Orion’s Hounds, by Christopher L. Bennett, is the third entry in the Star Trek: Titan series of books, chronicling the adventures of Captain William T. Riker’s first command, the USS Titan. The thrust of the series, beginning with Orion’s Hounds, will be Titan‘s exploration of the coreward side of the Gum Nebula, a region of the Orion Arm that has not been explored by the Federation. As they begin their mission of exploration, Titan‘s crew encounters a race of hunters (more akin to whalers) attacking a familiar space-faring species. Riker and his crew intervene, attempting to understand and resolve the situation, only to find that it is much more complex than they could have ever imagined.
The premise of the Titan series has been said to be in the spirit of the original Star Trek series, except in the current (post-Next Generation) time frame. The editor and writers are looking to evoke the wonder (and dangers) of exploration, the sense of venturing boldly into the new and unknown. Couple this with a large, varied cast and an emphasis on strong character development, and there is the potential for an interesting and exciting series. The first two Titan books, Taking Wing and The Red King, laid an excellent foundation, deftly introducing Titan‘s assortment of unique characters as well as wrapping up various plot lines from the movie Nemesis and Lost Era novel The Sundered, and all the while establishing thematic links to Trek‘s past (Excelsior and Titan being ships of exploration, as well as the only ships to the Small Magellanic Cloud; both sharing a crew member, Tuvok, who also served on that other ship in deep space, Voyager, etc.). Whether intentional or unintentional, Bennett continues to establish those thematic links, as Titan‘s encounters the “star-jellies” from the Enterprise-D’s first mission in the Star Trek: The Next Generation premiere “Encounter at Farpoint”. Thankfully, Bennett’s novel is a far better story, ambitious in scope and rich in detail.
Throughout Orion’s Hounds, the reader is slowly given the inner workings of how the cosmic ecosystem works for space-faring creatures such as the star-jellies. The amount of detail that went into this is astonishing. One could sense a real passion for the science behind the storytelling, and Bennett makes the small section of the galaxy portrayed in Orion’s Hounds truly come alive. The hunters of the story, the Pa’haquel, make for a complex and interesting race. Their mixture of spiritual and ecological balance worked, being neither preachy nor fanatical- a credit to Bennett’s skill as a writer.
The character work in Orion’s Hounds is top-notch. We see Vale dealing with the continued discomfort of having Riker’s wife on the command staff, and calling Riker on his lack of objectivity during the situation that develops in the novel. Troi’s position as the diplomatic officer on the Titan is put to good use hear, as well as fine use of her empathic abilities. Riker and Troi’s relationship grows (in a lot of ways), and without giving anything away, it was a delightful and unexpected surprise. Even the secondary characters get some development, most noticeably T’Pel, as Tuvok’s wife grows into a role that is a natural fit for her about Titan. Bennett’s handling of the characters is nothing short of superb, and maintains the high quality of the series.
It is hard to find fault with Orion’s Hounds. The “planet is doomed and needs to be evacuated” angle was the only thing that stuck out, being a bit redundant, considering it formed a good part of The Red King (although it did not form a large part of Bennett’s novel by any means).
In conclusion, Christopher L. Bennett’s latest novel does the Titan series justice, serving up a novel that deserves more recognition than being a “media tie-in” novel. Containing an amalgam of high-concept ideas, rich world building, and sharp characterization, Bennett’s offering is the best Titan novel to date, and an excellent beginning to the 2006 Star Trek book lineup.