SELECT * FROM uv_BookReviewRollup WHERE recordnum = 950 Star Trek: Ex Machina, by Christopher L. Bennett Book Review |

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Star Trek: Ex Machina, by Christopher L. Bennett
Genre: Star Trek
Publisher: Pocket Books
Published: 2005
Review Posted: 10/19/2006
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 10 out of 10

Star Trek: Ex Machina, by Christopher L. Bennett

Book Review by David Roy

Have you read this book?

"Star Trek: The Motion Picture" has a number of fans, despite its reputation as one of the more boring and plodding films in the series. Christopher L. Bennett is one of those fans, and judging by the "About the Author" page at the back of Ex Machina, it inspired him. This book is the culmination of that inspiration. I, however, am among the many fans who think the movie does fit that reputation, and I feel that Bennett has written the perfect complement to the movie. Yes, the book is rather boring as well.

Ex Machina takes place only a few days or weeks after the movie, and everything is still in flux. Some of the crew, groomed by Captain Will Decker, are greatly concerned about the way Jim Kirk assumed command of the Enterprise in the movie, and their loyalty to Decker, combined with Decker's fate in the movie, has created an atmosphere of distrust on the ship. It doesn't help that Kirk is feeling the same way, doubting his abilities and his actions in taking command. All of the other main characters are going through changes and doubts themselves, but they have to work through them during a mission that only they are in a position to handle. In the original episode "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky," the Enterprise was instrumental in helping the Fabrini overcome their computerized god, the Oracle, that was terrorizing them. The crew demonstrated that the Fabrini were on a ship and not a world, and they left satisfied that the Fabrini were on course to their new homeworld. Now, religious strife has turned violent. Natira, Dr. McCoy's lover on the Yonada world ship and former high priestess of the Oracle, is now head of government, but fanatics who still believe in the Oracle are on the rise. They call Kirk "god-killer," and resent Federation intrusion on their world. McCoy must face the woman he left behind and Kirk has to get through his own self-doubts to bring a halt to the violence, before the Fabrini's neighbours revoke their decision to allow the Fabrini colonization. Of course, the ultra-radicals may destroy the planet first in a purifying wave of fire.

What harms Ex Machina most of all are the huge sections of exposition within the narrative. These passages slowed the book immensely, making it a chore to get through. All of the main characters (with the possible exception of Uhura) are going through some kind of existential crisis. Spock's mind meld with V'Ger in the movie has prompted him to re-examine the role of logic in his life, and whether or not he can allow some emotion into it. McCoy doubts his abilities to function on this new, racially-diversified (ok, species-diversified is a better term) Enterprise, as well as feeling angst about Natira. Sulu is wondering whether he should pursue command, and so on. All of these plots have interest and it was fascinating to see them deal with the problems, but only to an extent. There is a lot of soul-searching that Bennett has them do, and it got dull after a while. Add to that some of the hard science sections, the two or three pages of backstory about the Fabrini religion before they left their world, and many others, and the book just drags to a halt too many times. I'm not a reader who requires whiz-bang action in all of my books, but I do want the characters to do *something* and, if there is going to be exposition, make it interesting. Bennett doesn't always succeed in that.

Which is sad, because he does achieve this often enough to make the book bearable. He has created quite a few alien cultures just based on the scene in the movie where Kirk is briefing his crew and the director/writer/whomever decided to have a lot of different aliens in the background. While some of the passages pertaining to these cultures went on a bit too long, I did find some interesting concepts in there. Ensign Zaand, one of Chekov's security people, is from an intriguing world with a strictly hierarchical society, where everybody knows their place and how people react to each other is (though Zaand would disagree with this term) intuitive. He has assigned his loyalty to Decker, and has a really hard time trusting Kirk because of that. Bennett explores his background, and while it does get boring after a while, it really shines when it's shown in relation to Kirk himself. The scene between them toward the end of the book is phenomenal, and really made the rest of it worth it.

Bennett does capture the main characters perfectly, with all of the angst (though again, overdone at times) perfectly understandable. They are recognizable as the heroes we love, but they've been changed by the events of the movie, and we see the seeds of what they are to become in this novel (keep in mind "Star Trek II" takes place a few years after the first movie). He makes them interesting characters, and I enjoyed reading about them. It's the same for most of the minor characters as well, though I did find a few of them annoying. Reiko just comes across as shrill, even though I understand that she's supposed to be just passionate and she really thinks McCoy's not up to the job of handling multiple species on the ship. Dovraku is mostly a one-note religious fanatic, given some depth at the last minute. I didn't find him that interesting.

All in all, Ex Machina is a mixed bag. There is a lot of good stuff here, but like most seasonings, adding too much spoils everything. This is Bennett's first novel (though he has a few short stories and a "Star Trek: S.C.E" novella under his belt), and it shows. I much preferred his subsequent X-Men novel, Watchers on the Walls. There is definitely enough in Ex Machina to make it worth reading, but only if you're a fan of the original crew.
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