Star Trek: Titan (Book Five): Under a Torrent Sea
Author Christopher Bennett returns to the Star Trek: Titan series of novels (chronicling the continuing adventures of Captain William T. Riker and the diverse inter-species crew of his new command, the deep-space exploration ship Titan) with the fifth installment in the series, Under a Torrent Sea. (Click here for my review of book four, Sword of Damocles.)
The Titan crew discovers a water planet that, despite apparently having no land masses whatsoever, seems to contain sentient life. Titan‘s navigator, Aili Lavena, takes the lead in the investigation of this strange new world (which the Titan crew quickly nicknames Droplet), since she comes from a water planet and is fully comfortable exploring Droplet’s oceans without the aid of a shuttlecraft or environmental suit. Guess what, things go wrong, and she soon finds herself stranded on the planet along with the injured Captain Riker.
Following on the heels of book four’s investigation into the background and character of Bajoran science officer Jaza Najem, Under a Torrent Sea provides us with a similarly detailed look at another Titan crew-member, the Selkie Ensign Lavena. It’s great fun to read along as these novels explore these fascinating created-for-the-novels characters, while also continuing to throw lots of new wrinkles towards the from-the-TV-shows characters like Riker and Troi, and even the Elaysian Melora Pazlar (who appeared in one second season Deep Space Nine episode).
What I enjoy most about the novels written by Christopher Bennett is the time and space that he devotes to fully investigating and exploring the alien societies that he creates. His previous Titan novel featured his extrapolations about the workings of an entire society of space-faring Cosmozoans, while Under a Torrent Sea contains a wealth of details about the conditions on a water-planet and the type of life that might be found there. Of course this is all science fiction, but Mr. Bennett has clearly devoted time and attention to researching the scientific underpinnings of his story. This brings his novel closer to speculative fiction than it is to pure fantasy, and enhances the engaging nature of the story being told.
All of this wouldn’t amount to much if he didn’t have a strong story to tell within that framework, and as always Mr. Bennett does not disappoint on that score. I really enjoyed getting to know Ensign Lavena over the course of the novel and (spoiler alert!!) I was pleased that she wasn’t written out of the series at the end of the book, the way the focus of the previous novel was! The strength of this main story keeps the book moving along at a quick pace. It may be why I found myself enjoying this novel even more than Mr. Bennett’s previous Titan novel, Orion’s Hounds. I really liked that novel, too, don’t get me wrong — but it was a bit dry in parts, perhaps because it didn’t have quite the same character through-line as this novel does.
I should also point out that this novel — while mostly quite series — contains one of the funniest moments in any Star Trek novel that I’ve read recently. When an out-of-control Dr. Ree kidnaps the pregnant Deanna Troi, Tuvok must lead a security team to rescue her. They encounter a planet whose inhabitants have structured their society on the principles of rigorous debate. There’s a short sequence in which the logical Vulcan Tuvok attempts to out-logic one of the locals that is just marvelous. It’s a must-read.
While the film series has gone back to the beginning (exploring the early days of a young James T. Kirk) it’s a continuing pleasure to enjoy these novels that continue to push the Star Trek saga forward, both chronologically (telling stories set in the years after the final Next Gen film, Star Trek: Nemesis) and narratively (pushing the characters’ stories far beyond the familiar status quo). I devoured this novel in short order, and am eager to begin the next one (Synthesis, by James Swallow)!
Previous Star Trek novel reviews:
Star Trek: Voyager — Full Circle