Hello again and welcome to another feature of Behind the Lines! Once again we have an intense new release to look at this week. The eighth and most recent instalment of the Typhon Pact series; Brinkmanship. As well as a Q&A with the mistress of all things spoon headed, one of my favourite ST authors and fellow Brit, Una McCormack.
So before we get right down to it, let’s set the stage with a little intro for those who don‘t already know…
One Thing After Another…The Typhon Pact
In the wake of the events of Star Trek Destiny, the Federation has been left all but crippled by the devastating invasion of the Borg Collective. With billions dead and Starfleet’s resources stretched further than Shatner’s girdle, six old enemy nations have banded together to take advantage of this new balance of power in the Alpha Quadrant, The Typhon Pact, including some of our favourite nasties from the series to date, it features the deliciously devious Romulans, the incomprehensible Breen, the mysterious Tzenkethi and Kinshaya, and even classic TOS legends the much loved Gorn and Tholians.
It’s a nightmare scenario. Six hostile powers all working together for the first time, surrounding the Federation on almost all sides, at a time when it would be hard pressed to defend itself from an invasion of angry Tribbles, let alone an Empire of six foot spiders, intelligent dinosaurs and mumbling dog-men.
Still, because this is Star Trek after all, the Federation has one last card in the deck to stave off their ultimate destruction; Starfleet’s advanced Quantum Slipstream Drive. Pilfered by U.S.S. Voyager during its journey through the Delta Quadrant, this technology is now the only advantage they have left, and along with an expansion of the Khitomer Accords to include alliances with the Ferengi and Cardassians as well as our on again off again buddies in the Klingon Empire, has been just enough to keep the Pact at bay for now.
So with two MEGA-POWERS rattling sabres on the borders, a technological advancement being the only thing tipping the balance and the guarantee of a mutually assured destruction should anyone take the initiative, what are we left with? A very bitter Cold War.
This is the idea behind the Typon Pact. A stalemate of mega powers on the brink of Armageddon. A powerful enemy, holding off only long enough to gain the smallest of advantages before all hell breaks loose and ’Duck and Cover’ replaces ’Where no one has gone before’, and the minute I heard about it I became ridiculously excited.
The Cold War, a conflict that fortunately never escalated into the promised rain of nukes between the western Allies and Soviet Russia, is one of my favourite aspects of twentieth century history. So when the Typhon Pact opened with David Mack’s James Bond-esque thriller ’Zero-Sum Game’, the history nerd in me nearly died with joy at the tone he was setting for this series. The Pact was going to be epic…
Or so I thought…
The fact is besides a nod to James Bond and some backstage wrangling of powers the Typhon Pact hasn’t really captured as much of a sense of the Cold War at all, and while we’ve had some fantastic stories and seen some shocking turns of events like the Andorians angry departure from the Federation and the destruction of Deep Space Nine, no one has really captured the essence of ‘impending apocalypse’ the Cold War is famous for, or really done that idea justice for me.
Brinkmanship! Where’s Kennedy when you need him..?
In this latest edition to the series, McCormack tackles the Cold War theme head on with a fascinating spin on one of the most intense moments of the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis. An event almost precisely fifty years ago to this very day, that took the United States and the Soviet Union closer to war than it had ever been before.
Without a doubt it is my favourite story from this tumultuous time in our recent history. The original crisis, beginning in Cuba after a disgruntled Fidel Castro, having dodged yet another round of CIA assassination attempts, had finally been pissed off to the point of taking a real stand against the U.S and allowed Russia to place a number of nuclear missile silos in their territory, and giving the Russians a real and ready ability to launch a devastating assault on America.
Delightfully, Brinkmanship offers up the mysterious Tzenkethi to play the Soviets for this outing, antagonising the Federation once again in the series, by striking a deal with a species called the Venetens. A matriarchal society otherwise peaceful and orderly, nestled between the Typhon Pact and the borders of the Khitomer powers who, like a more altruistic Cuba, have agreed to form an alliance with the enigmatic species and loan several of their own starbases to their new Tzenkethi friends, after being snubbed by a Federation too busy dealing with the Dominion and the Borg to pay them any attention.
Of course the threat from these bases, ostensibly giving the Tzenkethi a platform with which to launch assaults against not only the Federation but also the Ferengi and Cardassians, is far too much for the Khitomer powers to allow. The Enterprise E is dispatched with a delegation of negotiators to speak with the Venetans in the hopes of convincing them of the danger they are placing themselves in, and avert the holocaust that will surely follow if this action leads to war.
Meanwhile, further up the border, the crew of the U.S.S. Aventine and their Captain Ezri Dax have also been dispatched to prevent the crisis, and are sent on a mission to inspect the Venetan outposts U.N style, taking one of Dax’s old academy friends and Starfleet Intelligences operative along for the ride.
But will any of this be enough to stop the crisis from escalating? Or in true Cold War spy fashion, does the answer lay with the actions of the few, deep behind enemy lines?
One for the Ladies…
While it would have been easy to focus on the Cold War aspect of this story alone, McCormack does much more than simply rattle sabres until the inevitable, if close, victory for the good guys (see every movie made in the eighties with a Russian bad guy) and instead gives us a rare and powerful focus on the struggles and demands of women, both in Sci-Fi and in society at large. Its three main story threads are lead exclusively by female characters, and supported by a whole host of secondary female characters.
Besides the primary storylines of the newly minted Captain Dax, an unlikely negotiator Beverly Crusher, and Efheny, a Cardassian spy going native on Ab-Tzenketh, there are several heroines and indeed feminist themes prevalent, the most obvious, a Ferengi female ambassador, desperately trying to succeed in a role that by virtue of her sex she is expected to fail in.
It was a completely unexpected move too for McCormack, a writer who for the most part has exclusively written male leading roles. I was surprised to find every single significant character; with the exception of Glynn Dygan (the Enterprise’s Cardassian exchange officer whom McCormack develops beautifully from where David R George left him) was a woman. But here is the heart and indeed real strength of Brinkmanship. Not in its crisis’ and Cold War intrigue but in the look it takes in the dynamic roles women play in our societies and the pressures put upon them. That being said…
The Crusher Fiasco
If there was anything lacking in the The Next Generation it was the presence of truly strong female characters. Now I may get murdered for that, but it’s the truth nonetheless. Let’s face it, when Deanna Troi wasn’t swooning over Riker or any other random dude who bought her chocolates, she was using her sometimes useful, often times worthless ‘Empathy’ to counsel the male leads she wasn’t trying to lay, between emotional breakdowns and hissy fits. Then you’ve got Crusher, a mother and care giver, romantic interest for the Captain and pretty much sod all else. She is by far my least favourite character in the entire franchise in fact, and it can be argued the best thing she ever did was leave for season two and allow the one truly awesome TNG female character, Doctor Polaski, a brilliant if sadly short lived chance to show a women not being completely useless or supplementary for once. Even Tasha Yar, who should have been a role model for female fans as the HEAD OF GOD DAMN SECURITY is more often than not prone to emotional outbursts, fits of tears and insecurity. Truly, it’s the one and only thing that let’s TNG down for me.
So did Una McCormack turn it all around in Brinkmanship over all? Definitely and masterfully!
Could she succeed with Crusher where so many other writers have struggled?
Despite her wonderful style of writing I don’t imagine anyone could make Beverly Crusher interesting, and I truthfully groaned when I realised this character would be taking the lead. It was a bold effort and in all fairness I’m sure some will love this focus on Crusher (though I can’t imagine why) and McCormack does well with what she’s given, but I still think she could have done without the good Doctor.
My personal Crusher hatred aside however, the only thing that really annoyed me about this book was the cover. There have been many groans from the fans about the continuing ’floating head’ motif that has graced almost every TP cover so far, and I get it. It’s boring, it’s easy, and it was old before this series even started, but that isn’t even the problem with this cover. The problem is it features Ezri and Picard…and I have no idea why. Picard barely features in this book all things considered, and is certainly not a main character. So why do it? Why not put Crusher on the cover or god forbid show us a damn Tzenkethi? Is that how Simon and Schuster work now? Slap Patrick Stewart on the cover and that’ll do? A true failure there, but at least we can say it was not on the part of Miss McCormack.
So Out of Ten?
Seven. Brinkmanship is certainly one of the better Typhon Pact books and unlike many of its predecessors does wholly manage to capture the essence of a Cold War, but still it lacks a certain awesome I was expecting from McCormack, whose previous works far out shine this one for me. Still though it is definitely worth the read if you’re a TP fan, and even if you’re not it cannot be denied this book has a depth and wealth of ideas that are worth entertaining.
A should buy, but not a must buy.
So that’s what I think, let’s hear the authors thoughts once again in another Behind the Lines – Pathfinder interview!
This is your first outing for the Typhon Pact series. What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of writing for this series?
I took the brief quite broadly: a Cold War set-up requiring a Cold War story. Not writing solely about DS9 or the Cardassians was a big change for me, but I hope I rose to the occasion.
Your name has become synonymous with Cardassians in Star Trek Lit. What draws you so much to this particular culture?
I think it’s the combination of great sophistication (in art, literature, philosophy) with a shockingly brutal and ruthless streak. That’s very interesting: how does that happen? How does such a sophisticated society permit itself to be so cruel? Their capacity for guilt and regret is also very compelling. Garak is an ideal character to explore these themes.
This is your first outing with the crew of The Next Generation. How did that experience compare to writing the DS9 characters?
I was very excited and honoured to be entrusted with the Next Gen characters! I watched Next Generation devotedly as a teenager, when it was first transmitted in the UK. In fact, they’re much more “my” crew of the Enterprise than Kirk and Spock and the rest! What a thrill to get to write for them.
I have said that truly strong female characters were lacking in The Next Generation. Is this something you wanted to address in Brinkmanship? What were the reasons behind focusing so heavily on female characters for this story?
I’m glad you’ve asked me about this, because this was very important to my conception of the book. Yes, I particularly wanted to write a book with strong female characters and I decided from the outset that I wanted gender parity: i.e. as many female characters central to the action as there were men. (I was originally intending to have only female POV characters, but as it turned out I needed Dygan. For various reasons, see below, I was glad that I had a male POV.)
This was not purely an exercise in representation, however. A critical theme of the book is what hierarchical and militaristic social systems require of their womenfolk. Both Crusher and Ilka find themselves being used against their better judgement; Inzegil and Alizome are also agents of higher powers, although perhaps less conflicted by what they’re required to do. The characters that I think suffer the most are Cory and Efheny, and speaker for the Venetans, Rusht, who is badly damaged by her encounter with these intransigent major powers.
The Venetan Convention was imagined as part of a long tradition of feminist utopias: diverse, communitarian, consensus-seeking. The main Venetan characters are named for writers of feminist science fiction, as is the city in which the action takes place. But I didn’t want simply to describe how such a system might work (feminist utopias have done this admirably already), but more what would happen when such a system came into conflict with imperialist powers. (It doesn’t do well, and I think that’s a tragedy.)
Nor did I put in female characters for the sake of it. I didn’t want ciphers and I didn’t want tokens: I wanted to show a diverse set of women who represent a range of beliefs, societies, and social situations. I also wanted to examine how women find spaces to live in social systems that make use of them. (This is seen most clearly in the case of Ilka.)
Earlier in the year, I was lucky to hear the brilliant and inspirational writer Junot Díaz speak. He spoke movingly about how he has had to search long and hard to find a way to reconcile the disparate parts of his identity and how hard it is to find models to live by when you’re barely represented in literature. He talked about how estranging this experience is. He specifically connected this to the lack of female representation, and he wondered how women don’t go mad every day. That’s what I wanted to do with the women in Brinkmanship, explore how they manage not to go mad, every day. (Efheny does worst in this respect.)
Of course, it’s not just women who get used by hierarchical and militaristic social systems. This is why Alden is there, and this is why it was crucial to have Dygan as a point of view character (and this was the whole point of The Never Ending Sacrifice).
I’m glad you asked me about this. It’s crucial to understanding what I was trying to do in this book.
That being said how did you feel about Picard being featured on the cover, despite the fact his role was relatively minor. Wouldn’t a Crusher/Dax cover have been more appropriate?
I was thrilled to have Picard on the cover. I keep looking at that book and thinking, “Cor, Captain Picard is on the cover of my Star Trek book!” Yes, I’m that shallow.
Since Destiny several writers have been involved in the development Captain Ezri Dax and the crew of the Aventine. What did you want to achieve with her in Brinkmanship?
Dax is the exception that proves the rule of everything I was saying above. I wanted to show a Dax who is thriving as a captain: who is coming into her strengths both as Ezri and as the sum of nine lives. She and Heldon, the Venetan with whom she is negotiating throughout, are able to maintain respect for each other even when the logic of the situation is demanding that they become enemies. Ezri, ironically, is one of the best-adjusted people in the book.
The character of Hogue Nekelen, the other Cardassians intelligence agent in Brinkmanship, was interesting but left me a little confused. Is he the same Hogue from the DS9 season two episode Profit and Loss that featured a Hogue and Rekellen?
No, it’s a different Hogue. The TV Tropes website lists a trope called ‘One Steve Limit’, according to which names never seem to be repeated. Which is unreal, because we meet different people with the same names all the time. So I often pick a name that’s been used before when I have to name a new character. Partly because I’m pretty bad at creating names, even Cardassian ones.
And finally, do you have any plans to write anymore for Star Trek in the future?
I’d love to write more Trek. Fingers crossed!
Want to see what all the excitement is about? Find a copy of the book [amazon_link id=”1451687826″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]here[/amazon_link]!
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