Monday, October 29, 2012

Immortal Coil

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Immortal Coil by Jeffrey Lang
Published February 2002
Read October 29th 2012


Previous book (The Next Generation): The Genesis Wave, Book Three
Next book (The Next Generation): A Hard Rain


Click to purchase Immortal Coil from Amazon.com

Spoilers ahead for Immortal Coil (and Star Trek Nemesis, if you haven't seen that yet)!

From the back cover:

He is perhaps the ultimate human achievement: a sentient artificial life-form--self-aware, self-determining, possessing a mind and body far surpassing that of his makers, and imbued with the potential to evolve beyond the scope of his programming. Created by one of the most brilliant and eccentric intellects the Federation has ever known, the android Data has always believed he was unique, the one true fulfillment of a dream to create children of the mind.
But is he?
Investigating the mysterious destruction of a new android created by Starfleet, Data and the crew of the USS Enterprise uncover startling secrets stretching back to the galaxy's dim past. That knowledge is coveted by beings who will stop at nothing to control it, and will force Data to redefine himself as he learns the hidden history of artificial intelligence.

My thoughts:

I'm doing things a little differently than usual. You see, this month's new Star Trek release (The Next Generation: Cold Equations: The Persistence of Memory) is the first book in a new trilogy by David Mack. A trilogy that, according to the author himself, is greatly influenced by events in this novel. I was all set to dive right into The Persistence of Memory, but this heads-up from David Mack meant that I just HAD to read Immortal Coil. And boy, am I glad I did. Jeffrey Lang's novel is a real winner, and one that I'm ashamed to have never read before. Rather than get only new releases reviewed straight away (still upcoming is the e-book only release Vanguard: In Tempest's Wake) and save past novels for later reviews, I figured I should get Immortal Coil out of the way, seeing as it has such an apparent impact on Mack's latest.

Jeffrey Lang did an excellent job with this novel. In particular, the way he wrote Data was superb. Immortal Coil features a post-emotion chip Data, which was an aspect of the character that was rarely done right. In Insurrection and Nemesis, for example, the emotion chip was largely ignored, and Data acted much like he did in the television series. Here, we see him integrating the emotions he feels into his everyday life. In particular, we see the beginnings of a real romantic relationship for him. Rhea McAdams seems to be a perfect companion for him. In fact, maybe a little TOO perfect... She is, of course, not exactly what she seems, and the revelation of her identity has a huge impact on the events of the novel. Another effect of the emotion chip is that it produces a bit of an existential crisis in Data, one that he deals with throughout the novel. While fiction often presents us with a theme of characters coming to terms with their own mortality, this novel puts a unique spin on it: Data must come to terms with his own immortality.

I have always wondered at the lack of exploration of the artifical lifeforms encountered during James Kirk's time with regards to Data's search for his own identity. The original Star Trek explored the idea of androids a staggering number of times: Dr. Korby's android duplicates (and Ruk) from "What Are Little Girls Made Of?", Mudd's androids from "I, Mudd", Sargon's attempt to create android receptacles in "Return to Tomorrow", and finally Rayna Kapec, the android created by the immortal Mr. Flint in "Requiem for Methuselah." Immortal Coil ties these episodes together and allows us to see what became of these incidents. Of particular interest was the revelation that Mr. Flint did not in fact die after the events of "Requiem for Methuselah"; rather, the information that Dr. McCoy gathered on him was a ruse to make Kirk and company think that he would die. He is still very much immortal, and still has a role to play in events in the 24th century. Some may call this tying together of events throughout Trek history "continuity porn," but the linking of these events makes a lot of sense. Besides, sometimes I just love me some continuity porn!

While reading Immortal Coil, I was struck by one overpowering thought. This thought remained with me the entire time I was reading. That thought was: man, do I ever miss Data. I miss reading about him working alongside his colleagues on the Enterprise, I miss him learning more and striving to become ever closer to being human, and I miss the dynamic that his character brought to the Trek universe. I know, I can always go back and read novels that take place before his untimely demise in Star Trek Nemesis, but it's just not the same. Data was a terrific part of the Trek universe, and it is diminished by his absence. After reading this novel, I found myself hoping that one day Data will take his place with the group of artificial lifeforms introduced here, but then I felt a wave of sadness as I realized that his death meant that this would never happen. I'm very excited that David Mack's new trilogy is a follow-up to this novel, as the ending practically screams for a sequel.

C'mon Trek Lit, resurrect this guy! You already did it once for a
character killed in the "canon." What's one more between friends?
Final thoughts:

I very much enjoyed Immortal Coil. The exploration of Data's emotions and what immortality would truly mean is fascinating, and a great topic for a novel featuring him. This particular story and the knowledge of the existence of a group that Data could call "his people" makes his death in Nemesis even more tragic than it already was. This novel has gotten me extremely excited for David Mack's new trilogy, and I can't wait to crack open the pages and get reading. I really recommend Immortal Coil, even if it's just because I'm jonesing for more Data in my life, as well as my love of "continuity porn."

More about Immortal Coil:


Also by Jeffrey Lang:

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Section 31: Abyss with David Weddle (2001)
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Left Hand of Destiny, Book One with J.G. Hertzler (2003)
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Left Hand of Destiny, Book Two with J.G. Hertzler (2003)
Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Light Fantastic (2014)
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Force and Motion (2016)

My next read:

I'm finally reading David Mack's new novel, The Next Generation: Cold Equations #1: The Persistence of Memory. Look for a review soon!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

NEWS: Cover revealed for next year's The Folded World

Pocket Books has released the cover for Jeff Mariotte's The Folded World, a new release under the redesigned Star Trek: The Original Series banner. Designed by Doug Drexler, the cover is, frankly, gorgeous. Check it out below!


You can click here to pre-order The Folded World from Amazon.com.  The Folded World will be released on April 30th, 2013.  

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!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Eternal Tide

Star Trek: Voyager: The Eternal Tide by Kirsten Beyer
Published September 2012
Read September 10th 2012


Previous book (Voyager): Children of the Storm
Next book (Voyager): Protectors




Click to purchase The Eternal Tide from Amazon.com!


Spoilers ahead for The Eternal Tide and other books in the Voyager relaunch, as well as developments in the post-Nemesis literature universe. This review contains SIGNIFICANT spoilers. You have been warned!

From the back cover:
An all-new novel that continues the epic saga of the Starship Voyager!
As the Voyager fleet continues its exploration of the Delta Quadrant, investigating the current status of sectors formerly controlled by the Borg becomes the fleet's priority. Two of the fleet's special mission vessels, Galen and Demeter, are left at New Talax to aid Neelix's people while Voyager, Quirinal, Esquiline, Hawking, and Curie move out to do a systematic search for any remnants of the Borg or Caeliar. As this mission begins, Fleet Commander Afsarah Eden, who has shared what little she knows of her mysterious past with Captain Chakotay, begins to experience several more "awakenings" as she encounters artifacts, people, and places that make her feel connected to her long lost home. She is reluctant to allow these to overshadow her mission, but this becomes increasingly difficult as time passes. But in the midst of this growing crisis, no one in the fleet could anticipate the unexpected return of one of Starfleet's most revered leaders--a return that could hold the very fate of the galaxy in the balance.

My thoughts:

The Eternal Tide is a very difficult novel to review. In many ways, it's difficult to separate the story and quality of writing from the public opinions regarding the main event of the novel: the return of Kathryn Janeway to the land of the living, not to mention the myriad opinions that were espoused when her character was first killed off in Peter David's Before Dishonor. In fact, The Eternal Tide, in its own way, gives voice to the debate that many in the novel fandom engaged in. The arguments for and against her return are presented and debated by characters in the novel, as well as arguments for and against the mere possibility of that development. At times, it felt as though I were reading the arguments straight from the Trek Literature board on TrekBBS. In this way, The Eternal Tide feels very "meta"; the novel is very much aware of the reception it will receive by the fans, for good or ill.

Although it is the one event that most readers will almost exclusively focus on, The Eternal Tide isn't merely about the return of Kathryn Janeway. A number of other significant developments occur, most notably the resolution of Afsarah Eden's story-line and big changes for the fleet of ships that Voyager is a part of. For the former, I came away from the Eden story-line feeling a little bit cheated. The developments were fascinating to be sure, but I felt that the wrap-up came a little too quickly. I really liked Eden as a character, and I am quite saddened that she is no longer a part of the Voyager story. It almost feels as though she had to be shunted aside to make room for Janeway's return, and if that's the case, it seems to me to be a disservice to the character. Similarly, the loss of so many ships and personnel from the Full Circle fleet is disheartening; I really enjoyed the dynamic of a fleet of ships exploring the Delta Quadrant, as well as the myriad characters we'd been introduced to. While most of the characters who have been well-fleshed out did survive, there were a few secondary characters whose absence will be felt.

One thing I particularly enjoyed about The Eternal Tide was its treatment of the Q. In Q's appearances in The Next Generation, he and the continuum were generally treated with dignity and as a fairly significant cosmic force, with all the attendant "deep" issues. Witness, for example, Q's final scene in that television series, in which he tells Picard of the exploration that awaits him and his species, specifically "not mapping stars or studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence." There was always a kind of reverence and "weight" associated with Q's place in the cosmos. In Voyager, however, the Q seemed to come across as lighter, and more as comic relief than anything else. The Eternal Tide, much like Keith R.A. DeCandido's Q & A, marks a return to the deeper explanation of the Q, and what their place in the universe is. I especially enjoyed The Eternal Tide's treatment of Q's son, usually refered to as "Junior." He came across quite well in the pages of this novel, both as a continuation of the young man we met in Voyager's "Q2" and someone who has significantly matured in the interim.

"Junior," played by Keegan deLancie, from Voyager's "Q2"

One character whose ultimate fate saddened me was Amanda Rogers, the Q offspring of two Q-made-human parents from the TNG episode "True Q." Due to a cosmic confluence of events, she seems to have been erased from history, with none of the Q (apart from "Junior") remembering her whatsoever. I kept expecting the novel to return to the issue, but it never comes up again, and Amanda is seemingly never restored to the timeline. Does she still exist in Federation records? Did the episode "True Q" never happen? These are questions that I wish were answered. I did really enjoy the relationship between Rogers and Junior, and they seemed such a natural pairing that I was surprised I had never thought of it before.

Amanda Rogers, from TNG's "True Q"
When all is said and done, The Eternal Tide is a very well-written novel. But then again, with Kirsten Beyer at the helm, could we expect any less? It's easy for this novel to be buried under the weight of what Janeway's return means, but even setting that divisive issue aside, it is a very competently-written novel that kept me engaged throughout. While certainly not her best work (Children of the Storm remains the absolute highlight of the Voyager relaunch for me), Kirsten Beyer still shines. It still amazes me that Voyager has become one my favorite titles in the Star Trek fiction lineup.

Final thoughts:

The Eternal Tide manages to walk the line of the "bring back Janeway" debate quite well. While Janeway does return, it comes at a high cost and doesn't feel like a "cheat." If I could trust any author to pull off such an audacious story, it would have been Kirsten Beyer, and that trust proves to be anything but misplaced. While not as strong as her other novels, The Eternal Tide is engaging, well-written, and a hell of a fun read. I highly recommend this novel, regardless of where you fall on the Janeway debate.

More about The Eternal Tide:

Also by Kirsten Beyer:

My next read:

As of this month, I have finally and completely moved back to Canada from my two-year stint in Korea. This transition marked a significant period of no activity on this site, but rest assured that I am back in full review swing! Coming soon are my reviews for:

New releases:

Typhon Pact: Brinkmanship by Una McCormack
Vanguard: In Tempest's Wake by Dayton Ward (ebook)

Backlog of past reads:

Spock's World by Diane Duane
Uhura's Song by Janet Kagan
Pawns and Symbols by Majliss Larson
Errand of Vengeance: The Edge of the Sword, Killing Blow, and River of Blood by Kevin Ryan
Errand of Fury: Seeds of Rage, Demands of Honor, and Sacrifices of War by Kevin Ryan
Federation by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens

And finally, look for David Mack's The Next Generation: Cold Equations #1: The Persistence of Memory, to be released in the next two weeks. Stay tuned!

And for my regular readers, thanks so much for being patient during this period of transition. Please know that your readership is very much appreciated!