I finally finished OaTS, and overall I quite enjoyed it, especially the overall concept of the planet and its inhabitants (although the name Droplet didn't quite appeal to me) and the characterization in the second half of the book.
Still, in part this book was hard for me to read, to keep my attention from wandering. I don't quite enjoy reading about a meeting where everyone reports what she/he found out filled with lots of technobabble (for sure well founded - but still to me the term technobabble fits most), instead of finding out *with* them. Of course, I realize that this is what exploration is all about, but honestly, after the second or so such meeting, I grew a bit tired of all the facts presented in such a way. Perhaps I just missed the interaction with the squales for most of the story, not just trying to make contact but actually working on trying to solve their problem *with* them. This somehow came too late in the story. Then again, mixing plot with lots of scientific facts in such a way is seemingly part of CLB's writing style - and while for the most part he manages to actually draw me into his story and the settings like the water planet, these technobabble passages almost ruin that effect unfortunately. There's such a thing as overanalyzing/overexplaining, after all. And that kind of stops the narrative flow and just throws me out of a story.
Secondly, as I mentioned before, Xin, Melora and Lavena simply annoyed me in the beginning. Later in the book this was partly resolved, but I just don't enjoy reading of sex on every other page in a ST-book. I can't empathize with characters who spend their time sleeping around, and if that's the only thing memorable of a character, then too bad... even if it's just a cover-up behaviour for an intriguing character background, such as with Lavena. But I couldn't help myself and applauded Riker when he attacked her. Finally someone said what I thought to myself the whole time reading the first half of OaTS. The same applies, of course, to Xin and Pazlar - as mentioned in the other thread, I wonder why there are no rules about fraternization, because I wonder how such a small community can work for long when professional and personal lives are so intertwined. They already had problems because of their feelings for each other which had an impact on their professional relationship, and what happens when they split up? Would they still be able to work together?
I really liked Tuvok in this novel - and T'Pel, both dealing with their son's death. I love the way T'Pel supports Tuvok, and not just because his "condition" is due to multiple attacks/injuries. She doesn't rationalize it, she simply accepts this part of Tuvok's personality and the way he's no longer "functioning" in the Vulcan way. Nonetheless she doesn't let him wallow in self-pity but forces him to go on, to find a way to cope. This, along with Tuvok's public "confession" about his anger later, was the highlight of this book to me.
I'm not so sure about Ree's guardian mode, though. While I appreciate that in the end not everything's resolved yet between Deanna and Ree (the way it seemed in the beginning of this novel), this situation of Ree's kidnapping Deanna is, of course, intolerable. Granted, he acted because of the empathic influence of both Deanna and Tuvok, so he can't be held entirely responsible for his behaviour - on the other hand, shouldn't he (and everyone else on the ship) take precautions that such an influence won't happen? I mean, this won't be the last time Deanna and Tuvok's emotions go overboard (and it wasn't the first time, either), and will Ree now react every time like this when he perceives a threat to Tasha (or any other child)? (The same goes for anyone else on the ship.) A mere slap on the wrist for Ree might be okay - but Riker etc. should also think ahead and perhaps establish some protocols for events like this one.
Actually, my greatest "regret" for this novel was the fact that the planet Ree went to wasn't the "main planet" of this novel. Because here, the aforementioned interaction with the inhabitants would have been far more possible - and I'd simply have loved to see the philosophical discussions and a real cultural exchange. But then again, there's time for such missions in later novels.