Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Good That Men Do (spoilers)

Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin took on the challenge of establishing the new post-series continuity for Enterprise, and did a pretty good job. The series ended badly with "These Are the Voyages," more a sequence of WTF?! moments than an actual story. If taken at face value, it also causd a number of problems for anyone wanting to carry on from there -- why did nothing change on the ship over several years, why did Trip die so unconvincingly and unnecessarily, why did his death have so little effect on his friends and crewmates, and why would Riker take time out from dealing with the events of "The Pegasus" to play on the holodeck?

Well, we'll probably never get an answer to that last question. But The Good That Men Do takes on the others head on. The framing sequence, with Jake Sisko and Nog, both many years older than we saw them on DS9, working out what really happened, is an interesting approach. Given some of the tidbits of information we get from the post-Enterprise and post-DS9 timeframes, I have to wonder if future Enterprise novels will continue the 25th century story. It could be interesting, though if there are Enterprise novels in whuch Trip plays no part, it may not be needed.

So. Anyway. The holodeck story -- the official record of Trip's supposed death -- is inaccurate. What really happened? Without going into too spoilerish territory, the answer makes a lot of sense, and draws from events of Enterprise's fourth season. Section 31, the Romulans, the Aenar, Orions -- they're all here, pulled together into a web of intrigue in which Trip finds himself reluctantly drawn. A lot of groundwork is being laid for the forthcoming Romulan War trilogy, I suspect, but the novel stands on its own; it tells a complete and satisfying story.

As for Trip's story in particular -- it's ironic that the story in which he lives, this novel, is so much more poignant and tragic than the one in which he dies. Trip's death onscreen comes off as much more of a cheap gimmick by comparison to the heartrending decision Trip makes to fake his death and go undercover, knowing his family and most of his friends may never know he isn't actually dead... assuming he actually survives the mission he's going on.

My quibble -- and I do have one -- is the inconsistent prose. I think part of the problem is the Star Trek tradition of formal, stilted prose for aliens. One bit that stood out was a paragraph written from a Romulan character's point of view. A sentence or two after musing about auguries, he's feeling upbeat. No. I'm sorry, but "auguries" and "upbeat" do not play well together. The tone shift is too abrupt. Now, I wouldn't mind if the Trek novels started giving us aliens who don't speak and think like characters in a costume drama, stuffy and old-fashioned, but consistency matters.

Also, some scenes in which Jake and Nog discuss how unbelievable the holodeck depiction of events was came a little too close to breaking the literary equivalent of the fourth wall. Not that they weren't right, but I wonder if some fans who liked "These Are the Voyages" will find these moments annoying. The story itself is making the case that the finale wasn't what it should have been.We don't really need characters in the book explicitly saying so. I'll admit I was amused, though, as one of the viewers who felt let down by "These Are the Voyages."

Overall, I found this much more satisfying than Last Full Measure. The framing story this time around is relevant and important. The emotional impact is much more powerful. It's suspenseful -- if I hadn't read the framing story in Last Full Measure, I might well have wondered whether Trip was saved from his holodeck death in order to die in a much nobler and more heroic way -- and it has some nice shipper moments. Not all of Enterprise's regulars have their chance to shine; the book is primarily about Tucker, Archer, T'Pol, and, to a lesser extent, Shran. But I expect the coming novels will keep all the regulars busy.


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