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

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Old November 25 2012, 10:01 PM   #1
Deranged Nasat
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Aliens of Trek Lit, Chapter Six: Neyel!

Sorry I took so long this time 'round; I’ve been rather busy and so rather tired. Such sluggish pace wouldn't go down very well with the Neyel, who are definitely over-achievers, but then they have prehensile toes and tails now, while I have only the two hands.

A lot of readers might not have heard of the Neyel, which isn't that surprising. The race has only appeared twice; however, in both cases they were the central focus of the novel in question, so they’re considerably more prominent than might be supposed, particularly when we consider that the two novels were in different series. The Neyel are introduced, and star, in The Sundered, a tale of Star Trek: The Lost Era, by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels; they’re then brought back in the Star Trek: Titan novel The Red King, by the same authors. The story of Neyel society and its cultural development picks up in The Red King, with plenty of references and call backs to the events of The Sundered. An unusual choice, having the second book in a new series be a sequel of sorts to an earlier novel, but quite rewarding for the insight it gives us into a Trek culture's long-term development. Eighty years separate the stories, which is even longer for Neyel given their more rapid generations.

The Neyel are an alien culture whose claim to fame is that, genetically speaking, they’re not alien at all - except for where they’ve modified their genome artificially. The Neyel are a lost colony of humans who winded up stranded in the Small Magellanic Cloud, where they not only survived intact but found a new homeworld and thrived. To the extent, in fact, that they carved out an empire and became the dominant species in their region of space. Essentially, the Neyel are to humans what Romulans are to Vulcans – a paranoid, imperialist offshoot that did rather well for itself.

Indeed, the Neyel are one of the only human offshoots to be featured in the current Trek lit universe. Despite an incredible diaspora that frankly looks somewhat unrealistic for only a few centuries of interstellar travel, the humans have remained pretty homogenous both culturally and biologically. We’ve had a few instances of planetary environment shaping the settlers (e.g. the world of Pangea is mentioned several times as producing squat, heavy-set humans due to its gravity), but actual human variants aren't much in evidence. Naturally, a large part of this is the Federation’s restriction on genetic enhancement, which the Neyel get around by branching off from mainstream humanity rather early. In their case, they embraced genetic alteration as a means of ensuring survival in space, being stranded in an asteroid habitat floating among the stars in the aftermath of a warp accident. They have skeletal and muscular enhancements helping them function within a low-gravity environment, and thick skin to withstand radiation. They also develop swiftly to adulthood, another survival trait in their high-pressured environment but perhaps more likely an excuse to have a well-developed Neyel nation that’s managed to forget its heritage only 200 years after leaving Earth...

The Neyel are used to explore various issues involving racial identity, racial guilt, racial identification, imperialist racism, and myriad other things concerning race. Of course, one of the problems with the set-up, which I feel has to be noted despite the success of the Neyel as a vehicle for exploring these ideas, is that humans are genetically similar to a great many other humanoid species. Neyel and humans look nothing alike, but genetically they’re the same people, and this is played as significant. But aren’t most humanoid species in Trek genetically compatible without too much effort, and thus basically cousins anyway? The whole wonder at Neyel being genetically human (rather than descended from Terrans) is a little awkward, at times, but that's just me.

The Neyel are also a study in change and upheaval, and adaptation to such. The means by which ingenuity, ruthlessness, invention, compassion and various other traits act in concert and against one another to propel societies under pressure to great and far-reaching achievements in relatively short periods. Related to this, the tensions and excesses that come to define a society’s cultural worldview when it's history is so turbulant and energized. Between their short generations and the continuation of their story into a second novel, the rise and fall of civilizations – or more usefully, their continual transformation into something ever new and uncertain – is made extremely vivid with the Neyel.

I think I'd suggest that the struggle of the Neyel against a universe that seems to show them nothing but hostility mostly defines their first novel, while the struggle against their own perceptions and habits defines the second, though the string of crises and pressures from outside continues rather brutally. Where the Federation and mainstream humanity might at times be accused of complacency, the Neyel are a study in how constant pressure and adversity (real or imposed through their own perceptions) strengthen and weaken a people, and shape them into something that might have difficulty integrating with the rest of galactic civilization. In that sense, the comparison between two branches of the same species is a rewarding one.

I’ve heard it suggested by some readers that the speed with which Captain Sulu embraces the Neyel (or embraces responsibility for them, to acknowledge the ambiguity and complexity of his motives in The Sundered) is a little uncomfortable, which I suppose is partially the point. These readers suggest it actually reinforces the “humans are special” convention, seeming to suggest that the Neyel are an aberration that must be fixed, as though Sulu is too quick to "excuse" a violent and xenophobic race simply because they’re human and "shouldn't" be that way. I’m not sure I agree with that assessment – I think The Sundered, and The Red King both propose a complex knot of perspectives on the Neyel without settling on any one interpretation - Sulu also struggles with a sense of responsibility for their actions, simply because they’re of the same species (while knowing that the Tholians, who have been in conflict with the Neyel, will certainly see humanity as having culpability in Neyel actions) as well as a sense that this is a warning of how no species or race is inherently peaceful or warlike, and just as Neyel could have been humans, so humans could have been Neyel. The Red King explores potential equivalencies between humans and Neyel still further, with a cynical Neyel named Frane, member of a racial self-flagellation society, the “Seekers After Penance”, suggesting that USS Titan’s diversity is actually draped over a human supremacist power structure that reminds him of home.

At the conclusion of The Red King, the remnants of the Neyel have returned to their people’s point of origin at Sol, though in keeping with how they've been presented throughout both novels this isn’t a completed circle so much as the next obstacle their society (or what’s left of it) has to adapt to. The seeds of further Neyel stories were potentially planted in the final chapters of The Red King, as the Neyel faced another in the ongoing series of decisions regarding how they’ll adapt to what the universe has thrown at them, and whether they need to change still further, in attitude if nothing else. Last we heard, the Neyel’s original habitat/ship/refugee arc, Holy Vangar’, was going to be towed into orbit of one of the Sol system planets. Since then, we’ve heard nothing from them, not even cameos. I suppose displaced refugees became common as mud following the Borg Invasion, but having a population of remnant recovering-imperialists in the core systems seems a fascinating set up. To what degree are they integrating; are they operating independently or are they in the process of becoming Federation citizens?

(So much for keeping these introductions short...whoops...)
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Old November 27 2012, 07:47 PM   #2
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Re: Aliens of Trek Lit, Chapter Six: Neyel!

Another good entry, thanks. I had to go back to read about these folks when I started The Red King, interesting to see if they are mentioned again in the future.
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Old November 27 2012, 09:19 PM   #3
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Re: Aliens of Trek Lit, Chapter Six: Neyel!

Yeah, sorry, I don't have a great deal to say about these guys. I have read both books in question, although in the wrong order, so I kind of missed out on the set-up/surprise! aspect of The Sundered.

I do remember definitely enjoying that scene you mention when Frane calls Riker's and Titan's good intentions into question. I always like it when the Federation's (read: humans') pretentions of superiority get punctured, so that was a very effective scene.

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