Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Watching the Clock

Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock
Published May 2011
Read May 11, 2011

Next book (Dept. of Temporal Investigations): Forgotten History



Click the cover to purchase Watching the Clock at Amazon.com!
Spoilers ahead for Watching the Clock, many episodes of Star Trek (in all of its incarnations), and the series finale of Star Trek: Voyager!


From the back cover:

There's likely no more of a thankless job in the Federation than temporal investigation. While starship explorers get to live the human adventure of traveling to other times and realities, it's up to the dedicated agents of the Federation Department of Temporal Investigations to deal with the consequences to the timestream that the rest of the Galaxy has to live with day by day. But when history as we know it could be wiped out at any moment by time warriors from the future, misused relics of ancient races, or accident-prone starships, only the most disciplined, obsessive, and unimaginative government employees have what it takes to face the existential uncertainty of it all on a daily basis . . . and still stay sane enough to complete their assignments.
That's where Agents Lucsly and Dulmur come in—stalwart and unflappable, these men are the Federation's unsung anchors in a chaotic universe. Together with their colleagues in the DTI—and with the help and sometimes hindrance of Starfleet's finest—they do what they can to keep the timestream, or at least the paperwork, as neat and orderly as they are. But when a series of escalating temporal incursions threatens to open a new front of the history-spanning Temporal Cold War in the twenty-fourth century, Agents Lucsly and Dulmur will need all their investigative skill and unbending determination to stop those who wish to rewrite the past for their own advantage, and to keep the present and the future from devolving into the kind of chaos they really, really hate.
About the novel:
Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock follows the lives and careers of agents Lucsly and Dulmur, tasked with the job of maintaining continuity in a timeline prone to incursions by travelers from different eras.  We learn how Agent Dulmur joined the DTI, after a temporal anomaly ruined his career as a more traditional law-enforcement officer.  We also learn more about the organization and the methods they use to preserve the timeline.

In the course of the novel, we see agents of the DTI dealing with a new front opening in the Temporal Cold War (see Star Trek: Enterprise).  Temporal agents from various future eras (called "uptime") intervene in affairs in the 24th century Trek era we've come to know and love.  With help from these future travelers, agents of the DTI manage to save a group of scientists targetted for elimination by time-travelers, and even manage to thwart the plans of the mysterious "Future Guy" from the temporal cold war arc of Star Trek: Enterprise.  A secondary story has two other agents working to prevent a warlord from using time-travel through an anomaly called "The Axis of Time" to conquer and control an empire.

Also, through flashbacks, Watching the Clock revisits almost every time-travel story previously featured on Star Trek.  We see the effects of Paul Manheim's experiements in "We'll Always Have Paris" (TNG), the origin of that strange anomaly and the double of Picard in "Time Squared" (TNG), the Vorgons' attempt to steal the Tox Uthat in "Captain's Holiday" (TNG), Rasmussen's theft of a time ship and visit to the Enterprise in "A Matter of Time" (TNG), what becomes of the USS Bozeman and crew from TNG's "Cause and Effect," and a myriad of other time-travel plots.  Virtually every plot in Star Trek that involves time-travel, however tangentially, is at least mentioned or referenced in some small way in this novel.


My Thoughts:
I felt that this latest, highly unique and original novel by Christopher L. Bennett was simply outstanding!  The narrative, the concepts, and the execution were all done flawlessly.  New characters are introduced into the Trek universe, and they are written as complete and compelling individuals.  Also, the characters of Lucsly and Dulmur are fleshed out and expanded WAY beyond their intial three minutes and forty-five seconds of screen time in Deep Space Nine's "Trials and Tribble-ations."  I really love the character of Lucsly, a man who is so driven by his desire for order and his belief in the original, unimpeded timeline.  He kind of reminds me of a Joe Friday with mild Asperger syndrome.

"Just the facts, Ben."
The true genius of Watching the Clock lies in the depiction of the Department of Temporal Investigations as a whole.  As watchers of Star Trek, we are often concerned with the idea of "heroics."  The larger-than-life exploits of starship captains, the rise and fall of empires, the galaxy-shaking decisions of political leaders, and so on.  Department of Temporal Investigations provides us with a different perspective: the "boring" life of civil servants and desk-jockeys, filing paperwork and cleaning up after the Starfleet captains who all seem to want to crap all over the timeline.  In this way, Watching the Clock provides us with a glimpse of who the true heroes are.  After the Enterprise-E returns from the 21st century in Star Trek: First Contact, for example, who does it fall to to make sure they didn't screw up the past too badly?  DTI, of course.

Favorite part in the book: the explanation as to why Captain Janeway wasn't immediately thrown in prison for her time-altering stunt that brought her crew home in Voyager's "Endgame."  That always bugged me, and I credit Mr. Bennett with providing an adequate explanation.  However, I still stand by my judgement that Janeway should never have been promoted to Admiral; rather, I think there were many offenses she committed over the years that should have had at least a few consequences.  Ah well, that is an argument for another time I suppose.

Final Thoughts:
I highly recommend Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock, but only if you are very familiar with the many "canon" stories of the Trek universe.  Watching the Clock contains spoilers for literally every incarnation of Star Trek (yes, even the 70s animated series!), and readers who haven't watched all of the episodes may find themselves either lost or annoyed at having future viewing experiences spoiled.

My score: 10/10.  Absolutely outstanding, and I hope Department of Temporal Investigations is revisited again in the future.  Or the past.  Or in an alternate timeline?

More about Watching the Clock:

Also by Christopher L. Bennett:

Next review:
Peter David's latest New Frontier novel, Blind Man's Bluff.