Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Forgotten History

Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Forgotten History by Christopher L. Bennett
Published May 2012
Read April 29th, 2012

Previous book (Dept. of Temporal Investigations): Watching the Clock

Next book (Dept. of Temporal Investigations): The Collectors

Spoilers ahead for Forgotten History and the Department of Temporal Investigations series!


From the back cover:

The agents of the Department of Temporal Investigations are assigned to look into an anomaly that has appeared deep in Federation territory.  It's difficult to get clear readings, but a mysterious inactive vessel lies agt the heart of the anomaly, one outfitted with some sort of temporal drive disrupting space-time and subspace.  To the agents' shock, the ship bears a striking resemblance to a Constitution-class starship, and its warp signature matches that of the original Federation starship USS Enterprise NCC-1701--the ship of James T. Kirk, that infamous bogeyman of temporal investigators, whose record of violations is held up by DTI agents as a cautionary tale for Starfleet recklessness toward history.  But the vessel's hull markings identify it as Timeship Two, belonging to none other than the DTI itself.  At first, Agents Lucsly and Dulmur assume the ship is from some other timeline ... but its quantum signature confirms that it came from their own past, despite the fact that the DTI never possessed such a timeship.  While the anomaly is closely monitored, Lucsly and Dulmur must search for answers in the history of Kirk's Enterprise and its many encounters with time travel--a series of events with direct ties to the origins of the DTI itself ...

My Thoughts:

In Forgotten History, Christopher Bennett returns to the world of The Department of Temporal Investigations, the quirky government body that oversees and regulates all the temporal, timey-wimey stuff in the Federation.  This story takes us to the very founding of the department by showing us flashbacks to the events that necessitated the creation of the DTI.  Much like in Bennett's previous DTI novel, Watching the Clock, Forgotten History does an excellent job in explaining things from episodes of Star Trek that simply don't make a lot of sense when considered in the grand tapestry of Trek history.  Oftentimes, people tend to forget that Star Trek wasn't made with some kind of over-arching goal and narrative in mind; rather, it is a somewhat muddled hodge-podge of stories written over the course of 45 years by numerous writers.  Inevitably, something that writer B writes is going to clash with what writer A wrote years before.  In both this book and the previous DTI title, Bennett proves himself a master at bringing these disparate ideas together and creating a cohesive story from all the little bits that actually makes sense.  Forgotten History, for example, provides a valid reason why Starfleet crews aren't always going back in time using the seemingly-easy slingshot-around-the-sun method.  It seems that it's actually much more difficult than it seems, but then Mr. Bennett turns around and provides a perfectly cogent reason why Kirk and company are able to do it so easily in a Klingon bird-of-prey in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.  Another interesting so-called "ret-con" is the explanation provided for the alternate Earth featured in the original series episode "Miri," other than the old fall-backs of "Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planet Development" or "The Preservers did it."


Forgotten History also marks a return to the post-Motion Picture era of Enterprise history, a favorite period of Mr. Bennett's.  His enjoyment at writing in this time period is clearly evident.  I have yet to read his very well-known novel set in this era, Ex Machina, but it is on my list waiting to be cracked open, especially after reading this novel.  Indeed, as Mr. Bennett states in this novel, Forgotten History can be seen as both a sequel and a prequel to both Ex Machina and Watching the Clock.


The study of history has always fascinated me.  Disturbing to me is the realization of exactly how little we actually know about what happened in the past.  I was recently struck by these thoughts on a visit to the Seoul National Museum.  On display were relics from the distant past with authoritative labels explaining the significance of various symbols or garments.  It struck me that these are merely suppositions made by researchers rather than proven, reliable descriptions of what everyday life was like thousands of years ago.  Educated and researched suppositions, to be sure, but there is no way to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt what the past was really like without firsthand observation, which is obviously impossible at this point in our history.  We like to delude ourselves that we have a complete picture of the events, motivations, and repercussions of the past.  However, what we actually know is only supposition aided by various, biased views.  "History is written by the victors," as the ever-mercurial "they" say.  Forgotten History explores this concept somewhat, challenging what characters view as the immutable truth of their own history.  Heroes and villains of the past may only be in those roles because we've cast them as such.

James T. Kirk: Hero or villain?

Final Thoughts:


Forgotten History is probably the Star Trek novel I've been most anticipating this year.  For the most part, it did not disappoint.  Prior to its release, Christopher L. Bennett claimed that this novel could be viewed as either a Department of Temporal Investigations novel or as a novel of the original Star Trek series.  Indeed, after reading it, I can see how it can be both.  I'm a huge fan of the original series, and Bennett writes Kirk and crew very well.  The agents of the DTI took a bit of a backseat in this novel, and while I really enjoy the adventures of the original crew, I would like to someday see another book centered around the dour Lucsly and the slightly-more well adjusted Dulmur.


For Christopher L. Bennett's trademark explaining-away of discombobulated bits of Trek lore, and a damn fine story to boot, Department of Temporal Investigations: Forgotten History earns a 9.5/10 from me.  Excellent story, with Bennett's trademark humour and scientific acumen on proud display.


Also by Christopher L. Bennett:

Star Trek: Ex Machina (2005)

Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock (2011)
Star Trek: Typhon Pact: The Struggle Within (2011)
Star Trek: Enterprise: Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures (2013)

Star Trek: Enterprise: Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel (2014)


My next read:

My next review: Una McCormack's follow-up to Deep Space Nine's "In the Pale Moonlight," Hollow Men.  Until then, LLAP!