The Empty Chair
Diane Duane

a review by Randy Landers

"The culmination of a saga twenty-two years in the making!" screams the back cover.

Well, I have to admit that I really wish they hadn't bothered. Over the years, the Rihannsu saga has gotten too complex for the casual reader, and the author has fallen into some really bad habits. Further, the characterizations of the main Trek characters don't ring true to me. These make for a very difficult read, and at times, one finds the need to skim over huge sections of text that I'm sure are important to the writer, but certainly not to the reader.

A quick look at the cast of characters reveals that most of the series is not about Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Heck, to be honest, Sulu's got more of a role in the book than the good doctor. But there are so many Romulans, with so many similar names, that one must conclude this isn't really a Star Trek book, anymore than the Vanguard series is. No, this is a book of political intrigue on Duane's concept of the Romulans. The real question is whether or not that's of interest to the casual Star Trek fan, and I tend to doubt that it would be.

The bad habits of the author tend to grate on one's nerves from time to time. In one section, Captain Kirk...Jim, as she calls him throughout the novel...says "Mister Sulu!"  "Mister Sulu--" and "Mister Sulu" over and over and over. It was just absurdly repetitive, and I wanted to toss the book aside after the four one in as many pages. Back to the usage of "Jim" -- as an editor, I refuse to address a character by their first name in narrative unless it's an intimate scene. But these aren't intimate scenes. It's just common narrative, and it's overly familiar. Duane's not the only Pocketbooks writer who falls into this "Jim" nonsense, but she's clearly one of the worst.

Duane also seems to a failed to grasp the true nature of the characters. In her works, "Jim" is just a martinet, a planner, but it's actually his crew that solve the problems. While this may be more realistic than what we see in the Star Trek series and movies, it certainly makes no sense to suddenly take away Kirk's leadership, command decisions and even course corrections just because she feels Sulu is the one who should be doing these things. Worse yet, Duane has given McCoy a penchant for tarot cards. McCoy, a believer of tarot? What a (totally unbelievable) twist! I've never seen any indication that his character would have an inclination toward the supernatural, and it comes across as totally from left field in this novel.

Duane's take on the Romulans is perhaps preferable to the ones we see in Modern Trek, but there are so many, and every time one starts on a new chapter (voila!), there's another new Romulan character to be introduced. Oh, and all the Romulans tolerate and/or love "Jim." Can't figure that one out at all. It's not like he hasn't embarrassed them often enough. But they all respect him, and admire their leader, Ael, who is working side by side with "Jim." Personally, I really doubt that true Romulans would take so kindly to such familiarity, enough to give him their new technology. Throw in a bunch of pseudo-science with a philosophical bent from her spider scientist, and you've got the hodge-podge that this book has become.

No, "The Empty Chair" falls far short as a Star Trek novel. I'm sure the Rihannsu fans might enjoy it, but I really can't recommend it for the average fan. I give it a 2 stars out of 10.

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