Star Trek: Section 31: Control
By David Mack
“No law…no conscience…no mercy. Amoral, shrouded in secrecy, and answering to no one, Section 31 is the mysterious covert operations division of Starfleet, a rogue shadow group pledged to defend the Federation at any cost. The discovery of a two-hundred-year old secret gives Doctor Julian Bashir his best chance yet to expose and destroy the illegal spy organization. But his foes won’t go down without a fight, and his mission to protect the Federation he loves just end up triggering its destruction. Only one thing is certain: this time, the price of victory will be paid with Bashir’s dearest blood.”
As bad as Section 31 is, what if there is something even worse than Section 31? In this latest novel by David Mack, Julian Bashir and Sarina (Statistical Probabilities, Chrysalis) are trying to take down the nefarious, lawless organization with the help of friends such as Data, Lal, and Elim Garak.
It turns out that the Section 31 operatives are just expendable resources used by Control, an artificial intelligence created long ago that took on a life of its own and which seeks to protect the Federation at any cost. To their horror, Bashir and Sarina find out the true extent of Control and with that, a desperate battle begins to take down the rogue AIS. But how do you fight something that could think at lightspeed, that is entrenched everywhere, and has vast resources at its disposal?
The story reaches back into the 2100s, explaining how Control (as Uraeli) was created by Professor Aaron Ikerson. The AIS was originally meant to “ensure the unity of Earth and the safety of the human race,” but it soon exceeded its core program and evolved, with dire consequences for those whom it deemed a danger to or just in the way of its vision of the Federation. Even its creator was not safe from Uraeli in the end.
Bashir and Sarina end up on the run with Data and Lal, just ahead of Control. They try to stay alive long enough to take down the system for once and for all but the cost for doing so is very high and in the end, did they really succeed? The ending was a bit ambiguous and readers are left to decide for themselves what it means and what the future will bring. Bye-bye to Section 31 (for now), but things may not be so rosy for the Federation in the future. But if this is the case, will they ever realize this?
As with many of the current Star Trek novels, it’s useful to have read previous books although it’s not strictly necessary. I will confess to not being a big fan of Sarina, the entire Jack Pack saga was a tad tedious to me but she functions well within the story and does what one would expect.
The story is exciting and about halfway through the book, it becomes so compelling that one must read on to the end without stopping. The basic characters are true to what they were in Deep Space Nine, and it’s always a treat to revisit old favorites such as Garak.
The story is sobering though. As bad as covert surveillance can be when it’s not properly controlled, how much worse is it when the entity doing the surveillance can act on the information it obtains with no checks and balances? And what if that entity thinks so much faster than the organic beings it is supposed to protect? As we develop artificial intelligence, the issue of the AIS developing beyond its original programming must be faced. Unintended consequences are a real threat, as this story clearly shows.
Author: David Mack
Publisher: Pocket Books
Publication Date: March 28, 2017
Star Trek: Section 31: Control is available as a mass market paperback ($7.14) or as a Kindle ebook ($6.99). To order, head to the link located here.