Friday, January 15, 2016

Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Brinkmanship review

    The Typhon Pact novels are an interesting experiment in Star Trek literature. They are, in simple terms, an attempt to create a power to rival the Federation which is simultaneously hostile to the Alpha Quadrant's "good guys" but not something which can be just ignored as long as no one crosses the Neutral Zone. This isn't really all that original of an idea since the Klingons used to occupy this role in the Original Series and the Cardassians/Dominion had it for the period they weren't at war with both.

    But it's a good idea.

    I've reviewed some of the other novels in the series such as Zero Sum Game, Rough Beasts of Empire, and The Struggle Within. In general, they are highly political books which deal with issues of how the Federation is going to deal with someone who has every bit the same level of power as them but only some of the values.

    The books are quite clever in that the very act of the Typhon Pact forming from various "bad guy" Star Trek races results in political change as the powers find themselves altering in regards to the new political reality. Isolationism is the tool of the tyrant and those who depended on it among the Tzenkethi, Breen, and other species no longer have that luxury. The books are good, for the most part, but not necessarily to everyone's tastes. For me, I consider them to be the tool of those who really like deep looks into the politics of fiction.

    Brinkmanship is, however, my favorite of the novels so far. It's not a difficult plot, being, essentially, "The Cuban Missile Crisis IN SPACE" but that's actually one of its strongest points. Once you get an idea of what they're going for, the plotline and its potential pitfalls become much more interesting. The short version is the Tzenkethi have made alliance with a close-to-the-Federation race called the Venetans.

    The Venetans are harmless enough but have leased three of their bases to the Tzenkethi that puts them in striking distance of the Federation. Worse, there's indications that the bases are being stocked with biogenic weapons. Captain Picard, Doctor Crusher, and some newcomers must work on the diplomatic ends while Ezri Dax works with an old academy buddy on the espionage. There's also a subplot with a Cardassian spy on the Tzenkethi homeworld who is enamored of their totalitarian way of life.

    There's a lot of very good bits as the central theme of the Typhon Pact is explored: what does one do with someone who is threatening and antagonistic but not an enemy yet? The Tzenkethi might be intending to make a first strike against the Federation or they might just be preparing for the day they need to (or they might not at all). Also, how much of a war is won by persuading the outsiders the other side is the bad guy? What about those who think the grass is greener on the other side or are paranoid to the point of insanity? All good questions in this Thirteen Days-esque adventure.

    The book suffers, in my opinion, by making the Venetans too naive for their own good. For example, the concept of spying is considered to be a taboo thing for them to do and the equivalent of a war crime. Finding out the Federation inserted them into the Tzenkethi homeworld is almost enough to derail talks. The fact the Venetans can be worried about this and not about the fact the Tzenkethi are eugenics-obsessed Machiavellian schemers (and Starfleet doesn't bother pointing this out) strains credibility. The Federation could easily destroy the Tzenkethi in any argument where they just pointed out what a complete bunch of bastards they are. But they don't do that because, I dunno, negative campaigning is bad? Maybe the Venetans like totalitarian eugenicist societies.

    I also had a bit of an issue with the fact the issues were allowed to reach their boiling point by a faction which had their own agenda. Their agenda is a valid one but given how close things got to intergalactic war, I can't help but think the parties involved deserved to be drug out of their offices and tossed on the street. You'd think the parties involved would have learned their lesson about screwed up backdoor dealings. It's the equivalent of the CIA setting up the Cuban Missile Crisis to catch a ring of KGB agents bribing members of Congress. Yes, it's a big deal but if the result is nuclear annihilation then there better be some arrest warrants issued thereafter.

    I will say this novel has a lot going for it with the intricate dealings, world-building, and the stories about people trying to deal with bad faith actors in politics. Doctor Crusher really shines in this and I think the writing for her is top-notch. I also loved the scenes on Tzenkethi and how the two kinds of spies deal with their situation in drastically different manners. I also liked the depiction of Tzenkethi culture and how they've managed to create a society which is thoroughly toxic but its members seem to largely think is a good deal for themselves. The fact they're not 100% successful in this, however, is hope for the future.

    I wasn't quite sold on the depiction of Ezri Dax, however, now a starship captain and a character far removed from the bumbling counselor she was on Deep Space Nine. Much of the book is devoted to her being suspicious of a Starfleet Intelligence agent and his conclusions, believing them to be paranoid delusions that might lead to an act of terrorism. The book more or less makes it clear the Tzenkethi are perfectly capable of everything he fears and there's even a moment where Ezri is left gobsmacked when she finds out one of his insane-sounding theories was perfectly sound. Ezri never changes her attitude, though, and I found that to be rather annoying. It's as if she's never heard of the phrase, "just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you."

    Overall, I really recommend this for those who love their Trek-politics. Others may find it a bit dry since it's not an adventure novel.


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