Star Trek
Ex Machina

Author: Christopher L Bennett
Pocket Books
RRP 6.99, US $6.99, Cdn $10.50
ISBN 0 7434 9285 4
Available 07 February 2005

The former refugees of the Fabrini worldship Yonada are divided. Some cling to their theocratic past, while others envision a future governed by reason alone. Years ago the officers of the
Enterprise helped to overthrow the Oracle, the machine-god that controlled Yonada. Now Kirk, Spock and McCoy must confront the consequences of those actions, and also face echoes of their recent encounter with the vast artificial intelligence, V'Ger...

In my opinion, there should be more stories set between Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, and far fewer that take place during The Original Series. More books and comics have already been set during the original five-year mission than could comfortably fit within that timeframe. By comparison, the period between Star Trek: TMP and Star Trek II remains relatively unexplored, despite the widespread acceptance among fans that a second five-year mission took place in the interim.

As you may have guessed (otherwise I would have been rambling on for no reason), Ex Machina is set after TMP - almost immediately after it, in fact. This setting allows author Christopher L Bennett to deal with some of the personal and emotional ramifications of the movie that haven't really been addressed elsewhere.

For example, there is the fact that Dr McCoy is serving aboard a vessel that already has a Chief Medical Officer, Dr Christine Chapel. Why does McCoy remain in such an uneasy situation, and how does Chapel feel about it?

Then there's Spock. How does he deal with the aftermath of his V'Ger-inspired epiphany and his newly adopted emotions, and how does he get from this stage to become the more easy-going, yet still logical, Spock of Star Trek II? Bennett suggests how.

And neither Kirk nor several members of his crew are entirely comfortable with the circumstances in which he snatched command of the Enterprise from Willard Decker.

Apart from TMP (more specifically the Director's Edition and the novelisation of that movie), the author's other main source is the third season episode For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, to which this book is a sequel. Once again, the author irons out some of the episode's unanswered questions, such as how a race that was forced to travel between the stars in a sub-lightspeed asteroid could have known where to find a habitable destination planet in the first place. (I'm less convinced by Bennett's assertion that some of the Yonadi might have visited the asteroid's surface. It seems fairly evident from the episode that Yonada's general population do not realise their world is hollow. Perhaps the author is referring only to a privileged few in the know.)

This is an astonishingly well-researched book, in terms of real and imagined science, and also in terms of Trek continuity. More fleeting references suggest how Kirk might have been impelled to accept his promotion to desk-bound Admiral prior to TMP and tie in several contentious depictions of the Vulcans in Enterprise. Most of these references are unobtrusive, however, and you only really need to have seen TMP and For the World...

And the book has far more to offer than mere fan-pleasing continuity. The socio-political situation depicted on Daran IV, the new Fabrini home world, reflects present-day difficulties in Afghanistan and Iraq. Like those countries, the Fabrini have recently been "liberated" by the actions of forces (i.e. the Federation, represented by Kirk) whom some regard as cultural imperialists. The people are now "free", in the Federation's eyes, but some factions are unhappy about the way in which their old way of life has been overturned by the new government (led by the former High Priestess, Natira). The new High Priestess, Rishala, might just as well be talking about George W Bush and the American ideal of liberty when she says of Kirk and the Federation, "You let us make our own choices... so long as they're the choices you think are right."

I must say, it is good to read a meatier and more complex narrative than we have tended to get of late from the likes of Christie Golden and Michael Jan Friedman. This is also a heftier tome than usual: almost equivalent to the so-called "giant" Trek novels. Bennett's writing style is sometimes a little long-winded, but in general his story is engrossing.


Richard McGinlay

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