The Sky’s The Limit is a short story anthology celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Like previous anniversary anthologies it is edited by Pocket Books’ senior editor Marco Palmieri. It features 14 short stories, written by a mix of long-time Star Trek contributors like Keith R.A. DeCandido and Greg Cox, and relative newcomers like Geoff Townbridge or the Schuster/Mollmann writing team.
The above-mentioned team of Austrian Michael Schuster and Steve Mollmann kick of the anthology with Meet With Triumph and Disaster, a piece about Thomas Halloway, the man who was responsible for the Enterprise‘s construction and its planned first captain. Meet With Triumph And Disaster is a decent character-driven story, but I doubt it would work at any other point in the anthology like it does as the opener. It’s a nice little nod to open the anthology with a story dedicated to the people building the Enterprise, but for my taste it’s a bit too slow to warrant a higher rating. I liked the writing style of the authors and they definitely show potential, though.
The next story is Acts of Compassion by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore, a story showing a mission by Beverly Crusher and Tasha Yar on a Cardassian ship. The first positive thing about this story is that it features two underused characters, Crusher and Yar, and does so in a productive way. The story has a good mix of plot and action elements, showing a growing amount of respect between the two Starfleet officers and an interesting story about a Cardassian willing to risk his career and life to mend fences between bitter rivals. During all this the authors’ character work is as good as usual. Definitely one of the top five stories of the anthology.
Redshift, the third story of the book, is written by Richard C. White. It has temporary Enterprise CMO Katherine Pulaski and her sometimes-awkward relationship to the rest of the senior staff as its center piece. Redshift is a decent piece of fiction with an intriguing concept for the Enterprise‘s enemies and an overall interesting story. Richard C. White has a good, easy-to-follow style of writing and the only major point where his work has its weaknesses is the characterisation; Pulaski somehow didn’t feel 100% right for me, especially when she’s interacting with Riker. Nonetheless it’s a story worth a look.
It is followed by Among the Clouds by Scott Pearson, a story about the Enterprise‘s crew reaction to an old emergency call. This is the first little downer for the anthology quality-wise. Almost everything about this story is mediocre, the story is a bit bland, the writing style is unremarkable and listless and the characterisations are somewhat off in my opinion, for example the tone among the crew was a bit too jovial for the timeframe of the story for my taste. The back-and-forth storytelling is the only thing which stands out in a positive way.
Next in line is Star Trek veteran Greg Cox’s story, Thinking of You. Teaming up the unusual pair of Ro Laren and Reg Barclay, Cox sends them to help Lwaxana Troi with technical difficulties during one of her diplomatic missions. Like Acts of Compassion, this story makes use of two second-row characters and makes the pairing actually work rather well. While it isn’t as good as AOC it’s a fun little story, but it lacks the depth needed to achieve more than an average rating. One further little quibble I have with the story is Lwaxana’s characterisation; while it fits most of the time, occasionally it appeared to be a bit off in my opinion.
Susan Shwartz, one half of the writing team responsible for the Vulcan’s… books, has contributed Turncoats to the anthology. In this story one “turncoat” gets the chance to redeem himself. Turncoats is a story with good character work, especially for DeSeve, and a decent, but slightly overused plot. One thing I liked about it, though, was that it was able to directly follow up an episode and tie in to a certain degree with the Shwartz/Sherman continuity, although it’s a bit disappointing that the two seldom move outside their usual background (Romulans/Vulcans), it certainly would be nice to see their take on other parts of the Star Trek universe.
The first half of the anthology concludes with James Swallow’s Ordinary Days, where we see another version of how Wesley Crusher’s life could have been like. A very solid story with strong character work. The Wesley Crusher here is a far more likeable and better portrayed character than the “real one”. This “what if” scenario is an intriguing look at the effects of just one life lived differently and could be interpreted as some kind of foreshadowing of 2008’s Myriad Universe books. Overall an interesting character piece with adequate writing.
Two-time Strange New Worlds contributor Amy Sisson adds ‘Twould Ring The Bells Of Heaven to the table of contents, the first story moving beyond the TV series’ timeframe, and it’s a decent story. One of the biggest strengths of it is that it uses Deanna Troi in a bigger and more important role than the one she all too often had in the TV series and movies. The story itself has some intriguing moments and ideas, but there are also some plot elements all to typical in Star Trek, for example the overprotective scientist, so that the story overall is a nice enough time-killer, but nothing truly outstanding. In my opinion Sisson is a writer to look out for, though.
Next in line is Friends with Sparrows by Christopher L. Bennett, the only author who has contributed to all the anniversary anthologies so far. It’s about Data’s struggle with his emotion chip and it’s influence on his mission at hand. I’m usually a big fan of Christopher L. Bennett’s works, but this one was kind of disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t bad, but it isn’t even nearly as good as his other stories. There isn’t really much more to say about the story than that the character work is strong, but the plot itself is extremely dull and not very captivating.
Newcomer Geoff Trowbridge’s story Suicide Note is a follow up to the episode The Defector and shows how Picard finally is able to deliver a message entrusted to him years before. This story does what this kind of anthologies are tailor-made for: showing the aftermath of an episode. I have to admit that I don’t really recall much about the episode in question here, but Geoff Trowbridge was able to write a moving story that doesn’t really need the reader to know that much about the backstory to work. The character work is so convincing and touching that it is hard to believe this is Trowbridge’s first published story. While the story isn’t quite original enough to be among the top few of the anthology, I can certainly see why both this book’s editor and the Strange New Worlds editors offered to buy it.
Four Lights, Keith R.A. DeCandido’s contribution, brings Picard together again with his erstwhile torturer Madred, who is now in Enterprise‘s brig. As always Keith R.A. DeCandido delivers a good, well written story. This story’s highlight is Picard’s characterisation, among other things it shows how scarred this man really is. Often his past “bad times” are limited to losing the Stargazer and even more often to his time as Locutus, but his time with Madred is often forgotten. This story vividly brings back to mind how influential this time must have to been on Picard’s life afterwards. One minor problem I had with the story was Troi’s characterisation, but I think that could be a result of her playing the devil’s advocate in her conversations with Picard. Certainly one of the best stories of the anthology.
The next story in the anthology – ‘Til Death – was written by Bob Ingersoll and Thomas F. Zahler. Here we see a clash with death by William Riker and his struggles with expressing his feelings in what he thinks is his last message to the woman he loves. By far the weakest of all the stories in this anthology, everything about it is as bland as it gets, and the “last words” plot point might have worked as a B-plot to another story, but wasn’t really able to carry the story alone, especially since the “framing” story about Riker’s attacker isn’t much more than filler.
The penultimate story, On the Spot, is penned by Doctor Who veteran David A. McIntee, who is making his Star Trek debut. It’s about an intruder aboard the Enterprise on its shakedown cruise after extensive repairs following Nemesis and Worf’s dealings with the late Data’s cat Spot. McIntee wrote the story partly from the point of view of Spot the cat, and who would have thought that it would be a success? This original approach actually works, some of the best parts of the story come from those moments showing the world from a pet’s perspective. Add to that a very good characterisation, especially for Worf, and an interesting approach for the intruder(s) and you get one of the best stories of the anthology. I would certainly like to see David A. McIntee to stay around in Trek Literature.
Michael Schuster and Steve Mollmann kicked off the anthology and they’re also closing it with their second story Trust Yourself When All Men Doubt You (those two obviously really like long story titles). It shows Picard trying to fulfil the tradition to write an advisory letter to one’s first officer when he/she is about to take over a captaincy of his/her own. In the process he is reminiscing about a letter he got when he took over the Enterprise. The whole story is about Picard sitting in his ready room, thinking of the past. Sounds boring, doesn’t it? Well, you’re in for a surprise, as the story is one of the strongest in the whole anthology. Despite lacking any action whatsoever this story certainly makes an impact and shows great insights into Picard’s character. Together with the opening story Schuster & Mollmann have created a very good frame for the anthology, first easing the readers in with a quite and slow story and in the end easing their way out again with a very insightful story.
After the prose stories the book features Forging Alliances (story by Paul Benjamin, art by Steven Cummings, lettering by Lucas Rivera), one story from TOKYOPOP’s Star Trek Manga Kakan ni Shinkou. In this story the Enterprise is visiting Vulcan so that Spock, Kirk and McCoy can take part in a traditional ceremony, which is interrupted by a Le-Matya attack. After the dust has settled they find a boy who was presumed dead after not returning from the desert month ago and this boy has a disturbing influence on all the Vulcans around him. I’m not a big comic/manga fan and don’t really have much to compare this story to, so I’ll refrain from given it a rating. Let’s just say it’s an interesting little story, but nothing that would make me buy the whole manga.
Overall, The Sky’s the Limit is a very even anthology, collecting many decent to good stories with only few stories who aren’t totally up to the others’ quality. It has good showings by (relatively) new authors to Star Trek, like Trowbridge, Sisson, McIntee and Schuster and Mollmann, which certainly would warrant future Star Trek projects by them in my opinion.
The Sky’s the Limit (edited by Marco Palmieri) was released by Pocket Books in October 2007.