Spoilers Section 31: Control by David Mack Review Thread

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Defcon, Mar 17, 2017.

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Rate Section 31: Control

  1. Outstanding

    48 vote(s)
    62.3%
  2. Above Average

    19 vote(s)
    24.7%
  3. Average

    6 vote(s)
    7.8%
  4. Below Average

    4 vote(s)
    5.2%
  5. Poor

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  1. Idran

    Idran Commodore Premium Member

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    Just to clarify, I loved the book; I voted Outstanding up in the poll, it was a great political thriller from beginning to end. (Though I do have to wonder if you might have had a little irkedness at The Force Awakens somehow mirroring your climax in a lot of ways before your book even got published. :p)

    But I'm also...yeah, what @VDCNI said about what it does to the Federation. I'm very conflicted about it at the same time. Now that I've had some time to let it settle, I'll go a little bit more into the source of my conflicted feelings.

    What I said about the last line also applies pretty well to the view of the 2140s-2160s that it gave. On one hand, the straightforward reading implies that humanity simply couldn't have achieved what it did through democratic efforts and will of the people alone, that they needed the benevolent autocracy of Uraei to get rid of the undesirable viewpoints and individuals against the goals of unification and interstellar comity. It's almost saying that all those times that Section 31 said their existence was necessary for the people to be able to have the society they wished, they were right. On the other hand, they were pretty well on the path there already, between the Traite d'Unification and the societal improvements coming in the aftermath of the Post-Atomic Horror and all that. Plus what I was pushing towards in my mention of A Less Perfect Union; it certainly seems to have been on some level a world without Uraei considering that Paxton won, and yet everything up to the destruction of Starfleet Headquarters, including the geopolitical state of Earth as a whole, was just about exactly the same. So perhaps it was more a story about how fear blinds people to the potential of humanity?

    Further, I can't really get past my disgust at how much power the 24th century Control actually had, up to and including literal eugenics in the old sense; they literally guided things on the level of breeding specific desired traits in individuals to get their end desires realized. And yet, how many alternate universes have we seen where essentially the same people existed? Did Control actually manage to change anything through their efforts?

    @Sci, I always like your posts on the politics of the Trek universe, so I'm honestly really curious to hear your take once you wrap this one up.
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2017
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  2. Tuskin38

    Tuskin38 Commodore Commodore

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    I found a small error in Chapter 13
    it mentions Federation law, when it should be Earth law since the chapter pre-dates the Federation
     
  3. Kilana2

    Kilana2 Commodore Commodore

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    Just started reading it. I'm thrown right into the action. Looking forward to reading more.....
     
  4. John Clark

    John Clark Commodore Commodore

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    Well, I'm avoiding spoilers because I'm only about half way through, but one name popped out at me
    Helena Maslany?. I assume it was meant to be a shout out, but I certainly though of an actress/character as soon as I saw that na,e
    I'm also finding the AI back story interesting and though I haven't finished, I was wondering if that was what Control would be when it was first mentioned.

    So far, it's very good:)
     
  5. Mage

    Mage Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    My copy finally shipped, should be here tomorrow!!
     
  6. JD

    JD Admiral Admiral

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    Glad to hear it, I was wondering if maybe you were no longer interested in tie-ins and were going to focus only on your original stuff.
     
  7. Jedi Ben

    Jedi Ben Commander Red Shirt

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    I'd suggest you can see the difference between the Federation and the other powers by the way things go at the end.

    Just about every other power would, for various reasons, have likely covered it up. (I do like how the Obsidian Order considered a system like Uraei too dangerous for them to use!) Instead they opt for full disclosure.

    Ah, but what about the Uraei info? Well, there, remember it's an anonymous tip-off system, after 2156, no one was alive who knew Uraei's existence, so the info it generated would have appeared legitimate with no reason to question it.

    Is that enough? Well, each reader will have their own take, I do like that the book is quite subtle on these points.
     
  8. Markonian

    Markonian Commodore Commodore

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    Given that the current decade has shed any idealism of humanity doing better than it did in the past, Uraei is a clever way to explain how United Earth and the UFP could've come about. I also like the optimistic ending, paving the way for a golden age of the Federation. I wonder what that cataclysm will be the Klingon Empire is going to suffer. Yay for the Typhon Pact fracturing!

    Observation: Uraei creates S31 in the 2150s but has to train its staff from scratch. I'm not sure how that jibes with young Reed being in the bureau with that gray-haired leather chap.

    @Christopher had said on previous occasions that a conspiracy cannot remain active and hidden for centuries. S31's longevity is nicely explained by it being an organisation in intermittent existence.

    It's a grand finale, and a suitably personal (Graniv, the Bashirs and Soongs) and astropolitical epic.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2017
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  9. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Oh, but Roddenberry always assumed that humanity would get worse before it got better, that we'd have to take ourselves to the very brink of catastrophe before we finally came to our senses. TOS established the Eugenics Wars and the Third World War; "Space Seed" suggested they were the same conflict, but TNG retconned WWIII to happen in the mid-2000s, so it actually took us two near-cataclysms to get our act together. The "Post-Atomic Horror" idea seen in "Encounter at Farpoint" also owes a lot to Roddenberry's failed '70s pilot movies Genesis II and Planet Earth, set in a post-apocalyptic era where the fall of civilization had "cleansed" the Earth and the heroes were trying to build a better, more enlightened civilization. I think Roddenberry may have implicitly intended G2/PE to be a prequel to Star Trek, at least approximately, although the timing doesn't really work out. (I think of it as an alternate timeline where Gary Seven wasn't around to stop the proliferation of orbital nukes, so that the Eugenics Wars were more cataclysmic.)

    Roddenberry's idealism was never a blind faith that things would automatically get better. It was a recognition that the only way we could make things better was to work very hard at it because we recognized how unacceptable the alternative was. Or, as McCoy put it in the Roddenberry-scripted "The Omega Glory," "I've found that evil usually triumphs unless good is very, very careful."
     
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  10. jaime

    jaime Commodore Commodore

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    It's a good story, only a few bumps here and there or odd holes and cracks to paper over...why do they go to cardassia if Data has the Ivory Towers? Why take the risk on Orion if he has the Ivory Towers? The best friends of two of the main characters are two of starfleets best engineers, and even allowing for Controls presence in Starfleet systems, we know that one of them is easily contacted...and...my head hurts. and I mostly enjoyed it....
    Except it's sort of a massive, huge, shark jump. I am not sure its Star Trek, and as it unravelled I could feel it getting further and further away. It's excellent in so many ways, but we have been given a deus ex machina for practically every event in the history of Trek. Literally. More suffering has been meted out to the cast of chosen characters, and world-changing events almost make other stories moot. (Not to mention the difficulty of this AI god having to predict the other God-things wandering around in Trek...Q, the prophets...so much of what Control predicted so long in advance is also predicated on these beings and events. ) So I am left feeling like I have read a really good myriad universes tale. And the dragon isn't even slain at the end, after our superheroes (the book reminds me of watchmen in places, and Data literally disguises himself as the Silver Surfer at one point.) expose it, fight it, kill it with fire, and die in the process. I am really not sure whether I like it or not, and am not sure where it leaves ongoing Trek in the novels...all agency has just been stripped from many characters, and we seem to be heading into the loopy sandbox the Star Wars EU ended in. I guess I just don't know if something new has been brought to the table or if a lot of the old has just been radically altered with no good to come out of it. Could go either way. I think Control was just made too god-like, to the point of contradicting even the authors own previous work... this idea of Bashir being destined from birth and before to fulfill his function here, going right against the events of destiny even (and control would be present in the Borg or known of through assimilation of starships, if not through her presence on Columbias tech when it bumped into the caeliar.) is something that feels epic in this book but kind of shifts under the weight of other stories.
    Oh...and Bashir had a catwalk of impossible odds to traverse instead of a corridor this time, but he must hate straight line journeys. And he has clearly never played metal gear solid on the holodeck or the whole thing wouldn't seem so labyrinthine (that's a compliment...Mack managed to make years of Trek stuff as crazy convoluted as MGS.)
    Very fiddly. I voted above average for its writing and scope, but couldn't hit outstanding because it has the dangerous sense of albatross about it, even if it finally gets shot of the difficult premise of S31 once and for all. Ish.
     
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  11. Idran

    Idran Commodore Premium Member

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    That's part of what I meant by the last line interpretation in my first post.

    I choose to read that last line as Control ending its own sentience and existence as a conscious entity and letting the automated systems that were described earlier - things like comm traffic routing and the like - continue on unguided. That no, there isn't this AI god peering on from the heavens for the foreseeable future and eventually stripping all agency from the entirety of sentient life in the galaxy for their own good.

    Because if that didn't happen, if Control is still around, then yeah, knife to the heart of the hope that self-determination can bring about self-improvement that Star Trek has always stood for; instead, we just get the Silicon Valley Libertarian dream of a benevolent autocrat clearing out the failure that is democracy and setting things straight for the dim, naive populace.

    Yeah, exactly. This is part of why the introduction of Uraei disturbs me so much from an out-of-universe perspective, from a thematic perspective, because that idealism was always a key part of what Star Trek meant to me. On a surface reading, Uraei reframes the history of Earth in Star Trek from "people can make themselves better" to "a savior will pull us out of our darkness by banishing the undesirable elements of our populace".
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2017
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  12. jaime

    jaime Commodore Commodore

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    That's what Data and Lal planned, but apparently even the existence of Data and by extension Lal was all part of Controls plan (literally nothing in Trek ever happened without Control having a hand in it according to chunks of the book, once you extrapolate the facts of it manipulating Data and Bashir both into bei g so that they could be responsible for this moment...it's almost like a V'Ger scenario crossed with the antitime of All Good Things.) and the implication seems less positive, but since the last 200 years or so were all machinations....it's really fiddly. Control, through extension of Destiny, helped create the Borg. Through the extension of its hand in Data, Control is responsible for tons of stuff....there's all too many ripples from the events shown here.
     
  13. Idran

    Idran Commodore Premium Member

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    No, I know that Data and Lal's plan failed. (I guess I can drop spoiler warnings entirely by this point, yeah; spoiler thread anyway after all.)

    I'm not saying that I read it as the plan working, because obviously it didn't. I'm saying that I read it as Control choosing to end itself after Uraei was purged from its programming. That it made the choice to return self-determination to the galaxy once the somewhat self-directed program that was Uraei was destroyed, and it couldn't before that point because Uraei would still be running.

    Granted, I'm also choosing to interpret it as Control not exerting any influence outside Section 31 itself, and only doing so in those time periods when Section 31 was actually active. I'm choosing a reading that minimizes the autocracy of Control. The literal eugenics that were involved in bringing about the creation of Bashir, Douglas, Data, Lal, and I could imagine even Graniv and other figures related to the resolution are still disgusting, but at least the plot isn't a total refutation of the idea of self-determination as a motivating and significant force for self-improvement that way.
     
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  14. jaime

    jaime Commodore Commodore

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    I thought it implied Control had brought them to that point over many decades, to basically have them be the tools by which it shed its skin basically. It manipulated Data into existence basically, so it consciously put itself where it is at the end of the book. It's basically a god thing implied to have been running the whole show (without anyone ever noticing that the ships and replicators all had this seemingly vital bit of identical centuries old software inside. Including that time the enterprise gave birth to an AÍ thing, which was interpreted by Datas dreams, which were activated by Bashir, who was also manipulated into being and having that exact moment with Data, to set up this book....all predicated on an AÍ moving a mathematical model.) basically forever...it's like trying to do Dune or Foundation with Trek. This is why I am not sure it works. I think The central conceit of Control is a cool idea, one with analogy for modern Times, but I think it got out of Control in the book..by the end, it's basically the en dofnStar Trek, because nothing has happened without it being planned by this character, once you extrapolate the knock ons.
     
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  15. Stoek

    Stoek Commander Red Shirt

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    I'm not by most standard definitions a religious person. I was raised in a faith that as I got older did not fit me. I have an eclectic collection of beliefs about the nature of reality that I have generally found proven true enough to satisfy me, but I wouldn't call any of that a "faith" in the religious sense. But that doesn't mean I don't have a faith. I do. For me it does border on the religious. There is a canon, there are apocrypha, there is doctrine. For me the future that Star Trek shows and has shown is that faith. The idea that that through adversity and hard work we transcend the Christian biblical disparagement of humanity "For the heart of Man is desperately wicked and full of deceit and who can know it?" to reach the ideal espoused by Nietzsche, "I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?"

    So now this is where it starts to get a little complicated. Because while the Trek Future is part of my faith, so too is the purpose of Trek in the here and now. Trek is a mirror that allows us to look at the present with just enough distortion so as to see it from a new perspective and by so doing understand it better.

    For a very long time I have been disdainful of more traditionally religious people who seem to get bent out of shape when some new bit of science or philosophy contradicts their beliefs. I will confess that I still don't have any patience for the ones who want to issue death threats and all that nonsense. But the emotional part of it? Well I feel as if I perhaps understand that a little better than I did before.

    One the one hand David Mack has written what may very well come to be called the quintessential Star Trek story. Using a computer program as a metaphor for everything from the surveilance state to the nanny state, he talks about what happens when people allow a system so much power that they cease to make conscious decisions and instead cede all power to that system. It is a deep and powerful metaphor. It also implicitly asks the question is there a price that is too high to pay to make the world a better place? Because quite frankly the world of Trek is not simply a place where things are better for a few, but rather for most everyone. Barring extreme circumstances (like multi-planet Borg enacted massacres) no one goes without food, or shelter, or medical care, or entertainment, or the chance to craft a life of meaning and consequence. Sure some will not suceed as much as others but everyone is able to try and keep trying. That is an idea of such power and beauty that sometimes it truly makes me weep. So what price is too steep? Is a little surveilance and reportage to the proper authorities okay? How about a little gentle manipulation of people and events to help ensure better outcomes? What about direct intervention against people who most likely will cause major negative repercussions for thousands if not millions? People who's presence presents a large potential danger to the well being of humanity but who's absence would not be noticed by anyone except perhaps their mothers (and one has to even wonder about that). These are the kinds of big questions that Star Trek is made to facilitate the asking of.

    On the other hand in crafting this story in some ways it feels as if he has betrayed part of the core of what Trek is. It is supposed to be a better future that we made. By the sweat of our collective brows. Not a future foisted upon us from on high. Not by deity, nor by alien, nor by computer algorithm. Honestly when I reached about the middle of the book I had to take a break overnight. I felt sick to my stomache and angry. I felt betrayed.

    If I was the sort of person to lash out blindly I would accuse Mr. Mack of intellectual laziness. I would say that he is just another cynic who doesn't actually believe that the future Star Trek shows is possible so he has grafted a Serenity-esque scenario onto Trek as a not so subtle rebuff of the faith that I think many of us place in the idea that a truly better world is possible. And maybe that is the case. Goodness knows that he would be entitled to that opinion. But I can't help but wonder if there isn't something else at work here. What if Mr. Mack also believes in the idea that we can make a future that is far better than the present and he has presented this story as a challenge. There is unfortunately a fair amount of moral in intellectual laziness in many Star Trek fans. We say we want a better world and then continue to sit on our couches talking about how great it would be. Far too many never think about what must be done to make it happen. We want to think it will just happen "because". So perhaps Control is meant to be a clarion call to action. Want a better world? Want it to come about without it requiring the murder of thousands? Then get up off your ass and do the work, the unceasing work. Make the future or it will be made for you.

    Of course that's just my opinion, I could be someone who spends way too much fucking time thinking about this shit.
     
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  16. Ronald Held

    Ronald Held Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Nine chapters in. Interesting from the technical aspects. Spoilers aside, why should I believe Control is not the program or an avatar of it?
     
  17. jaime

    jaime Commodore Commodore

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    There's all sorts of politics at play in the book..from Trek fan perspective, the book explicitly also hews to the Starfleet as military, and the future having currency. In some ways it turns Trek into a lot more of an extreme political work at the edge of both right and left.
     
  18. skylight112

    skylight112 Cadet Newbie

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    Just finished reading, I could not put it down. Mack is a master of suspense and story flow. Every character mattered and every arc tugged at my heart. The implications of what happens next are are quite fun to think about.
     
  19. Jim Gamma

    Jim Gamma This space left blank intentionally. Rear Admiral

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    I'm 70% in, and enjoying it. As others have noted, the prospect of Control predicting/manipulating this scenario from the start is rather difficult to believe; there are just far too many variables, and as Data mentions at one point, even a super-AI can't predict everything.

    That's why I'm reading Control's claims as pure hubris, even megalomania. My take is that Control has an overarching plan, and is using whatever resources it finds at any given point to help it achieve that goal. So yes, maybe it manipulates Bashir once it becomes aware of him, but the whole "I manipulated you into being" line it takes is just post-event rationalization designed to help keep its pawns on track.

    As to people not noticing the legacy code, how many of us go into the root design of our Windows/Mac computers? Although the systems have been upgraded over time, there is still usually a traceable path from (say) Windows 3.1 through to Windows 10. A lot of the code gets changed, removed, etc; new stuff gets added, but there is almost certainly at least one component on today's Windows PC that was present in the 1990s. We can't say "Oh, in 200 years it'll vanish," because we're still right at the start of computing, relative to that length of time. The code may not look identical, because it's been patched or rewritten, but it might still be doing the same thing.

    Decentralised control is actually fairly common these days, with the whole idea of the Cloud, server farms and peer-to-peer networking. We've seen how a limited application of optimization subroutines can be manipulated to create "echo chambers" for people's thoughts, presenting them with adverts based on what they click, etc, but this really takes it to its extreme. This is Google/Facebook/etc ramped up to galactic scale, involved in absolutely everything. If it's so hardwired into Federation systems, it could easily make programmers think it was something else, like a totally benign operating system.

    Now (or at least once I finish reading), we wait for the fallout... :D
     
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  20. jaime

    jaime Commodore Commodore

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    Um. I do. But yeah you are right...in terms of Windows, or any given OS with a lineage.
    But the same chucks aren't in my microwave, or even my phone, definitely not my TV or games console....it's that ubiquity presented over two centuries for the thing.