(Freaking post length limits...)
But the real star of the show is the Columbia
plotline, which, though seemingly the most removed from the nominal topic of the Borg invasion, endears itself by being relentlessly driven, suspenseful, culturally intriguing, ethically challenging, and all-around engrossing; all the strengths and essentially none of the weaknesses of the other plotlines. By the end of the book, I would perk up whenever I turned the page and saw “2168” printed there. It, too, involves a largely unknown cast if one or two of them I recall from Kobayashi Maru
, but the events that unfold are of such constant intensity that it doesn’t take long for each character to become sharply delineated in the reader’s mind, etched in memory by the way they react (or don’t) to the towering obstacles before them. It also helps that there are really only a handful of major players, mostly with the mutineers to better explain their motivations, although it does leave Hernandez’ side somewhat underdeveloped; of the four who refuse to participate, only Hernandez herself is clearly defined; Fletcher gets some attention, but I don’t really know anything about Valerian or Metzger. Still, that’s a minor issue because it’s the dilemma that the crew is put into that animates characterization, and where Hernandez represents her side quite well (willing to sacrifice, or at least suspend, the freedom of her and her crew to protect Earth from the Caeliar), it is more important to know why the mutineers have chosen to act the way they do, particularly given the destruction the escape attempt then wreaks. I also like that, being closer to us in time, there a greater sense of national belonging, colloquial speech and fallibility to the Columbia
crew; they’re in the process of becoming the Starfleet of later generations, but still have a ways to go.
There is an odd but welcome symmetry between the villains of the piece, Foyle and his more ardent followers on the one hand and the Caeliar on the other; in a sense, one almost feels as though these war criminals basically deserve each other. Both massively and callously overreact to protect their own interests, and both seem to vacillate between asking for the readers’ sympathy and demonstrating why they don’t deserve any. The latter aspect is really critical in maintaining the interest in the storyline: you’re disgusted by what they do but those moments of empathy, the rage at the Caeliar’s casual violations of freedom, or the massive loses they suffer in turn, keeps one interested in the fates of characters/groups who might otherwise be too degenerate to solicit anything but contempt. For the mutineers, it isn’t Foyle himself but rather his acolytes who communicate this the best; you want to feel bad for Pembleton, even after he starts casually tossing about suggestions of murder, because you understand the longing for the family he has left behind, all the more frustrating for being so close and yet out of reach, temporally and geographically; or when Thayer states, quite simply, that she’s taking action now because she doesn’t want to die a prisoner, it keys into a basic and universal desire for freedom denied and the rebellion against injustice, such that initially, and despite the risk to Earth, you’re cheering them on, hoping that they’ll be able to make a successful escape; it also reminds one that the Caeliar are, however they might gild their cages, collectively criminals against which it is legitimate to struggle. At first, of course, because Foyle soon shows himself as ruthless as he is efficient, able to exploit the Caeliar’s ideological weaknesses but utterly without scruples as he slaughters millions and tortures his own personnel—and to a certain extent, these actions are all the more shocking in that you can understand their motivations but find the results abhorrent, and therefore can’t help but wonder what that initial affiliation means you might do if you were in that situation. You could say, perhaps, that the Caeliar’s collective decision-making (a bit like the Borg, come to think of it) makes them all guilty for the crimes of their civilization, but Foyle’s actions outstrip any sense of proportional response and goes way beyond the bounds of allowable self-defence. There was no mourning on my part when he disintegrated in the subspace tunnel, though I felt sorry for the rest of the crew, stuck in orbit in months and then dead before they could realize what was happening.
The Caeliar, themselves, are a similar study in extremism. They like to talk pretty about their scientific and artistic refinement (which I suspect is less than they claim), but it doesn’t take long to see that they are a desiccated, stagnant and entirely selfish group. Apart from Inyx, their curiosity seems to have died, and though they call themselves artists, they demonstrate next to no creativity in pursuing their future as a civilization, settling for contacting a more advanced civilization and then, I suppose, being told what to do or using them as an example for their own civilizational progress (that the only way they see themselves progressing is technological is, in and of itself, a failure of creativity—imagine what Q could do to these people), or in their failure to diffuse the situation with the MACOs, which as I said may also have to do with a kind of technological lacuna. They appear to have no transporters, either for public transit or for use during the hostage situation; they either don’t have or never bothered to install stun-based weaponry that wouldn’t violate their ossified pacifism; they have control over their own bodies at the atomic level but couldn’t fix a slit throat; and for such an ‘advanced’ civilization, their cloaking pretty much sucks for being detected so easily by Columbia
. They remind one of pre-Reformation Vulcans, or T’Lana, albeit by several orders of magnitude; narrow-minded, self-satisfied and contemptuous of others. Never mind the unjustified imprisonment of Columbia
are her crew; like Foyle, their tendency to displace entire civilizations just because they don’t want to be bothered in their single-minded pursuit of a Great Work (capitalized, because their precepts have become so reified as to be a type of secular doctrine) is a gross overreaction, one that condemns billions to forced displacement, which demonstrates that, for all that talk of compassion, they don’t care what happens to other species as long as they don’t get their own hands dirty by direct action or omission. Their pacifism, which initially seems laudable, is soon revealed for what it truly is, a dogma with all the attendant characteristics: emptied of empathy, hypocritical, and held so unquestioningly, so removed to rational thought, that they are incapable of defending themselves and preventing catastrophe. There’s a tangible irony that, after having spent so long trying to find and contact the hyper-advanced galaxy, they prove malicious, and act towards the Caeliar with the same disregard as the Caeliar have inflicted on other species. I’m curious to see, looking towards the next books, whether and how this cataclysm might spur the Caeliar to change, and what role the Columbia
crew amongst them will play in that. It’s obvious, with the Titan
coming into contact with them now, that the Caeliar should have some role to play, willingly or otherwise, in the crisis with the Borg; if the technology used for displacement can be turned against the Borg or further weaponized, it might prove a solution to the invasion, although simply moving the Borg wouldn’t do anything but change who the victims of the Borg will be, and that’s too callous a solution for what one expects of the Federation, so some modification of the principal should be found.
To sum up:
Fictitiously yours, Trent Roman