This is the second part of a trilogy that began with Protectors earlier this year. I have to say that this book leaves me ambivalent - there are strong points, but also passages that simply made me angry... angry enough to want to abandon it.
Let's start with those - and they almost exclusively pertain to the trial between Paris and his mother over custody of his daughter. Miral's wellbeing wasn't in any danger, she's a happy, well-adjusted child, living with parents who adore her and would do anything to protect her. So what's really in question here? Tom and B'Elanna's fitness at parenting clearly not. Their characters? Having lied to protect Miral? Having hurt others while doing so? But actually, what does that have to do with them having custody? I don't dispute that Tom and B'Elanna made questionable choices. Choices that had an impact on the people around them. But then again, nobody is exempt from making bad decisions. But if we start there, who's left to be allowed to have children?
Then there's Julia Paris who admits herself that she apparently made mistakes raising Tom... so shouldn't her claim be turned around to herself? Can't it be said: Well, you messed up the education of one child, who says you won't mess up another one? So, what makes her fit to raise Miral? She's a woman who has so much anger for her son that it's not a far leap to predict she'll influence the child against her parents. And while we're at it, her anger stems from the fact that Tom simply doesn't meet her expectations in him, he's a disappointment - but is that Tom's fault? Or is she at fault for not being able to let go of her wishes and see her son for who he really is... with his faults but also his qualities.
And now Starfleet's way of dealing with this issue. First of all, there never should have been a trial or mediation - the claim should have been dismissed from the start because Miral's wellbeing was never in question, Tom and B'Elanna's characters were and their relationship with family. Do I think this relationship needs work? Sure. But not in a court of law. At the first session at the latest the matter should have been redirected to family counseling. The final ruling, while at least factually correct (thank God, I feared it would go the other way), left quite a bit to desire: Tom's selfish? Where did that judge get that idea from? I grant you he was selfish back in the early TV-seasons, but now? Julia's the only one who acted selfishly in this whole case. *She* felt slighted. *She* was disappointed by her son. *She* felt it necessary to remove Miral. It was all about her feelings, but did she ever wonder why Tom felt he couldn't confide in her? Why their relationship doesn't work? No, it's easier to put the blame squarely on his shoulders.
Secondly, the whole concept of the trial, the possible consequences (every child of B'Elanna and Tom's being removed!) just reeks of the American judicial system where everyone can sue everyone on some ridiculous notion or other. There's got to be some due process, especially in family law - so where was social services, investigating Miral's situation? How's it supposed to be possible to make an objective ruling over what's best for the child if said child's living conditions aren't researched? How's it possible to even consider ruling Tom and B'Elanna unfit parents for all time, thusly making it possible to remove any future child as well? That's just ludicrous... and makes me angry. Removing a child from its parents should be based on the welfare of the child, on the current situation and be judged on a case-by-case base. Not like this. This just goes against everything I believe in a judicial system. And if this is the way Starfleet/the Federation handles such sensitive issues... well, let's leave it at that.
Of course, raising children while on a space ship is, generally speaking, an issue which should be addressed. Is it wise to take children on missions that are potentially dangerous? Is it good for them to have practically no companions close in age and be surrounded only by adults? And how do you get around that general issue? Forbid couples to have children while in service? Or on ship-duty? This, along with the Paris/Torres-family situation, both having their childhood traumas, both being raised by single parents (Tom because his father was on ship-duty, B'Elanna because her father left them), both left with trust issues because of their upbringing. That should have been explored instead of the whole issue being reduced to one woman's problems with her own son and lonely existence. The appearance of B'Elanna's father raising just those trust-issues were very much appreciated. I'd like to see more of him in the future.
Sadly, this whole matter dampened my enjoyment of the rest of the book quite immensely.
The Voyager fleet explores options of an alliance with the Confederacy it met back in Protectors. Again, it's not so much the what, it's the how it's written that bothers me. Everywhere, the Starfleet ships find issues that go against their philosophy: a strong influence of a commerce consortium that withholds technologies from the population to rule the market, minorities being barred from health care, women being relegated to child bearing, no regard for ecological balance in agriculture and the list goes on and on. There's a certain sense of superiority that all the Starfleet officers display that just rankles. Because even if all of the above is going against Federation ideals, one should not forget his or her own history. Just 400 years ago (Star Trek-time), Earth was at the same stage as the Confederacy - and look at where they are now. So instead of frowning, of criticizing, of looking down at the Confederacy's way of life, of judging and finding them lacking, they should just accept things the way they are. And if those differences turn out to be insurmountable, well, then just move on. Is there room for improvement? You bet there is. But it's one thing to address the issue, it's another to try and force your own point of view on others.
One of the things that bothers me most in ST is the fact that there's very rarely a grey area in first contact situations. Either they're with us, which also includes they conform to Starfleet ideals (or learn to do so very quickly and/or at least recognize the error of their ways of life...), or they're against us. It's friend or foe. But can't there be a treaty without it being all-encompassing? Well, of course, one grey area is: Let's just ignore moral issues if they have something we want (oil... er... dilithium, right of passage...). So it's mostly what's best for us, sometimes regardless of the cost. In this case the Voyager fleet meets someone who in turn asks, what's best for *us*?
Anyway, that plotthread twists and turns - Janeway twists and turns... and considers self-sacrifice when it turns out (again) that her decisions in the past might have unknown consequences. Duh... live with it and move on. But is that a reason to suddenly interfere with internal Confederacy-politics? To actually side with them in battle? And then there's the fact that the Indign and that advanced hologramm Zimmermann created as companion for the Doctor might be influencing the political landscape of the Confederacy... and everything is put in question. I liked the way old enemies turned up - but apparently not of their own volition... So what's coming next here? And how'll the apparent coup d'etat in the Confederacy turn out? And what about the fragile alliance between Chakotay and Mattings, O'Donnell's interference etc? There's quite a lot of room to cover yet.
And that brings me to the last issue - to me the most interesting one which is the catomic plague. Well, and isn't that a mess. Starfleet Medical and its "Commander" reminds me awfully of Section 31 - secrecy, lack of morals in experimentations on living sentient beings, no access... and no one to question it. I wonder why that is. This is another one of those annoying things that puts a dark shadow over Starfleet while it itself frowns upon other peoples' customs. So, what's the Commander really after? Trying to cover up his mistakes? Genetically reviving extinct species - to what purpose? Using Coridan as a huge experiment? Using Seven, Axum and other former Borg as guinea pigs?
While Sharak's plot trying to uncover more about the plague was interesting enough, Seven's was quite lacking. I really don't want to know more about her sex life - and that's what she's been reduced to lately. The Doctor, Cambridge, Axum... Seven's perceptions of her relations with Cambridge contrasting those with Axum - boring, boring, boring.
I was looking forward to seeing her interaction with Axum, because I thought he was the only good thing that happened in "Unimatrix". So I was glad to see him return. But what has he been reduced to? Someone who, again, only lives in a fantasy, and forces others (i.e. Seven) to conform to his wishes? His mentally influencing Seven was just creepy, the deliberations of the sex scenes and the emotions they evoke in Seven due to their mental link... it really gave me the shivers to read this, and I wonder if Seven actually had a choice in any of this, being overwhelmed (subdued?) by Axum's presence in her mind.
From the beginning I doubted if any of it took place in the real world... the isolation, Axum's overwhelming presence, his apparent neglect of events happening around them - something just smelled wrong. And I was happy to be proven right when Seven finally managed to escape her gilded cage and returned to the real world - but to what end?
And then, finally, perhaps the most tragic part of the whole story was the Doctor's disintegration. It reminded me a lot of what happened in "The Swarm" and "Latent Image". Zimmermann tampered with his programme to make him forget his love for Seven - forgetting that the Doctor evolved beyond his programme. How could you excise something so vital to his very being without damaging everything else? And was it right to do that, even if the Doctor himself wanted it? On the other hand, do we "real" people have the chance to just make ourselves forget/not care any longer if something gets too much? And isn't that where many psychological illnesses have their origin - coping mechanisms running awry? So why should it be any different for the Doctor?
Again, there's much shade in this book, but there are the occasional rays of light as well which keep me interested in the overall story. So I guess I'll keep reading and hope that some of the issues will get properly addressed in the final book of this trilogy. There's one thing I've been afraid of since Janeway's return - that is that the focus of the relaunch will once again return to her, with Seven and the Doctor in second place (interspersed with the occasional B'Elanna-Klingon issue) and everyone else taking the backseat again. Cambridge is reduced to pining over Seven, Chakotay wasn't present much, either. B'Elanna's is reduced to her pregnancy, and Harry... well, at least he had something to do other than sitting at some console. O'Donnell had the opportunity to irritate his first officer by being unconventional, again, so that's something. I exaggerate but you catch me drift, I guess.
I think right now the Voyager-relaunch is at a crossroads. Since Children of the Storm, which to me still is its highlight, the quality went down considerably. Some characters, which where so painstakingly introduced, feel stagnant now, some, who where finally allowed to take the spotlight, lost their forward momentum... and the whole character dynamics are on the verge of falling back on old patterns. Which would be a real shame. So I guess, Atonement will be a deciding point for me on whether to keep following the Voyager relaunch.