Musings of a fandom geek

Sometimes, you’ve just got to say “The laws of time and space? Who gives a smeg?”

Review – Greater Than The Sum

Posted by Michael Warren on August 4, 2008

The “TNG relaunch” – the series of books designed to restart the adventures of the Enterprise-E crew after the events of Star Trek Nemesis – has been a bit of a mixed bag. Of the four novels released before now, only Keith DeCandido’s Q&A has been enjoyable. Indeed, the last of the four, Before Dishonor, has distinguished itself as being one of the few Trek books I found myself wanting to stop reading before the end (other novels to have engendered such a reaction have included Engines of Destiny and Triangle). Poorly written, overindulgent, with juvenile humour and character assassination abounding, it didn’t bode too well for the future of the storyline, especially with the Star Trek: Destiny trilogy on the horizon. The next novel had a lot riding on it.

Fortunately, that novel, following on from these events and leading us into the assault that is Destiny, is written by Christopher L. Bennett, one of my favourite Trek writers. Bennett looks beyond the basic plot to delve into real science, grounding the universe of Star Trek in the theoretical framework of the one we live in today. That’s not to say his stories lack the human touch, though. His characters stand out from the page as fully fleshed-out creations. And in Greater Than the Sum, we get more of the same.

Recovering from the events of the Borg attack on the Sol system, the crew of the Enterprise must confront the impact those events have had on them, whilst dealing with the aftermath in a more direct way. When the USS Einstein – assimilated by the Borg in Before Dishonor – attacks a Luna-class ship in a star cluster which has secrets of its own, the Enterprise must destroy it before it can return to the Collective.

There has been concern amongst fans of Trek literature at the apparent emphasis placed on the Borg in the TNG relaunch and Destiny. But, if GTTS is anything to go by, that concern for Destiny should be dissipated. Yes, the Borg are present, and they do have a role to play, but Bennett’s story is a lot more complex than that, and focuses much more on the crew of the Enterprise and their reactions to events around them.

Of course, the novel must handle the aftermath of the events seen in Before Dishonor – in particular, the mutiny staged by several of Picard’s senior officers. This is all dealt with within the first third of the book, and whilst it seems a little like things are being swept under the carpet as quickly as possible – in order to get on with the real story – the character moments remain strong, even when the exposition gets a little heavy. The Picard/Crusher marriage seems a little forced into place – which it was, in a way, as it was apparently mandated by editor Margaret Clark to tie in with Destiny.

The new command staff of the Enterprise (the third now, in four novels) is an interesting array of characters: the two stand-outs for me being Jasminder Choudhury – the pacifistic tactical officer, who weeps over setting her beliefs aside during combat; and T’Ryssa Chen. Whilst at first, this particular new character grated on me – she felt over-the-top and somewhat unlikable – by the end of the novel, I had grown to enjoy her quirks and attitude. Her story arc was well-developed, with a believable evolution and conclusion. Whilst we won’t get to see much of her in Destiny (according to David Mack, the author), I hope that future authors can make this character as appealing as Bennett managed to by the end.

The return of the character of Hugh was an interesting, and welcome, surprise. Tying his Liberated in with the events of Voyager and charting his progress as a leader allows Bennett to explore how far some of the other characters have come in the ten years or so (in the Trek chronology) since the events of “Descent” – particularly Geordi and Guinan. (The presence of the El-Aurian bartender does seem a little out of place at times, I have to say, even though she has a fairly crucial role in some of the character arcs.)

One of the central themes of GTTS is the crucial nature of family – whether biological or figurative. Picard’s hesitance at starting a family with Beverly, his concerns over the fragmented nature of his command staff, Chen’s issues with her parents, Kadohata’s strained relationship with her husband and children, the cluster entity’s attempts to discover what family means – all are intertwined with the ongoing plot, and flow perfectly from the page. The “surprise” twist in the Picard arc deals with something that should have been covered in the television series itself, much like Bennett’s recent story in Infinity’s Prism did with aspects of Voyager‘s original concept.

The epilogue leads us directly into the events of Destiny – and from the looks of things, we’re in for an interesting ride. The malevolence and sheer brutality of what is revealed here definitely sets the tone for the trilogy to come, and certain events in both Before Dishonor and GTTS, as well as the background to the follow-up novel A Singular Destiny, have led me to a quite shocking piece of speculation, which I may recount in a future post.

With Greater Than The Sum, Bennett has left the TNG relaunch in a much better position, and made my anticipation for Destiny even greater than it was already.

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One Response to “Review – Greater Than The Sum”

  1. Not That JJ said

    I felt my (intense) dislike of T’Ryssa Chen subside somewhat in the last third of the novel as well, after she made herself useful. Before that, all she did was make unfunny jokes and sleep around. I still don’t like her, but she’s not quite the Wesley I was afraid she would be in the scene that introduced her.

    That said, I’ll agree that GTS is a strong, enjoyable novel that won’t frustrate fans who want serious stories told about much-loved characters without also being insufferably dull (I’m looking at you, Michael Jan Friedman — as much as BD deserves to be criticised, at least there’s never a dull moment!) The development of the former Borg into their own people tied up some annoying loose threads, the carbon-world-mass-brain-thing is an intriguing and creative concept, and the developments in Picard’s life are unlooked-for but welcome and, frankly, long overdue.

    The end was pitch-perfect, in my view. Leybenzon dying the death of a classic tragic hero was the best part, and the dread/anticipation for Destiny is keyed up beautifully. Bravo, Bennet, Bravo.

    P.S. Thanks for the space here to vent/cheer, Mr. Warren.

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