Monday, July 30, 2012

Ex Machina

Star Trek: Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett
Published January 2005
Read May 18th, 2012

Previous book (The Original Series): Vulcan's Soul #1: Exodus
Next book (The Original Series): Errand of Fury #1: Seeds of Rage


Spoilers ahead for Ex Machina

From the back cover:
In the aftermath of the astonishing events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the captain and officers of the U.S.S. Enterprise remain haunted by their encounter with the vast artificial intelligence of V'Ger... and by the sacrifice and ascension of their friend and shipmate, Willard Decker.
As James T. Kirk, Spock, and Leonard McCoy attempt to cope with the personal fallout of that ordeal, a chapter from their mutual past is reopened, raising troubling new questions about the relationship among God, Man, and AI.  On the recently settled world of Daran IV, the former refugees of the Fabrini worldship Yonada are being divided by conflicting ideologies, as those clinging to their theocratic past vie with visionaries of a future governed by reason alone.
Now, echoes of the V'Ger encounter reverberate among the Enterprise officers who years ago overthrew the Oracle, the machine-god that controlled Yonada.  Confronting the consequences of those actions, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy also face choices that will decide the fate of a civilization, and which may change them forever.

My Thoughts:

Watching the Clock, the first novel in the Department of Temporal Investigations series, was the first of Christopher L. Bennett's bibliography I'd ever read.  His follow-up novel, Forgotten History, with some of its action set in the post-Motion Picture era, prompted me to read his highly-recommended novel, Ex Machina.  I was definitely not disappointed.  Mr. Bennett has crafted a lovely tale, featuring an era of Star Trek history that is not often explored.


Star Trek: The Motion Picture means many things to different people.  For me, The Motion Picture was what brought me to Star Trek.  I remember, years ago, my mom bringing home a rented VHS copy of TMP.  As soon as the film started, I knew I was watching something special.  When that shot of the Klingon battlecruiser passing under the camera thundered across the television, I was hooked.  Since that moment, Star Trek has been a part of my life. Shortly thereafter, I watched reruns of The Original Series on CBC television on Saturday mornings (alongside the usual cartoons of my childhood).  I eventually discovered The Next Generation, and my conversion to full-on Trekkie was complete.  Unfortunately, over the years, I lost a lot of my love for The Motion Picture.  What had at one time enthralled me now seemed pale, washed-out, bland, and colourless.  A few things were to blame, I suppose: being affected by popular opinion; my teenage years affecting my judgement by making me think that TMP was "too slow" or "uncool."  Thankfully, I eventually came to rediscover the good things about The Motion Picture, and I saw it for what it really was: a truly unique period of Trek history, and an era in which big ideas and hard sci-fi took precedence.

Looking back, this was the moment I fell in love with Star Trek.
Ex Machina continues this period of Trek history beautifully.  Among the topics explored in this novel are the changes wrought on the crew by their encounter with V'Ger, most notably with regards to Spock.  Many people tend to ignore the changes that Spock's character went through in TMP.  His encounter with the machine intelligence of V'Ger led him to begin to subtly embrace his human half, and set him on a journey which culminates in his admission that "logic is the beginning of wisdom (...), not the end" (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country).  Ex Machina delves into these changes in Spock's outlook, and shows the repercussions they have had, both on Spock and on the people around him.

Another aspect of Ex Machina that I loved was a wider, more detailed view of the Enterprise and her crew, something that a two-hour film can't afford to do.  For example, we see some of the lingering after-effects of the unorthodox way Jim Kirk acquired command of the Enterprise in TMP.  As you recall, the Enterprise was under the command of Will Decker, and Admiral Kirk stepped in to take the "center seat" from him.  While Kirk is a hero to the audience, to much of the crew of the Enterprise, he was Decker's usurper.  How did Decker's hand-picked crew react to that change?  In Ex Machina, we find that not everyone is happy with the new situation, most apparently through the character of Ensign Zaand, a Rhaandarite crew-member who doesn't entirely trust Captain Kirk.

Ensign Zaand, critical of Captain Kirk and somewhat resentful of his replacement of Decker.
This review hasn't even touched on the story of Ex Machina yet, which is another great reason to pick up this novel.  Following up on the events of the episode "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky," Ex Machina tells the story of the former Yonadans who have made planet-fall on their new world.  However, their experiences there have not been without problems.  Factions among the population are clinging to the old beliefs of Yonada, and have even taken to worshipping V'Ger as a deity, seeing it as the logical mantle-bearer after the deactivation of their Oracle.  The novel presents the "reason vs. religion" debate in an interesting light.  Can religion and scientific enlightenment co-exist?  What effect does the fanaticism of the followers of V'Ger have?  Ex Machina explores these questions in an entertaining and thought-provoking manner.

Final Thoughts:

One of the sad tales of Ex Machina is that it didn't sell as well as it should have.  Chalk this up to an (unfortunate) aversion that many fans have to the post-TMP period, or poor timing of release... I don't know.  I do know that Ex Machina is extremely well-written, and after reading most of Chistopher L. Bennett's Star Trek work, I have become a huge fan of his.  His Star Trek bibliography is extensive and impressive, and his first original novel, Only Superhuman, hits bookshelves this October.  I intend to check it out, and I urge you to as well!  As for this novel, I highly recommend Ex Machina to any fan of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the status quo established by that film.  In fact, even if you aren't a fan of that period of Star Trek history, Ex Machina might just make you one.


More about Ex Machina:

Also by Christopher L. Bennett:

My next read:

Looking forward to downloading the newest Titan novel tomorrow, Michael A. Martin's Fallen Gods.  Look for that review soon!