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Star Trek Voyager: Protectors

I’ve had a fun over the last month or two, catching up with all of Kirsten Beyer’s Star Trek Voyager novels that take the characters of that show forward from the events of the TV series’ finale.  As I have repeatedly mentioned, Voyager is my least favorite of the Trek series, though I’ve quite enjoyed reading these novels.  Ms. Beyer has, in the four books I’ve read so far, given the characters far more depth and development than they got in the seven series of the actual show.  Click here for my review of Full Circle, here for my review of Unworthy, here for my review of Children of the Storm, and here for my review of The Eternal Tide.  I had some problems with the last book, The Eternal Tide, mostly centered on the decision to resurrect Captain Janeway, but over-all these books have been a very enjoyable ride and a great new sub-series within the broader Star Trek novel universe.

Having now arrived at Ms. Beyer’s fifth Voyager novel, Protectors, I have at last caught up with the story.  (Though there’s more to come, as Protectors has been described as the first book in a new trilogy of Voyager novels.)  Protectors splits its focus between two main stories.  The returned-to-life Kathryn Janeway has returned to the Alpha Quadrant, so that Starfleet Command can assess her fitness to return to duty, and so she can take stock of her life following her dramatic death and resurrection.  Meanwhile, with the continuing fate of the Full Circle fleet’s mission in the Delta Quadrant uncertain, Captain Chakotay casts about looking for a mission to prove the worth of their work in the Delta Quadrant.  Harry Kim pitches him on an idea to seek out the origin of an anomaly encountered by Voyager years before (in the second season Voyager episode, “Twisted”).  The conclusion of that episode raised the intriguing possibility that the anomaly was in fact a life form, trying to communicate with Voyager, but that idea was never followed up on.  Ms. Beyer’s story reveals that Kim has been working for years to decipher the anomaly’s attempts at communication, and that he believes he has pinpointed the anomany’s area of origin.  Voyager travels to those coordinates, only to discover a deep mystery: a vast area of space shielded by an enormous cloaking device; a planet made up of a variety of lifeforms that appear to have been harvested from other, now-destroyed planets in the system; and powerful wave-forms (versions of the anomaly encountered by Voyager) that just might be sentient.

Once again Ms. Beyer has crafted an intriguing new sci-fi story as a centerpiece for her novel, and once again I found myself quite tickled by the interesting science-fiction story-line she has created.  As I have written previously, I have been pleasantly surprised by this novel series’ emphasis on stories featuring new sci-fi ideas and new alien races.  This Voyager series has become as much about exploring strange new worlds as has the Captain Riker-centric Titan series, and I really like that development.  It’s also great to see this intriguing concept from an old Voyager episode followed up on at last, and brought to a satisfactory conclusion.  (My only complaint in this regard is one I expressed in my last review: that these books seem to have made a mess of the geography of the Delta Quadrant.  The anomaly encountered by Voyager in that early second season episode would have been close to where Voyager first started on its long journey home, after having been swept 70,000 light-years from home in the series’ pilot.  They told us in that episode it would take decades to traverse that distance.  We know that, in the series, Voyager found various short-cut methods of covering the distance in far less time, but that should still leave the location of a second-season episode as one that would take years for them to get back to.)

After my worries about the books returning to the status quo of the TV show following Janeway’s resurrection, I was happy to read that Janeway didn’t immediately wind up back in command of Voyager.  I was pleased that she was separated from Chakotay and the Voyager fleet for much of this novel, and I enjoyed the developments on Earth.

I was, though, a little confused by Janeway’s actions.  She bounces all over the place, mentally, in this book.  First she’s uncertain whether she wants command of the Voyager fleet, then she’s desperate to have it, then she’s uncertain again.  Then she asks Jean-Luc Picard for advice, who suggests that rather than wait for Starfleet to resolve its dithering, she just act like she’s in command of the fleet.  Janeway follows this advice for a while, until an emotional counseling session leads her to reverse course, leave Starfleet, and go spend several weeks gardening with her mom.  Then she’s summoned back to Starfleet and given command of the fleet, which she accepts.

Whew.  Ok, I can believe that even a strong-willed Star Trek hero would have difficulty making important life decisions following the dramatic events of Janeway’s recent history.  So some uncertainty seems natural and honest.  But all this back-and-forth in terms of Janeway’s behavior reminds me unpleasantly of the manic differences in characterization that her character was plagued with over the run of the TV show (something I complained about at length in my previous Voyager review).  Additionally, as a reader I had a hard time knowing what to make of Janeway’s continuing changes-of-mind.  When she’s given advice by Captain Picard, my assumption would be that we should think that was good advice that she should follow.  Who better to give guidance to another Star Trek hero than Picard??  But when Janeway eventually decides NOT to follow that advice and to leave Starfleet, the book seems to suggest that is a good idea.  But that would mean that our hero Picard’s advice was bad, which seems to me like a surprising development.  Meanwhile, the one character who questions Janeway’s decision to abruptly leave Starfleet and ignore everything going on with the Voyager fleet, even as we know our heroes on Voyager are facing peril, is the Doctor.  The Doctor expresses what I as a reader was thinking, shocked surprise that Janeway seemed content to garden with her mom while so much was happening elsewhere.  But in the book, at that point we’d been given reason to worry about something having altered the Doctor’s personality matrix somehow, so he was not, at the time, a character for the reader to fully trust.  Having a compromised character be the only one to doubt Janeway seems to me to indicate that Ms. Beyer wanted to reader to think the Doctor was wrong, and Janeway’s leave from Starfleet was the right, healthiest choice for her.  But I agreed with the Doctor, and that scene just made me question Janeway’s actions more, even as I was left puzzling over what the heck was going on with the Doctor and uncertain if we were supposed to think the character was in his right mind at the time or not.

It’s been several publishing years since the events of David Mack’s universe-shaking trilogy Destiny, but I appreciated that Ms. Beyer remembered that, in the timeline of the Trek books, these Voyager stories take place only a very short time after Destiny.  So I was pleasantly surprised to read Ms. Beyer exploring the repercussions of Destiny, and depicting a Starfleet that has been shaken to its core by the Federation’s near-annihilation at the hands of the Borg.  Very nice attention to continuity there, and it looks like this will be continued fodder for the next few books, as Seven of Nine is forced to return home to get to the bottom of the apparently quite underhanded actions taken by Starfleet Medical.

I also enjoyed that we’re seeing continued attention, in this book, to other Voyager story-lines begun in the previous novels: Reg Barclay’s concerns about the on-the-loose evil hologram (accidentally set loose by the Full Circle fleet back in Unworthy); continued strife amongst the Paris family, in this case an agonizing story in which Tom’s widowed mother is petitioning the courts to take custody of Tom and B’Elanna Torres’ daughter Miral away from them; Harry Kim’s desire to further his career, even aboard Voyager where there seems to be little room for advancement; Seven’s new relationship with Counselor Cambridge, and lots more.

In my last review I spent a lot of time questioning the resurrection of Janeway.  I didn’t address the Janeway-Chakotay relationship, but I must admit I am not at all sold on that as well.  In Ms. Beyer’s books she’s written Chakotay and Janeway as soul-mates who have finally entered into a romantic relationship with one another.  This feels like Voyager uber-fan dreaming to me.  I am sure there are Voyager fans who have for years felt Janeway and Chakotay were perfect for one another, but I am not one of them.  This isn’t The X-Files, where it was clear from the start that the two platonic friends really were meant to be together someday.  I never felt, watching Voyager, that Janeway and Chakotay harbored feelings for one another.  The handful of times the show hinted in that direction, they pulled back, as if the writers realized the same thing I did, that it was not the right way to go with those characters.  So I’m not really buying into the idea of Janeway and Chakotay as lovers.  I was OK with the idea in Full Circle, when Janeway’s death drove a grief-crazed Chakotay to some dark new places for the character.  But now that Janeway is back among the living, I’m not loving the idea of this Janeway-Chakotay romance.  Fortunately, this book keeps the characters apart for much of the novel, and throws some new obstacles in between them at the end.  We’ll see where this goes.

I alluded above to some questions about the Doctor, and this was my least favorite aspect of this book’s story.  I was annoyed that we had to wonder, almost until the book’s final pages, just what the heck was going on with the Doctor.  When the answer was revealed, it felt to me like a big step backwards for the character.  I’ll keep my peace until I read the next two books, to see if this storyline goes somewhere interesting.  But for now, it feels like a huge step back, for no good reason, when I’d rather see this character (probably the best character from the Voyager TV show, in my opinion) continue to develop forward.

I’d read that Protectors was the start of a new Voyager trilogy, but for most of the novel, it seemed to be a pretty stand-alone tale, or perhaps more of a sequel/resolution to the story-lines begun in The Eternal Tide rather than the start of a new trilogy of stories.  But while things seemed decently resolved by around page 300 of the book, the last 60-70 pages raised a whole host of intriguing new story-lines.  Voyager encounters what appears to be an alliance between several antagonistic species they had conflict with during their first journey through the Delta Quadrant, and also discovers a powerful new Delta Quadrant civilization, albeit one whose true intentions are unknown.  Meanwhile, Tom Paris returns to the Alpha Quadrant to argue for custody of his daughter, while Seven of Nine also returns to the Alpha Quadrant to try to get to the bottom of whatever mysterious and possibly dastardly goings-on have been happening at Starfleet Medical, with former Borg Drone (and former romantic partner of Seven’s) Axum (from the season six finale, “Unimatrix Zero”). Those last 60-70 pages left me hungry for the next installment.

While I haven’t been able to praise these last two novels quite as universally as I did Ms. Beyer’s first three Voyager books, I’m certainly enjoying this new corner of the Star Trek literary universe, and I’m eager to see where these characters go from 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 Electric

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

Star Trek: Voyager – Full CircleUnworthyChildren of the Storm, The Eternal Tide

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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