Friday, September 19, 2008

Destiny Book I: Gods of Night

Spoilers ahead.

The concise review: wow.

On to the more detailed commentary.

Gods of Night is the first in a trilogy that features characters from Enterprise, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Titan. It's the culmination of the Borg storyline from several recent Next Generation novels, but it's much more than that.

I've been trying to avoid finding out too much about Destiny before reading it, so I haven't read the excerpts online. I didn't want to have too many expectations of what was going to be in the story beyond big, earth-shattering, that sort of thing. But from the book back cover copy and the covers I did learn that Erika Hernandez and some mysterious aliens were involved. Oh, and this is also the big Borg invasion trilogy, and lots of characters are involved.

But now I've read it. That stuff sounds big. But this is bigger.

Gods of Night has four main alternating story threads. Captain Ezri Dax and the crew of her ship U.S.S. Aventine find the wreck of the Columbia... and something more. Erika Hernandez and the Columbia, back in the 22nd century (just as the Romulan War is about to begin, carrying on nicely from last month's novel Kobayashi Maru), survive an attack only to find themselves with a difficult choice that leads to a risky first contact. Titan, on a deep space exploration mission too far from the Federation to help directly in the Borg invasion, is on the verge of discovering something strange and unexpected. Picard and the Enterprise are about to be in the thick of things, as Picard is hearing the Borg again. Four storylines seems like enough to work with, so it's not terribly surprising that Voyager and Nan Bacco don't get too many pages in this book. At any rate, each of the four storylines advances significantly over the course of the book, and each one reaches an appropriate point for the pause between volumes.

If I have a criticism, it's that a lot of the character development moments are given to Picard, Crusher, Riker, and Troi, four characters we already know pretty well. I'd like to learn more about what kind of person Ezri Dax has become, and more about Erika Hernandez, but there's plenty of time for that, with two more books to come.

Speaking of Hernandez, I'm glad to see her getting a major part in this epic, because she made more of a positive impression on me in her brief appearances on Enterprise than Archer ever did. It's also a refreshing change to see a big crossover story that involves Enterprise rather than the original series. I was never a huge fan of Enterprise as a TV series, but it's part of Star Trek now, and shouldn't be ignored or retconned out of existence. It should be used in new and interesting ways, and using Hernandez is a good way to do that. She did get a fair amount of screen time in the new Enterprise novel Kobayashi Maru, in scenes leading up to the beginning of her storyline here, but she wasn't given much characterization beyond thinking warm and fuzzy thoughts about Archer. Here, she's much more central to the story, and though it would be dramatically overstating things to say that the trilogy will stand or fall on her characterization, the amount of attention she's getting means she has to develop a few dimensions beyond what we saw on TV. Over the course of three long books, I think Mack will be able to pull that off. Not all of Hernandez's crew get as much characterization as I might like, but there's a huge cast already. Foyle and Pemberton at least get their moments, and I wouldn't be surprised to see some "Foyle was right" posts online. I don't think he was, and any moral ambiguity that might have been there early on dissipated pretty quickly as the situation escalated and he kept making things worse, but I'm sure he'll have his defenders. (Don't anticipate yours truly offering names 3.)

Continuing with the Hernandez storyline, I really liked the big old-fashioned space opera/adventure feel of it, with its mysterious and powerful aliens, and the huge, scientifically advanced alien cities. It helps that this is a 22nd century Earth Starfleet crew having this particular adventure, with their lower level of Treknology, because too often in Star Trek alien cultures are either at the Federation level of tech or so far beyond it that don't need bodies, or cities, they're just energy beings or beings that dump the characters into an Earthlike environment because the humans couldn't understand the aliens' usual environment. The Caeliar world has a good, old-fashioned SF alien feel about it, and it's fun to find a big exploration and adventure story as part of what so many people think will be a Borg overdose.

The Ezri Dax storyline is a change of pace, with its mystery/thriller elements. What happened to Columbia? What happened to the dead Aventine crew members? What managed to get aboard the Aventine? It's good to see that a lot of this was wrapped up in the first book, so readers get some resolution at the end of the first book even as other storylines carry on.

The Enterprise and Titan storylines have a lot of good compare-and-contrast things going on, as the ongoing threads from their respective book series continue here. The shipper paradise of Picard and Crusher and Riker and Troi becoming married couples with plans for families is looking a lot less like paradise now, with Troi's emotional problems relating to her inability to have a viable child and Picard's distraction due to his enhanced connection to the Borg. Both relationships seem to be in very uncomfortable places, though part of me wonders if the Caeliar's reverence for life and high tech may have some role to play in Troi's situation. (Well, if Janeway's not coming back, there should be some kind of light out of the darkness.)

The Enterprise is in the somewhat predictable situation of engaging the Borg directly, making use of Picard's knowledge and connection to them, but I'm glad we're not seeing the foolhardy risktaking of Resistance or the over-the-top Borg attack sequences of Before Dishonor. The focus on the impact of the devastation being done is more effective than an attempt to recreate a flashy visual effects extravaganza in print. More appropriate, as well; the Borg have raised the stakes, and this isn't about gosh-wow explosions, it's about how far they're going to get, and how our heroes will be able to stop them -- assuming they do.

Titan has its own kind of despair to deal with, the intimate personal despair of Riker and Troi over her miscarrying, and the crew's frustration over being too far from Federation space to be able to help against the Borg. But their exploratory mission may be about to pay off in a way they couldn't have predicted. I think a case could be made that it's conveniently coincidental that the Aventine and Titan missions are both connecting to the Caeliar at roughly the same time, but that's not something I'm going to worry about. This is fiction, and in fiction, we usually expect separate storylines to converge at some point.

In conclusion... I liked that all four storylines had distinctly different tones, that only one dealt directly with the Borg, and that some things were resolved (setting up others, no doubt). I like the fact that the continuity established in different Trek book series can be drawn on and built on in an event like this, which feels a lot less contrived than some of the crossover events of the past.

Also, though I'd like to see more character work in certain places, this is nonetheless a very strongly character-oriented story so far, and not simply about interchangeable cogs in a big space war. I don't really know yet where "destiny" fits in here -- is it Picard's destiny to be changed forever by the Borg? is it Hernandez's destiny to be something more than human and fight the Borg? Is it the Borg's destiny to be eliminated or change beyond recognition? Is every major character going to have their lives change drastically as a result of the events of this trilogy? Too early to tell. But I'm looking forward to finding out.

Ob$quote: This is how to do a Star Trek crossover. With epic scope, intensity, and raw emotion, Gods of Night is a powerful beginning to a story that looks likely to have real consequences for the Star Trek universe. Not to be missed.


At 6:34 AM, Blogger Charles Phipps said...

Awesome review. I just read this book myself. It's a great set up for Destiny.


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