Sunday, April 13, 2014

Tower of Babel

Star Trek: Enterprise
Rise of the Federation
Tower of Babel by Christopher L. Bennett
Release date: March 25th 2014
Read March 27th 2014

Previous book (Enterprise): Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures
Next book (Enterprise): Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic

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Spoilers ahead for Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel!

From the back cover:
The United Federation of Planets has weathered its first major crisis, but its growing pains are just beginning. Admiral Jonathan Archer hopes to bring the diverse inhabitants of the powerful and prosperous Rigel system into the Federation, jump-starting the young nation's growth and stabilizing a key sector of space. Archer and the Federation's top diplomats journey to the planetoid Babel to debate Rigel's admission…but a looming presidential race heats up the ideological divide within the young nation, jeopardizing the talks and threatening to undo the fragile unity Archer has worked so hard to preserve. 
Meanwhile, the sinister Orion Syndicate recruits new allies of its own, seeking to beat the Federation at its own game. Determined to keep Rigel out of the union, they help a hostile Rigelian faction capture sensitive state secrets along with Starfleet hostages, including a young officer with a vital destiny. Captain Malcolm Reed, Captain T'Pol, and their courageous crews must now brave the wonders and dangers of Rigel's many worlds to track down the captives before the system is plunged into all-out war.

My thoughts:

Christopher L. Bennett is a master of tying together disparate bits of Star Trek continuity. Tower of Babel is no exception. By my reckoning, Tower of Babel references the Enterprise episodes "Civilization," "Bound," "Dead Stop," and others, while at the same time tying together plot points from the TOS episodes "The Cage," "Mudd's Women," and of course, "Journey to Babel." Bennett has the uncanny ability to make seemingly completely separate plot points tie into one another almost seamlessly. People have used the term "continuity porn" before, but I'm not that what Bennett does qualifies. As the author himself has said, he uses continuity to serve the plot, never the other way around.

I really did enjoy Enterprise when it was on the air. However, one of the areas in which it fell short (with the exception of season four) was in taking advantage of the opportunity to create meaningful ties to The Original Series. This is something that Bennett has done wonderfully with the two books of the Rise of the Federation series. But not only does he tie it to TOS, his story also makes very good use of elements of Enterprise. There seem to be many Trek fans who did not enjoy Enterprise, and I feel like the temptation would be there to wipe the slate clean, start over, and ignore many of the elements from the television show. Bennett, however, doesn't do that. He takes elements from some very middle-of-the-road episodes, and fleshes them out in unexpected and refreshing ways. There is a lot in this book for the avid Star Trek fan to pick up on.

The three Orion sisters from "Bound." Interestingly, a plot twist revealed in this novel was guessed by me while reading the previous book, A Choice of Futures. However, when the story didn't go that way in that novel, I had forgotten. So Bennett was able to surprise me with the same plot twist this time around!
I really enjoyed Bennett's treatment of the villains of the piece. In particular, the rounding out of the characters of "The Three Sisters," Navaar, D'Nesh, and Maras, was very welcome, as was the further characterization of Garos, first seen in "Civilization," and who also played a large role in the last Rise of the Federation novel. It is refreshing to have villains who are multi-faceted, round characters, rather than the one-note villains we often see.

Garos, from the episode "Civilization," seen here undercover in an Akaali disguise.

Christopher Bennett is also very good at writing inter-personal and professional relationships. His exploration of the working relationship among T'Pol's crew aboard the Endeavour is a highlight of this novel. The tension that Thanien believed existed between himself and Hoshi Sato rang very true. Many people feel threatened by a co-worker who is believed to hold favor with their superiors. Real or imagined, that stress can have a large impact on productivity and decision-making. I felt that Bennett's treatment of this issue was excellent. On the flip side of that issue is the tension between Reed, T'Pol, and Archer. Because Reed used to be a subordinate of both T'Pol and Archer, he feels that they don't trust him enough to take care of a situation. Reed feels that he must prove himself capable of captaining a Federation starship in a crisis.

One aspect I loved in Tower of Babel was the characterizations of Valeria Williams and Sam Kirk, who are implied to be the ancestors of future Captain James T. Kirk. Rather than just relying on the feeling of "ooh, cool, Kirk's ancestors!," Williams and Sam Kirk are fully fleshed-out characters in their own right. Williams is a truly fascinating character with a lot of potential to be explored in further novels, as is Kirk. I'm really looking forward to seeing where Bennett takes these characters next!

Final thoughts:

There is a lot going on in this novel. My review didn't even touch on Trip's role, or the story of Maltuvis, the Saurian dictator with aspirations of galactic domination, or the unexpected reveal at the very end of the novel of a familiar threat to the Federation looming on the horizon. The prose is very dense, but still very accessible. As is the case with Kirsten Beyer's take on the Voyager universe, I think that people who were initially not fans of Enterprise will still very much enjoy this series. Not only does it continue the Enterprise story, it shows the building blocks of the Federation itself, a story that resonates through the entire rest of the Star Trek universe.

I very much recommend Tower of Babel. Rise of the Federation has become one of my most anticipated novel series in the Star Trek lineup. I can't wait to see where Christopher Bennett takes us in the next instalment!

Further resources:

Also by Christopher L. Bennett:

My next read:

At the request of a reader, next up is the first book in the Terok Nor series: Day of the Vipers by James Swallow, a part of the Lost Era of Star Trek!

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