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Old July 5 2009, 09:10 AM   #563
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Location: Montgomery County, State of Maryland
Re: Star Trek: Destiny Book 3: Lost Souls - (SPOILERS)

Trent, while I understand what you're saying, I thoroughly disagree with some of the values that underlie your evaluation of the trilogy. The Borg invasion didn't constitute failure, because failure implies that there was ever a real possibility of success on the primary characters' own merits. But the Borg have always been so powerful as to render our heroes powerless when faced with power of such magnitude.

I suppose the whole issue is encapsulated in your objection to the bit at the end where T'Lana accepts what she cannot change. You object to this because to you, it equals submission to failure, a celebration of impotence. I see it fundamentally differently. Accepting what you cannot change is not the same thing as submission -- it is the act of a responsible adult who has learned to accept that there are limits to his/her power and authority, that they are not the center of the universe, and that this face should not prevent them from finding happiness in life. That T'Lana was able to accept her own imminent death was a sign of great growth and maturity; she went from a borderline clinical narcissist incapable of accepting the idea of not having the right or ability to control other people, to a person able to look her own inevitable death in the face without falling into despair.

And, yeah, ultimately Star Trek: Destiny is a story about learning to accept your own limits. In an interview on The Chronic Rift, David Mack said:

"And then the theme of the third book is really just that there are forces beyond us, and that sometimes we are not able to shape events -- sometimes, events shape us.... And what's interesting is that if you look at the career of Picard, and the rather distinguished and successful captain and commanding officer that he is during all the years that we saw him on screen, all the moments of his greatest failures as a commanding officer seem to be linked to the Borg. He consistently underestimated them, overestimated himself -- even from the very first encounter in System J-25: he refused until the very end to break down and ask Q for help, he got 18 of his people either assimilated or kill, got a hole cut in the hull of his ship, he got sent back to the Federation with his tail between his legs and his pride damaged. And then his next major encounter with the Borg, he got assimilated, he basically got mind-raped. And then, we see him again, having yet another major altercation with the Borg -- every time he's seen them after that, his judgment's seemed clouded and untrustworthy. In First Contact, he--"

(KRAD interjection: " 'You broke your ships!' ")

"-- He broke his ships! He was starting to lose it even then. And what we see in the books that immediately precede the Destiny trilogy -- in J.M. Dillard's Resistance, he comes up with this cockamamy plan to to try and re-infiltrate the Collective disguised, to a certain extent, as Locutus, with some sort of nanite-thing put into his bloodstream to try and block the assimilation process. But of course it fails and they end up having to pull his ass out... He just, he bungles his decisions regarding the Borg, over and over again. He does it again in Before Dishonor. And what I found myself thinking about as a writer was when I got to, finally, the third book is:

Picard reflecting on this, in the moment of final breakdown. In the climax of the book, he reflects in one brief passage on, every time he's faced them, he's failed. And he finally breaks down and realizes: I can't beat this. "This is my Achilles Hell, this is my weak spot, the chink in my armor. This is where my pride comes to play. This is where my anger comes out. Every flaw I have is embodied in this. And this is where I keep screwing up. I'm a failure. I'm weak, and I can't do this."

And, in a way, it's this moment of surrender, which is also a running theme through all three books -- the theme is, it's sometimes only in a moment of surrender that we are able to be free. And Picard can't be free of this white whale. And so he surrenders to his own lack of power over it. It's only in that moment of surrender at the climax of the trilogy that he's freed of the burden it has been on his soul.
That's not a bad value, and it's something that's well worth exploring in Star Trek literature. Humanism only goes so far -- at some point, humanism has to meet up with the fact of human imperfection and human limitation. It's all well and good to believe in the fundamental decency of the human race -- and I do mean that; I'm not trying to dismiss the idea that people are basically decent and that a better world than ours today is possible. But canonical Star Trek under Roddenberry (like many fundamentalist religions) took it too far. The fact of human imperfection and weakness, the fact that even good people fail, was downplayed or disregarded.

I understand that you want to see the heroes of the Trek Universe defeat the Borg through their own agency, but ultimately it's an unrealistic expectation. At some point in life, to be a mature adult, one has to recognize one's own failures and limitations. Optimism that does not account for human failure and limitation blinds us -- imbues in us ethnocentrism at best, and moves us to justify horrors committed in the name of "the greater good" at worst. (Just look at American history for the full spectrum of what untempered optimism and faith in own's own inherent goodness can accomplish, both good and bad: The creation of a great power... and the oppression of millions.)

In Destiny, we see characters having to confront that moment of surrender both in practical terms and in more thematic terms. The Borg Invasion is not merely about an invasion. It is about facing one's own imminent death. That's why the Borg kill rather than assimilate -- not because the intent of the trilogy is to un-do all of the hope and optimism of the Trekverse, but because the mere assimilation of the Federation (which canon has rendered so easy to un-do as to no longer feel threatening) would not allow for the point of the story, which is learning to face the fact of one's own imminent death and to accept it.

That's not a bad thing. The refusal to accept own's own mortality -- which is another way of saying, a refusal to accept one's own weakness, malice, or failures -- is a fundamental source of immaturity and conflict. It is the refusal to accept their own mortality (in the form of a literal desire to become immortal and cast off the need for biology, reproduction, and innovation) that led the Caeliar to become a stagnant, dogmatic culture incapable of coping with outside cultures without using horrific force or eternal imprisonment. It is the refusal to accept their own mortality (in the form of imprisonment) that led the MACOs to perpetuate mass murder upon the Caeliar. It is the refusal to accept his own mortality that has consistently caused Picard to screw up in dealing with the Borg, to the point of being willing to use a thalaron weapon in violation of his principles. It is the refusal to accept her own mortality that leads Sedin to decide to disregard the rights of others and create the first Borg. (And, yes, I hold Sedin responsible for that action -- she made the choice to do it long before her mind degraded, and I promise you that Lerxst did not escape Ghyllac's fate.)

It's not a matter of celebrating impotence as much as it is a matter of learning to accept that one is not -- and should not be -- all-powerful. It is through this acceptance that one retains, or regains, one's moral and intellectual integrity. This is, in essence, what the trilogy is about -- looking death (or your own limitations) in the eye, and learning not to succumb to the temptation to think life so precious as to be worthy of disregarding the things that make life worth living. Learning to accept that everybody dies -- and that only by accepting this can we truly live.

I don't see this as a bad and depressing thing. True, it's not so utopian as TNG Roddenberry Trek was. But there again, I never found Utopia all that inspiring -- because Utopia is and always will be a lie. As Joss Whedon said in his commentary for Serenity, it is the "sins," the things that are traditionally seen as "bad," that are also great sources for the best parts of humanity. "I'm gonna show you a world without sin:" A dead world. Utopia is a lie and always has been; you can't make people "better," because people just are. Good and bad are two sides of the same coin, and without it, the best parts of humanity cannot shine through. If this is so, then Destiny serves as the story of the Federation (via Picard and Riker) learning to accept this fact in order to retain its moral integrity.

And, again, I don't think that the story's attempt at a hopeful ending is uncalled for or dishonest. Because the other point of it is, the Federation will recover. It will rebuild. Its citizens will build a better Federation (hopefully one less spoiled, less insensitive to the outside galaxy, less ethnocentric, less prone to its own self-delusions and lies about its own moral superiority over others) -- just as we, in the real world, will recover, will build, and will eventually create a better world for all of us. Not a perfect world, not a Utopia, not a land where no one suffers -- but still a land better than this.

That's why Star Trek: Destiny is, to me, one of the greatest Star Trek stories ever told. It's the story of looking into the most shameful aspects of one's self, accepting them, and then moving past them.

And lest you think that there was absolutely no agency on the part of the Federation in the redemption of the Borg, just remember this: It was through contact with Hernandez, who tries to live her long life by the values of United Earth and the Federation, that the Caeliar come to realize how much they have erred, and to realize the necessity of destroying the controlling intelligence of the Collective and redeeming its slaves into freedom. It's Federation ideals that save the day.
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