The SunderedBy Jacqueline Bundy
Posted at July 25, 2003 - 11:02 PM GMT
Title: Star Trek: The Lost Era, The Sundered
Authors: Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels
Publication: August 2003
The Sundered by Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin is an incredible story in so many different ways. Whatever way you add it up it still comes out the same — this is one great novel. The first of the much-touted Lost Era novels, this book does more than live up to its promise — it surpasses it.
The year is 2298 and after 150 years of mutual suspicion, the Tholian Assembly has requested peace talks with the Federation. The Tholians' overtures raise many questions and concerns for Starfleet Command as intelligence reports indicate that even as they are requesting this historic meeting there is a massive defensive build-up taking place within their borders. The U.S.S. Excelsior, under the command of Captain Hikaru Sulu has been assigned to ferry the Federation Ambassador, Aidan Burgess, and host the opening discussions. However, Sulu has also been ordered by Starfleet to covertly gather data on the Tholians in an effort to decipher they real reason the aliens are seeking to end tensions between themselves and the Federation.
The crew of the Excelsior soon find themselves caught in the middle between two foes, the Tholians and the mysterious Neyel. Each is intent on destroying the other before they in turn can be destroyed. With Ambassador Burgess seemingly doing everything she can to make their job impossible, Sulu and his crew work desperately to resolve the conflict before it escalates any farther. When it becomes apparent that the underlying causes for the hostilities between the Tholians and Neyel has its roots in ancient fears and prejudices it takes an act of total desperation to enable all those involved to begin to see that what they perceive as differences are instead similarities.
The Sundered is an amazing and compelling book, one that should have great appeal on a number of levels for a wide variety of readers. Utilizing both familiar and unique characters, the authors paint a picture of three distinct societies: the Federation of that era, the Tholian Assembly and the Neyel Hegemony. The authors take the time to introduce the characters. Instead of rushing the plot, they patiently allow the characters to become 'real'. I personally love it when authors take the time to permit me as the reader to get to know the characters, especially when the characters are unique to the story. It helps you identify with the characters, to either empathize with them, or despise them.
Martin and Mangels' depiction of the Excelsior crew is of a group of individuals who have developed deep and lasting relationships over a long period. There is a real comfort level in the way they interact. Serving as Sulu's first officer is Pavel Chekov. Other Enterprise alumni include Commander Janice Rand and Dr. Christine Chapel. Excelsior's security chief is Lieutenant Leonard James Akaar, who appeared in "Friday's Child" and can also seen as a Starfleet Admiral in the DS9 relaunch novels). The senior science officer is Lieutenant Tuvok who, since he is younger and without life experience, is portrayed here in a way he has never been seen before.
Other crewmembers of the Excelsior really stand out as well. Lieutenant P'mu'la Hopman (Pam) is a variable gendered Thulusian, able to change from male to female form. The Chief Engineer is a chatty female Denobulan, Terim Azleya. Akaar's best friend is ironically a Halkan, Lieutenant Commander Lojur, the ship's navigator and the fiancé of the Excelsior's winsome helm officer, Lieutenant Shandra Docksey.
The Tholian society portrayed in The Sundered may not meet every reader's preconceived notions of that alien species, but I thought the author’s depiction of the Tholians was incredible. Building on what little is known about the physical appearance of the non-humanoid aliens, Martin and Mangels skillfully illuminate an intricate and fascinating species and provide our first real look at their unique civilization. The Tholian characters are as fully realized as any of the others in this story.
The Neyel were wonderfully disturbing because they make you think of things you would rather not. The book delivers a very powerful message, several actually, that are extremely pertinent to today's world. As I read about the Neyel, I found myself thinking more and more about the horrors that always seem to stem from a natural assumption of superiority.
The plot makes use of the classic 'story within a story' framework. As the scenes shift from the current events to the past, we are gradually able to understand how the Neyel became who they are, and how all they had gone through shaped their beliefs and how those beliefs shaped their actions. They went from being creepy to sympathetic by the end of the novel and it would be wonderful to find out some day if their hopes and dreams come true.
One of the great things about The Sundered was how the story would often raise questions in your mind, you would begin to wonder about something and then within a chapter or two all was made clear. It was actually more satisfying than if it had all been laid out to begin with. Additionally, the way the authors were able to cleverly explain previous inconsistencies while at the same time adhering to established continuity was very impressive.
Whatever way you look at it, Star Trek novels don't get much better than The Sundered. It is a true science fiction tale that amply demonstrates that the Star Trek universe is still a wonderful place to explore the human condition.
Jacqueline Bundy reviews Star Trek books for the Trek Nation, writes monthly columns for the TrekWeb newsletter and the Star Trek Galactic News, and hosts the Yahoo Star Trek Books Group weekly chat.