Monday, May 18, 2009

Over a Torrent Sea by Christopher L. Bennett

In yet another follow-up to the events of Destiny, Christopher L. Bennett lets us know how the Titan crew commanded by Captain Riker is handling the aftermath in Over a Torrent Sea. My immediate objection to this book was the fact that the mission of the exploration of uncharted space would continue. After the Federation has been decimated during the huge Borg invasion, the last thing that makes sense is sending a ship back out into the unknown, especially with the rise of a new opponent, the Typhon Pact. However, this is addressed early on in a conversation between Riker and some admiral, and though I don’t agree with the decision, at least commonsensical problems with the idea were not ignored.

The novel concerns the exploration of a planet made up entirely of ocean and inhabited by sentient manta ray/jellyfish types that communicate through songs. This of course gives much of the spotlight to Aili Lavena, the Pacifican conn officer who lives in a sort of reverse scuba suit that is filled with water all the time. Meanwhile, Counselor Troi is getting ready to give birth to a daughter. Noticing that the planet, cutely named Droplet, is about to be struck by a large asteroid, the Titan decides to blow it up in an attempt to save the creatures on the planet. Things go awry, and as a result Lavena and
Riker are trapped together on the surface.

While the usual issues with Bennett’s writing are here in abundance, especially the idiotic epiphanies by characters that are delivered in clunky straightforward dialogue, his creation of the planet’s ecosystem and lifeforms is interesting. Much like his previous Titan work, Orion’s Hounds, he seems to be a better creator of worlds than he is a storyteller. In fact, I would wager that he is the most intriguing current writer when it comes to new alien scenarios, yet the worst when it comes to characterization. Why this is the case is hard to fathom, especially after his fantastic debut using TOS characters in Ex Machina.

Twenty years before this novel, Riker and Lavena had a one-night stand. These things happen. Why it remains such a big deal two decades later is hard to fathom, and the emotional climax of the uncomfortable relationship the two have on the planet is ridiculous. So Riker slept with her before? He’s portrayed as a guy who has quite a few notches on the bedpost, so running into someone he’s previously had sex with can’t be all that rare an occurrence. So why does this bother him so? Why is his attraction to her so troubling if he has no intention of doing anything about it? He’s just married, not a corpse.

Meanwhile, as Titan is adrift after blowing up the asteroid goes horribly wrong, chief medical officer and talking dinosaur Dr. Ree kidnaps Troi and steals a shuttle, eventually landing it on a pre-warp world and delivering the baby in a hospital that is surrounded by police from that world. Apparently, his species sees males defend the child, and the fear of Troi for her child and the grief from Tuvok losing his son during Destiny cause this freakout and Prime Directive violation. What makes this so stupid is not the events themselves, but their conclusion. Twice in just a few months Ree has attacked Troi, this time violating all sorts of laws in the process, but since he wasn’t ‘responsible for his own actions,’ he gets off with a slight slap on the wrist and is even encouraged by Riker. If someone were to kidnap my wife and prevent me from seeing the birth of my first child, even if not in their right mind, I would not only punch that person in the face, but would throw them off my ship. Maybe Ree shouldn’t go to prison, but the idea that anyone on that ship would ever be able to trust him again is ludicrous. This is the sort of PC bullshit that gives Star Trek a bad name.

All in all, this book was only slightly disappointing. Having the chance now to read Bennett’s two Titan novels along with Greater than the Sum, which was specifically written to bridge two novels, it isn’t hard to conclude that he is a much better author when he has no fixed endpoint to adjust everything to. In fact, I wonder with his affinity and talent for world building if he wouldn’t be better suited to working in a different medium, perhaps creating worlds for a video game. Over a Torrent Sea continues the Titan saga about as well as can be expected.

1 comment:

Allyn said...

Twenty years before this novel, Riker and Lavena had a one-night stand. These things happen. Why it remains such a big deal two decades later is hard to fathom, and the emotional climax of the uncomfortable relationship the two have on the planet is ridiculous.Last summer I reread the Titan novels for a variety of reasons. I remembered some of the vague details of the books, but not specific details. One thing I'd remembered was that Riker and Lavenna had had something at some point in the past. I also remembered that she was an Ensign. And I remembered that Troi felt some longings of lust in Riker when they saw one another in the book.

In my mind, I'd assumed that the Riker/Lavenna thing happened sometime in-between Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection. (After INS it doesn't work. But before? It works.)

I was flabbergasted to rediscover in Taking Wing it happened before "Encounter at Farpoint." Riker and Lavenna are hung up on something two decades old? I didn't buy that.

As for Torrent, I haven't been able to get past the prologue. There wasn't anything wrong with it, I just can't muster any enthusiasm.