Sunday, October 26, 2014

Star Trek-Myriad Universes: Infinity's Prism (A Book Review)

Book reviews are a rarity for me, I only do them when a novel really hits home in some way. What makes the review you are about to read odder is that I am going to recommend a book that consists of three novellas set in the Star Trek universe. Well, let me qualify that statement, yes this collection of stories has characters from all five of the Star Trek television series but the events that take place are in alternate timelines where something went wrong.

While I have attended one Star Trek convention years ago and still watch the shows on Netflix, I don’t consider myself one of the fanatical “Trekkies.” Generally speaking, I never got so involved with Trek that I bought a Starfleet uniform, kept toy models of phasers, or debated the finer technical points of starship design. Star Trek novels are a different matter though, despite the fact that most of them in my experience have turned out to be huge disappointments.

There were exceptions like First Frontier by Diane Carey and James Kirkland and Star Trek: Federation by Judith Reeves-Stevens but I found most others, at best, poorly executed examples of grade school level writing. In actuality, I felt some were so bad that they in fact gave me hope that some of my own crappy stories could one day be published.

I discovered Infinity’s Prism during one afternoon while cruising around Amazon. Already being on an alternate universe/timeline reading and writing kick, I found the synopsis for the three novellas intriguing.

The first Novella is “A Less Perfect Union” by William Leisner and takes place in a universe where twenty-second century Earth never joined the nascent interstellar alliance that Captain Jonathan Archer of the Star Trek: Enterprise series worked so hard to establish. In this story, taking place just at the end of the ST: Enterprise series, Earth is overtaken by an isolationist movement and severs most relations with the other species that would make up the United Federation of Planets. Seeing the benefits of unity and cooperation, the Vulcans, Andorians, and several other species go ahead and form a Coalition of Planets without Earth. In the following years, a Cold War develops between the two, largely aided by several unfortunate incidents on both sides.

It takes a full century for the government of Earth to realize that going it alone in a hostile galaxy without any allies is next to impossible unless they want to abandon all their progressive principles.  At this point, Earth has become something akin to the old European colonial powers forcing treaties on underdeveloped alien planets and maintaining military ground forces on human colony worlds wanting independence.

In an effort to show goodwill the government of Earth sends the new starship Enterprise, under the command of Captain Christopher Pike, to the Coalition of Planets headquarters to petition for membership. The main thrust of the story involves the first officer of the Enterprise, Commander James T, Kirk, who harbors outright hate for the Vulcans. This alternate Kirk’s hate originates from an incident where is wife and infant son are killed when the small starship they were on was accidental destroyed by a Vulcan patrol ship as it entered Coalition space to take part in an interstellar conference.    

What really drew me into this story was how it relates to the xenophobia we see all over the world today, and especially here in the United States when it comes to the insane reaction many “upstanding Christian citizens” showed towards refugee children from Central America. Those kids are running from rampant poverty and viscous drug gangs and many on the conservative side of American politics have likened them to an invading army out to destroy the country.

Another aspect of this story that had elements from real life was how many intelligent people cannot shake simple prejudice. The best example I can give is the never-ending conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis. Frankly, the worst enemy the Palestinian people have had to face is their own government but the Israelis are not far behind. Each side is caught up in their own hate and rage that neither sees the other as human. Both sides, and their various allies around the world, eagerly parade around pictures and stories of dead children completely ignoring the fact that their own actions kill kids on the other side.

“A Less Perfect Union” delves deeply into the idea that once such hate is sown that it take monumental efforts by scores of good people to even begin to fix the damage. The sad truth though is that even with people doing their best to end the hate and mistrust all it takes is a few to rekindle the rage and destruction.     

The second novella, “Places of Exile” by Christopher L. Bennett, is centered on the series Star Trek: Voyager. Set in the twenty-forth century the ship and crew of the U.S.S. Voyager are thrown clear across the galaxy to the Delta Quadrant by an enormously powerful entity. The starship Voyager itself was not designed for such a long journey, so the crew must struggle to survive in a very hostile environment while slowly making their way home. Where the alternate history comes in is that Captain Kathryn Janeway makes a different choice during a critical situation that she did in one of the television episodes. This alternate decision ends up killing several of the main character and nearly damages Voyager to the point the crew has to abandon any hope of returning home.

I must admit there is not as strong as a moral component in this story except that by killing off several series main characters it forced the survivors into new directions and choices they never would have considered. I once had an extremely low opinion of Voyager, one episode that had them finding a 1940’s Chevy truck floating in space that they brought into the shuttle bay and promptly started as if it had been sitting in some driveway. Making matters worse, in that episode they also soon find Amelia Earhart in suspended animation on one of the planets in the Delta Quadrant. However, since I started occasionally watching Voyager on Netflix I have found many of the episodes to be quite good.

The final novella completely blew me away! “Seeds of Dissent” by James Swallow takes place in a universe where Khan Noonien Singh conquered Earth at the end of the Eugenics Wars changing human destiny forever. For those who do not know, the character of Khan made his first appearance in the original series on the episode entitled “Space Seed” back in 1967.

Khan is a genetically enhanced human with greatly augmented physical and mental strengths including ruthless ambition and the desire to control everything. Khan and other augments like him launched the Eugenics Wars in an effort to conquer the planet. After their defeat by an alliance of nations, Khan and about ninety others escaped Earth in an experimental nuclear powered space ship and disappeared into the void. In the “Space Seed” episode, Kirk and his Enterprise stumble upon Khan’s ship adrift in space. Not knowing Khan and other augments are aboard Kirk awakens them from suspended animation where they promptly take over the Enterprise. Kirk and his crew find a way to defeat Khan and his people and take back the ship. At the end of the episode, Kirk shows mercy to Khan by exiling them all on a barely habitable planet.

In the story “Seeds of Dissent” Khan is victorious and it is a group of normal humans that leave Earth as refugees on the experimental space ship. These alternate refugees are found four hundred years later by the starship Defiance, which is a ship in the fleet serving the direct descendant of Khan. These descendants of Khan are just as warlike and vicious and have conquered a good chunk of the galaxy enslaving hundreds of different species.

There is a resistance though, made up of the conquered species, it is small and weak, but it has at least seeded agents all through Khan’s interstellar empire. Moreover, it is one of these resistance agents on the starship Defiance that sees the normal human refugees as a way to hurt Khan’s empire.  
The curious thing about this story for me though, was the flashbacks to what amounts to our era. Despite it being wholly self-destructive, it looks like Khan and the other augments had fanatically followers who were normal humans. I could not help but think of insane Westerners who are even now fighting alongside the terrorist group Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

“Seeds of Dissent” also hints that Khan Noonien Singh is a very charismatic individual and that during the Eugenic Wars convinced quite a few normal humans he is an enlightened person and a great leader with a grand vision. I admit this is a bit of stretch, but after reading those parts all I could think of is how several Republicans and a few washed up movie stars have rallied around Russian president Vlad Putin calling him a great leader. A person who has quashed just about every free institution in Russia along with jailing most prominent individuals that speaks against him. At the same time, these delusional Americans badmouth the democratically elected president of the United States.

All three novellas in Infinity’s Prism is extremely well thought out and frankly, I came away wanting more from each of them. There are at least two more books in the series and at some point I plan on ordering them. One piece of advice, I bought this book used off Amazon, the price buying it new or for the Kindle was a little excessive in my opinion. Whatever the case, I highly recommend it for everyone, even those not fans of the Star Trek series.


Pixel Peeper said...

This sounds interesting, especially as you relate it to current events, though I'm usually not a reader of science fiction. I admit (please don't judge me!) that I watched Star Trek as a teenager in Germany because I had a bit of a crush on William Shatner.

Beach Bum said...

Pixel: Maybe it's just me seeing some uncomfortable similarities with real life in the stories. Actually I don't really like my review on "Seeds of Dissent", I don't feel I expressed the depth of how much I liked the story. Science fiction ain't for everyone, in fact I go through long periods where I can't find anything I like in the genre.