Spoilers ENT: Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel by C. L. Bennett Review Thread

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Sho, Mar 19, 2014.

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Rate Tower of Babel.

  1. Outstanding

    17 vote(s)
    24.6%
  2. Above Average

    31 vote(s)
    44.9%
  3. Average

    19 vote(s)
    27.5%
  4. Below Average

    2 vote(s)
    2.9%
  5. Poor

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  1. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

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    This is a really bizarre way of looking at things, because it basically denies the possibility of investing in any characters in any work of art who don't die.

    There are always some "safe" characters and always some "unsafe" characters, because there will always be some characters that need to survive to the end of the story. Does the fact that Fortinbras survives The Tragedy of Hamlet but Hamlet does not, mean that you won't invest into the Hamlet character? Does it mean that Hamlet's life only matters insofar as how it impacts Fortinbras?

    And let's accept your premise that we know some characters may die and some may not. Why does that mean that the ones who may die only matter insofar as they impact the ones that may not? Why are you unable to invest into those "unsafe" characters' emotional journeys the same way you would a "safe" character's journey? Why does being "unsafe" render the character's life meaningless? Why do you only apply meaning in terms of their impact on "safe" characters?

    Why don't the characters just matter to you, period?
     
  2. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    But the point is, it's all imaginary. The "consequences" in a work of literature aren't real, because the "people" they happen to don't exist except as words on a page. You just choose to pretend that there are stakes that matter. You use your imagination to invest in the story, to set aside your knowledge that the stakes are unreal and allow yourself to believe in them. That's the same whether what you're ignoring is the guarantee of survival for the characters or the fact that the characters don't exist anyway.


    I assure you that's not my intent. Granted, this particular installment in the series didn't feature the highest personal stakes for most of the main cast (Trip being an exception, I think), and that was a source of concern for me; but at the same time it seemed reasonable to follow up the first novel, which established the characters' new situations and relationships and showed their growing pains, with something where the characters' situation was a bit more stable, where the focus was more on the larger political and social process on the one hand and on the smaller personal stuff on the other. It would get boring if every story were just "Oh, we're all gonna die" over and over again. This is the first time I've had the luxury of writing a full series, aside from my Hub stories in Analog, and that means I can play a long game and modulate my approach from book to book.


    I honestly have no idea what you're referring to here. Who have I "offered up?" What sacrifices are you talking about?

    And let's clarify something: The person who's ranking characters by how killable they are is you, not me. I don't plot my stories based on such a simplistic and narrow-minded formula. Death is not the only story device that has worth or power. It's just one tool in the kit. There are plenty of ways characters can grow or change or fail or suffer in meaningful ways without dying. In fact, I think death is often a lazy ending for a character arc -- it doesn't really resolve anything, it just stops things. I mean, a character's death can't have a future impact on that character's development, because they don't have any more beyond it (unless they get resurrected, but that's a whole other conversation). It's only meaningful to the extent that it affects other characters' arcs.

    So frankly I don't give a damn who's killable and who isn't, because I'm not only concerned with action and danger. As a rule it's more interesting to keep characters alive because then you can keep getting them in trouble and seeing how it affects and changes them. Sisko having to live with the choices he made in "In the Pale Moonlight" is a much more interesting story than if, say, he blew himself up to prevent them from happening. Basically, a writer's job is to torture one's characters, and you can't torture a corpse.

    And for the record, everything is a trope. So calling something a trope doesn't exactly constitute a condemnation. It's impossible to tell a story without tropes. A trope is simply a motif, device, or technique for telling a story. What you're advocating for here -- placing lead characters in genuine danger -- is also a trope. And freely killing off lead characters can be just as cliched or formulaic as rendering them immune to death. No trope is automatically good or bad; they're tools, and the quality of a tool is in how it's wielded.
     
  3. JeBuS

    JeBuS Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    Sci, do you always purposefully ignore points when you discuss things, or is it a special behavior that you only pull out for me? As I've been saying, this is about problems with tie-in literature. Last I heard, Hamlet doesn't qualify.
     
  4. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    And I've been saying that it's a false distinction. Either way, it's about the willing suspension of disbelief. You're just more willing to suspend disbelief about certain things than about others, and that's a matter of your own priorities rather than a failing of one genre or another.
     
  5. JeBuS

    JeBuS Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    It's certainly a distinction, but as with most personal distinctions, I'm not sure how it could be false. It's one reader's opinion, in a review thread, about a specific aspect of a novel. However, I do think it applies to tie-in novels to a greater degree than others.
     
  6. JD

    JD Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Honestly, I don't really care if a character can die or not. Hell, right now on book 4 of 12 published books in The Hollows, book 8 of 14 published in the Dresden Files series, book 4 of 6 published in the Kate Daniels series, the third in the Hunger Games trilogy, and first books in the Divergent and Under the Never Sky trilogies. In of those case I already know that the characters will live at least until the end of the current books, but for me that has no effect on my investment into the characters. When the characters find themselves in a life threatening situation, for me it's not a matter of will they survive, instead it's how are they going to get out of this one.
     
  7. Jedi_Master

    Jedi_Master Admiral Admiral

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    Well I guess I unleashed a mini-firestorm. To avoid going over things that have been discussed in detail I will simply clarify my opinion regarding the level of dramatic tension in "Tower of Babel" : despite your many talents as a writer ChristopherI felt that the villians were too easily defeated, the perils facing the heroes were too easily solved and that was never a moment that the outcome of events was in doubt. The notable exception was the Saurian and Trip\T'pol\Section 31 storylines. Those kept me guessing and were subsequently my favorite sections of the book. You have already promised to up your game in the next book, and I plan on holding you to that promise ;).
    Looking forward to your next book.
     
  8. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

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    No. I just think that your arguments are built on absurd premises, and so I go after your premises instead of digging at every outgrowth of them.

    And the argument I made by bringing up Hamlet is that you are applying an arbitrary standard to media tie-in novels which you probably don't apply to non-media tie-in works.
     
  9. JeBuS

    JeBuS Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    Then your comparison is without basis. There is no reason to expect any character in a single standalone story to survive. Whereas with tie-in novels, one expects the main characters to always survive, with the exceptions to that being truly exceptional.

    I don't deny that the standard I'm applying is arbitrary. But that doesn't negate its basis.
     
  10. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

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    Oh, don't be silly. Of course there is. The instant you recognize what kinds of genres and tropes are being drawn upon to create the work, you can start making predictions about which character is or is not likely to survive to the end.

    Well there you go then.
     
  11. JeBuS

    JeBuS Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    If one can take any single standalone novel and predict the fates of each character in it, judging only by the genre and tropes, then it's not a very good novel, in my opinion.

    So all of this was simply your way of saying "that's your opinion and you're entitled to it"?
     
  12. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

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    Then apparently there's no such thing as a good novel for you. Because these sorts of things can be broadly predicted in the overwhelming majority of works being produced.

    And I for one reject the idea that unpredictability is a sign of quality.

    No, it's me being satisfied that you've acknowledged you are applying an arbitrary standard when evaluating something.
     
  13. JeBuS

    JeBuS Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    It's not necessarily the case that unpredictability is a sign of quality, but a highly predictable story is a generally good indicator of the lack.

    Well, it's good that you're satisfied that I applied an unusual personal desire for a bit of unpredictability when posting my personal review. Heaven forbid you weren't satisfied that I was using the thread for its intended purpose.
     
  14. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    To be honest, I can't disagree with you there. I could've done better. I felt there was a thematic point to be made in having the villains fail through their own inability to cooperate, but I did fear that it resulted in a lack of suspense, and I guess those fears were justified.

    I'll certainly try.


    Of course there is. For instance, one doesn't expect a Pixar movie or a romantic comedy to end in a bloodbath.


    Or maybe the problem is that it's too limited to judge the quality of a work of fiction based exclusively on some sort of dead pool. A character's "fate" can be a thousand things other than dying. It can be failing to find love, or being betrayed by one's best friend, or losing a custody battle for one's child, or being wrongly sentenced to prison, or having a shameful secret exposed to the world, or any number of other things. Drama is about far more than just death. Death is simple. Death is just one thing. But life is immensely complicated and has many, many possible failure modes. And that's what drama is really about: not the risk of death, but the risk of failure and pain. Death in fiction is just a metaphor for failure.
     
  15. JeBuS

    JeBuS Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    Christopher, I don't disagree with you. As I said, I was only criticizing one aspect of the novel, the placement of "safe" and "non-safe" characters into dangerous situations and the futility of such, because of the inherent predictability of it.
     
  16. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    And like I've been saying, that's only a problem because you're choosing not to suspend your disbelief about it. You're bringing your awareness of a real-world factor into your mind as you read the story, and that's what's getting in your way. The key is to commit fully to the illusion, to allow yourself to believe for the duration that the characters are in genuine danger -- in exactly the same way that you allow yourself to believe they exist in the first place. If you can buy into the scenario fully, then you can feel a convincing illusion of peril to the characters for the duration of the story, regardless of what you objectively know about it beforehand or afterward.

    Like the saying goes, "The key is sincerity. If you can fake that, you've got it made." Telling a convincing story is not about creating something that is real, just something that feels real enough that the audience is willing to set aside their critical faculties and buy into the illusion. It's like a magic trick. You know the volunteer isn't really being sawed in half, but in the instant, you let yourself buy into the illusion being presented -- at least, if the magician does a good enough job creating that illusion that you're willing to be caught up in it.
     
  17. Shane Houston

    Shane Houston Commander Red Shirt

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    I have to disagree. I don't think you need to up your game, you brought it here. Thanks to your Enterprise books, before reading Tower Of Babel, I re-watched seasons 3-4 of the show, and from the end of season three to the end of the series, it was about showing the founding of the Federation. About how the various races came together in an alliance that would change the future of humanity forever.

    Look, not all novels should have phasers firing and torpedoes loading. No, this book may not have the flash and bang today's Trek fan is looking for, but this story is the next logical step after part one. It was really good.

    I really enjoyed Val and Sam, and was quite surprised with how much I enjoy them. I thought in part one that their introduction, and that of Dax, would be cheesy. But it wasn't. I liked how it is Val and not Sam who is more like Jim Kirk as a Captain. Plus her flying round house kick was awesome to watch, reminding us of all the times Captain Kirk flew through the air to subdue his opponents.

    Also, I really liked seeing T'Pol and Trip in conflict, and addressing what his being in Section 31 could mean for their future. Me? I'm hoping to finally see him out of it. Having him deal, finally, with what Section 31 is all about instead of justifying their actions shows me there's still some of the Starfleet officer we've come to know and love left in him.

    Kudos on Archer and Erickson. It will be good for him to finally move on and make peace Erica is not coming back.

    I love Reed and Pioneer and it's crew. Reed has become a commanding officer that is on par with best of the best in Starfleet we've come to love. Both Pioneer and Endeavor crews have been fleshed out in great detail and the conflict between Thanien and Sato was handled flawlessly. I've really enjoyed the process that T'Pol's XO has had to endure learning what it means to be in Starfleet.

    The ending. Wow, that's an old enemy I can't wait to read about.

    My rating 9 out of 10.
     
  18. JeBuS

    JeBuS Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    Again, I'm not disagreeing. There are certainly novels where that is the case, I suspend my disbelief because I'm wrapped up in the rest of the tale. But, as I said in my first post, that wasn't the case with this novel. As far as I can tell, it was because of the tired tropes being used. The first of which that comes to mind is the security guy who goes to the vault with Kirk... some crewman (see, I can't even think of his name). He was so obviously a redshirt that it took me out of the illusion. As soon as he was mentioned, it shot a big red flare up. It was like a parody scene out of Scalzi's Redshirts.

    Moments like those... ruin the illusion.
     
  19. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I see. I'll try to watch that in the future.

    Anyway:

    Here are my annotations for the novel, including a couple of excerpts from my project notes, one pertaining to the biology of one of the Rigelian species, the other being the historical overview of the Rigel system which I developed as backstory for the novel.

    http://home.fuse.net/ChristopherLBennett/Trekfiction.html#ROTF2
     
  20. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral

    Ooh, a timeline. Interesting.

    Well, all the notes are interesting, but the timeline is particularly appreciated.