Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Body Electric

Star Trek Cold Equations, Book Three: The Body Electric
© 2013 David Mack
352 pages

Bad news. There's a planet-sized machine with a companion black hole ominously named "Abaddon" using artificial wormholes to suck entire star systems into its maw.  Worse news: the machine is a Borg-like collective of artificial intelligence systems with a serious attitude problem regarding organic lifeforms. To wit, it wants us all dead, and when it collides itself with the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way, dead we shall be. It's up to Captain Jean-Luc Picard to somehow find a way to save the galaxy, with a little help from his once-dead-now-resurrected-android-friend, Data.  The Body Electric concludes David Mack's Cold Equations series, which started out as a political spy-thriller but ends in a bittersweet triumph for the now-returned Data.

Although the third and final piece of a trilogy,  The Body Electric leaves behind what I thought to be the primary story of the Cold Equations trilogy, the latest chapter in the Cold War in Space series of books. Instead, the 'other' story in the two previous novels,  the return of Data,  rises to dominance, with the positronic commander taking a starring role in the Enterprise's  efforts to stop the Machine's subspace-shattering kaboom.  Wesley Crusher's rare fans will be gratified at his role in the story; it is he who learns of the threat, but he's powerless to combat it..The Body Electric is easily more on the side of 'soft' science fiction, being more about its characters - - Data and the ever lively T'Ryessa Chen, for instance --  than science, but many of the characters put the spotlight on the future of artificial intelligence, being as they are droids. There's even a little philosophy of the soul throne in as the AIs debate the merits of joining or fighting The Machine, which is a larger, meaner version of V'Ger from The Motion Picture.  Although the-Enterprise-saves-the-galaxy plots border on ludicrous after so many movies, David Mack executes it well, especially in building tension.  Readers will find it most interesting for the continuing evolution of Data, who has grown quite beyond his old limitations.

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