Sunday, 3 March 2013

Cold Equations Book Three: The Body Electric

David Mack's conclusion to the Cold Equations trilogy is both epic and brave - and there might be spoilers!

Brave because there are no Tholians,  Gorn, Breen or mention of the Typhon Pact; epic because this really is the ultimate mission for survival. Very little of the Alpha Quadrant gets a look in here and if you're looking for "more of the same" then this is certainly a curve ball I didn't see coming to round off David Mack's latest three-book foray into Trekdom.

If it wasn't for the ongoing tale of the resurrected Data and his search for the Immortal, you could be forgiven at times for thinking that this is a standalone novel. That thread is in greater evidence here than before and certainly more than in Silent Weapons so if you were wondering where it had gone, never fear.  While there is a larger threat and storyline played out in The Body Electric, you cannot help but be reminded of the events and narrative that have reintroduced us to Data 2.0. The overall arc has very much been the story of his return and the quest that he takes on to locate Akharin (aka Emil Vaslovik aka the Immortal). This was almost skated over in the previous novel with scant reference to the arc until the last few chapters which essentially set up this finale.

As I've said, if you're expecting something similar to Silent Weapons then you'll be surprised. as The Body Electric is different again showing that Mack is a dab hand at at least three genres and is not fond of sitting back and allowing his readers to get too comfortable or dug into the rut of "same old, same old" storytelling. The Persistence of Memory was autobiographical for the most part; Silent Weapons a political thriller and here in The Body Electric it's all about action and (Im)mortal danger. The stakes have, to use a cliché, never been higher.   

Finding a terrible galaxy-destroying machine at the heart of the Milky Way, Traveler Wesley Crusher returns to the Enterprise seeking help to save civilisation from imminent destruction when he is left with no other option and abandoned by his associates. While all this kicks off at one location, Data makes contact with the Fellowship of Artificial Intelligence in order to gain access to the Immortal, Akharin. Mack takes us to the very heart of our galaxy for the climax to the Cold Equations trilogy. Changing the style of novel maintains the focus and has kept this series from becoming stale. Here the story elements are drawn together from different locations to the arena where the showdown for this saga is ultimately set - and the centre of the galaxy can be no bigger a stage!

Now I'll give Mack this; until their mention right at the end of Silent Weapons I had completely forgotten about Noonien Soong's visits from the Fellowship of Artificial Intelligence. In The Body Electric we really get to understand their significance within the overall framework of this trilogy and what their ultimate goal is. The android characters we meet are wide and varied; tentacled, bipedal, tread-rolling, multi-eyed and exceptionally loyal to their cause. Once more the benefit of the written page allows Mack to create much  more than we would have been able to experience on the screen which in turn gives these stories something of a cinematic quality - the writers of a few Enterprise episodes could have learned a thing or too from this.

Tyros, the second-in-command(roid) we have met before, attempting to lure Soong to their ranks in the pages of Book One. Now we see him as the right-hand to Gatt, a more hard-line android who has, shall we say, been through the mill. I loved reading the sections where these two characters were present as they aren't maliciously evil and, as Tyros points out, it's more about obsession. I found Gatt quite interesting namely due to his beliefs and determination. Gatt's path through the novel is certainly one of the more interesting and is perhaps not what you might expect. Tyros however doesn't come across quite as sinister or shadowy as he did in The Persistence of Memory and it's a shame that this is lost, possibly due to the nature of the story more than anything else - at some point we had to "get to know" him.

In relation to this pairing, Mack handles several duets through The Body Electric and there are certainly a few to explore.  While Silent Weapons highlighted the bond between Picard and Crusher, Mack goes to town with Worf and the captain being the only ones to seemingly slip the net. Central is the relationship triangle of Data, Akharin and Rhea McAdams. The way in which these three deal with each other while in the company of the Fellowship is crucial to the book and to bring about a conclusion to this piece of Data's rebirth. This is a Data determined to succeed with his own goals especially where family is concerned (make sure you take note of the prologue, readers). If that's not enough for you then there are a few secondary stories building on this relationships theme. . We have seen Taurik and T'Ryssa Chen before, but I'm not sure if their story brings much to the novel overall. It acts as a distraction from the intensity of the main plot but whether it's necessary at all is debatable as the arc story and the danger posed by the Machine are more than enough here to fill out near-350 pages. In some ways this additional "C" story feels like filler which is interesting as I didn't get that sense with either of the previous books. It is all wrapped up well but I would have preferred Data's search for the Immortal to have taken a bit longer to build up and intensify. The way in which it all happens early on just seems a bit easy! I had expected there to be more time spent finding Akharin and travelling to the Machine (as it is called) but there seems to be a lost opportunity to explore what Wesley has been doing and some more investigative workings from our favourite resurrected android. The speed at which Data locates the Immortal is break-neck especially when you consider that it looked like it was going to be a long process going by the investigations he was undertaking at the beginning of Silent Weapons.

As with the previous books, readers will hopefully be drawn in by the wealth of cross-referencing to Trek of days past.  At some point within The Body Electric we are pointed in the direction of TNG (very, very important),  DS9 and the original series and it's movie sequels (very, very, very important).  All credit to the author here as everything is slotted in and has a use.  As I've noted before it's all important and don't forget a thing.  It's likely to be significant further down the line! What we also get here is the return of Wesley Crusher and I have to take Mr Mack to task here because I didn't find him annoying! In fact I enjoyed reading the character and it felt like there had been a maturing period since we last spent any time with him on screen (I would class that as TNG's "Journey's End" rather than the fleeting appearance in Nemesis although we are reminded of that here). He's all grown up and acts as a major driving force to get this story moving. He's learnt a lot but we don't get the arrogance that plagued his last TNG visit. Time has changed him to a more reasonable individual who, it has to be said, has been perhaps modelled just a little on Wil Wheaton - if only in physical appearance - but you can still imagine the old Wesley at times, especially when he's speaking to Beverly, mother to son.

It's very hard not to divulge too much of this book without ruining potential enjoyment of the trilogy because there are so many strands from Books One and Two that are tied up here, as well as a few from some time earlier and any reference would surely give it all away. I would say that there is one part of the concluding section of the book which I wasn't too thrilled with and after the amazing roller-coaster that we've been through over the course of 900 odd pages I did feel a little bit let down while still in some ways expecting that something like this would be on the cards. While I'm mentioning this, I'm not sure whether we needed a blink-and-miss appearance by Q early on. A visit that forms the snapshot taster page at the start of the book. A little misleading to what is coming perhaps and it left me wondering if he would be turning up at some point even though it is made clear he has been left unable to intervene by the Continuum,

Now hopefully I've managed to avoid wrecking the plot and your enjoyment of The Body Electric.  If you've not read any of the previous books  I thoroughly recommend you do so before attempting this final narrative. I've even put in an order for the Star Trek: Destiny omnibus to help bring me back up to speed. Right. The overall opinion bit. It's a good conclusion to the trilogy and leaves enough open for Mack or other authors to continue the expanded universe saga, developing a wealth of characters who could end up in their own novels given further development. I preferred the political nature of the second book over both The Persistence of Memory and The Body Electric. What swayed it for me was the disappointment that nothing was made of the discovery made at the end of Book two in the following volume. I still prefer Secret Weapons as a story and would rate it as the best volume out of the three as the omission of that central story factor greatly affected my judgement over the final book. There should have been some kind of follow-up but I guess that wasn't in the big plan. So, The Body Electric, good, but like many an odd-numbered Trek movie, it left me wanting for that little bit more. May be the next book from David Mack will answer some of those niggling questions and I certainly look forward to finding out.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Cold Equations Book Three: The Body Electric is available now from Simon and Schuster priced £6.99 ISBN 9781451650747

You can read my review for Book One: The Persistence of Memory and Book Two: Silent Weapons now at Some Kind of Star Trek

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