headed for a heavily populated cluster of civilian colonies.
Although the rescue is both difficult and dangerous for the Enterprise, what awaits them after stopping the Sphinx is totally unexpected: Everyone on the ship is dead from what at first appears to be life support failure. On closer inspection, it appears that the deaths are the result of an act of sabotage.
While the Enterprise crew begins an investigation into the demise of the Sphinx crew, that investigation is turned over to Gage Darres, an old friend of Captain Kirk, when the Enterprise arrives at M-20. Despite the mystery surrounding the Sphinx, the Enterprise crew soon becomes caught up in the science summit on the station, and Captain Kirk falls under the spell of one Jain Suni, an associate of a Doctor Kettaract, a scientist presenting at the gathering. Kettaracts speech is met with open hostility when he suggests that the Federation takes whatever steps necessary to keep them safe from the Romulansregardless of the ethics involved.
While McCoy had once looked forward to the conference, this changes as he does crew physicals: He finds that he has and advanced case of xenopolycythemia, a fatal disease. At the moment it looks like his only hope for a cure lies with one Karen Patterson, a scientist McCoy once knew who was doing research on the disease. However, her current whereabouts seem to be unknown.
Before long the disparate elements of the story come together: Darres is killed in a transporter accident just after he requests permission to see Kirk immediately because of what hes found out about the Sphinx; Patterson was last noted as boarding the ill-fated Sphinx, although she was not one of the deceased on board; and Suni hurriedly leaves M-20 with Doctor Kettaract to return to a long running experiment that finally appears to be coming to fruition. And all of these seem to be somehow related to the cloaking device that Captain Kirk and Mister Spock stole from the Romulans.
While the readers attention is immediately captured as the Enterprise is called to stop the runaway Sphinx, from there the whole plot line becomes confusing as more and more elements from different episodes of the original series are brought in: McCoys fatal disease later cured by the Fabrini and the cloaking device of "The Enterprise Incident" are only a couple. In addition, theres the usual megalomaniac who is not aware of the danger of his own creationmore tragic in this story because hes not really the one in control. And, of course, the one person who might possibly save McCoys life is found too late. In addition to all this, the plot is never really resolved: Other Starfleet captains are only told to watch and wait without being told what theyre supposed to watch and wait for.
Although this novel starts with an intriguing story, it never fulfills its promise and will leave most readers wondering why they bothered: they can feel no real sympathy for these characters that are bent on destroying themselves any more than they can find a strong unified plot line. If youre looking for a good Star Trek read, this novel is definitely not it.
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