Friday, January 29, 2016

The Good That Men Do

Star Trek: Enterprise
The Good That Men Do by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin
Published March 2007
Read January 25th 2016

Previous book (Enterprise): Last Full Measure

Next book (Enterprise): Kobayashi Maru

Spoilers ahead for Homecoming!

From the back cover:
Pax Galactica. Enemies become allies. Old secrets are at last revealed. Long-held beliefs and widely accepted truths are challenged. Man turns to leisurely pursuits. 
In this golden age, two old friends are drawn together. They seek to understand, and wonder how what they have long believed, what they have been taught was never so. 
Over two hundred years ago, the life of one of Starfleet's earliest pioneers came to a tragic end, and Captain Jonathan Archer, the legendary commander of Earth's first warp five starship, lost a close friend. Or so it seemed for many years. But with the passage of time, and the declassification of certain crucial files, the truth about that fateful day – the day that Commander Charles "Trip" Tucker III didn't die – could finally be revealed. 
Why did Starfleet feel it was necessary to rewrite history? And why only now can the truth be told?

My thoughts:

While the series Star Trek: Enterprise had a somewhat shaky start, by the end of the fourth season it had become one of my favorite television shows. Of the spinoffs, I still enjoy The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine more, but Enterprise outclasses Voyager in my opinion. And by season four, it was firing on all cylinders. However, the series finale unfortunately left much to be desired. Touted as a "valentine to the fans," "These Are the Voyages" was anything but. Therefore, when it was announced that a novel would undo the most egregious errors from that episode, I was definitely on board.

The Good That Men Do is a singularly unique novel in the Star Trek franchise. Never before (to my knowledge) has there been a Trek novel that contradicts what we saw in canon Trek after the fact. The interesting thing about this instance is the way the novel gets around the issues. Because the events in "These Are the Voyages" were a holodeck re-creation, a little more latitude is allowed in their interpretation. The central premise of The Good That Men Do is that the "true" history of what happened to Trip Tucker was covered up by Section 31, and it is only in the 25th century that the truth is coming out.

The Good That Men Do undoes a lot of what was wrong with "These Are the Voyages," while still operating within the bounds of the story.

If you had told me that the above premise is where Trip's character was headed before this novel came out, I would have laughed in your face. It is a testament to how well this novel is written that this idea plays out as not only plausible, but completely understandable given where his character is taken emotionally in this book. Trip as an undercover operative works because Mangels and Martin do the necessary legwork to bring him to a place where it is the logical path for him to take. Even small things about Tucker's character are cited to good effect, including his affability and ability to disarm and befriend various peoples using only his charm and wit. (See: "Unexpected," "Oasis," "Dawn," "Precious Cargo," "Awakening," etc.)

The novel itself, while dense, is very tightly written. Alternating between a couple of major plotlines along with one minor one and a bare-bones framing story, The Good That Men Do is an engrossing read. The post-series era of Enterprise is a period of time rife with story potential, and this novel makes use of that brilliantly. Part of me wonders if the constraints placed on the story by the circumstances of "These Are the Voyages" actually helped to create a better narrative by providing a narrow focus for the story.

The Pirates' attack on Enterprise isn't all that it seems in The Good That Men Do.

Some people may dismiss this novel as simply "fan service," giving fans of Enterprise what they wanted after the series finale failed to deliver. On one level, this is true. However, if this novel qualifies as "fan service," consider me a fan of fan service. The characters here are pitch perfect, not relying on tropes or old patterns, but charting a new course into unfamiliar waters. I was honestly surprised that the outline for this novel was approved given that it seemingly contradicts what we get on-screen, but I am certainly grateful that it was.

Final thoughts:

A tightly-plotted, well-written story that leaves us in a much better place than the awful final episode of Enterprise. The characters all felt real, and the motivations for their actions felt surprisingly genuine. With the exception of Star Trek: Destiny, The Good That Men Do is probably the novel I recommend the most to my friends to get them hooked on Trek books. This is the height of Mangels and Martin's Trek work, in my opinion. A fun novel from start to finish that rights a few of the wrongs visited upon us by "These Are the Voyages."

More about The Good That Men Do:

Also by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin:
Next time on Trek Lit Reviews:

Another new release, this time from my favorite of the current novel series: A Pocket Full of Lies, the latest Voyager novel by Kirsten Beyer!

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