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Old July 6 2009, 12:09 AM   #590
Trent Roman
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Re: Star Trek: Destiny Book 3: Lost Souls - (SPOILERS)

Sci wrote: View Post
Trent, while I understand what you're saying, I thoroughly disagree with some of the values that underlie your evaluation of the trilogy.
Well, I did conceed ideology played a role here.

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.
Of course it's a failure, whether they were being set up to fail or just failed of their own ineptitude. The Borg are powerful, yes, that is part and parcel of the threat they represent (although a lesser part, I would argue, compared to their culture--after all, one could easily whip up an enemy with even bigger and more numerous ships, but that doesn't make it better than the Borg). The Borg are the steamrollers of the Trek universe, but the point of the story is that the heroes overcome the otherwise insurmountable odds. Nothing looked like it could stop the Borg when they attacked Earth the first time, tearing through the fleet at Wolf 359... but they were stopped, through intelligence, creativity and one man's refusal to surrender himself--not a lack of recognition for what he had become, a slave to the Collective, but a refusal to complacently accept that fate for himself. "First Contact", and again the seemingly unstoppable horde's advance is halted. "Scorpion", "Dark Frontier", "Endgame", "Regeneration"... the Borg have been defeated a number of times, which is, after all, what's prompted all those complaints that they were defanged. The Borg have numbers and technology on their side, but they also have cultural lacunas that can and have been exploited (and indeed, in the better portions of the trilogy, were: their reliance on the queen, their obsession with the Omega particle). Don't tell me they couldn't be stopped, because I don't believe it.

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.
Most certainly it is submission, or, as you call it yourself, surrender. There is a difference between recognizing one's limitations and accepting them. The former is mere pragmatism, being realistic; the second is passivity, acquiescence, defeatism. I recognize that if I jump off this cliff I will fall to my death; that is my limitation as a human being who cannot fly and whose body is broken by high falls. But I don't need to accept that I can, therefore, never jump off this cliff; eventually, innovation provides me with the parachute or other means by which my human limitations are overcome by my other qualities. Hell, we just passed the fortieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots--can you imagine if, as you suggested, people were to meekly accept the status quo because it seems impossible to change? Never mind civil rights, we'd probably still be worshipping god-kings on a flat Earth. Recognizing one's limitations is a good thing, because it enables one to know where progress is needed, to look beyond them, and yes, keeps one within relative safety (although whether that safety is worth the limitation can vary). Accepting it, though, is just allowing oneself to become subservient to it, a slave to ease. If we don't strive for something better, if we just accept what is as unchangeable... then what are we but a blight upon this world? What makes humanity great, was makes it worthwhile despite all its problems, is this very refusal to accept limitations, to struggle, to strive, to eventually break through and overcome, and Star Trek has always placed that human spirit at the forefront of its valuations. "All Good Things", surely one of the best, more exemplary episodes, has this to say about limitations:

Q: "We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did."
Picard: "When I realized the paradox."
Q: "Exactly. For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. That is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence."

Or, more succintly:

Picard: "(...) the sky's the limit."

Now that is inspiring, not navel-gazing on one's own mortality.

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.
T'Lana was a dunce with no sense of what was appropriate to her situation, and meekly standing there as death rolled in was contemptible. I am reminded of Chewbacca, one of the first big characters to be killed in a tie-in: he died fighting, saving others, and as the moon of Sernpidal came crashing down upon him, tearing the world asunder, he didn't just sit there and pick at his nails, he howled his defiance to the last. There was no changing his fate, but damned if he was going to go out pusillanimously.

Or, closer to home, take Riker in Sky's the Limit (there's that expression again ), more specifically in 'Til Death. He was presented with the apparent inevitabilily of his death, told by Crusher there was nothing to be done except sit there and accept what would happen... and after some soul-searching, the never-say-die Riker we know and love comes to the fore, saying "Fuck this lying around--I'm going out fighting, making a difference". That's the attitude I admire. (Incidently, thinking of that anthology now, I feel it did such a better job capturing the characters; not just Riker, but the rest of the TNG crew.) Hell, even Arnold Rimmer knees Death in the groin.

Or, as Dylan Thomas might say: "Do not go gentle into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

"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. (...) 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."
I take issue with this. Picard has been wounded, certainly, but he has not failed--at least, not until the TNG-R decided to turn him into such a pathetic specimen. Yes, the Borg ripped a chunk out of their ass in the initial encounter, but that was hardly his fault, it was Q's. Yes, he was victimized by the Borg, but that wasn't his failure; indeed, Picard manages to overcome assimilation to speak to Data and contribute to the overall solution. In "I, Borg", which I notice wasn't on this list, Picard confronts his hatred for the Borg embodied in Hugh and overcomes it, with the help of his friends. In "First Contact", Picard confronts his lingering sense of vulnerability to the Borg that compells him to senseless aggression, and he overcomes it, with the help of Lily (which is a beautiful and resonant moment, really, when he quotes Moby Dick: Picard the warrior is tamed by Picard the scholar). Picard is no superman, he has, as I've said, been wounded and compromised by the Borg, but he has always found strength in himself and in his connection to others to overcome and defeat the Borg, physically and psychologically. Here? He persists, contemptibly, in behaving like a martinet, a nincompoop and ultimately a blubbering wreck.

Humanism only goes so far -- at some point, humanism has to meet up with the fact of human imperfection and human limitation. (...) The fact of human imperfection and weakness, the fact that even good people fail, was downplayed or disregarded.
I don't know what kind of humanism you've been reading, but there's nothing in humanism about ignoring human imperfection and weakness, or even that humanity is inherently good. There is a recognition that overcoming these problems will be difficult, will require hard work and helping each other up: it's about the affirming the possibility of a better humanity and better environment. So, for instance, saying that there was no possibility of beating back the Borg is distinctly un-humanistic. (As Spock would say: "There are always... possibilities.") As for the characters not failing as often (and I'd argue it's less that they didn't fail, so much as they typically managed to recognize and correct the error by the end of the episode)... well, it is fiction, not reality, and the definition of a hero is a person who comes through when the chips are down, in extremis. Someone who, at the moment of crisis, runs off to cower in the holodeck is more like those satirical 'heros' you often see in animation, and not a person deserving of respect.

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.
Yet it does undo the hope and optimism of the universe, two-fold, by destroying the setting and by affirming impotency. A story about facing one's own death might work as a one-off novel, I don't know, but shouldn't be the theme of the biggest event to hit the universe... pretty much ever, and redefining it as one of death and despair. As you say, the Borg didn't assimilate anymore because, with this ending, it would have meant the possibility of betterment, which death denies. (Although, speaking only for myself here, I personally find the prospect of slavery to the Collective far more frightening than death.)

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.
There are fates worse than death, I agree--Foyle found it, though he never recognized it, and Sedin found it as well; and there are times when death is preferable to a life of suffering or villainy. But where these characters failed was not in their will to live or to be free (is the desire for freedom also immature, in your opinion?); where they erred was in the methods they choose, in believing that the ends justified the means. In being pragmatic instead of hopeful. (And there was nothing ethically wrong with Picard's plan to create the thalaron weapon as a failsafe.)

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
I find that hard to believe. Dozens of billions are dead, entire planets (including Risa) have been eradicated, the infrastructure is in ruins, and every citizen now carries civilization-level trauma. They can try to rebuild (or I hope they will, anyway), but it will never be the same, never be as good--let alone better. How can it, when there is so much less?

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 wasn't contact with Hernadez--she had been amongst them for centuries and they were still the same priggish assholes. It was contact with the Borg, the experience of their suffering, and the realization of their responsibility, that the Caeliar finally chose to act. Hernandez enabled this, but it's wrong to say she made converts out of the Caeliar.

It's Federation ideals that save the day.
No, magically advanced technology saved the day by making the Borg vanish in a flash of light. The Federation wasn't even able to save itself, which, if anything, is condemnatory of its ideals as leading to extinction.

Fictitiously yours, Trent Roman
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