Christopher - thanks for the long reply. I think it's fantastic that all the authors hang around on these boards and respond to our comments; none of the other tv shows or novel series I read has anything similar, so it's a real privilege.
Regarding the crew shuffling - I also thought it was ambiguous whether or not T'Lana would leave, so I wasn't expecting that, and as for Leybenzon, even if he was scripted to have left the ship, why kill him off so suddenly? No one liked him enough for that to be an effective Dramatic Moment, and it seemed to me that all it did was take a potentially interesting character, reduce him to one dimension, and eliminate him. Like I said, a waste of resources. Even if you and David Mack didn't want him on the ship, why not leave him alive for later authors to play with if they wanted?
As for T'Ryssa, well, it seemed to me that most of her character was something like "I am smart and awesome enough to know that I'm an annoying unprofessional person, but I'm cute enough that I don't have to do anything about it, so everyone else gets to deal!" And after a book in which many people were criticizing several of the new characters for a lack of Starfleet professionalism, a new character who not only doesn't have any but basically refuses to do anything about it seemed like salt in the wound. The constant punning, sleeping around, and lack of respect for authority made her into what I feel is a pretty common archetype in bad, male-centered entertainment; I didn't mean to insult you or anything by saying that, I apologize if any offense was felt, it's just an archetype that I personally think is really irritating. Just about every time she did a neurotic, annoying rant that made everyone smile despite themselves I had an "oh please" moment. I'd have kicked her off the ship. Though, if nothing else, the fact that Kadohata hated her at first made me like Kadohata more...
Actually, I didn't mention this in my previous post, but I really loved what you did with Kadohata; I was hoping for similarly layered characterizations of T'Lana and Leybenzon, because I knew you'd be able to pull that off and make real and interesting people out of the confusion of the earlier books. I was disappointed that you didn't, whether by your or by editorial decision.
Like you said, the book was primarily about the character arcs, and so since I had some trouble with a few of them it diminished my enjoyment. The setting was outstanding - your novels have some of the greatest sci-fi ideas to appear in Star Trek in years. I really hope that this enormous thinking entity thing finds its way back into the novels at some point, because by the end of the book I was every bit as interested in that thing as a character as I was in all the actual people. Taking a wild idea like that and giving it personality (subtly, not like Q or Nagilum) was fascinating. The Borg were almost an afterthought, a way to get into the story with this creature and a way to underscore the familial theme of the book, and I liked that a lot. If there had to be so many Borg stories in a row, this was definitely the way to take one. There was a lot I loved about this novel.
I guess maybe my expectations were too high; this is the first time there's been a character in any of your books I haven't really enjoyed. Based on the quality of your earlier novels, I was expecting you to come in to the slightly clumsy TNG Relaunch and fix it, turning everything into people that made sense and long term arcs that connected. Now that I know that a lot of the decisions to remove characters, etc, weren't your fault I realize what a hard job writing the first third of this book must have been, and I suppose it was the best it could've been. But it's really odd to me how all the other ongoing book series I've read - NF, DS9 Relaunch, Gorkon, Titan, Vanguard, A Time To... - kept long term arcs going, but this series seems determined to reinvent itself every book. It's jarring.
I liked Before Dishonor a lot; I thought it didn't fit into the ongoing story well, but on its own it was a pretty entertaining romp. I feel pretty much the same way about this; the ongoing story is still frustrating, but the standalone plot is pretty entertaining. Fair enough?