Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Before Dishonor

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Before Dishonor by Peter David
Published November 2007
Read August 26th 2019

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

Next book (The Next Generation): Greater Than the Sum


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Spoilers ahead for Before Dishonor
!

From the back cover:
An enemy so intractable that it cannot be reasoned with. The entire race thinks with one mind and strives toward one purpose: to add our biological distinctiveness to their own and wipe out individuality, to make every living thing Borg.

In over two centuries, the Federation has never encountered a greater threat. Twice Starfleet assembled and threw countless starships to stand against them. The Borg were stopped, the price paid in blood. Humanity breathed a sigh of relief, assuming it was safe. And with the destruction of the transwarp conduits, the Federation believed that the killing blow had finally been struck against the Borg.

Driven to the point of extinction, the Borg continue to fight for their very existence, for their culture. They will not be denied. They must not be stopped. The old rules and assumptions regarding how the Collective should act have been dismissed. Now the Borg kill first, assimilate later.

When the Enterprise manages to thwart them once again, the Borg turn inward. The dark places that even the drones never realized existed are turned outward against the enemy they have never been able to defeat. What is revealed is the thing that no one believed the Borg could do.

My thoughts:

Following the defeat of the Borg in the novel Resistance, the massive cube has appeared dormant. Starfleet has assigned the U.S.S. Einstein to lead the investigation of the cube, and Admiral Kathryn Janeway insists on accompanying them, ignoring the warnings of "Lady Q," the consort of the Q we have come to know and "love." Once Janeway and her team board the cube, the unthinkable happens: having evolved beyond the need for traditional assimilation, the cube "absorbs" Janeway and the rest of the away team, transforming the former captain of Voyager into their new Borg Queen. Seven of Nine, sensing that Janeway has been captured by the Borg, attempts to convince Starfleet to send her to investigate. When Admiral Jellico ignores her warnings, she sets out to make her own way to the cube, enlisting the aid of Jean-Luc Picard and the Enterprise along the way.

The massive, damaged Borg cube from Resistance is not as dead as Starfleet thought...

Before Dishonor has a rather infamous place in the annals of Trek Lit among many of its readers, for a variety of reasons. Many people cite the mis-characterizations of both the regular characters and the newcomers, others take issue with the loss of a particular character (more on that later), and others decry the seemingly out-of-place humor that pervades the novel. On the other side, many readers love this novel, praising its action-packed nature and fascinating depiction of an evolved threat from the Borg. I myself read this novel years ago when it was first released, and my reaction to it was quite mixed.

One character that I feel Peter David got right is Seven of Nine. Now serving as an instructor at Starfleet Academy, Seven's journey to attempt a rescue of Admiral Janeway was one of the highlights of the novel. Along the way, she meets a smuggler named Grim Vargo. I also enjoyed this character, and would not be opposed to seeing him pop up again in a future novel.

Speaking of characterizations, however, I felt that the novel dropped the ball on the TNG crew. Picard in particular comes across as quite "jokey" and a bit irreverent, which is not how I see Captain Picard at all. Additionally, it felt like the progress that Worf has made as a character was thrown out the window, and he is back to being the brawler from the early days of TNG, rather than the more thoughtful, reserved, and diplomatic Worf we've come to know in recent years. However, even more egregious to me was the depiction of the newer officers on the Enterprise, specifically Kadohata, Leybenzon, and T'Lana. The three of them are instrumental in leading a mutiny against Picard when he doesn't follow Starfleet's orders to return to Earth when the Borg attack, instead proceeding to "Trophy World" to attempt to revive the "Planet Killer" (from TOS's "The Doomsday Machine") to counter the Borg threat. While I can buy these officers becoming involved in a mutiny, the steps leading to this outcome didn't ring true for me. Kadohata has been shown to be a more reasoned individual before, and would likely show more loyalty to Picard, having served with him since the early days of the Enterprise-D. Leybenzon seemed entirely too hot-headed, actually yelling at Picard on the bridge at one point, while T'Lana refused to even entertain the possibility that she might be wrong, even when confronted by Ambassador Spock. While I was never a fan of T'Lana, I expected more sense from her than this.

Picard hatches a plan that makes this novel a sequel to one of my favorites: Vendetta, also by Peter David.

My favorite part of the novel comes from Picard's plan to use the "Doomsday Machine" against the Borg. This aspect of the story serves as a direct sequel to David's earlier novel, Vendetta, in which a woman named Delcara waged a one-woman war against the Borg with a larger and deadlier version of the Doomsday Machine. Without wanting to ascribe intention to Peter David which I know nothing about, it felt like he was much more invested in this part of the story. Seven of Nine is chosen to "pilot" the weapon, and her interaction with the device and the way it seems to tempt her to stay with it forever cast my memory back to Vendetta and the tragedy of Delcara. This was by far the most interesting part of the story, and I would have liked more of a focus on these events.

Towards the end of the novel, the massive Borg cube (which now has the ability to simply absorb starships and other matter) threatens to destroy Earth unless Captain Picard is turned over to them. Along the way, the Borg cube "eats" Pluto (which is now apparently once again classified as a planet, flying in the face of current scientific understanding). Adding to the silliness is almost-comedic commentary by Admirals Jellico and Nechayev. Despite the fact that the Earth is facing an existential crisis, I did not feel the tension at all, and the tone of the novel seemed in direct contrast to the events being depicted.

Admiral Janeway meets an unexpected fate in this novel.

Finally, we have to tackle the event that immediately comes to mind when talking about Before Dishonor: the apparent death of Kathryn Janeway. Many Janeway fans malign Peter David (unfairly, in my opinion) about this event. Personally, I don't have an issue with it, and in fact I applaud that the novels were audacious enough to kill a canon character of such importance. It does strike me as odd that it takes place in a TNG novel rather than a Voyager one, but at this point, the stories are so enmeshed that it makes little difference. We, of course, all know just how permanent "death" is in the Star Trek universe, and with Janeway walking with "Lady Q" into an uncertain future at the end of this novel, we can all be pretty sure that she'll be back... right?

Final thoughts:

Before Dishonor occupies a strange place in the Trek Lit world. I feel like if it were more of a standalone novel, rather than in the middle of an on-going continuity, it would be more palatable; however, given that the tone of the story is so markedly different from the previous and subsequent novels, it feels very much out of place. Normally, I enjoy Peter David's trademark comic-style humor, but it feels like it is dialed up to eleven in this novel. This stands in stark contrast to the heavy elements of the plot: an existential threat to the Federation, a mutiny, and the death of a major character. I also recently re-read Vendetta, and I feel like a much better balance of tone and stakes was struck in that novel. For me, Before Dishonor greatly misses the mark. There are a couple of elements I enjoy, but they are not enough to make this an enjoyable read overall. My score for Before Dishonor is 2/5.

More about Before Dishonor:

Also by Peter David:

My next read:

Next up is my video review of the newest TOS novel: The Antares Maelstrom by Greg Cox.

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