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Old May 17 2009, 10:35 PM   #430
Trent Roman
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Re: Star Trek: Destiny Book 1: Gods of Night - (SPOILERS)


Hem. I'm resurrecting this thread because I only just finished Gods of Night (yes, I know, I'm behind; in my defence, it took forever for the next two books to show up in stores and I didn't want to read Book 1 without the other two handy in case I wanted to read them straight through... which I do!), and figured I'd write a few somethings about it (which, knowing me, will probably turn into several paragraphs of somethings). I've not read the rest of this twenty-two page thread because I wanted to get my impressions down direct and quickly; I'll probably be going through it afterwards, so feel free to disregard any issues I raise there answered.

Overall, I quite enjoyed the book. I wouldn't go as far as to say that it's Mack's best work--Wildfire still holds that title--but it's certainly up there, fast-paced, intriguing and otherwise enjoyable; it definitely makes one want to go straight to the next book. I’m a sucker for epic-scaled stories, and this certainly qualifies as one, with its multiplicity of quadrants, casts and timeframes. I like how the various settings mixes things up with regards to the type of story (action, mystery, etc.) and mood (driven, despondent, etc.), which adds to the over kaleidoscopic effect of reading the book, although I’ll admit by the end I had a clear favourite plotline. Unlike most reviews where I start with what I like then move into what didn’t work for me, here I think it would be better to start with what bugged me and then save the best for last.

The least interesting of the various plotlines was, unfortunately, the ENT-E. This is kind of a bummer for me, where TNG has always been my favourite series and I haven’t been overall impressed by the overall direction and quality of the TNG Relaunch thus far. I had thought Greater than the Sum had managed to breathe new life into a series that had been spinning its wheels, but the ENT-E scenes here fall back into the earlier funk: the TV characters are adrift, moodily going through the motions, and the new characters are little more than sketches. This is the plotline I felt was despondent, a kind of heavy lethargy that doesn’t marry well with the fact that the ENT-E, on the frontlines, and captained by an expert on the foe, should be a locus for action and innovation in the conflict with the Borg. When I would turn to a chapter featuring them towards the end, I would often feel less enthused than the others: asking myself why that should be so, I think one of the main troubles for me here is a lack of problem-solving. Where the other plotlines are in the process of discovering things, the ENT-E, apart from figuring out that the Borg are coming from the Azure Nebula, aren’t doing anything to address the problem conceptually. They’re not acting, they’re reacting; and this, for most of their ‘screen time’. Hopefully now that they’re in the Nebula and, I presume, soon to link up with the Aventine, they’ll start contributing to the plot instead of merely featuring in it.

Related to this plotline, and while I’m complaining: billions of dead, on Ramatis and elsewhere? Really? Billions? This seems unnecessary, and doesn’t work well from a story perspective. Naturally, we’ve always known what a threat the Borg are, and events like this must have been routine occurrences on the edges of Borg territories: planets stripped, species wiped out or nearly so. But having it happen to massively-populated Federation worlds changes things. Firstly, the scale is too great to be affecting. The destruction wreaked by the Borg invasion is a lot more effectively rendered when told from the perspective of the starships and such that have to engage them, because you can actually feel the loss; a billion is just a word on a page, and a planet I’ve never heard of to boot. Yet this kind of devastation demands an impact; to be so dismissive of this kind of loss of life feels cheap. Obviously the book is already quite long and can’t linger on every battle, but the scale of destruction should have been reined in to something more manageable, easier to relate to. Secondly, the idea of the Federation losing several worlds at the beginning of the book already negatively colours the outcome; there’s a sense that the casualties are so massive that, in a way, Our Heroes have already failed to a certain degree. And the idea that you can’t win, that failure is inevitable, just isn’t Star Trek. I know the Federation survives, of course, because there are more books after this, but one has to be careful with the scale of the slaughter or else it’ll be difficult to justify how the spirit of the Federation survives.

The Borg. Ah, the Borg—I never thought, at the time, that I would miss Voyager’s Borg, but I do: those Borg managed to add some sense that the Borg had a civilization and culture in addition to being a kind of force of nature; an incredibly destructive entity, but not one without complexity. I remember the TNG-R promising us that the Borg would be scary again, but apparently making the Borg scary involved turning them EVIL! and murderous, which isn’t scary because it’s every other damn villain out there. I’d mentioned this back around Resistance and Before Dishonor, and it was pointed out that this was just one cube, but apparently the Collective as a whole has now become malicious, hell-bent on destruction and, you know, EVIL!; dull villains indeed (fortunately, the book has better villains in Foyle and the Caeliar). I mourn the loss of assimilation particularly; that had always been the true horror of the Borg, that they represented a fate worse than death, the enslavement of will. Crusher and LaForge speak to this, on the fact that fighting the Borg means killing their victims (nothing to be done about that, though; like slave battalions conscripted to fight for the Confederates). Without that, the Borg become any generic species to outgun and outnumber Our Heroes. I, like Picard, am curious to know what the reason for turning the Borg into the Snidely Whiplash Fancollective will be this time, although I have my own theory on that. Of course, one of the problem with the Borg in Voyager was overuse, and there’s the same problem here: instead of being thrilled by their return en masse, one’s reaction after several subpar Borg stories is more “yeah, yeah, more Borg, let’s get it over with, shall we?” I feel there should have been more time between the TNG-R’s Borg arc and Destiny, or else (preferably) the TNG-R Borg arc shouldn’t have happened in the first place, looking forward to preserving the ‘specialness’ of their use in Destiny. I will say this for the Borg in this book, however: they’re used relatively sparingly despite always being in the background, which is the way the Borg should be used, and the relative lack of contact between Our Heroes and the Borg also keeps their EVIL!ness from getting too melodramatic.

On the plus side, though, the ENT-E plotline was interspaced with those little sequences of other crews and organizations confronting the Borg threat, which are amongst the highlights of the book. The sacrifice of the Ranger at Khitomer was in true Trek tradition—to a certain extent, one felt more connected to them for the brief moment in which they appeared than to supporting cast elsewhere in the book. I was a bit bummed that the scene at Starbase 234 was about Owen Paris bumbling his way to get a message out; his frantic and accident-prone last minutes made what should have been a heroic last stand into something more like a dark tragicomedy. Still, I was somewhat moved by the fact that the last packet was something addressed to his son rather than, as I had initially thought, critical data re: the Borg, so I suppose there’s some thematic resonance to the notion of frailty, physical and—as the contents of the message later reveal—emotional. Despite being sideshows to the main events, Chapter 15—Bacco, Martok, and Tom Paris—would have been my favourite part of the book, had it not been eclipsed by the climatic events at Erigol. Bacco is exactly as I remember her from Articles…, dynamic, no-nonsense and ready to kick butt. Her scene captures the scope of the conflict better than any other in the book, a bird’s eye view of the war without, for that matter, becoming impersonal, due to the clashing personalities at work in the Palais. Martok had an appropriately rousing scene, and it’s good to see players other than the Federation involved in this conflict (now to get the Romulans onboard). And the scene with Paris did in a handful of pages for a bit part character what Before Dishonor couldn’t for a lead, actually deliver a sense of loss and closure. If Janeway was to have died, I wish it had been here instead; I’m certain it would have been better for it.

Onto the other plotlines. I liked the Aventine and Titan bits about equally, but will start with Aventine where Titan has an unfair advantage. The thing with Aventine is, quite simply, that we don’t really know the people. Don’t get me wrong: I think David Mack does a good job with what he has, using various foibles and habits to flesh out the characters even as they’re being introduced, like Bowers’ fondness for protocol or Leishman’s mischievous tendencies, and the way they work together signals that, though we’re seeing this crew in media res, there’s history there (it helps that this history is relatively brief, since a number of them have only recently been introduced to each other). Nonetheless, we’re basically having to learn a whole new crew on the fly, which makes two with Columbia, and this crew is simply not pressured the way Columbia’s is to make them really stand out. That said, if the characterization in this book holds strong for the next two, then I trust Aventine will feel like familiar territory by the end of the book. Then there’s also Ezri Dax; I know Ezri transferred to command in the DS9R, that it’s been four or five years since, and that hers was a battlefield promotion from second officer, but it still feels strange to see a character best remembered as a flailing ensign in the captain’s chair. Obviously, this is perilous territory because one doesn’t want to screw over the DS9R, but I wish there was something different in her characterization, some sign—even if only cosmetic—that the character had grown, because, apart from giving orders and being more assertive, there isn’t enough of a break with the old Ezri. I assume she’s relying heavily on her past hosts’ experiences; maybe something stylistic related to that.

Those quibbles aside, the plotline is an engaging one. It’s curious that in a book about a Borg invasion, it’s the dark, creaking corridors of Columbia’s husk which is the most menacing, with a palpable, Gothic atmosphere even before our ‘ghost’ starts killing folk off. Combine that with the subspace phenomena, which one knows will, naturally, tie in some way with the Borg threat, and you’ve got a moderately large and complex mystery to unravel, the incremental process of which is quite fun to watch, and the fact that one can slot in elements from the other plotlines as they develop in conjunction lets the attentive reader participate in the process, which makes for the best of mysteries. This is also where Kedair shows her worth as a character (apropos of nothing, I actually thought Takarans were a new species until I looked it up). Those scenes from the Caeliar ‘ghost’ were interestingly written, linguistically; and I assume that his ‘dissolution’ was a kind of suicide, the apparent futility of his situation combined with the ethical violations he now realized he’s committed?

This brings me to my theory regarding the Borg: when Dax and the rest board the shuttlecraft, I couldn’t help but notice how the Caeliar is described as having organic tubes going in and out of its body—an image reminiscent of Borg physiology. And we know the Borg have pushed far enough into the Gamma Quadrant for the remains of a cube to have been found by the Defiant, like Columbia, so I’m going to guess that the Borg passed overhead, detected the energy signatures of the Caeliar the Defiant and Aventine could not because, well, they’re Borg, and, not recognizing it, tried to beam down to assimilate it. It failed, for the same reason assimilating the Founder failed—the Caeliar are too fluid, thanks to their ‘catoms’—but not without each leaving an indelible mark on the other. The Caeliar assumes a shape resembling the Borg when it finally reconstitutes itself, and the Borg become infected with this ‘hunger’, which then, somehow, expresses itself as a campaign of genocide against the Federation (because a Starfleet ship was the last to have dealt a significant blow to the Collective?).

So far, the crew of the Titan have only had three writers/team, but David Mack slips seamlessly into their ranks as he picks up the characters. Visiting this ship, from top to bottom, feels familiar in the way that I would have expected from the Enterprise, but the characterizations are so much more solid here, more defined; it’s the crew with the greater history (that we’ve been able to ‘look in on’ through the books), and the multifarious interpersonal relationships animating the crew dynamic really come through here. A lot of the characters come across well: Ra-Havreii and Pazlar, Keru and Torvig, or else Pazlar, Tuvok and Vale as they try to disentangle the enigma of the hidden star system and the subspace corridors. While this mystery doesn’t receive as much attention as the wreck of Columbia, it’s still enjoyable to watch the Titan crew do what they do best: find new phenomena and investigate, particularly since it relates back so well to what’s happening elsewhere in the book (and, with all those clues, the surprise [to me] entrance of Hernandez is a forehead-smacking, “of course!” moment). The scientific and investigative angle, also present tactically, with Keru, Torvig and their holodeck simulation, is particularly appreciated given the (melo)drama animating the lead characters.

I have to say, I find Troi’s medical condition confusing and her reaction nonsensical. From what I understood, it’s her mitochondrial DNA that was damaged by her previous ‘pregnancy’… so what does that have to do with a hysterectomy? Just because the eggs are bad doesn’t mean the womb itself is bad; just remove the ovaries, no? At one point Ree talks about oncology—does Troi have cancer? Is that why he wants a hysterectomy? I thought this point could have been clearer. On the other side, Troi’s reaction is similarly extreme. Clinging to the unviable foetus despite the risk to her life makes zero sense. If the mitochondrial DNA is the sole problem, then when they do get back to the AQ she could splice intact mtDNA from Lwaxana, or even borrow one of Lwaxana’s eggs altogether (I’ve no doubt she would jump at the opportunity to help her daughter conceive). If the womb’s the problem (too?), then there’s always surrogate pregnancy, and that’s just considering today’s technology; for all we know, by the 24th century they would have artificial wombs providing a gestational environment for foetuses. And, of course, there’s always adoption; even the 24th century must have kids in need of a good home. Troi’s acting like this is here last chance at motherhood, like live birth is the only way to go, when she has a whole range of options available, with the particular benefit that these won’t kill her. Her behavior here is stupid and selfish: by risking death for an unviable foetus, she’s making an already painful situation worse, and depriving a potential future child of a mother for the sake of one already doomed. You’ll say that it’s an emotional reaction, and of course it is, but as a student of psychology Troi should be better placed than most to be able to recognize her emotions interfering with her correct decision making and act accordingly. Don’t get me wrong, I support the right to die, but this is a stupid, needless suicide.

And shame on Riker for being such a pussy about it, too. What happened to this one-time man of action, now twisting himself into knots when he knows the right course of action to take but doesn’t want to move because he wants to be ‘supportive’? Because he’s worried about their marriage? You want to reach in and smack him: hey, numbnuts, would you rather be a divorcé or a widower? Better a dead marriage than a dead wife, obviously. As if his lack of assertiveness isn’t bad enough, he then starts abusing his authority/undermining the authority of his own XO and CMO, pandering to his wife’s insistence on keeping the non-viable foetus and then even going on a mission with spectacularly impaired judgment and a ticking uterine timebomb. At least it lets Vale and Ree show their strengths as characters (assuming the hysterectomy thing is my lack of understanding), being incredibly patient and accommodating, and after Vale had warned Riker precisely of situations like this when they first set out, she practically deserves beatification for not planting her boot up his butt. (And I laughed at Ree’s view of mammalian reproduction as ‘parasitic’—people get so pissed sometimes when you describe it that way.)

I’m not sure I care much for this particular (sub)plotline. I thought it was very affecting at first, and Troi’s session with Counselor Hajj (who, incidentally, is still made of awesome and win) was powerful and moving (particularly when she realized she was blaming the foetus). But I couldn’t see why this was still an issue after Troi’s apparent epiphany that she was doing this without reason; it was more of a drag on the overall book than otherwise. Fortunately, as previously mentioned, there’s a lot more going on aboard Titan than this, and I was always interested to see how the others were getting along; a plot like this has the potential to get all huffy and diva-esque in the wrong hands, and it’s worth mentioning that the space it actually takes is kept in check. And although I think the Caeliar are lying or self-deceived about how technologically advanced they are, I’ve got to figure that Troi bumping into them means that whatever medical technology they have will help her, which I’m kind of two minds about. Well, not really, in the sense that of course I want Riker and Troi to have their kid and be happy, certainly considering the way, as mentioned, that the book opens already with such devastation that it would be a welcome counterpoint, but I’ll admit there’s a smaller part of me that doesn’t want to see Troi (and Riker) rewarded for her dumb, mule-headed and self-centered behavior.
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