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Star Trek Voyager: The Eternal Tide

This Star Trek Voyager novel, The Eternal Tide, is one I’d been dreading.

To my huge shock, I’ve found myself quite enjoying Kirsten Beyer’s post-finale series of Star Trek Voyager novels (click here for my review of Full Circle, here for my review of Unworthy, and here for my review of Children of the Storm).  I never much liked Voyager the TV show, but I’ve been intrigued by this series of novels, moving the Voyager characters beyond the universe-shaking events of David Mack’s epic novel trilogy Star Trek Destiny from several years back.  These Voyager novels by Kirsten Beyer have had a great mix of strong characters (Ms. Beyer has fleshed out the characters far more than they ever were on the TV show, and thankfully she has moved them all beyond the eternal-status-quo they were trapped in on the show) and some great new sci-fi stories and new concepts for alien species.  As opposed to the continuing series of post-finale Next Gen and Deep Space Nine novels, which have been written by a rotating series of authors, it’s interesting that Ms. Beyer has apparently been given full control (for now, at least) of the Voyager corner of the Trek universe.  Having one author write this series has given it a tight continuity and cohesiveness that has been particularly enjoyable for me, now, reading these books one after the other.

But while I’ve enjoyed the previous three Voyager books, I was not looking forward to this one.  Why?  Because of Kathryn Janeway’s face staring out at me from the book’s cover.

I adored the decision made, in Peter David’s Next Gen novel Before Dishonor (one of the books leading up to the big Destiny crossover) to kill off Captain Janeway.  It was a shocking move, one I did not see coming, and it was a thrilling raising-of-the-stakes as the threat of the Borg grew in anticipation of the massive Borg invasion of the Alpha Quadrant that occurred in Destiny.  More than that, the manner of Janeway’s death — her arrogance allowing her to wind up assimilated by the Borg Queen — seemed to me a support of everything I’d ever disliked about the Janeway character.

One of many reasons why I never took to Voyager was the character of Captain Janeway.  I like Kate Mulgrew.  She’s a great actress, and clearly capable of terrific work (just look at how amazing she is on Orange is the New Black).  So Ms. Mulgrew wasn’t the problem.  Nor did I have any issue with a female being the lead of a Star Trek series.  I love plenty of female-centric shows and movies, and the strong female characters on DS9 are among the reasons that show is my favorite of the Trek shows.  The problem with Voyager was the terrible, hugely inconsistent writing on the show, and nowhere was this more problematic than in the character of Janeway.  From episode to episode, Janeway swung back and forth across a huge spectrum of characterizations, from the by-the-book, the-rules-above-all-else Janeway (who blew up the Caretaker’s array, thus stranding the ship over 70,000 light-years from home in the series’ pilot episode) to the desperate-to-do-anything-to-get-her-beloved-crew-home Janeway.  I often found the character to be dour and unlikable, and though the series would repeatedly tell us that she and her crew had been bonded, by their ordeal, into a tighter-than-family unit, I never bought it.  I also never forgave the character from her crazy actions in the “Equinox” two-parter.  That she never apologized to Chakotay for the way she treated him in that episode staggered me, and forever damaged the character in my eyes.  In the later years of the show, I also repeatedly rolled my eyes at the way the Voyager crew was able to so easily defeat the Borg time and again.  Once again, bad writing and a failure of imagination on the part of the show’s creators turned the Borg from fearsome adversaries into toothless straw-men.

So everything about Peter David’s killing off of Janeway in Before Dishonor appealed to me.  I thought it was a great way for the Trek books to be bold, to do the crazy thing the TV shows would never do.  And I thought it was an affirmation of what I’d long been feeling about Janeway and about Voyager.  Janeway WAS arrogant, and it was ridiculous that she’d be able to continue to beat the Borg time and again.

Beyond Janeway’s death being a plot point that I liked in that one book, I was pleased by how deeply Ms. Beyer explored the repercussions of that event on the Voyager crew in her books.  Janeway’s death was the source for a great deal of the story-telling and character-drama in Ms. Beyer’s re-launched Voyager series.  Janeway’s death, and the events of Destiny, finally forced all of the Voyager characters to jump free of their stagnating situations (another huge flaw with the Voyager TV show was that the characters hardly changed at all over the run of the series — how was Harry Kim still an ensign by season seven???) and for the characters, and the series, to move forward and start exploring interesting new ground.

So I was not happy at all to see Captain Janeway’s face, big and bold, on the cover of The Eternal Tide.  Was her death going to be undone?  Was the forward momentum of the previous books just an illusion, and we were going to start moving back to the old boring status quo?

I am relieved to at least report that, like Ms. Beyer’s previous Voyager novels, The Eternal Tide is a well-written book.  There is a lot to enjoy about the novel, and much of what I liked about Ms. Beyer’s previous novels is still present here: a tight attention to continuity, strong character-arcs, and some great new sci-fi ideas to challenge our heroes.  But it is also the book I am the most ambivalent about.  This is because, as I’d feared, Ms. Beyer does indeed resurrect Kathryn Janeway in this book, and I am saddened by that decision.  I think Ms. Beyer handles the resurrection decently well.  I really like the way that she ties this story into the future-altering shenanigans of future-Captain Janeway from the Voyager series finale.  That was a fairly dumb story, in my humble opinion, and I liked the way Ms. Beyer’s story hinged on the repercussions of future-Janeway’s reckless altering of the timeline.  That’s very clever, and leads to some great drama in the book.

But while Ms. Beyer refers, in her afterward, to this being a story that “required telling,” I just don’t agree, and I would have been happier to see the Voyager books continue without Janeway.  I am aware that, of the Trek fans reading these Voyager books, I am likely in the minority.  For the people who loved the Voyager TV show, they were probably as pissed off by the killing-off of Janeway, and as happy about her resurrection, as I was pissed-off by the ridiculous death of Data in Star Trek: Nemesis, and happy about his well-done resurrection in David Mack’s recent “Cold Equations” Next Gen trilogy.  I’ve thought about this a lot, actually.  Why did I love seeing Data brought back in “Cold Equations” where I was unhappy seeing Janeway brought back here?  The answer is because, for me, Data’s death in Nemesis was stupid and an unworthy end for the character, and I didn’t think that event led to any interesting stories.  For me, Janeway’s death was different, though I totally understand how fans of the character might have felt her death in Before Dishonor was as stupid and senseless as Data’s in Nemesis.  Oh well.  I understand Ms. Beyer’s decision, I guess, even if I don’t really like it.

There’s one other deep flaw in The Eternal Tide, and that is that the book plays as fast-and-loose with the geography of the Delta Quadrant as the Voyager TV show did (one MORE thing that annoyed me about the show!).  In the series pilot, Voyager is sling-shot over 70,000 light-years from home.  They then set a course for home, even though they know that if they don’t find a short-cut, the journey will take decades.  Therefore, the ship should have been heading in a straight line, from the Caretaker array where they were dropped in the pilot, towards home in the Alpha Quadrant.  And yet, for the first two-to-three seasons of the show, the Voyager crew kept running back into the same aliens!  The Kazon, Seska, etc.  That shouldn’t have been possible — after meeting, say, the Kazon in the pilot, Voyager should have left them far behind as the ship was heading away from their space at maximum warp.

Here in this novel series, Voyager and the “Full Circle” fleet are re-tracing their steps back to the Delta Quadrant from the Alpha Quadrant, in order to more thoroughly explore the territory that Voyager initially rushed through on their long journey home.  So therefore, in these first few books, we should only be re-encountering aliens and characters from the very last season or two of the show.  Right?  We’re re-tracing the straight-line journey.  Even with the slipstream technology that the fleet has now, enabling them to travel far faster than Voyager ever could on its own, it should still take them quite a while before we would get back to any of the places Voyager visited in its first few seasons.

And yet, here in this book, suddenly Voyager is back on the planet settled by Riley’s people (a group of former Borg drones), who we met in Voyager season two!!  I was shocked at how inattentive this seemed to me to the basic geography of the space in which these stories are supposed to be taking place.  We’ve now crossed over a line where slipstream technology has become the magical ability for Federation starships to get anywhere in the blink of an eye.  This totally undermines the drama of these stories, because the Voyager fleet isn’t really on its own in the Delta Quadrant — with slipstream, they can all high-tail it back to the Alpha Quadrant and their Federation allies in the blink of an eye.  I am very disappointed by this.

So what is GOOD in The Eternal Tide?

Well, as I mentioned above, I really liked the exploration of the negative consequences of the time-travel changes made in the Voyager season finale.  I loved the idea of Janeway’s death being a fixed point in time, one the universe seemed determined not to allow to be changed, even in alternate timelines.  I love that whole idea of time-travel and the notion that the universe and the time-line finds a way to “course-correct” when the time-line is changed, and I love the challenges that idea presents to our heroes in this book.

I loved the way Ms. Beyer brought the Q Continuum back into the story, and the way she brought resolution to the various (never-quite-satisfying-to-me) Voyager episodes featuring Q, the female Q, and the son the two of them conceived.  I loved the new context she gave to the whole existence of the Q and the Q Continuum, the way the events of this story re-shape our perspective on what we knew of the Q.

Speaking of the Q, I was pleased that Ms. Beyer also found a way to incorporate Amanda Rogers, from the Next Gen episode “True Q.”  (Though I was surprised and a little disappointed that she dropped out of the second half of the novel.  On that same note, I was also surprised that Riley’s people, or the new alien race who had briefly enslaved them, didn’t play any sort of role in the novel’s second half.  I hope these characters are returned to in future books.)

I liked the story’s connection to the Omega molecule, a concept introduced in the Voyager episode “The Omega Directive.”  (That’s an episode that had a great beginning but that, in the end, ultimately proved disappointing to me, like so many other Voyager episodes.  By the way, it’s also a great example of what I was describing earlier in this review — it’s yet another Voyager episode in which Janeway spends much of the episode taking all sorts of insanely risky actions all on her own, while keeping her crew completely in the dark and ordering them all to just do whatever the hell she wants them to.)  What Ms. Beyer does with Omega in this book almost seems to, retroactively, make that episode better than it was.

I was also fascinated by the exploration of fleet captain Afsarah Eden, one of the most intriguing new characters in this re-launched Voyager series.  I quite enjoyed the revelations about her past and her uncles, and their shared connection to Omega.  (I was, however, disappointed that, after giving her a huge amount of focus in this book, the novel’s end-game seems to take Captain Eden off the board for now.  This was another worrisome example in this book, beyond just Janeway’s resurrection, of the new characters being pushed aside in favor of the old characters stepping back into the familiar status quo.  I hope I am wrong and that does not prove to be the case as this series continues.)

So, to conclude, while I am not in favor of the return of Janeway, there was still quite a lot I enjoyed in this novel, and I remain interested to see where this series go from here.  One additional Voyager novel by Ms. Beyer has been published, Protectors (though at least two more appear to be on the horizon in the next year or so).  I am very interested to see if this next book, Protectors, represents a further return to the old status quo, or if Ms. Beyer finds a way to continue taking these characters into new and different directions, despite the return of Janeway to the mix.  I’ll be back soon to let you know what I thought!

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 Electric

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

Star Trek: Voyager – Full CircleUnworthy, Children of the Storm

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

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)

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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