I recently read the anthology Halo: Fractures, which included a short story by author James Swallow called “Breaking Strain.” It was a good story and it inspired me to try out one of Swallow’s books. Recently I’ve been reading some Star Trek novels, with a focus on Riker and Titan, so Sight Unseen seemed like a good fit. It’s a standalone novel and follows an adventure Titan takes out into the Alpha Quadrant frontier zone, specifically Dinac space. Their journey put them into a confrontation with a hostile species that showed up once in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the book takes the opportunity to further explore the species. However, there are some hurdles in the book which might be a bit intimidating for casual fans. As such, it’s not exactly a book for everyone.
The book start out with a nice little introduction that focuses on two characters: Ythiss and Guoapa. Ythiss is a Selay Star Fleet officer sent to assist the Dinac in their development of space faring vessels. Guoapa is the Dinac commander of the ship Ythiss is on. The two of them run into trouble testing out the hyperdrive of the ship, which sets the suspense of the conflict to come. The intro does a good job of catching the reader’s interest, creating two interesting characters, and setting the stage for the story. However, these two characters are unfortunately set aside until they are rediscovered way later in the book, and even then, they don’t have much of a part to play. This leads to one of the problems in the book – the focus. Throughout the novel, readers are introduced to a large cast of characters and multiple subplots. Almost every character is a different species with minimal description. If you’re not someone who is well versed in this period of Star Trek, or with the species of the franchise, then trying to comprehend and juggle all the characters is a herculean experience. Since I’m someone who falls into that category of casual fan, I started out trying to look up each species, but soon found that to be too jarring as I constantly had to pull myself out of the story to lookup a species. I quickly gave up and just ignored that everyone was an alien. Rather than trying to accurately visualize what they looked like, I focused more on the dialog and the plot.
Yet the sheer number of aliens isn’t really the heart of the issue. The real problem that bugged me was how attention was shifted to each of the characters who all seemed to have their own little plot line, many of which didn’t bear any significance to the story. There’s a character named Ethan Kyzak, a Skagaran, who joins the crew of the Titan and winds up in a little love triangle between Melora Pazlar and Xin Ra-Havreii. The love triangle is kind of interesting, but it doesn’t have any bearing on the story. There’s a little subplot between White-Blue and Torvig Bu-Kar-Nguv regarding the abandonment of physical bodies and exploring the galaxy. However, like the love triangle, it’s not important to the plot. Then there’s a whole storyline with Dalit Sarai which involves a plotline from previous books (which I haven’t read) and ends with a hook for a future storyline but I’m not sure what that future story is. The biggest problem with that subplot is that it has no development, nor does it have a beginning or an end. Sarai is just there. The reader is constantly reminded that she’s there, that she doesn’t fit in, that people are suspicious of her because of her past actions, and the book ends with a hint that she does have a purpose, but we don’t find out what it is. It’s a sad waste of a character that could have been interesting, but we were given so little that there’s nothing to go on.
All of that adds up to one major problem that hurts the book overall: focus. By trying to include too many characters, too many subplots and too many species, the story becomes a scattered mess. As a reader, I had issues trying to stay focused on what was going on, what was important, and how things that were happening mattered or were related. There was just too much going on and it didn’t tie together very well at all. The villain of the story isn’t truly revealed until a good two thirds of the way into the book, which adds to the problem. Had the villain been a bit clearer earlier on, it would have helped give focus to the readers. Alternately, it would have helped if the book utilized a smaller cast. If it would have followed Ythiss and Guoapa, and Riker and Vale, swapping between the Dinac ship and the Titan, it would have been an easier story to follow. Instead, it jumps around between a dozen crewmembers on the Titan, showing off their little struggles, concerns and dilemmas, and slowly pushes the plot forward.
The end result is an okay story, but it’s not a great one. However, that’s coming from a casual Star Trek fan who hasn’t read a lot of Star Trek books and who isn’t well versed in all the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. For hardcore Trek fans, this might be a much more enjoyable read. The character highlights might be rewarding for longtime fans. Yet, for casual fans, where story, character and world building are key, Sight Unseen leaves something to be desired in all those categories. I give it a three out of five metal bikinis.
Reviewed By: Skuldren for Roqoo Depot.