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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-09-03 20:23
Star Trek: Section 31: Control by David Mack
Star Trek: Section 31: Control - David Mack

Bashir and Sarina learn of a secret programme that pervades systems throughout the Federation (and beyond) and has been in place for centuries. Nominally it registers threats and brings them to the attention of the authorities - but it has long since developed a mind of its own, acting on its own... and creating Section 31, calling itself Control. Bashir engages Data's help in finally bringing down this machine.


First of all, the idea of the machine Uraei reminded me awfully of Person of Interest. A machine that listens to everything and monitors everyone to evaluate threats and prevent them. Here, Uraei develops a mind of its own because it sees that the normal channels are too slow, too bogged down by bureaucracy to work efficiently. And so it creates its own hierarchy, its own agency that operates without oversight, and Section 31 is born (just like Samaritan back in PoI). And of course, shutting it down means infecting all copies and preventing the machine from downloading a saved original copy from a secure place. Again, like PoI. So, this part did not really seem very original, and didn't actually engage me all that much.


The only thing here that held my interest are the implications, like the machine allowing the Xindi attack for the higher purpose of trying to strengthen security and eventually form the UFP pretty much earth-dominated etc. So there are canon events orchestrated by Uraei, and that of course, puts Federation history as we know it in a new perspective.


So, Bashir, Sarina and Data try to put an end to a machine code that pervades everything, every computer, every system on starships, every local law enforcement - but how to actually expose and remove that all-powerful surveillance and indepently acting force without actually throwing the UFP into chaos? And what if that all-knowing machine that has planned events for centuries now, that has built layers upon layers of security around itself, is actually aware of what's going on... and just uses people for its purpose? Doesn't that put a new, and rather bleak spin on fate, how much is predestined and how much one can control and change his own fate?


I think that's where "Control" gets really interesting, not so much in the premise that is, after all, not really new, but in those far-reaching ramifications. It feels as though Bashir, Sarina and Data just play unknowingly in a giant holo-programme, a holo-programme that encompasses the whole universe, and only the machine knows what's really going on. A nightmare-ish scenario... but is it if you're not really aware of it?  If you don't know anything about the machine or Section 31 (unlike Bashir, Sarina, Data and some other select people)?


Bashir and Sarina unknowingly fulfill their part in Control's machinations, fight a fight that they can't win, and suffer the consequences when Control pits them against each other. I have to admit that I haven't really cared all that much about Sarina, but her fate, and consequently Bashir's actually put a lump in my throat. Catatonic, Bashir ends up in Garak's care on Cardassia where "Enigma Tales" picks up the tale.


Actually, Garak's role is pretty small. He's one of the 3 persons (other than Sarina) who Bashir trusts in this situation, and his feelings towards Bashir become ever more overt. I'm wondering where this is going to lead. Other than that, Mack continues with Data's tale and Lal's development; and most importantly, some of the questionable missions of recent TrekLit years come to the light while fighting Control, such as Zife's removal from office and subsequent execution (and Picard's involvement), Section 31 trying to commit genocide against the Founders etc. It's going to be interesting to see the repercussions here.


Overall, a quite disturbing novel that takes a bit to gain steam. But once it does, Mack doesn't pull any punches, makes his usual twists and turns and puts his characters through the wringer. And the outlook on Federation politics may never be the same again - because who's really in charge?

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-05-17 20:55
Star Trek: S. C. E.: #23 & #24 Wildfire by David Mack
Wildfire Book 2 - David Mack
Wildfire Book 1 - David Mack

Why did it take 20 parts until SCE finally picked up speed, to actually get to the heart of it?!? What KRAD began in War Stories, is continued here: the SCE finally gets a living and breathing soul.


The daVinci is called for a rescue mission. The USS Orion launched a testrun of a device called "Wildfire" in the atmosphere of a gas giant which could change the fate of star (like the Genesis device did for planets), but something went wrong, and the Orion no longer replies to calls. At least the Wildfire-device should be salvaged since it could be used for more devious purposes. The team find the Orion derelict in the gas giant's atmosphere, and the Wildfire device primed for detonation - but before it can be disarmed, pretty much everything in the salvage operation goes wrong... and the daVinci itself faces destruction, and the crew certain death.


This was Mack's first solo work in Star Trek - and possibly, this is what he had envisioned for "Starship Down", the episode he wrote for DS9 and that this story is frequently referring to... and even back as a novice TrekLit-writer he knew how to shake up a series (although he went on to greater dimensions in later works). Interestingly, whereas he concentrates on the action later on, here he focuses on the personal stories, relationships, courage & heroism, and duty & self-reflection, which works astonishingly well. And I have to admit that I got a lump in my throat in part 2, quite a few times actually, yet it's strange that Gomez's reaction didn't move me half as much as Stevens's. But maybe that's going to change once I've read the aftermath-stories to come - and there's no doubt, that I'll continue with this series now. I simply can't stop here, hanging on the edge of grief and despair, without any of the emotional gratification of a good "what happens next". Well done, Mack.


I also appreciated the fact that the main character's death in this novel is a final one. We have a body that's been declared dead - so I'll expect consequences in the next stories (that have already been hinted at here).


Just a couple of factual nitpicks (which threw me out of the very emotional last chapter just a tiny bit):


A victim dying of suffocation due to CO2 intoxication without any outward pressure like strangulation etc. won't show any petechial bleedings on the face/sclera - simply because petechia are caused by the venous flow being interrupted while the arterial flow's still pumping blood into the tissue. And if there's no blockage in the venous system, there won't be any petechia.


And modern CPR uses a 30:2 rhythm (compression:breathing) regardless of the cause of the cardiac arrest, not 8:1 like it was described here - though, of course, since this was a case of CPR given pro forma, let's not be too strict about that.


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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-01-09 21:08
Star Trek: The Fall: A Ceremony of Losses by David Mack
A Ceremony of Losses (Star Trek: The Fall) - David Mack

Shar asks Bashir for help when studying the Meta-Genome provided by the Tholians leaves the Andorians stumped in their search for a cure for their fertility crisis. Bashir obtains a whole copy of the Meta-Genome and invites fellow-geneticistis to Bajor to come up with a cure. And they are successful, but not everyone actually wants to help the Andorians. And so Bashir risks everything to reach Andor himself.


I have to admit, I actually detest the way Bashir's kind of flaunting his superior intellect around and, of course, comes up with an ingenious cure. But, in this case, my anger and disbelief rather rests with the rest of the Starfleet officers we know, since at least Bashir's motivation is true and heartfelt. I emphasize that because there always are those who just obey without question - but the characters we know, we saw develop over 25 years, should be above mere obedience. And I realize that in a military hierarchy you can't just question orders left and right, but sometimes when things are as obvious as here, there can't be any doubt or hesitation. So, especially Ezri with her 9 lifetimes worth of experience didn't really endear herself to me.


And so, we have a president pro tem of the Federation after Bacco's assassination who's using the Andorian secession to build his own base of power, practically using the Andorians as example for what is to come if ever any other member of the Federation should even contemplate an exit (blockade, misinformation, even covert military action, keeping a cure from a species on the verge of extinction). We have the Andorian government who are also withholding strands of the genome to the scientists because the ruling party wants to have a tighter hold on the rule first (fighting the progressives who'd arguably benefit from a cure which consists of rewriting the genetic code of the whole species). And we have the Typhon Pact who are trying to entice the Andorians into joining by giving them bits of the genome. All around, it's bad to be an Andorian right now.


In the end, the cure is delivered, it works, Andor is reapplying for membership in the Federation and the leader of the Progressives announces her candidacy for President fo the Federation, opposing the president pro tem. Maybe another nitpick here: the Typhon Pact and the government (before it's voted out of office) are awfully impassive, considering they have major stakes in the game. But by then, the book focuses more on Bashir than on the whole political situation on a larger scheme.


Bashir himself faces a life-sentence for treason in using the meta-genome.


The novel itself is, as per usual for Mack, well written, suspenseful and fast-paced. Since I haven't read the earlier novels depicting the Andorian crisis and secession, the background here is a bit missing. Another unheard plea to the publishers to include a "previously on"-section... Just one thing, though: if it needs 4 people to conceive one child, small wonder that the process is prone to flaws. Just one little aberration, and the whole balance is off.


Overall: engaging.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-10-15 23:01
Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Rise Like Lions by David Mack
Rise Like Lions (Star Trek: Mirror Universe) - David Mack

It's almost 100 years since the Terran Republic was conquered by the Klingon/Cardassian Alliance - and all that Spock's been working for went underground. The rebellion is adrift, without a leader, fighting too many battles on too many fronts, but it only needs a figurehead to unite the factions, to point them in the right direction and to rebuild the world into the vision Spock gained by melding with McCoy back in "Mirror, Mirror".

Rise like Lions isn't the direct successor of Sorrows of Empire, unfortunately. There have been a few books in the DS9-relaunch that play into it, that set up the stage (such as Iliana Ghemor's role on Bajor which kind of jumpstarts the action here, or Kes), so that's a bit of a downside if you come directly from Sorrows. Again, I question the choice by the editors not to include a short "previously on"-section (or at least a list of books you should read previously) because not everyone read every book, and within the narrative, especially here, events remain a bit unclear.

Nevertheless, it's the small details that make this book rather enjoyable: Like Calhoun and Jellico getting on (albeit they did so after the big hiatus in NF as well), Luther Sloan being part of the Terok Nor-rebellion, Picard's insecurity and natural ability to lead, Duras being a good guy here etc. But actually, what happened to Jadzia that she wasn't there? I remember her in the MU-episodes, so there was a Jadzia. Did she die?

Overall the question of the end justifying the means continues here. This time the Alliance comits genocide on the Vulcan slaves, they wipe out whole solar systems to make a point. And the rebellion considers replying in kind... but finally, they don't, they realize that in order to change the world into something better, they can't found that change on terror and destruction. Interestingly, it's O'Brien, backed up by Ghemor, who makes that point, not the Memory Omega people left behind by Spock and led by Saavik.

But the one premise that bothers me most in the MU is the fact that all the people we know actually exist there despite the MU having a hugely different past. And still the same people had the same children, and those children actually turn up at the same locations? Yes, it's fun, but it really asks you to disregard probabilities... especially considering that humankind and the Vulcans have been enslaved and conquered peoples.

If there's one thing I'd wish for it is to see a continuation, because as we witness every day, the transition from rebellion to revolution to democracy isn't an easy one. Does the newly built "federation" actually work (especially backed up with the threat of a genesis device)? Because right now, while Spock didn't lose his centuries-lasting game of chess, did he actually win it? Only time will tell.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-09-23 17:24
Star Trek: Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire by David Mack
Star Trek Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire - David Mack

This novel is set entirely in the Mirror Universe, introduced in TOS's "Mirror, Mirror", and depicts the aftermath of said episode, Spock's rise to power and his trying to change the fate of his universe.


The overall theme is whether the ends justify the means: Spock's definitely not hesitant about using the Tantalus field to get rid of opponents (no matter how close they are to home), he's exterminating entire species, he's inciting wars, all in the name of bringing peace to the Terran Empire - albeit a delayed peace because he thinks that the Terran Empire can only thrive out of the fire of opression. It first has to be destroyed, the territory and peoples enslaved in order to rise again as a democracy. And why? Because people in power don't want to relinquish it, and the people enslaved don't know any better. Again quite an interesting spin on modern history. But where's the line? Is it justified to throw whole generations into turmoil so that future generations experience a peaceful collaboration and democracy? Spock gives his own answer, well aware of what he's doing.


As usual Mack poses interesting questions, his prose is easy to read and get into. But one point of criticism remains: He's an author best suited to action, to wreak havoc over the whole galaxy, but the little moments, the ones that give you real insight into the characters, the ones that make me empathize, the ones that engage me, that cause me to be invested in a story on a deeper, emotional level... I kind of miss those in his books.


The novel ends with the Empire (or rather the short-lived Republic) conquered by a Klingon-Cardassian Alliance and Spock executed, Spock's legacy remaining hidden within a few asteroids...


... to be continued in "Rise like Lions".

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