Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lost Souls by David Mack

The third and final book in the much-hyped Destiny trilogy, David Mack’s Lost Souls is the tightest and best done of the three. There isn’t much extraneous material here, and he does an adequate job of resolving the each of the storylines. However, the overall narrative was disappointing and unfulfilling, marking a new and unexciting direction for the future of ST novels.

As I predicted in my review of Mere Mortals, I pretty much knew where this book was going before I re
ad it. The plot threads are so visible that any fool could tug on them slightly and see where they were going to end up. The Caeliar dispatched of the Borg. Hernandez had more to do with the resolution of the galactic crisis than any of the main characters. And as the thousands of Borg ships begin to attack known worlds, the only casualties seem to be a bunch of book-only characters that no one was using anyway and a bunch of third-rate planets that are more names than places.

The most interesting section was the flashback to the Caeliar and human survivors of Mantilis. Though they didn’t seem to be thrown back even close to far enough to account for the rapid expansion of the Borg, Mack led the reader on an interesting journey even though we all knew where it was heading in the end. I was a bit disappointed that though we saw the birth of the Borg, we didn’t really see what made them evolve from merely using the catoms of the Caeliar to more obvious machinery that we recognize them with today.

Just like the lack of meaningful destruction on a planetary scale, any ships that might resonate with a reader are likewise spared. Voyager is the only ship out of dozens that survives the initial Borg attack, and it’s just damaged enough to not have a meaningful role to play here. Klag’s Gorkon is severely disabled, though it too seems to have escaped any lasting damage. And the da Vinci seems to now be under the command of Captain Gomez, and it managed to elude the Borg by vanishing a planet.

Riker seems to have no purpose I this book at all. After delivering Hernandez to Dax and Picard, he basically just sits around and chastises himself for leaving his away team and serves as a sounding board for Picard. Mack writes the sort of emotional scenes that remind one of Christopher Bennett, with Picard’s big emotional discussion with Riker making the reader cringe with its earnestness. Why it is so hard to realize that people tend to lie to themselves and ferociously defend their actions I’ll never know. But it seems the case that in the current ST fiction, characters quickly realize what is wrong with them and magically get better. That’s merely the beginning of the journey, not the whole thing, and it is insulting to read that complex characters like Picard have such unbelievable epiphanies.

Mack also has a tendency to write that characters have ‘Eurasian features’ or know perfect English aside from saying ‘ya’ and ‘nein’ for ‘yes’ and ‘no’. I’m not sure what Eurasian features are; it tends to seem a racist description to me. And painting foreigners as too ethnic to remember simple words in English but know how to say ‘trilateral hyperfusion’ is idiotic. Hell, I know the words for ‘yes and no’ in half a dozen languages, none of which I can speak fluently.

But the biggest issue I have with this trilogy is that for something intended to shake up the status quo, it does anything but. If the Federation is supposed to be truly decimated, then eradicate Earth, or at least Vulcan. Don’t wipe out Deneva. Kill characters that actually mean something to the readers; the biggest death in the trilogy was Owen Paris. And if you are presenting the Borg attack to end all Borg attacks, maybe you should explain why they didn’t just come with 7000 ships fifteen years ago.

It seems the series was merely an editorial mandate for a future direction for the post-Nemesis
fiction: tear down the Federation so that we can tell stories about rebuilding. But a huge problem here is that there was already a situation that begged for rebuilding after the Dominion War, and it wasn’t exploited at all. Couple this with the unbelievable pace in which situations that would normally take years or decades have been resolved in mere months, such as the integration of Bajor into the Federation, and its hard to believe that the fallout from Destiny will handled in a reasonable manner.

My recommendation to shake up the line: editorial change. The primary editor of the series, Margaret Clark, has consistently made poor storytelling decisions and shown poor oversight for coordinating projects. If you want to take a bold new direction, take a note from college football and fire the head coach.

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