Friday, October 25, 2019

Greater Than the Sum

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Greater Than the Sum by Christopher L. Bennett
Published July 2008
Read September 29th 2019

Previous book (The Next Generation): Before Dishonor
Next book (Post-Nemesis Continuity): Destiny, Book I: Gods of Night

Mass-market paperback: | |
E-book (Kindle): | |

Spoilers ahead for Greater Than the Sum

From the back cover:
The Starship Rhea has discovered a cluster of carbon planets that seems to be the source of the quantum energies rippling through a section of space. A landing party finds unusual life-forms inhabiting one of the planets. One officer, Lieutenant T'Ryssa Chen -- a half-Vulcan -- makes a tenuous connection with them. But before any progress can be made, the Rhea comes under attack from the Einstein -- a Starfleet vessel now controlled by the Borg. The landing party can only listen in horror as their comrades are assimilated. The Borg descend to the planet, and just as Chen accepts that she will be assimilated, the lieutenant is whisked two thousand light-years away.

A quantum slipstream -- instantaneous transportation -- is controlled by these beings in the cluster, and in the heart of the cluster there is now a Borg ship. Cut off from the rest of the Borg collective, the Einstein cannot be allowed to rejoin it. For the sake of humanity, the Borg cannot gain access to quantum slipstream technology.

Starfleet Command gives Captain Picard carte blanche: do whatever he must to help the beings in the cluster, and stop the Einstein no matter the cost.

My thoughts:

The fallout from the previous novels continues as the U.S.S. Rhea is attacked by the assimilated U.S.S. Einstein (see: Before Dishonor). A landing party from the Rhea investigating a nearby planet is also attacked and seemingly all killed, with one exception: Lieutenant T'Ryssa Chen, who is spirited away to a planet many light years distant. It seems that the alien lifeform encountered by the away team has the ability to send people and objects vast distances via quantum slipstream, a capability that must be kept out of the hands of the Borg at all costs.

The Borg once again threaten the Federation, with the latest menace from Resistance and Before Dishonor still not yet completely dealt with.

Chen joins the crew of the Enterprise on its long journey back to the star cluster the Rhea was investigating, hoping to make contact with the lifeform there and convince it to not share its knowledge with the Borg. However, the alien nature of the lifeform may mean its sympathies lie with the Collective over the loose conglomeration of individuals that make up the Federation.

On the way back to the star cluster, the Enterprise encounters a familiar ally: Hugh, and his breakaway Borg faction who were cut off from the Collective. Aiding them in their fight against the Borg, Hugh's forces are now made up of not just the Borg we see in TNG's "Descent" two-parter, but the Borg who were able to escape the Collective thanks to the "Unimatrix Zero" debacle in Star Trek: Voyager. This was an interesting turn for the story to take. First of all, it was great to see Hugh again, and to be able to catch up with what he and his fellow disconnected drones have been up to. This part of the story also allowed the author to explore a huge issue in Picard's life: reproduction. The breakaway Borg want Dr. Crusher to assist them in being able to procreate, a topic that carries a lot of baggage for Picard, who isn't sure about bringing a child into the world with the Borg as a resurgent threat. Dr. Crusher, to whom Picard was recently married, does want children, and the topic is a point of contention with the couple.

Hugh leads "The Liberated," former members of the Borg Collective who have broken away and live as individuals.

Each Star Trek author currently writing has areas in which they are known to excel. David Mack, for example, has become known for huge, sweeping epics. Una McCormack delivers stunning political and cultural commentary. Dayton Ward gives us strong, character-driven plots with a familiarity that makes his Trek feel like home. As for Christopher L. Bennett, I would contend that one of his areas of expertise lies in making strong canon connections and making this whole Star Trek thing feel like a cohesive universe.

Star Trek has never been just one person's vision. Rather, it is an amalgam of the ideas of hundreds of writers, all contributing to a vast tapestry that, at times, doesn't hold together as well as we would like it to. This, however, is where the secondary materials that make up the Star Trek universe have a chance to shine, providing the connective tissue that can potentially help to make everything make sense. Christopher L. Bennett is a master of weaving this material, and his work in Greater Than the Sum is no exception.

A number of inconsistencies have cropped up over the years in the way the Borg have been portrayed. In The Next Generation, the Borg ships were said to have been completely decentralized, with major systems distributed evenly throughout the vessels. However, in Voyager, the crew is often able to target specific systems on a Borg vessel, such as the shield generators or weapon systems. Bennett is able to provide a plausible reason for these differences in a way I had never considered, causing this seeming contradiction to make some semblance of sense. Similarly, the differences in the nature of Borg we have seen over the years (androgynous unassimilated drones vs. assimilated gendered drones) is explained quite deftly by the author as well. In recent years (and indeed, throughout Star Trek history), many Trek fans have taken a perverse delight in nitpicking and tearing apart the choices of the writers and producers. However, I believe there is much more fun to be had in trying to explain those inconsistencies in a way that makes the Trek universe feel more cohesive. Christopher Bennett clearly shares in that delight, and he has become quite good at it!

Christopher L. Bennett is able to reconcile the various inconsistencies that have cropped up over the years in how the Borg have been portrayed in Star Trek.

Ultimately, the final showdown with the Borg involves an heroic sacrifice by Hugh, who gives his life to deliver a killing blow to the Borg: a "multi-vector agent" (MVA) that combines a number of attacks on the Collective into a nano-virus that is designed to incapacitate the Borg. The attack proves successful, and it seems that the Federation now has an effective tool with which to combat the Collective. However, at the end of the novel, the Borg begin attacking the Federation en masse. In one of the first engagements, Lieutenant Leybenzon, former security chief of the Enterprise, loses the weapon to the Borg in an act of extreme hubris, giving the Collective the ability to adapt to the weapon before it can be used to defend the Federation.

And thus, Star Trek: Destiny begins...

Final thoughts:

I really enjoyed Greater Than the Sum. Going into it, I thought "not the Borg AGAIN!," but this turned out to be a very thoughtful and compelling story, unlike Resistance and Before Dishonor, both of which were disappointments. Christopher L. Bennett gives us a unique take on the Borg, which is difficult at this point, and also sets the story up nicely for the apocalyptic events of Star Trek: Destiny. Top marks for this novel from me; Bennett delivers not only an action-filled thriller, but a perfect character-driven story that gets to heart of what it means to be human. What more can you ask for from Star Trek?

More about Greater Than the Sum:

Also by Christopher L. Bennett:

My next read:

Next up is my long-overdue video review of The Original Series: The Antares Maelstrom by Greg Cox. See you next time!

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