Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Choice of Futures

Star Trek: Enterprise
Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures by Christopher L. Bennett

Release date: June 25th, 2013
Read June 25th 2013


Previous book (Enterprise): The Romulan War: To Brave the Storm
Next book (Enterprise): Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel

Click to purchase A Choice of Futures from Amazon.com!

Spoilers ahead for Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures!

From the back cover:
A new nation has arisen from the ashes of the Romulan War: the United Federation of Planets, an unprecedented union of diverse species cooperating for the good of all. Admiral Jonathan Archer—the former captain of the Earth starship Enterprise, whose efforts made this union possible—envisions a vibrant Fed­eration promoting galactic peace and a multispecies Starfleet dedicated to exploring strange new worlds. Archer’s former crewmates, including Captain T’Pol of the U.S.S. Endeavour and Captain Malcolm Reed of the U.S.S. Pioneer, work with him to secure that bright future. Yet others within the Federation see its purpose as chiefly military, a united defense against a dangerous galaxy, while some of its neighbors view that military might with suspicion and fear. And getting the member nations, their space fleets, and even their technologies to work together as a unified whole is an ongoing challenge.
When a new threat emerges from a force so alien and hostile that negotiation seems impossible, a group of unaligned worlds asks Starfleet to come to its defense, and the Federation’s leaders seize the opportunity to build their reputation as an interstellar power. But Archer fears the conflict is building toward an unnec­essary war, potentially taking the young nation down a path it was never meant to follow. Archer and his allies strive to find a better solution...but old foes are working secretly to sabotage their efforts and ensure that the great experiment called the Federation comes to a quick and bloody end.

Notable quote:
"Our dead deserve to be honored, Phlox." 
"But do we really honor them by using them as an excuse to add to their numbers?" Phlox shook his head. "Sometimes, Thanien, you simply have to stop letting the past define your life and live for the future instead. After all, nothing we do can change the past—barring time travel, which in my experience causes more problems than it solves." Thanien stared, but the doctor didn't elaborate on what experience that might have been. "The only thing our choices can affect or change is the future. So it seems to me that the future is where our attention can be most usefully directed."
- Dr. Phlox and U.S.S. Endeavour's first officer, Commander Thanien, discussing past enmities and where the Federation should go from here.

My thoughts:

The United Federation of Planets: an astropolitical entity that will, by the late 24th century, encompass 150 member worlds spread across 8000 lightyears. The Federation is based on democracy and self-determination, and becomes one of the major players in the Alpha and Beta quadrants of our galaxy. One question that has always been on my mind: how did the Federation come to be? We know that shortly after the Earth-Romulan War, the governments of Earth, Alpha Centauri, Vulcan, Andor, and Tellar came together to found the Federation, but we've never gotten the story of what those early years were like. Until now.

Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures does a superb job of fleshing out those early days of the Federation. Published under the Star Trek: Enterprise banner, A Choice of Futures isn't exactly a continuation of the Enterprise television series, but rather shows the political and social landscape of Earth and the Federation several years later. Because of the time frame, the characters of Enterprise are major players in that arena, and thus are showcased in this novel.

I have to admit to a certain amount of giddy, fanboy excitement when I first heard that Christopher L. Bennett would be taking the reins of the Enterprise book series, an excitement that was magnified when I learned that this book would showcase the early years of the Federation. One of Mr. Bennett's true strengths as a Trek writer is his enviable ability to weave together disparate bits of continuity minutiae into a surprisingly cohesive whole. One need only see his brilliance at reconciling the various Trek depictions of time travel into something resembling a logical "grand unified theory" of Star Trek temporal physics in his Department of Temporal Investigations novels, most notably Watching the Clock, to understand why this sort of project is perfect for this particular author. This latest endeavour by Mr. Bennett continues the tradition perfectly.

The "Mutes," or "Vertians," originally seen in an episode of Enterprise, represent a threat to peace in Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures.
A Vertian starship, responsible for attacks on Starfleet and others.
With the birth of the Federation coming so soon after the end of the Romulan War, a period in which many Alpha Quadrant powers were threatened with war and destruction, how did the Federation manage to follow the path of peace upon which it seems to founded? Might it not have instead become another belligerent empire, imposing its will on its neighbours through unchecked territorial expansion? The struggle between these two ideologies is at the heart of A Choice of Futures. Both of these responses are exemplified through the reaction to attacks by a seemingly aggressive and territorial species, initially known only as the "Mutes." These aliens, previously seen in the Enterprise episode "Silent Enemy," have repeatedly threatened and attacked vessels from many of the powers in the region. However, their alien nature makes it nearly impossible to form any sort of connection. Communication seems completely out of the question. Those who are familiar with Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game and its sequels will recognize the concept of "Demosthenes' Hierarchy of Foreignness." Most of the alien species we see on Star Trek fall under the category of "Ramen"; that is, sentient beings who belong to another species, but with whom communication and understanding is possible. The "Mutes," or "Vertians," initially appear to be what Card's Demosthenes would call "Varelse." These are beings with whom no communication or understanding is possible, and there is no possibility of coexistence. It is only through the valiant and courageous efforts of our Starfleet heroes, in particular Captain T'Pol and Commander Sato, that we learn that the Vertians are not "Varelse," and that their motivations aren't what they first appeared to be. Rather than being the aggressive and violent people many assumed them to be, we learn that they in fact believe violence and killing of other sentient species to be morally reprehensible. If it weren't for the "cooler heads" prevailing, the many voices in the Federation that called out for vengeance and retribution could easily have carried the day.

Similarly, the U.S.S. Pioneer under the command of Captain Malcolm Reed finds itself imperiled, and the crew learns how to extricate themselves from the situation through discovery and cooperation with a previously unknown species. Through the determination of a member of the crew to use every possible second before their supposedly assured doom to expand the frontiers of knowledge and discovery, the crew communicates with and enlists the aid of an unlikely ally. It is through these formative events that the Federation will slowly build its foundation of cooperation, mutual respect for all species, and equality for all sentients.

At 336 pages, A Choice of Futures is not a particularly lengthy novel, but at the same time there is a great deal going on. Bennett manages to juggle all of the many story-lines deftly, without giving short shrift to any aspect of the story. In addition, our characters receive some lovely development along the way. In particular, Malcolm Reed is given a lot to do in this novel, and I thought that the author's use of his character was perfect. Bennett has the voices of the characters down pat, and this came across most strongly with Malcolm and his discomfort in dealing with his crew on a personal level.

One small final note: I love Christopher Bennett's inclusion of the refit NX-class starship in this novel! Ever since it was revealed by visual effects guru Doug Drexler, the design has fascinated me and added no small amount of regret to what I was already feeling that we didn't get further seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise. Designated the "Columbia class" by Mr. Bennett, this new design is a beautiful little "missing link" between the Enterprise NX-01 and the later Constitution class U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701. I truly hope we get the opportunity to see this design grace the cover of a novel one day soon!

Columbia-class starship, like the U.S.S. Endeavour in A Choice of Futures. This particular refit design of the original  NX-class was unveiled by Doug Drexler, and will be immortalized in styrene plastic later this year as a 1/1000 scale plastic model kit from Polar Lights/Round 2!

Final thoughts:

Unlike many of my fellow Star Trek fans, I rather enjoyed the television series Enterprise. The early days of Earth's interstellar space exploration always fascinated me, and these early days of the Federation are even more exciting. I believe that many people who didn't enjoy Enterprise would be hard-pressed to not love what Mr. Bennett offers in A Choice of Futures. Much like Kirsten Beyer's revitalization of the Voyager series, Christopher L. Bennett's take on the Star Trek universe post-Enterprise promises to be an excellent continuation and improvement upon what came before. I can't recommend this novel enough, and I very much look forward to next year's followup, Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel.

More about A Choice of Futures:

Also by Christopher L. Bennett:

My next read:

The first novel from 2004's pre-Nemesis book series, A Time to Be Born by John Vornholt.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Shocks of Adversity

Star Trek: The Original Series
The Shocks of Adversity by William Leisner
Release date: May 28th, 2013
Read June 3rd 2013


Previous book (The Original Series): The Folded World
Next book (The Original Series): From History's Shadow

Click to purchase The Shocks of Adversity from Amazon.com!

Spoilers ahead for The Shocks of Adversity!

From the back cover:
Located far beyond the boundaries of explored space, the Goeg Domain is a political union of dozens of planets and races. When the U.S.S. Enterprise arrives in its territory to investigate an interstellar phenomenon, Commander Laspas of the Domain Defense Corps is at first guarded, then fascinated to discover the existence of an alliance of worlds much like his own, and finds a kindred spirit in Captain James T. Kirk. And when the Enterprise is attacked by the Domain’s enemies, crippling the starship’s warp capability and leaving its crew facing the prospect of a slow, months-long journey home, the Goeg leader volunteers the help of his own ship, offering to combine the resources of both vessels to bring the Enterprise to a nearby Domain facility to make the necessary repairs.
But what at first seems to be an act of peace and friendship soon turns out to be a devil’s bargain, as Kirk and the Enterprise crew learn that there are perhaps more differences than similarities between the Federation and the Domain. When the Goeg’s adversaries strike again, the Enterprise is drawn deeper and inexorably into the conflict, and Kirk begins to realize that they may have allied themselves with the wrong side....

Notable quote:
Laspas quickly waved off his apology. "I shouldn't have even brought them aboard with me—too much risk of their being lost should anything happen. But it's nice to have this reminder of him. Besides which, I still enjoy the stories. Entertaining adventure tales with clear contrasts between hero and villain, good and bad." 
"Unlike real life," Kirk commented. 
"Yes, precisely," Laspas said as he gestured for Kirk to take a cushioned chair in the center of the room.
- Kirk and the Goeg Commander Laspas, discussing the black and white nature of fictional adventure stories. Life, and this particular story, isn't like that, sadly.

My thoughts:

This review has been some time in coming. There are a few reasons it took me so long to write this review, but I would have to cite procrastination as the primary reason. In addition, I feel as though the sheer number of TOS novels that have dominated the first half of this year may have led to a little bit of TOS fatigue on my part. This feeling was somewhat surprising to me, as I am a fan of Original Series novels in general. It is unfortunate that this fatigue has to led a delay in reviewing this particular novel, as William Leisner's Shocks of Adversity is, in my opinion, the top pick of the five TOS novels released this year. The Shocks of Adversity ends this five novel long Original Series streak and, in my opinion, ends it on a very high note indeed. William Leisner has managed to craft a tale that feels like a great TOS-style story, while at the same time bringing a freshness and "newness" to it.

In The Shocks of Adversity, we meet the Goeg Domain, a coalition of worlds that initially appears to be much like the Federation. The Enterprise, badly damaged in an attack by the Domain's enemies, finds itself facing a lengthy journey back to Federation space for repairs. A Goeg starship offers an alternative: the Enterprise would "hitch a ride," tethered to the Goeg vessel. Together, they would journey to a Goeg repair facility. Captain Kirk accepts the offer of assistance, and the vessels are linked together for the voyage. However, as we learn more about the Domain, we realize that it has a seamy underbelly that wasn't immediately apparent. Dominated by one species, the Goeg Domain has issues with race relations and inequality. In addition, the crew learns that the Domain's enemies, the "Taarpi," are citizens of the Goeg Domain who are in revolt, and that they may have legitimate gripes against the government. As the journey progresses, events begin to get out of Captain Kirk's control as it seems more and more apparent that the deal made with the Domain isn't so fortuitous as it once seemed.

Throughout the book, the physical connection between the Enterprise and the Goeg vessel serves as a metaphor for the relationship between Captain Kirk and the Goeg captain, Laspas, and by extension, the relationship between our crew and the Goeg Domain's representatives. At first, the bond is strong, and it seems as though each of the two crews have found common purpose and friendship in the other. However, soon those bonds begin to break down as the crews' differing worldviews and cultural norms come into conflict. Finally, at one point in the novel, the weapon systems aboard the Enterprise are commandeered by the Goeg vessel, and the will of Captain Kirk and his crew is subsumed and made subordinate to the wishes of Laspas and his crew.

The Shocks of Adversity is a compelling and realistic tale that illustrates the differences that could drive a wedge between cultures and individuals. However, like life, the Goeg Domain is not a black and white entity. There are people and forces at work within the nation that are generally positive. Captain Laspas, for example, is an example of someone who is willing to obey his principles and do what is right, while his first officer stands for maintaining the status quo and keeping the Domain xenophobic and maintaining the system of inequality among its citizens.

Nurse Chapel, often neglected story-wise,
is given a part to play in this novel.
The novel features some interesting subplots and relationships for a few of our characters. I especially enjoyed the semi-romantic flirtation between Nurse Chapel and a visiting doctor from the Goeg vessel. Chapel is a character that doesn't often get much exposure, so it was a treat to see her get something to do in this book. I also enjoyed Sulu and Chekov's experiences aboard the Goeg vessel, as well as Spock's and Scotty's interactions with various members of the Domain ship's crew.


The grappler of the Starship Enterprise,
 NX-01, featured in this novel.
The Shocks of Adversity also featured a few fun nods to continuity. The anomaly being investigated by the Enterprise at the beginning of the novel was originally observed by the United Earth Space Probe Agency's Friendship One probe, featured in the Voyager episode "Friendship One." Another piece of continuity fodder was the use of an "old-style" grappler, like the one seen in the television series Star Trek: Enterprise. In fact, there are indications that it is the same device, placed in storage aboard the current USS Enterprise. Small continuity bits like these may seem insignificant, but to my mind they serve a very useful purpose, in that they tie the story into the larger Star Trek universe. They serve to make the settings of the various series tie together into a cohesive whole, contributing to an overall narrative rather than feeling like separate, unrelated parts.


Final thoughts:

A definite recommend from me! The Shocks of Adversity is the best of the five TOS novels released so far this year. A fun and interesting story that has a lot to say about a variety of issues. A treat to read, and somewhat unfortunate that it is in danger of being lost in a flurry of TOS novels released in the first half of this year.

More about The Shocks of Adversity:



Also by William Leisner:

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Slings and Arrows, Book III: The Insolence of Office (2007)

My next read:

I am VERY excited for the next new novel to be released: by Christopher L. Bennett, the next chapter in the on-going saga of Enterprise, featuring the early years of the United Federation of Planets. I am currently reading Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures. I promise a review of this one shortly after I finish reading it. Coming soon!