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Old June 5 2014, 12:59 AM   #243
Paper Moon
Re: ENT: Tower of Babel by C. L. Bennett Review Thread (Spoilers!)

My review:

This novel is a solid read. Beginning, middle and end? Check. Great world-building? Check. Good character work? Check.

But it doesn’t exceed the sum of its parts.

The novel was billed in some parts as essentially a primer on the Rigel system. And that it does pretty damn well. It felt like a lot of Rigel was told and not shown, and I would’ve enjoyed getting more from the colonials, but that’s all nitpicky stuff. Christopher has created a fascinating super-civilization and it promises many great stories to come.

But beyond describing Rigel, it felt a bit “by the numbers”. The plot had little momentum, and the character work was hit-or-miss. Nice stuff from Williams, Kirk and Trip, and some nice moments from Reed and Archer, but none of it is breathtaking. (I was frankly disappointed that it was another instance of a woman seducing Archer for duplicitous purposes. I realize Archer is being saved for Danica, but it just felt boring at this point. And Archer didn't spend that much time in hot water, as things go, so it didn't feel worth it in the end.) I appreciated the Sato-Thanien story, but it felt too quickly resolved, almost fable-like in its lesson. It's not that it's bad, it's that it's "only" nice.

The Three Sisters are interesting in an academic sense, but I don’t find them particularly engaging to read. I share Deranged Nasat's ambivalence about the Maras revelation, but I come down more on the dislike-end of the spectrum. I understand Christopher's concern about propagating misogynistic stereotypes, but I think he doesn't give himself enough credit. I think he could've navigated that balance quite handily. The problem arises when a sexually active female character is assumed to be unintelligent because she is a female, and a sexually active one at that. There certainly are unintelligent people out there, there certainly are sexually active women out there, and there certainly are individuals who are both. Setting aside, for the moment, the sex and gender components, there's a lot of untapped storytelling potential (especially in Trek) in situations such as the apparent one faced by Navaar: how do you deal with an ally, a friend, a family member, who is totally not on your level? That was an interesting component of the Triumfeminate's story, and I wish it could've been maintained.

Garos– he’s good. Really good. Very enjoyable to read. Looking forward to more of him.

The Saurian story is coming together very well. Christopher is definitely building to something huge with Maltuvis, and he's doing it very, very well. Looking forward to the story being continued.

The Federation's early years being characterized by threats from criminals and pirates is a good angle, and a nice contrast to the threats from 150 or 225 years later. I worry a little bit that stories will get tiresome, but I think Christopher will be able to keep it interesting.

I share the feelings articulated upthread that it sometimes felt like there wasn't much plot-driving conflict (outside of Williams/Kirk/Grev specifically and Sauria), but I don't think the solution would've been to make us fear for the characters lives. I'm frankly looking forward to enjoying (most) of these characters for some time now. In all of the Star Trek television series, exactly two main characters were killed off during the actual run of the show. Star Trek is not and never has been about telling stories in which you fear that your heroes won't survive. Yes, it happens sometimes, but it's best used very sparingly.

In any case, we’ll see how this book changes in the light of its sequels; it certainly wouldn’t be the first Trek novel to be improved by the stories which came afterwards.

And it’s not a bad book by any stretch. It wasn’t painful to read, and it was satisfyingly resolved. I think it’ll have good re-read value.

But for having such potential, it just didn’t quite bring it home. The themes articulated and issues raised are great, very timely and thought-provoking. It's a nice story that's enjoyable to read– which just makes me wish it could've been a little more.

From what he says on his website, it sounds like Tower of Babel had a bit of a rough writing process. (That card trick, Christopher!) ) That's a shame. I feel like this book was really close to being among the best TrekLit out there; it just needed a like more time in development.

Still, I did enjoy it and I can't wait for the sequels! Despite all I've said, the series definitely is in good hands.
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