The Good: Good character development, Well paced, good plot, well put together, diction
The Bad: Tech-heavy
The Basics: Surprisingly engaging and intelligent, Federation succeeds for Trek fans and people who like well conceived literature.
Every now and then a series does something terribly, terribly wrong. In the case of the Star Trek franchise, I'd count the film Star Trek: First Contact (reviewed here!) as one such failure. I would encourage one to read my review of Star Trek First Contact for my reasoning. Reading this review reveals information about the Star Trek episode "Metamorphosis" that I did not reveal in my review of that episode (which is available here!).
It is, however, impossible to discuss this book without revealing the facts I purposely left out of my review of "Metamorphosis."
Star Trek First Contact was written without any respect to the principles of the original Star Trek. The "history" of the Star Trek universe is bastardized and the problems those who wrote Star Trek First Contact face are centered around the character Zephram Cochrane. Zephram Cochrane is the man, in the Star Trek universe, who first travels using warp speed, that is travels beyond the speed of light. In his wisdom, Gene Roddenberry needed a convenient way to defy physics and he did it with flair using "warp fields" which change the nature of space to make it possible to travel faster than light. There are tons of geeks that can tell you how all of this is supposed to work, I'm not one of them. The character Zephram Cochrane miraculously appears in Star Trek in the episode "Metamorphosis" as "Zephram Cochrane? Of Alpha Centauri?" It seems that important line was completely missed by those who wrote Star Trek First Contact.
Federation is an example of the series doing something incredibly right.
Ironically, the novel, Federation was written after the first Star Trek The Next Generation film Star Trek Generations. They ought to have made a film of Federation as opposed to making Star Trek Generations and, especially Star Trek First Contact. For starters, it's a better crossover between the two crews.
In truth, Federation is a triumph for the Star Trek universe and especially for the novelists. Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens are actually exemplary writers. The level of diction, their vocabulary, is higher than most every other Star Trek writer as well as most genre writers in general.
Federation is a weaving. It begins as a braid between three times in the history of the United Federation of Planets (the organization the Enterprises are in in the Star Trek universe). The first is before the actual birth of the Federation with the seminal event in human history that leads to the formation of that organization; the successful invention of the warp drive and the establishment of human colonies outside our solar system. This time period focuses on Zephram Cochrane, the man who makes the first warp flight and helps establish a colony on a planet near Alpha Centauri. Zephram Cochrane is funded by an idealist named Micah Brack (who is possibly an allusion to Flint in the Star Trek episode "Requiem for Methuselah") and hunted by a military man named Adrik Thorsen. Thorsen is one of the leaders in the Optimum Movement, a Nazi-esque regime in the late-21st Century, who believes Cochrane knows the secret to making Warp Drive - the propulsion method - into a weapon. His pursuit of the mythical and physically impossible "warp bomb" leads him to chase Zephram in a serious and deadly obsession. Their conflict is pretty much your basic "idealist wants to do what's best for humanity while villain seeks to thwart him" plot. In true Star Trek tradition, this is not a "kill the villain at the end" plot, instead it becomes a philosophical debate over how far to go in punishing the wicked.
The second part of the braid is the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, mostly Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Why? They're the three crew people focused on in "Metamorphosis" who find Zephram Cochrane mysteriously alive and de-aged in the episode. They are also the triumvirate who promise not to tell the rest of the universe that Zephram is alive and well, at his request. Well, Federation which also alludes powerfully to the episode "Journey to Babel," focuses on what happens after the episode when Captain Kirk's sealed log is broken into and mysterious persons begin a hunt for Zephram. Unfortunately, Kirk is put in the unenviable position of having to face the problematic aspects that come with his decision. The Enterprise is then pitted in battle, then in philosophical debate with an enemy who is ruthless and believes in his cause.
The third braid is the Next Generation crew and through a series of long twists and turns, a conspiracy is created wherein the Enterprise-D comes into possession of an artifact that is ancient and contains an impressive power that threatens to destroy much of the Federation.
The first braid, obviously ends in a place that sets up what is known in "Metamorphosis" and thankfully the authors did their homework. In fact, the novel is meticulous in the attention to detail about what is known in the Trek universe. The second braid leads to a black hole and a heap of trouble, the third leads to the same stellar phenomenon for an attempt to resolve everything.
The weaving is effective and the characters, especially Zephram Cochrane, are well portrayed. They speak well, they are engaging and the moral codes they follow are compelling. Ironically, though it precedes his portrayal of Zephram Cochrane in Star Trek First Contact, there are many places where it's easy to see James Cromwell as Zephram, especially in his elder years. The novel is very well paced, in fact, it is often intriguing enough that it becomes hard to stop reading and that is very effective.
The only true fault of this novel is in the level of technobabble. There are many places that are very thick in the physics, even contrived, that make it hard to follow. Fortunately, most of this comes at the early beginning and the very end. The "crossover" aspect of the two generations is an act of physics that requires a degree to understand completely. It's still well written, but it takes a lot to keep it all straight and comprehensible.
Outside that, the novel is remarkably well put together; the three time periods are distinct, the links between them are concrete and told with realism.
But like all good and great literature, stuff above the common pulp garbage flooding the market, the characters are characters. They are interesting and they reveal deeper thoughts on the human condition. In Federation they do it very well. There are great insights into the nature of technological advancement and the nature of its relation to warfare as it applies to the development of humanity.
Suspend your disbelief, watch reference episodes of Star Trek ("Metamorphosis," "Journey to Babel," and "Requiem For Methuselah") and Star Trek The Next Generation ("Sarek") and hunker down with some cocoa for a phenomenal read!
For other Star Trek books, please check out:
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
For other book reviews, please check out my index page on the subject here!
© 2011, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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