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Star Trek Cold Equations Book 3: The Body Electric

I loved The Persistence of Memory, book 1 of David Mack’s new Star Trek trilogy, “Cold Equations,” and I was a little more lukewarm on book 2, Silent Weapons.  Book 1 dug deeply into Star Trek lore, bringing Data and his creator, Dr. Noonien Soong, back front-and-center in the continuing Star Trek story.  The book followed up on many ideas begun in Jeffrey Lang’s novel from a decade ago, Immortal Coil, a story that referenced almost every single previous incident in Star Trek involving an android or any other kind of machine life, and that introduced the idea of a galaxy-spanning Fellowship of Artificial Intelligence.  Book 2 shifted the focus to the continuing Typhon Pact story-line, and the tense, ongoing cold war between the Federation and this new enemy alliance.

In book 3, The Body Electric, David Mack returns his focus to Data and the Fellowship of Artificial Intelligence.  Building directly on story-lines begun in Immortal Coil (which really should be considered book one of this four-novel story), we see that Data is still attempting to track down the Immortal (the man known as Flint, from the original series episode “Requiem for Methuselah”), because Flint has discovered the ability to repair android brains following a cascade failure.  That is what caused the death of Data’s android “daughter,” Lal (from the third season Next Gen episode “The Offspring”), and Data is convinced that the Immortal can bring Lal back to life.  With the Immortal captured by a violent offshoot of the Fellowship of Artificial Intelligence, Data has no choice but to allow himself to be captured, too, with the hope that he can free the Immortal.  While in their custody, he discovers the android woman, Rhea McAdams, with whom he fell in love (back in Immortal Coil), is also being held by these androids.  Meanwhile, Wesley Crusher has discovered an awful enemy feared by the Travelers — a planet-sized machine wreaking havoc at the center of the galaxy.  With entire solar systems being destroyed every minute, he appeals to his old allies aboard the Starship Enterprise to try to help him avert destruction on a galactic scale.

As always, Mr. Mack spins a ripping yarn.  (Though I will comment that his tremendous skill with maintaining tension seemed to fail him at a few points, in my opinion.  The early part of the book establishes that the machine is literally destroying whole solar systems every minute, yet as the book unfolded over the day or two that the Enterprise was dealing with the problem, I often felt that things were moving at a surprisingly slow pace considering any second it could be Earth being demolished.  For example, after bringing the Enterprise crew face to face with the machine, Wesley seems to drop out of the story for a while.  I kept thinking, what the heck is Wesley doing while the Enterprise crew is investigating, is he just hanging out in the holodeck?)

I was very engaged by the story of the machine, the mystery of its ultimate goals, and the question of how the heck the Enterprise crew was going to be able to stop this seemingly unstoppable foe.  I loved that Mr. Mack found a way to bring in one famous example of machine life from Star Trek history that was not included in Immortal Coil.  (I wouldn’t dare spoil it here!!)  That was a cool reveal.  (However, the ultimate solution to the machine’s actions was a bit too techno-babbly for me, and I must confess to not entirely understanding the intricacies of Wesley’s ultimate proposal to the machine.  The whole thing felt a little anti-climactic to me.  )

I loved the return of Wesley Crusher and the taste the book gives us of his life as a Traveler, and of the Travelers as a group.  I can imagine a writer finding Wesley to be difficult to deal with as a character, because of his powerful abilities as a Traveler.  However, Mr. Mack does a great job of clearly delineating what Wesley can and can’t do, and prevents his powers from providing too quick and easy a solution to the Enterprise’s problems.

I loved the book’s focus on Data and the Immortal and Rhea, finally closing the loop on stories left hanging by Immortal Coil.  I wish Rhea had more to do in the book, but she’s a great character and it was nice to see her again.  The Immortal is also quite an intriguing figure.  The book hints that we many never see him again, but I hope that is not the case.  I’d love to see this complex character explored further, and I’d love to see where his relationship with Data could go from here.

Speaking of Data, I was intrigued by the fine line Mr. Mack walked in this novel, presenting us with a Data who is very much the Data we all knew and loved, but who is also a different Data, changed by his experiences, and with a full range of emotions now fully integrated into his personality.  I am really interested in this version of Data, and can’t wait to see where the character goes next following the dramatic events of the end of book 3.  I do have a major complaint, though, that there were several striking examples of this Data acting out of character in a way I found hard to justify.  The first is his refusal to leave the Fellowship’s custody once he learns of the Machine threat to the galaxy and the role he could play in helping to stop it.  Data declares that he will not leave without the Immortal or Rhea, even though with Wesley’s assistance he could do so.  Data’s dawdling causes a lengthy delay in the Enterprise crew’s being able to deal with the Machine (because they need Data to connect to it), and in that time countless more planets are destroyed, and potentially millions upon millions of sentient life-forms are annihilated.  It just seems insanely selfish for Data not to leave the Immortal and Rhea to help deal with that problem.

Then we get to the book’s ending (and gang, SPOILERS here so if you haven’t read this book, maybe skip to the next paragraph??), and the Spider-Man like choice in which Data needs to choose between two people who he loves, with the ability to save only one of them.  Let me just say that I did not like this turn of events.  First of all, it seemed like a very cliched way to end the book, familiar (especially to comic book fans) to the point of being a little silly.  Second of all, here again I found Data’s choice to be a little selfish.  He focuses on what HE wants (the resurrection of Lal) above all else.  He wants to salve his pain as a father who lost his daughter, so instead he causes another father to lose HIS daughter??  That feels wrong to me.  I would have expected Data to make the more noble choice, and to put aside his wishes to spare someone else great pain.  Now, maybe this selfish choice is a consequence of this being a new, different Data.  But were that the case, I would have expected that to be a major story-point (that people are shocked at Data’s actions) for the end of the story.  Instead, no one seems to raise an eyebrow, except me reading the book.

As you can see, I have some problems with The Body Electric, but I still found it to be a very entertaining story.  I think that the biggest problem for me is that I am disappointed that, as opposed to his approach to his amazing previous Star Trek trilogy of novels, Star Trek: Destiny, for this new trilogy Mr. Mack has decided to tell three basically stand-alone stories.  This third book certainly circles back to story-lines begun in book one (and, even more than that, to story-lines begun in Immortal Coil), but in the context of a new, stand-alone story (the machine threatening galactic destruction).  The stories in all three books are all thematically linked, but if you had told me that each novel was written by a different author (the way many of Pocket Books’ previous Star Trek series of connected novels have been) I would have believed you.  This is a perfectly fine approach, and all three books in this “Cold Equations” trilogy are strong.  But ultimately by telling three separate stories, the trilogy felt a little “slight” to me — far less significant than the Destiny trilogy.  Indeed, the plot twists that will have the greatest effect on the continuing 24th century-set Star Trek story-lines all happened in book one (the return of Data, the death of Choudhury, etc.).  Books two and three, while entertaining, both felt far less significant to me in the long-term.  And I was surprised that, other than the Data stuff, other stories begun in book one (like the effects on Worf of the terrible loss of another important woman in his life) did not seem to have much importance in books two and three.

The three books in the “Cold Equations” trilogy are all great, entertaining Star Trek stories.  I didn’t find that they hung together as a trilogy to the extent that I had hoped, but they’re still fun books and engaging new installments in Pocket Books’ continuing Star Trek stories.  I look forward to seeing where the next books take us.

Previous Star Trek novel reviews:

Star Trek – Unspoken Truth , Troublesome MindsCast No Shadow

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Sky’s The LimitDestiny trilogyA Singular Destiny, Losing the Peace,Immortal CoilCold Equations Book 1: The Persistence of Memory, Cold Equations Book 2: Silent Weapons

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 MaruThe 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 DawnBrinkmanship

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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