Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Book Review: Trekmaster

Book Review: 'Trekmaster' by James B. Johnson

3 / 5 Stars

‘Trekmaster’ (397 pp) was published by DAW Books (DAW book No. 719)  in September, 1987. The cover artwork is by Michael Whelan.

After conflict and chaos caused the Federation to sever contact with its far-flung colony worlds for generations, the advent of political and economic stability has allowed the Federation to reach out to its long-lost constituents and welcome them back into the fold.

On the planet of Bear Ridge, its colonists, of hardy North American stock, have negotiated the long period of isolation by exhibiting a particularly tough strain of self-reliance. Although technology on Bear Ridge has reverted to a 19th century level, its King, Thomas Jefferson Shepherd, has succeeded in uniting its historically fractious duchies and principalities and petty kingdoms into one nation. Shepherd's goal: convince the Federation that Bear Ridge is worth admittance.

As the novel opens, a Federation sociologist named Sharon Gold has been stationed on Bear Ridge, there to observe Shepherd's leadership, and to recommend whether Bear Ridge should be granted admission to the Federation and all its technological know-how. 

T. J. Shepherd is confident he can charm Sharon Gold into granting his planet admission. For not only is he one of strongest, most experienced, and most ruthless warriors on Bear Ridge, but beneath his bull-headed personality, he is calculating and careful.

But Shepherd has carefully concealed a number of the more troubling issues affecting Bear Ridge from the attention of Sharon Gold. And unfortunately for Shepherd, his efforts to manage these issues, while convincing Sharon Gold of his planet's worthiness for Federation admission, are going to lead to violence............and the end of his own kingship......

'Trekmaster' is primarily an adventure novel, although it does showcase the political philosophies of its author, being an argument for the necessity of an autocratic ruler (rather than a participatory democracy) when times call for quick and effective decisions on life-and-death matters. 

Author James B. Johnson has quite a bit of fun mocking liberals, and their willingness to cloak actions made for their own interests with fawning rhetoric about 'representing the people'.

But Johnson also applies a note of ambivalence, even satire, to the attitudes of T. J. Shepherd and his close friend and confidante (who is tellingly named 'Summer Camp'). Shepherd is not only impatient with political maneuvers and protocols, but he is unwilling to acknowledge his own mistakes. These flaws tend to result in one avoidable complication after another, hampering his efforts to show the populace of Bear Ridge that he, and he alone, knows what is best for them.

'Trekmaster' starts off well, but its middle section tends to drag, as the ongoing political and familial intrigues grow more complicated and leech momentum from the narrative. Things don't really pick up until the novel's final 40 pages, when external and internal conflicts come to a head and can only be resolved with bloodshed.

Summing up, if you have the patience for a lengthy novel that is primarily character-driven, with a circumscribed landscape upon which various dramas and intrigue play out, then you may find 'Trekmaster' rewarding. 

It's conservative-embracing political philosophy certainly is a rarity among sf literature, and that also may make this novel worth investigating.

1 comment:

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