New Frontier is, as far as I can tell, the Star Trek office's solution to Peter David. For many years now, Peter has been writing various Trek stories, and sometimes clashing with the head office because he likes things like character development, which individual writers aren't allowed to have. So they basically gave him his own part of the galaxy to play with, and he's been having fun with it ever since.
These are the voyages of the starship Excalibur. Its ongoing mission: to try to hold Sector 221-G together, while not getting killed too often. The broad concept is straightforward. The Thallonian Empire has ruled a section of space bordering the Federation for centuries, imposing peace through force. They weren't the worst dictators, but they weren't the best, either. And when the Empire collapses, and everything goes to hell, it is up to a couple of starships to try and keep the peace.
This is the grimy, complex view of Trek -- it's rather like what they were trying to do with DS9, but IMO is quite a bit more successful. It is unusual in several respects, mostly relating to the fact that it is no way, no how, ever getting filmed. This means that:
- They can have as many aliens on the crew as they want -- indeed, pureblood humans are a smallish minority in this story.
- Despite having few humans, it's a very human story, with very human characteristics. In other words, with all these people out in a foreign sector, pretty much everyone is sleeping with everyone else, and the relationships are, to say the least, bloody complex.
- This is a crew that simply isn't as nice as Next Gen. These people are stuck in a tough environment, and while they work hard to stay true to the ideals of the Federation, they aren't saints.
- While it breaks down into distinct stories (typically 2-4 books each), there is a good deal of arc overall. Indeed, what inspired this review was the realization that Gods Above, which I finished on the plane home, is resolving a lot of plot threads that Peter opened several years earlier and let develop very gradually.
Mind, the implication of all that arc is that this is a story that you have to read from the beginning. As with all Trek stories, it starts a bit weak and gets stronger from there. And you have to read *everything* to really follow it properly -- even the silly pan-Trek crossover series tend to matter to the overall arc. By the time it really gets rolling, though, it's great. The Gods story (Being Human and Gods Above) is fine classic Trek, taking the episode Who Mourns For Adonis? and really exploring it to its full extent.
Really, though, the best way to give a flavor of this series is to list a bunch of the characters:
- Captain MacKenzie Calhoun: as a young man, he was Warlord of the planet Xenex, forging the army that drove an alien occupation from his world. As a starship captain, he makes Jim Kirk look like a model of predictable calm.
- Elizabeth Shelby: possibly the most ambitious person in Starfleet history (you might remember her from Next Gen), learning the hard way that not everything can run according to regulations.
- Doctor Selar: the Vulcan Chief Medical Officer, who has never been quite complete since a mind-meld gone wrong.
- Zak Kebron: head of security, basically a large walking brick.
- Burgoyne: Chief Engineer, a Hermat (member of a hermaphroditic humanoid race), whose relationships are, to say the least, complex.
- Si Cwan: "Ambassador" from the collapsed Thallonian Empire, who is quite aware that he is actually the Prince of this sector of space. A man who understands what it means to be Noble, in all the complex senses of that word.
- Robin Lefler: Ops Engineer, who can best be described as Bridget Jones in space. Terribly nice, and terribly neurotic.
- Morgan Primus: Robin's periodically-dead mother, and part of why she is so neurotic.
- Soleta: the Vulcan Science Officer. Who is secretly half-Romulan, which would not be exactly welcome if Starfleet knew about it.
- Mark McHenry: the navigation officer, who has an inexplicably close relationship with the cosmos: he knows precisely where he is at all times.
- M'Ress and Arex: time-lost refugee officers from The Animated Series, who find themselves in this series mainly because Peter is the only writer who tends to rememer that they exist.
And so on -- there are lots more. It's a motley crowd, but the complexities make for an unusually involving series. And so far, it's continued to get better and better. I'm preparing to read the next story (the most recent book is on order); if it's as good as the last one, I'm going to enjoy it a lot.
Mind, this isn't high art. But it isn't trying to be -- rather, it's trying to be classic Trek, in the spirit of the original series. And in my opinion, it largely succeeds: it's fun, sometimes dramatic, even moving at times. Recommended, but only if you're willing to give it some time to develop...