ENT: Tower of Babel by C. L. Bennett Review Thread (Spoilers!)

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


Rate Tower of Babel.

  1. Outstanding

    16 vote(s)
  2. Above Average

    30 vote(s)
  3. Average

    19 vote(s)
  4. Below Average

    2 vote(s)
  5. Poor

    0 vote(s)
  1. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral

    Chapter One has three scenes, all interesting in their own way. We have the Three Sisters expanding their network of allies, recruiting some more-or-less familiar faces from the first two seasons, we have a look at how things are developing on Sauria, and we have Archer discussing both business and personal issues with his old friend Danica Erikson, who it seems might become Archer's love interest too. Well, it's nice to see Archer with a social life outside of Trip and... Porthos, I guess? Archer needs more friends. Shran was a frenemy, that doesn't count.

    So was T'Pol at first, come to think of it.

    Anyway, it's great to have a more in-depth look at Sauria. The description of the harbour city was engaging, and interesting to visualise. I'm glad that this series is fleshing out planets that from other series' perspective are long-standing Federation members, planets like Sauria and the Rigel Worlds. The Federation is (or will be) a rich and very diverse place, I've long wanted to explore its member worlds more fully. At the moment, there appears to be a plague of some kind in a M'Tezir-proximate country, presumably step one in Maltuvis' effort to be listed among the all-time greats.


    So, we have confirmation that the Criminal Enterprises Alliance and the Really Great Dictator are going to be ongoing antagonists, which is fine by me. It's logical given what we saw of crime and piracy, etc., in Enterprise combined with the Federation's inevitable stabilizing effect. The conflicts going forward are going to be between the forces of stability and those who thrive on instability, between law and freedom, between different interpretations of what the Federation national character should be. There aren't any major armed conflicts for the next century - this is made explicit in several TOS novels regarding the Klingon march to war - but nor is the galaxy going to passively roll over and accept policing.

    Finally, we have Archer offering a brief introduction to Rigel - the tattooed people are the Jelna, the Vulcanoid-Human ones are the Zami - a nice reference to a RPG name for Rigel IV, I appreciate that sort of homage - we have the Chelons of course, there are settlers from other species - Xarantine and Coridanite are mentioned - and the Trade Commission is to all intents and purposes the government.
  2. nickyboy

    nickyboy Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Jan 23, 2005
    Sydney, Australia
    My copy arrived on my iPad this morning. Read a cheeky 30 pages once I arrived in work.
  3. UUS Contrarian

    UUS Contrarian Lieutenant

    Feb 22, 2014
    Anybody who dislikes ENT and Archer and liked the previous book?
  4. Jedi Ben

    Jedi Ben Commander Red Shirt

    Feb 12, 2014
    Essex, UK
    That'd be me!
  5. Enterprise1701

    Enterprise1701 Commodore Commodore

    Mar 24, 2014
    Sol III, Sector 001, 2017 C.E.
    So exactly how many Rigellian species are there total native to the Raij'hl/Rigel/Beta Rigel system?
  6. UUS Contrarian

    UUS Contrarian Lieutenant

    Feb 22, 2014
    Alrighty. I will give it a shot.
  7. Markonian

    Markonian Commodore Commodore

    Jun 2, 2012
    Yorkshire, UK
    Beware of spoilers.
    "Rigelian" is a denoym of everyone residing in the system regardless of biological species.

    Chelons: turtoise-like reptilians from Rigel III
    Jelna: Rigelians from ENT "Demons", four-gendered: endomale & endofemale, exomale and exofemale
    Kalar: barbarian humanoids, originally from Rigel IV, exiled to Rigel VII
    Zami: vulcanoids with slightly pointed ears from Rigel IV (shared homeworld with Kalar)
    Alien immigrants: include Coridanites (Rigel VI's moons) and Xarantine (Outer Colonies, esp. Rigel X)
  8. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

    Mar 2, 2002
    Montgomery County, State of Maryland
    Just finished this one. Such a fun book!

    Poli sci geek that I am, I particularly enjoyed the continued look at the evolution of the early Federation's political structure and politics. Some thoughts:

    - I've often thought the idea that the Federation would have no political parties, or no UFP-level alliances of planetary political parties (akin to Europarties), was unrealistic. Most of the criticisms leveled against the idea of political parties, in my view, stems from the two-party system the U.S. suffers from as a result of its using first-past-the-post voting; in my view, political parties arise because of the need in any democratic society for people with similar ideas to ally, share resources, and get a rough (but not exact) idea of where a political leader stands. As a result, I've always thought that a more genuinely democratic society would in fact have quite a few political parties -- similar to how the Parliament Andoria in The Fall: A Ceremony of Losses features something like six or seven parties. So I found it refreshing to see Tower of Babel explore the idea that the early Federation would have featured at least two major political factions (if not formal parties) in the Planetarist and Federalist movements. In particular, I appreciated how Christopher was careful to show both as having legitimate concerns, even if one side or the other was being hijacked by anti-democratic forces.

    - Haroun al-Rashid has been elected President, and the first to be popularly elected. Does this mean that he is the President of the United Federation of Planets rather than the President of the Council, as Vanderbilt was established to be in A Choice of Futures?

    - The early Federation Council members all seem to have been popularly elected by their respective Member States. This is in contrast to the later Federation, where the Member State governments get to decide how a Councillor will come to office; Andor: Paradigm establishes that the Federation Councillor from Andor is in the 2370s appointed as part of the cabinet in Andor's Westminster-like parliamentary system, while Bajor: Fragments and Omens sees the Bajoran First Minister appointing their Councillor with the advice and consent of the Chamber of Ministers (or, rather, sees her making an interim appointment without the Chamber, a la U.S. Presidents appointing foreign ambassadors). I rather prefer Christopher's notion of Federation Councillors needing to be democratically elected rather than appointed, to be honest; I wonder what prompted the change?

    - The "house style" for Star Trek books since at least 2002's Mission: Gamma series has been for members of the Federation Council to be referred to as "Councillor" with two Ls. Here, it's spelled with one. I don't think this really matters, but I just find it an interesting departure from previous practice. :)

    - I loved the exploration of Rigellian society. I admit to being slightly confused, however; the implication I got earlier in the book was that the Rigel system wasn't really comprised of a single sovereign state, but rather of a sort of trade alliance of sovereign states, with the Trade Commission forming a sort of de facto government yet with the individual worlds still as the sovereigns themselves. In the end, though, they join as a single Federation Member -- does that mean that the Rigel system formally united into a single polity in order to qualify for Federation Membership? Or did I misunderstand the intention in the earlier scene -- was the intention that the Rigel system was already a single sovereign state, merely retaining the nomenclature of a trading alliance?

    - Loved the Sam Kirk/Valeria Williams stuff. I was initially weary of the idea of featuring Jim Kirk's ancestors, but these two have really come alive for me as unique and distinct characters in their own right.

    - Speaking of which, so has Thanien!

    - Very intrigued by the continuing exploration of the nations of Sauria and how their contact with the early Federation and other cultures has influenced them. The Basileus is a great villain. I don't suppose there's any chance that you might have produced a map of Sauria for us to enjoy, Christopher? ;) (I only ask because sometimes you have produced visual aids in the past.)

    - T'Rama is an intriguing character. I hope we see more of her.

    - Trip and Section 31. We're starting to see the origins of Thirty-One's later corruption, which I really like. I enjoyed Trip's struggles to deal with a question we in the real world face all the time -- at what point does trade with a foreign nation equal complicity in their government's crimes? When does a trading partner who might be a dictator become a client government or vassal? What's the right thing to do there?

    - Garos has evolved into an intriguing adversary. I was initially bored of him (and, indeed, I'd found his debut episode boring as all hell back in the day), but Christopher has turned him into an intriguing, multi-faceted antagonist. I wonder yet if his own native sense of fair play might one day sway him to stop opposing the Federation.

    - Poor Archer, seduced by a pretty lady yet again!
  9. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Mar 15, 2001
    I did try to avoid portraying them as formal parties, because I had a line in A Choice of Futures in which several characters talked about political parties as a thing of the past that nobody wanted to see revived. There's value in alliances forming as needed to achieve particular goals, but formal partisan politics tends to become a tribal thing, more about the good of the party than the good of the country.

    I was building mainly on the Federalist/Anti-federalist debates of the early US -- although there were more recent analogies.

    I kinda sorta meant to imply that, I think, but I tried to keep it vague since I'm not entirely sure which way was best to go there.

    Basically. It was sort of a mini-Federation in its own right, growing out of an East India Company-like corporation into more of a formal government. Of course, as it's an alien civilization, one shouldn't expect exact its political/governmental forms to have exact analogues in Earth history or to fit neatly into our cubbyholes.

    No, I haven't found the time to do that.

    Well, Sarek is due to be born within a year...

    That remains to be seen. I wouldn't say Garos has a sense of fair play, since he'll do whatever he thinks is in Maluria's best interest -- whether that means cooperating with the Federation in one situation or opposing them in another.

    My main concern at this point is taking care not to make Garos too much like Garak. I hadn't even realized how close I was coming until I wrote a scene where Garos signed off with a co-conspirator by saying "For Maluria." Once I realized how much that sounded like "For Cardassia," I deleted it promptly.
  10. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral


  11. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Mar 15, 2001
    ^I don't think that quite works. If anything, M'Tezir is closer in shape to that string of islands along the far right of the Shane Johnson map, only more integrated -- sort of a cross between a larger Japan and what Andean South America would be like if the rest of South America weren't there. And IIRC, Narpra extends from its northern tip in an arc heading northeast.
  12. Enterprise is Great

    Enterprise is Great Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Oct 24, 2004
    My copy arrived this morning (usually the post office delivers my packages in the afternoon so yay!). I have to take my niece to the dentist this afternoon so I'll crack it open in the waiting room and dive into it then.
  13. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral

    Yeah, I know it doesn't really work. I just threw it together in literally under five minutes, on a whim after seeing Sci's comment upthread. ;) I couldn't resist using our only map of Sauria, though, especially since your description of the Imperial Lyaksti ruling barges travelling from landmass to landmass made me wonder if you had this depiction of Sauria in mind anyway.

    Moving on to chapter two:

    A lovers' quarrel where one of the pair is Vulcan is always amusing. What passes for casual, non-formal interaction for a Vulcan is always interesting to read, though I imagine difficult to write. This scene also gives us a veiled look (or hint, anyway) at the process by which the very questionable but often genuinely well-meaning Section 31 of Enterprise becomes something much more destructive, twisted and malignant. An inevitable development, many of us would argue, but nice to see that devolution acknowledged.

    Phlox is his usual cheery self; that pleasant detachment that he often exhibits, which can make him both endearing and frustrating to his Human (and now Andorian) colleagues. He does take an almost perverse - but obviously well-intentioned - delight in examining the universe he lives in, as though everything and everyone were fascinating bugs under a microscope, though without any sense of superiority or malice. He likes bugs, or is possibly just content with them. I suppose the high population density on Denobula makes his attitude understandable, and not unusual, perhaps? Cheerful amiability crossed with detachment. Thinking about it, Phlox's character does make sense as a person from a world like Denobula, so good work there, Enterprise writers. So, Phlox's general enthusiasm for the political cut and thrust and its complexities, while retaining an odd air of utter detachment, is indeed very Phlox. There was some interesting insights into Denobulan politics too. Someone take us there, already!

    The Thanien-T'Pol relationship is highlighted again (see book one), though this book seems to be deflecting the conflict onto Thanien/Sato instead. As much as I like Thanien (and I do), I hope he's gained some greater sense of security and peace in his position by the end of this one. I worry that his integration dilemmas might get a little old, if we end up with a string of "Thanien builds bridges" pieces. I wouldn't want his own insecurities regarding his ability to mesh being rendered legitimate by the narrative.

    The chapter ends with a lengthy scene in which Archer and Soval meet officially with the Trade Commission directors - a representative each of V, III, II and the miscellaneous alien settlements - to make their case for why Rigel should join the Federation. I like the mutual respect Archer and Soval have built; it comes across as genuine and solid, with the two at ease with each other, but there's still the slight ":vulcan:" element to the relationship, acknowledging how far they've had to come.

    Archer: "I'm going to refrain from acting like a petulant child out of frustration and/or a counterproductive desire to get under your skin and so play along with your preconceived assumptions about my race".

    Soval: "And I'm going to refrain from being overbearing, intolerable and patronizing, thus confirming all your prejudices and sense of entitled resentment regarding my race".

    Archer: "Good. I'm glad we established that".

    Soval: "Good. As am I".

    Shran (poking head 'round the doorway): "I've managed not to beat, torture, or make disparaging racial remarks about any of my allies for at least a month! Yay, me!"

    Gral (from across the room): "Your mothers were whores, and your fathers bore a resemblance to Denebian Slime Devils!"

    *Everyone goes back to work, satisfied*

    No, seriously, they have come a long way, and it's good to see it. Truly satisfying. In fact, I like the way that both Rise of the Federation books have shown the main and supporting casts being fully comfortable with one another now that they're all in it together. Archer, T'Pol, Soval, Shran - they work well together now. The sense that this isn't merely a continuation of Enterprise but a whole new era of the Trek timeline opened up is readily apparent. There's a freshness to it all combined with a sense of history and hard-earned achievement. A matured but still youthful civilization. The best of both worlds. Very well played.

    On to chapter three!
  14. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Mar 15, 2001
    I was influenced by it without being bound by it, as I did when I swiped the name Lyaksti'kton for the planet. (Which was really more about being rushed than anything else -- cribbing existing material saved me some effort.)

    I'm already making plans for that...

    Yeah, I think his settling-in phase has run its course by now.
  15. Enterprise1701

    Enterprise1701 Commodore Commodore

    Mar 24, 2014
    Sol III, Sector 001, 2017 C.E.
    Having a book cover about a year in-universe is like getting an entire TV season and being able to skip tangential filler episodes. :cool:
  16. VDCNI

    VDCNI Captain Captain

    May 26, 2009
    London UK
    Haven't read the whole thing yet but liked the Pertwee era Doctor Who reference regarding one of the delegates on Babel!
  17. Markonian

    Markonian Commodore Commodore

    Jun 2, 2012
    Yorkshire, UK
    My familiarity with the Doctor Who universe is limited. Please enlighten me to the reference?

    Also, is Mr. Hengist from TOS Human or Zami?
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2014
  18. E-DUB

    E-DUB Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Oct 28, 2011
    The speech given by the Andorian at the conference should be required reading for all contemporary politicians.
  19. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

    Mar 15, 2001

    I suspect that when Margaret Wander Bonanno described the natives of Rigel IV as humanlike in appearance, she was acting on the assumption that Hengist was one of them; but "Hengist" is a human surname. And I established that there are humans living in the system who consider themselves Rigelian. So while I lean toward Hengist being human, I set it up so it could go either way.
  20. Nerroth

    Nerroth Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Nov 21, 2004
    Ontario, Canada
    One thing I was somewhat unsure about is what decision was finally made regarding the membership status of Beta Rigel's constituent planets. Since a single Councilor was presented at the end, would the "voting weight" of each planet have to be subsumed into a single bloc at the Council level?

    Or to put it another way, are the Council seats allocated solely to a given member world (such as Andoria) or more properly to each member government (to include the various colonies and other planets under its jurisdiction)?

    If the latter, I suppose one could argue that having a single Councilor for the United Rigel Worlds and Colonies is no less fair or representative than one covering the Andorian Empire or other multi-world member states - so long as the relative weighting of each vote has at least some degree of proportionality relative to the size of the member state (perhaps akin to the degressive proportionality assigned to the German federal states in the Bundesrat, but with a single member having such-and-such as many votes as opposed to there being that many Councilors required to be physically present).

    In any event, it is interesting to see the evolving political makeup of the early novelverse Federation as portrayed in this novel series, not least in how it compares or contrasts with that presented for the SFU UFP in Prime Directive Federation (which has a very different take on what constitutes the "Rigel" system).

    And I like the opportunity taken to show both Pioneer and Endeavour on the front cover!
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2014