Yesterday I finished the third book in the Star Trek: Vanguard series. For those unfamiliar with it, Vanguard is a series of novels set in the Star Trek universe. The plot is centered in and around the Starbase Vanguard during the 2260s; the same period as the original Star Trek series.
The first three books have dealt with Starfleet's investigation of the so-called meta-genome; an extremely complex strand of genetic material that is always associated with strange alien artifacts and a mysterious electromagnetic signal. The second book of the series introduced the Shedai, a race of near god-like aliens who created the meta-genome and who are seriously displeased at Starfleet's and the Klingon Empire's intrusion into their territory. The third book continues this story line, fleshing out the past of the Shedai, the relationship between the Shedai and the Tholians (a crystalline alien species introduced in the original Star Trek series) and the nature and purpose of the meta-genome. It even introduces a totally unexpected tie-in with the Genesis Project that is so important in Star Trek II and Star Trek III. The Vanguard series in general, and Reap the Whirlwind in particular, are some of the better franchise science fiction I've read. This series incorporates all the aspects of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that made DS9 my favorite of the five Star Trek television series.
The cast of characters is enormous, consisting of crews on three separate starships, the crew and several civilians who live and work on the Vanguard station, and various intelligence agents of the Klingon Empire. The series' villians, the beings known as the Shedai (a species that exists in the form of pure intelligence but is able take on physical form by way of the meta-genome) are interesting and well written. The power struggle within the Shedai themselves, in which the Shedai called the Maker and her followers are continuously opposed by the Shedai called the Apostate and his followers (which constitute nearly 1/3 of all the Shedai), should ring a bell for anyone familiar with Judeo-Christian theology.
The only complaint I have about the Vanguard series is the same that I've had with nearly all recent Star Trek book series. In the past there was a vocal minority of Star Trek fans who asked why there weren't any openly gay characters on any of the shows. Well, it seems that the authors of the various Star Trek book series (which are about a dozen individuals) have decided to compensate for this "oversight". Nearly all the Star Trek book series that I read on a regular basis now have at least one homosexual character. While most of the series are content to imply or simply state that a particular character is gay, Vanguard has decided to push the boundaries a bit more. Nothing in the book is particularly explicit, but it does reach the level that I've seen on some primetime television programs (e.g., ER).
I should clarify that it's not the occasional presence of a homosexual character in Star Trek that bothers me; an accurate reflection of our society would result in at least some gay characters. It's the sheer number of such characters that have been introduced into the Star Trek universe that gets to me. This is exacerbated by the presence of the occasional racy scene (such as those in Vanguard). It seems to me that the inclusion of so many such characters is politically motivated and is intended, at least in part, to make homosexuality more acceptable.