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As I'm sure nobody reading this is surprised to find out, I bought Diane Duane's The Empty Chair when it was released on Monday. What should surprise you is that it took almost 36 hours for me to finish it. I don't really have a review; it's more of a spoiler-laden commentary…

After five (I think) years of waiting, The Empty Chair was bound to disappoint, so I'm glad it didn't. Reading it was interesting; in my opinion, it's very unfriendly to new readers. No so much in presentation—actually, with the Duanian hallmarks cut back, and who were put off by those shouldn't have a problem. But there was no effort to account for newcomers; she assumes that the reader is familiar with the events of Swordhunt and Honor Blade.

Fortunately, I reread the series only a few months ago, so I was rather familiar with their events. Or perhaps unfortunately; there were several ommissions and changed that I noticed. The most blatant is that it's now post-The Motion Picture. Given the events of The Romulan Way, it makes more sense; however, many details in prior books (such as reflections on the design of the Intrepid II, Chapel's absense and Lia Burke's subsequent presence, Chekov's presence as navigator in My Enemy, My Ally, Swordhunt and Honor Blade) conflict with this. Another benefit of the forward shift is that the Constellation-class no longer needs a TOS-type version, making its presence more palatable.

Other TNG/DS9-esque elements were added, though, these to the book's detriment. Foremost among these was the shift in battle modes. Where the space battles before were about a few starships winning or escaping through innovative tactics, now they're like scenes from latter-day DS9. Dozens of ships, mostly anonymous, their fights little more than blurs in the background. With Kirk's "new" role as admiral, the flagship isn't involved, so battles are presented with the Enterprise as a mere bystander. We get calls that sound like plays in Battleship, with no good idea of what's happening on a strategic or tactical level.

The reflections on how this is Kirk's first time as a true admiral weren't enough of a reason to push the book forward, I think. They would almost have worked better before his promotion; they would have been an ironic contrast to the reality presented in The Lost Years and The Wrath of Khan. More, Commodore Danilov suffers; his death felt like an effort to get rid of him quickly, to whitewash his lower rank and higher position he had vis-a-vis Kirk in Swordhunt.

This sounds like I'm doing a lot of complaining. I guess I am, when I don't really mean to be. Heck, The Bloodwing Voyages might solve most of my problems, and I hope it does. It can't undo Burke's disappearance from The Empty Chair (unless she's replaced with Chapel—but then what happens to Doctor's Orders?). It can't add back in the more exotic aspects of Ms. Duane's work. (Naraht is the most exotic alien present; no Sulamid, no… whatever the race with the odd timesense is. No high-warp maneuvers. And only a minimal amount of the Rihannsu language.) But most of all, it can't undo the negative tone of the ending of The Empty Chair.

Really, I can't fault the book for it. I knew going in that, eventually, any changes Ael made to Rihannsu society would disappear by the time of TNG. But Ael's foreshadowing thereof almost makes it sound like she knows she'll fail, maybe even like she wants to. Of course, she doesn't completely; people like Donatra and Cretak (as seen in Taking Wing and Catalyst of Sorrows, respectively) seem to embody the same principles as the Rihannsu used to. Perhaps in the 25th century, mnei'sahe will return. But knowing what Ael went through, knowing the travails of Tomed and later, it's painful to see her try to take on her new role that isn't going to go well.

(I need to reread Dark Matters and see how well the Romulans there match up with a post-Reformation pre-Reversion Rihannsu—more specifically their Empress.)

There were a few dropped plot threads besides Danilov and Burke; we still don't know what "jim" means in Rihannsu. And I don't recall the different meaning of a handshake being mentioned before. But by and large, the Rihannsu story is complete. (Not that there's not room for a post-Tomed sequel… hint hint to any editors reading this. )

The Empty Chair was a good book; I enjoyed reading it. It's a fitting capstone to Ael i-Mhiessan t'Rllaillieu's saga, and a book worth the wait.
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hamsterexastris

July 2008

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