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Star Trek: Vanguard: Precipice by David Mack

By Julio Angel Ortiz on 20 February 2010

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

At its most basic, ‘Vanguard’ is a series of novels set against the backdrop of the early 23rd century and the original ‘Star Trek’ television series. Starbase 47, the aforementioned Vanguard, is located in a remote region called the Taurus Reach, where Starfleet has discovered a complex alien genome whose secrets, if unlocked, could provide the Federation with great advances in medical science and technology.

However, the Taurus Reach borders Klingon and Tholian space, and each government has a stake in the balance of power in the region. The Klingons want the secrets of the Taurus Reach for themselves, while the Tholians are terrified of something from their past being awakened in the Reach… something that is millennia old.

‘Vanguard’ is part-mystery, part-political drama, interspersed with the required action. ‘Vanguard’ takes the refreshing path of focusing on a different set of characters than from previous ‘Trek’ series. Instead of the primary characters being the typical command structure on a starship or starbase, ‘Vanguard’ smartly focuses on the socio-political dynamics of the series.

Among the main characters are the commander of the starbase, a senior ambassador, the Starfleet Intelligence liason, the JAG office, a journalist, and the good-hearted (if rough around the edges) rogue/trader. This list doesn’t do the cast justice, and that’s one of the series’ strengths. It has assembled a large, mostly original set of characters who are flawed and conflicted without being trite or angst-driven, which along with the series’ concept makes it one of the stronger ‘Trek’ ranges we’ve seen.

‘Precipice’ covers about a year of time in the series, with a number of dangling storylines from previous novels in play here. Mack has quite a juggling act going, and he mostly succeeds as ‘Precipice’ is a very entertaining novel. From former station commander Diego Reyes (believed to be dead) and a Tholian named Ezthene being held captive by the Klingons, to disgraced Intelligence officer T’Prynn and journalist Pennington on a journey together to uncover evidence that may put the Vulcan in semi-good graces with Starfleet again, to roguish trader-turned-Starfleet Intelligence agent Cervantes Quinn and “Bridy Mac” McLellan’s adventure dealing with a post-civilization collapse race on a distant world, Mack already has his hands full.

And these do not account for all of the plotlines in the novel. It is to Mack’s credit that he is able to wrap up most of these threads in 331-pages, and bring the overarching ‘Vanguard’ story to a good breathing point. ‘Precipice’ resolves a few ongoing arcs, and places some of the characters in interesting new positions that should provide great material for future novels.

If anything, ‘Precipice’ may be a bit hard for someone new to ‘Vanguard’ to dive into. While ‘Precipice’ makes sure to catch readers up on prior events, there is an emotional resonance that would be missing for someone starting fresh. This novel is very rewarding as a resolution to certain aspects of the T’Prynn/Pennington relationship, but unless you have read the previous novels in the series, the real impact is lost. The same goes for the Quinn/Zett animosity. For long-time readers, however, ‘Precipice’ is a great pay-off on several levels.

There are a few other flaws in the narrative. Primarily, the Jetanien sub-plot did not do much for me. It amounts to a lot of waiting around and little reward. The Reyes/Ezthene sub-plot doesn’t fair much better. They are captives, they get hauled from here to there, they speak to the Chancellor, and then, when completely ignored, Gorkon just lets them go. Their plot thread does serve a purpose, but it’s one of the least interesting ones except for the very end.

Mack’s action scenes – particularly the Shedai attacking the station – are always excellently handled, and the Shedai come across as an arrogant species to be feared yet are complex enough as a society to be interesting. In light of the novel’s conclusion, I am curious where the series heads next. Aside from that, Mack’s prose and pacing are spot on.

And anyone who sneaks in ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Goodfellas’ references deserves props.

‘Precipice’ makes a fine entry into the ‘Vanguard’ lore. Aside from a few blemishes, ‘Precipice’ gives ‘Vanguard’ fans a book they will love, an pay-off novel that takes the series to the next logical step without revealing too many of the series’ secrets. The Quinn/McLellen adventure on Golmira shows just how large the Taurus Reach is, and how much can be explored there. It would behoove the series to take the time to do some world building and explore what can only be imagined as a rich set of cultures scattered throughout the Taurus Reach. And that’s what ‘Precipice’ does best, it reminds us how much more can be done with the ‘Vanguard’ concept and what a rich tapestry has only begun to be woven. Here’s to book six and beyond.

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By Julio Angel Ortiz

Julio Angel Ortiz maintains his collection of curiosities at You can also Like him on Facebook as well and check out his latest writing projects.

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