Spoiler Level: Medium-ish
I love the Myriad Universes books. I love alternate timelines and divergent histories; for a while, "What If?" was the only Marvel comic I was reading. And as ashamed as I am to admit to this, reading this book right after Jack McDevitt's excellent Time Travellers Never Die has driven home to me how much more I know of the history of the Star Trek universe than I do of real history! There's got to be a special geek hall of shame for that somewhere. At any rate, Shattered Light is a trade papeback that offers up three more juicy morsels of alternate Star Trek timelines...
The Embrace of the Cold Architects by David R. George III - This one is promoted on the back cover as being "What if Riker had succeeded in killing Locutus of Borg?" but that's really a misdirect. the changed outcome of Riker's attack from the cliffhanger of "Best of Both Worlds" in this one is actually an effect and not a cause-- the real divergent point is, "What if Lal survived?" The cybernetic conference Data attended in "The Offspring" was delayed a few months due to weather conditions. So Data didn't start constructing Lal until right before "Best of Both Worlds," and her presence changes the course of events. From there history starts unfolding in two very different directions, both for the Federation due to Captain Riker making different decision than Picard made during the events of the fourth season, and for Data because of the impact that Lal's survival means for the future of sentient androids. It's a compelling story that has Starfleet going to extremes you wouldn't think they would do-- except it's all grounded in the very things they tried to do on the actual show itself. It ends in a very logical spot for the story, but could easily be continued and expanded into a full length novel and cover years more.
The Tears of Eridanus by Steve Mollmann & Michael Schuster - "What if there had been no Surak?" This one is a story of the 23rd century starship Kumari, flagship of the Andorian-dominant Interstellar Guard, and commanded by Hikaru Sulu. Sulu's daughter Demora is stationed on an obscure planet full of pointy-eared savages who have been fighting each other for over 12,000 years, and can't even decide on a name for their own planet... 40 Eridani A-II, T'Khasi, Minshara or Vulcan. When they attack Demora's outpost, Sulu takes the Kumari to try and rescue her, and we learn about how Surak not being there has changed the shape of the entire quadrant.
With no Surak, there were no reforms-- with no reforms, not only did the Vulcans never turn to logic and instead nuked themselves back to the stone age, but also the splinter group of Vulcans never left, so there are no Romulans. With no Romulans, there's no third major power to keep the Klingons in check, so they're now closing in on the Interstellar Union.
Who's the Interstellar Union? Well if there's no Surak, then the Vulcans never developed warp drive, so Earth's first contact couldn't be with Vulcan-- it was now with Andor. With no Vulcans, there were no hostilities between Vulcan and Andor for Earth to mediate, to result in an Earth-centric Federation-- so instead Andor becomes the leading force in their corner of the quadrant. Therefore, instead of Starfleet continuing on to become part of the Federation, the Andorian Imperial Guard instead continues on to become the Interstellar Guard, and part of the Interstellar Union.
So in that sense, it's a great "two-fer" for "what if" stories... not only do we get to see what Vulcan would be like if they never turned to logic, we get to see what Star Trek would be like if Earth wasn't in charge of everything. For anyone who's ever complained that Star Trek is too human-centric, this novel is for you. It's totally Andorian-centric in the exact same ways. Humans contribute, of course, but Sulu is one of the few humans on his ship. It's great fun to see all the differences, some in large and others in subtle ways. My personal favorite was one of the Andorian officers referring to the Vulcans as "a fairly typical andorianoid species, with similar deviations to the norm as humans."
And of course at the heart of it all is Hikaru and Demora Sulu, making this is another father-daughter story.
Honor in the Night by Scott Pearson - "What if the Tribbles weren't any trouble?" There's an explosion in the landing bay of Deep Space Station K-7, caused by a newly arrived merchant ship. The only casualties are one deck officer, the ship's captain Cyrano Jones, and his cargo of Tribbles. Without the Tribbles to find the poisoned quatrotraticale, the Klingons succeed in sabotaging the colonization of Sherman's Planet, which changes the life of Niles Barris. From there he goes to toe-to-toe with the Klingons as often as he can, becomes President of the Federation, and succeeds in bringing peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire years earlier. So why are his dying words "Arne Darvin"?
Like The Tears of Eridanus, This novel shows how one small change in history can change the entire shape of politics throughout the quadrant. However, where Tears of Eridanus is more of an action story, Honor in the Night is more straight-forward politics and mystery. The story uses a framing method of a Federation News Service reporter who is simply doing a tribute article on President Niles Baris after he's died, and ends up discovering a lot more than she wanted to know. This method of storytelling gets confusing at times, as we get flashbacks inside flashbacks inside flashforwards inside... sometimes you really have to work to figure out what point in the timeline you're at. But it pretty much has to be told this way, as each flashback (or flash-forward) reveals another clue, like layers of an onion being peeled away until we finally learn the truth.
I had been under the impression that Shattered Light was going to be a collection of short stories, although I may have just assumed that since that's how the third Mirror Universe trade paperback was handled. Instead, this volume contains three novels, just like the previous volumes. Part of me is disappointed, as I was really looking forward to so many other ideas in one book; but since each story here left me wanting to see more, this may be a format that's just too big to be contained by short stories. Whatever the case, I loved this volume just as much as the previous two, and I hope there's more. I don't care if they're short stories, trade paperbacks of novels or stand-alone novels, it's a concept that never gets old.