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Star Trek Enterprise: Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel

Star Trek Enterprise was was an interesting failure as a TV show.  Its pilot episode showed great promise, but the show quickly fell into the trap of recycling familiar Trek story tropes.  Its first two seasons were very mediocre, and the show quickly shed most of the viewers who had watched the pilot.  Things took a sharp turn for the better in the third season, when the writers decided to tell a more complex, serialized story-line.  Things got even better in the fourth season, when the show finally embraced its concept as a prequel to the Original Series, we finally got to see the kind of show it could have/should have been.  And then, of course, it was cancelled, and that was that.

But Pocket Books’ series of Star Trek novels have been creating a phenomenal, inter-connected web of Trek stories moving beyond the finales of the various Trek TV shows.  They have not ignored Enterprise, and have boldly pushed the series forward into territory it might have explored had the show been allowed to continue.  (Click here for my review of Enterprise: Kobayashi Maru.)

I was at first delighted by the series of novels telling the story of The Romulan War, an event hinted at in The Original Series.  But in the end, I felt those books disappointed.  (Click here for my review of The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s Wing, and here for my review of The Romulan War: To Brave the Storm.)  When the Romulan War series was hurridly wrapped up (that’s how it seemed to me, at least, with Michael A. Martin’s planned trilogy shortened to just two books), I figured the post-Enterprise series of novels were over.

But, to my surprise, Pocket Books turned to a high-level Trek author, Christopher L. Bennett, to launch a new series of post-Enterprise novels, now subtitled “Rise of the Federation.”  These books take place following the end of the Romulan War and the founding of the United Federation of Planets.  The first novel, A Choice of Futures, followed now-Admiral Archer and all the other members of the former Enterprise command crew, now divided onto different ships, including the Endeavor, under the command of Captain T’Pol, and the Pioneer, under the command of Malcolm Reed.  I thought this first novel was a terrific read and a compelling exploration of just how the noble Federation of Kirk’s era came to be.  I was impressed at how thoughtfully Mr. Bennett examined many aspects of the Federation that Trek fans have taken for granted for fifty tears.  I loved the way he moved all of the Enterprise characters forward  into new situations, rather than having everyone be trapped in amber or the status quo of a TV series.  And I loved the way he was able to balance this focus on all the characters in the Enterprise ensemble with the thought-provoking world-building I was alluding to before, really diving into the idea of this new series as an examination of how the society of the Federation could have come to be, and all the challengers and learning curves this idealistic new interstellar union would have faced in its early years.  (Click here for my full review of Star Trek Enterprise: Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures.)

I was pleased that I didn’t have to wait long for Mr. Bennett’s follow-up.  Star Trek Enterprise: Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel has an unfortunately verbose title but it’s a terrific book, a great follow-up to the first installment, and one that widens the scope of the story being told considerably.  I get the sense from this book that Mr Bennett might be planning a long and complex series of novels, and I very much hope that comes to pass.

The book’s title is exceedingly clever, as it’s at once a fan-pleasing reference to the Original Series episode “Journey to Babel” (in which the Babe planetoid was the site of an interstellar peace conference) while also being an allusion to the biblical story that provides a clear analogy to the challenges being chronicled in this book of trying to forge a united Federation from diverse alien species.

The novel continues the format begun in A Choice of Futures of following multiple story-lines unfolding at once.  We see Admiral Archer, T’Pol and Hoshi on Endeavor, Reed and Mayweather on Pioneer, and even the presumed-dead Trip, now a part of the underground Section 31, all investigating different aspects of a broad new threat to the young Federation.  Tower of Babel has many story-lines, but the main focus is on the proposal to admit the Rigelians into the new Federation, and the multi-leveled scheme masterminded by the Orions to use this new debate within the Federation as a way to sew trouble.

As I was in A Choice of Futures, I continue to be impressed by Mr. Bennett’s thoughtful approach to these stories of the early days of the United Federation of Planets.  Mr. Bennett has clearly put a lot of thought into just how the benign, peaceful Federation of the 23rd & 25th centuries could have come about.  I am finding it hugely enjoyable in these two books, and counting, of Mr. Bennett’s “Rise of the Federation” series to discover the many challenges this burgeoning inter-stellar alliance faced, and the ways in which the heroes of Star Trek Enterprise have each been involved, in their own way, in helping to shape the Federation that would come.  I was glad to see that despite the way he has now scattered the familiar Enterprise characters (and what a delight it is to see these characters moving on with their careers and their lives), Mr. Bennett has shaped his story so that they each have a significant part to play in the tale being told.

One of my favorite aspects of all of Mr. Bennett’s Star Trek novels is that way that, with each of his books, he always chooses one aspect of the grand Star Trek myths to focus on, weaving together references from all of the different movies and TV shows and also, sometimes, non-canonical sources as well, into a unified tapestry.  In this book, Mr. Bennett has chosen to focus on the Rigellians.  The name of this alien race is of course familiar to Star Trek fans, but we’ve never been given a definitive version of these aliens.  Indeed, quite the contrary, over the years there have been many, often quite-contradictory, references to the Rigellians.  Mr. Bennett has set before himself the grand task of straightening out all of these myriad, contradictory references into a consistent continuity.  As such, he has postulated a Rigellian system made up of many different planets, Rigel I through X.  (This solution has its basis in Trek continuity, as there have been previous references to various Roman numeral-numbered Rigel planets.) What Mr. Bennett has done is to carefully gather all references to the Rigellians, and assign each of the different “types” of Rigellians that have been referenced to specific planet in the Rigel system.  This is a very clever idea, and is a lot of fun to read.  (I also, as always, enjoyed Mr Bennett’s detailed notes at the end of the book, in which he itemized the sources of the many references to Rigel from Trek lore that he utilized in the book.)  My one complaint is that this leads to the one weakness of the book in my eyes, which is that I sometimes had trouble, when reading the novel, in keeping all the different types of Rigellians straight.  I applaud Mr. Bennett’s comprehensive work, but I wonder if perhaps had the focus been more tightly on just a few different types of the Rigellians, certain parts of the book would have been stronger.

There are many ways in which this novel, though set in the Enterprise era, connects to the Original Series, as is proper for a series designed mainly to be a prequel to the Original Series.  As was obvious from the title, this book features a major interstellar peace-conference at the Babel planetoid (just as in the Original Series episode “Journey to Babel”), a wonderful touch.  I love the idea that Babel represented an important neutral territory since the dawn of the Federation.  I was pleased that Sam Kirk, introduced in the last book, continued to be a major character in this book.  (Though I was a little less interested in his soap-opera-ish romance with Valeria Williams.  Both Sam and Val are great original characters, but I am not interested in a prolonged will-they-or-won’t-they dance between the two of them.  I hope this story-line gets some needed forward momentum in Mr. Bennett’s upcoming third “Rise of the Fedation” novel.  By the way, since I am talking about that next book, I will beg yet again for an author to pull Trip out if the dreadful Section 31 morass that the character has been trapped in for five-to-six books now.  It feels like the wrong direction for this character, and each book that this continues to go on makes me more and more frustrated about this particular story-line.)

Tower of Babel is a great book and a terrific continuation of this “Rise of the Federation” story.  THIS is what the Enterprise TV show should have been all about, showing us the baby steps and the early trails and tribulations faced by this young, unprecedented interstellar alliance.  I eagerly await Mr. Bennett’s third “Rise of the Federation” book,  The title Uncertain Logic seems to be a reference to Star Trek III, and gives me hope that Sarek of Vulcan will play a role in the story.  That would be super-cool.  I can’t wait for it.

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 StormThe Eternal Tide, Protectors

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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