835. The Belly of the Beast
PUBLICATION: Starfleet Corps of Engineers #1, Pocket eBooks, August 2000 (collected into print with first 4 S.C.E. ebooks as Have Tech, Will Travel in January 2002)
CREATORS: Dean Wesley Smith
STARDATE: Unknown (shortly after the end of DS9)
PLOT: After the Enterprise-E battles a mysterious giant sphere ship menacing a colony, the Starfleet Corps of Engineers sends the 40-man USS da Vinci to explore the hulk. Geordi is temporarily transferred to the da Vinci, where the Corps is led by an old subaltern of his who rose through the ranks during the Dominion War, Commander Sonya Gomez. Her team explores the hulk of the gigantic ship, determines it's a luxury cruise liner, and finds the passengers and crew floating dead in the core, being eaten by a swarm of telepathic super-bugs. The team destructs the ship, but not before losing one of their own, a joined Bynar, beheaded by a bug. Geordi remains aboard for the time being.
CONTINUITY: Several of the characters have been seen before. In addition to Scotty (liaison between the S.C.E. and the Admiralty) and the temporarily assigned Geordi La Forge, the crew of the da Vinci includes Sonya Gomez (Q Who?, Samaritan Snare), Elizabeth Lense (Bashir's school rival from Explorers), Kieran Duffy (one of the jerks who can't work with Barclay in Hollow Pursuits), Fabian Stevens (one of the guys Worf has to learn to command in Starship Down), and a pair of Bynars (11001001). The Enterprise-E and crew, including the first appearance of security chief Christine Vale who would become a recurring character in the TNG: A Time to... series and the Titan series. The da Vinci is Saber-class (from the Armada II computer game).
Captain David Gold was with Picard at the Academy and ran in the same marathon. The da Vinci's bridge engineer, Jil Barnak, is an Atrean (Inheritance).
CASTING PHOTO OF THE WEEK - Lycia Naff ("Sonya Gomez") today
REVIEW: I quite like the idea of "alternate Star Trek series" (I'll get to my favorite, New Frontier, at some point), especially the way they often include characters from the actual series. Does the SCE make a good one though? I think the potential is certainly there, and the shorter ebook format does make the stories feel more like episodes than longer novels do. But as a series premiere, it's somewhat lacking. For starters, there's an inordinate amount of scanning in the story. A series focused on engineering missions (not to say engineers since the da Vinci has a diverse crew) runs the risk of boring technobabble plots, and while I wouldn't say it's the case with The Belly of the Beast, I'd have done with less scanning and more character development. There are a lot of new characters here and they're barely sketched in. Part of the reason is the inclusion of Geordi. Yes, he transitions us into the new series, but takes the spotlight away from everyone else. For once, a Star Trek series doesn't focus on the captain. This is clearly Sonya Gomez' show. And while I'm glad she's come into her own in the past 10 years, it's taken everything that made her charming in her two brief appearances away from her. Might as well be a different character. Her romantic relationship with Duffy has promise, and one Bynar dying might give its mate something to explore. Otherwise, the crew has no real distinguishing characteristics. P8 Blue is a fun CGI alien insect. Scotty's cameos would have been a lot of fun on tv. As for this first story, it takes entirely too much time to develop towards its climax, and once there, is extremely gory. I'm going to call it merely ok.