Star Trek: Immortal Coil
The Persistence of Memory, book 1 of David Mack’s so-far-great new Star Trek trilogy, Cold Equations, made repeated reference to events in a previous Star Trek novel: Jeffrey Lang’s 2002 book, Immortal Coil. Before continuing on to read book two of Mr. Mack’s trilogy, I decided to track down and read Mr. Lang’s book. I am glad I did, because it is fantastic.
Set after the events of Star Trek: First Contact and during the time of conflict with the Dominion as told in the latter seasons of Deep Space Nine, the story of Immortal Coil focuses on Data, still struggling to adapt to the emotions given to him by the emotion chip installed into his system during the events of Star Trek: Generations. At the start of the novel, Dr. Soong’s wife (and Data’s metaphorical mother), Juliana Tainer (introduced in the Next Generation episode “Inheritance” and played by Fionnula Flanagan, so memorable to fans of Waking Ned Devine and Lost) has died. This forces Data to confront the hard truth that he will likely outlive every one of his friends and ship-mates. The prospect of seeing them all die, one by one, dooming him to an unending life of loneliness sends Data into an emotional crisis, one he finds himself ill-equipped to handle. Meanwhile, it turns out that Commander Bruce Maddox (introduced in the classic second season Next Generation episode “The Measure of a Man”) has been continuing to work on creating another Soong-type android. Partnering with the genius Emil Vaslovik and Reg Barclay (I love Barclay!), Commander Maddox has all but succeeded — until his lab is destroyed, Maddox is left in a coma, and their android prototype is stolen. What follows is a terrific adventure/mystery, as Data seeks to uncover the truth about the android prototype, along the way learning far more than he ever suspected about machine-life in the galaxy as well as the past of his creator/father, Noonien Soong.
Immortal Coil is an absolutely marvelous book. The book is deeply immersed in Star Trek continuity, but also totally compelling as a story in its own right. In addition to picking up on myriad dangling story threads from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Mr. Lang’s story directly deals with the events from two classic Trek episodes: “What Are Little Girls Made Of” and “Requiem for Methusaleh.” On top of that, Mr. Lang cunningly connects just about every example of machine-life ever seen in Star Trek, from the Exocomps from the Next Gen episode “The Quality of Life” to Norman from the Classic Trek episode “I, Mudd” to, in one of my favorite moments in the book, the M-5 computer from “The Ultimate Computer.” It’s great fun spotting all of these references and connections.
Data’s emotional dilemma over his immortality is a rich hook for the story, as is his burgeoning romance with the ship’s new chief of security Rhea McAdams. The “Data falls in love” episode of Next Gen, “In Theory,” stands out in my mind as a pretty weak episode, so I was at first far from thrilled when I could see the story taking this turn. But I was incredibly impressed by Mr. Lang’s ability to make the love story honest and compelling, and he skillfully plays with the many ways that Data’s now having emotions allow the love-story to progress in an entirely different direction than that of “In Theory.” It also helps that Rhea is a far more compelling character than was Lt. D’Sora. She’s almost too compelling, actually, because having Data fall in love with a character who is not a series regular and who, to my knowledge, never appears again after this book, left me dubious as I was reading as to how Mr. Lang would return things to the status quo at the end of the book. I was a little distracted by constantly thinking, “well, I know Data and Rhea aren’t going to stay together, so this is all going to be un-done somehow…” I can say at least that Mr. Lang avoids the obvious “Rhea heroically sacrifices herself to save Data and/or the Enterprise” ending, though ultimately the conclusion of their story did feel more like it came from the need to re-set things back to normal than it did as the natural ending to what had transpired in the book. Oh well.
Then there’s the much larger story that the mystery of the attack on Maddox’s lab eventually leads to. This aspect of the story helps to give Immortal Coil its epic scale and its significance. I don’t want to spoil things, but I loved the choice of villains for the story, and I was also intrigued by the connection between various androids hinted at in the book’s last third. This is an intriguing notion, one picked up a bit by David Mack in his new trilogy. I am very interested to see where this story goes. I also loved the flashback scenes with Noonien Soong, Ira Graves (from the second season Next Gen episode “The Schizoid Man” — yet another clever connection drawn by Mr. Lang, suggesting that Dr. Soong and Dr. Graves knew each other in their youth), and Vaslovik.
The novel’s only weak point is (and I don’t want to spoil everything here, so I’ll be careful) the revelations about a certain character’s true identity. We eventually learn that someone thought missing is hiding in plain site (I am being very vague here so as not to ruin things!!), but the timetable just doesn’t work at all. For that character to have assumed his/her place on the Enterprise when we first encounter him/her in the book, I just don’t see how that could have possibly worked. There was just not nearly enough time for a cover identity to have been put in place. Even more than that, once we learn who this person really is late in the book, it makes it hard to believe how that character could have behaved the way we saw him/her behave earlier in the book, because he/she would have been totally uncertain and confused, rather than someone who would behave as a master undercover spy, effective at fooling all of his/her friends and co-workers. That didn’t make any sense to me, and felt like an unfortunate and unneeded extra twist to the story. Other than that glaring problem (as well as unfortunate typo at the very end of chapter twenty-two that caught my attention, in which Riker makes a comment to Picard, who replies “I’m glad to hear you feel that way, Mr. LaForge”), I was quite taken with this book.
I am glad to have gone back and read this Star Trek: The Next Generation novel that I had missed when it came out. It’s a great read, and I am delighted that this story has now been included in the new Star Trek novel continuity being woven by the last several years’ worth of Trek novels. (It’s fun, by the way, to notice all the subtle ways in which Mr. Mack crafted his recent story to fit nicely with this one, down to referencing Dr. Soong’s wish to some-day live on a hot planet, which is from Immortal Coil’s very first paragraph.) Now, on to book two of David Mack’s Cold Equations trilogy!
Previous Star Trek novel reviews:
Star Trek: Voyager – Full Circle
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