Star Trek Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock
When Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled after four seasons, it left several story-lines hanging. Many Star Trek fans, myself included, had been hoping that Enterprise would one-day chronicle the events of the Romulan War hinted at in episodes of the Original Series. (And, indeed, several episodes from Enterprise’s fourth and final season hinted that the show might indeed be heading in that direction.) Fortunately, Michael A. Martin (along with, on the first novel, Andy Mangels) has been telling the story of the Romulan War in a series of Star Trek novels. (Click here for my review of the first novel in that series, Kobayashi Maru, and I’ll have reviews of the other two novels in the series coming soon.)
But there was an even bigger story-line left painfully unresolved at the end of Star Trek: Enterprise. Ever since the show’s pilot episode, “Broken Bow,” we’d been hearing about a mysterious Temporal Cold War, apparently being fought throughout time by time-travelers from the future. Factions of this Temporal Cold War were repeatedly seen to be interfering in events of Captain Archer’s time, but to what end was never clear. We saw some apparently heroic characters (Daniels, who appeared to be from a future Starfleet), and apparently villainous characters, such as the mysterious figure glimpsed throughout the series whose identity was never revealed (leading to his being nicknamed “Future Guy” by many fans). I write “apparently” since various episodes offered sometimes contradictory information as to who was really trying to do what. (At one point Future guy helped Captain Archer, and at other times Daniels appeared to be less than totally truthful.)
I have been waiting for the Star Trek novels to address this enormous dangling story-line, and I am very pleased to report that Christopher L. Bennett has done so with gusto in his latest novel Star Trek Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock. (It’s a lengthy, sort of confusing title, but I gather that the hope is that there will be future installments of novels, under the Department of Temporal Investigations heading. I join in this hope!)
The Department of Temporal Investigations is, of course, an agency seen in only one single Star Trek episode: the Deep Space Nine episode “Trials and Tibble-ations,” in which Sisko & co. accidentally travel back in time to the events of the Classic Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles.” In that episode, we were introduced to DTI agents Lucsly and Dulmur, who were sent to investigate the time-travel events on behalf of their department, which was the Starfleet agency tasked with protecting the integrity of the time-line. Agents Lucsly and Dulmur didn’t have a lot of screen-time, but they and their department sparked a lot of fans’ imaginations. (Curiously, I always thought that the joke was that their names were anagrams of those of FBI agents Mulder and Scully, although this novel spells the name Dulmur not Dulmer.)
Dulmur and Lucsly are the main protagonists of this novel, Watching the Clock, and I was thrilled by how well Mr. Bennett fleshes out their personalities and their back-stories. The novel constantly shifts from “Present Time” to “Downtime,” in which we see events that happened before the present-day (24th century) setting of the novel. It’s a clever narrative device, as during these digressions into the past we’re given an opportunity to see key events of back-story unfold, and thus learn a lot about Dulmur, Lucsly, and the other DTI agents. I was surprised, though pleasantly so, by the number of new characters introduced in the novel, and by the time invested in learning about them as well. In particular, we get to spend a lot of time with another pair of DTI agents, a time-lost human named Teresa Garcia and a Deltan named Ranjea. I’m sure that if this DTI series continues, these characters will continue to be major characters in the series, and that would please me greatly.
Mr. Bennet has always demonstrated, in his novels, an impressive attention to detail — both to Star Trek continuity and to scientific plausibility. This serves him incredibly well here. Over the course of the novel, Mr. Bennet attempts to construct a unifying theory of how time-travel works in the Star Trek universe. This is quite an undertaking, as there have been a plethora of time travel stories over the years, in all of the Star Trek movies and TV shows, and they have often been wildly inconsistent from one another in terms of how they depict time travel working. (If you go back in time and change something, does that destroy the present/future from which you came? Or does that create an alternate timeline, which exists side-by-side with the “original” timeline? We’ve seen it both ways, and that is just one example of the inconsistencies I’m talking about.) But, somehow, over the course of the novel, Mr. Bennett is able to reference pretty much every single Star Trek time-travel story ever put on film, and he’s able to offer wonderfully fascinating explanations as to how they all fit together. It’s quite a hoot.
But even MORE of a hoot, though, is the chapter in which Mr. Bennett attempts to summarize, and draw sense from, all of the Temporal Cold War events seen during the four seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise. When the DTI agents realize that a new front in the Temporal Cold War might be opening up during their time, the agents gather for a briefing to attempt to synthesize everything they know about what went down during Captain Archer’s time. What follows is a fascinating chapter, as the characters review the events chronicled in Enterprise, and ask the questions that I know I, as a viewer, had. (If the future factions wanted to defeat Captain Archer’s efforts at leading humanity to the stars, and eventually forming the United Federation of Planets, why did they avoid so many opportunities to do so directly? Could “Future Guy” have had other goals? How were the Tholians involved? And on and on…) This could easily have been a boring summary of other Star Trek episodes, but in Mr. Bennett’s capable hands it’s a tour-de-force chapter, informative and humorous. (I LOVED how one of the characters actually referred to the mysterious sponsor of the Suliban Cabal as “Future Guy”!)
I must also note the wonderfully inventive way in which Mr. Bennett opens each chapter/section of the novel. Each time the story shifts to a new location/event, we’re given a heading with the date and time. But every single time we’re given a new heading (and this must be hundreds of times over the course of the entire novel), it’s according to a different calendar/system of measuring time. Some are real, some are fictional (based on what we know of various Star Trek alien races) but all are fascinating, and this sort of playful attention to detail is, once again, why I enjoy Mr. Bennett’s writing.
My only teensy tiny complaint about this otherwise wonderful novel concerns the ending, so BEWARE SPOILERS from here on out, my friends!
While I was positively gleeful that a Trek author was finally attempting to pick up the many dangling story-threads of the Temporal Cold War left hanging by the end of Enterprise, I was quite surprised that, by the novel’s end, Mr. Bennett had revealed the identity of the mysterious Future Guy and saw him finally defeated and captured by our heroes. As thankful as I am to see a long-running story-line actually get RESOLVED, I must admit to feeling like, after so much build-up (during four seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise, and during the bulk of this novel), the quick resolution at the end felt a bit too easy and anticlimactic. Since I’m hoping for future DTI novels, I wouldn’t have objected to seeing Future Guy’s ultimate defeat and capture wait for a subsequent story. I was also underwhelmed by the revelation of his identity. I guess what we learn makes sense in the context of what we know of his actions and goals, but again, after so much build-up, and so many years of speculation by Star Trek fans, I’m really disappointed that Future Guy didn’t turn out to be someone we knew (or even someone with some RELATION to someone we knew!). That he wound up being someone we’d never heard of before was a bit of a disappointment.
Still, it’s hard to be upset at an author actually daring to bring some resolution to a long-running story-line like this one, and the rest of the novel was so spectacular that I can forgive my complaints about the ending. Basically, I was having so much fun with the story that I didn’t want it to end! So I’m not sure ANY ending would have satisfied me.
Kudos to Christopher L. Bennet for this phenomenal Star Trek novel, one of my favorite Trek novels from the past several years. This sort of universe-spanning, Trek history-spanning story-line is exactly why I read Star Trek novels. It really tickles me to see connections made between so many obscure, different aspects of the Star Trek universe. I really hope that Watching the Clock is but the first DTI series of many. Even if it isn’t, this one is a gem.
Previous Star Trek novel reviews:
Star Trek: Voyager — Full Circle