Didn’t like the finale of Star Trek: Enterprise? You’re not alone. Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin (and, incidentally, Pocket Books) are counting on that as they present "The Good That Men Do." The book is the first in the ‘relaunch’ of the Enterprise series in novel form. Primarily it is an attempt to undo the damage that 24th century Trek imposed on Enterprise in "These Are The Voyages," while also setting up the arcs for where Pocket plans on taking the series (story here). The book adequately performs these duties, but not without running into its own problems along the way.
NOTE: SPOILERS BELOW
It’s a dark and stormy night as Nog slops through the Louisiana bayou to locate an old friend. Yea, that’s right. Nog from Deep Space 9…and no you haven’t gone into the wrong review. Jake Sisko answers the door, Nog enters, moments of awkwardness follow, and then we are handed an astounding little gem: It seems that recently declassified records contain differing accounts of early Starfleet history. Thus begins the serious issue that is the 25th century framing story. There isn’t much positive to say about the frame. The pages spent developing a semi-credible reason for the middle aged Jake and Nog to be in the novel would have been far better served by expanding the narration in other places… on Coridon, for example, or at Starfleet Headquarters, or in Trip’s bedroom. Further, by placing them into the novel with the premise that they are ‘researching newly uncovered history,’ the authors have made "The Good That Men Do" just as potentially disposable as "These Are The Voyages." It may be an excellent story, but the fact that it comes with maximum ‘reset switch’ potential damages the overall credibility of the remainder of the book.
Entering the 22nd century through the field of the holo-projector, we find ourselves picking up the Enterprise story about a month after the events of "Demons" and Terra Prime." Commander Tucker has become disenchanted with the idea of playing his harmonica while waiting for Starfleet or the Earth government to do something about the looming Romulan threat. He feels that his personal reports and warnings have gone unheeded and, after sharing his thoughts with Malcom Reed, Trip enters into some conversations about how his services might be applied to the situation at hand. Little does he know that his inquiries that will lead him off the Enterprise into the heart of the Romulan Empire. It means a significant sacrifice, but in light of the loss of his sister at the hands of the Xindi and the death of his daughter, Trip simply can’t allow himself to sit around anymore. He has to take some kind of action.
Trip isn’t the only person with issues, though. T’Pol continues to work on her emotional state after the loss of her mother and her daughter in the span of less than a year, and Shran, the former Andorian military officer, encounters whole new dimension of loss in the company of a pacifistic Aenar whose chances of finding redemption in Shran’s eyes are beyond slim to none.
"The Good That Men Do" strives to be an exciting adventure while holding firm to the Star Trek maxim that the human adventure must remain at the core. In spite of the many themes one could take away from the story, the most telling thread that weaves through the tapestry is one of broadened horizons. Trip, T’Pol, Shran… even Archer are all forced to look beyond their previous experiences. Each do so in different, expansive ways, and each of them end the story at a different place than when the story began.
On the political side, Earth is dealing with the fallout from the Terra Prime incident and is working to finalize and sign a formal mutual defense and trade compact with four other major races. But while Earth is working to mend fences and slap up the ‘We Love the Aliens" signs, the pressure cooker that is the Romulan Empire has decided that the for action against the looming alliance is now. The Empire’s scientists are closing in on an engineering revolution that will give them a competitive edge in the inevitable confrontation with the Terrans… or anyone else who might happen to get in their way.
The Romulan storyline is a highlight of the tale, as it takes us deeper into the inner-workings of the pre-war Empire, building on the foundation built by Enterprise episodes like "Babel One" and "The Aenar." Of particular interest is the Romulan warp drive specialist Ehrehin. On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much to him beyond "insert convenient disposable player one into generic danger situation A", but Ehrehin goes far deeper than that. His interactions, with his kinsmen, and with those from outside, cast him as a unique fill to the formulaic plot device, and he serves as an individual for whom you find an incredible liking, if for no other reason than his willingness to make difficult decisions and live with the consequences. He is a man of principle, and serves to show the positive side of what a patriot can do when faced with unvarnished truth. Romulan admiral Valdore, however, is Ehrehin’s opposite. Valdore – driven by a disfigured sort of patriotism — is a ruthless bastard, despicable in every sense of the word… so easy to hate that you can’t wait to find him on the next page.
There are touching moments as well. Trip and T’Pol recount the burial of their daughter, Jonathan Archer delivers difficult news to Trip’s parents, and we get the perspective of Trip’s brother and his husband on how events unfold. These ‘background moments’ of "The Good That Men Do" help to evolve the story from narrative blocks to interweaving threads, and the story is the better for it.
Sadly, the most significant problem that many are likely to face with the story has nothing to do with its quality or its premise – both are quite good. But in spite of all their efforts, the authors weave a story that only serves to further divorce Enterprise from the established Star Trek universe. I don’t blame the authors or their editor. This problem squarely rests on the failures of "These Are The Voyages." "The Good That Men Do" attempts to cast some sensibility onto the events of that final episode of the Enterprise era, but it fails because in doing so the authors are forced to rely too much on shadowy agencies, human paranoia, and the same excuse for undoing the events as we got for seeing the televised version in the first place. Certainly the introduction of these elements came into play in the final season of the show, meaning that one can hardly blame anyone for taking advantage of their presence to tell the tale of ‘Trip the Undead,’ but it just feels wrong for this time in Earth history. Even with the looming Romulan threat, humanity is now taking a place in the galaxy as a political, exploratory, and military leader… and the abject paranoia that seems to be gripping everyone strikes me as an unrealistic overreaction to the Terra Prime and Romulan threats that were explored in the final season of Enterprise.
In spite of these problems, however, the intricacies of plot, the quality of the writing, and the setup for future Earth-Romulan interaction help buoy this story higher than any criticism of the book can overcome. While I may believe that it is difficult to classify this as a Star Trek story in the ‘known’ Star Trek universe, it is a solid adventure that is certain to please those who wish to open the cover and settle in for the ride.
Overall Rating: 3 / 5
NOTE: This is the first TrekMovie.com book review. As part of our expansion to ‘all things new in Trek’ we plan on making book features, news and reviews a regular part of our coverage. To that end we welcome Robert Lyons to the TrekMovie.com family. Robert is a life-long devotee of spaceflight, Star Trek, and space-based science fiction. He has reviewed Star Trek and science fiction books for various outlets over the past five years. For more reviews from Robert, visit his site.