Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Orion's Hounds

Star Trek: Titan
Orion's Hounds by Christopher L. Bennett
Published January 2006
Read June 13th 2019

Previous book (Post-Nemesis Continuity): The Next Generation: Resistance
Previous book (Titan): The Red King

Next book (Post-Nemesis Continuity): The Next Generation: Q & A
Next book (Titan): Sword of Damocles

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

Spoilers ahead for Orion's Hounds

From the back cover:
As the U.S.S. Titan ventures beyond the outermost reaches of known space, the telepaths in her crew -- including Diplomatic Officer Deanna Troi -- are overwhelmed by an alien cry of distress, leading the ship to the scene of a shocking act of carnage: a civilization of interstellar "whalers" preying upon and exploiting a familiar species of sentient spaceborne giants. Appalled but reluctant to rush to judgment, Captain William Riker and his crew investigate, discovering a cosmic spawning ground in a region of active star formation -- the ecosystem for a bewildering array of diverse but similarly vast life-forms. While attempting to negotiate an end to the victimization of these creatures, Riker's crew inadvertently grants them the means to defeat their hunters' purpose...only to learn that things are not exactly as they seem.

My thoughts:

After the two previous novels in the Titan series dealing with the Romulan situation (plus a side quest to the Small Magellanic Cloud), we finally get the beginning of Titan's mission of exploration beyond the borders of the Federation and into the unexplored region of the Gum Nebula. This, to me, finally fulfills the promise of the Titan series: a ship of very diverse crewmembers, embarking on a long-term mission of exploration into areas never before touched by the Federation. The sense of excitement in the characters was certainly mirrored by this reader.

Shortly into their mission, the Titan encounters a familiar lifeform; the large, jellyfish-like creatures encountered at the end of the TNG premiere episode, "Encounter at Farpoint" make an appearance, seemingly being hunted by people who are flying corpse-versions of what come to be known as the "star-jellies." Deanna Troi and the other telepaths aboard Titan are overwhelmed by the strong feelings of alarm and confusion emanating from the star-jellies, almost to the point of being incapacitated. Here we see another example of Christopher L. Bennett's penchant for taking small pieces of continuity and expanding on them: in "Encounter at Farpoint," Deanna's empathic sense seems much more exaggerated than what we see in subsequent episodes; Bennett establishes that as a particular quirk of the star-jellies and how they project their emotions, eliminating a small "changed premise" between "Encounter at Farpoint" and the rest of the TNG series.

The "star-jellies" from "Encounter at Farpoint" are discovered to be living in the region of space being explored by the Titan.

On the face of it, the hunting of the innocent star-jellies appears to be cruel and barbaric, and of course Riker can't help but become involved. When a group of hunters appear and attack the star-jellies just as Titan meets with a group of them to learn more about the situation, Riker decides to intervene, protecting the jellies who can then make their escape. The situation is further complicated when critical information is passed on to the jellies via a compromised Tuvok. They use the information to protect themselves against the hunters, forever changing the balance between them.

The crew soon discovers that the entire region is rife with various kinds of "cosmozoans," space-dwelling lifeforms, some of which are benign, but many of which are dangerous and threaten entire planets and star systems. The hunters, a coalition of races led by a species called the Pa'haquel, maintain the balance by battling various cosmozoans in an effort to protect inhabited worlds in the region. This balance has been irreparably damaged by the knowledge given to the star-jellies, possibly jeopardizing the way of life of many species in this region of the Gum Nebula.

The region of the Gum Nebula that Titan is in the process of exploring is home to countless "cosmozoans," including a species of "crystalline entity," seen in TNG's "Datalore" and "Silicon Avatar."

Orion's Hounds comes across as a bit of a Prime Directive morality tale, with the reasons behind General Order #1 starkly illustrated by the growing crisis set off by Titan's interference in the Pa'haquel's way of life. Because Riker was unaware of the true scope of what he witnessed, countless lives were put in danger. Props to the author, however, for crafting a very clever resolution to the plot. The solution to the crisis went in a direction I did not expect at all, and was a lot of fun to read.

Another major theme in the novel seems to be how people and societies adapt to change. The Pa'haquel's use of the star-jellies was one such adaptation to a universe that was dangerous and deadly. When their way of life was suddenly threatened, they found that they had to change to survive. Some of them met this challenge head-on and rose to confront the changes with changes of their own, while others buried their heads in the sand and clung to the old ways, even though they were no longer sustainable. I can't help but take the ideas in this novel and apply them to what I see happening in the world around me. We are confronted with huge challenges, including threats such as climate change. How we respond to these threats says a lot about who we are. Are we willing to confront them and make necessary changes to preserve what we have? Or do we continue as though nothing is wrong, refusing to adapt to changing circumstances? I feel like there is definitely a lesson to be taken from this novel and the fate of the Pa'haquel.

Final thoughts:

An excellent story, easily one of the best of the modern Star Trek novel era. Like any great Star Trek story, Orion's Hounds contains allegories for our own lives and lessons that we can use in our own world today. The world-building of the cosmozoan ecosystem of the Gum Nebula is first rate, and Christopher Bennett has managed to create a setting that is full of wonders that truly made me feel that sense of excitement at the idea of exploration and discovery. As the start of Titan's mission of exploration, Orion's Hounds succeeds on nearly every level.

More about Orion's Hounds:

Also by Christopher L. Bennett:

My next read:

Next review: the sixth and final novel in the New Earth mini-series: Challenger by Diane Carey.

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