16 April 2019

Star Trek: The Destiny Era: Fallen Gods

Mass market paperback, 358 pages
Published 2012

Acquired October 2012
Read December 2018
Star Trek: Titan: Fallen Gods
by Michael A. Martin

November 2382 ("roughly Stardate 59833.8"*)
This is a hard book to say much about, because it's just boring. Like, little happens, so what is there to discuss? There's two main strands, so I'll take them in turn.

The first is a by-now-typical Titan exploration story. Continuing its mission into the Gum Nebula, Titan has come across a huge pulsar, but despite the lethal radiation it spills out, it has a life-supporting planet in orbit. You might think this could be exciting, but it is far from so. First off, the beginning of the book alternates what's happening on Titan with what the aliens on the planet are doing, and the planetside chapters read like a parody of bad science fiction. Nonsense words just piled on top of each other interminably, lots of names with apostrophes, an alien race that is divided into two factions, one literally devoted to destroying things and the other to not destroying things. There's no nuance or worldbuilding here. The entire planet is a two-dimensional cipher.

Meanwhile on Titan... not much is happening, either. Like in Seize the Fire, there are an inordinate amount of meetings. It feels like these characters are never doing things, they're just being told things. There's a fifteen-page chapter where Melora Pazlar tells Captain Riker that there's life on the planet, something that we already know, and something that doesn't require this level of justification. When Titan sends a shuttle to the planet, it's hard to care about what it's trying to accomplish, because Michael Martin has done no work to make this planet or species interesting enough to be worth saving. In light of the Titan series's original mission of bringing a sense of wonder back to Star Trek, this book is a dismal failure.

The other plot line continues a thread begun in my previous read, the Typhon Pact novel Paths of Disharmony. Now than Andor has left the Federation, Starfleet has decided it doesn't trust the Andorians still serving, and wants them out of sensitive positions, moved into positions where they can't do any harm. Titan has seven Andorians serving aboard, and so a starship is coming to pick them up and take them back to Federation space. This paranoia is unbecoming the Federation, and hard to believe in. The Federation isn't even in a state of hostility with Andor! These particular Andorians haven't even given up their Federation citizenship! In Deep Space Nine, Worf was never treated in such a way and the Federation was at war with his people. The book tries to justify it with the statement that "during the months since Typhon Pact–allied Breen agents made off with Federation slipstream technology, Starfleet Command has been more concerned about internal security than at any time since the parasite infestation eighteen years ago." But in Martin's eagerness to cram in a gratuitous reference to "Conspiracy," he seems to have missed that surely Starfleet was much more concerned about internal security during the time it carried on a two-year war with shapeshifters! Compared to that, Andorexit is nothing.

This thread develops when an Andorian vessel appears to lay claim to Titan's Andorians itself. The commander of this ship is a cackling, evil caricature. Andor leaving the Federation didn't convince me in Paths of Disharmony, and if this is the kind of stories the writers are telling about it, it's still not convincing me. A lot of this story is dependent on you caring about what happens to Titan's most prominent Andorian crewmember, Pava Ek'noor sh'Aqabaa. I don't, because Martin does little to make me, and I even read the old Starfleet Academy comics from which she derives. (I did find the last chapter with her in it very existentially spooky, though; that was well done.)

The legalistic manner the forced transfer plotline resolved in felt very contrived. And then Riker and another captain smirk about how two of their officers are going to get some. Lol sexy Deltans, amirite?

Also what's weird is that the two halves of the story feel like they were written by different people, because they barely even interact. Warp drive, even warp-capable ships, are a big threat to the planet by the pulsar, but no one even mentions this when the Andorian ships comes warping in.

The big problem is that Michael Martin can't write characters as far as I can tell. No one here has a personality, each has a job and a species, and that's their entirety. They exist to deliver exposition and do whatever it is their species does. But how can I care about such poorly written characters? And thus, how can I care about anything in this book? Thankfully, this seems to be Michael Martin's last contribution to Destiny-era fiction.

Continuity Notes:
  • There's an unresolved thread that the Tholian-allied Andorians created transporter duplicates of Andorian Starfleet officers who refused to come over. I've no doubt this will be of huge significance to the Typhon Pact story going forward. Certainly, something like no one ever mentioning this ever again would never happen.
Other Notes:
  • The novel analogizes the Federation attitude toward its Andorian citizens to the United States's attitude toward Japanese-Americans during World War II. Alyssa Ogawa tells Pava about it. Yet for some reason, we don't get this scene; instead we get this painful scene where Pava tells Tuvok about the Japanese internment, so each character is constantly explaining American history to the other, smothering what could be a potent analogy.
  • A prime example of Martin's over-explaining: after two paragraphs about turbulence the shuttle is going through, we're told, "Bralik and Eviku sat in grave silence. The Ferengi geologist and Arkenite xenobiologist both seemed to have turned slightly green, no doubt because of the turbulence the shuttlecraft's approach pattern was generating." Like, why is everything after that comma even there? If it's so obvious you have to work "no doubt" into the narration, maybe you don't need to say it at all!
  • It's official, I'm totally over the novels' style of Andorian name. Take a look at the load of nonsense letters on p. 212 when the full names of all seven Andorians on Titan are given. It's unreadable. The way Martin uses them doesn't even make sense; the retcon that established this naming practice in Avatar makes it clear that Andorians went by the abbreviated version of their forenames even in formal situations: Shras, Erib, and so on. No one on screen calls Shran "Commander th'Zoarhi." Yet in this book, it's a profusion of apostrophes as Andorians are always calling each other by their surnames... something they literally never do in the canon!
  • There's also this really dumb bit where Pava can't remember that she saw Tholians on the Andorian ship because she has memory loss, until she sees Ogawa, who is wearing a scarf of Tholian silk, which triggers her memory. This makes no sense, because as the novel points out, it's a uniform code violation. It's also an improbably enormous coincidence: Ogawa just happens to wear her Tholian silk scarf for the first time on the day where Pava meets Tholians and loses her memory of them? It's also completely unnecessary, as there's no plot function for Pava's memory loss to begin with, given it lasts all of two pages.
  • I feel like Martin has completely squandered WhiteBlue's potential as a member of the Titan crew. Poor guy. :(
  • The trade dress on this installment is subpar. The spine and back cover don't match the previous books, even though they have the same designer, Alan Dingman! Couldn't he just open up his old Photoshop template and reuse it? The "A VOYAGE OF THE STARSHIP TITAN" on the back cover, which I always liked, is gone. The vertical "TITAN" on the front cover, which used to be done with a very subtle embossing, is now just part of the image. Plus the cover image itself is dead boring, beginning what will be a trend (at least Riker makes it onto this one, I guess, given all of the future installments are just ship images), after the first several books had excellent covers. Bring back Cliff Nielsen! And worst of all, we've gone from matte finish to glossy!

* If this is the rough stardate, how many digits does the precise one have?

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