Saturday, September 1, 2012

September 2012: "The Eternal Tide"

What happens when a fleet commander’s humanity becomes secondary to an entropic force that just cannot be stopped… well, I guess you can say “The Eternal Tide” happens, which works out pretty well, since our review of the aptly named novel follows the cut.

by Kirsten Beyer
Mass Market Paperback – 400 pages
Pocket Books – August 2012 – $7.99

While the search for traces of Borg and Caeliar gets underway in earnest, Fleet Commander Afsarah Eden’s connectional traces to something beyond herself wind up, almost literally, exploding in her face… placing the lives of much of her fleet (and, incidentally, perhaps even the fabric of existence) in jeopardy. To be sure, Kristen Beyer has a bold vision for her new Voyager novel, “The Eternal Tide”, which has made this review an extremely difficult one to write.

Beyer’s writing and sense of flow remain impeccable this time out, as does the way her characters seamlessly and dramatically interact with one another. As relationships continue healing, find renewal, or come into existence, Beyer treats each crew member and their situation with tangible respect and love. You can tell that each of these individuals mean something to her, and their place in the unfolding Voyager narrative is close to her heart.

Of particular interest is the continued growth and development of Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres in the aftermath of the trials and difficulties surrounding Miral and their return to the Voyager fleet. Throughout Beyer’s recent writings, the pair have been a strong ongoing story, but her work with them in “The Eternal Tide” has a tenderness to it that endears the family to the reader in a very special way. However, Tom and B’Elanna are not the focal point of the story; and that’s where the problems begin.

In the acknowledgements of the book, Beyer writes: “I cannot help but fear that some will see this story as a failure of nerve, and others, most unwisely, as a vindication of the narrow constraints they would see put upon all Trek literature. Neither is true. This story, as much as those we have told up to this point, required telling.”

I hate to say it, because “The Eternal Tide” is a well written and engaging book… but I cannot agree with Beyer’s estimation of this story’s necessity. In the spirit of attempting to avoid spoilers (which is hard to do, given the massive changes wrought in the evolution of the novel’s storyline), I’ll sketch in broad strokes my overarching concern. Certainly, many will look at the cover and put two and two together to fill in the missing pieces, but I don’t want to go out of my way to ruin things for those intending to read the story.

This story, in no way, needed to be written.

Star Trek is, has been, and should be about exploring strange, new worlds. Up till now, the current Voyager relaunch has been doing just that. Yes, it has as its background the Borg’s destruction of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, the Caeliar ‘metamorphosis’ of said Borg, and the tough slog the good guys are facing back home as a framework for the story, but what we have been seeing has been interesting and unique. We have seen the daring of exploring a fleet commander whose life is a mystery and whose origins are sketchy at best. The hints dropped in previous stories have sparked significant hope for both personal and professional exploration of Eden’s past… all of which comes to a screeching halt in the pages of “The Eternal Tide”. Eden’s unique background becomes, far from an engaging source of longing in the Voyager tapestry, a total dead end, as she becomes the anthesis of a major power of the universe. While Beyer deftly portrays the struggle within Eden as the novel unfolds, it leaves the reader (well, at least this one) closing out the final page and saying, ‘what a waste’. The majesty, curiosity, and novelty of Afsarah Eden’s buildup is absolutely lost, and as the book closes, there is no way to get it back.

Further, instead of allowing the Voyager fleet and crew to shine forth, the show is stolen by outsiders, further destroying the growing sense of competence, adventure, and boldness which the previous novels have worked so hard to cultivate in the mind of the reader.

Finally, I suppose the elephant in the room (or, the admiral on the cover) has to be addressed. I don’t want to get into specifics about Janeway in this review, but it is obvious that somehow, she interacts with the story. It doesn’t matter what way she does so, or what the setup is… it is an absolute distraction from and detraction to this story. Voyager’s crew has come to terms with her loss on a professional basis, and many are still working through (even if buried) their personal feelings regarding her ignominious end. Bringing her to impact their lives in any way (virtual or other) destroys the progress made over the past several years of novels, and leaves the nastiest of tastes in at least this reviewer’s mouth.

You see, we didn’t much care when the Shore Leave planet took McCoy’s life and gave it back, nor did we get too flustered when Scotty was offed for about five or six minutes before coming back at the hands of Nomad. No, what really and truly set the final bar was Spock’s death and resurrection in the films. Since then, we just can’t let people be gone. As much as I loved Tasha Yar and hated to see her leave TNG, the ongoing Sela storyline cheapened Yar’s impact on the lives of the Next Generation crew. Her absence from Trek wasn’t noticed by casual Trekkies in the same way Spock’s was. Neither was Jadzia Dax’s… and yet we didn’t really lose her, because we scooped her worm out and put it into Ezri. Now, Data is gone, but isn’t, because B4 is still around… and finally, after mustering the cahones to off Janeway, we can’t simply leave her as levelled atomic dust. She must be invoked, she must be integrated into a story in some capacity – if for no other reason than to mollify the legions of fans who think that her death was a waste.

I do not know if Janeway’s inclusion in “The Eternal Tide” was a concept of Kirsten Beyer, of the editors, or a directive from CBS, but it is an epic fail that leaves me feel cheated and slighted for the investment I have made in a Voyager where Janeway’s death has helped to make people who they are today.

While the book is very well written, and has very engaging personal moments, I cannot in any way embrace it as a bold or positive step forward for Star Trek literature, or the Voyager storyline in particular. It truly is the story that should never have been written… and that is, regretfully, where I must stand.

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