Star Trek: The Next Generation #53: Red Sector

I loathe Red Sector. This novel ranks with Ship of the Line as the worst of the literary crimes Diane Carey has inflicted upon the Star Trek novel readership. I wish I had the succienctness of Tim Lynch who said that Red Sector “can actively cause brain damage.” It does that, and more.

Carey typically writes three Trek novels a year. One is brilliant. One is a middling effort. And one is so gahd-awful that I just want to fling it across the room, take a sledgehammer, and beat the book into a bloody pulp then burn it then call a priest to perform an exorcism on the charred remains of the book so that its evil horridness won’t infect the rest of my life. That’s the curve Diane Carey’s novels fall on.

My principle problems with the novel:

  1. Eric Stiles. If someone ever had the word “asshole” tattooed on his head, it’s Eric Stiles. I do not like Eric Stiles. He’s a jerk, a fool, an idiot, and he probably smells bad, too. He’s self-centered, he has no self-confidence, and yet he makes Wesley Crusher look like a normal, barely-competant human being. In other words, Stiles is a Mary-Sue with gender identity issues.
  2. Spock. I like Spock. I’ve always liked Spock. I’m more of a Kirk fan, but we Classic Trekkers come in all sorts. The Spock in Red Sector, though, isn’t any Spock with which I am familiar. Where is the Spock that’s on top of everything? Where’s the Spock that knows what’s going on? Instead, in his place, we have a mellow pointed-eared guy who seems like he’s on a mix of prozac and quaaludes. As a consequence Spock ends up boring throughout the novel. None of the subdued charm of Spock comes through. It might as well have been a generic Vulcan character for all that Spock mattered in the book.
  3. McCoy. The back cover of Red Sector says that McCoy is in the book. I never found him. There was a character named “Leonard McCoy” on several pages, but he’s so far removed from the character that DeForrest Kelley portrayed that it can’t possibly be the same character. The “McCoy” character in Red Sector is at turns senile, manipulative, stupid, and a bastard. The way “McCoy” resolves the crisis, not that I particularly cared by that point in the novel, was so far out of character that I was stunned. The hippocratic oath says that doctors must do no harm, yet by allowing the virogen to spread to Zevon and his family deliberately in order to force a resolution to the crisis Carey succeeded in the worst form of character assassination. As one of the first Trek novels to be published after De Kelley’s death, Red Sector spits on the memory of the man that so skillfully brought McCoy to life by characterizing that most human of Trek characters as someone whose ethics would make Machiavelli look like a girl scout.
  4. The Next Generation crew. Hey, it’s not their book. We spend all of twenty pages with them. The scene with Data attacking the Romulan guards is, again, so far out of character that the book borders on a savage parody. I realize Carey has issues writing for non-Classic Trek series (see Ship of the Line or Station Rage for the two most egregious examples), but to write an ostensibly Next Generation novel and not use them? I knew exactly what the Double Helix crossover was supposed to be going in. What I didn’t expect was that Pocket would publish a Classic Trek novel or a Voyager novel under the guise of The Next Generation. Admittedly, Quarantine wasn’t a typical Voyager novel, and Red Sector wasn’t set in the 23rd-century. The average buyer, however, despite the cover image and what it portrays, would have some expectation when buying Red Sector or Quarantine that the NextGen characters would make more than just a token appearance. To be fair, however, this is probably John Ordover’s fault as much as anyone’s; of the six Double Helix novels, five of them weren’t actually Next Generation-centric, whatever the cover logo might’ve said.
  5. The “Red Sector” business. First, what the Federation does is its own business. If they want to declare sectors off-limits, that’s their concern. But, in a galaxy where the Federation isn’t the dominant power but only on par with other regional powers, are any powers really going to give a damn whether or not the Federation wants a sector cut off from the rest of the galaxy? I can see the Romulans taking advantage of this sector that the Federation will have nothing with, exploiting it for military advantage. I can see the Ferengi taking advantage of the economic deprivations the Federation would be inflicting on the sector, all of which proves how merciless the Federation truly is. Imposing sactions doesn’t work to force governments to hue to the line today; why in gahd’s name should the Federation think it knows better four centuries hence? What piece of the puzzle am I missing here? Why is a whole novel built on a giant logic hole?
  6. The Romulans. Here’s the next biggest logic hole in the novel. You have massive upheaval on Romulus because of the virogen. Spock’s mission to Romulus is to bring the Romulans closer to the Federation. Why doesn’t the fact that the Federation holds the key to saving the Romulan royal family given some running room in the novel? Sending Crusher and Data to Romulus gets no mileage except for a scene that plays like parody. This could be a turning point in the affairs of the Federation, so why doesn’t something happen? What am I missing? Am I wrong to expect that there be some deeper meaning here? Am I wrong to expect that if you’re going to play with toys in the playground and do something that looks big and shiny that you don’t reveal at the very end that it’s just a fancy light show you’ve put on?

I’d call Red Sector excrement, but it’s not fit even to be called that. I don’t know how this book was ever approved. I don’t know what John Ordover thought this book would accomplish. I don’t know why Diane Carey thought this was an interesting idea of explore. At no level does this book betray any level of competence, from the (lack of) likenesses on the cover to the writing.

Maybe some people find valuable things in Red Sector. Maybe pigs fly, too. Doesn’t mean I believe that either reflect the reality in which I live.

My final word: read Red Sector if you want. Diane Carey committed a literary crime here. Whatever you do, just don’t blame me for the book being total junk. I tried to warn you.