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Old September 1 2012, 03:19 PM   #165
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Re: VOY: The Eternal Tide by Kirsten Beyer Review Thread (Spoilers!)

Deranged Nasat wrote: View Post
I'll show you "wall of text" you pretenders! *waves stick*

Once upon a time there was a girl named Kathryn. She had many adventures and made many friends, but her life was tragically cut short when she was suddenly knocked down by a Borg Cube. Those who had known her were saddened, angry and in some cases very philosophical about the nature of loss, but what really got them going was the possibility that she might be brought back. This was rather controversial for many reasons, and the controversy was itself controversial to those who were missing her most keenly. Some thought the intensity of the fans’ response - on all sides to some degree but particularly on those who felt something truly irreplaceable had been lost - a bit excessive. Making Janeway a focal point for everyone’s personal insight on life, death, loss, and fate was going a bit far, surely? Janeway’s fate wasn’t actually a matter of life and death, after all. It wasn’t the end of the universe. Only it was, actually. Because in this novel, the force of pure creation and the force of pure destruction are both demanding attention, and right in the middle is Kathryn Janeway, who has to walk a rather apologetic and careful line between them. Not only that, but she must do justice to both while not shying away from her own strength and the desire to walk her own path.

I would hazard a guess that Kirsten Beyer rather identifies with the character she’s writing, sometimes.

This is a very ”meta” sort of novel, really. It’s the novel about the Janeway controversy, about the heated arguments, thoughtful examinations and occasional self-immolations that this fandom-within-a-fandom has hosted since Before Dishonor. But it’s also a novel about Janeway and her influence on the crew – how they coped with losing her, and how things might have changed now she’s back. And the problems confronting the characters as they wrestle old status quo with new, uneasy status quo with the knowledge that change and time will cut them off from both, are also the problems confronting the readers. We are truly with the characters this time, which was perhaps inevitable given the power the Dead One (or NOT DEAD one ) holds over both them and us. Granted, Janeway’s back – but does that have to negate the change in the other characters since she was lost? Are things back how they were on Voyager, or does undoing her death not undo the impact of it? What’s been lost for good and what can be reclaimed in new, perhaps better form? Is it fair to throw Janeway back into life – fair on her, fair on others, fair on us as readers? But life’s not fair, is it, and neither is death. And compromise makes no one fully happy, but hopefully content...

Five ships down, now. A price paid for Janeway’s return (so enforcing the sense that you don’t get to avoid the harsher realities), or edging us closer to the familiar – Voyager alone and Janeway in charge (so doing just the opposite?) It’s up to us, I suppose. This is a careful novel indeed, though part of the beauty is that for all it encompasses the debate it can fuel any position among the perspectives comprising that debate, depending on how we interpret it.

In the first half of the book, the Q are essentially giving voice to the fan debates, representing them within the novel continuity itself, filtered through the realities of the plot and the setting. They’re certainly not out of place or jarring – it’s very sensitively handled – but it did make me think that this novel can’t really be evaluated as most would. It’s too much a novel of the fandom, not just for it. It brought the ongoing disagreements over Janeway into the novel universe. In fact, I’d go further and say that Q and Q and Q weren’t having only the Janeway Debate but also the Direction of Trek Lit Debate, the Darkness Vs Optimism Debate, the Where Are They Going With This Debate. This novel seemed to examine fan responses to the direction taken by Trek lit as a whole since Janeway’s death, not limiting itself to just the one series.

As a side note, I really appreciated how this novel handled the Q. The situation we find them in may by necessity draw on the Voyager interpretation of Q - extended Q family, the drama of omnipotent squabbling, but the general dignity with which the Q are written brought to mind the TNG Q (or, to be fair to Voyager, Death Wish), where serious and difficult issues were evident beneath the petulant clowning. The Q in this novel were philosophical and even noble; they had the feel of a family, but they also felt convincing as a society, as a force of sapience (and one existing on a more sophisticated plane at that). And Q Junior was actually convincing as the same character having “settled down”, which is impressive. And continuing the reproduction/family/pursuit of the perfect thematic arc that I’ve noted flowing through many of the 24th century novels since Greater Than the Sum, I’m glad someone confronted the question of what procreation really means for beings like the Q.

I also think this novel a great ending for the Q, actually. In Q&A (which was referenced in The Eternal Tide in a scene where Q stresses the significance of Picard being the One), we saw how the Q had been guiding humanity toward new experiences, new truths, in an effort to save them all. And we were given the impression, in that novel and in this one, that Q is genuinely proud of humans. In The Eternal Tide, it was the same idea but with the favour returned; here humans guide the Q to greater understanding and new experiences, so that all can be saved. There was, to me, a sense of completion to it, that this was the complementary balance to Q&A. Janeway’s defence of the Q – “even on their worst day, they’ve done more good than evil” was rather touching. I feel that we’ve been shown the Q completing a journey of sorts. The Q and the humans are allies now, friends even. And even Q’s angry insistence that Janeway “has made an enemy today” is proof of that; it’s not the distant threat of an incomprehensible power but a misplaced anger that actually points to a comfort and familiarity. Very satisfying.

Let’s see, other matters. On the darkness/hope front, since I said I thought the novel was dealing with that debate too, there’s a slight disconcerting sense (one I enjoyed) of the Caeliar having done too much good in one swoop, that it’s not easy to grasp the good fortune, and that any pure transcendent high is going to give way to some muddy lows at some point. As Chakotay says, how long until the colonization rush begins, once it’s realized that prime real estate is up for grabs in Borgsville? Of course, the fact that it was Borgsville will no doubt keep many people out on principle; I assume they wouldn’t want to head into space where the terrifying force that uprooted their civilizations or destroyed their homes still has power – even if it’s just the power of a bad memory. I imagine to many races Borg space will always be the Great Empty, the expanse to be shunned and shivered at, new growth be damned. But that’s not going to be everyone. Indeed, if it’s the “less sensitive” civilizations which will turn their attention to it first, it might make it more likely that fighting and squabbling will break out in the future. On that note, I thought it amusing and appropriate that some of the Malon are apparently using it already. No time for reflection or superstition or uncertainty, we’ve got waste to dump. They’re a twisted sort of practical, those Malon, at least when it comes to smoothing the wrinkles of their wider impracticalities.

The multiverse can’t catch a break, can it? If Janeway doesn’t alter history, the Borg eventually assimilate everyone; if she does, the Omega crisis. No wonder laughing at the absurdity is considered the highest truth in the Trek Lit universe. Also, between this and the Strings (glad to get some references to String Theory by the way), Janeway is picking up a nasty habit of nearly unwinding the universe.

Lengthy aside: It seems to me that Trek lit over the last few years (has it really been 4 years since Destiny?) has really expanded in scope. The Caeliar in Destiny made several intriguing references to the wonders and terrors of the wider universe, even suggesting that the Milky Way is like a little sheltered pocket in which they can hide. Indistinguishable From Magic took us to see some of those trans-galactic wonders, and introduced us to truly universal beings. Other books have given us hints at a system of galactic ecosystems, systems of intersecting time travel events that actually make coherent sense, etc; it seems that just as slipstream risks making the setting look small, the books are pushing the boundaries further and further. I don’t know if this is a justified impression, or just my narrow view of Trek literature (beginning as it does in 2002), but I thought I'd comment just the same.

Back to TET: I also liked the possibility that Naomi is entertaining thoughts of leaving her Starfleet training. We’ll see how it goes, but I think her doubts make sense, and aren’t just the strain of the intense work. She was always an intelligent, driven child, and she seemed to make the most of the opportunities available. In the self-contained world of Voyager, that meant looking to Starfleet (captain’s assistant and all). Now, though, her world has expanded rapidly, and maybe it took her awhile to truly come to terms with that – particularly as she’s driven and focused. Maybe it took her a while to realize there were other paths.

Onto major characters: I still like Cambridge and Seven. I think he’s a wonderful character to “put with” Seven, to bounce off her, to draw her out. I still didn’t get any Sharak though (well, one scene). The Tamarians are a race who I’d love to see mined further. It’s a great opportunity here and I’m getting impatient. Board, please commence an ongoing “Sharak getting the Shaft” controversy; that should help.

Small note: Tom’s humorous chiding to “sit there in your wrongness and be wrong” reminded me so much of a friend of mine I nearly laughed. That’s exactly the sort of thing she would say.

I’ve already proposed that the novel was a full-on examination of the Janeway Death issue, from all angles and perspectives, before hopefully, gently asserting its own inoffensive position. Despite that, though, I think I’m choosing to see the Voyager relaunch-relaunch as less of a “dealing with Janeway’s death” arc and more of a “Janeway and Chakotay” story. At least, that’s where I think the real meaning lies. Or to be sly, the uncontroversial meaning. At heart, it’s the account of the trials and obstacles two people have to overcome before they can be together; it just goes a little further than most such arcs because it has to work around “one of them dies for a bit”. I’m glad they’re together at last. Picard and Crusher did it, so can they. When Janeway said “I love you”, it made me a little tearful, I must admit. I’m forced to conclude, then, that I am now a “shipper”. It may be time to take me outside and get the shotgun.

To conclude this lengthy ramble, I’m still torn as to how I relate to this one, enough so that I’m giving it an “above average” score rather than the “outstanding” it might have been courting. Probably that’s because, no matter how skilfully and sensitively it handles the controversy, a novel that’s this aware of its context can’t help but feel at times like it’s swallowed more than it can keep down. This wasn’t pure Trekkian enjoyment, this was more a community catharsis. That’s a great achievement, to be sure. In Spock’s World, McCoy notes that his Big Speech is “every argument I’ve ever had with (Spock) rolled up into one”. This novel, I think, is “every (well, nearly every) debate this board, this fandom, has had on the Janeway issue, rolled up into one”. And I think, yes, it probably won. The issue remaining for me is – does that make for a great novel or merely a good novel serving a secondary purpose that detracts from its status as a novel? I’m not sure, which is why I’m going to think of The Eternal Tide as the book that brings Janeway and Chakotay together, and the book that concludes the Q arc, rather than the Janeway Issue book it can’t help but really be.

TL;DR: It’s about Janeway.
I really appreciate this review. You have pointed out everything I wish I was smart enough to say. Well done and well done Beyer!
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