My review: (!!!UNMARKED SPOILERS AHEAD!!!)
By this point, I have some pretty high expectations for a CLB novel; I more or less expect it to make me reevaluate some important aspect of myself and the universe, awe and delight me with some kind of idea I'd have never even considered, create flawless and moving character arcs for several main characters, and take such an irrepressible delight in the wonder of the universe that it's effectively impossible to put down.
And, as usual, dude managed to completely exceed my expectations. It's pretty absurd by this point, really; aside from GTTS, every CLB book I've read has left me going "WOW! I mean, I knew it was going to be GOOD, but not, like THAT good!" and mumbling stupidly for a while. The end of this one even made me well up a little. No actual tears, but it was close. I was genuinely moved.
I started reading Star Trek novels when I was 6; back then, I wouldn't have been able to finish this, much less understand it. Believe me when I tell you that no one is more surprised than me that Star Trek, after almost two decades, has aged right along with me, and is STILL making me think and feel this much. I'm genuinely blown away. This right here is art.
More specifically, in a lot of ways, I think this might've actually been the first Titan book to genuinely live up to the series' premise of exploring the conflicts and revelations from having such an alien crew. For the first time, our biggest spotlight character - Aili - is one of the extremely alien and different ones, and Cethente and Ree put in fascinating appearances as well. Cethente's diving sequence, in particular, is one of my favorite Trek moments ever. But really the heart and soul of this novel is Aili's journey, and it became so much more interesting and affecting than I thought that character would've ever been... and she was one of my favorites to begin with!
It’s also interesting that the book skips over the scientific part of finding The Solution at the end completely, and just deals with the cultural impact; it’s as if the fact of science producing solutions is never even in doubt, just the people’s willingness to accept them. And the way the squale culture was created to be able to underline that moral without them seeming backward was similarly fantastic. The work that went into crafting that society was remarkable. And on top of that, the world building in this novel is positively insane; this ecosystem is researched and conceptualized staggeringly well, and the idea of a genetic engineering creature is just bleeding brilliant. Implausible to be sure, but fascinating enough that I’ll believe it. I loved it all. Not to mention, of course, the perfect arcs for Tuvok (already 12x the character he ever was on Voyager), Riker, Vale, and Melora & Ra-Havreii... I mean, I will say that I would’ve liked to see more of Dakal and his new girlfriend, and Modan makes a few appearances but without being as cool as I’d have hoped, but that's about it. The story in this book was deep, multifaceted, and truly believable for everyone involved.
My one big complaint with Titan is that this is now the sixth book in a row to be about profound, soul-searching topics, and I just have to say, it’d be fantastic if these guys could have just a little fun every once in a while. I liked the way this novel started calmly, but even then, it turned out to be a Giant Soul-Searching Epic for everyone involved. Can we visit a planet where the most valuable part of their culture is stand up comedy, or something? All six of the last Titan books (including Destiny) have been absolute genius, but in a row, it's getting to be a little draining. I'm glad I didn't read them all at once, or by this point I think my brain would've exploded. In all fairness, Torvig is always a breath of fresh air, and he gets two hilarious scenes in this one (one as he dons a new mechanical structure complete with fins; two as he decides the best solution to an immediate problem would be spending three weeks making the transporters create wormholes), but it would’ve been nice to see a bit more of that. There's plenty of humor, but very little... lightheartedness.
Anyway, this is pretty clearly Bennett’s best work since Buried Age, and I absolutely adored it; it starts as a small tale of scientific discovery and becomes another shattering reconstruction of the human spirit as only CLB can do, and despite covering somewhat familiar ground does so with such stirring optimism and hope that it magnificently takes its place as a defining part of the post-Destiny optimistic Trek universe. It's probably the best Titan book so far, outside of Destiny.
But all the same, I think I’ll go read some New Frontier now. After that, I need a laugh.