Saturday, August 25, 2018

Echoes

Star Trek: Voyager #15
Echoes by Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Published January 1998
Read November 7th 2017


Previous book (Voyager): #14: Marooned

Next book (published order): The Captain's Table #4: Fire Ship
Next book (numbered): #16: Seven of Nine


Purchase:
Mass-market paperback: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk
E-book (Kindle): Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk

Spoilers ahead for Echoes!

From the back cover:
The U.S.S. Voyager finds itself in a system where a planet might have existed, but doesn't. Where the planet should have been, millions and then billions of people are appearing from nowhere and dying in the vacuum of space.
To solve the mystery and save billions of lives, Captain Janeway will have to face alternate versions of herself and the crew of Voyager -- not just one almost-mirror-image, but many. Janeway will have to find a way to work with her alternate selves, with whom she shares much but each of whom has a different agenda. At stake is the survival of Voyager and the lives of billions of innocent people.

My thoughts:

Echoes opens with a vivid scene: billions of people suddenly flash into existence in empty space, immediately exposed to hard vacuum and struggling to breathe. The struggle doesn't last long, however, as the billions die an excruciating death in the dark cold of space. It's an exciting (albeit incredibly dark) hook to immediately get the reader into the story!

Voyager encounters a subspace wave that doesn't seem to affect them in any way, but when they receive a distress call shortly thereafter, Captain Janeway orders the ship to the source to investigate. The subspace waves occur every two and a half hours, and correspond to small, barely noticeable changes on the planet's surface. For example, the leader with whom Captain Janeway speaks appears to change eye color from one pulse to the next. When an away team to the surface disappears during the pulse, with no one on the surface seeming to know anything about an away team in the first place, the strange curiosity turns into a crisis.

Additionally, every time a pulse occurs, a strange phenomenon is witnessed: the appearance of multiple planets, as well as multiple Voyagers orbiting those planets, stretching off into infinity. The effect is akin to two mirrors held up to one another, showing the person in them in an unending chain that goes on forever. Curiously, Voyager only appears to be present orbiting every other planet in this seemingly endless chain of planets. The reason for this is a fascinating one, and is related to the events of the second season episode "Deadlock."

Basically, when Voyager was duplicated in the episode "Deadlock," that event created a branching of quantum realities. When one of the Voyagers was destroyed, it resulted in Voyager being missing from every second quantum reality. I know, it's confusing; just go with it!

Echoes borrows heavily from that episode, as well as the TNG episode "Parallels." Each time a pulse happens, all of the people on the surface of the planet are shifted one universe over. Over time, tiny changes accumulate, and billions of people end up further and further away from their own reality. At one point in the chain of realities, there exists a reality in which a cataclysm in the distant past destroyed the planet, which is why billions of people are appearing in open space and dying in the vacuum every two and a half hours.

One of the most interesting aspects of Echoes is that the primary mystery of the book isn't one facing our main cast of characters, but rather their counterparts from over 2000 universes away - "to the right," in the parlance of the novel. This was a fascinating choice by the authors, and one that serves the story quite well. I love that "our" Captain Janeway and Voyager crew are just one of uncounted numbers of Voyagers who are working on this problem. This is a brave and realistic choice to make, as it would make no sense that "our" universe is necessarily the most important one to the story, when there are unlimited other universes revealed to be in the midst of this crisis.

By the time the end of the story comes around, it's pretty clear that a standard ending just won't do. Countless billions are dead, and uncountable more are displaced many universes away from their "original" universe, including away teams from multiple Voyagers. Unfortunately, this means that the story must rely on a crutch that the Voyager television series itself relied on far too often: the reset button. However, while the overuse of the reset button tends to infuriate me with regards to the television show, I didn't actually mind it all that much here, although I have a hard time figuring out exactly why that is. The story itself it certainly compelling and the mystery is a tantalizing one, and it's unfortunate the the reset ending undercuts all of that. However, I still really enjoyed this story and the imagination that went into crafting it.

Final thoughts:

Echoes presents a very Voyager-like problem, and fits really well into the structure of a Voyager story. There are some very interesting choices made by the authors that add to the enjoyment. A fascinating science fiction mystery that, while complex, doesn't get too bogged-down with technobabble. Definitely one of the better Voyager stories set during the series that I have read. 4/5 stars.

More about Echoes:

My next read:

A personal favorite of mine: Deep Space Nine: A Stitch in Time by Garak himself, Andrew J. Robinson!