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Trek Literature "...Good words. That's where ideas begin."

View Poll Results: Rate Ex Machina
Outstanding 25 50.00%
Above Average 20 40.00%
Average 1 2.00%
Below Average 3 6.00%
Poor 1 2.00%
Voters: 50. You may not vote on this poll

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Old November 18 2013, 05:25 AM   #16
Ryan Thomas Riddle
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Re: TOS: Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett Review Thread (spoilers)

Maurice wrote: View Post
I'm going to have to be the first dissenting opinion here. For my tastes the book didn't deliver.

It's been years since I read it so I'm operating from long-term memory here—with all the pitfalls that implies. I went in eager, but quickly found the book a bore. I'd have put it down except that a friend loaned it to me and wanted to discuss it with me.
I'm that friend.

Now onto my thoughts (and I too suffer from long-term memory, having not read the book in years). I was excited for this book, followed the thread leading up to its release. I devoured the book on first reading. I really liked some of the ideas within the pages. The more and more I dwelled on the book, however, I found that it didn't quite live up to those ideas. And on second reading, shortly before I loaned it to Maurice, I found the book rather flat.

The elements were there — well-thought out world building, serviceable prose and an attempt at continuing the themes of TMP by elevating a rather mediocre episode of TOS. Yet they didn't quite work well together. Far too much time was spent connecting the dots from ENT to TMP, fetishizing fannish obsessions.

The biggest problem I had with the book, other than the antagonist's motivations, was that Kirk was just as ineffectual as he was in TMP. He does nothing to drive the plot or resolve the problem of the novel. He is placed almost by happenstance into the climax of the novel. And, like with V'Ger, he doesn't initiate the final action that resolves the story. He just shows up.

Nor is the conflict among the lower decks crew — whether Kirk is right for the job — doesn't really come to a head. It's just there, treated like nothing more than crew gossip and then just resolves itself seemingly on its own. Kirk does nothing to really earn their trust again and he's not really given a chance to fully address their concerns.

Kirk's inaction in this book is its most egregious misstep.
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Old November 18 2013, 05:40 AM   #17
Sran
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Re: TOS: Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett Review Thread (spoilers)

middyseafort wrote: View Post
Kirk's inaction in this book is its most egregious misstep.
The aspect of Kirk's situation that stands out most to me is his seemingly inability to define himself by his own actions rather than those of the people closest to him (Spock & McCoy). Kirk in isolation spends most of his time comparing himself to Decker, continuing the competition from TMP he repeatedly insisted wasn't an issue.

One can certainly understand Kirk's desire to be accepted by Decker's crew- and make no mistake, the Enterprise of TMP was much more Decker's ship than it was Kirk's regardless of who was sitting in the center seat. But Kirk would have been better served by just being himself instead of trying to measure up to a man whom he incorrectly assumed held the same goals and aspirations as he did.

Kirk eventually realized how erroneous his perception of who Decker had been. It's a wonder he didn't know it before. If the Enterprise meant as much to Kirk as we've been led to believe, would he not have taken the time to learn Will Decker inside and out? The exact circumstances of how the two men met and what they're exact relationship was aren't clear, but it would seem that if Kirk thought enough of Decker to recommend him as his replacement that he'd have also learned something of who Decker was beyond what his service record indicated.

--Sran
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Old November 18 2013, 02:23 PM   #18
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Re: TOS: Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett Review Thread (spoilers)

I'll agree that I was too heavy on the gratuitous continuity porn in this one, since it was my first novel and I hadn't learned to dial it back. There are a few things I would've left out if I'd known I'd get the chance to cover them in later books where they were more relevant.

As for Kirk, I don't see him as passive in the climax, since his example is a catalyst for what the members of his crew achieve. Which is the role he played in TMP as well; he assembled the team and served as its anchor. Leadership isn't about hogging the spotlight, it's about bringing out the best in those you lead. Also, the climax was more than one event. Spock brought down the bad guy, but Kirk played a critical role in the larger diplomatic resolution, bringing the factions to the table and reasoning with them. What I was trying to show here, IIRC, was Kirk's maturation as a leader, growing beyond the youthful man of action into more of a statesman and diplomat.
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Old November 21 2013, 10:17 PM   #19
Kertrats47
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Re: TOS: Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett Review Thread (spoilers)

Bah! Bring on the continuity porn! As long as it ultimately serves the plot (which I feel it does here), I'm all for it.

I loved the exploration of the issues that came out of The Motion Picture. If you watch the film, the attitude seems to be, "Hey! Kirk pushed Decker aside! Sweet, we're all happy now." The only dissenting opinion is one quick line from Ensign alien nobody (Ensign Zaand, who was properly fleshed out by Christopher), which was just as quickly dismissed.

I'm firmly in the "above average" camp on this one.

Here's my full review: http://treklit.blogspot.com/2012/07/ex-machina.html
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Old November 21 2013, 10:50 PM   #20
Sran
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Re: TOS: Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett Review Thread (spoilers)

Kertrats47 wrote: View Post
I loved the exploration of the issues that came out of The Motion Picture. If you watch the film, the attitude seems to be, "Hey! Kirk pushed Decker aside! Sweet, we're all happy now." The only dissenting opinion is one quick line from Ensign alien nobody (Ensign Zaand, who was properly fleshed out by Christopher), which was just as quickly dismissed.
I agree and am glad someone brought to life characters who didn't agree with the old guard taking over again. As you said, the movie seemed to gloss over the crew's feelings (save for the senior staff, all of whom supported Kirk being in command again) and ignored that most of the people serving aboard the Enterprise by 2273 weren't members of Kirk's old crew but people Decker hand-picked to work under him. They expected Decker to be their captain. Suddenly, he wasn't, and just as quickly, he was gone. Exploring the situation in greater detail makes characters seem much more like real people as opposed to mere elements in a story.

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Old November 22 2013, 07:15 AM   #21
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Re: TOS: Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett Review Thread (spoilers)

Kertrats47 wrote: View Post
The only dissenting opinion is one quick line from Ensign alien nobody (Ensign Zaand, who was properly fleshed out by Christopher), which was just as quickly dismissed.
My customized Zaand:


Vaylin Zaand, Rhaandarite bridge ensign by Therin of Andor, on Flickr

(I once received an email offer to sell this figure to Adrienne Barbeau, Billy Van Zandt's wife, so she could surprise him with it. I explained that I'd already sent him a handpainted Citadel metal miniature of his character!)

And the LA Times cartoon I recaptioned for Christopher when news broke about "Ex Machina" and its exploration of TMP aliens:


Rec deck aliens by Therin of Andor, on Flickr
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Old November 22 2013, 08:49 PM   #22
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Re: TOS: Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett Review Thread (spoilers)

Christopher wrote: View Post
^So far I've managed to revisit the post-TMP era in Mere Anarchy: The Darkness Drops Again and in more depth in Department of Temporal Investigations: Forgotten History.
Christopher, I really appreciate you exploring the post-TMP era. Well done.
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Old November 22 2013, 09:37 PM   #23
Therin of Andor
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Re: TOS: Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett Review Thread (spoilers)

Despite initial reports that "Ex Machina" didn't sell its first print-run fast enough, the novel does seem to have gone into multiple reprints. I'm sure the last one I saw in a shop was up to the fourth printing.
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Old November 24 2013, 10:40 PM   #24
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Re: TOS: Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett Review Thread (spoilers)

This thread eroded all barriers to not buy this book right away. Now its downloading on my device I am off to start digging into it.
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Old November 25 2013, 06:57 AM   #25
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Re: TOS: Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett Review Thread (spoilers)

Excellent! [/Mr Burns]
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Old December 4 2013, 11:10 AM   #26
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Re: TOS: Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett Review Thread (spoilers)

Last night I finished reading Ex Machina. TOS books always take longer time for me to finish for some reason.

I failed to detect unusual amounts of continuity porn. The characterizations were enjoyable, including the fleshing-out of species like the Rhaandarites, Betelgeusians and Megarites. The mention of an Eeiauoan is appreciated - I like that older standalone adventures don't necessarily mean they're forgettable in the long run.

I'm a sucker for species diversity in Starfleet and this novel had a TTN-vibe to it, almost like a spiritual sequel to the later book series.

A major theme was the struggle between civilization and religion. To mature socially, a culture needs to learn to go beyond war, disease, poverty and religion although it cannot be achieved overnight. I sympathized with Commissioner Soreth's point of view but recognized that the Lorini required time (and patient schooling) to throw of the shackles of oppression, something that Natira realized as well in the end.

A further aspect I liked was the sudden death of a 'redshirt', a classic TOS trope, but where the redshirt was a developed character and his loss regrettable.

Picking up the novel, I expected round characterization, an intriguing plot, diverse species and a revisit to a familiar but until now underdeveloped place. My expectations were met and I'm happy to have finally picked up the book.
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Old December 4 2013, 03:30 PM   #27
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Re: TOS: Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett Review Thread (spoilers)

Markonian wrote: View Post
A major theme was the struggle between civilization and religion. To mature socially, a culture needs to learn to go beyond war, disease, poverty and religion although it cannot be achieved overnight. I sympathized with Commissioner Soreth's point of view but recognized that the Lorini required time (and patient schooling) to throw of the shackles of oppression, something that Natira realized as well in the end.
Wow, you could not have more completely misinterpreted my intentions. I absolutely was not portraying religion as an inferior or anti-civilizational force. On the contrary, I went to great lengths to demonstrate the diversity of interpretations of religion, the ways in which it can be wielded as both a positive and negative force, and the gross folly and bigotry of assuming that a society is primitive and backward just because it has a different set of beliefs than your own. Natira was wrong to assume that her people needed to grow beyond religion altogether, and her attempt to enforce secularism was the cause of much of the unrest. There were people like Dovraku who subverted religion to serve their selfish or destructive ambitions, but there were also people like Rishala who sincerely used their faith to serve positive and constructive ends. And by lumping the latter together with the former, Nashira and Soreth blinded themselves to a possible solution.

Not to mention that the kind of condescending attitude you're expressing here -- that the Lorini were some kind of child-culture that needed to be shepherded by the superior Federation -- was also part of the problem because it offended the Lorini's dignity and made them feel oppressed, and quite rightly too. The right path was to respect them as partners and let them make their own choices, rather than trying to impose solutions that the Federation ethnocentrically assumed would be superior.

Indeed, that's the whole point of the Prime Directive. It's about having the humility to recognize that your own culture is not automatically superior to others, that you're not more qualified than they are to decide what's best for them, and that trying to compel them to become more like you will only cause harm.
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Old December 5 2013, 10:12 PM   #28
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Re: TOS: Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett Review Thread (spoilers)

My opinion on religion coloured my perception of its representation in Ex Machina. Whether religion is a superstition or not, it is a tool of society that can be employed for positive and negative ends, if I understand the point correctly.

My criticism of the Oracular belief was severe but not meant to belittle the Lorinan civilization as a whole. Considering that the Yonadan phase alone lasted ten thousand years, such a stance would be arrogant.
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Old December 16 2013, 09:34 PM   #29
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Re: TOS: Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett Review Thread (spoilers)

Well, after seeing many references to Ex Machina around the Lit board over the past months, I decided to order it from Amazon.

Reading it will have to wait tho...as that I just finished The Poisoned Chalice and am currently reading Christopher's more current work...Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures.

It is my intention to get Ex Machinaread before the final Fall book comes out at the end of the month...looking forward to it.
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Old December 17 2013, 08:57 PM   #30
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Re: TOS: Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett Review Thread (spoilers)

I loved it. Definitely one of the better Trek-lit reads, although I confess a weakness for the TOS movie era.

I thought that some of the internal monologues of the minor supporting 'lower decks' crew went over the top a bit in some cases and dragged the story progression off course a bit, albeit briefly, but the flip side is that it gives the author something to work with in future stories I suppose. I certainly wanted to re-use the support crew in a similar way in my you tube comic.

I'd really like to revisit Christopher's TMP era again. I must get round to ordering the other novels next year after my time-consuming Dungeons & Dragons project plateaus.
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