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Star Trek: Myriad Universes

Star Trek fever continues here at MotionPicturesComics.com!  Did you miss my list of the Top Twenty Episodes of Star Trek?  Then check it out!  Previously this week I’ve written about Pocket Books’ excellent two-book Star Trek: Mirror Universe series, as well as their follow-up Mirror Universe collection “Shards and Shadows.”

Based, I presume, on the success of the two-book Mirror Universe series in 2007, this past summer Pocket Books released a similarly formatted two-book collection (each containing three novellas, just like the Mirror Universe volumes) entitled Star Trek: Myriad Universes. While all six Mirror Universe novellas charted the future-history of that one particular parallel universe, Myriad Universes contains six stories that are each set in entirely different alternate universes.  These aren’t return visits to alternate pasts or futures that we saw in any of the Trek TV shows — these are all completely new creations of the authors involved.  As with the Mirror Universe stories, these tales are all fantastic fun.

Volume I: “Infinity’s Prism”

A Less Perfect Union, by William Leisner — In the final episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise, as Earth took its first tentative steps towards uniting with the nearby alien races it had once feared and hated (the Vulcans, the Andorians, the Tellarites) to form what would one-day become the United Federation of Planets, a xenophobic hate-group called Terra Prime began gaining influence and followers on Earth.  In this story, we are introduced to a United Earth where the followers of Terra Prime convinced Earth’s government to reject the nascent interstellar alliance and instead expel all aliens from the planet.  Nearly a hundred years later, Captain Christopher Pike, in command of the U.E.S.S. Enterprise, comes across a distress signal from an old Earth vessel that has apparently crash-landed on a distant planet called Talos.  Astute readers will immediately recognize the story of the original Star Trek pilot, The Cage.  Unfortunately, things go a little differently for the United Earth Starship in this reality than they did in our familiar version of the story.  Captain Pike, along with several members of Earth’s government, begins to realize that the time may finally have come for Earth to once again reach out to its neighbors in the galaxy… and the one surviving member of Jonathan Archer’s Enterprise might be the key.  From the brilliant first chapter, which tells a so-familiar yet so-different version of the famous opening scenes of The Cage, right up through the parallel version of the Babel Conference (originally told in the great Classic Trek episode “Journey to Babel”) which forms the bulk of this novella, this is a marvelous story.  It is emotional, intense and, at the same time, hopeful, as all the very best Star Trek stories are.  A terrific read.

Place of Exile, by Christopher L. Bennett — In his Mirror Universe story, A Mirror-Scaled Serpent, Keith R.A. DeCandido did the impossible and actually made me care about characters from Star Trek: Voyager. Well, Mr. Bennett performs the same miracle here.  His story begins towards the end of Voyager’s third season cliff-hanger, “Scorpion,” in which the U.S.S. Voyager finds itself in the middle of an enormous inter-stellar war between the unstoppable Borg and a mysterious foe from another universe, Species 8472.  In the televised episode, Kathryn Janeway is able to guide Voyager safely through the conflict.  Here, though, Voyager is crippled in a vicious attack by Species 8472, and the stranded crew is forced to take refuge with a nearby race of aliens called the Vostigye.  The longest story in this collection, this novella chronicles the months and years that follow, as the crew of Voyager is forced to scatter and make the best of their new lives trapped in the Delta Quadrant.  But all the while the looming Borg/8472 war draws closer, threatening total annihilation… and a determined Captain Janeway stubbornly refuses to give up her dream of rebuilding Voyager and resuming their course for home.  Holy cow, what a great story.  Bennett does everything right that the writers of Voyager did wrong.  First of all, he creates a story in which the Voyager faces an enormous and yet realistic set-back (as opposed to the show, which always depicted the ship in perfect condition, never wanting for supplies or equipment).  Secondly, he allows the characters to really grow and develop as people, as each of them respond to their new circumstances in different ways.  (Again, this is in contrast to the actual show, in which there was little-to-no character development, Janeway never had to face any real challenges to her determination to maintain Starfleet discipline even 70,000 light-years from home, and, just to pick another random example, Harry Kim remained an Ensign for seven years.)  Finally, Mr. Bennett has crafted far more satisfying resolutions to many story-lines that the Voyager writers choose to abandon, most notably the wonderfully sweet ending he gives to the Kes-Neelix relationship.  Beautiful.  A thoroughly engrossing tale.

Seeds of Dissent, by James Swallow — It’s Space Seed in reverse: Almost 400 years after Khan and his genetically enhanced followers conquered Earth, the Terran Khanate rules their corner of the galaxy with an iron fist.  But things start to unravel when Princeps Julian Bashir and his starship Defiance discover a centuries-old sleeper-ship, the Botany Bay, carrying cryogenically preserved refugees from Khan’s conquest — almost a hundred un-enhanced “basic” Humans.  Swallow’s story is a lot less epic than the other two novellas in this collection, but it is every bit as engaging.  As the story opened, it seemed that Bashir would be the main character in the tale, but as things unfolded I found myself most interested in Ezri Dax, the Trill who has spent 300 years in servitude to the Khanate.  When presented with the Botany Bay survivors, and the inflammatory evidence they possess about the true story of Khan’s bloody rise to power, Dax must make a terrible choice.

Volume II: “Echoes and Refractions”

The Chimes at Midnight, by Geoff Trowbridge — OK, now this is an obscure one.  In the Animated Star Trek episode “Yesteryear,” a mishap involving the Guardian of Forever results in an alternate universe in which Spock is killed as a young boy on Vulcan.  As a result, years later, it would be an Andorian named Thelin, not Spock, who would serve as First Officer on the USS Enterprise under Captain Kirk.  Of course, by the end of “Yesteryear,” history is corrected and young Spock is saved, but this novella explores a universe in which Spock was never saved and that alternate timeline continued.  After a brief prologue, the story opens on the bridge of the Enterprise, in which a desperate Kirk calls out, “Scotty!  I need warp speed in three minutes or we’re all dead!”  These are the climactic moments of Star Trek II, and the crippled Enterprise is trying to escape the detonation of the Genesis wave.  In the movie, we all know that Spock’s sacrifice saves the ship — but how will the Enterprise escape without Spock’s presence?  As this clever story progresses, we follow this alternate history through the years chronicled by the rest of the original Star Trek movies (II though VI).  It is great fun seeing those familiar stories play out slightly (or, in some cases, a lot MORE than slightly) differently.  I was particularly pleased to see the way in which, in this universe, Carol Marcus and her knowledge of Genesis are involved in the aftermath of the alien probe (from Star Trek IV)’s attack on Earth (thus correcting something that has always bugged me about the later Trek films: how everyone seemed to conveniently forget about the Genesis technology).  The character of the Andorian Thelin is well fleshed out, making him a compelling character with whom to travel through this story.  I was also very pleased by the attention given to David Marcus and Saavik, and I was really tickled by the ways in which their stories intertwined.  As a kid growing up, I was captivated by Vonda N. McIntyre’s novel adaptations of the early Star Trek movies.  She always wove a lot of additional character details into those novels — and one that I always loved was her invention of a much deeper relationship between David and Saavik.  I don’t know if Mr. Trowbridge was similarly inspired by Ms. McIntyre’s work, but either way, I loved this particular story development.  If I have any complaint, it is that the end of the novella felt rushed.  There is a very dramatic event involving the Klingons late in the story, which was followed by a five year jump.  Well, I really wanted to know more about the events of those five years, and I wanted to get some more build-up to the momentous decision that Thelin makes at the story’s end.  This story cries out for an additional 50-100 pages!

A Gutted World, by Keth R.A. DeCandido — This rivals Places of Exile as my favorite novella from this series.  It is a world where the Cardassians never withdrew from Bajor.  What I expected to be a relatively small-scale story about Bajorans and Cardassians quickly escalates into an enormous epic, as the events of the later seasons of Deep Space Nine play out dramatically differently without a Federation presence in the Bajoran sector.  This is a sprawling tale that interweaves the stories of an incredibly large number of familiar characters, taking place across numerous worlds throughout the Alpha Quadrant.  Two of the main protagonists are Kira Nerys, a Bajoran resistance fighter who is given staggering information by “plain, simple tailor” Elim Garak, and Captain Jean-Luc Picard, who, immediately after stopping a Borg plot to change history, must take the Enterprise E into Klingon space to help the Klingons fight an increasingly vicious war with the Romulans.  As in so many of Mr. DeCandido’s other works, this story is jam-packed with Trek details and minutae.  Almost every character, no matter how minor, has been drawn from an appearance in a Trek episode (Ro Laren!  Damar!  Gowron!  Shelby!  Sonja Gomez!  Koval!  Erika Benteen!  Jaresh-Inyo!  Scotty!) or one of the recent Trek novels (Edmund Atkinson!  Miranda Kadohota!  Gilaad ben Zoma!  David Gold!  Charivretha zh’Thane!), and this gives great weight to their small scenes.  In one chapter we meet Federation Ambassador Krajensky — DS9 fans who recognize that character (who only appeared in one episode) and know what became of him will be put on their toes immediately, and that adds tension to the story.  The myriad Trek references enables the reader to have a lot of fun extrapolating for ourselves how these familiar characters arrived at the place where we meet them in this alternate universe.  It is apparent that Mr. DeCandido has given very careful thought to the many ripple effects that the Cardassians never leaving Bajor would cause as the events that were chronicled in the seven seasons of DS9 unfolded in this universe.  These “ripples” include what seems like a throw-away reference to both of Klingon General Martok’s eyes (in DS9, Martok lost one eye in a Jem Hadar prison camp, which never happened here because Benjamin Sisko never discovered the wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant) or a mention of Admiral Leyton having commanded a fleet against the Borg (in DS9‘s fourth season, Admiral Leyton was disgraced for allowing his paranoia about shapeshifter infiltration to prompt him to stage a coup against the Federation President; but in this universe without any Federation contact with the Gamma Quadrant, none of that happened, so Leyton would be free to take command of the fleet defending Earth against the Borg during the events chronicled in Star Trek: First Contact, which took place during DS9‘s fifth season.)  The story isn’t weakened in any way if you don’t get these references.  But for a Trek fan who does, they add great depth and richness to this dramatic, action-packed story filled with heroism and sacrifice.  Absolutely phenomenal.

Brave New World, by Chris Roberson — Working on Omicron Theta, Dr. Noonien Soong perfected the creation of positronic androids.  Only a few decades later, Soong-type androids can be found throughout Starfleet and the Federation.  Even more ground-breaking: utilizing Ira Graves’ work in synaptic mapping (from the Next Gen episode, “The Schizoid Man”), Federation citizens now have the ability to transfer their consciousness into nearly indestructible android bodies, prolonging life indefinitely.  But a situation brewing in the Neutral Zone threatens to disrupt the Federation’s fragile peace with the Romulan Empire, and soon Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D are confronted by the return of someone they never expected to see again: the android Data, missing for 10 years.  Like Seed of Dissent, Brave New World is a much less epic story than most of the other novellas in this collection.  But, as a smaller, more self-contained story, it remains quite entertaining, and I enjoyed this exploration of ideas that Trek often played with but never really fleshed out: specifically, how the spread of synthetic life forms and android technology might effect life in the Federation (as well as their relationship with their allies).  There are some weaknesses: I found Data to be a surprisingly passive character, and would have preferred to see him more active in developing the crisis’ ultimate solution.  Also, coming after Mr. DeCandido’s novella, in which I felt that his alternate universe was very carefully mapped out (in terms of how the central change — the Cardassians never leaving Bajor — would have effected future events), there were a lot of things in this story that seemed different just for difference’s sake, and not as a result of a change caused by the spread of Soong-type androids or Data’s disappearance.  As an example, it is clear that the Enterprise never encountered the Iconian gateways (as depicted in the second season Next Gen episode, “Contagion”), although I have no idea why that event wouldn’t have occurred, Data or no Data.  But there’s still a lot of fun to be had in this novella.  And it has a great last line.

My long anticipation is almost over — at  7:00 tonight I will be seeing J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek on IMAX! Come back tomorrow for my full review!!  I’ll see you then!

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