Spoilers VOY: Acts of Contrition by Kirsten Beyer Review Thread

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Sho, Sep 20, 2014.


Rate Acts of Contrition.

  1. Outstanding

    59 vote(s)
  2. Above Average

    27 vote(s)
  3. Average

    6 vote(s)
  4. Below Average

    3 vote(s)
  5. Poor

    0 vote(s)
  1. stormy

    stormy Ensign Red Shirt

    Feb 21, 2014
    I'm about halfway through the book at this point and I'm very intrigued with the developments so far. I do have one question for Kirsten, though anyone else is free to offer insight as well.

    It has surprised me to see the great lengths the fleet is going to in order to hide their technology from the Confederacy, as well as the general level of suspicion and wariness towards the Confederacy. I understand it's a delicate first contact situation and certainly an amount of caution is to be expected from both sides. But what I'm seeing so far in the book seems a bit extreme.

    From what I remember of the series, Voyager rarely had any reservations of demonstrating their technology to species they had just met. Obviously, sharing their technology was avoided at all costs, but using it or making it known was not such a big deal. They frequently made first contact with new species and would allow them a tour of the ship, including areas of high sensitivity like the Bridge and Engineering. Certainly they took precautions to guard those areas, and they did not go into technical specifications of their technology. But they didn't actively hold back as much as I've seen them do with the Confederacy up to this point.

    So far the Confederacy has shown they are a similarly advanced species, they have fought alongside the fleet and helped defend them, and in many ways treated them as friends and allies. I get that there are several warning signs in the culture and past actions of the Confederacy that are concerning. But as has been pointed out several times in the book so far, such cultural differences are to be expected and are not indications that peaceful interactions aren't possible. While I agree they still have much to work out regarding their future interactions, it seems strange to me that the fleet is regarding them with so many precautions in place.

    So my question is, is there a reason that the Confederacy seems to be more of an exception in how they are regarded by the fleet? Is it that you (Kirsten) feel that the casual attitude they demonstrated towards first contact in the series was a mistake made by the show, or that it is considered to be an exception due to Voyager's unique circumstances when they were stranded? Or is there something specific about the Confederacy that I have missed that makes this level of caution warranted?

    I apologize in advance if this topic has already been addressed - I have not read all of the comments here just to make sure I don't accidently read any spoilers. But I wanted to ask because it is such a key component in their interactions and tactics so far and I wanted to clarify the seeming inconsistency as I was not expecting that tone to their interactions.
  2. rfmcdpei

    rfmcdpei Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Aug 19, 2008
    Toronto, Ontario, Canada
    The sad story of the Paris family is one of the things I most looked forward to seeing explored, and I was not disappointed.

    I did not find Julia Paris disgusting or hateful or a bitch at all. Yes, I thought that Tom and B'Elanna should keep custody of their family and that they hadn't done anything meriting the removal. One thing that Beyer is good at exploring is the idea that actions have consequences, even unanticipated consequences. The anger of an already grief-stricken Julia Paris on learning that her son and daughter-in-law perpetrated an act that normally would be quite unforgiveable--pretending that her daughter-in-law and her only granddaughter had died so the three could flee known space and never be seen again--was perfectly believable. That this woman, ably depicted by Beyer as someone who was both energetic and resourceful, might let her anger drive her to make rash decisions that she might think were in the interests of the people she cared about was, again, perfectly believable.

    Do I think Tom and B'Elanna were justified in doing what they did? I think it's one strategy that could have worked, and one that probably would have produced significantly fewer fatalities than hoping Starfleet will be able to protect them. Do I think that the people they cared for and who cared for them might legitimately be upset that they were lied to about such an important thing for so long? Sure. Do I think that Tom and B'Elanna will have to do a lot of work to rebuild the relationships they sacrificed out of perceived necessity? Definitely.

    In the end, I think this particular arc will lead to a lot of growth for Paris and his family, and perhaps for B'Elanna and hers. What, exactly, happened to so badly undermine each character's faith in the people who were closest to them? Can this be repaired? Can this be survived in any case? This is not a matter of one character being a bitch. Rather, this dynamic tension is the stuff of great drama. My compliments to the author for pulling it off.
  3. Marika

    Marika Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Aug 29, 2014
    I just finished the book ! Outstanding how i voted even before the book was released , is a poor word . Memorable ! Now the long wait for the next one :O
  4. Paris

    Paris Commodore Commodore

    Dec 29, 2008
    In the future's past
    According to Full Circle, the original mission length for the FC fleet in the Delta Quadrant is supposed to be 3 years.
  5. Thrawn

    Thrawn Rear Admiral Premium Member

    Jun 15, 2008
    Washington, DC
    Well, Outstanding, clearly. I mean, clearly. This is KMFB's most complex novel to date, and earns and owns every bit of that complexity, both structurally and philosophically.

    TNG was described by someone on the writing staff, once, as a sort of "atheist bible", a series of parables. This is both a strength of Trek and a weakness; Trek has a tendency to resort to caricature so as to strongly nail down its point. Some of those episodes are strong, some are just oversimplified, but they all I think fail at imagining with complexity. Dealing with one opinion in one place is much less difficult to write or imagine than dealing with an entire opposing philosophy. Kirsten imagines the Confederacy, here, not as A Society With A Dark Secret, but as a complex, richly imagined culture with many dark secrets, but also many caring people. People who aren't enemies, but still believe that their culture is in the right. Characters who aren't cutouts to be Captain Kirked into compliance, but people who will never see eye to eye with our characters. It's a brave choice, a difficult task, and she nails it.

    That the Confederacy is also so clearly a mirror of our own, current society makes this book far more than just an adventure story or even a morality play. It's a remarkably uncomfortable mirror at times. In the hospital scene, and the scenes with O'Donnell and Fife touring the agricultural worlds, I at times was so furious and sick to my stomach I had to put the book down. Not for the characters I was reading, but for the real situations these so effectively evoke.

    But even given the complexity of the Confederacy, I was still expecting this to ultimately be a more complex variety of the prototypical Voyager story where a society at first seems friendly until they cross The Janeway Line at which point she tells them off in a huff and leaves, angry aliens at her back. I spent most of my time thinking "oh shit, we really are going to pay for making enemies of these dudes." But at the end: not so much. Forcing the Federation and the Confederacy into being allies, she pushes this into even thornier, more fascinating territory - how do you live and work with people whose beliefs are so thoroughly toxic to your own? How can an alliance work between people with fundamentally incompatible worldviews?

    I mean hell. What more relevant question could she be asking, at this point in our society?

    So too is this theme mirrored in Paris's subplot, much more intimately, as he decides to be there to support his mother who so thoroughly didn't understand him that she shunned him from the family and tried to take away his children. How do you live with a family that has done that to you, and still make the choice to support them?

    Echoes even show up in Samantha learning to speak bits of Tamarian, and (potentially) in whatever reconciliation will occur between Seven, Paris, and The Commander. (I have to admit, this was the only part of the book I wasn't 100% invested in; I wasn't ever quite sure if I should be worried or Seven or not, and rather than creating dramatic tension it mostly made me just want to get to the part where it all got explained so I could decide how I felt about it. I'm so interested in the ramifications of all her stories that not having full information about what was going on just seemed like a roadblock. I did adore the scenes with Sharak, though.)

    As a final note: I think Liam O'Donnell is who I wanted to be when I grew up, before I realized I couldn't pull it off. I just turned 30, but secretly, he might still be who I want to be when I grow up. My favorite scenes in this novel were precisely every scene in which O'Donnell said anything to anyone. Just the first scene of chapter 1 was so great I had to go back and read it twice, I could so vividly imagine every facial expression that both of them made the entire time. On top of that, O'Donnell and Fife together has to be the most interesting character dynamic in any book I've read in recent memory. I want a whole series, just of them, running rampant and winning things.

    I also want to call out Stoek for an awesome post up there. I couldn't agree more with your thoughts on Sharak, The Doctor, the Confederacy being a much more valid US mirror, O'Donnell and Fife being awesome, and KMFB's growth as an author. I lean more towards rmfcdpei's interpretation of the Julia/Tom story, but regardless, I love that the scenes there were so emotionally resonant as to provoke such strong reactions. What an incredible book.
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2014
  6. Defcon

    Defcon Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    May 9, 2003
    I think you mixed up Naomi and her mother in the final paragraph of your spoiler comments.
  7. Thrawn

    Thrawn Rear Admiral Premium Member

    Jun 15, 2008
    Washington, DC
    So I did. Corrected. Thanks!
  8. TerraUnam

    TerraUnam Commander Red Shirt

    Feb 6, 2010
    United Earth
    The whole Catom Plague plot was well done, but frustratingly incomplete. It seems like there are threads there left for the next book.

    And I agree that Picardo should have Kirsten as a writer for his scences, her writing of him is beyond compare.
  9. Jedi_Master

    Jedi_Master Admiral Admiral

    May 25, 2011
    Hurricane Alley
    Absolutely fantastic! So much to admire that I will take up a few posts but just for now I want to say thank you KMFB for using a Tamarian and writing from his POV. The Children of Tama are my favorite "alien" species and I am blown away that it has taken almost twenty years for an author to integrate that race into a story. Doctor Sharak is a fascinating character and I loved every page that included him. Well done. Thank you. Please write more POV's for his character.
  10. Idran

    Idran Commodore Commodore

    Apr 17, 2011
    While Doctor Sharak is awesome, it has been less than 20 years: Christopher Bennett did a great Tamarian-oriented short story in The Sky's The Limit that did a lot to delve into the psychology of the race. Not to take credit away from Kirsten, though - I love that we get an actual Tamarian POV character, and the scene in the Tamarian language was amazing.
  11. JD

    JD Fleet Admiral Admiral

    Jul 22, 2004
    Arizona, USA
    This is the second part of a trilogy, so that is pretty much to be expected.
  12. Stoek

    Stoek Commander Red Shirt

    Dec 10, 2008
    Thanks. I agree that I would happily buy books featuring O'Donnel and Fife. As for the Paris', intellectually I also agree with rmfcdpei's take. But I have spent over a decade with a wonderful partner who is just now starting to purge some of the worst of the emotional toxicity of spending a too large portion of her life being punished for not living up to her family's unrealistic expectations. So for me I tend to relate to what Tom is going through in a much more personal and emotional way than I might otherwise.
  13. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral

    A great review as usual, Thrawn. Particularly your description of how this novel engages with the full complexity of an issue or a given society, and thus far outshines the simplified "parable" approach of much of Trek. I agree entirely. The question that I wrestle with, as an extension to that admirable portrayal of complex and multi-faceted relationships, is how universal the questions raised regarding alliance and identity are intended to be, and whether the novel is ready to truly extend them into the real world, to the point where they might weaken or threaten the novel itself. How far are we "permitted" to extend these questions? Once the real world is brought into play one cannot erect barriers and demand that no-one move past them. The way of the Confederacy cannot be the way of the worldview that contains and analyses the Confederacy.

    Stoek made a very important and eloquent point about identity and perception, and the relationship between what people like to believe themselves to be and the truth, however the truth is defined. As he says, the novel does some great and admirable work with these themes. Self-image versus a given outsider's perspective. When talking about our own, current societies, then even if we ignore or downplay that the experience of people in different nations, regions, etc., will be different, then there are several societies on show here from my perspective, including the one that the Confederacy is a mirrored image of and the one that those addressing that mirror would perhaps like to claim they inhabit, by implicitly distancing themselves from what they criticise. A pet peeve of mine is the manner in which people are often encouraged to construct an account of how things supposedly are, informed by ideology or politics, and then critique it, claiming - indeed believing - that they are therefore challenging entrenched narratives while they themselves are actually reaffirming such, and obscuring efforts to actually change. Particularly when they have a stake in keeping the current narrative(s) prominent, whether they’ll admit it or not. Or, to put it another way, those who view themselves as "progressive" are often, from another perspective, dedicated to conservatism and in fact threatened by the prospect of social or philosophical change; are they prepared to get as good as they give? Which is why humility is essential. (To say nothing of the fact that your opponents, whoever they are, like to claim the exact same thing about you. Nothing I would say here cannot or has not been shot at me - I would say foolishly, but then I would say that, wouldn’t I?).

    One cannot address an issue when they are unable to clearly and accurately grapple with it; when - to borrow from Stoek's description - what people decide they want to be, or want to be seen as, gets in the way of who they are. When it’s the case that one cannot point to the truth of a person or a society, or at least make the case for what their chosen identities represent to you, without offending them (because they guard the identity that benefits them and reject anything that could threaten change) then the observers’ own desire for truth is also obscured. Diplomacy is all so often the enemy of truth. The Zaldans are a people with whom I sympathise.

    In such cases, where identity trumps truth, having people pointing to troubling realities in current society is largely pointless, an exercise in placing before someone a challenge they’re not actually permitted to work on. Without self-knowledge (individual or societal) it's just hand-wringing or point-scoring rather than anything useful. Where is the action that emerges from self-knowledge, be it on an individual basis or a societal one? Mirrors to contemporary society so often leave me cold because I know that the narrative will take precedence over the truth, among those critiquing as well as those being critiqued. Like the Confederacy, it's all well and good so long as it doesn't challenge the status quo or the maintenance of existing social power, and - like the Confederacy when the Voyager fleet arrives - the slow realization that a friendly partner or neighbour is a threat to you and your identity complicates the relationship. O’Donnell, again, probably has the most sympathetic position. He doesn’t want to get involved in all the politics and the awkwardness, where tongues are held to avoid offence, and disappointment sets in on all levels. Where all he has to look forward to is the process of self-defeating failure.

    My perspective on Trek, like my perspective on anything else, is defined by the fact that I am pretty much always one half of two alien societies brushing shoulders. I’ve learned – and it’s been a difficult process – not to trust in others’ ethics or values, for they’ll prove a disappointment. There’s far too much overlap along with far too many significant differences. The combination is such that, like the UFP and the Confederacy, there's an obvious match that when you look closer becomes problematic. I make friends too easily, find acceptance too easily. Instead, I’ve had to learn to swallow my pride and accept that I can only trust people to be themselves, to be who and what they are, not what I wish them to be or what they’d like to be seen as. Although then the issue becomes one of guilt for not being brave enough to do anything other than shrug and walk off (look at Janeway's arguments back to O'Donnell, about why he needs to be there). One of my biggest flaws is the way in which I latch on to people and then, if I really like and respect them, expect them to conform to what I consider ethical and sensible; I have to remind myself not to impose - and not to throw the equivalent of a tantrum because they're not "perfect".

    The novel explores themes of identity and societal inertia extremely well in its depiction of the Confederacy; perhaps too well, because it causes me to switch my focus from the Trek world to that of reality, and the nature of the franchise as a whole. To use an old saying: who watches the watchers? There are always political, ideological and self-identity barriers to comprehension and improvement, the unwillingness or inability to question the narratives one lives by, which not only prevents effective handling of a social malady but oftentimes worsens it. Cultural blindness as a barrier to cthia is omnipresent. When confronted with a genuine, well-crafted mirror to an actual society, current or historic, I tend to spiral outward and question whether any probing perspective is itself truly self-aware or whether it displays the same weakness as the society it's critiquing. Which is actually a demonstration of a high-quality work, so not, I'd say, to be taken as a condemnation. It's just that - perhaps - I'm encouraged to challenge. The more I respect something or someone, the more I find myself willing to narrow my eyes and step back from my positive feelings. I can think of several non-Trek book series that I once truly loved, but now look upon with far greater wariness because of the obvious chasm between how the creators would view/define themselves and how I do. A supposed willingness to question and grow that in fact comes to appear more an effort to lock down such things. An assumed identity that comes to look ridiculous on them. As O’Donnell says, this is how the story ends – in disappointment.

    There's a certain Trek author, who I will not name (and who isn't a frequent poster here), who is undoubtedly a fine and talented writer (an understatement, truly), yet whose books are, to me, often frustrating as a result of their great quality and artistic mastery, because I find the awareness applied so successfully to fictional situations not, so far as I can see, applied to reality. It mars, slightly, the great experience of those books - and this wouldn't be a problem for me were the books not so good. Kiteo, his eyes closed.

    As you summarize:

    "How do you live and work with people whose beliefs are so thoroughly toxic to your own? How can an alliance work between people with fundamentally incompatible worldviews?"

    Well, I’m more than used to doing such, and it's gotten easier since I've matured enough to truly achieve independence from the incompatibles, a relatively recent development (Anyone who read my thoughts on the Vulcan civil war arc in Enterprise might get this).

    As Garak says in A Stitch In Time:

    "And the great determining factor of our becoming is relationship. Unrelated, I become unrelated. Alienated. Opposed, I become an antagonist. Unified, I become integrated. A functioning member of the whole".

    Are you the Federation looking in on the Confederacy, or are you the Confederacy?

    As an aside, there's a lot of talk about Tamarians here - I agree with Jedi Master that they're one of the greatest and certainly most intriguing Star Trek aliens, and that they were handled wonderfully in this novel. The Tamarian/Basic conversation between Sharak and his friend was fantastic. Tamarians, of course, take the idea of an established social narrative with defined meanings and almost elevate it to the point of acute self-awareness, in that they inhabit pre-prepared and static identities in order to signify their current intentions or meanings. They assume other identities, but these identities are largely unchanging and universal, an entire worldview of established truths (although we know there's a process for introducing new myths or expanding on the old, as both this novel and "Darmok" implicitly demonstrate). Yet they're self-aware enough to ensure that these truths are legend, not supposed cthia.

    I suppose what I’m saying here, in summary, is that a truly good novel is more likely to rouse my suspicion and unwillingness to vote "Outstanding" than a merely decent one. This is a truly good novel. So I could only vote "Above Average".
  14. Deranged Nasat

    Deranged Nasat Vice Admiral Admiral

    I forgot to mention one thing in my first post on page two (I think). I mentioned in my review for Protectors how Beyer tends to emphasise the portrayal of the Federation as a multi-racial society by including a lot of characters whose names or biology suggest a multi-species family or cross-cultural influence. There was a Trill named Pauline (it might be coincidental, but given the pattern I assume it's the Human name) and an admiral with a Human name but a bony ridge demonstrating obvious non-Human ancestry. In this book, the trend continues; we have a character described as blue-skinned and bald in a manner suggesting Bolian heritage. She's not actually a Bolian, mind you - and presumably she doesn't have the ridge - but there's a lot of Bolian in her.

    I like this. :)
  15. Csalem

    Csalem Commodore Commodore

    Mar 28, 2006
    Dublin, Ireland
    Just finished this today and loved it. I had the classic dilemma of wanting to finish it as quickly as possible but at the same time never wanting it to end. Every scene was just brilliant though I want more of O'Donnell and Fife. Can we please get a monthly ebook novella series with them and their adventures on the Demeter? Please?!
  16. Shane Houston

    Shane Houston Commander Red Shirt

    Oct 11, 2009
    Louisville Kentucky - Halliwell
    I agree 100 percent. Just when you think KMFB can't be better, she brings her A game every time and tops herself.

    Kirsten, here in Kentucky, we'd say if this book were a horse, it's won the Derby!

    High points? General Mattings.

    Low point? There are none. This wasn't just a book about Star Trek, it was a statement on our world today, and written in a way that makes you really "think" about our own world and what we can do to change it. Yet, it's done in a very Gene Roddenberry kind of way.

    The Great Bird Of The Galaxy smiles down on Kirsten Beyer.
  17. Reanok

    Reanok Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Dec 26, 2002
    I've read the first few chapters of this book and really like this Voyager book series a lot.It certainly does a great job continuing events from the last book and I like the unexpected twists and turns with the Voyager characters storylines.
  18. Kirsten Beyer

    Kirsten Beyer Writer Red Shirt

    Jun 10, 2005
    Los Angeles

    First of all, I am overwhelmed and as I am sure you can imagine, delighted with the responses so far on Acts of Contrition. I'm not going to lie. I was worried about this one. I was pleased with it once it was done, but I had no idea how readers would respond. I was very clear on the issues I wanted to explore and the themes I wanted to develop, but the writing process felt very strange and it was hard to tell if I was executing on my vision. It was very stark. An unusual place to write from. But it is also just where I was at the time so there was really nothing I could do about it other than just forge ahead.

    So, yes, I am thrilled to learn that for the most part, my fears were baseless.

    Now....I came here last night and sat for about two hours composing responses to many of the questions that have been raised and adding some thoughts. I did the standard multi-quote thing. I edited the quotes. I made sure it all looked right in one massive post. And then, I kid you not, as I was previewing the final version I got a message that internet explorer was experiencing a problem and before I could submit the post, I lost all of it. All of it.

    You can imagine, I am sure, my frustration. "Really? The internet just ate my fucking homework? Really?"

    But it did. And to be honest, I don't have the time to do that again. I could start over and try my best to recreate that post, but I am now thoroughly spooked.

    So...I still want to address the question and issues, but I am now going to beg your patience and indulgence, and the moderator's. I'm just going to take the issues one at a time, post by post. Which is going to result in multiple posts by me at one time. And I just really need you to deal with it. I just can't lose the work or the time again.

    So here we go....

    And as one last general note...I adore all of you and thank you so much for taking the time to come here and post your thoughts on the book.

  19. Kirsten Beyer

    Kirsten Beyer Writer Red Shirt

    Jun 10, 2005
    Los Angeles
    I am not. The only place to find me online is here. There just aren't enough hours in the day for me to write, live my life, and maintain a presence on these other platforms.

    I honestly don't know if/when Voyager's stories might again intersect with the past or current stories in the AQ regarding the Typhon Pact. I'm taking this one story at a time and should the need arise, they will. If not...they won't.

    Glad you enjoyed the Picard scene. It was lots of fun to write. And that is the last we see of him in this trilogy. Short, but sweet.

  20. Kirsten Beyer

    Kirsten Beyer Writer Red Shirt

    Jun 10, 2005
    Los Angeles
    I am sorry, but that just killed me. Hilarious.

    I really wish I could say that I am that cool. That I have those kinds of details about all of the series at my fingertips.

    Sadly, I am forced to disabuse you of that notion. While there is no reason, now that I know who she is, that they could not be related, I named Shaw as a little nod to the first employer I had out of school...also an attorney named Shaw.

    Spoiler alert: You have nothing to worry about on that front. Largely because I agree with you.

    High praise, indeed. Humbling really, as my envy of Una's work knows no bounds.

    As to your incredibly strong response to the Paris family storyline, while I am thrilled to have evoked such passion in a reader (which is really kind of sick, right? Who enjoys enraging anyone so much?) I must gently suggest for the purposes of the story's conclusion that you realign your thoughts more along the lines that rmfcdpei articulated so eloquently. I get why you feel the way you do. But for me, Julia is not the person you are describing here. She is in a ton of pain. People do horrible, unspeakable things when they are in pain. I have personally known folks who could be so incredibly hateful from time to time, but then turn around and be absolute joys to be around, which was so challenging. I mean, yes, part of you wants to walk away. Toxic people are dangerous and all of us would do well to avoid them. And yes, from time to time I have ended relationships with people who were very close to me. But never in anger. Always with love. Always having come to realize that whatever these people need, I can't give it to them and I am wasting both of our time trying. The endings were painful. But necessary, for my sanity and theirs. For those who are still in my life and still lapse into insanity, I usually just find myself looking at them and asking myself, "Who hurt you? How much pain are you in that you could come to this?"

    I get why what is going on between Tom and Julia would be hard for you to see. But for me, Julia is a whole person. For you, she is a handful of scenes, many of them difficult to witness. Because we really are seeing her at her worst. But Tom knows that. When I am writing in Tom's head, I know all of the other things he remembers about her and they complicate matters tremendously. There is no way Tom could walk away from her at the end of that mediation. Tom has a history with his mother, just as he did with his father. They aren't one big parental ball for him. They are individuals. And there was a lot of healing that took place between Tom and his father shortly before his father's death. That doesn't just go away because Julia has temporarily lost all perspective. And Tom is still grieving his father's loss along with her.

    I understand that from a reader's perspective it might have felt good to hear Tom tell her to fuck off at the end and cut all ties. But that's just wouldn't have been true...at least for me. I hope that as you see how the rest of the story unfolds, you'll understand what I'm going for here.

    As to the rest, it is always wonderful, and fascinating to hear your thoughts. Thank you again.