Library Computer: Review “TNG – Greater Than The Sum”

This week’s Library Computer checks the math on "Greater than the Sum," Christopher L. Bennett’s new Next Generation tale which continues the post-Nemesis story of Jean Luc Picard and his crew on the Enterprise E. Also we reflect on the latest news coming from Pocket Books announced at Shore Leave. 

 

REVIEW: STAR TREK TNG – GREATER THAN THE SUM
by Christopher L. Bennett

To this point, the Next Generation relaunch novels have been something less than stellar (with the notable exception of last fall’s "Q&A"), which left Christopher L. Bennett in the none-too-enviable position of rescuing the series in his new novel "Greater than the Sum". Bennett quickly proves that he was definitely the right choice for this assignment.

Far from the monotony of other recent Next Generation works, "Greater Than the Sum" is fast paced and full of interesting concepts, well placed action, and something sorely missing in most of the TNG relaunch installments: palatable character development. The story of Jean-Luc Picard and Beverly Crusher moves forward tremendously, and in a very natural and (at least for me) believable way. New officers come aboard the Enterprise, including the ship’s new contact specialist, T’Ryssa Chen; quite possibly one of the most interesting and potential-filled new characters to grace a Star Trek novel in many years. 

Bennett, well known as one of Trek‘s great world-builders, revisits some of his previous creations, and manages to weave a new and even more fantastic entity that really provides an interesting and engaging offset to the Borg. And, while the Borg are present, Bennett manages to make them halfway interesting as well. Given the recent plethora of stories featuring TNG‘s favorite nemesis, I was certain that such a feat was virtually impossible. Bennett proves that it is not.

If you haven’t been reading the TNG relaunch "Greater Than the Sum" is actually a good place to start and the narrative will help you get sufficiently caught up so that you can enjoy the story and prepare for the Destiny trilogy, coming in October.

So, did Christopher L. Bennett’s math add up in "Greater Than the Sum"? With a unique new construct, effective use of thread-bare villains, and a heavy dose of character development, Bennett’s arithmetic definitely comes together well, and none too soon for this series of novels. Here’s to hoping that David Mack can build creatively upon Bennett’s efforts when the first book of the Destiny trilogy, "Gods of Night" hits the shelves in late September. 

 
UPDATED:
Star Trek: TNG: Greater than the Sum" is available now at Amazon

QUICK GUIDE TO THE TNG RELAUNCH
"Greater than the Sum" is the fifth book in Pocket’s line of Next Generation novels set after the events of Star Trek Nemesis (and after Riker and Troi went off on their own "Titan" series). Here are all the books:

Death in Winter
by Michael Jan Friedman
(Sept. 2005)

 [TrekMovie review]

[MemoryBeta page]

Resistance
by J.M. Dillard
(Sept. 2007)

 [TrekMovie review]

[MemoryBeta page]

Q&A
by Keith R.A. DeCandido
(Oct. 2007)

 [TrekMovie review]

[MemoryBeta page]

Before Dishonor
by Peter David
(Nov. 2007)

 [no review]

[MemoryBeta page]

TNG story continues with Destiny
Captain Picard and the crew of The Enterprise E will be seen next in the cross-over Destiny Trilogy from David Mack which kicks off in October with "Star Trek: Destiny: Gods of Night." Picard, Riker, ‘Captain Dax’ and more will then move on to "Mere Mortals" in November and wrap up with "Lost Souls" in December.

 

THOUGHTS ON POCKET BOOK’S 2009-2010 SCHEDULE
As TrekMovie reported  on Friday night, Pocket Books released their tentative publishing schedule for Star Trek books through the end of 2009, with some hints of what is to come for 2010. When first reviewing the schedule, I have to admit to wearing a significant grin. The sheer diversity of the upcoming books is outstanding, and will provide fans of nearly every Trek series with their fair share of new adventures. The schedule welcomes a balance of storytellers into the mix, and gives us several very special stories to look forward to. Pocket appears to have taken into account the desires of fans who, in the past several years, have been vocal about their desires for their favorite stories and series to continue. The 2009/2010 schedule, as we have it, is an exciting enticement to Trek literature fans… one that will, hopefully, manage to build the fanbase for the books even further.

COMING NEXT WEEK
We continue our reviews the new alternate reality series "Myriad Universes" with a look at Geoff Trowbridge’s The Chimes of Midnight (from "Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Echoes and Refractions"), featuring Thelin, the Andorian first officer of the Enterprise from the animated episode "Yesteryear". 

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The Underpants Monster

“T’Ryssa Chen?”

Why would a well-written character be cursed with such an abvious Mary Sue name?

Sean4000

That ship is so beautiful! Gorgeous cover.

Fansince9

I think I might like to read this one. I don’t usually read Star Trek TNG novels, but this one might be worth it.

Rob, a quick note — there is no definite article in the title of the first Destiny book. The correct title is simply GODS OF NIGHT. Just FYI. :-)

[The] TOS Purist aka The Purolator

Cool, it gets released on my birthday (and on Wil Wheaton’s, coincidentally).

Izbot

I’m afraid that it’s probably a case of too little too late for me to give the post-Nemesis TNG books another chance. I stuck with ENT and it paid off in seasons 3 and 4 while most viewers were already gone (if I may use the analogy) but this time I’m ambivalent and count myself amongst those who’ve jumped off the train already. TNG, imo, does not do “grim” very well — it’s antithetical to its original premise and undermines what came before — and all the TNG stories from Nemesis onward have been like attending a never-ending funeral in which the Borg are always the pall-bearers.

“Indiana, let it go.”

Paul

Is it possible to read and understand “Greater Than The Sum” without reading any of the previous books (aside of A time to…)?

Kobayashi_Maru

less books. more movies.

Here’s a tip… whenever tha’ story get too dank or depressing or yer too full o’ tha’ Borg… do what I do… pick up tha’ latest Brooks Brothers catalogue and flip thru it a bit… then ye’ return ta’ tha’ novel and things be so much brighter picturin’ characters in a nice twead… lovely blue 3-piecers… arrrrr…

if ye’ get blue and ye’ don’t know where ta’ go ta’,
why don’t ye’ picture on tha’ starship, them puttin’ on tha’ Ritzs…

Arrrrrr…

Indefatigable

Ok guys, seriously, ENOUGH with the Borg. We don’t need 12 poorly written books involving the Borg a year. There is a reason they were used so sparingly on TNG.

And I’m waiting for them to name one of the Starship’s Oprah. It’s going to happen.

star trackie

While I understand the desire of fans of the newer series to have more novels, I have to question the wisdom of having only one TOS novel coming off the heels of JJ’s new movie. I would think that Paramount would want to nurture the new fans looking to explore new adventures with Kirk and company.

PromoBoy

#6…
I’m worried that your sentiment towards Star Trek is shared by many (former)
fans. If so– this does not bode well towards Star Trek’s future- despite the new film by JJ Abrams.
Question for you #6: Do you plan on seeing the new film– or have you turned your back on Trek completely?
I’m not judging– just wondering how many people have given up—
and if it’s too late to rejuvinate the franchise.

TFCynical

Here’s a silly thought; When reviewing a book, it sometimes helps if the reviewer actually gives the reader A BRIEF F’ING PLOT SYNOPSIS!

I mean, if I am going to invest significant time and effort reading this book for free in the cafe at Borders, is it too much to ask for a storyline?

Izbot

12. PromoBoy
“Question for you #6: Do you plan on seeing the new film– or have you turned your back on Trek completely?”

Oh absolutely I will see it! I have very high hopes for the film and generally feel the franchise couldn’t be in better hands so I’m optimistic about it. I wouldn’t be hanging out here if I wasn’t! But I have been particularly critical of TNG since Nemesis, which I, like many others, felt was just wrong on dozens of levels. I loved TNG the series, enjoyed the first two films (flaws and all), thought Insurrection was a flacid mish-mash of C-grade TNG episodes and loathed Nemesis. Sadly, the novel writers and their editors have chosen to build on the post-Nemesis history which I’m simply not interested in. Not to say that I didn’t love DS9 and all the wars and agnst it brought to the ST Universe (it’s one of my dearest and favorite series) — but TNG had a place in the easygoing late 80s and early 90s that would be difficult to recapture in these current, more cynical times. Just about every creative property that’s been around for a few decades have been deconstructed in the past decade or so. I don’t think JJ and company will do this but I feel that Nemesis was an attempt at deconstructing TNG and the novels that have followed have continued this tradition. Sort of DS9-ing TNG — which again, is antithetical to the notion of flying around a luxury hotel in space with one big happy family aboard. I guess it’s analogous to loving the Wizard of Oz books I read as a very young kid and then turning on that ‘Tin Man’ mini-series on Sci Fi recently and having everything I loved about that magical place uprooted and trashed just for the sake of being clever. TNG didn’t need to be deconstructed. I liked it’s pristine utopianism and I’m not interested in going back and visiting those characters if they are now living in a dreary world where they’ve lost their uniqueness, their family is fractured, and the threat of the Borg looms endlessly.

Steve

Love that illustration of the Enterprise. She’s a beauty.

Does anyone know what the book is about?

El Rushborg

Guess what, y’all —

I! LOVED! NEMESIS!

I liked Insurrection, too. I respect Rick Berman for the genius he was. He may have weakened as the years went on, but he WAS a very worthy sucessor to The Bird. And it helps to know that HE WAS HAND PICKED BY RODDENBERRY HIMSELF TO FOLLOW IN HIS FOOTSTEPS… and take over ther reins for him.

So, when one slams Rick, one insults the intellegence of The Bird. Go figure.

And yes –I am REALLY looking forward to this next book. Bennet is an excellent writer. I feel confident in his ability to please.

Break out the Chateu Picard. Here’s to “Greater Than The Sum! Here, here!

James Heaney - Wowbagger

#17: I like Berman and Braga to a certain extent myself. But The Bird was no great shakes, either.

The first time I ever heard of Bennet, he redeemed the Titan series for me with the brilliant “Orion’s Hounds”. I think it might be time to break my seven-month Trek novel fast.

James Heaney - Wowbagger

“Bennett”. With two t’s. That’s the name of the author I love.

Man, is that embarrassing.

6: “TNG, imo, does not do “grim” very well — it’s antithetical to its original premise and undermines what came before — and all the TNG stories from Nemesis onward have been like attending a never-ending funeral in which the Borg are always the pall-bearers.”

Trust me, GREATER THAN THE SUM is not a grim story. It does have some grim aspects, but I don’t do relentlessly dark stuff. It’s also not like previous post-NEM TNG novels, at least not the Borg-related ones. If they’d asked me just to do more of the same, I would’ve said no.

7: “Is it possible to read and understand “Greater Than The Sum” without reading any of the previous books (aside of A time to…)?”

Although GTTS is tying up some threads from previous TNG novels, it’s meant to be a fresh start of sorts, a standalone tale that also functions as a prologue to the DESTINY trilogy. Most of the followup material is in the first couple of chapters, and anything you need to know is explained there. As a rule, nobody writes a novel in such a way that readers can’t understand it on its own. We’re not trying to confuse you.

16: “Does anyone know what the book is about?”

Nominally, it’s about the Enterprise-E crew trying to hunt down a rogue Borg ship before it assimilates a potentially devastating new technology. But it’s really about Picard and his new crew trying to mesh properly, to get past their growing pains and recapture the old crew’s sense of family. It’s about Picard and Beverly’s relationship entering a major new phase. It’s about exploring a unique, truly alien form of life. And to some extent it’s about examining aspects or ramifications of the Borg that previous novels haven’t addressed.

Daoud

Thanks for the additional info, Christopher! I’ve got a long bus ride across Canada ahead–now I know I can read GTTS without having read the previous post-NEM TNG first.

I must ask though… is there a certain Tech Sergeant Chen on the non-Vulcan side of the family tree? T’Ryssa is a bit of an apparent Theresa though, as someone noted a Mary Sue-ness? Then again, the character has to have a name, and Spxyx has already been used! At least you didn’t use something like T’Cinti or T’Lang…

21:
Actually the character was originally going to be T’Lyssa, but that was too similar to T’Lana. I went through all the other possible letters to substitute for the L, and an R worked best.

And no, unlike Tech Sergeant Chen, her human ancestry actually is Chinese. Well, mostly.

And I don’t understand how a name can possibly be taken as an indicator of “Mary Sue-ness,” unless that name is actually Mary Sue.

Daoud

22:
Well, here’s for your not choosing to go with the letter ‘P’. Although I’m sure the editorfolk would have loved it if you’d tied that one with a serious face, just to put them on….

She’s part Chinese? I was hoping this was the Hebrew Chen. Alas. At least her Vulcan finger salute would have been appropriately reduplicative… Then again, that could be her sister, T’Lyssa Kohen.

I believe Mary Sue-ness goes with any character that a reviewer describes as “quite possibly one of the most interesting and potential-filled new characters to grace a Star Trek novel in many years”, but there’s also the aspect of a name being reminiscient of a common American girl name. Lyssa was probably worse though! Would suggest a Melissa preferring Lissa to be trendy.

As long as T’Ryssa doesn’t save the ship, Picard, and all other male crewmembers, I think any charges of Mary Sueism will be thrown out, without prejudice…

(BTW, I think Diane Carey’s Piper is the ‘classic’ Mary Sue that made it into Treklit. And Kathleen Sky’s character-I-forget in Vulcan! And probably more, but I quit trying to know everything about Treklit a decade ago. My brain was about to burst.)

The Underpants Monster

21-23

Anything ending with “yssa” is redolent of Mary Sue. Actually, anything with y insstead of i and/or a double-s-a in any combination has been so thoroughly overused and co-opted by poseur fanfic writers that I can’t imagine anyone not having run across a Mary Sue character with a similar name.

Sure, nobody can “own” a style of name, and of course every writer has the right to name his characters whatever he likes, but a writer who knows his audience knows the sort of cultural context in which they will read his work.

Any heavily-featured non-canon character (especially one who fits the description of “one of the most interesting and potential-filled new characters”) runs the risk of coming off as Mary Sue, but add a name with “yssa” and an apostrophe and you’ve crossed over into that territory whether you meant to or not.

PromoBoy

#14:
You make alot of valid points- and I agree with many of them.
(Though I don’t think “Nemesis” is as bad as you say– while
“Insurrection” may be even worse than you describe)
Just wanted to get a gauge on fan sentiment– and Trek’s future.
I myself am feeling cautiously optimistic– Abrams loves Trek, obviously.
He will do it justice. But will the general audience want to see it– especially after it’s suffered through so much Berman abuse?

Daoud

24:
For what it’s worth, I think Christopher was using the T’ structure established by TOS.

It’s not really an apostrophe, it’s more of a schwa, or even a contraction… (if only Okrand ever had been given the green light on the Vulcan Dictionary, we’d know something about T’ being a contracted form of ‘tef’ or somesuch feminine pronoun meaning “she who…” After all, the novelizations of TWOK and TSFS indicate the Vulcan form of Saavik is actually T’Saavik.)

Certainly T’Pau, T’Pring and the like are clearer this way than if they were spelled more phonetically as Tuhpau or Tuhpring. But I’m with you on the “y” comment. (Then again, I spelled my oldest daughter’s name Cathrynn!) And at the same time, I think the double ‘ss’ is appropriate: it makes it clear the vowel is short. Which brings me to my point. It’s Vulcan. Perhaps the ‘y’ is a different vowel from ‘i’, just as happens in many languages. Who’s not to say Christopher will tell us that the ‘y’ in T’Ryssa should be pronounced like the German ‘y’ and not an English ‘y’? ;)

23: “I believe Mary Sue-ness goes with any character that a reviewer describes as “quite possibly one of the most interesting and potential-filled new characters to grace a Star Trek novel in many years”…”

Isn’t it just the opposite, though? A Mary Sue is a character that the other characters — and the writer — find far more fascinating than she (or he) actually is, who’s built up within the story to a totally undeserved level of magnificence. It’s someone the writer and characters adore but the readers and reviewers hate.

24: “Anything ending with “yssa” is redolent of Mary Sue. Actually, anything with y insstead of i and/or a double-s-a in any combination has been so thoroughly overused and co-opted by poseur fanfic writers that I can’t imagine anyone not having run across a Mary Sue character with a similar name.”

Not being a reader of fanfic, I was completely unaware of this. I also think it’s totally irrelevant — who cares if a character’s name sounds like the name of a different, unpopular character or type of character? Heck, ST has given us characters with awful names like Quark and Odo and Dax and Kes, but they turned out to be great characters. Bad fanfic isn’t bad because of its superficial forms, but because of its execution.

hi KRAD, Hi CLB

thats it just saying hi. I always enjoy it when the people behind the stories drop by to interact with the fans.

The Underpants Monster

#24 – Great points, and it’s really great to be having this discussion.

>>Isn’t it just the opposite, though? A Mary Sue is a character that the other characters — and the writer — find far more fascinating than she (or he) actually is, who’s built up within the story to a totally undeserved level of magnificence. It’s someone the writer and characters adore but the readers and reviewers hate.<>Not being a reader of fanfic, I was completely unaware of this. I also think it’s totally irrelevant — who cares if a character’s name sounds like the name of a different, unpopular character or type of character?<>Heck, ST has given us characters with awful names like Quark and Odo and Dax and Kes, but they turned out to be great characters. Bad fanfic isn’t bad because of its superficial forms, but because of its execution.<<

Those may or may not be bad names, but they’re not names that have become glaringly trite within the context of their genre or universe. And I’m certainly not saying this character is poorly written, but heck, you wouldn’t name a character Shurlock or Vayderr or Loosifer and expect people reading the name to not see connotations when they read it.

Admiral Stedman

I actually would like to see more novels that “fill in the gaps” of either spots in the TOS universe or TNG spectrum. I REALLY enjoyed Greg Cox’s trilogy featuring Khan with all of it’s relevant connections. Plus Bennett’s book Ex-Machina was a nice post TMP pre-TWOK book as well. Let’s see some work on what happened between ST:TFF and ST: TUC. I just picked up the Excelsior book “Forged in Fire” and am looking forward to reading that one as well.

29: “Those may or may not be bad names, but they’re not names that have become glaringly trite within the context of their genre or universe.”

Within the context of fanfic, maybe, but not all Trek fans read fanfic. So I wouldn’t exactly call it the same context. Also, you need to understand, pro writers CANNOT read fanfic; we can’t risk exposing ourselves to unsolicited story ideas, since that opens us to costly nuisance lawsuits. So no pro writer can or should be affected one way or the other by what happens in fanfic.

“And I’m certainly not saying this character is poorly written, but heck, you wouldn’t name a character Shurlock or Vayderr or Loosifer and expect people reading the name to not see connotations when they read it.”

The characters of Dr. House and Dr. Wilson in HOUSE were named to evoke the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Lucien in “The Magicks of Megas-tu” was named to evoke Lucifer — as was the Cylon Lucifer in the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. And of course Darth Vader was named that to evoke “Dark Father” and possibly “Invader.” (The term “vader” was used as a shorthand term for alien invaders in Fredric Brown’s 1944 short story “The Waveries.”)

And for the reasons I explained, I can’t possibly expect anything based on what the fanfic audience has experienced.

Come on, it’s just a name. Is it worth this much debate? Why not try actually reading the book rather than going on for pages about a single word?

30: “I actually would like to see more novels that “fill in the gaps” of either spots in the TOS universe or TNG spectrum.”

GTTS does actually fill in some gaps and answer some lingering questions.