Friday, October 26, 2012

Brinkmanship

Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Brinkmanship by Una McCormack
Published October 2012
Read September 28th 2012


Previous book (Typhon Pact): Raise the Dawn
Next book (The Next Generation): Cold Equations #1: The Persistence of Memory

Next book (Deep Space Nine): The Fall: Revelation and Dust


Click to purchase Brinkmanship from Amazon.com!
Spoilers ahead for Brinkmanship and the Typhon Pact storyline!

From the back cover:
The Venette Convention has always remained independent, but it is about to become the flashpoint for a tense military standoff between the two power blocks now dominating interstellar space--the United Federation of Planets and the recently formed Typhon Pact. The Venetan government turns to the Typhon Pact's Tzenkethi Coalition for protection in the new order and has agreed to allow three of their supply bases for Tzenkethi use. But these bases--if militarized--would put Tzenkethi weapons unacceptably close to Federation, Cardassian, and Ferengi space. While Captain Ezri Dax and the crew of the U.S.S. Aventine are sent to investigate exactly what is happening at one of the Venette bases, Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the U.S.S. Enterprise are assigned to a diplomatic mission in order to broker a mutually acceptable resolution. But the Cardassian delegates don't seem particularly keen on using diplomacy to resolve the situation, which soon spirals out of control toward all-out war...

My thoughts:

Brinkmanship by Una McCormack is the sixth novel published under the Typhon Pact banner (actually the seventh, counting Christopher L. Bennett's e-novella The Struggle Within). The focus of the story is on the machinations of the Tzenkethi, a race which, to me, has become the breakout star of the Typhon Pact members. Three stories are featured in Brinkmanship: the first is the story of Neta Efheny, an undercover Cardassian agent embedded in the Department of the Outside on Ab-Tzenketh as a low-ranking member of the cleaning staff. Her job is to be the eyes and ears for her government while remaining hidden and inconspicuous. While she is perfectly content to do so, a run-in with another undercover operative, this one a human from the Federation, leads to complications for her and her mission.

The second story follows Captain Picard, Dr. Crusher, and the crew of the Enterprise at the Venetan homeworld, escorting representatives of the Federation, the Ferengi Alliance, and the Cardassian Union. The Venetan Convention has established ties with the Tzenkethi, even going so far as to allow them use of three space stations; space stations that are located very near the borders of Federation, Cardassian, and Ferengi space. Picard and Crusher must find a way to convince the Venetans that the Tzenkethi are not working in their best interests before the stations are weaponized.

The final story features Captain Dax and the crew of the Aventine, assigned to inspect Outpost V-4, the Venetan station closest to Federation space, for evidence that the Tzenkethi have placed weapons there. Complicating matters is the arrival of Peter Alden of Starfleet Intelligence, an old friend of Ezri's and a holder of strong opinions about the Tzenkethi. Dax must weigh her own suspicions about the Tzenkethi against the extreme paranoia voiced by Alden and find a way to complete her mission without plunging the Federation into another war.

At its core, and as the title implies, Brinkmanship is an exploration of how people and governments can push each other to the brink of war. The military posturing and tussle over Tzenkethi weaponization of the Venetan stations is very much a "Cuban missile crisis" of the Typhon Pact cold war. Both sides, Federation and Tzenkethi, are too afraid of what the other side might do if they back down. Like that real-world crisis of 1962, both sides come very close to all-out war. However, making this incident either more or less tragic, depending on your point of view, the victims of the fighting would have been the people of the Venette Convention rather than the populace of the two nations involved. In fact, as the tension ramps up and the events spiral closer to all-out war, the chapters begin with public announcements by the Venette Convention to their people on the subject of preparedness for the coming hostilities. The stoicism and resolve with which the Venetans meet the seeming certainty of Federation-Tzenkethi hostilities is somewhat heartbreaking.

The Venetans themselves are very interesting. Here we have a society in which all forms of deception and secrecy with regards to state affairs are non-existent. Picard and the rest of the delegation are surprised to discover that all of the talks are to be held in the open, with the entire population of the Venette Convention able to witness the goings-on. The supposed wisdom of the long-lived Venetans is balanced by their seeming naivete about matters such as espionage and black ops. The very idea of such activities repulses them, and even makes the head negotiator for the Venetans physically ill. Absolutely shocked that the Cardassians or the Federation would have undercover agents on Ab-Tzenketh, they cannot even conceive that their new allies, the Tzenkethi, would possibly have done the same.

One aspect that makes Brinkmanship work for me is the characters. I really enjoyed the new characters introduced by McCormack, in particular the Cardassian agent Neta Efheny and the Ferengi Ambassador, a female named Ilka. Also fascinating is the Tzenkethi delegate Alizome, whose machinations are a joy to witness. Of course, no one writes Garak like Una McCormack (see Hollow Men), and while the infamous Cardassian ambassador to the Federation only makes one small appearance in Brinkmanship, it's still full of all the Garak-y awesomeness we've come to expect. Dr. Crusher in particular is given a chance to shine in Brinkmanship. I very much welcomed this, as her character sometimes seems to get short shrift, if not in the novels, then at least in screen-time in the TNG films. In this novel, she is able to flex her diplomatic muscles as she tries to bring the major players together to salvage what little remains of the talks between the Convention and the Federation and her allies.

Dr. Crusher gains some diplomatic experience in Brinkmanship

My favorite parts of Brinkmanship were the explorations of Tzenkethi society through the eyes of Efheny. As I mentioned earlier, the Tzenkethi have become the breakout hit of the Typhon Pact. Their society is highly structured, with each member taking a particular role based on their genetic makeup. The Federation spy naturally recoils at this, seeing the Tzenkethi of lower castes as little more than slaves. It is somewhat unsurprising that Efheny, a Cardassian, warms to the society a little more easily. Many readers would have a huge problem with her final decision in the novel, but one can also see the allure of a society in which everything is taken care of, and you automatically know your place and what is expected of you. Certainly, most of us would hate it, but for many, that sort of constancy could be appealing.

Final thoughts:

Another hit from Una McCormack. I very much enjoyed Brinkmanship, and highly recommend it for the political thriller aspect, the fascinating exploration of interesting characters, and the continued building of the very intriguing Tzenkethi culture. I have to admit that the tension had me wondering up to the very end how the Federation was going to get out of this situation without going to war with the Tzenkethi and the Typhon Pact. McCormack weaves an engrossing tale that kept me guessing throughout.

More about this book:

Also by Una McCormack:

Worlds of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Volume One: Cardassia: The Lotus Flower (2004)
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Hollow Men (2005)
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Never-Ending Sacrifice (2009)
Star Trek: The Fall: The Crimson Shadow (2013)
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Missing (2015)

My next read:

I've just picked up my copy of David Mack's new novel, Cold Equations: The Persistence of Memory, the first book in a new TNG trilogy. I'm very excited for this one! Look for a review, plus all the others I still have yet to catch up on, soon!