Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Greater than the Sum

Greater than the Sum
© Christopher L. Bennett 2008
368 pages


Fresh from his honeymoon with Dr. Beverly Crusher, Jean-Luc Picard has returned to the Enterprise-E to assemble a new command staff in the wake of recent losses in battle. Finding the right people to meet the demands of the Federation flagship is problematic, but news from the Beta Quadrant will render staffing problems trivial: the Borg are back.

After the events of Death in Winter, a Borg cube launched an attack on the Federation and brutalized it in a way not seen since Wolf 359. They were driven way, but assimilated a Federation science vessel before vanishing completely. That science vessel, the USS Einstein, was reported destroyed, but its attack on the USS Rhea, a Federation starship assigned to investigate a system in the Beta Quadrant proves otherwise. The Borg-controlled Einstein -- known in Starfleet enlisted ranks now as the Frankenstein -- is a threat to the Federation, not for its own armament but for the knowledge it possesses. The Federation's greatest defense against the Borg is the gulf of space between the Federation and the Borg Collective -- but that curious system in the Beta Quadrant may hold the secret to quantum slip-stream warp drives, which would make the Milky Way as transversable as a local star system. The Frankenstein cannot be permitted to return to the Delta Quadrant, lest the Borg gain that knowledge.

Picard is given ultimate discretion in how he chooses to combat the threat, and reluctantly chooses to include the young officer who survived the attack on the Rhea as part of his staff. The excitable, immature officer doesn't appear to be Starfleet material, let alone an officer distinct enough to serve on the bridge of the Federation flagship -- but something about her compels Picard to give her a chance. Together with a ship of ex-drones -- the Liberated, led by Hugh -- Picard must find a way to destroy the ever-adaptive and increasingly aggressive Borg before they are able to adapt slipstream technology to their uses and return to the Collective, where they will share that knowledge and give the Borg a way to dominate the entire Milky Way.

Greater than the Sum is one of the best Trek books I've read. Although the mission is essentially military, Bennet focuses on character development, diplomacy with a new form of life, and scientific investigation. Bennett's pacing worked well for me: ultimate confrontation with the ship is delayed, allowing tension to build. In the meantime, Bennett focuses on Picard and his new officer, Lieutenant Chen. I didn't like Chen at first, thinking her sophomoric: I didn't realize her immature disposition was deliberate until Bennett starting bouncing her personality off of Picard's, at which point hilarity ensued.  While she begins as a hyperactive and childish Ro Laren-type with pointed ears, Chen matures throughout the book and I looked forward to her scenes. Bennett also explores Picard and Crusher's married life, particularly the motives behind Picard's reluctance to start a family. His official explanation is that having children would be irresponsible in light of the Borg threat, but the real motives are more nuanced and draw from various Trek episodes, including The Inner Light.  Although Greater than the Sum continues the story begun in previous TNG Relaunch novels, Bennett's background exposition was sufficient and unintrusive. It's thus a easy recommendation for both fans of Trek literature and of The Next Generation itself.

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