This week, the Library Computer concludes its look at the six ‘what if?’ tales of alternate history featured in the two new ‘Myriad Universes’ anthologies with a genuine ‘technology unchained’ tale that alters the entire fabric of the Star Trek universe in Chris Roberson’s Brave New World. We have a review, author interview and exclusive excerpt.
REVIEW – STAR TREK MYRIAD UNIVERSES: ECHOES AND REFRACTIONS
Part 3: Brave New World
In quite possibly the most though provoking of the six Myriad Universes tales, Chris Roberson explores the practical and philosophical implications of the proliferation of both mechanical life forms (in the wake of Dr. Noonien Soong’s wildly successful android program) and the ability to migrate the consciousness from the organic to the positronic mind of an android.
Roberson makes effective use if the work of TNG‘s pioneers of artificial life (Soong and Dr. Ira Graves) to create a storyline replete with plenty of action and an unparalleled depth of thought that brings the volume to an effective conclusion. Throughout the story we meet many new and interesting android characters, each of them playing a role in exploring the questions of existence on their own terms.
Brave New World presents many ideas that are somewhat foreign to the various Star Trek television series. While Trek is often used as a lens to examine the human condition, Roberson attempts to drill down to the essence of sentience, and where it is to be found. When the examination is complete, nothing is ever the same again.
While the story itself is fast paced, interesting, and surprisingly humorous for the subject matter, the real payoff of Roberson’s work is the epilogue, which ends the tale in a manner that can only be called pure science fiction at its best.
with Chris Roberson
TrekMovie: Can you share a little about the genesis of your story?
Chris Roberson: It actually had its origins a few years ago, long before Marco Palmieri contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in submitting an idea for the series. I’d read a particularly wrong-headed editorial by Orson Scott Card, in which the author lambasted the Trek franchise, listing all sorts of flaws and shortcomings in the show’s basic concepts. I agreed with some of his individual points, but not at all with his conclusion, which was that Trek was bad television, and irredeemable. I grew up on Trek, followed it through all the incarnations and spin-offs, and love it in spite of—or perhaps even because of—its flaws, but the essay still go tme thinking. Television has changed since Star Trek first appeared on the air, and if you were to remake Trek from the ground up for a contemporary audience, there would be things that would have to be done differently.
There are, for example, all sorts of brilliant science-fictional ideas in Trek that, once introduced, are quickly discarded. The idea of uploading a human consciousness into a machine. The notion of migrating an individual from an organic body to an indestructible and essentially immortal android form. Gateways that allow instantaneous access to any point in the universe. And so on. Usually these sorts of ideas—which I can only imagine had either been thought experiments used by Trek writers to explore different philosophical concepts, or were just groovy obstacles to toss in the heroes’ paths—are quickly rejected as being somehow dangerous, abhorrent, or otherwise unappealing.
That got my thinking about the ways in which former Trek writer Ron Moore had recently reimagined Battlestar Galactica, and that got my thinking about how I would approach a re-envisioned Star Trek, if I were to win some impossible lottery and be given the chance to do so. I started thinking about what I loved about prose science fiction, and space opera in particular, and ways that I would push Trek to investigate those same ideas it had previously discarded. And that got me to thinking about what the world of Trek would look like if all of those amazing ideas had been embraced, rather than rejected.
TM: Do you read a lot of non-Trek science fiction?
CR: Quite a bit, actually. I’ve published a half-dozen or so novels of my own, and dozens of short stories, and read voraciously in the field. In approaching my story for "Myriad Universes", I was particularly thinking about things like Iain M. Banks’s Culture series, a mind-expanding, far-ranging example of the "New Space Opera" that every Trek fan owes it to themselves to check out. In writing Brave New World, I tried to imagine what kind of shifts and changes in the culture of the Federation would be necessary to make it evolve into a post-Singularity culture, something not-a-million-miles away from Banks’s Culture. And, since part of the story involved an entire underclass of sentient positronic androids in the Federation, I revisited Isaac Asimov’s Robot stories, and in particular the novel "Caves of Steel", since it always pays to return to the classics.
TM: In Brave New World you explore a concept (androids among us) that was previously looked upon negatively in the Star Trek universe. Do you see parallels to your story in real-life?
CR: Oh, certainly. I think that virtually every medical advance since time began has been initially looked upon with skepticism and distrust. And sometimes with good reason, as it often takes a while to work out the kinks in any new procedure. But in modern times we benefit from medical and surgical treatments that our ancestors of just a few generations ago would have found abhorrent, perhaps even inhuman, and about which we hardly blink an eye now. Whether it be pacemakers, or organ donation, or artificial joint replacements, or surgically altering the shape of the cornea with lasers—these were unthinkable just a century or so ago. And at the same time, they were often the subject of fictional speculation—though often the speculation trended towards horror, as in the case of stories like "transplanted body parts from a dead murderer leads an innocent person to commit horrible crimes." In much the same way, I think, just as those speculations about consciousness uploading and such in classic Trek trended towards horror and outrage, should the historical moment arrive that such things are actually possible, it’s only a matter of time before people begin to embrace the benefits that they would offer.
Chris Roberson has several original novels coming out in the near future. Many of his works take place in an alternate history dominated by Imperial China, including the currently-available "The Dragon’s Nine Sons" (described by Roberson as a kind of "Dirty Dozen in space"), the forthcoming "Three Unbroken", a story of war between the Chinese and Aztecs on Mars (currently being serialized online for free at the publisher’s website, solarisbooks.com), and the forthcoming "Iron Jaw and Hummingbird", a Young Adult novel about a rebellion on a terraformed Mars. Also coming up or Roberson is "End of the Century", (which Roberson calls, "a mash-up of Arthurian fantasy, gaslit mystery, and modern-day jewel heist, all about the search for the Holy Grail.") He has still more projects in the works, including a mini-series for Vertigo Comics. Anyone interested in more information can access his website at chrisroberson.net.
STAR TREK MYRIAD UNIVERSES: ECHOES AND REFRACTIONS
Brave New World by Chris Roberson
Geordi La Forge sat with his arms crossed over his chest. He was sure that he was probably scowling, but just as sure that he didn’t care.
He and the rest of the senior staff were seated around the table in the observation lounge, with Picard at one end and Data at the other. It was almost like old times, having Data back here in the room, all of them gathered together to solve some puzzle or other. Almost, but not quite. Because, unlike those fondly remembered old days, this time Data was the puzzle to be solved.
“Do you mind, Data, explaining just how it is you managed to get aboard?”
La Forge noted that Picard didn’t call him Mister Data, just Data.
“ With our shields raised, Captain,” Ro put in, eyes narrowed suspiciously. “But even if they hadn’t been, ship’s sensors should have detected the beam-in.”
“But I did not beam in, Commander Ro,” Data said, his voice quiet and calm. “At least, not in any way that you would understand.”
“Just what is that supposed to mean?” Ro leaned forward in her seat in an aggressive posture.
Data shook his head. “No insult intended, Commander. I simply mean that the technology involved is beyond the Federation’s grasp at this stage.”
“What technology?” Lieutenant Crusher asked.
“Precisely my question,” Picard said, leaning back, his fingers laced atop the table’s surface. “I believe, Data, that we are still waiting for an explanation. Why are we here, how are you here, and what is this all about?”
Data nodded, lifting his hands in a gesture of apology. “Tell me, captain, do you recall the legends of the Iconians?”
La Forge raised an eyebrow. Iconians? Why was Data bringing up ancient mythology?
“Of course,” Picard replied. “I studied them under Richard Galen at the Academy.” La Forge saw a faint smile tug the corners of the captain’s mouth, and remembered him saying on many occasions that, if he were not in command of a starship, there was nowhere he’d rather be than at an archaeological dig with spade in hand. La Forge felt that archaeology had lost out when a young Jean-Luc Picard had opted to join Starfleet.
At La Forge’s side, Commander Isaac’s head tilted to one side, his eyes taking on the thousand-meter stare of an android consulting his internal memory banks.
“An interstelar civilization that vanished two hundred thousand years ago,” Isaac said after a brief moment, “said to have the ability to appear on distant planets without the aid of starships.”
“Quite right,” Picard said, nodding. Then, in a somewhat quieter voice, he said, “Demons of Air and Darkness, the legends called them.”
Data glanced in Isaac’s direction appraisingly before answering. “The current occupants of the second planet, of which I am one, have named it Turing. It has been, these last ten years, a refuge for androids, a planet-sized laboratory dedicated to exploring the limits of artificial life. But the planet was not chosen by accident. The year before I left the Federation, an archaeological expedition on Denius III unearthed a starmap that appeared to point the way to a forgotten starfaring empire. A Soong-type android with whom I was in communication was on the expedition and alerted me to the findings. I was able to identify the markings on the map as Iconian in origin, and the map then led me here.”
“Do you mean to suggest…” Picard began, and paused in disbelief. “To suggest that this is Iconia?”
“I do more than suggest it, Captain,” Data said. “I can prove it. My colleagues and I had reasoned that there might well be a technological basis for the legend about ‘demons of air and darkness,’ and that, if there were, that technology could be rediscovered and used to aid in our quest.”
“Wait a minute,” Crusher said, shaking his head. “You expect us to believe you found functioning technology from a civilization that vanished nearly a quarter of a million years ago?”
Data glanced in his direction. “My presence on the Enterprise is proof that we did, Wesley. As is the Romulan wardrone, rendered inactive by an Iconian software virus.”
“Captain! That’s impossible . . . ” Lieutenant Sito began to object, but Picard silenced her with a quick glance and a raised hand.
“Data, your claims about the Iconians and their technology are intriguing, to be sure, but there are more pressing matters of interest before us. Such as what you and the rest of the missing androids have been doing out here all this time. To say nothing of what you meant when you said that only I could avert a war.”
Data nodded, hands rested palms down on the table before him. “It has been a little less than twenty-four hours since the Romulan wardrone, on a routine patrol of the Neutral Zone, chanced upon Turing and discovered our presence.”
“That’s a violation of treaty,” Ro objected, “sending probes into the Neutral Zone.”
“Yes,” Data allowed. “But I doubt that raising that objection will much affect the Romulans’ course of action, should they discover the existence of Turing’s android population.”
“I thought you said the wardrone discovered you yesterday?” Doctor Quaice said.
“Discovered us, yes,” Data said, nodding. “But the consensus of the Turing population was that the wardrone should be incapacitated before it could relay news of that discovery back to Romulus. It was regrettable, since we know that the wardrone is not responsible for its own actions in any pure sense, rendered all but a slave by its programming, but there was no viable alternative. We employed the Iconian software virus that was part of the planet’s original defense system, which we disabled and reprogrammed for our purposes shortly after arriving on the planet ten years ago.”
“What does it do?” Sito asked.
“It is an information transfer,” Data explained, “utilizing a small probe that downloads intrusive code into a target’s computer systems. Once in place the code begins rewriting the computer’s software, impairing operation. This particular transfer had been specifically coded for Romulan systems, and so was able to take out the wardrone’s communication capabilities in a matter of nanoseconds.”
“So the Romulans don’t know you’re out here, then?” Sam Lavelle asked.
“Not as yet, Lieutenant,” Data said, “but sources within the Klingon-Romulan Alliance report that, once contact with the wardrone was lost, another ship was sent out in search of it, which is due to arrive in short order.”
“Sources?” Picard repeated, suspiciously.
Data opened his mouth as though to answer, appeared to think better of it, then shut it again. “A discussion for another time, Captain.”
La Forge had been sitting back, scowling with his arms crossed and with mounting frustration, waiting for anyone to ask the question which he was burning to have answered. But instead they were all going on about software viruses and ancient civilizations.
“Look,” La Forge said, pounding his fist on the table, “I still don’t understand why you disappeared in the first place!” He realized he was shouting, but didn’t care. Seeing Data again after all this time brought back the feelings of betrayal he’d experienced all those years ago. “You say you were on some quest. A quest for what? Just what are you doing down there, anyway?!”
Data looked at him, head cocked, lips pursed in that familiar expression of confusion. “I thought I had already explained that, Geordi. We are attempting to explore the limits of artificial life, free from unnecessary constraints.”
La Forge glanced around the room, and saw that he wasn’t the only one either confused or dissatisfied or both by that answer. And he knew that Data could see it, as well.
“Captain, Geordi, all of you,” Data said, glancing around the table, “if you come with me to the planet’s surface I can show you. Then maybe you will agree that what we have built there is worth saving.”
Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Echoes and Refractions is available now at Amazon
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" out now 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).
FINAL THOUGHTS ON "MYRIAD UNIVERSES" 1 & 2
Its been a long time since an anthology series really got me excited, but the buildup over the past year for "Myriad Universes" really was fulfilled as I read the pages of these two volumes. Those who love alternate realities will find these tales to be interesting, through provoking, and (most importantly) fun. They set help provide perspective on the Star trek universe we know (and generally love) while, at the same time, give writers freedom to explore where a traditional episode or book would not allow them to go.
"Myriad Universes" has something to it; something very important… it has a sense of unbridled adventure and exploration that is lacking in much of Trek literature today. The root of this exploration is in the nature of the story, disconnected from the main body of Trek literature, standing outside the normal pale. This isn’t to say that the existing Trek works are bad, but "Myriad Universes", being totally freed from the shackles of established canon and literary continuity provide some of Trek‘s best authors to shine forth with creativity and a passion for storytelling that is unique.
It is fortunate that the editors at Pocket have realized the gem that is "Myriad Universes", as realized by their recent announcement of a third volume in the series, slated for a November 2009 release.
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