03 December 2019

Star Trek: The Destiny Era: Cold Equations: The Persistence of Memory

Mass market paperback, 385 pages
Published 2012

Acquired April 2017
Read July 2019
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Cold Equations, Book I: The Persistence of Memory
by David Mack

January 2384
First off, let me say it's nice to read an adventure for the Enterprise that has nothing to do with space politics. Though not every Destiny-era story I've read so far has been political, all of the Enterprise ones have: Paths of Disharmony, The Struggle Within, Plagues of Night, Brinkmanship (and, earlier on, Losing the Peace). But even though space politics influence the story (the Breen are involved), the focus of the story is elsewhere, at long last.

Persistence of Memory is the first book of a trilogy, and it's also a novella-length frame around a novel-length flashback. I'll discuss the flashback first. Part Two, "Noonien," is in the first person and the present tense (both are unusual in Star Trek fiction, let alone together) following Data's creator, Noonien Soong, from the moment of his apparent death in "Brothers" up until the present. In a sense, it's there for a very long exposition dump; we find out how Soong might have seemed to die but did not, what he's been up to in the interim, how B-4 from Nemesis fits in with what Next Generation itself told us about Soong's android prototypes, what he thinks of the events of the novel Immortal Coil, and so on.

But in another sense, it's a great portrait of an unusual mind, a man obsessed with himself and his legacy. Mack wisely doesn't give him a tragic or overwrought backstory to explain why he is this way; he just get on with telling us who Soong is. We see how he plans quite elaborately, again and again, his tendency to devise long complicated routes to his goals often preventing him from actually reaching those goals. He's never emotionally fulfilled in one sense, and in another, he clearly finds fulfillment in the plan, not entirely the achievements. But he hates those moments where he realizes someone out there might know more than him. I really enjoyed all of this, and read it very quickly. It also lays a good groundwork for the "return" of Data, though I don't have much to say about that event itself, since we haven't seen much of it. I will weigh in on this once future novels have done something (or failed to) with Data.

The framing novella, though, feels like David Mack on autopilot, something it flags up itself a couple times by mentioning other stories where he's done the same things as here. There's a super-secret away mission without backup gone horribly wrong (i.e., A Time to Kill and Failsafe), and the Enterprise takes refuge in a gas giant (i.e., "Starship Down" and Wildfire). The characters feel very flat; compare Brinkmanship where the narrative makes the Enterprise's mission personal to Crusher even without a clear personal hook-- here there is one for many of the crew, especially La Forge, but it never feels personal. I'm not really into fast-paced intense action sequences in prose when there's no emotional stakes, and Persistence of Memory was no exception. I've read its like before, and I imagine I'll read it again.

The frame would be competent, but not bad, if it wasn't for one thing: the death of the Enterprise's security chief, Jasminder Choudhury. There are two problems with it. The first is that it is a borderline ridiculous repetitive thing to have happen to Worf, who has been married twice, and had his wife die both times. Now he's in a third committed long-term relationship (though not a marriage), and she dies too. Like, really? Come on, come up with a new idea. Books II and III will have to work very hard to convince me that this is not as clear-cut an example of fridging as you can have. I had to stop reading the book and explain to my wife how bad it was, so much did I roll my eyes.

The second problem is that I just don't care about Jasminder Choudhury. While ongoing Treklit concepts like New Frontier and the Deep Space Nine relaunch were filled with likable characters I cared about, post-Nemesis TNG fiction has struggled to build up any interesting original characters, either using them inconsistently (e.g., Leybenzon, Kadohata) or rarely using them interestingly (e.g., T'Lana, Chen). Choudury was in the latter group; the only book I can even remember her making an impression in was The Struggle Within. Her characterization within this book and most others was very generic, and I don't really have any sense of how she related to most of the other characters; the book says Picard feels "profound sadness" at her death, but you don't believe it. I just didn't care, while surely against the whole point of killing her is to make me feel something. (Brinkmanship made me care much more about anonymous Vennette farmers who didn't even die!)

Continuity Notes:
  • Jeffrey Lang's Immortal Coil is very heavily referenced. I don't think I've read it since it came out in February 2002. (If I ever reread it, it was before August 2003, when my reading records begin.) Mack provides a lot of recaps and summary, but it's kind of a complicated book with a lot going on.
  • I was surprised that (unless I missed it) in among all the sewing up of Soong continuity, there were no references to Arik Soong, Noonien's ancestor from Enterprise who supposedly inspired a family turn to cybernetics.
  • There's a mention of the Grigari, who I really liked in Federation and the Millennium trilogy.
Other Notes:
  • "[A]s Picard had begun the paternal duty of reading his boy to sleep, he had been impressed with his scion's growing vocabulary and seemingly insatiable appetite for narratives. By the time he cracked open the sixth tome of the evening's recitation, he began to question whether it would be unethical to let Crusher use a mild hypospray to hasten the boy's descent into slumber." Judging by the overwrought wording of this passage (e.g., "scion, "narratives," "tome"), little René isn't the only one showing off his vocabulary.
  • There's a scene from the perspective of Aneta Šmrhová, Enterprise tactical officer, that establishes in three years, she's never really done anything interesting. I'm always kind of disappointed when the novels imply that absent a television program, our heroes don't go on twenty-six-plus wacky adventures per year.

No comments:

Post a Comment