During a recent discussion in the thread about Sho's ranking based on the polls in TrekBBS review threads
it occured to me that we never did "classic review threads" as we planned in the beginning to eventually have most of the novels in the ranking.
So I figured I will at least give it a start with a review thread about an older novel, and what's better than to do so with a novel by the man who spurred this:
Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett
n the aftermath of the astonishing events of Star Trek®: The Motion Picture,
the captain and officers of the U.S.S. Enterprise
remain haunted by their encounter with the vast artificial intelligence of V'Ger...and by the sacrifice and ascension of their friend and shipmate, Willard Decker.
As James T. Kirk, Spock, and Leonard McCoy attempt to cope with the personal fallout of that ordeal, a chapter from their mutual past is reopened, raising troubling new questions about the relationship among God, Man, and AI. On the recently settled world of Daran IV, the former refugees of the Fabrini worldship Yonada are being divided by conflicting ideologies, as those clinging to their theocratic past vie with visionaries of a future governed by reason alone.
Now, echoes of the V'Ger encounter reverberate among the Enterprise
officers who years ago overthrew the Oracle, the machine-god that controlled Yonada. Confronting the consequences of those actions, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy also face choices that will decide the fate of a civilization, and which may change them forever.
My review from 2005, when the book was new:
First things first : If you are searching for an action packed story, filled with one space fight or hand to hand combat after the other, you’re definitely wrong here. But if you’re searching for a well thought through story with a lot of content “Ex Machina” could be what you’re searching for.
Christopher L. Bennett has written an excellent and – even more important – balanced analogy to the continuing crisis in the middle east. He shows the different point of views of both the secular government, led by Natira and the various factions of the religious community, which vary from moderate (Rishala’s group) to extreme (Dovraku’s group), without demonize or favor one over the other, although Dovraku is undoubtedly the bad guy. He also explains how a supposedly minor group can dictate politics with a dangerous mix of creating fear, deceiving the people – especially the youth – and having a charismatic leader. And although the imminent crisis is solved in the end and the major opponent of peace, Dovraku, is out of the picture, Christopher L. Bennett doesn’t pretend that that would solve the whole problem at once, but is only the beginning of a long process, which needs trust and concessions coming from both sides.
The real masterpiece of the novel are the characterizations and the development of the new characters. The author was able to show the weaknesses and self doubts of the Enterprise Crew – especially the Big Three – without letting them appear weak. He shows them as normal people with shortcomings and doesn’t glorify them like some of the TOS novelist tended to do in the past. He presents us a Kirk who is unsure, if he did the right thing, when he retook the command of the Enterprise and unsure if “Decker’s Crew” would accept him as the man in the center seat , a Spock dealing with the aftermath of his mind meld with V’Ger, just beginning to embrace his emotions instead of suppress them and a McCoy who has to deal with faults of the past and his inability to deal with the multi-species crew Decker and Uhura have assembled. In the end all three are stronger and wiser than at the beginning and have gone through a change of their self awareness. But although the three play the major roles in the novel, the other get their scenes, too. Add the interesting new characters, who absolutely should get some more time in the spotlight, to that and you definitely have a crew worth to be revisited in the foreseeable future.
One other thing I like about the novel, is how Christopher L. Bennett was able to balance the different takes on the Star Trek universe which we had over the years, especially the difference between the Vulcans of Archer’s areas and those of the other series.
Overall “Ex Machina” is a very good novel. It belongs to my favorite three TOS novels of all times and is undoubtedly the best TOS story of the last ten years I’ve read.