Monday, June 7, 2010

Star Trek Online: The Needs of the Many by Michael A. Martin & Jake Sisko

Spoiler Level: High

We've reached an interesting intersection in Star Trek continuity.

The original (or "Prime" timeline) is done, with its curtain call being the destruction of Romulus and Spock being pulled into the alternate (or "Abramsverse" or "nuTrek") timeline. So now the Prime Timeline is being continued via novels, comics and the new Star Trek Online MMORPG video game.

But with Trek being Trek, it's got to be messy.

Pocket Books' novels already continued ahead after Nemesis, and even though they haven't reached the point where Romulus has been destroyed yet, they've still had The Amazingly Massive Final Borg War from the Star Trek: Destiny books which has totally changed the Star Trek universe.

However, at the same time, the folks at Atari & Cryptic were making the Star Trek Online video game, and had to come up with their own timeline to set their game in, without knowing the plans that the novels had in mind. And they came up with The Undigne War, which also totally changed the Star Trek universe.

Meanwhile, IDW published their Countdown and Nero comics, with stories given to them by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the guys who blew up Romulus and thus totally changing the Star Trek universe in the first place.

Star Trek Online: The Needs of the Many
ties it all together very, very nicely. Basically, this book says the Prime universe also has two separate universes: The Pocket Books version (which is generally referred to by fans as the "TrekLit" timeline, for Star Trek Literature) and the Online & comic books sharing another version (which is generally referred to as the STO timeline, for Star Trek Online). And pity poor Department of Temporal Investigations agent Dulmer, who has looked into the face of the vortex, seen all the different timelines, and been driven mad by it all. Or at least as far as the people living in the STO timeline believe.

The book itself is told as a series of interviews done by Jake Sisko after the Undigne War (also referred to often as "The Long War") has ended. The Undigne are the real name for Species 8472, and I for one am very happy for them to have a real name! It turns out that Janeway's treaty with the Undigne we saw was only with one small faction, and the rest of the Undigne consider all life outside of Fluidic Space as a threat to them, since Voyager allied with the Borg. So the Undigne have begun a war with the Federation using both straight forward attacks and more subtle infiltrations. And when the Undigne copy you, it's not like the Changelings; they make exact copies of every cell of your body right down to every neural pathway in your brain, which means not only do they have your memories, but you could believe that you're still yourself while really being an Undigne sleeper agent.

The concept itself works great. It's similar to NuBSG's Cylons, only creepier-- in Galactica, you wondered if you might be a Cylon with fake memories. With this, the fear isn't that your life is fake, but that it's been stolen.

The STO timeline still incorporates a lot of elements from the novels, but since they're not beholden to the TrekLit timeline they occasionally happen in a different order. For example, Ro is still security chief aboard DS9, but she doesn't get the job until after Nemesis. Other things in the STO universe are the same as in the TrekLit universe, like Riker & Troi's daughter being named Natasha Riker-Troi. (And while I like the idea of her marrying the son of Picard & Crusher, I really hope his name doesn't end up being Rene Jacques Robert Francois Picard. I'd like to see a kid not be named after a dead character for once.)

The interviews themselves are captivating. It's great to see how many of the characters have grown and changed in "the future," especially Data and B-4. While the books have deliberately avoided the obvious trap door left in Nemesis for bringing back Data in B-4's body, the Countdown comics went ahead and took it. This book fleshes it out nicely, delving into the ethical issues that would be involved in such a resurrection. I also found the Undigne War to be as interesting to learn about in a bits-and-pieces way as the Time War has been in Doctor Who.

The only two things that really bothered my about this book are:

(1) Despite having the "Road to 2409" appendix in the back, there's nothing to state when this "Long War" actually happened. I'd be willing to believe it was a clandestine war if it wasn't so heavily emphasized how much it impacted an entire generation. I imagine it's deliberately kept vague to give the game-creators room to expand on it, but it makes it frustrating for me to get a grip on the timeline.

(II) There's a heck of a lot of WAR going on here for Star Trek. In this book alone, the Federation's at war with the Undigne, the Romulans are at war with themselves, and the Klingons are at war with everybody. The Dominion War and The Amazingly Massive Final Borg War in the TrekLit universe already felt like a lot, but it came across as much more final. The stories there are now dealing with rebuilding and getting back to exploring strange new worlds. But here in STO, the galaxy's been in constant war for decades, and it all seems to be building up to even more war.

So I'm guessing that Star Trek Online is not going to be Club Penguin for Trek fans, it's going to be World of Warcraft for Trek fans. Which is fine. But it's not really what I'd want from a Star Trek game. If I want a space combat game, I'd rather go with something that's meant for combat, like Star Wars Online or Worlds of Starcraft or whatever's really out there.

But for a one-off alternate-alternate-timeline story, it made for a great book.

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