Monday, July 1, 2013

July 2013: "A Choice of Futures"

A new nation has arisen from the ashes of the Romulan War: the United Federation of Planets, an unprecedented union of diverse species cooperating for the good of all. Admiral Jonathan Archer—the former captain of the Earth starship Enterprise, whose efforts made this union possible—envisions a vibrant Fed­eration promoting galactic peace and a multispecies Starfleet dedicated to exploring strange new worlds. Archer’s former crewmates, including Captain T’Pol of the U.S.S. Endeavour and Captain Malcolm Reed of the U.S.S. Pioneer, work with him to secure that bright future. Yet others within the Federation see its purpose as chiefly military, a united defense against a dangerous galaxy, while some of its neighbors view that military might with suspicion and fear. And getting the member nations, their space fleets, and even their technologies to work together as a unified whole is an ongoing challenge.

When a new threat emerges from a force so alien and hostile that negotiation seems impossible, a group of unaligned worlds asks Starfleet to come to its defense, and the Federation’s leaders seize the opportunity to build their reputation as an interstellar power. But Archer fears the conflict is building toward an unnec­essary war, potentially taking the young nation down a path it was never meant to follow. Archer and his allies strive to find a better solution...but old foes are working secretly to sabotage their efforts and ensure that the great experiment called the Federation comes to a quick and bloody end.

When news first broke that Christopher L. Bennett was penning a novel set in the aftermath of the Romulan War, fans of early Federation history were overjoyed. As it turned out, they had good reason to be. There’s a reason you turn to Bennett for a story like Rise of the Federation… he builds worlds, and does so awesomely.

Thus, as the pages of “A Choice of Futures” begin to turn, we are placed squarely into the astro-political realities of the nascent Federation, with Admiral Archer trading on his reputation to barter peace, togetherness, and all the ‘warm fuzzies’ the Federation can wring out of the explorer-turned-warrior-turned-diplomat.

Bennett brings his intimate familiarity with Star Trek to the page, seamlessly working together various species and situations from throughout the run of Enterprise to create real problems for Archer in particular, and for the Federation at large. Often quick to intervene in previous, pre-Federation missions, Archer’s edge is being variously tempered (by the likes of Soval) and sharpened (by the Andorians) as a battle for the Federation’s identity is being waged – sometimes in the background, and sometimes in plain sight.

Various situations demand the forging of lasting Federation policy – contact with the Saurians, for example, demonstrates for Bryce Shumar and his crew just how a little ‘hello’ can effect the growth and development of an entire world, while certain unsavory business-types prove that the corruption of pretty much anyone is an easy task, given the right assets.

Throughout the story, Bennett weaves in ways that feel unexpected, almost out of place. At first the mode in which he elected to tell the story just didn’t feel quite right. You truly have to spend some time with “A Choice of Futures” to become comfortable with it; but when that comfort comes, the uncertainty you felt early on really turns into an emotional payoff for on the story’s evolution.

While Archer and T’Pol’s central mission certainly provided a fun ride, it was truly the role of Malcom Reed and the starship Pioneer that took the cake this time around. While one might argue that the inclusion of certain characters in the Pioneer story line was a bit on the gratuitous side, Bennett takes the time to craft said predecessors of latter-era Treks into fully-fledged characters in their own rights. They are not merely foreshadows of what is to come, but interesting, engaging inclusions in the story.

In addition to some precursors, Pioneer’s tale is deeply enriched by the presence of Rey Sangupta. Of all the new characters in “A Choice of Futures”, Sangupta is the one I hold the highest esteem for, and now, the one whom I expect the most of. He is a true ‘Spirit of Starfleet’ kind of guy, with the heart of an explorer and the spirit of a diplomat… and it doesn’t hurt that he has personal issues to deal with that add to the depth of his personality. His presence bodes well for the future of this series (which will continue with a second book in 2014).

All in all, “A Choice of Futures” lives up to its name… a story where elements of the Federation’s core values face off on the firing line. Bennett’s work is outstanding, understated, and is proof positive that he is the right choice to chart the course for this undiscovered portion of Star Trek history.  

No comments:

Post a Comment