The moral and ethical nature of Section 31 comes into question in the latest Trek novel from author David Mack.
“I can’t deny there’s rot in the core of Starfleet. In the heart of the Federation. I’ve seen it.’ [Bashir] looked up at Garak, and his eyes had the hard, unyielding focus of a man ready to go to war. ‘I came to you because I need to know how to stop it. How to end it. How to destroy it.’
‘Well, that’s simple, Doctor. What worked for Cardassia will work for the Federation. To excise this cancer from your body politic, all you need to do is kill the body, burn it down to ash, then resurrect and rebuild it with wiser eyes and a sadder heart.’”
David Mack’s brand new Star Trek novel, Section 31: Control, is filled with portentous and grim pronouncements like these about the threat that the shadow-organization Section 31 poses to the ethical fiber and very life of the United Federation of Planets. And the only people who can stop it are Doctor Julian Bashir and Sarina Douglas, and even though both are genetically-augmented super-geniuses, Section 31 is directed by an entity whose intellect and scope of operations may completely outclass the two of them combined.
NO-SPOILERS REVIEW: “Star Trek Section 31: Control”
Author: David Mack
Publisher: Pocket Books
Format: Mass Market Paperback & E-Book (368 pages)
In TrekMovie’s recent interview with David Mack, the author expressed his delight at the way the book’s blood-red cover design perfectly meshes with the level of violence and threat in the interior pages, and he’s right. The menace posed by the head of Section 31, a mysterious entity known only as “Control,” is beyond what the Federation faced at the hands of the Dominion, the Xindi, the Romulans, or the Klingons throughout televisual Trek.
Mack’s opening scene is a dramatic homage to the climax of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but it serves merely as the jumping-off point for a story that sweeps us through Federation history, starting more than a decade before the launch of the NX-01, carrying us through the maiden voyage of that pioneering Warp 5 starship, the establishment of the UFP, and on to the adventures of Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, and more. Mack paints a dark backdrop to the familiar voyages we know so well, adding the brooding presence of Section 31 behind it all.
Because Trek novels are licensed fiction, the author is playing with established characters, whom the reader knows intimately before reading the even the first page. This is both a challenge and an opportunity; the author doesn’t need to tell us much about Bashir, Douglas, or Garak, because we know who they are. For the most part, Mack dodges the dangers inherent in licensed work, capturing the unique voices of each of these well-known characters. Mack wrote Bashir so well that I could hear Alexander Siddig’s voice in my head as I read, and the same was true for the many other familiar characters that take part in the narrative in surprising ways.
I’m not sure I’d describe the story as “blood-soaked,” as Mack does, but the major characters undergo severe trials during the course of the story, and their lives are altered in fundamental ways by the events that unfold. I appreciated the high stakes, and the fact that the characters looked at the consequences straight in the face, and made their choices knowingly.
Along the way, Mack raises the difficult question of whether human beings could achieve the sort of utopian society portrayed in the Star Trek mythos on their own, without the guiding hand of an advanced superior being. Mack’s answer strikes at the very heart of Gene Roddenberry’s belief in the natural perfectibility of the human race. I deeply appreciated the fact that Mack was willing to raise these issues, and to incorporate the discussion so deeply into the narrative.
Sadly, in one spot, the novel relies on the hoary cliché of the protagonist rushing in to save his beloved, even at the risk of unimaginable devastation to countless others, because he “can’t live without her.” While other characters object, love is its own justification. Given Mack’s skill in exploring ethical dilemmas, I would have liked to see more attention paid to the complexities of love and heroics.
Star Trek Section 31: Control is a fast-paced, high-stakes, plot-driven book that explores questions that Star Trek needs to deal with. It dives into these issues in interesting ways, and rewards careful attention to the ethical discussions within. If at times it rests on character familiarity and romantic cliché, it does so in the course of a thinking reader’s action thriller that holds your attention from the first page to the last.
Star Trek Section 31: Control is available now, and you can buy it from Amazon and other booksellers.
For more on the novel, check out the TrekMovie interview with author David Mack.