Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Losing the Peace by William Leisner

As has been noted numerous times in this space, I was not a fan of the universe-changing Destiny trilogy. However, I have found the follow-ups to put an interesting spin on said events, so I was looking forward to reading the first full story centering on the Enterprise after the devastating Borg attacks, Losing the Peace by William Leisner. Full disclosure necessitates that I note that while Leisner and I have never met, we do have a friendly relationship on several Trek discussion boards and are mutual friends on LiveJournal.

Being refitted at McKinley Station, the crew of the Enterprise awaits their orders while taking leave. Un
surprising to anyone, the fact that the Federation is not in a position to send the fleet into unknown space becomes clear when President Bacco informs Picard that his ship will be needed close to home.

The refugee crisis is impacting several planets, especially the ocean planet of Pacifica, which
you will of course remember is home of the Selkies, the race of Aili Lavena of the Titan. Beverly Crusher and Commander Kadohata lead a team to assess the refugee situation and provide what assistance they can. Leisner’s depictions of the refugee camp don’t really evoke the sort of crisis he trying to convey, but later in the novel, the reactions of outsiders to the 70,000 people stranded and living in tents does a lot to drive this home. But this situation overall serves not only a critique of the limitations of bureaucracies, but also of the very people those bureaucracies serve. Too often we think of government as the solution to our problems, as if there is a button on their desks they need merely press to provide assistance. The tension between the refugees and residents of Pacifica make this point without overstatement, and Leisner should be lauded for pulling this off.

However, the personal fallout from the crisis fails to be effective, but honestly this isn’t really the fault of Leisner. Instead, it is a result of the overall planning of Destiny and its aftermath; rather than seeing Earth or Betazed destroyed, we get Deneva. So the brunt of the crisis falls to seconday characters and cameos rather than squarely on the shoulders of the characters we have spent over twenty years investing emotion in. We first see this in the novel through the eyes of Arandis, the Risian played by Vanessa Williams in the worst episode of Deep Space Nine ever conceived. Risa was destroyed in the invasion, so it works pretty well to use her as a perspective to the crisis, but again it is hard to really feel the impact when the character is merely a guest star.

The invasion of the Borg wiped out the family of security chief Jasminder Choudhury, but she is such an undeveloped character that it is hard to empathize. In addition, the slimmest chance that her family is still alive is unrealistic to her for her family was apparently so good that they would never take a seat on an evacuation if it meant someone else would be unable to go as well. In fact, we later find out that her whole region was apparently saintly, for they left dozens of seats open rather than evacuate. I think that Choudhury’s struggle to deal with the deaths of her family might have been more compelling if she wasn’t all that close to them in the first place. Is she hadn’t spoken to her parents in years and wasn’t really upset about that situation, then the regret of never being able to make amends if she wanted to one day would be nonexistent.

Geordi deals with survivor’s guilt towards the beginning of the novel, but in unrealistic fashion apparently confronts these problems and heals himself in about fourteen seconds. The scenes as written work pretty well, but I kept feeling that these issues could have been drawn out over the whole novel, not only adding another subplot, but making the reader really see how characters they have invested in are suffering.

As the novel progresses, Picard disobeys orders only to have the clich├ęd result of that disobedience being the solution to greater problems. Admiral Akaar makes the brief but compelling case that the chain of command exists so that the wisest and most intuitive are at the top issuing orders, but that Picard obviously knew better in this and other situations so he is going to be promoted. His new position: director of relief efforts concerning the Borg invasion. But as must happen in order for the stories to continue, he turns down the promotion.

I’ve been all over this type scenario for years, but when the Federation is in a time of dire crisis and the powers that be have selected Picard as the man to lead the efforts in rebuilding, he feels no impetus to do so, no patriotic obligation to serve where he might most be needed. It’s not that I want Picard to no longer be in command of the Enterprise, rather I am tired of him being offered promotions that require the lack of verisimilitude when he turns them down. The impetus is to present Picard as a true explorer, but to me that doesn’t ring true with the character as presented. If he played his cards right, Picard could be the next president of the Federation; am I supposed to believe that someone isn’t whispering that into his ear?

Despite the main crux of this review, I think Leisner did a pretty good job with showing the fallout of the war. Without the overarching and strict plot structure, he is able to provide what amounts to a character piece. As the immediate aftermath of Destiny passes and the Federation gets ready to deal with the new threat of the Typhon Pact, it is nice to get such an intimate look at these characters and the aftermath of the Borg invasion.


Steve said...

Picard as Federation president!? Forget Nan Bacco, I want this. Just after Geordi takes command of an S.C.E. team.

Jon Polk said...

Seriously though. He's saved Earth/Federation from the Borg how many times now? And regardless of whether the Borg invasion had anything to do w/ Bacco, it happened on her watch.

Not that he would run, but he could, and he could probably win.