Sunday, 25 June 2017

Two Times the Enterprise: Headlong Flight from Dayton Ward


The potential in Dayton Ward's Headlong Flight is overwhelming just from the enticing cover art.

A story that promises the Enterprise-D and the E plus old school Romulans has to be something special - it just has to be because how could such a massive opportunity during the 30th anniversary of The Next Generation possibly be lacking?

Well...

Headlong Flight over promises and tragically under delivers in spectacular style. I can actually describe the whole book in a sentence - three ships get stuck in a dimensional mcguffin and then work out how to get back. There you go, all done and dusted. The issue for me is that this could have been so much more.

For those following the novel series that has evolved since Nemesis, the familiar Enterprise-E crew are back but are definitely not the most interesting part of the book. That title has to go to the crew of the Enterprise-D from an alternative universe and also from a point around the mid-fourth season of the show.

But this is a crew that lost Picard in the final confrontation with the Borg in Sector 001, a ship that still has Pulaski as its doctor, Data as its first officer, Wesley as a civilian advisor and Tasha Yar still at the tactical station. It has all the plus points just in those characters to be a blinder with what is the A plot really as an option to become the background story. Instead it seems like this is all wasted for a story which doesn't really go beyond the ordinary. 

I really wanted to see the moments that changed this crew develop as narrative rather than summarised plot points with Ward really delving into the background of what happened to Picard or how come Pulaski did remain. Even the anguish that is supposedly present from Picard's death seems trivial here. I just didn't feel an attachment to the Riker-prise or really care about their stories because there wasn't anything to latch onto. 

Nor did the Romulans fare any better although they do get to take some pot shots at the two Federation starships.  Indeed I reckon that Headlong Flight could have done without their appearance and just seen the two parallel Enterprise crews teaming up to get themselves free of the planet. In that case there would easily have been more room to discuss the backgrounds of the alternative crew from the Riker-prise.

The problem is that while the intention is good, the conclusion is a foregone conclusion and it really feels that nothing of any real note happens. I would even have been excited if this had been a story purely set aboard the parallel Enterprise or just from their perspective. There's no surprise, no tension, no revelation, just a reset and a book which, tragically, feels like filler from start to finish. I did want to care about the crews or the aliens but in both cases I fell short. Tasha's appearance back on the bridge was perhaps my biggest "yes!" for Headlong Flight but that isn't paid off at all. There's no reason given for why she's still alive nor what happened if/when they did encounter Armus. How is she still alive? It's never adequately discussed in the book and by two-thirds of the way through it seems to have been largely forgotten.

Ward unquestionably knows his cast and every nuance that can be. He avoids colloquialisms and keeps them true to their portrayal on the show and in the movies however that accuracy can't save them from a mediocre story that over-promises and under-delivers. In conclusion it has to be one of the biggest fails of the book series I've read so far. I genuinely love Dayton Ward's work and although I made it through to the final page it was more to confirm that I hadn't missed an interesting aside or a revelation as to what influence the time-stream to create these versions of the lead characters.

While The Next Generation's Parallels provided a series of insights into the crew in different timelines, Headlong Flight feels stale, unfulfilled and begging for something to raise the tension. However I find myself drawn to stories which do offer these twists on our expectations and if I'm looking at how it did keep me entertained I have to compare it to how many times I picked it up and put it down versus The Fate of the Unknown which I'm struggling through at the moment. In that instance I have to say this is a sure fire winner and one that I raced through in a couple of days. 

Praise? Yes, BUT I know that this is because I love the concept and was waiting for a big reveal or a character swap or something that might tag this standalone into future novels yet there was nothing. Maybe a standalone set in this parallel universe just after Headlong Flight is the answer? At least then there would be a payoff to this 300+ page story.

Headlong Flight is available now from Simon and Schuster priced £7.99 ISBN 9781501111310. 

Accurate review or was Headlong Flight a literary winner?


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