Musings of a fandom geek

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

Review – “A tatter of shadows peaked to white…”

Posted by Michael Warren on August 13, 2008

So, after my praise for the first volume of the Myriad Universes series, the second arrives through my letterbox this morning.

How does it compare to the first, and what intriguing scenarios have the three authors behind Echoes and Refractions created? Find out now.

This review contains spoilers.

The Chimes at Midnight

In a universe where Thelin of Andoria was first officer of the USS Enterprise, the resolution of Khan’s vengeance leads to a shattered peace, a devastated Earth, and a fateful decision which could result in galactic Armageddon…

This story takes its cue from the Animated Series episode “Yesteryear“, in which an accident involving the Guardian of Forever means Spock dies at an early age, and an Andorian, Thelin, takes his place in history. Here, Geoff Trowbridge takes the timeline into the movie era, and plots an alternative storyline encompassing events from five of the six Original Series movies, whilst taking the story into a terrifying climax. Many of these events presented are familiar to us, but Trowbridge spins them in a way that is compelling, in seeing how the jigsaw pieces fit together to lead to the final, shocking turn of events.

The subplot following David Marcus is also fascinating – his relationship with Saavik is developed in an organic and realistic way, and the impact of his experiences surrounding the mission to the Genesis Planet is sympathetically played out. His role as antagonist before the decision to carry out the Federation’s final, terrifying act to end the war is perfectly written, showing a strength of character that has been developed throughout the tale.

I keep referring back to the conclusion of the story, simply because it is so provocative. It shows how, when faced with the darkest hour, even civilisations as benevolent as the Federation will resort to an almost unimaginable option in order to survive. It is truly shocking – and  Trowbridge doesn’t shy away from showing the consequences – political and personal. The story in general is rather brutal, perhaps reflective of the differing personalities of Spock and Thelin. Still, it is enjoyable, with a lot of shocks, but ultimately powerful.

A Gutted World

Tensions are high. The Romulan and Klingon Empires are close to war, with the Federation caught between loyalty to its ally and recovery from a devastating Borg attack. From their command post at Terok Nor, the Cardassian Union watches over an occupied Bajor. And across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, a vast conspiracy is about to be uncovered – with horrific consequences.

Keith DeCandido tells a much darker story than his usual fare with A Gutted World. One of the interesting factors, I found, is that the point of divergence is mentioned only once, extremely briefly, and so matter-of-factly that I didn’t read it as the PoD at all (I thought it was something that resulted from a change that had already occured). The fact that DeCandido doesn’t call attention to the alteration makes the scenario seem… more real, somehow. To the characters, it’s just another event, even if it’s more important to us as readers. And the set of dominoes that tumbles as a result is fascinating. Whilst we get to see a huge number of familiar characters from the Trek universe circa 2373, there are tiny changes that throw you a little off-balance in terms of your expectations. And with a freer hand, DeCandido deals death and destruction upon many much-loved characters, in sequences that are sometimes shocking in their brevity.

The interwoven strands of conspiracy, treachery and desperation create a rich and fascinating tapestry. Everything connects, and everything has its purpose. The story is a constant escalation of events – a growing sense of impending doom pervades the early chapters, before that doom is unleashed upon the page.

The story reaches a strong climax, yet true success or failure remains unknown. Although certain objectives have been achieved, and numerous losses have been suffered, DeCandido leaves the ending open, with the ultimate conclusion down to us to imagine. However, this is again another strength of the story – we dive in, and dive back out again. It is a tale of the universe, rather than a complete history of its own.

Brave New World

A call from an old friend leads Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprise into the Romulan Neutral Zone. What they find could trigger war with the Romulan-Klingon Alliance… or transform the lives of the thousands of androids, developed from the success of Noonien Soong’s creations, who call the galaxy home.

Closing out this second volume, newcomer Chris Roberson weaves a tale of a more personal nature than the others that have gone before, which takes its place as my favourite story from the book. Here, Noonien Soong‘s research proceeds ahead of schedule, leading to his creating Data long before the Crystalline Entity arrives to interrupt his work. The Soong-type android is unveiled to the Federation, and more are soon created. The story picks up in 2378, with androids now recognised as sentient beings, although with some limitations on their rights. The technique used by Ira Graves in the TNG episode “The Schizoid Man” has been developed here, too, and people have been permitted to transfer their minds to android bodies in the event of bodily deterioration.

The focus, though, is not really on the technology, but the people. Roberson weaves a complex story around the interactions of the characters, doing an excellent job of portraying these familiar faces. A lot of time is devoted to the effect the reappearance of Data has on Wesley and Geordi in particular, whilst we also get to see the relationships between the members of the Enterprise senior staff evolving in this short expanse of time. Taking cues from the episode “Contagion“, the use of Iconia and its advanced technology introduces another facet into the story – although I think the introduction of Data’s ‘infitration network’ using this technology fails to be incorporated into the plotline as well as it could be, largely due to how late in the story it does arrive.

The epilogue shows a utopic future, with the Federation, now largely android-dominated, expanding into the Gamma Quadrant via the Iconian gateways. It seems a little too perfect, and the writing suggests that Roberson wants us to consider whether or not this grand civilisation is truly a good thing. This harkens back to earlier in the story, with a sequence where the author takes pains to explore the negative aspects of the ‘uploading’ process as well as the positive, as well as with Data’s vision of the future, which suggests a fair amount of manipulation on the part of the androids. The mention of “endangered organic species” also raises an eyebrow…

The questions of morality, spirituality, and science raised are extremely thought-provoking, as is the spotlight thrown on the role and impact of technology, which forms the heart of the story.

Conclusion

Even more enjoyable than the first volume, Echoes and Refractions trumptes the virtues of the Myriad Universes concept, and continues to show the viability of the idea. These two books have more than justified Pocket’s decision to commission a third volume before we even saw the first. It’s just a pity we have to wait for the next one now… 

Still, they’ve got to have time to write them…

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: