Star Trek Enterprise: Rise of the Federation
I thought the post-finale series of Star Trek: Enterprise books was finished.
Written exclusively by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin (and, in the later books, by Mr. Martin solo), this post-finale Enterprise series had gotten off to a great start. They cleverly undid the stupid, pointless death of Trip in the Enterprise finale (while also beautifully unravelling many of the continuity gaffes from that poorly-made finale). Then they began a multi-book story-line to finally tell the untold story of the Earth-Romulan War. But what began so promisingly quickly unravelled, and I felt the last two books fell off significantly in quality. At the end of the last book, The Romulan War: To Brave the Storm (click here for my review), the last few chapters seemed designed to serve as a quick finale to the Enterprise story as a whole, with the ship decommissioned and her former crew scattered to the winds. It seemed clear to me that this story was over.
And yet here we are, just a year later, with a new Enterprise novel that seems poised to be the start of a new series of post-finale Enterprise stories: Christopher L. Bennettt’s Star Trek: Enterprise: Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures. (There are a lot of colons in that title. I frankly wasn’t sure how to type it out. But it seems to be that Enterprise: Rise of the Federation is the new title of this series, with A Choice of Futures being the title of this particular installment.)
This novel is set after the events of Mr. Mangels and Mr. Martin’s books, and it is very much in-continuity with those stories. This new book meshes seamlessly with those books (and, indeed, Mr. Bennett makes some great choices to begin unravelling some of the problems with where the narrative had been left at the end of those books), but you definitely don’t have to have read those books to enjoy A Choice of Futures. It is very successful as a new beginning for these post-finale Enterprise stories.
There are two main story-lines in the novel, both of which cleverly highlight the questions the newly-formed United Federation of Planets must face. In one story, a Federation starship, the U.S.S. Essex, is negotiating with different factions on the planet Sauria (as in Saurian brandy — nice nod to the Original Series there) for trading rights to minerals on their planet. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that the involvement of these Federation officers has dramatically affected the balance of power among the indigenous peoples of the planet. Should the Federation have stronger guidelines in terms of what they can or cannot do when contacting people from other worlds? At the same time, Captain T’Pol of the U.S.S. Endeavor and Admiral Jonathan Archer have come to the aid of a group of non-aligned worlds who are being menaced by an unknown new species. Archer’s instinct is to leap to the defense of these people and bring the Federation’s military might to bear in their defense. But will the Federation be known as primarily a military power? What unintended consequences might there be to involving themselves militarily in the disputes of other worlds? Is there a different, better approach that the Federation can take?
I love both of those story-lines because they so cleverly make the point that so much of what we know about the nature of the Federation from Star Trek stories set a century or two further in the future must not have been automatic. It would have been so easy for this new alliance of Humans, Vulcans, Tellarites, and Andorians to have gone in other directions, directions that would have seemed perfectly sensible and righteous at the time. And yet, those directions would not have lead to the altruistic Federation that we saw in the Original Series and later Star Trek TV shows. I love how well Mr. Bennett has thought out these issues, and how he has crafted a story that show Archer and co. being forced to confront these issues. The title of the book is very literal, in that Archer and the other members of this nascent Federation find themselves presented with a stark choice as to how they will shape the future of their alliance, and their planets, based on how the respond to the situations they face in this book.
There are lots of other fascinating story-lines in the book as well. I was pleased by how well Mr. Bennett was able to share the spotlight of the story amongst all the characters of the Enterprise ensemble. In addition to the two story-lines I listed above, there is also a great third story-line focusing on the newly-promoted Captain Malcolm Reed on the starship Pioneer. We see Reed’s struggles to adapt to his captaincy and to form a bond with his crew. I loved how well Travis Mayweather — a sorely underused character on the Enterprise TV show — was involved in that story, as Reed’s first officer. Hoshi Sato — who was also criminally under-developed on Enterprise — doesn’t get as much character development as Malcolm and Travis, but at least she does get to be centrally involved in the plot in the later part of the book, as she attempts to establish a dialogue with the mysterious alien “mutes” causing so much trouble in the region.
I enjoyed the new character of the Andorian Thanien, T’Pol’s new first-officer aboard the Endeavor (a result of the attempt to inter-mingle species among ships of the newly created UFP Starfleet), and his struggles to find common ground with the impassive T’Pol. I also enjoyed seeing Trip’s involvement in the story, though as I commented in my reviews of the Romulan War books, I remain dissatisfied with the situation into which this once-great character has been placed. I’d really love to see an eventual happy ending for this character, he deserves it.
As is always the case with Mr. Bennett’s Star Trek novels, the book is full of fun little nods to Star Trek continuity. We check in with Shoval and Shran, and with Crewman Elizabeth Cutler (a recurring character from Enterprise’s first season who then vanished from the show due to the actress’ unfortunate death) and we get references to Deneva, to an ancestor of an Original Series character, to the un-named aliens from “Silent Enemy,” and to Bryce Shumar (referenced in the TNG episode “Power Play”), among others. Mr. Bennett references the NX-class refit, which is based on the just-done-for-fun rendering by Doug Drexler, who was involved with the Star Trek art department for years. Mr. Drexler postulated a refit of the NX-Enterprise that brought it’s look a little closer to that of the Original Series Enterprise. Guess that is now in continuity! I also loved Mr. Bennett’s descriptions of the new Starfleet uniforms, which drew on aspects from the uniforms of each member species, and which served as a hybrid between the look of the uniforms from the Enterprise TV show and that of the original Star Trek series. (Check out Mr. Bennett’s sketch of the new uniforms here.)
A Choice of Futures is a great book. It’s an extremely pleasurable read, rich with Star Trek lore and filled with compelling new stories for our heroes and interesting new character-arcs for the Enterprise ensemble. The story is set on a broad canvas, not confined to the rigorous we-have-to-keep-all-of-our-characters-on-the-same-one-ship status quo of the Enterprise TV show, but also attentive to the stories of each of the individual characters in a way that the Romulan War books sadly were not. This is exactly the type of fun, well-thought-out prequel to the Original Series that I had always hoped Enterprise would prove to be. I am delighted that Mr. Bennett is already at work on a sequel, I can’t wait for it.
Previous Star Trek novel reviews:
Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Sky’s The Limit, Resistance and Q & A, Before Dishonor and Greater than the Sum, Destiny trilogy, A Singular Destiny, Losing the Peace,Immortal Coil, Cold Equations Book 1: The Persistence of Memory, Cold Equations Book 2: Silent Weapons, Cold Equations Book 3: The Body Electric
Star Trek: Voyager – Full Circle
Star Trek: The Fall — Book 1: Revelation and Dust
Star Trek: New Frontier – Series overview, Stone & Anvil, After the Fall, and Missing in Action, Treason and Blind Man’s Bluff
Star Trek: Mirror Universe (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Shards & Shadows – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire — Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Rise Like Lions – Star Trek: Myriad Universes (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Shattered Light