Friday, June 21, 2013

Star Trek: Cold Equations: Silent Weapons (Star Trek: Cold Equations book 2) review

    The Romulans have a saying, "Never turn your back on a Breen."

    Silent Weapons is the sequel to not only the The Persistence of Memory but the Typhon Pact series. David Mack is exceptionally good at spy fiction and this book is one of the better examples of it in the Star Trek setting.

    The premise is Data is pursuing the mysterious Flint, the universe's greatest cyberneticist, in hopes of resurrecting his daughter Lal. Along the way, he ends up on Orion and finds himself accused of murder. Simultaneously, the hostile Breen race is once more threatening the Federation and it's up to the crew of the U.S.S Enterprise-E to resolve things. The plot twists and turns throughout the novel and it's not until the end you have a complete idea of what the heck is going on.

    Data (or Data 2.0 as I call him), is both the same character and different. He's a great deal craftier, more secretive, and more obsessive. Having been restored from the dead and merged with his father, Noonien Soong, he has developed numerous emotional quirks which separate him from his TNG self. It's a brilliant bit of character building to be able to illustrate him as both Data as well as Noonien. Data doesn't think of himself as Noonien but he's far more scoundrel-like than he's ever been before.

    I'm glad David Mack has chosen not to have Data return to the U.S.S Enterprise and am pleased to be able to enjoy him as a solo adventurer. Something which bothers me about many Expanded Universes is they rarely are willing to go "outside the box." While some would be happy to see Captain Picard commanding the Enterprise well into his 200s, I'm interested in watching characters grow and evolve.

    Part of what makes this book so enjoyable is the politics of the Alpha Quadrant are seamlessly integrated into the novel's narrative. The Federation wants to lure the Gorn into an alliance, the Breen want to become leaders of the Typhon Pact, and the Gorn want to impress their new allies while not annoying the Federation too much. You wouldn't think a conference about the political future of an alien race  would be all that interesting but these are some of my favorite sections of the book.

    I've always been a big fan of the Gorn race so seeing them have a bigger role is excellent. Their leader is an especial hoot, caught between a rock and a hard place thanks to having some of the worst allies any species could have in science-fiction. The Gorn might be better off in the Federation but they've allied with the Typhon Pact and removing themselves would prove...  problematic.

    The Breen, by contrast, are very much how I envisioned the Romulans. When I was first introduced to them by TNG I imagined a race of constant backstabbing as well as secret police officers monitoring everything. I also saw them being the ultimate schemers in Star Trek with plots within plots. The Breen show that the Romulans can be one-upped with this as they have plans within plans within plans.

    David Mack nicely avoids the "David Xanatos" problem by having these plans not always work out in their favor. Arguably, in fact, they forfeit numerous advantages in both time and resources in order to succeed in their main goal. Also, the Breen are probably more trouble than their worth in the Typhon Pact.

    They betray the Gorn, Tholians, and themselves over the course of the novel. It makes me wonder if the Breen leadership has any redeeming qualities or if they're just a collection of complete [insert Klingon profanity]. Given David Mack is the spiritual "father" of the Breen, it'd be interesting to ask what exactly the public sees in their scheming leadership.

    President Bacco plays a central role in this book and it's fascinating to watch her be out of her depth for once. As great a leader as she is, she's not used to people dealing in bad faith or the complex chain of betrayals the Breen are comfortable with. While she acquits herself well, it's nice to see she can be outsmarted. I was also touched by a eulogy she gave one of her close friends after the main plot of the book is resolved.

    The rest of the characters work fine but I will say the most interesting plot of the Enterprise-E crew was definitely an unusual one: a fight between Doctor Crusher and Captain Picard over the fact the latter would put her life over the President's. Also, the question of his decidedly less than usual enthusiasm for Starfleet.

    I won't share the circumstances of how this comes up but it's the kind of argument which would only come up in Gene Roddenberry's utopia. It's also appropriate given Captain Picard sacrificed the life of her previous husband on a mission. I like to think David Mack was thinking of Jack Crusher whenever Mrs. Picard was giving her husband the business. If you fall in love with someone, some of the worst arguments can emerge from not knowing who they are really.

    I like David Mack's Post-Destiny Captain Picard. While I wouldn't go so far as to say Picard has PTSD, which he certainly did after becoming Locutus, I'm going to say that he's a figure whose clock is running down. The Borg stole away much of Captain Picard's love for space and forced him into becoming a warrior.
    While we don't get much insight into what the Captain was doing during the Dominion War, the events of Destiny have clearly left their mark. He still loves being a Captain but I think he's capable of making the transition to Admiral or retirement Kirk couldn't. Which is a good thing as it separates those two characters more.

    Silent Weapons is less of an emotional journey than The Persistence of Memory but my love of spy fiction biases me to liking it more.


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