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Star Trek TNG: Greater than the Sum
Christopher L. Bennett
Pocket, 358 pages

Star Trek TNG: Greater than the Sum
Christopher L. Bennett
At the age of five and a half, Christopher L. Bennett saw his first episode of Star Trek, believing it to be a show about a strange airplane that only flew at night. It awakened a lifelong fascination with space, science and speculative fiction.

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A review by Michael M Jones

Time and again, Starfleet has encountered, fought, even defeated the Borg, but always at a great cost. The most recent Borg incursion cost numerous lives, and saw the USS Einstein assimilated and transformed into a new kind of vessel for a much more aggressive, even vindictive breed of Borg. Now the Einstein seems to be on the verge of capturing a form of "quantum slipstream" technology, which would allow it near-instantaneous teleportation across vast distances. With it, the Borg would be unstoppable. But the Admiralty of Starfleet has finally learned a lesson from previous encounters. This time, they're giving Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise, one of the greatest experts on fighting the Borg, whatever he needs to prevent the machine intelligences from getting their hands on this technology.

So it's off to an unexplored section of space, one filled with a thick cluster of carbon planets and quantum energies. But Picard's still breaking in some new command crew, including a new second officer, chief of security, science officer, counselor, and contact specialist, still trying to find the right chemistry that's been lacking ever since he lost stalwarts such as Troi, Riker, and Data to other ships or destruction. There's no shortage of friction as the new crew tries to bond with the new crew, especially in the case of T'Ryssa Chen, a half-human, half-Vulcan with a decidedly unprofessional attitude towards discipline and obedience. Of all the crew, she's the one most determined to prove herself, and the one least likely to succeed, but her own private demons won't let her quit now.

Things get really complicated when the Enterprise learns the secret of the carbon planet cluster and the quantum slipstream, especially when they come into direct contact with the assimilated Einstein. The arrival of old allies means that the Enterprise is not alone in this fight, but will it be enough to stop the Borg once more? Defeating the Borg has always required sacrifices, and this time is no different.

There is a lot going on in Greater than the Sum. On the surface, it's yet another battle between Starfleet and the Borg, a theme which one would think has run dry by now. However, the current "relaunch" of Star Trek: The Next Generation novels has focused fairly heavily upon the Borg over several books, and hopefully it's with an eye towards putting that particular antagonist back on the shelf for a while afterwards. As they point out in the book, they're running out of tactics and tricks, since the Borg always adapt and overcome each new technique and vulnerability in turn. Don't get me wrong, it makes for great storytelling, but one can only run with it for so long. But so there's the overall Enterprise vs Borg conflict, which naturally draws upon the long and strange history Picard and his older crew have with them, and this story even draws upon several classic episodes to bring back some unexpected, though not unwanted, guest stars.

There's also the ongoing subplot regarding Picard's attempts to rebuild a command crew with the same energy and bonds of camaraderie as the "classic" TNG lineup. With Data destroyed, and Troi and Riker off commanding the USS Titan, and Worf now serving as the First Officer, that's freed up some important positions, and over the past few books in the series, we've seen Picard run through a number of replacements, especially in the security chief and counselor positions, none of whom have worked out for various reasons. I have to say, the previous ones were pretty much unlikable, and I wasn't sorry to see them go, as was likely the point. I'm really hoping, crossing my fingers even, that the latest crop of crew will last, and aren't destined to be redshirted anytime soon. We don't see much of Counselor Hegol Den, or Lieutenant Jasminder Choudhury, but what we do see fills me with hope, as they seem to be quite interesting and personable in their own ways. As for the new contact specialist, T'Ryssa Chen? She's a piece of work. Flighty, unprofessional, easily distracted, impulsive, passionate, occasionally disrespectful, with a tendency towards babbling and inappropriate humor, and she feels like a very real person. She's someone who rings true and familiar, and even as she seems utterly unsuited to the Starfleet way of life, you can't help but want her to succeed and improve... as long as she doesn't overshadow the other characters, which is always a worry when introducing these original characters to the mix. I'd say that while in some ways, she borders upon being a Mary Sue, Christopher Bennet wisely splits the overall story among the rest of the cast, enough to prevent this from happening.

The last major theme, and this is an odd one, is a relatively new subplot about love and family, and creating new life. Picard and Crusher (now married after all these years) are ready to have kids, only Picard's waffling, so long as he has got Borg to fight. As other characters pop up, the theme plays out over and over again in different ways, human and alien, until decisions are made and conclusions reached.

Generally, I've been enjoying the Next Generation relaunch, as the adventures told in Greater than the Sum, J.M. Dillard's Resistance, Keith R.A. DeCandido's Q&A, and Peter David's Before Dishonor have all been strong ones, forwarding the overall storyline, and advancing character development considerably. We've seen a lot of growth and forward movement on Picard, Crusher, and Worf, though not so much with Geordi La Forge, and it's nice to see the characters allowed to change, now that they're pretty much free of the necessity to remain true to a television/movie status quo. There's a strong sense of adventure, and exploration, both internal and external, and the overall feeling that these authors, not just Bennett, really get what Star Trek is all about. Though this review is for Greater than the Sum, which I found quite pleasant, I have to say that read as a series, the new crop of TNG novels is quite satisfying for someone like me, a lapsed fan, and a nice way to welcome me back to the fold. I honestly don't know if I could recommend this as a stand-alone book, since it's steeped in continuity, both cinematic and literary, but if you're already a casual or longtime Star Trek fan, it's bound to please. You can bet I'll be reading the next few installments (the Destiny trilogy by David Mack) to see how the storyline plays out.

Copyright © 2008 Michael M Jones

Michael M Jones enjoys an addiction to books, for which he's glad there is no cure. He lives with his very patient wife (who doesn't complain about books taking over the house... much), eight cats, and a large plaster penguin that once tasted blood and enjoyed it. A prophecy states that when Michael finishes reading everything on his list, he'll finally die. He aims to be immortal.

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