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Old July 5 2009, 04:54 AM   #560
Trent Roman
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Re: Star Trek: Destiny Book 3: Lost Souls - (SPOILERS)

(Lousy, sanctimonious post size restrictions--don't you have an Argentinian mistress to go boff?)

And, of course, it’s disastrous to the characters, who fail to pull themselves up by their own merits and must instead be Saved, capital ‘s’. Salvation logic, of course, demands that those targeted by such must be otherwise irredeemably flawed, an implicit statement of dependency upon higher forces for completion or outright survival that hobbles the idea of these characters as self-governing and self-sufficient. Admittedly, this is no “Daybreak” (which retroactively destroyed the free will of the nuBSG characters for the entirety of the series’ run), but it’s still a very repugnant move nonetheless. The resolution celebrates impotence, glorying in the fact that the characters couldn’t solve their own problems as though it were something praise-worthy; celebrates failure, as most of the characters (Choudhoury excepted) are spared any personal consequences for their almost trilogy-long inability to impact the events unfolding around them, and indeed actually seem to be in a good mood which, quite frankly, makes me rather squeamish, since after a failure of such epic proportions they really ought to be beating themselves up for their ineptitude; celebrates passivity, as the characters are basically just there to bear witness to the pseudo-metaphysical struggle between the Borg and Caeliar, that there was no solution except to just sit on their hands and hope for the best, for intervention, the subservient position suited to the dependants of a higher power. Passivity, further, because when one gets right down to it, all this could have been prevented had Titan simply come across the Caeliar sooner, or even should the Borg have bumped into the Caeliar themselves—the end solution would have been the same had it occurred in the first chapters of the first book as it was at the end of third. Nothing is gained in the interim, which makes all the destruction that is unleashed upon the innocent even more wasteful, because what it all boils down to is ‘bad timing’.

As to characterization beyond the plot… well, Hernadez kicks her habitual amount of butt, and most of the other new characters come through well, particularly the Aventine folk. Dax finally looks like a captain, although it would be hard not to in comparison with Picard and Riker. Kedair gets more good scenes—it’s nice to see someone actually feels guilt for their screw-ups, even as she resolves, with Dax’s help, to move forward; and Tarses gets easily his best scene in the literature thus far in the sickbay triage scene, assured and professional without being insensate to the suffering around him. But, perhaps in order to make them look good, a lot of the old guard characters wind up getting dragged through the mud. TNG has gotten the short end of the ugly stick (mixed metaphor?) pretty much throughout this trilogy, but the negativity just explodes in this final installment. Worf embraces the passivity, going with the flow and shying away from confrontation when he disagrees with Picard, which simply isn’t Worf. Riker spends most of the book as a emo little bitch, moping around over his own strained emotional state even as his civilization is collapsing around him—another character who can’t get his priorities in order. There’s this one scene in particular that just made me roll my eyes, when Riker finally confronts Picard for going all Republican Party and just shooting all ideas down by rote—and instead of actually tying in to the story, the characters break down like weepy schoolgirls in each others’ arms. (Disturbingly, the image that came to mind at this point was the opening of ‘Fight Club’, Edward Norton crying into Meatloaf’s breasts.) It just makes one want to scream: “Hey, people: Borg invasion first, support group later!” Act like professionals and save your emotional traumas for after you’ve dealt with the civilization-shattering crisis.

In fact, Picard is the character who really gets the worst of it. In Mere Mortals, I had noticed he was flintier than his usual self, but thought it was understandable given the circumstances; but here he just turns into a complete jackass with bipolar disorder, bitching continuously to his crew and colleagues then retreating to the holodeck for a hearty bout of sniveling. Picard has always been one of my favourite characters, someone who embodied my ideal of a leader, but even I grew to loathe him over the course of this book as the gravitas that defined the character takes and vacation and he’s gradually stripped on his dignity until little remains but a beatific imbecile prostrating himself on his own bridge. I kept wondering what was going on as Picard acted increasingly intemperate, constantly saying no to every idea that Dax put forward toward solving the crisis; when he decided to scuttle all plans by refusing access to his subspace transmitter, in defiance of all good sense, I thought I had it pegged: that scene at the end of Mere Mortals, were he was transfixed by the voice of the Collective, and I thought the Borg must have seized control of his mind or even implanted subconscious controls to cripple Starfleet’s attempts to resist. Tragically, it would seem that Picard was just acting like a prick for the sake of acting like a prick. I don’t know if this was a way to create more conflict in the story, like the old Idiot Admirals crutch, or if it was an attempt at character development, but either was it was an unwelcome abuse of the character. And if it was supposed to be a character arc, then in the end it, too, comes to nothing, because Picard doesn’t overcome… whatever it was that he was supposed to overcome, but has an outside force do it for him, changing him without the need for work, effort or for him to have learned anything. As with the overall plot, it’s just “poof! I wave my magical technology wand and solve the problem”, once again embracing passivity and deference. Although I’m can’t say that whatever epiphany Picard had at his Damascus is a beneficial one; there’s a moment in the epilogue where, perhaps making a metafictional joke à la “Ship in the Bottle”, Picard appears to embrace some wishy-washy pantheism. Picard has fallen far indeed from the man who so memorably stood up, even at the risk of his life, for reason against the supernatural in “Who Watches the Watchers”, who has stood toe-to-toe with entities of far greater power than this and argued with full conviction in the ability—and indeed, the necessity—of human(oid)s to figure things out for themselves.

La Forge gets next to no attention, but when he does feature it’s to throw a tantrum over Picard’s plan to develop a thelaron weapon, which he hopes to use as a failsafe if things go pear-shaped between the Borg and the Caeliar. Finally, Picard is actually proposing a plan instead of just saying ‘no’ all the time… and instead of progress, we get treated to a hissy fit from La Forge because it hurts his feelings to reconstruct a weapon of the same type that killed Data. He calls the weapon immoral, which is nonsense—an object has no intrinsic ethical alignment, outside of its use, and in this case its use was justified: if the Borg assimilated the Caeliar, the entire galaxy and perhaps many others would have been imperiled. Then he goes to cower behind legalities that no longer even apply as per Bacco’s earlier edict. And then, just to put a cherry on the hysterical sundae, somehow this rambling rant convinces Picard not to act, and since of course La Forge didn’t have an alternative to propose we fall back into passivity, sitting around twiddling their thumbs as the Borg descend on them. Troi—well, Troi had her bout of being crazy and irrational in the first two books, and when she wakes up she finally seems to have come to her senses, just in time to be Saved! The resolution to the Troi storyline is almost a microcosm of the overall trilogy: Troi’s medical condition is not relieved by investigation, research or any other action taken by her or her crewmates; rather, the Caeliar wave their magic wand and she’s cured, which could have happened just as easily at the beginning of the second book and all that intervening melodrama pointless. It’s another act of salvation; isn’t great that his higher power is here to solve our intractable problems and spare us the need to make hard decisions? Bah. Don’t get me wrong—after all the death and destruction up till now, I’m happy Troi didn’t lose her foetus, but the method is, once again, a ‘deus in machina’, so to speak.

After all this is done, there are attempts at spinning the massive failure into something that looks less like a failure. (Although, I think the most hopeful part of the book is actually the conversation between Vale and Troi as they are released [again, without having done anything to earn it] where she confesses and Troi is understanding; I’ve gotten so sick of artificial drama created by characters not talking to each other [I’m looking at you, Lost and T:SCC] that it’s nice to see this plotline won’t be going that way.) The gesture is appreciated, but all this talk about hope and rebuilding rings utterly hollow following on the heels on devastation at an incomprehensible scale. Seventy billion people are dead, a number I can’t begin to fathom. Entire worlds have been laid to waste, and more have been ruined or greatly damaged—including Risa (Paradise Lost, indeed). Surprisingly, that feels more depressing to me than even the loss of Devena did; I guess Risa always embodied some of the best of the Federation, the benefits of life in a peaceful prosperous society and the ability to have hedonism without losing responsibility. Now it, too, is gone, along with the idea of a prosperous Federation as the surplus economy, that which enabled the Federation’s utopian elements, teeters on the brink of collapse. Starfleet is in a shambles. Meanwhile, the Caeliar/Borg just up and vanish; and despite all the enfeeblement the Borg went through in VOY and being turned into generic EVIL! villains in the TNG-R, I feel like another piece of the Trek universe has gone missing; something else that made it unique has been lost. They claim, on their departure, they’ll be looking to protect peaceful cultures—here’s an idea, why don’t you do something about the peaceful civilization you just devasted? At this point, even the dreaded ‘reset button’ would be welcome to restore some of the dead, buried, unburied, beaten with a shovel, and buried again optimism of the setting. The entire trilogy, and particularly the conclusion, is just utterly disheartening. I was gladdened when Marco announced that, with the Titan series, Trek fiction would be looking towards exploration again, finally ‘getting over’ the fallout from the Dominion War. Now, scant few years later, the universe gets trashed all over again, worse than before (what was it Bacco told the cadets about graduating without the shadow of war?)—and when Bacco starts talking about exploratory missions in this book, I think she must be out of her mind to be devoting any of Starfleet’s much reduced resources to such ventures when there’s no doubt a massive refugee crisis, resources shortage and staggering amounts of rebuilding to be done. And all this stuff about a better future… I just can’t believe it, not after the amount of damage that has been inflicted.

Which is at the heart of the problem, going forward. This trilogy has redefined the Trek universe, and it has done so in a negative way, emphasizing failure and impotency. In many ways, it feels like the setting has been skewered such that an episode like “Q Who” is now emblematic of its overall themes, from the ass-kicking the heroes receive to having to call on a higher power to save said posteriors; but I always thought it was episodes like “Encounter at Farpoint”, “Best of Both Worlds” or “All Good Things…” that truly encapsulate what this fictional world is about. The magnitude of the events in Destiny are such that there will never be any escaping it; if it seemed difficult to escape the legacy of the Dominion War, it will be impossible to do so here; this generation and likely generations to come will be defined by the scars and trauma of the big Borg invasion. And I’m sick of all the negativity. I’m sick of the darkness, the depression, the devastation, the killing. This is a feeling that has been some time in accumulating, and across a number of media, but I reached the tipping point a while ago and have no interest in seeing them explored further. I gave up on most of the Star Wars line because it had degenerated into simplistic darkness for darkness’ sake. I stopped reading the Ultimate comic line after the destruction pornography of Ultimatum (fuck you, Jeph Loeb). And now, while Destiny was certain better written than any of those, I wonder if I should do the same here. My interest in Trek, it must be said, has been waning for a while, which isn’t just my dissatisfaction with the direction the book line is going in (although callous crap like Before Dishonor) doesn’t help); there’s also the objectively welcome but subjectively inexplicable popularity of that third-rate film among other things. The ‘next’ two books in the series are from Keith and Christopher, two writers who rarely disappoint, but I find myself entirely unmoved to purchase and read them, incapable of generating enthusiasm for the setting. It’s a Catch-22: a book set in this universe will be dark, another generic dystopian vision of the future, which I don’t want to read; or it won’t be dark, in which case, like the attempts to beautify the trilogy’s conclusion, it will lack verisimilitude and believability. Then there’s the third option, which is not to bother reading the book. I can’t generate much interest in reading about a nigh-dystopian Federation, or spending more time on maudlin traumas, or otherwise reading about how terrible the consequences of this must surely be. Maybe later, but not now. And it’s not just the setting that’s become unrecognizable, but the characters. A bipolar, undignified Picard, a mopey, indecisive Riker, an avoidant Worf, a hissy La Forge, an irrational Troi… these people don’t resemble the characters I first encountered onscreen. And talk of change seems misdirected if it isn’t change for the better. It’s great that the authors are free to make permanent changes to the universe and the characters, but those changes seem to all align themselves with degeneracy and decrepitude, whether the arbitrary killing of Janeway, ‘character arcs’ like having Picard be a dunce in every second book that feel forced and unnatural, or, you know, just blowing the crap out of the Federation. The sad thing, really, is that I think the whole faddish infatuation with darkness and death is passing; many of the solicitations I’ve been receiving have specified a desire for positive, upbeat content. But for the Trek universe, it’s too late—these changes are as permanent as permanent gets, and it’s hard to see how they could be undone. So I think I’ll take a break from Trek for a while. I’ve given up on the Rocambolesques of the ENT-R and am feeling rather jaundiced towards anything post-Destiny at the moment, but I know we’ve got some DS9-R books coming our way soon and while I don’t know if knowing what happens to the setting will affect my reading of it, I’m still interested in seeing those storylines unfold. After that, I’ll see how I feel about the rest of it.

Some random points:
--Page 115: “(…) he looked lifeless, Gorgonized.”
Never mind “Stygian”, from now on every Trek book should have at least one instance of the word “Gorgonized”.

--Pages 145-146: “Growing up in Québec (…) outside Montréal.”
Hey, you spelt them with the accent. Thanks for that. I know English technically doesn’t require the accent, but I’ve always been fond of using native spellings were possible.

--Page 159: “(…) death was a simple reality in the hard land of the winter.”
Tales of Brave Ulysses? (Yay, Cream.)

--Page 251: T’Lana; what a twit. She spends her entire literary career getting up in people’s faces, insisting that everybody should do things her way and generally acting to the detriment of the greater good. Then when she’s about to be murdered, when her mule-headed combativeness might, for once, actually find a valid target… now you decide to just stand there and just let yourself die? Ugh. “And accepted what she could not change”; great, the first Vulcan convert to Christianity… or Alcoholics Anonymous, anyway.

Fictitiously yours, Trent Roman
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