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Star Trek Voyager: Acts of Contrition

As I always begin these Voyager book reviews by noting, I never much cared for the Star Trek Voyager TV show.  In my opinion it is by far the weakest of all the Trek TV shows.  But Kirsten Beyer has done the impossible and, with her series of post-finale-set Voyager novels, actually made me interested in stories of the Voyager crew!

It was David Mack who really set the ball rolling with his Destiny trilogy, which turned over the applecart of the Star Trek universe.  In that story, the U.S.S. Voyager was terribly damaged in battle with the Borg, during the Borg’s massive, apocalyptic invasion of the Alpha Quadrant.  I was interested in seeing what happened next, so I picked up Ms. Beyer’s lengthy novel Full Circle, which picked up the pieces from Destiny.  That was a pretty great book (click here for my review), and suddenly I found myself interested in where the story of these characters would go from there!  At the end of Full Circle, the Voyager was sent back to the Delta Quadrant, leading a fleet of starships on a mission of exploration and diplomatic contact (neither of which the crew of Voyager had much time or ability to do on their initial journey).  What followed were a series of new Voyager novels, all written by Ms. Beyer:  UnworthyChildren of the StormThe Eternal Tide, and Protectors.

Protectors began a new trilogy of Voyager books, of which Acts of Contrition is the middle chapter.  This new novel picks off immediately following the end of Protectors.  The Voyager fleet has suffered heavy losses, and is now left with only four ships, including Voyager.  They have discovered the existence of a new interstellar alliance, who call themselves The Confederacy of the Worlds of the First Quadrant.  Admiral Janeway would like to establish diplomatic relationships with this potentially friendly, powerful Delta Quadrant civilization.  But as Janeway and her team learn more about the Confederacy, doubts begin to emerge as to whether they would truly be a suitable partner for the United Federation of Planets.  Meanwhile, several of Voyager’s old enemies from their original Delta Quadrant journey have banded together and formed a new coalition of threats to both the Confederacy and the Starfleet vessels.  (How and why this diverse, inhospitable bunch of aliens were ever able to ally with one another remains unknown, though we get a big hint at the very end of the novel.)

While these large-scale dramas unfold, Acts of Contrition follows several other narratives begun in Protectors.  Tom Paris’ estranged mother has sued the Federation courts for custody of Tom and B’Elanna’s two children, so Tom has been forced to return to Earth to face this challenge.  Seven of Nine has also returned to Earth, summoned by a psychic plea from Axum, the former Borg drone with whom she had a love affair in the psychic construct called Unimatrix Zero.  Seven believes that Axum has been captured by Starfleet and is being tortured by them, perhaps in connection with Starfleet Medical’s research into the terrible new plague that has begun to spread across the Alpha Quadrant, a plague believed to be caused by Catoms, the mysterious and powerful molecules into which the implants of former Borg drones Seven and Axum were transformed by the Caeliar (at the conclusion of David Mack’s Destiny trilogy).  Seven, along with Voyager’s C.M.O. Doctor Sharak, attempt to find the truth among the halls of power at Starfleet.  While all this is happening on Earth, back in the Delta Quadrant Reg Barclay continues to search for the powerful holographic entity who was inadvertently released in a previous Voyager novel.  And the Doctor’s erratic behavior escalates, an apparent result of his creator Dr. Zimmerman’s decision to erase from the Doctor’s program all memory of his unrequited love for Seven of Nine.

As you can see, there is a LOT going on in Acts of Contrition.  It’s all interesting stuff, and Ms. Beyer is able to juggle the multiple story-lines with great dexterity.  It’s fun that this Voyager relaunch has been written exclusively by one author.  As a result, Ms. Beyer has been able to establish tight continuity between her books, weaving the individual stories into a larger tapestry that I am quite enjoying.  Yes, it’s a drag that the end of Acts of Contrition leaves most of these story-lines unresolved (this is the same complaint I had when getting to the end of the last Trek book I read, David Mack’s Section 31: Disavowed), but I have confidence that these story threads will be resolved in Ms. Beyer’s future Voyager books.  I am enjoying the ride and, because I am confident these stories will be resolved in future books, I don’t mind too much being left hanging for now.

All of the story-lines that unfold in Acts of Contrition are interesting.  I quite enjoyed the exploration of this new society The Coalition of the Worlds of the First Quadrant.  (Not surprisingly, these aliens call their home the First Quadrant, rather than the Federation nomenclature of the Delta Quadrant.)  If I have one quibble, it’s the many ways in which this society is revealed to be inferior to the Federation as Janeway and her team get to know it better.  A flaw of much “official” Star Trek is the way in which alien races were often portrayed as inferior to the enlightened, noble Federation.  It smacks of cultural egotism, and I didn’t love seeing that in this story.  But I was pleased that many of the characters from the Coalition who we got to know, over the course of the book, seemed to have positive attributes and were able to form true bonds with some of our characters from Voyager.

The story of Tom Paris and his legal battle with his mother was a standout of the book.  That was the hardest story-line to tear myself away from, every time the book left this story to check in on the other narratives.  It’s a wrenching story of family strife.  This was a very compelling development for the character of Tom Paris, and as much as my heart was clearly with Tom over his mother, it was also interesting to see Tom sewing some of what he had reaped through many of the poor, immature decisions he had made earlier in his life, decisions which built up to terribly damage his relationship with his mother.

The Seven-Axum-Starfleet Medical stuff might have been my least favorite section of the book, just because it was clear that we didn’t yet know what was really going on, and so I found it a little hard to engage with the events unfolding since I knew that things were very likely not what they seemed.  Still, I like that Ms. Beyer picked up the threads of the Voyager TV show’s “Unimatrix Zero” storyline.  (Even though that was not one of my favorite stories from the show, the Seven-Axum relationship was a pretty juicy meatball worthy of going back to.)

But my favorite part of this Starfleet Medical storyline, and, indeed, my very favorite part of the entire book, was Ms. Beyer’s exploration of the Tamarian physician, Doctor Sharak.  The Tamarians are the race encountered by Captain Picard and the Enterprise-D in the Next Gen episode “Darmok.”  This is one of the most memorable Next Gen episodes, as it introduced us to this race, the Tamarians, who spoke entirely in metaphor.  It’s a wonderful concept, but also an extremely tricky idea.  So it’s no big surprise that the race has not been revisited.  Until now!  I absolutely adored Ms. Beyer’s explanation of Doctor Sharak and his Tamarian culture.  There are several sequences in which we see Doctor Sharak use his natural Tamarian language, and Ms. Beyer wonderfully creates a whole array of incredible new metaphorical phrases for Sharak to use, while at the same time allowing the reader to step more deeply into his culture and his character.  This is wonderful work, and I really hope to see a lot more of Doctor Sharak in future Voyager novels.  “Temba, his arms open!”

As I have written in each of these Voyager novel reviews, it’s amazing that I am enjoying a Voyager story.  I wish the actual show had ever been even half as good.  Ms. Beyer continues to do terrific work in this corner of the Star Trek universe that she has carved out for herself.  I do not believe a publication date has yet been announced for the next Voyager novel, Atonement, which likely means I am in for a long wait.  Sigh.  Well, I’ll be here!

Previous Star Trek novel reviews:

Star Trek – Unspoken Truth , Troublesome MindsCast No ShadowExcelsior: Forged in FireAllegiance in Exile

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Sky’s The LimitResistance and Q & ABefore Dishonor and Greater than the SumDestiny trilogyA Singular Destiny, Losing the Peace,Immortal CoilCold Equations Book 1: The Persistence of MemoryCold Equations Book 2: Silent WeaponsCold Equations Book 3: The Body ElectricThe Light Fantastic

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – DS9 relaunch overviewThe Soul KeyThe Never-Ending SacrificePlagues of Night and Raise the Dawn, Section 31: Disavowed

Star Trek: Voyager – Full CircleUnworthyChildren of the StormThe Eternal TideProtectors

Star Trek: Enterprise — Kobayashi MaruThe Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s WingThe Romulan War: To Brave the StormRise of the Federation: A Choice of FuturesRise of the Federation: Tower of Babel

Star Trek: Titan – Book 1: Taking WingBook 2: The Red KingBook 3: Orion’s HoundsBook 4: Sword of DamoclesUnder a Torrent SeaSynthesisFallen Gods

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: The Fall — Book 1: Revelation and DustBook 2: The Crimson ShadowBook 3: A Ceremony of LossesBook 4: The Poisoned ChaliceBook 5: Peaceable Kingdoms

Star Trek: New Frontier – Series overviewStone & Anvil, After the Fall, and Missing in ActionTreason and Blind Man’s Bluff

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

Star Trek: The Lost Era – Book 1: The Sundered (2298)Book 2: Serpents Among the Ruins (2311)Book 3: The Art of the Impossible (2328-2346)The Buried Age (2355-2364)One Constant Star (2319)

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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