Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Eternal Tide

Star Trek Voyager: the Eternal Tide
© 2012 Kirsten Beyer
388 pages          

Only Kathryn Janeway can save reality, imperiled by the physical manifestation of Chaos itself. At least, that’s what “Junior”, the scion of the mostly-omnipotent and thoroughly mischievous Q, thinks.  It’s just  not that Jane way is a demigod: all Starfleet captains are. But something she did in an alternate timeline defeated chaos, and Q Jr. is hoping she can figure what that something is. Unfortunately for him, she’s dead, having perished at the dawn of the last great Borg War when she was assimilated before being blown to smithereens. Fortunately for him, he’s a Q, so restoring her to life isn’t that hard of a trick.  But even for a Q,  life’s not that easy. The Eternal Tide witnesses the return of Captain Kate*, the culmination of Fleet Commander Afsarah Eden’s mysterious-past storyline,  the Q Continuum invading Voyager in force, and  the near-obliteration of life as we know it, all inextricably connected.

Kirsten Beyer has turned the Voyager relaunch into an enterprise far more critically successful than its onscreen edition,  reviving it. Here, it's Janeway that she brings to life -- to the mixed delight and vehemence of fans.  Since the return of Spock in the third Star Trek movie, fans have complained that death has lost its sting in the Trek universe:  while Joe Redshirt may be dead for good, the major characters always have a way to return. Data, for instance, dumped his entire memory into B4 shortly before engaging in his own attempt at a heroic death. Janeway's salvation is the Q Continuum, who showed up shortly before she started the mission that led to her assimilation and "death" and warned her not to do it.  She did it anyway, and then something astonishing happened: her death became a "fixed moment in time". In Q-terms, this means that in every universe, in all but one timeline,  Kathryn Janeway dies at the same exact moment. Clearly something is afoot, and Q Jr intends to find out what it is. He has a personal interest in sorting out the mystery, because for some reason, he can't look into the future beyond a certain date. Doe that mean the universe simply ends?...or just himself or the Q?

Although this is the book of Janeway's return -- it has her on the cover,  after all -- it isn't about Captain Kate, Wonder Woman in Uniform.  Afsarah Eden, commander of the Federation fleet exploring the Delta Quadrant and looking for signs of the supposedly-vanished Borg,  plays a part even more crucial. Eden has a past shrouded even mystery: even she doesn't remember her early childhood, and in Children of the Storm  she made a discovery that overturned what little she thought she did. Here, the plot thickens. Her past and the future of the Q Continuum are bound together. The story eventually sheds light on the origins of the Q, which is what fans may remember The Eternal Tide for after the furor of Janeway's return to the living is over.  Although the Chaos-Monster-Thing plot took time to grow on me, once the little storylines (Eden's exploration of her past, Q Jr's investigation of oblivion) coalesce,  all comes together splendidly.   There were multiple fascinating ways the story could have been resolved, but Beyer's choice was a nice nod to the abiding spirit of Star Trek, a belief in the power of the human spirit.

As usual, the writing is a pleasure. Characterization is, as ever, a strong suit:  I still can't get over how cocky Tom Paris has become a responsible first officer and devoted family man, and a source of pride to  Captain Chakotay, when for most of Voyager's run they were at each other's throats. Beyer first impressed me by making Chakotay likable, and a relationship between him and Janeway palatable.  Janeway's return would obviously have the greatest effect on him, rivaled possibly only by that of Seven of Nine's, whose own response is touching given her tendency to not emote.

The Eternal Tide thus tells a story that is big enough not to be overshadowed by the return of a major character from death, and it's told with all the skill relaunch readers have come to expect from Beyer.

*Technically it's Vice Admiral Janeway, but "Cap'n Kate" has so much more consonative appeal.

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