Reading Marathon: The Typhon Pact... and Beyond!

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Stevil2001, Jun 16, 2017.

  1. Stevil2001

    Stevil2001 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I just tracked down the book's original discussion thread; page 12 is the point where DRG3 departs the TrekBBS. The criticism didn't seem particularly bad. I mean, most people weren't into the book obviously, but the reviews were pretty thoughtful and measured for the most part, presumably because George is a participant in the thread. But reading it is exhausting because George responds to every little point of every review, good and bad. He mostly seems upset when people assign motives to him (e.g., saying things like, "it seems like no one knows what to do with Sisko").

    I should say that I agree with a lot of the contemporary reaction (@Thrawn articulates this viewpoint, for example) that in itself it's pretty well written, even if it's not among George's best (Serpents Among the Ruins and Provenance of Shadows, I would say). It's when you consider the wider context of who Sisko is that it makes no sense. Though those Tzenkethi flashbacks would be frustratingly pointless in any context.

    (Also there's a lot of people in that thread who don't post here anymore. :()
     
  2. Burning Hearts of Qo'nOs

    Burning Hearts of Qo'nOs Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    ^ Read the post and got sad. I'm relatively new around here and I think having some of the writers as board members is a really, really special thing about the forum. Was sad to see one say his goodbyes years before I got to say hello!

    This is why we can't have nice things.
     
  3. Thrawn

    Thrawn Rear Admiral Premium Member

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    Huh, that was an interesting read. I'd forgotten how strongly I defended DRG3's choices about Sisko's character arc... interesting how one's opinions can change in hindsight. It feels to me now like TrekLit was in kind of a rough place at the time and I was trying to find Bold Creative Decisions to theorize about and ponder in the way that it seemed like we had one after the other after the other under Marco Palmieri's leadership, and this thing with Sisko was the first unexpected creative choice in more than a year. But a lot of what I thought was underlying that change, in terms of long-term story structure, didn't turn out to be true. In particular, despite DRG3 saying specifically that there was a solid plan for future TrekLit, I feel like it's taken years and a lot of awkward narrative retreading to rebuild a sense of structure for the ongoing DS9 stories and they still aren't as interesting as they were pre-time-jump.

    That being said, since then we have gotten a number of my favorite TrekLit novels of all time - every single one of Beyer's Voyager books, DRG3's own Plagues of Night / Raise the Dawn, DTI, the concluding novels of Vanguard, Cold Equations, the middle three Fall novels - and I haven't even read any of 2017's Trek novels yet. (For good reasons - delightfully busy with wonderful projects, professionally and personally - but I'm hoping to catch up soon.) So I don't mean to sound negative.

    Regardless, RBoE, in hindsight, isn't as much of a gem as I was hoping it was when I read it. Now, I feel like the Romulan politics and the introduction of the Tzenkethi are both awesome, but the rest is at best awkward setup for better future stories.
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2017
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  4. Idran

    Idran Commodore Premium Member

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    Cogent criticism isn't a nice thing in and of itself? :p
     
  5. Burning Hearts of Qo'nOs

    Burning Hearts of Qo'nOs Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    All in jest :D, it's pretty civil 'round these parts. Now the Discovery forum, on the other hand...lol.

    However, of the forums I lurk, I'd say Gallifreybase has the highest number of toxic posters. They make our DW forum look like tea and crumpets with grandma.
     
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  6. Stevil2001

    Stevil2001 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock
    Published: May 2011
    Time Span: 2381-82 (Stardate 58188.4 (a Tuesday) to 59155.0 (a Friday)), plus myriad other time periods too copious to mention

    These days, the way New Frontier was populated with popular Next Generation guest stars in order to establish its legitimacy as a literary spin-off of the screen franchise seems positively naïve: here we have a novel based around two characters whose total screentime can be collected in a four-minute video. I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical going in, but Department of Temporal Investigations turned out to be a fun premise. The joy of it is in the way that Bennett approaches the DTI as a long-running cop show, about well-meaning but tired civil servants just trying to do their best in a universe that doesn't appreciate them.

    It's the small details that make the book work: I liked the joke about how DTI agents are tired of time jokes (the one in the opening chapter was delightful); I liked how uptime temporal agents are higher authorities, basically like when the FBI turns up in a police procedural; I liked the idea that after major disasters, the DTI has more work both because of people trying to change history and because of tourists/researchers coming back to see it; I liked the little digest history of the DTI, where when Starfleet gets time travel, they're all "neat! let's explore time too! what could go wrong!" and the DTI is formed because the government is like, "You keep almost wiping out recorded history. STOP IT." I liked the portrayal of Dulmur and Lucsly. Bennett stated his intention was to turn their very colorlessness into an asset, and the book succeeded in this. I liked both of their fervent devotion to the job, and the sly humor of Lucsly, especially his final line in the penultimate chapter.

    The book's strongest parts are its beginning and its ending. The opening chapter, featuring an agent who's snapped after a rough mission in the wake of Star Trek: Destiny is good fun; I loved both his rant ("Kill her, don't kill her, none of this makes a difference to the multiverse.") and Lucsly's putdown of it ("stop abusing temporal physics as an excuse to dodge responsibility for your own choices!"). The whole first chapter leads like the pilot episode of DTI tv show, because it goes straight from this (obviously the opening teaser) into a quick mystery about passenger transport that traveled through time, which has tv-style cutting between suspect interrogations. The whole thing culminates in the induction of a new member of the DTI, a potential viewpoint character. It was fun and entertaining.

    Unfortunately, the whole book is not like that. It soon settles into a comfortable format of alternating present-day cases of the DTI in 2381 to 2382 with flashbacks that slowly ascend from 2364 to 2378. None of these cases are as good as the first one, which could stand on its own as a little story-- most of the flashback cases follow the format of "DTI turns up the aftereffects of a Next Generation episode; exposition is delivered to massage the details into the novel's Unified Theory of Star Trek Time Travel." It's definitely small world, and none of them are as zippily written as the introduction, sometimes getting quite belabored in their explaining of temporal theory, Star Trek continuity, or both. It gets formulaic and there's not enough at stake in most of them to be interesting. Some are still entertaining, though (I liked the bit where Janeway escapes temporal justice and Lucsly quits the force), and soon a narrative begins to emerge, of the twenty-fourth century's participation in the Temporal Cold War from Enterprise.

    The ending is the other good part; the DTI, some Next Generation characters, the 29th-century Starfleet guys from "Relativity," the 31st-century temporal agents from Enterprise, and many more characters end up in snarled, tangled, temporal mess that was just completely ridiculous in a good way, taking all the goofy possibilities of Star Trek time travel and piling them atop each other to joyous excess. I didn't follow any of it (and I usually have a good head for these things), but I loved reading it. It's like Steven Moffat turned up to eleven.

    Also the viewpoint newbie character gets shunted off into her own side story, which completely failed to engage me. The Axis of Time seems like a potentially interesting Big Dumb Object, but the story told with it was completely dull; I couldn't bring myself to care about cross-time artifact smuggling, or super sexy mind control space ladies.

    So, a set-up that's more fun in theory than practice, but hopefully that bodes well for future installments of DTI-- I know the third installment onward are novellas, which seems like it would lend itself toward what I liked about the first chapter.


    Continuity Notes:
    • You could write a list of bullet points for this novel as long as the novel itself; of course, Christopher already has.
    • That said, I'm pretty sure I caught a reference to the notorious Killing Time that he didn't annotate.
    • The anecdote about the ringship Enterprise, though, was a particularly belabored continuity fix in a novel full of them. And I'm not even sure the anecdote makes much sense.
    Other Notes:
    • Like S.C.E. / Corps of Engineers before it, Department of Temporal Investigations has a clunky and un-sexy subtitle. I maintain S.C.E. should have just been called Star Trek: Miracle Workers, but it's less obvious to me what Department of Temporal Investigations could have been called instead. Time Cops? Time Patrol? Time Masters?
    • I did feel at times that no female character could turn up without having their attractiveness ranked; this culminates in a scene where Dina Elfiki walks past Dulmur and Lucsly while wearing a holo-disguise, and they exchange dialogue that amounts to, "Not even a hologram can disguise dat ass." (Elfiki is apparently modeled on Sarah Shahi.) On the other hand, I think the attractiveness of exactly one male character is commented on, and he's a Deltan sex god. Who says you need visuals to have male gaze?
    • I was amused to note that even in the twenty-fourth century, ALOE is a common crossword puzzle filler word. (It's got three vowels!)
    • I think this is the first Star Trek novel to include an allusion to pubic hair.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2017
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  7. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    ^Well, I'm glad you liked parts of it.

    I profoundly doubt I would ever have wanted to include a reference to Killing Time. Whatever parallel you spotted is probably accidental.

    And yeah, I have been trying to work on the male-gaze thing since then. Although, to be fair, Lucsly and Dulmur don't exactly lend themselves to being ogled.
     
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  8. Stevil2001

    Stevil2001 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I didn't dislike it! But I wish the middle had been as fun as the beginning and the end.
    On p. 205, Lucsly's Romulan counterpart kind of admits that the Romulans may have tried to eliminate the Federation from history "in some... other reality, now rendered irrelevant." I figured this was a reference to the Romulan machinations in Killing Time. Was it just part of your seeding the Future Guy red herring?

    Oh, Future Guy! I knew there was something else I wanted to discuss in my review. I'll have to add that in later.
     
  9. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I'm not sure. It might've been a reference to Assignment: Eternity, Greg Cox's first Gary Seven novel. I generally only reference things that are part of the novel continuity or that I believe can be consistent with it.
     
  10. Stevil2001

    Stevil2001 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Ah, I figured that was the reason for the "other reality" hedge. I forgot about that part of Assignment: Eternity.
     
  11. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    On reflection, I think it's possible that Killing Time was sort of in the back of my mind when I wrote that line, but more as a thematic thing than any sort of continuity nod. Romulan attempts to change history have been a recurring theme in Trek Lit over the years -- see also Yesterday's Son and DC's "Time Crime" storyline, and maybe others.
     
  12. RonG

    RonG Captain Captain

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    While on the topic of DTI, Christopher - is there a chance that the e-novellas would be reprinted as a single MMPB volume? :biggrin:
     
  13. Stevil2001

    Stevil2001 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I also forgot about the Romulans in Yesterday's Son! Guess I wouldn't have read either since I was a kid. (Though the same goes for Killing Time.)
     
  14. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I hope so -- the reason we did three novellas in the first place was with an eye toward that option, just in case -- but whether it actually happens is a decision above my pay grade. (Heck, until the license renewal is finally done, everything is above my pay grade, because I ain't gettin' paid!)
     
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  15. RonG

    RonG Captain Captain

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    That one sentence there makes me quite happy, just for the possibility and the fact that that had indeed been a consideration :)
     
  16. Stevil2001

    Stevil2001 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    If a MMPB of DTI is announced any time soon, I will be very angry because I just picked up the e-book of The Collectors this weekend!
     
  17. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    It probably won't be anytime soon, if at all. At this point, it's only in the "It would be nice if this could happen someday" category.
     
  18. Stevil2001

    Stevil2001 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    School breaks are apparently when I'm going to get in my Star Trek reading these days. Finished this one flying home for Christmas. (Happy New Year, all!)

    Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game by David Mack
    Published:
    November 2010
    Time Span: April - August 2382

    There's a sort of Cold War analogy implicit in the Typhon Pact: its name derives, if I remember rightly, from the Warsaw Pact, and the Typhon polities are in a sort of Cold War competition with the Khitomer ones (i.e., the Federation and the Klingons). Zero Sum Game is an espionage thriller making use of that background: the Breen have stolen the slipstream drive schematics from Starfleet, hoping to develop a fleet of slipstream vessels for the Pact, and Julian Bashir and Sarina Douglas are assigned to destroy the plans before the prototype is launched.

    On one level, this is an espionage thriller, and this is the kind of thing David Mack excels at. His solo Star Trek debut was the action-packed, emotional Wildfire; he followed this up books like the intense Failsafe and the similarly intense A Time to Kill and to Heal. Though I'm sure it's actually no easier than any other kind of writing is, it seems like Mack can shoot these things off in his sleep. Julian and Sarina go undercover, blow up some trains, meet some dissidents, infiltrate some bases, shoot some baddies, fight some tortures, and eventually blow up a ton of shit in an action-packed sequence. It's well done and the book moves along quite zippily, and it was ideal reading for an airplane trip.

    At the same time, Captain Ezri Dax on the Aventine is playing space chicken with Breen and Romulan forces, trying to stay in position for a slipstream extraction of Julian and Sarina. This is all well and good, though I find the personalities of the non-Ezri Aventine crew to range from "present" to "still there."

    On another level, this is an exploration of the Breen, a Star Trek race that our knowledge of comes from a lot of random tidbits that don't entirely add up. The way Mack sews them all together is quite ingenious, making the Breen culture an amalgam of different species, enforcing a lack of prejudice by suits that ensure the true species of any given Breen is known only to themself. Thus the inconsistent information about the Breen is explained as encounters with different species. It's a really interesting idea, a sort of warped mirror of the Federation's equality as well as a "Harrison Bergeron" take.

    Unfortunately, the novel doesn't really do anything with it, except that the suits provide a convenient way for Julian and Sarina to sneak into Breen society undetected. I can imagine a novel that uses espionage and infiltration to explore an alien society (The Romulan Way kind of does this), but Zero Sum Game isn't it. We only meet two types of Breen here: dissidents who don't like the enforced equality, and nasty bad guys. (Well, plus a kind of nice engineer, but he's pretty pointless.) What is life like in Breen society? We have no sense of it, there's no real worldbuilding at all, and that seems like a shame and a huge missed opportunity. There's a scene where Julian and Douglas hang out in a market for hours, but we're told all they see is "mundane interactions." Given how different kinds of "markets" (say) an American shopping mall and a South African flea market are, to gloss over this is one of many missed opportunities when it comes to exploring Breen culture.

    Especially as this concept makes the Breen more Federation-esque than you might expect, but in a different way. Seeing a "true believer" of the Breen way of life could have really expanded our understanding of their society. The non-dissident Breen are filled with hate for the Federation, but imagine them as more rueful over the Federation's misguided attempts at "equality." Also you might argue that Breen culture would appeal to Julian Bashir. One of Julian's throughlines in the novel (about which I'll say more in a moment) is that Sarina is a rare person who feels like he fits with. But it seems to me there's potential in a Breen-style society for Julian, where one is judged on accomplishments, not background, as was true for Bashir up until he was revealed as genetically engineered. Would the "masking" of the Breen be a release for someone like him? I hope that future Destiny-Era novels do more with the Breen culture Mack set up here, because it's a great idea with a lot of potential.

    Finally, the character throughline of Julian didn't entirely work for me. The narrative keeps telling us he's in love with Sarina, but it's not really shown. I felt like there was a missed opportunity in the action scenes to show Julian and Sarina as matched and compatible, as the only people able to keep up with each other, which would sell the reader on what Julian keeps saying about how Sarina is the only person operating on his level. Instead it seems like Julian just follows Sarina around and acts aghast at her decisions a lot, interrupted by occasional scenes where they flirt and/or have sex. Having them be on the same page up until that point would also make Sarina's decision to abandon the Breen dissidents more shocking; as it is, Julian comes across as naïve for being surprised by it given Sarina's attitude to him throughout the novel. The novel is clearly setting up a long-term fall of some sort for Julian, though, and I'm interested in seeing where things go from here.

    So, overall I would say this was a highly enjoyable thriller-- but it felt like it could have been a highly enjoyable thriller and an exploration of an alien culture and a stronger exploration of Julian Bashir himself.

    Continuity Notes:
    • It turns out Ro Laren is in command of Deep Space 9 now, which seems to have potential. I wonder how it will be handled going forward.
    Other Notes:
    • I didn't really care for the scene of Ezri and Julian arguing. Seemed improbably immature, especially when Julian storms off.
    • This book also highlights a problem in the Destiny Era that dates back to A Time for War, A Time for Peace and Articles of the Federation: I really do think 24th-century politics were better left off screen most of the time. They're just so mundane and contemporary. On the other hand, I do like President Bacco and love Esperanza Piñiero, so who knows.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2017
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  19. Jinn

    Jinn Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I'd love to see what Christopher would do with the Breen.

    Uh, yeah, don't get too excited...

    24th century politics is one of my favorite things about Destiny era Trek. Especially when the Romulan praetor from this era is involved.
     
  20. Stevil2001

    Stevil2001 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Typhon Pact: Seize the Fire by Michael A. Martin
    Published:
    December 2010
    Time Span: Early 2381 - August 2382

    The previous Typhon Pact novels thus far haven't been moored to an ongoing series; each featured a Deep Space Nine character, but neither was really a Deep Space Nine novel. Seize the Fire is, however, a Titan novel, despite the lack of subtitle, as well as a Typhon Pact novel, so I'll be considering it from both angles.

    The Typhon Pact was promoted as giving readers insight into underseen Star Trek aliens, and thus Seize the Fire promises us insight into the Gorn. Well, unfortunately, anything interesting or insightful is a long time coming. Michael A. Martin focuses on the Gorn caste system, and it basically comes out to a monotonous tech caste good, military caste bad. There are two different military caste leaders, and both are barbaric belligerents written without subtlety, even though they're on a mission to save their people from extinction. The Gorn captain in "Arena" was way more canny and principled than these guys. We basically gain no insight into the Gorn.

    Occasionally the novel raises sort of interesting ideas, but it tramples over them. The Gorn scientist who spends a lot of time on Titan is a very adept mimic, imitating Riker's voice enough to get into the shuttlebay; Martin here is picking up on how the Gorn in "Arena" sent multiple messages to the Enterprise to bait it to Cestus III, including mimicking the base commander's voice. You could do something with this, presenting the Gorn as canny and adaptive but in Seize the Fire it's really jarring with how they're otherwise characterized. S'syrixx can't even get Federation names right in his internal dialogue, calling them things like "Rry'kurr" and "Troi-mammal" and "Tie-tan," but you're telling me he can imitate Riker's voice enough to fool his crew? The idea of genetic castes also seems interesting (and potentially ethically dubious; at the novel's end the "good" Gorn are just going to re-engineer the warrior caste to be more pliable!), but trust me, by the end of this novel you'll hope no one ever says "caste" ever again.

    What really dampens any potential insight into the Gorn is that the Gorn-only scenes are just painful to read, not just because of the sledgehammer characterization, but because the poor characterization means all you have to hang onto are these terrible space names. Speaking of the two Gorn commanders, Riker says at one point, "Krassrr isn't Gog'ressh," and I was like, He isn't? because I literally could not tell those guys apart the whole book. Plus there's some dopey space religion stuff, which flattens the Gorn, not expands them.

    As a Titan novel, it's not much cop either. Riker and Titan are curiously inactive, spending much of the book just watching the Gorn while the reptiles prepare to "ecosculpt" an inhabited planet. When done right, Titan is my favorite novel series, back-to-basic Star Trek with a modern update, but the characters have no life here, and it almost feels like a Next Generation caricature with the endless meetings. Which is weird, because it was a scene in a novel co-written by Martin that made Titan come alive to me, and that scene was about a meeting! (The Blue Table just chatting away in Taking Wing or The Red King, I forget which.) None of the characters pop here, and they don't really have any kind of character threads, except that Vale goes from prejudiced against Gorn to still prejudiced against Gorn.

    There are also times the book is just clunkily written, such as times a character does a thing that obviously indicates an emotion, and then the narration tells us that this emotion is obviously indicated. There are also a few times where it seems like the interesting things happen "off-screen" while we follow less interesting things, and then someone gets filled in on the interesting things. Why? Martin tries to cram exposition into dialogue, too, which weird given that this is not a tv show, such as this mellifluous exchange:
    Like, there had to be a less clunky way of getting everyone's science specialties into the book. Though I'm not sure why it matters at all.

    Between these factors, Seize the Fire makes for a dull read, and the weakest Typhon Pact novel yet. A poor exploration of the Gorn, and a dull novel otherwise.


    Continuity Notes:
    • Seize the Fire reconciles the different appearance of the Gorn in "Arena" and "In a Mirror Darkly" by indicating that the "Arena" Gorn was warrior caste, while the "In a Mirror Darkly" one was technological caste. Though this is compared to the various Xindi species, which doesn't really seem analogous at all.
    • Riker thinks about a story that he heard that O'Herlihy and Lang, the two tactical officers who weren't Kelowitz that went to Cestus III with Kirk, weren't killed by the Gorn, but were tortured for years or decades for information. Is this a reference to something? Because it has nothing to do with anything in the story.
    • A number of characters are skeptical that the ancient ecosculptor can be sentient. This makes little sense given the whole previous Titan novel was about artificial intelligence... and one of those artificial intelligences is standing right with the characters while they argue about this!
    • Titan, since the events of Destiny, Over a Torrent Sea, and Synthesis, has returned to the Vela OB2 Association, the star cluster in the Gum Nebula that was the setting for the earlier Titan novel Orion's Hounds, though none of that novel's worldbuilding seemed to be in play here.
    • Vale mentions that she learned to be an XO by watching Riker on two different Enterprises... which is wrong, right? Vale came aboard the E-E after the Dominion War, replacing Daniels as chief of security.
    • The Prime Directive is said to explicitly invoke warp drive as a criterion for first contact-- thus causing a difficulty for Titan when the crew discovers a planet where the inhabitants have warp technology but not warp propulsion. This jarred me, as I never had the impression that warp qua warp was mentioned in the Prime Directive. We've seen Starfleet interact openly with pre-warp societies, and also the Prime Directive applies to species with warp technology (even the Klingons!). My personal impression of the Prime Directive is that it's probably a relative short rule with two centuries of accumulated judicial rulings because the idea of "natural development" is impossibly complicated. Warp drive is definitely an important criterion, but I never had the impression from the show that it was written into the actual Directive as the criterion.
    • Also there's a joke about how even in-universe, "These Are the Voyages" is considered to be terrible. (Did Riker tell Troi that was how he felt about it?)

    Other Notes:
    • This one is a little long, and a little personal, but I feel it's worth mentioning in case it's influencing my judgement here. In Fall 2008, following a conversation at Shore Leave, Michael Schuster and I sent a couple pitches to Marco Palmieri at S&S. One of them was eventually accepted, and became the Myriad Universes story The Tears of Eridanus. The other was for a Titan novel where (in a subplot) the ship ran into a Gorn exploratory vessel charting the same planet as it. Marco responded that this fortuitously aligned with his plans for the Typhon Pact series. He said that fitting Titan in was a challenge, but our proposal showed a way with its depiction of Gorn exploration, which could be tweaked to incorporate the Typhon Pact. (He also said it wasn't very good!) On December 1 he e-mailed us to say some Destiny reading materials were coming to us to give us the background we needed; on December 4 we heard that he was fired, and his editorial replacement on the Typhon Pact project never answered any of our e-mails about it... and then the next year a Gorn/Titan novel by a completely different person was announced! So it goes. At the time I was upset, I think, but finally reading the book almost a whole ten years later it's like it's from another life.
    • Deanna has really powerful empathy in this novel, reading the emotional intentions of distant fleets of Gorn in precise detail!
    • I guess it's a thing that Typhon Pact novels will include extended irrelevant flashbacks; this one has a gratuitous chapter about mission from Tuvok's Excelsior days to do with the Genesis Project.
    • A couple threads are set up (Tuvok's ecosculpting knowledge, something bad with White-Blue) which I guess will be picked up in future Titan novels; I see the next one is by Michael Martin again.
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2018
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