Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Myriad Universes: Infinity's Prism

Last year, six short novels exploring some of our favorite character’s Mirror Universe counterparts were published in two volumes. While I thought the consistency of the novels was greatly uneven, the format’s success has allowed the publishers of Star Trek fiction to develop similar projects, and this summer two more volumes of short novels are being released, this time each being created in some sort of altered reality we as an audience have never seen before. The first volume of Myriad Universes is entitled Infinity's Prism and includes entries from Christopher L. Bennett, James Swallow, and my friend Bill Leisner.

Leisner’s A Less Perfect Union comes first, and explores a universe in the era of TOS had the Terra Prime movement a hundred years before succeeded and aliens had been banished from Earth. By setting his point of divergence so far in the past, characters like Kirk and Pike noticeably different than the ones we know. Yet their biases and personalities make them feel that they are essentially the people we know, only transformed by the context of their universe. Despite the ease with which the human Starfleet after Terra Prime could have been characterized as ruthless and bigoted, Leisner goes the other route and shows humans at different stages of dealing with the bigotry endorsed by their society and striving to move past it. I felt the resolution for one of the main characters was a bit pat, and at times I felt the author overindulged in showing counterparts of less well known characters, but in the end I felt Leisner succeeded in what I imagine his objectives were: tell an entertaining and interesting story, while also contrasting and connecting this new universe with the one we know so well.

In contrast Places of Exile seems to me to be quite its predecessor’s opposite. The point of divergence here is set in the middle of an episode of Voyager, making the differences between the characters very slight. A different approach, yet it doesn’t seem to work as well. For instance, it seems to me unlikely that the mere death of a couple of key crewmembers would have sent others on such destructive paths. The crew manages to forge an alliance with others after becoming stranded in the Delta Quadrant. Bennett’s major weakness as a writer is his inability to create characters who speak and act like real people. His tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves, and are too quick to profess their feelings or accept the feelings of others. No one would respond as well to the brush off Kes gives a boyfriend as this one does; those undergoing ‘epiphanies’ about love rarely emerge with decisions well formed, never to be changed. And those having sex for therapeutic purposes are almost never aware at the time that it is the case. It’s as though the author has based these relationships on poorly written television shows, and this failure to make characters believable makes it difficult for a reader to really care about what happens to them. As always, Bennett does a good job with explaining away some of the scientific questions the series left with us, the poor characterization leaves this novel a little short. This is becoming a recurring problem with Bennett’s work, and recent reviews of a newer novel don’t leave much hope that he is adapting. It’s a shame because he does have some real talent.

James Swallow sets the breaking point of Seeds of Dissent during the Eugenics Wars, where Khan emerges victorious and a band of non-enhanced humans board the sleeper ship Botany Bay. The story takes place in 2376, aboard the warship of Princeps Julian Bashir. He encounters the Botany Bay so there is friction on that front, throw in a plot about rebels and that's about it. The three-pronged nature of the plot lets Swallow avoid the basic good v. evil stance we see in a lot of these types of stories, but it was all too clear halfway through how things would have to proceed to get to the conclusion any intelligent reader could see coming. There are some nice twists, but I can’t help thinking that the opposite ending might have been more effective. I also wish that Swallow had spent more time contextualizing the broader universe in which his characters reside. Of the three novels, I would only really want to see another story in this universe.

Taken as a whole, Infinity's Prism is almost certainly worth your while, with only one truly weak story among the three. Of course, if you aren’t one to seek verisimilitude in the relationships in Star Trek books, you might end up liking that one best.

1 comment:

steve-mollmann said...

I'm only halfway through Places of Exile, but my first thought on the Kes/boyfriend scenes was that she had used her telepathic powers to push him in the right directions. Both times he came around to her point-of-view extremely quickly. It's a neat idea, albeit very, very creepy. I have some more thoughts on characterization here, but I think I'll save them for once I'm done.