Spoilers TP: Brinkmanship by Una McCormack Review Thread

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Sho, Sep 16, 2012.


Rate Brinkmanship.

  1. Outstanding

    25 vote(s)
  2. Above Average

    47 vote(s)
  3. Average

    17 vote(s)
  4. Below Average

    4 vote(s)
  5. Poor

    2 vote(s)
  1. King Daniel Beyond

    King Daniel Beyond Admiral Admiral

    Nov 5, 2008
    ^And predictably, none of the comments have anything to do with the book:barf:

    I finished Brinkmanship last night. I thought it was slow going until Picard's speech 2/3 of the way through. Then it got good.
  2. star trek

    star trek Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

    Jun 4, 2011
    I gave it an above average. It was better than some Typhon Pact novels but it didn't blow me away.

    Not bad.
  3. Kertrats47

    Kertrats47 Commodore Commodore

    May 3, 2010
    Alberta, Canada
    Finally published my review of this novel! I really enjoyed it. I'm really growing to love the Tzenkethi. I hope we get to see more of them in future novels.
  4. Enterpriserules

    Enterpriserules Commodore Commodore

    Excellent review! Sorry mine is still coming
  5. Kertrats47

    Kertrats47 Commodore Commodore

    May 3, 2010
    Alberta, Canada
    Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. Looking forward to yours!
  6. Enterpriserules

    Enterpriserules Commodore Commodore

  7. Kertrats47

    Kertrats47 Commodore Commodore

    May 3, 2010
    Alberta, Canada
    Hmm.... your link seems to take me to a "page not found" error.
  8. Enterpriserules

    Enterpriserules Commodore Commodore

    Sorry about that. Trek.FM
  9. WarsTrek1993

    WarsTrek1993 Captain Captain

    Nov 18, 2011
    The Final Frontier, TX
    Okay, I just finished, and here are some of my thoughts:

    1. The Tzenkethi-I like how well-developed they are here, and how we learn about their ranks. (Which David R. George III also addressed). Interesting how they have this letter-grading system. Haha.

    2. Spies-Another poster on here compared this segment to Duane's "The Romulan Way", and that's actually a pretty good analogy, not just because of the spy plot, but because of how much insight we get on the homeworld.

    3. Beverly Crusher- It's really nice to finally see her shine! I always kinda felt she never really got the chance to be the central character in the novels as of late, so it was good to have her as the speaker.

    It was great to have Ezri shine as well, I liked her better here than in Zero Sum Game. I did feel that Peter Alden was a little underdeveloped and there wasn't really any point to him.
    On a more positive note, I did love the parallels between this novel and the Cold War, well done, Una McCormack. Well done. :)

    I rate "Above Average".
  10. Jarvisimo

    Jarvisimo Captain Captain

    Jan 4, 2011
    I really liked this novel, and how much it played with the idea of perspective: a theme highly suitable for a novel about espionage, certainly, but more so a text with a heavy emphasis on gender politics and identity.

    Since the reader only encounters other characters mainly through four points-of-view, they are entrusted with a heavily claustrophobic perspective. Consider the figures of Gardner, Allen and the Cardassian negotiator. Each is subject to disconcerting shifts in character: one of these is explained to the reader, that is the latter, when it is revealed she was enacting a political game to unsettle the Tzenkethi. However until that point we are simply told 'trust me' through Dygan. Confined as we were to limited perspectives, it was not simply that we couldn't get into their head, but that their contradictory elements of character (or different parts of personality) could not be explained. This felt very much a literary realist tool, emulating our highly limited perspectives of people: especially people not seen in years or newly encountered. Our interpretations are prone to how little we know about a given person, and it felt like McCormack was challenging a general trend of over-explanation for the audience. Therefore Neta's, Ezri's and Dygan's views on these characters were subject to changes that rarely were given clarity to the audience (for the example the aforementioned negoticiator), and which only enhances the text.

    This was most fruitfully done with the confusing behaviour of the spies, of course. Consider the shifts of how Ezri interprets, Allen, her old friend. The spy becomes the more opaque to the reader, more unknown, just as most people in life are to one another. He is wonderfully positive and charming in his introduction, and then hours later, something entirely different, yet entirely explicable by the novel's end, oscillating between different identities. And of course, in reverse, he was equally disconcerted by this new other, this Dax too.

    The terrible senses of disenpowerment and enpowerment that perspective allows the viewer/self, be this in social interaction, or within academic discussion of gender studies, feminism and social interaction, were such fundamental elements of this wonderfully subtle novel.
  11. DEWLine

    DEWLine Commodore Commodore

    Apr 27, 2003
    Ottawa, Canada
  12. Quimby

    Quimby Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Jan 3, 2008
    I am behind the times but I just finished this and I liked it. I was curious if the representation of the Tzenkethi was inspired by the society in Brave New World because it felt very reminiscent of it.
  13. Una McCormack

    Una McCormack Writer Red Shirt

    Sep 21, 2003
    Cambridge, UK
    Hi Quimby: I wasn't consciously influenced by Brave New World, although it's hard to write dystopia that isn't influenced by it or Nineteen Eighty-Four. I think a more conscious influence was George Orwell's essay on W.B. Yeats, particularly the following (and the whole paragraph from which this quotation comes):

  14. Paper Moon

    Paper Moon Commander Red Shirt

    Oct 28, 2011
    Spoilers for Brinkmanship abound ahead, though I haven’t gotten Persistence of Memory yet so please don’t spoil that for me!!!!!! (Also, I got excited about this novel, and when I get excited, I have a hard time curbing my enthusiasm. My apologies ahead of time.)

    tl;dr: An excellent read, with some of the best worldbuilding I’ve seen and an exquisite, wheels-within-wheels plot that is executed with perfection. The only flaws are the ham-handed exclusions of the rest of the Enterprise crew, and some inconsistent characterizations (some of which are implicitly explained [Akaar], some of which are explainable [Bowers], and one of which, Picard, is a glaring failure). 4 stars out of 5.

    Long form: Brinkmanship was really, really great. There is a definite separation of TrekLit writers occurring at the moment: writers who can consistently deliver and hit it home (Mack, DRGIII, Bennett, etc.) and those who cannot. McCormack has secured her place among the former.

    Things I liked (in no particular order):
    -McCormack's style of occasional out-of-character narrations, including when she address the reader ("Picture this..."), is unique among TrekLit, and she uses it to great effect here.
    -Though others have complained, I really liked the status reports from the freighters, as well as the parallel reports from Dax once they started coming. Felt very proud of myself once I realized what they were, and they definitely added to the Cuban Missile Crisis feel for me.
    -Paralleling that, I liked the progression of syndic reports; the final one, about fear, provided a very striking image that really drove home the environment created by the brinkmanship being engaged in by the Federation and the Typhon Pact.
    -Playing to her strengths, McCormack used an excellent "wheels-within-wheels" plot, with lots and lots of loose ends scattered throughout the story, almost all of which were tied up at the end. (For example, Akaar's brusqueness is explained as being part of the plan, which implicitly explains away his out-of-character behavior.) The ones that aren't tied up (Who planted the bomb? What were the freighters carrying?) were clearly deliberately left so, as part of the point of the story.
    -Dax was likable! Was very surprised. She didn't come off as strident or arrogant. She finally seems fit to be in the captain's chair of one of the UFP's most powerful ships. Kudos to Una for making me enjoy reading my least favorite character!
    -The Cardassians were well-done. Garak's single scene was masterful.
    -Dygan is great. I hope he is given his proper due in Mack's trilogy. Loved his "we're the next generation, we're not gonna eff it up the way that Dukat and Damar did" attitude. Soooooo much potential for Western social commentary. Great stuff.
    -Though I don't know if it was intentional, the commentary about lying politicians, and about facts becoming just as relevant as lies in political debate (during the conference on Venette) really resonated with me as the 2012 presidential campaign drew to a close here in the States.
    -The resolution of the Efheny storyline was perfect in every way, including in Gardner's death.
    -The overtones of North Korea on Ab-Tzenketh ("In the name of our most beloved and exalted Autarch Korzenten Rej Tov-AA, and in defense of the perfection of his borders, we serve and salute you!")
    -The Royal Moon (I know it wasn't McCormack's idea, but she executes it very well)
    -Picard's speech at Venette was perfectly written, and very true to his character

    Things that I liked that require more than bullets:

    The Tzenkethi were so fracking fascinating. This truly was science fiction at its best. I was surprised to realize that Corazame Ret Ata-E reminded me of those whom political analysts in the States call "low information voters;" McCormack contrasted her with the Mak-B's who go looking for the runaways, who talk like the highly-educated crew of the Enterprise. The Tzenkethi have developed a such a system through manipulated nature; we, in real life, have developed such a system through nurture. Yet the results are depressingly similar.

    Also along those lines: it's a common trope in sci-fi that the "underdogs" are unwillingly oppressed, either with or without their knowledge, and that they are capable of much more than their position affords them. We got overtones of this in Zero Sum Game and in The Struggle Within. We also see this here, particularly in the character of Cory, but there is much more nuance, and ambiguity. While there is evidence that some Tzenkethi wish to elevate their position in society, there is also evidence that many Tzenkethi are perfectly happy being oppressed, and would, in fact, be unhappy if the order of their lives were disrupted.

    So the question then becomes: is this willingness to accept their position without question a function of their culturally-induced nurture (ie. Tzenkethi society is structured in a way that makes them happy) or their genetically-engineered nature (ie. They have been engineered to be happy, and as such, have no free will regarding the matter, and in fact lack the capacity to have free will on the matter)? Do all Tzenkethi even have free will? Though we have very limited information, from what we know, the EE's seem to lack freewill, as do the 0's.

    Crusher was written very well, I thought. To be fair, she is a bit of tabula rasa, being very underdeveloped during the show. But what we see of her here is definitely consistent with the Crusher we see in "Remember Me" and "Suspicions," some of her best “character episodes” on the show. (It is a bit of a shame that she sounds rather "Gee willikers!" a lot of the time. But still.) She presents an interesting perspective on being extremely competent in one field (medicine), but much less so in another (diplomacy). Really liked her friendship with Ilka, whom I hope we see again.

    (I really want to see what’s happening on Ferenginar nowadays.)

    So a few things I didn’t like:
    -the way the other “main characters,” particularly the Lit-only characters, were so obviously put aside. Akaar basically says outright at the beginning that we won’t see T’Ryssa Chen. (In fact, I don’t think we see her once.) Choudhury gets barely a mention, a token piece of dialogue, I believe; Hegol is mentioned maybe once? I haven’t been happy with some of the “Trys overdoses” it’s felt like we’ve been getting lately, but this was too far in the other direction. (Fwiw, PoN had a very good balance with her, I thought.)
    -I missed La Forge and Worf in this outing as well. All of the supporting characters on the Enterprise felt very thin, very functional. Less noticeably so on the Aventine, partly because we don’t know them as well.
    -I felt that McCormack erred rather strongly in how she wrote the briefly seen interaction between Worf and Picard: Picard addresses him as “Commander Worf” during the battle. He would never do that. He would either say “Number One,” or less likely, just “Worf.” In “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” the writers had Picard call Riker “Commander Riker” to signify the distance between the two of them there, but from all we have seen of them, Picard and Worf have a great relationship. So that really stuck out for me, and unfortunately knocked me out of the narrative while I was reading that scene.
    -Tying all of that together Brinkmanship was like a good old episode of TNG that focused on a small part of the ensemble cast (in this case, Crusher, Dygan and Picard, in that order), to the point of excluding the other characers, or at best reducing them to a token scene or single piece of dialogue. That style worked on-air in one-part episodes, but you’d almost never see it in a two-parter. Brinkmanship probably translates to a two or three episode arc, though you obviously could stretch it out much farther. It just felt unbalanced.

    Finally, the Big Thing that cost the book about half of a star: the characterization of Picard.

    Disclaimer: Jean-Luc Picard is tied with Data and Garak for my favorite Star Trek character. When I read TNG TrekLit, I care about him most of all. So a mess-up with his character bothers me more than, say, an inconsistency with Bowers. (Whatever happened to the stickler for protocol we saw in ASD? Is this “trustworthy vibe” we’re supposed to get from him consistent with that? Ehn. I dunno, but it’s not a huge deal for me.)

    From the outset: “Cardassian problems.” At some point during the TV show, 15 years before this story, Picard might have said something like this. He actually does say something not too unlike it about the Ferengi in “Ménage à Troi”. But in any case, when it comes down to it, it’s racist. (Imagine if a 21st-century Picard had said, “We have an Asian problem,” or “an Indian problem.”) You could maybe argue that he’s referring to Cardassian politics or government, but I’m not buying it. He doesn’t specify enough for us to do the same.

    And then again later: he quips about the Ferengi being all that stand between them and war. What is his basis for this assertion? Has Ilka demonstrated diplomatic incompetence that makes him worry? (A clue: no, she hasn’t.) Are the Ferengi likely to have a secret, anti-Federation agenda? Probably not; Rom agreed to join the Khitomer Accords right away, and again, we’ve seen nothing from Ilka to indicate that she or her government want war.

    In both cases, Picard stereotypes about entire species, and I simply don’t believe he would do that in 2383.

    I would be very interested, Una, in hearing what your thought process was in constructing that characterization, but from where I’m sitting, it was the biggest drawback of the book.

    Still, even bearing all of that in mind, this was a bloody excellent book, and I so very much enjoyed reading it. I hope we get more from Una McCormack, and very soon!

    4 stars out of 5
  15. Rush Limborg

    Rush Limborg Vice Admiral Admiral

    Jul 13, 2008
    The EIB Network
    Ms. McCormack, will you be writing more for Dax and Co? Because, as I and others have said--your handling of Ezri is the BEST I have seen in a long, long time!
  16. Una McCormack

    Una McCormack Writer Red Shirt

    Sep 21, 2003
    Cambridge, UK
    Rush Limborg, thank you for your kind words about Ezri Dax! I'd love to write her again. I've always had a lot of sympathy for Ezri; I suspect I have quite a lot in common with her. Apart from the symbiont.

    Paper Moon, thank you so much for that terrific review! I'm delighted that so much about the book worked for you. A couple of people have now compared Tzenkethi society to North Korea, which I find very interesting. I'm not sure I had that consciously in mind, although I've read a fair about about North Korea over the years, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of that had filtered through. Ab-Tzenketh is certainly a more abundant world: right down at the lowest level there is enough food and certain comforts, as Efheny notes throughout. I don't think the ruling Tzenkethi class is extracting so much wealth that the rest of the population is reduced to subsistence level. Part of what makes the society stable is that everyone is basically comfortable, and there's a great deal of natural or crafted beauty.

    Thanks for your point about Picard's stereotyping throughout. Planet of Hats is a very difficult trope to manage and I hope that in general I'm interrogating it. Sometimes it doesn't quite work, and it seems this was one of those occasions for you. I'll try harder, should there be a next time!
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2012
  17. PKS8304

    PKS8304 Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Sep 21, 2011
    Just finished my copy of Brinkmanship.

    I enjoyed it, it was an engaging storyline that drove the Typhon Pact arc along but provided an interesting view along the way.

    The characters were nailed, and the new characters were as enjoyable to read and learn about.
    (I especially enjoyed the brief scene with Garak and Bacco, which is the proof I point to back my above statement)

    Nice to see Dr Crusher in the forefront here and hope that this opens a whole new arc for her character to be picked back up by the author or by another in the near future.

    I scored this book: Above Average.
  18. DigificWriter

    DigificWriter Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    May 20, 2001
    West Haven, UT, USA
    Just finished the book, and man, I really enjoyed it. I've never before had the chance to read a book by the author, but, for a first experience, I really don't think I could've picked a better story.

    DS9 is my absolute-favorite Star Trek series and, while this was largely focused on characters from TNG and the USS Aventine, everything that I love about DS9 still managed to shine through, making this a very enjoyable read indeed.

    Although I would've liked to have seen more of the existing TNG and Aventine characters, I liked the new characters introduced, and am hoping that we'll see more of them in the future. I'd especially like to see more of Corazme and Peter Alden.

    It took me a while to figure out what the significance of the 'status memos' was, and I didn't quite get the Venette Convention counterparts to said status memos, but that confusion didn't get in the way of my enjoyment of the story.

    My favorite aspects of the book were actually the parts set on Ab-Tzkenth (sp?), and the way that things happening in that particular storyline actually tied back in to what was happening in the other storylines.

    Re: Paper Moon's comment about Picard behaving stereotypically and judgmentally, I didn't get that feeling at all; I took his comments about the Cardassians and the Ferengi as being slightly tongue-in-cheek.

    Overall, this book was an extremely excellent read and has inspired me to definitely go check out Una's other Star Trek works.
  19. Kertrats47

    Kertrats47 Commodore Commodore

    May 3, 2010
    Alberta, Canada
    I can highly recommend both Hollow Men and The Never-Ending Sacrifice. Hollow Men especially for the AMAZING Garak scenes.
  20. Paper Moon

    Paper Moon Commander Red Shirt

    Oct 28, 2011
    Hmm, I can see that as possibility in hindsight, particularly in the case of the Ferengi remark. But I'm not sure I really agree that that approach reconciles his Cardassian remarks for me. He seemed too downtrodden and stressed in that scene to really be making tongue-in-cheek remarks. But that's probably my reading more into the scene than Una intended.

    By the way, the rest of your review captures very well how I felt about most of the book. :)