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on December 20, 2003
What an excellent way for Margaret Wander Bonanno to return to Star Trek than to write a 5 star novel. This book features Uhura as the 100+ year old head of Starfleet Intellegence who receives word from an old contact in the Romulan Empire that there is a deadly virus spreading across the quadrant that threatens all civilization. Uhura enlist the services of Benjamin Sisko, Tuvok, Dr Selar, Beverly Crusher and Dr. McCoy to track down the source of and cure for the disease. Another featured character is Zetha who is a Romulan and delivered the message to Uhura. The book is well paced and almost impossible to put down. Characterizations are right on the money. I highly recommend this book.
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on January 5, 2004
"Catalyst of Sorrows" is a novel full of questions, and there are questions inside of every question. It is never as simple as who, what, when and where. Bonanno weaves her storytelling spell with multiple layers of mystery. She takes the reader back and forth between the current crisis and the past, where the foundations of a complex plot were methodically laid, allowing the `how' to be one of the most riveting elements of the plot.
Margaret Wander Bonanno has always demonstrated an ability to write particularly strong female characters. The women who populate her writing are complex and compelling and it is an absolute delight to see what she does with Uhura. Bonanno's depiction of Uhura as a confident seasoned veteran who knows how invaluable her lifetime of experiences is is truly exceptional. We see a woman who has more than earned a quiet retirement but who is not yet ready to go quietly into the night. The author not only fills out Uhura's back-story but also allows us a peek into how Starfleet Intelligence operated at that time.
But it is the enigmatic character of Zetha who really draws you in and she is the key to making the entire story work. Through Zetha the reader gets a glimpse inside Romulan culture and we see their society starkly and honestly through her eyes. Bonanno's writing has the ability to make you feel as if you are experiencing everything right along with the characters. Yet even as we are drawn to Zetha and into her story, right up until the end you are never able to feel certain, one way or another, about who or what she really is.
Uhura's `team' is made up of familiar characters including Dr. Selar, Beverly Crusher and Leonard McCoy who is as cantankerous as ever. There is also Tuvok who has returned to Starfleet by this time and a young Luitenant named Benjamin Sisko. Sisko's characterization is perhaps the most surprising, after all we are used to thinking of Sisko as a natural leader, a war hero and the Emissary of the Prophets. This much younger Ben Sisko hasn't come to that point yet in his life, but there are times you can catch glimpses of the man he will become.
Bottom line: An entertaining and blissful reading experience.
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on April 23, 2004
I remember how thoroughly I enjoyed reading Margaret Wander Bonanno's early Star Trek novels, Dwellers in the Crucible and Strangers from the Sky, way back in the days when I didn't know a Romulan from a doorknob. I knew then that only an exceptional storyteller could weave a Trek tale that even a non-Trekker like me could follow and enjoy. You can imagine, therefore, how much more gratifying it was for me, now that I'm so much better versed in Trek culture, to delve into Ms. Bonanno's newest saga, Catalyst of Sorrows, and meet the author on her own terms!
It's been so long since I was able to lose myself in a such an excellent novel, one that beckons to me again and again after I've set it down. And given my time constraints, and the snail's pace at which I normally read, you have to figure that I was forced, like it or not, to set the book down a lot over a 3-4 week period. Any author who can hold my interest for that long deserves my deepest gratitude and respect.
Catalyst was engrossing from beginning to end, and a sheer joy to read. That's more than I can say about most of the books I've picked up over the last ten years. I should point out that this is by no means a simple, mono-dimensional story to follow, what with the frequent scene shifts and flashbacks, all the different characters and points of view that Ms. Bonanno introduces. This multi-level back-and-forth technique has always characterized her writing, and she has developed it into an art form. I say that to her credit The critic who likened her to a skilled juggler who could keep so many plots in the air at one time wasn't exaggerating.
Catalyst unfolds like a movie, and that's just how the scenes played out in my mind. The transitions were seamless, each section building upon or embellishing another. Wherever Ms. Bonanno went, she took me with her. Not only was I able to follow the story's progress (zig-zags and all), but I could appreciate the way all the puzzle pieces fit together, the way she strung the reader along, letting out the proverbial line a little at a time, feeding him constant information, yet without revealing too much too soon. Even though she often took me by surprise with a new character or story element, I learned early on to trust her to reveal the connection. She never let me down.
Take note: The chapter dealing with the split between the Vulcans and the Romulans is an extraordinary piece of writing! I enjoyed it so much, I read it twice.
Of course, the heart of any great Star Trek saga is its humanity---or "humanoidity" as the case may be. Character development was so rich, and the interplay among the leads was so right on, I felt as though the author knew these people better than I know myself. Much as I would love to recommend Catalyst to Trekkers and non-Trekkers alike, I have to say that the reader does need a prior knowledge of the principle players to fully appreciate just how vividly Ms. Bonanno portrayed them: their personalities, idiosyncracies, speech patterns, all the emotional and quirky nuances that make them ring true and come to life before one's eyes. It takes a special skill, I think, and a prodigious amount of research, to develop and add dimensions to pre-established characters in a Trek saga without altering them or overstepping their parameters. The same holds true for Trek history and chronology. Call it literary "Prime Directive", if you will.
Catalyst of Sorrows is a rich, absorbing tale told by a master story teller at the height of her powers. Heartiest kudos to Margaret Wander Bonanno for a job well done! And to any fans of hers who have not yet read her Dwellers and Strangers, I say: You don't know what your missing!
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on January 16, 2004
This is an excellently written, thoroughly enjoyable book. The descriptions are great. The pacing is well judged. There is a lot of character reflection, but almost entirely mixed with the action. The characterisations are incredible. Personally I thought Uhura rather than Zetha was the strongest and most vivid, but all of them were excellent. Uhura and Zetha were on the level of the depiction of Data in Jeffrey Lang's Immortal Coil. This book is also epic in scope: elements from Uhura's century of service in Starfleet, potential war between the Federation and the Romulan Empire, and the key event in the Romulans' past responsible for shaping their entire cultural development. I have two minor faults. One is that Cretak's story is set chronologically before the events in the prologue, but is written so that it seems concurrent with the main story, which confused me a little. The other is that this is about the investigation of a lethal virus, yet there seemed no atmosphere of urgency or tension in the writing. Finally, the book is absolutely full of Star Trek references, from every series and an amazing number of books, but they are all seamlessly woven into the story. There is no feeling that scenes were written just to make such references. In summary, this is a fantastic book, and it is already my provisional favourite for 2004.
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on February 27, 2004
"Catalyst of Sorrows" is one of the most engrossing, intelligent pieces of Trek literature to come down the pipeline in quite some time. Margaret Wander Bonanno's presence has been sorely missed, and this proved to be well worth the wait. "Catalyst" is one of the few Trek novels that binds together the disparate elements of every series from TOS to the New Frontier novels (excluding, of course, "Enterprise"). This was a common enough theme in The Lost Era cycle, but Bonanno pulls off a great finale, writing an engaging medical thriller that serves as both adventure and character builder, which is what truly defines a "great" Star Trek novel; we are able to glimpse additional facets to our favorite characters' personalities.
The plot itself seems convoluted, but it is not so; at the core is a group of Starfleet officers and a Romulan psuedo-defector attempting to seek out the source of a deadly virus, known to the Romulans as the Gnawing. There is a lot of medical terminology tossed about, but with the inclusion of the all too human Uhura, this is easily explained in laymans terms (quite an effictive literary tool; it not only allows the layreader among us to not feel ignorant, but it also shows us that Admiral Uhura does not know everything). There are fascinating glimpses into the construction of the virus and its devastating effects.
There are frequent point-of-view shifts and these occur sometimes two or three times in a section; one moment we will be in McCoy's head, the next Uhura's, the next Selar's, but the transitions are seamless and easy to follow. This is not an easy read by any means, but this is fortunate; it serves to drive the plot and score the importance of the task at hand. Indeed, it is a true master of the craft that can manage such a task with ease.
As for the characters themselves, we are given a glimpse into the past lives of Drs. Crusher and Selar, Tuvok, and a young engineer named Benjamin Sisko. Along for the journey are Admiral Tal of the Romulan Empire, best known for his stint in "Vulcan's Heart" and the Original Series episode "The Enterprise Incident," and Curzon Dax, making yet another appearance in "The Lost Era." Sisko is a brash lieutenant concerned with phase coils and his new family while Crusher is a dedicated young physician raising a son by herself. Zetha, the Romulan girl sent by Senator Cretak, is herself something of an anamoly; whose agenda is she working towards, and what is her parentage? This is the most telling question of the novel, and Bonanno skillfully manipulates the readers' emotions and makes us truly care about this new character. Her innocent, freckled personage is perhaps the most intriguing character in the book.
While this is not the easiest novel to read by any means--it did take me a couple of weeks to finish; in parts, it was somewhat plodding--it is a worthwhile read, and fans of Bonanno's earlier Trek novels "Dwellers in the Crucible" and "Strangers From the Sky" will thoroughly enjoy this book, as will loyal fans looking to fill in lost pieces of the vast tapestry that is Star Trek.
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HALL OF FAMEon November 9, 2004
Margaret Wander Bonanno's "Catalyst of Sorrows (Star Trek: The Lost Era, 2360)" is the best example of Star Trek fiction I have come across in a long, long time. Indeed, it approaches high quality literature, and along with Diane Duane's first Star Trek novel, may be the two finest examples in the series. Bonanno's long overdue return to the Star Trek franchise has been well worth the wait, since this novel is a brilliant combination of medical thriller with space opera. Although it offers one of the most complex plots in Star Trek fiction lately, I still found it a very compelling read, and one quite difficult to put down.

The Romulan Star Empire is in the grip of a mysterious illness which soon travels across the Neutral Zone into Federation space, wreaking havoc too on Federation citizens, causing fatalities amongst Vulcans, Rigellians and humans. Star Fleet Intelligence chief Admiral Nyota Uhura receives an unexpected visitor, Tal Shiar agent Zehta, bearing news from Senator Cretak, an old Romulan acquaintance, of this devestating disease. She sends an infiltration team led by the young Lieutenant Benjamin Sisko into the Neutral Zone, in search of the disease's origins and a possible cure. This is a splendid mixture of characters from all of the Star Trek series - with the notable exception of Enterprise - including Lieutenant Tuvok, Doctor Selar, Doctor Beverly Crusher and crotchy old Admiral Leonard McCoy. Star Trek fans and others in search of high quality science fiction will not be disappointed with this fine novel.
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on January 13, 2013
Margaret Wander Bonnano is an excellent writer, but I find it difficult at times to slog through her ST novels, because of the pervasive melancholy in all of them, and the pages upon pages of tortuous
descriptive exposition.

I put this book down after I read the part about the Romulans' miserable existence upon being Sundered from Vulcan and trying to survive on their new worlds. Just not in the mood for more of the extravagant suffering that epitomizes this author's ST fiction.

Too downbeat for me -- others may enjoy the plot and familiar characters.

Maybe in her next book she will lighten up a little. I'd like that.
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on February 22, 2012
As with all of the Lost Era books, the story is great, and allows us as Star Trek fans a look at characters in ways that we do not usually see them. Indeed, having drawn more into the backgrounds and histories of these characters adds a vibrancy to the whole of the Star Trek ethos that is quite enjoyable to me.

However, the book needs some serious editting, or perhaps merely formatting. The chapters are just one large block with poor markings of scene changes and paragraph shifts that make things run together and challenge the reader to insert their own mental breaks to make everything fit together - I would strongly recommend some edits to this to clean it up.

Still, I strongly recommend this for any fan of Star Trek that likes to explore the whole of the universe, rather than the narrow scope of one or another single crew.
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on March 29, 2008
I'm always a little leary when I hear a Star Trek books includes characters from all the series (or almost all) I figure they're just tossed in there to get various fans to buy, but in this book all the characters are well and logically used.

A good story well told
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on January 24, 2005
Granted, the "biological warfare" plot device has been used before, and as recently as the "Next Generation: Double Helix" miniseries. Still, it was handled well in this instance, and we got a well-written, moving, enjoyable story featuring an elderly Nyota Uhura, an even more elderly Leonard McCoy, a very young Lt. Benjamin Sisko, and somewhat ageless Dr. Selar and Tuvok. The only real flaw I could complain about was that even given the state of the art gerontology available in the 24th century Federation, which allows people to live to the age of 150 or so, Uhura seemed awfully spry for somebody 120 years old. No, spry isn't the word. Spry I could have believed. She seemed downright youthful, and that just didn't seem right. I don't mind her aging gracefully, but I object to her not aging at all by that point. It just didn't seem plausible.
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