"...So we can all see the benefits to such an alliance," intoned the burly Orion at the head of the meeting table, his gaze taking in each of his two guests in turn. "Working alone, the Vulcans were powerful enough to drive both of your organizations into retreat. Now they are part of a larger, even stronger Federation whose Starfleet patrols increasingly interfere with your efforts to stay in business. What better revenge," the green-skinned man went on in a polished baritone," than to form a partnership of your own to stand against them?"
In the aftermath of the Earth-Romulan War, the fledgling United Federation of Planets is taking its first steps into the wider galaxy. Growing pains soon set in, though, as relations between two factions with the government grow steadily more tense in the run-up to a presidential election that may decide the Federation's course for years to come. As Admiral Archer attempts to complete delicate negotiations with the Rigelians to bring them into the fold, an alliance of former enemies gather in the shadows to derail Starfleet's every attempts to keep the peace. Using deadly viruses, assassination attempts and kidnapping, they will stop at nothing to see the still fragile Federation fail...
Star Trek: Enterprise probably won't win many fan's plaudits for best Star Trek series ever, but the prequel series has some redeeming features that become more apparant in rewatch. Thankfully, these redeeming qualities have been brought to the fore in the series of books that have continued the story of Captain Archer, Commander T'Pol and the other characters of the first ever starship Enterprise beyond the controversial series finale. After laying the stage for the Earth-Romulan War in the first few books, the chosen authors have seen our characters through that conflict and beyond, bringing us what most fans were hoping for from the television series: the first years of the Federation.
Tower of Babel picks up where A Choice of Futures left off, with an alliance of Orions and other alien races seen in Enteprise trying to derail the Federation's first tentative steps. The Rise of the Federation has done a great job of advancing the characters of Enterprise in logical directions, so while the Enterprise itself has been turned into a museum, we find her crew spread across two main vessels: the Endeavour and the Pioneer. T'Pol has become a captain, as has Malcolm Reed, and it is interesting to see the two of them work together and apart. Bennett uses the situation in the Rigel system to ramp up the tension between the two captains, giving us a glimpse into how T'Pol has evolved, but also into the uncertainty Reed feels especially when working with both his former commanders.
An added complexity to the story comes from the presidentiel race that is heating up as Tower of Babel begins. Whether it was intentional or not (I would imagine that it was), Bennett was able to use this presidential campaign to reflect the beginnings of the United States, with a clear demarcation between those who wish to see the Federation expand and grow (called Federalists) and those who wish to protect the rights and priviliges of the individual planets (called Planetarists). Anyone who has any knowledge of the first few presidencies of the US knows that this was a key component in the discussions of the time, giving rise to the two-party system that continues today. These debates still go on in modern America, often portrayed now as the argument between "Big-government" Democrats and "States-rights" Republicans, so it will be interesting to see how Bennett or another author portrays this going forward. However it develops, as a huge fan of Political-Trek, I loved these glimpses into the early politics of the Federation.
Bennett never loses sight of what we all love about Star Trek, though, and we get some interesting glimpses into the Rigel system in this book, giving us a number of races I for one had not yet encountered much in my Star Trek novel reading. We also are given a number of space battles, trekno-babble and cool winks to the future of the Star Trek universe (I doubt many fans won't feel a shiver of pleasure when they realise who T'Rama is!)
Tower of Babel wraps up the storyline of the presidential race and the Rigelian talks, while leaving a number of storylines open, and ends on a pretty large cliffhanger which seems to nod back to a season 2 episode. Continuing in the line of the majority of recent Trek novels, this is great fun, combining a good story, characters we already love and the glimpses into the past of Trek that we hoped for from Enterprise. Bennett is a great writer and he pulls off another triumph here. I gave Tower of Babel 4 Saurian saunas out of 5.
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From the Blogosphere:
At the moment, none
From the Author's Mouth:
Link to an audio interview over at Equal Time for Freethought