Monday, October 1, 2012

October 2012: "Brinkmanship"

Bickering leaders, an increasingly militarized border, back-room machinations… no, we’re not talking about anything in domestic or world politics, we’re talking about Una McCormack’s new novel, “Brinkmanship”.

by Una McCormack
Mass Market Paperback – 334 pages
Pocket Books – October 2012 – $7.99

Oh boy… the Typhon Pact is at it again as Una McCormack moves the Typhon Pact storyline ahead with her new novel “Brinkmanship”. The story, centering around the supposed-militarization of bases on the borders that the Tzenkethi-leaning Venette Convention shares with various Khitomer Accord powers, begins mired in tension, and keeps that underlying sense alive and well until the final chapter.

As a Federation, Ferengi, and Cardassian contingent visit the Venette Convention to discuss the Tzenkethi use of Venette supply bases, one significant misstep after another leads the straightforward, direct Venette leadership ever deeper into the Tzenkethi fold. The Venette, already snubbed by the Federation in the wake of the Borg invasion, are easy targets for the Tzenkethi, who make a great show of being open and forthright with their newfound friends.

But, as in all things diplomatic, forthrightness rarely produces results. Espionage and covert operations have their place too, and McCormack skillfully weaves such cloak and dagger games into the diplomatic narrative of the storyline. The result is an amazingly engaging story, filled with plenty of dramatic tension, where one is totally unsure of how the situation will be resolved, right up to the very end.

While the story is driven by an ensemble cast, three particular individuals stand out as meriting express comment. First, McCormack’s treatment of a Neta Efhney throughout the book is superb, richly engaging, and filled with unexpected twists – even though a hint of the book’s conclusion is found in the opening pages of her narrative. She is easy to empathize with, a character you want to see protected, developed, and nurtured throughout. The author does an outstanding job with this as she sends Efhney through her work – both regular and irregular – and through her relationships with others on the Tzenkethi homeworld. In many ways, her story is the most solidly engaging storyline in the book… but it is not the best.

Ezri Dax, too, gets some extensive face time and significant development as she interacts with former classmate Peter Alden, a Starfleet Intelligence operative who knows an awful lot about the Tzenkethi. It is clear that Alden has issues, however, and Ezri struggles with her friendship, her counseling background, and her duty to the Federation throughout in her interactions with Alden. Ultimately, Dax’s conflicts in working with the intelligence operative provide an amazing growth and development opportunity for her character, one that is most welcome. And yet, there is a greater, more significant, and much more satisfying story to be found in “Brinkmanship”… that of Dr. Beverly Crusher.

Crusher, who – on thin justification – is sent into the diplomatic fracas in place of the ship’s contact specialist, truly shines forth as the bright light of McCormack’s pen. With a gentle style, she interacts with diplomats, admirals, and functionaries in ways that seem perfectly natural… no, that are perfectly natural for her! And yet, the whole time, something is brewing with her; something hard to identify, something beyond herself. McCormack brings Crusher into the focus during the most pivotal moments of the story with great success, and, in the process, plants the seeds for the further development, not simply of her marriage or family life, but of the sense of direction her life should, perhaps, take.

Little clues abound in the pages of “Brinkmanship”, as they have in the past several novels set aboard the Enterprise, about potential changes afoot aboard the iconic starship. Crusher’s experience is sure to factor into those clues and, who knows, David Mack’s upcoming Cold Equations trilogy may well begin to explore some of those issues in a much more straightforward manner. Needless to say, I think you can be assured that the current state of Trek literature remains ‘in flux’, though in a mostly positive way.

“Brinkmanship” was an outstanding story, and McCormack’s at-times poetic delivery, combined with the deep love she obviously has for the subjects of her plotting make for a most satisfying and engaging read. A perfect story, from cover to cover.

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