This week, the Library Computer continues its journey into the alternate history stories of the new Myriad Universes anthology with our second (of three) installments, a review of Christopher L. Bennett’s Places of Exile, a story that tells of everything that Star Trek Voyager could have been… and wasn’t. We also have an interview with Bennett and an exclusive excerpt.
To be honest upfront, I wasn’t particularly thrilled about reading a Voyager story. I didn’t much care for the series when it aired, and to this day it is the only Star Trek series that I have not seen every episode of. Certainly, Voyager had its high points, but it seemed that every time the series got close to becoming (in my opinion) a great Star Trek show, things would change and the series would not deliver. Could anyone have saved Voyager from what it became.? Well, perhaps in some alternate universe, Christopher L. Bennett did.
REVIEW – STAR TREK MYRIAD UNIVERSES: INFINITY’S PRISM
Part 2: Places of Exile
It is an absolute crying shame that Christopher L. Bennett’s pitches to the Star Trek: Voyager producers were never filmed, because, as Places of Exile shows from the very first page, he had the potential to turn Voyager into everything it could have been.
Not discouraged by the necessary brevity of the anthology format, Bennett packs in several years worth of storytelling. At times, that storytelling is, necessarily, briefer than one would like, but the audacity of the story, and its faithfulness to the spirit of what Voyager was supposed to be, is simply outstanding.
Bennett, no stranger to world-building, delves deeply into the task of evolving a reality for the crew of a stranded Voyager that speaks to the hope of acceptance and involvement that many refugees seek when confronted with life in an alien society.
Without question, Places of Exile is the finest and most complete work in the first volume of this anthology, and must for anyone who ever opined on the possibilities that Voyager failed to embrace.
Christopher L. Bennett talks Places of Exile
TrekMovie: Your previous works (particularly Ex Machina and The Buried Age) demonstrated a great deal of creativity, and Places of Exile follows solidly in that vein. What do you do to keep your imagination so alive and vigorous?
Christopher L. Bennett: That’s one of those questions that sound odd to a writer, like "Where do you get your ideas?" It’s not the result of some specific effort, it’s just something that happens. I think all of us are born with vivid imaginations and exercise them freely as children, but as we grow up, society pressures us to set them aside in favor of rote learning, pragmatic concerns, and narrowed priorities. Writers and other creators are just people who managed to hold onto what we all start out with.
So the imagination takes care of itself. All I do is provide it with material. I read a lot of science and science fiction, and I do a lot of research for my books, which gives me the raw ingredients for my imagination to work on. A lot of the ideas in my books also build on my college studies of world history, learning about various cultures and their interactions. The more you learn, the more ideas it can inspire.
TM: Were you satisfied with the story, or did you have a desire to expand its concepts and repercussions even further?
CB: Places of Exile was conceived as a full-length novel, back when it was uncertain what form the Myriad Universes series would take. I had to tighten it considerably to fit it in 55,000 words, and I would’ve liked to have room to fill in more detail in the first half of the novel. But I think it turned out reasonably well, considering. It was a valuable exercise in compact storytelling, something I haven’t been very good at in the past. As for the repercussions, I think I told a pretty complete story, but I wouldn’t say no to the chance to do a followup.
TM: What was it about writing a Voyager story attracted you to the project?
CB: I felt the show had a lot of potential it didn’t fulfill. This was a show I actually got to pitch story ideas for while it was on the air, so I put a lot of thought into what I wanted to see. But the show ended up going in a different direction and not really developing the possibilities that interested me. An alternate-history novel was an opportunity to tell the stories I would’ve liked to see in the series.
Also, I relished the opportunity to write for Kes. She’s a personal favorite character, but one I’ve never written for before this, unless you count a small flashback scene in my story Brief Candle that I had to cut for space. Plus she’s a character who, like the show itself, had a wealth of unrealized potential that I wanted to explore.
Christopher L. Bennett recently completed his final revisions on Empathy, a story for January’s Mirror Universe: Shards and Shadows anthology. He is currently work on the next novel in the Titan series, Over a Torrent Sea and is under contract for another Trek novel. Bennett is also working on a hard-SF take on superheroes, set in the Asteroid Belt a century from now, as well as some other original ideas. More information, including annotations for his various works, is available on his website.
STAR TREK MYRIAD UNIVERSES: INFINITY’S PRISM
Places of Exile by Christopher L. Bennett
“I won’t do it,” Janeway insisted. “There has to be another way.”
“What way?” Chakotay asked from the couch—if you could call it a couch. Janeway wasn’t quite sure how to describe the furnishings in these temporary accommodations the local government had provided. The Vostigye had an unusual build, their torsos angled forward and their knees bent, not unlike that mustachioed fellow in the Marx Brothers films that Tom Paris enjoyed—had enjoyed. It was easier on the joints and back in their high native gravity. Luckily, Voyager’s crew was being housed in a lower-gravity level of the habitat.
“If we refuse the Vostigye’s terms,” Chakotay went on, “where do we go? Who else in this region would be as generous to us? The Nezu? The Mikhal? They don’t have the resources. And how would we reach them without Voyager?”
“You call this generous?” Janeway countered. “Requiring us to serve in their fleet? Demanding our technology in exchange for their help?”
“They aren’t a replicator-based economy, Kathryn. They still rely on money and trade—they can’t just give resources away. All they’re asking is that we earn our keep. And from some of the rhetoric I’ve heard from the opposition party, the Overminister is going out on a limb offering even that much. I say we take it and be grateful.”
“I’m not willing to take that step, Chakotay. Voyager may be crippled, but she’s not dead. I was wrong to say that. As far as I’m concerned, we’re still a Starfleet crew, and that means we live by Starfleet principles. I won’t give up the Prime Directive just for our convenience. We’ve lost too much already—we have to hold on to the rest.”
She gazed out the window, unmoved by the marvel of engineering that was the Vostigye habitat. All she could see, even three weeks after the fact, was the roster of the dead. Tuvok. Tom Paris. Kenneth Dalby. Lyssa Campbell. Chief Clemens. Joe Carey, Vorik, nearly half the engineering department. Jenny Delaney, whose loss had devastated her twin sister, Megan. Mortimer Harren, whom she’d barely even spoken to in three years and now never would again.
“I’m not convinced this is a Prime Directive situation,” Chakotay said. “These aren’t the Kazon trying to steal our replicators. The Vostigye have just developed differently than we did. They were forced off their planet early by a geological cataclysm, concentrated on building artificial habitats instead of warp drive. They’re behind us in some ways, but they could teach us plenty about environmental engineering and robotics.”
“Anything we give them could still affect the balance of power in this region.”
“Like it or not, we’re part of this region now. We no longer have the luxury of pretending the Delta Quadrant is a place we’re just passing through. We’re here for good—or at least for the foreseeable future.”
“Just as you wanted,” she said, her voice hardening, though she regretted letting the words out.
Typically, though, Chakotay didn’t rise to the bait. “I never wanted this. But I understand it, Kathryn. As a Maquis, as an Indian, I know what it’s like to be out in the cold without a powerful nation to support you. I know that following your own rules stringently is a luxury of those with the authority to enforce them. When you’re powerless in someone else’s culture, you have to adapt to survive.
“For three years, we’ve managed to get by without needing to learn that lesson. But now our free ride has ended. We’re at the Vostigye’s mercy. And given what many of their neighbors are like, that’s probably the safest place for us under the circumstances.”
“But at what cost, Chakotay? They wouldn’t let us stay together as a crew. We’d be scattered across dozens of ships and star systems. What if . . .” What if we stop thinking of ourselves as a crew? What if some of my people decide they like living here? What if I never see them again?
She cleared her throat. “And you said it yourself—there’s a lot of intolerance toward outsiders.”
“Only among some segments of the population. They seem numerous because they’re politically vocal and active. But most of the Vostigye I’ve met have been kind, open-minded people. Their values aren’t that different from ours; they just have a few outstanding issues they haven’t settled yet. That’s true even of the Federation,” he reminded her. She knew he was referring to the “issues” that had led to the formation of the Maquis.
Janeway turned back to the window, hesitant to let him see the sadness, the defeat, in her expression. “If I give in to this, Chakotay . . . I’m admitting I failed. I’m saying to my crew that I can’t get them home again. If I do that, is there even any point in rebuilding Voyager?”
She felt his hand on her shoulder, and it soothed even as his words burned. “Don’t see it as a failure, Kathryn. This can be a new beginning for Voyager’s crew. The chance to explore a rich Delta Quadrant society up close, from the inside. The chance to help build a new coalition that can defend against the Borg and Species 8472. Maybe a new community as well.”
Janeway sighed. What were the chances of building such a coalition if her people had no standing in the region’s society, no ship to offer for its defense? How safe would Vostigye space be in a few months, when the nearby war ended?
She straightened, firming her resolve. She would have to try, no matter the odds. She was still a Starfleet captain, and she would hold on to that even if she lost everything else. At the very least, she would do what she could to defend these people from invasion.
But no matter what Chakotay said, these were not her people, and this was not her home. Someday, no matter what it took, she would get Voyager flying again, reassemble her crew, and resume course for the Alpha Quadrant.
But how many of the crew would join her when the time came?
"Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Infinity’s Prism" is available for preorder at Amazon
(ships July 22nd)
About Myriad Universe
Over the years, several alternate universe tales have been told in various forms of Trek media, but Myraid Universes, the new anthology series from Pocket Books goes beyond the well-known ‘Mirror Universe’ and instead farms other potential historical aberrations. The two new large sized trade paperback anthologies ("Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Infinity’s Prism" due in July and "Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Echoes and Refractions" due in August) contain three novella-length stories a piece. Each story is set in a different Trek era (and different Trek universe).
COMING NEXT WEEK
Next week, the Library Computer reviews James Swallow’s contribution to the Myriad Universes anthology, Seeds of Dissent.