Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Sword of Damocles

Star Trek: Titan
Sword of Damocles by Geoffrey Thorne
Published December 2007
Read July 19th 2019

Previous book (Titan): Orion's Hounds
Previous book (Post-Nemesis Continuity): The Next Generation: Q & A

Next book (Titan): Destiny, Book 1: Gods of Night
Next book (Post-Nemesis Continuity): The Next Generation: Before Dishonor

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

Spoilers ahead for Sword of Damocles

From the back cover:
Fate: It is an idea as old as life itself. Do our choices shape the future, or is it the other way around? And if the path we walk is predestined—if the way we are to meet our end is knowable—what might that knowledge compel us to do?

Titan's travels take it to a world at the edge of reason. Orisha is a planet whose people have lived for centuries beneath an unfathomable celestial body in their sky. From the moment it first appeared, the object was thought to be something unnatural, an ill omen that has made them feel watched, exposed, vulnerable—provoking a primal fear that has steered the course of their civilization. The Orishans call it "the Eye," and because it has consistently defied every scientific attempt to decode its true nature, many are convinced it represents an intelligence that is studying their world...and perhaps waiting to destroy it.

But the secret behind the Eye threatens Titan as well as Orisha... and it holds a special meaning for one member of Captain Riker's crew in particular, whose lifelong quest to balance faith and scientific truth is tested against the harsh, unblinking glare of inevitability.

My thoughts:

In Greek literature, Damocles was a man who greatly admired King Dionysius for his wealth and power. Dionysius offered Damocles the opportunity to take his place on the throne for one day so that Damocles could experience having the king's fortune that he so greatly desired. Damocles eagerly accepted the proposal. However, in order to illustrate the true lot of a king, Dionysius arranged to have a sword hanging directly above the throne. The sword, suspended by single hair of a horse's tail, threatened to drop at any time, surely killing Damocles. The sword evoked the fear and anxiety the king experienced, having made many enemies during his reign.

Sword of Damocles
By Richard Westall - own photograph of painting, Ackland Museum, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States of America, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3437614

Nowadays, we use the Sword of Damocles as an allusion to this tale, a metaphor representing impending doom, ready to crash down on us at a moment's notice. It is an appropriate title for this Star Trek: Titan novel, representing the doom that hangs over the planet Orisha, home to a native species who worship "Erykon's Eye," an anomaly in the sky visible from the planet's surface, which rains down destruction periodically.

The U.S.S. Titan's fate becomes linked with Orisha's when the starship finds herself becalmed in the midst of a dangerous region of space. Unable to free the ship, Riker sends a team via shuttlecraft to the nearby Orisha, believing that experiments carried out by the inhabitants have led to the Titan's predicament. As the team nears the planet, they encounter what would seem to be "Erykon's Eye," which causes them to crash land on Orisha. However, while Vale, Troi, Keru, and Ra-Havreii end up a couple of days in the past, Jaza Najem and Ensign Modan find themselves closer to a thousand years in Orisha's past.

The story from this point forward is, admittedly, a little confusing. It is sometimes difficult to discern who is where and what each person is experiencing. We as the readers slowly learn the circumstances in which the characters find themselves, and the pieces begin to fall into place. However, reading reviews online, there are many readers who still found this story very confusing right through to the end.

In fact, reviews I've read online for this novel tend to be very mixed. There is certainly a contingent who very much dislike it, but there are also a significant number of readers who enjoyed the story. I count myself in this latter group. Jaza Najem, Titan's science officer, plays a significant role in the story. He is a character I quite like in the series, and Sword of Damocles is his novel. Jaza is person of faith, and the themes of science and faith come into play here as well. Star Trek traditionally tends to steer clear of religion, but the Bajorans have always been an exception since the early days of Deep Space Nine, and Jaza's faith in the Prophets and the path They have laid out for him play a large role in his journey in this novel.

However, this novel continues a tradition that I've come to resent a little in the Titan series: the loss of a character in each book. In Sword of Damocles, Jaza follows the path of Nidani Ledrah, T'Lirin, and Orilly Malar before him. Ah, Jaza, we hardly knew ye.

One other item of note: this novel features the first look at the actual design of the U.S.S. Titan, thanks to a design contest put on by Simon & Schuster. The winner, Sean Tourangeau, has his design featured both on the cover of the novel and in a schematic shown in the novel. This design has been established as the Titan such that I actually own a licensed Eaglemoss model of the ship. Crazy!

The U.S.S. Titan, designed by Sean Tourangeau, in Eaglemoss collection form!

As I said above, I quite enjoyed this novel. The predicament the away team finds itself in, as well as the situation faced by the crew left behind on the Titan, made for an exciting and interesting mystery. The true nature of Orisha and Jaza's ultimate role in the history of that world gave me a lot to think about after finishing Sword of Damocles. I appreciate when a story makes me think, and doesn't just leave my mind when the reading is finished.

Final thoughts:

Sword of Damocles is not a typical Star Trek novel. The style of the writing is a significant departure from the "norm," but in my opinion, the story is all the better for it. There is some great character work in this novel, and some interesting time-twisting adventures that, while maybe a little confusing, serve to make the story a fascinating one. I would have liked to have seen Geoffrey Thorne tackle more Star Trek novels after Sword of Damocles.

More about Sword of Damocles:

My next read:

Next up is my video review of John Jackson Miller's Star Trek: Discovery: The Enterprise War!

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