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Star Trek Cold Equations Book 1: The Persistence of Memory

David Mack’s 2006 DS9 novel Warpath made me a fan of the author’s forever (boy, I can’t believe that novel is almost a decade old!) and his epic 2008 trilogy Star Trek: Destiny (click here for my review) surely proved Mr. Mack to be one of the finest Trek authors working today.  That status-quo toppling trilogy has set the shape for all the Star Trek novel stories that have followed, as various authors (including Mr. Mack himself, in the novel Zero Sum Game) have set about to explore the wonderful chaos left in the wake of Destiny. The news of a new trilogy of Star Trek novels written by Mr. Mack had me very excited, and I am pleased to report that the first book in this new trilogy, The Persistence of Memory, is absolutely stellar. (I will refer to this novel as The Persistence of Memory, rather than its incredibly wordy actual title, which seems to be Star Trek: The Next Generation: Cold Equations Book 1: The Persistence of Memory. Sheeesh!!)

Set four years after the events of the final “official” on-screen adventure of Captain Picard and co., the dreadful movie Star Trek: Nemesis, Mr. Mack’s main purpose with this new novel seems to be to make right one of the worst mis-steps of that film, and let me say, it’s about damn time. (More details in the spoiler section, below!)

Most of the recent 24th century-set Star Trek novels (such as David R. George’s magnificent Deep Space Nine-centric duology Plagues of Night and Raise the Dawn, and Una McCormack’s recent Brinkmanship) have been focused on the story of The Typhon Pact, the new interstellar alliance of several of the Federation’s fiercest alien enemies (the Romulans, the Breen, the Tholians, etc.).   Intestingly enough, David Mack’s new trilogy appears not bearing the “Typhon Pact” sub-header, but rather that of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” While Persistence of Memory certainly moves forward the story of these post-Nemesis Star Trek novels, and the book does deal heavily with a Typhon Pact race, the Breen, I loved that this novel really was focused on the cast and story-lines from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

We get to spend some excellent time with Captain Picard, Geordi, and Worf in specific, as well as with several introduced-in-the-novels members of the Enterprise E’s command team. (With Will Riker and Deanna Troi off on their own ship and series of novels, Titan, Data dead as of Star Trek: Nemesis, and Wesley off exploring the universe as a traveller as per one of the final episodes of Next Gen’s TV run, they did need some new characters!)

And boy, I wasn’t kidding above when I mentioned that Mr. Mack’s novel really moved the story forward. Early on in the book, I was shocked to learn of the approaching death of a beloved Next Gen supporting player (not at all who you’d expect) in a short sequence that I’ll admit brought a tear to my eye. As the book progresses, we witness the heartbreaking death of a different supporting player, and the welcome return of another.

Trek fans, buy the book. ‘Nuff said. SPOILERS from here on in, gang, so be warned.

The quotation that opens the novel is wonderfully chosen, the perfect sentiment to begin the story, though it does have the small side-effect (particularly in concert with the image on the cover) of ruining the twist that comes at the end of part one of the novel. But that’s a small quibble, because I was thrilled to see the return of Data’s creator, Dr. Noonien Soong. I never felt that character’s story was finished in the fourth-season Next Gen episode “Brothers,” despite his apparent demise at the end of the episode. Mr. Mack employs a simple and obvious way of bringing the character back into play. That’s not a complaint — I appreciated the deft way he use logical, already-established story-points to tell an effective story of the character’s return.

I was surprised, at first, to see that the story of Dr Soong’s return would actually take up the bulk of the novel. As soon as I began part two and that became apparent, I sighed, unhappy with what looked to be a long digression from the main story. But Mr. Mack’s tale quickly won me over, and I soon grew to understand why Mr. Mack just HAD to take the time to tell us Dr. Soong’s story in full.

When part three begins and we return to the present-day story, things move quickly. I first saw in Warpath Mr. Mack’s skill at sustaining knuckle-whitening tension as a story unfolds on multiple fronts, and that ability was on sharp display here.

When the big death happens, it happens so quickly I had to go back and re-read the previous paragraph three or four times to be sure what I thought happened had actually happened. I have mixed feelings about this death. First of all, I must confess that while it didn’t happen AT ALL the way I’d expected, I did sort of see it coming, as I saw Dr. Soong’s return coming. (There was no way that earlier reference to the DS9 episode “Change of Heart” was accidental, and I anticipated Worf having an opportunity to make a different, more tragic, choice.) When the moment came, it was shocking and horrifying and tragic, just as I assume Mr. Mack intended. I was sorry to see this great character go, and I am disappointed that the character was killed off while huge unexplored potential remained. It seems like a waste and a shame, but of course how else would the death be powerful? But I also feel some lingering dissatisfaction in that I feel this event was one step too far in terms of too much having been piled on Worf.  Just how much tragedy is this one character supposed to have to deal with in one lifetime?? I really am not sure where to take the character from here on out. I suspect that what happens to Worf in the next two books of Mr. Mack’s trilogy will impact my ultimate feelings about this decision.

Then, of course, there is the final, wonderful re-set of the end of Nemesis. I don’t generally want to see the Star Trek novels go back to the old status quo. I want the stories to go forward and make bold changes that the TV shows and movies never did or could. But sometimes a course-correction is in order. Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels’ Star Trek Enterprise novels fixed a grievous mis-step taken in the series-finale of Enterprise, the death of Trip Tucker, and now Mr. Mack has set right the stupid ending of Nemesis (an ending gently mocked in the book when we see Dr. Soong’s reaction to what went down during the final confrontation between the USS Enterprise and Shinzon).

This resurrection is deftly handled. As with Dr. Soong’s return, Mr. Mack doesn’t create a solution from out of left field. Instead, he gathers up the plot points that had been left hanging in plain sight to tell a story that feels, at least in my opinion, absolutely RIGHT. He also cleverly doesn’t return things to the status quo at all. I really hope that this story continues in the next two books of the trilogy, as I am insanely eager to see where things go next.

My only major complaint with book — other than some lingering dissatisfaction with the character death that I discussed above — is the degree to which the events in this novel play off that of another Star Trek novel from a decade ago, Jeffrey Lang’s Immortal Coil. I love continuity between the Trek novels, but I was surprised by the degree to which the plot points in this book played off of the events of that older book. Since it turns out that I’d never read that book, I did feel a bit “left out” at times. Mr. Mack certainly fills in the bare bones details, but I feel like I’m missing a lot of story. I have already ordered Immortal Coil from Amazon and am excited to read it, but it did feel a little weird to realize, early in The Persistence of Memory, that I had missed a big piece of the back-story.

Other than that, this novel feels like the first big step towards another Trek masterpiece by David Mack. Book two in the trilogy has just been released — I can’t wait to read it!

Previous Star Trek novel reviews:

Star Trek – Unspoken TruthTroublesome MindsCast No Shadow

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Sky’s The LimitDestiny trilogyA Singular Destiny, Losing the Peace,

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – DS9 relaunch overviewThe Soul KeyThe Never-Ending SacrificePlagues of Night and Raise the Dawn

Star Trek: Voyager – Full Circle

Star Trek: Enterprise — Kobayashi Maru, The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s WingThe Romulan War: To Brave the Storm

Star Trek: Titan – Book 1: Taking WingBook 2: The Red KingBook 3: Orion’s HoundsBook 4: Sword of DamoclesBook 5: Under a Torrent SeaBook 6: Synthesis

Star Trek: Typhon Pact – Book 1: Zero-Sum GameBook 2: Seize the FireBook 3: Rough Beasts of EmpireBook 4: Paths of DisharmonyPlagues of Night and Raise the Dawn, Brinkmanship

Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations – Watching the ClockForgotten History

Star Trek: The Lost Era – Book 1: The Sundered

Star Trek: Mirror Universe (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Shards & Shadows – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire — Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Rise Like Lions –  Star Trek: Myriad Universes (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Shattered Light

Beyond the Final Frontier — Josh’s favorite Star Trek novels

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