Friday, April 10, 2009

Voyager: Full Circle

Warning: spoilers ahead.

You could make a checklist of all the things this book has to accomplish.
  • It has to resolve unfinished plot threads from Christie Golden's post-Endgame novels.
  • It has to make up for a few years without any post-Endgame novels.
  • It has to deal with what's happened to some of the Voyager characters in the Next Generation and Titan novels: Tuvok joining the Titan crew, Janeway being killed by the Borg.
  • It has to deal with the events of the Destiny trilogy, and how the end of the Borg affects Seven of Nine.
  • It has to establish a new direction for the Voyager novel line.
  • Oh, and, ideally, it should be a hell of a read.
Good thing the book is 561 pages long, then, because it has so much to do. And it hits every one of those targets.

As I've mentioned in the past, I tend to think of Voyager as a series of lost opportunities. All that groundwork laid in several Next Generation and Deep Space Nine episodes to create the opportunity for conflict between Maquis and Starfleet as Voyager struggles to survive far from home... pretty much ignored after a few episodes. Even Voyager's desperate position was often forgotten, as the crew had wacky hijinks on the holodeck, and new shuttles magically replaced all the shuttles destroyed over the years.

Then the series ended and everything the show was still about -- that is, getting home -- was resolved. It was time for a bold new rethink of what Voyager after Endgame could be about. Instead, we got Homecoming and The Farther Shore, which shuffled a couple of characters offstage as quickly as possible, showed everyone settling back in without much trouble, and went back to Voyager's last season for story ideas, doing yet another Borg crisis and the completely unthought-out holorevolution storyline. Throw in B'Elanna going nuts, Chakotay having magical adventures, and the crew getting a new counselor whose method of counseling is to get everyone together for a great big crying jag, and you've got a soggy spiritual mess of a lost opportunity.

And then there were no more relaunch novels for a few years. Golden was busy writing other books, and her editor, John Ordover, left Pocket. Handing Voyager over to a new editor and writer meant that it would take some time to rethink where the books should be going, and that took time. Meanwhile, other complicating factors came along: the book schedule was cut back, continuity between novel series was increasing, some big status quo-changing plans were in the works, and Voyager characters were appearing in other books. And Janeway died.

Full Circle is a novel of two halves: before Janeway dies, and after. There's an emotionally wrenching prologue in which Chakotay waits for Janeway to arrive for a long-planned dinner to mark the next stage of their relationship -- but she doesn't show up. Instead, her ex-fiance Mark Johnson arrives to tell him that Janeway's dead. After that, the first chapter moves back in time to a point shortly after Golden's novels. Much of the first half of the book wraps up her plotlines. Some things are done quickly and neatly; Astall, the new counselor, is replaced by Hugh Cambridge, who has a key role in the book that simply could not be performed by the hyperemotional Astall. The B'Elanna and Miral storyline, on the other hand, expands into an action-packed chase through Klingon space that could have been a novel in its own right. Meanwhile, we get glimpses into Starfleet's plans for Voyager and its crew through some new characters: Captain Afsarah Eden and Admiral Willem Batiste. Throughout all this, all of the Voyager regulars who returned to the Alpha Quadrant have a part to play.

Then Janeway dies. We don't see a recreation of what happens in Before Dishonor; instead, we see how this affects everyone left behind. And before the healing is done, Destiny's Borg invasion makes things worse. The ship is badly damaged, some people are killed or badly injured, and Seven finds herself in a strange new position again -- the Caeliar have removed her Borg implants and left her fully human, but they haven't taken her wherever the other former Borg and Caeliar have gone. And the person she had most depended on to help her find her way is dead.

Where much of the book's first half focuses on B'Elanna Torres and Tom Paris, Chakotay and Seven get much of the attention in the latter half, as the two people most damaged by their losses. Meanwhile, Starfleet's plans for Voyager -- equipping it with slipstream drive and sending it back to the Delta Quadrant with a fleet of slipstream ships to explore, to reestablish contact with friendly Delta Quadrant civilizations, and to ensure that the Borg threat really is gone -- continue to move forward. But how many of Voyager's key crew will go? And what happened to B'Elanna and Miral, whose names appear in a list of confirmed deaths in A Singular Destiny?

I've criticized Golden's Voyager relaunch novels for being driven by emotion; Full Circle is an emotional roller coaster ride, especially Chakotay's and Seven's very different descents into despair. But it's not cheap emotion. It's believable, raw, and real, and comes from a story that shows every sign of being composed with intelligence and thought rather than just gushers of feeling. That's where Cambridge comes in. Astall would have been utterly useless at helping Chakotay make sense of his problems. Cambridge helps Chakotay rebuild himself, to become once again the man who was Voyager's captain. But that's not where his future lies.

We've continued to learn more about Eden and Batiste through the novel, and it's not too surprising that Eden is to be Voyager's captain on its new journey. What is surprising is a revelation about Eden late in the book: she's not human, she doesn't know where she's from, but she recognized something from Voyager's files, and she's wondering if Voyager's departure from its home will lead her to her own. She's joined in her new mission by a few familiar faces in new roles.

But Chakotay and Seven are still on Earth, with their own new journeys. And it's probably just my shipper tendencies, but I could see this leading to a post-J/C pairing of C/7 that actually makes a degree of sense for these characters in their new lives. Not that Beyer is necessarily going there, but it could work better here than it did in Voyager's seventh season.

In other times, Full Circle might have been published as two or three separate books. It's a big book, but one that's compelling and well-written enough that I blazed through it. It does everything it needed to do: it ties off loose ends, it sets the stage for new stories, it tells a couple of complete stories of its own. And it pays tribute to Kathryn Janeway. It's a book for Voyager fans, because it respects the show's characters, and for its detractors, because it makes those characters more real and believable. It's a book that Voyager fans really should read, regardless of whether they like or dislike the idea of killing off Janeway, because it's a hell of a story. If there exists a Voyager fan who is centered exclusively on Janeway and actively dislikes every other character, that person might safely skip this book. Likewise anyone who insists it's not Voyager if Kes and Neelix aren't in it. But fans of the Janeway/Chakotay relationship should find this a powerful and devastating story, worth reading even if that relationship no longer has a future. So too should readers who like action rather than relationships, because there's a good amount of that, as well. Most importantly, despite so much happening in this book, it ends leaving the reader wanting to know what comes next. It's good to know that the follow-up is only a few months away, and that it's by Beyer, too.


At 8:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been reading star trek for years now I just until recently have not been completely in love with the books. I liked the shows more so until this story line formed. Everything that is post-Nemesis, The books with the Enterprise going about dealing with more Borg and then the Destiny series with tie ins from multiple story lines. I am simply in love with the way that these recent books are tying in together, like Torres' name on a list in Singular Destiny and it fully being explained in Full circle. That feeling of all the people being in the same universe, that is never truly captured in the shows. Full Circle was wonderfully written and I look forward not only to Voyagers continuing story but also to how that will play out in the other plot lines of the different ships. These writer are paying attention to each others works and that is refreshing.

At 12:58 PM, Blogger Juanita's Journal said...

I HATE the Relaunch novels for VOYAGER. I hate them. They've killed off Janeway, turned Harry Kim into a Security officer, turned Tom Paris into some ideal Starfleet officer and reassigned Tuvok to another ship.

All I can say is that I THANK GOD that these novels are not considered to be part of the official TREK canon.

If you thought the series VOYAGER was a lost opportunity, well fine. You're entitled to your opinion. And I'm entitled to mine, which is I consider VOYAGER to be among the three best TREK shows - the other two being NEXT GENERATION and DEEP SPACE NINE.

At 11:06 PM, Blogger Steve said...

I doubt you'll read this, JJ, but what the heck. Voyager was about one thing: getting home. And they got home. Whatever the books did, it would have to be different.

For that matter, what's wrong with changing Harry's job? It happened to a lot of other characters over the years. What's wrong with Tom (and B'Elanna, for that matter) finally starting to become mature adults? As for Tuvok, well, the first writer and editor of the relaunch stuff didn't seem to have a clue what to do with him, so why not let him be useful somewhere else? It's not like the show ever lived up to the original concept, that Tuvok was Janeway's old friend and closest advisor.

At 1:32 AM, Anonymous Jason K. Hauck said...

It doesn't make any sense for Eden to not know who she is and at the same time recognize anything from Voyager's files unless she's a Founder, one of Odo's "99" that were sent out into the galaxy by the great link to spy on solids for the Dominion. Second, I always though Paris would follow-up on being a field medic as Voyager's CMO after some time at Starfleet Medical on Earth, of course while Miral is still kinda finding her footing as klingon/humans do in the 2370's.


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