I finished it an hour ago, and it was overall a very good read. I'm impressed by how seamlessly the Noonien Soong portion folds into the framing plot. I've essentially just read two distinct Trek stories written in two different ways which sit alongside and partially within each other so comfortably that they easily add up to a single reading experience. Soong and the trace-the-androids plot just coalesced comfortably into a single novel that was all the richer for the two narrative styles.
One thing I loved in the Noonien section was the sense of the Federation as a large and diverse place; not merely diverse in terms of culture or species but divided into unofficial but clearly evident regions - distinct economic and social areas. The differences between the core worlds and the outer worlds, the subtle distinctions regarding what a character can accomplish in each place and the degree of oversight...it was a welcome new look at life in the UFP that fleshed out the expanse of Federation space in a way I haven't really seen before. The Federation isn't a homogenous mass but instead is presented as a collection of distinct pockets with flavours and local character, with trends that link some of them and enough differences in lifestyle and opportunity that it brings a sense of relief to the increasingly "top-heavy" Trek lit view of the UFP. One of the few downsides of making "the Galactic West Wing" a major part of the novels is that it can "shrink" the Federation a bit in a reader's perspective, make it feel tighter and more controlled than it is. A sense of heady freedom and comforting scope is conveyed through Soong's journey around UFP space. That feels far more in keeping with the reality of 1000 pockets of civilization huddled around little pinpricks than how the Federation often comes across in these books (not that I'm complaining; I love the GWW plots, I just think this was a nice balance).
Basically, the Soong portion is interesting because it's an intimate portrait of a character with a very wide backdrop; there's a real sense of scope to his travels yet the focus on that one character (achieved in part of course by the first-person narrative) makes each point we touch seem distinct and pleasantly isolated.
On a similar note, fleshing out the UFP in ways that we don't often see, I also enjoyed seeing the corporate side of things. The idea that Soong took pains to link the Ferengi economy to the Federation's and tie the two nation's destinys together without the Ferengi realizing (until it was too late to reverse it) is one of those reinterpretations that should perhaps feel a bit uncomfortable but managed to be convincing thanks to the way Soong is presented to us. I could buy that he's planning that deep and that long-term.
Writing from Soong's point of view was very successful - he was an engaging character and he truly came across as a man from whom Data and Lore both could have taken some of their traits. I identified with him in many ways myself. So much of his character was familiar to me that I'm forced to conclude that either
a) I am in fact a genius beyond all precedent and should really be off making android bodies myself
b) David Mack really knows how to make characters relatable, sympathetic and comfortably human.
I'm guessing it's b).
I particularly loved his description of Data's basic "package" of traits and needs as a functioning person: "Curiosity, loyalty, a need to be useful, a desire to live in harmony with other beings". That's a wonderful summary of the basic impulses and motives that define the emotions of sapient social beings, and as other posters have said upthread, provides a great argument for Data as an inherently emotional being - even if those emotions aren't human.
Another thing common to David Mack novels that was evident here: seeing Starfleet use their ingenuity to work through problems, e.g. the various stealth issues. I also appreciated how this characterization was extended to other spacefaring powers - the crew of the Breen ship were equally allowed to come across as competent.
Poor Choudhury! I very much liked her, and I'll miss her.
Like several other posters, I can't help but feel that the novels are carefully laying groundwork for a possible merge into the scenario established in Countdown
. I'm not saying that's what's being planned
as a future direction for the novels, only that Trek lit seems to be hedging its bets, making it plausible as an option. Between the hints over the last few TNG books that Picard might getting ready to settle down and leave the service, some form of Data returning, and now Worf suffering a loss that could conceivably prompt him to move on again...Once more, I'm not saying this is written to set up Countdown
; I'm merely observing that the pieces seem to be in place so that such an eventual direction is now an option.
Overall, I loved this book. But now for my problem. As I suspected, the Data-resurrection was handled in such a way as to carefully avoid any reset button, set up new possibilities that don't undermine the emotional arcs we've already seen, and satisfy most of my concerns regarding general resurrection plots. I thought Janeway's resurrection was well-handled, and I think Data's what-for-convenience's-sake-we'll-call-a-resurrection was well handled too. And that's my problem. I don't like characters returning from the dead or getting another chance at life. If it were up to me and me alone, I would have left Janeway dead and I would have left Data dead. Now both
the most prominant main characters to die are back in some fashion, and this doesn't sit well with me. And yet, I think that both resurrection storys were handled with skill, competence and respect, and I don't feel it's fair or indeed valid to complain. It's not a reset button. It doesn't undermine what's come before. Both returns will please those readers who wanted the characters back while, on the whole, not offending or annoying those who wanted (unofficially at least) a no-resurrection policy. They're good compromises that don't sacrifice any of the plots' capacity to be strong and worthwhile stories. Data's return isn't a reset.
And I'm a little bummed by that, to be honest. I sort of feel, on some irrational level, that I've been led to happily give a thumbs up to something that I wouldn't usually support. Janeway's back and now Data's...well, not dead. That makes me want to sigh, but I'm okay with it because both "return" novels were handled so well.
Do you see my dilemma?