The trouble with time travel stories is that it seems all the good gags have already been taken. The brand-new ebook novella from Christopher L. Bennett, Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Shield of the Gods, recycles gags and questions from influential time travel stories from the past, and puts them in service of a fairly straightforward plot, driven by lightly-sketched characters. The result is a pleasant stew that may not take you where no man has gone before, but will at least warm you up and taste fine on the way down.
Most Star Trek fans will remember the Department of Temporal Investigations from perhaps my favorite hour of Star Trek, ever – Deep Space Nine’s “Trials and Tribble-ations.” There we met Dulmur and Lucsly, two DTI agents tasked with determining if Benjamin Sisko and his crew violated any temporal laws. Other than having names that are anagrams of the protagonists in The X-Files, Dulmur and Lucsly were depicted as humorless drones, bureaucrats who had papers to file, boxes to check, and not much imagination.
I have to admit that I’ve never read any of Bennett’s previous Department of Temporal Investigations stories, but Dulmer and Lucsly have apparently been fleshed out through the series of two novels and two ebook novellas. However, they only play supporting roles in this novella. In order to help out new readers there is a Historian’s Note at the beginning of the novella, orienting the reader to its place in the recent canon of Star Trek novels. And there is a page of Acknowledgements at the end that informs the reader of where they may have seen these characters and organizations before.
Even without being familiar with the series the novella is well-written enough to keep me up to speed on events and the three main characters, DTI Agents Teresa Garcia and Meyo Ranjea, and the temporal criminal they are pursuing, former Aegis Agent, Daiyar. Daiyar wants to steal a Constructive Path Integrator and use it to construct a Time Drive, an add-on that can convert any warp-capable vessel into a time machine. Fed up with the Aegis policy of limited, careful interference in the timelines of species on the brink of radical change, Daiyar aims to make a huge change in the history of an entire sector, and perhaps the entire galaxy, in order to stop a genocidal alien race from coming to power, and in the process to get revenge for the death of someone she loved. Garcia and Ranjea are out to stop her, but personal entanglements between the three that they are not aware of will complicate matters in profound ways.
The novella contains some very frank discussions of the sexual lives of the three main characters, and in large part the plot moves along on the sexual complexity of Deltan relationships. This will be to the taste of some readers, and not to the taste of other readers. Reader, know thyself.
What did I like about Shield of the Gods? Bennett borrows elements from great time travel stories of the past, but he does so with clever nods to his donors. References to “a Varley extraction” (a tip of the hat to three-time Hugo Award winner John Varley’s short story Air Raid, which was the basis for the novel and movie Millennium) and “a Matheson-Solomon retroanticipation loop” (a clever nod to the best scene in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) were especially delightful. I also deeply appreciated where the novella landed in the end. After all the hand-wringing about trying to serve the Greater Good, the characters wind up trying to just do good. And that’s a fantastic and mature place to wind up.
With moderately interesting characters and plot elements that will seem very familiar to long-time science fiction readers, Shield of the Gods is not a must-read story. If you’ve followed the adventures of the Department of Temporal Investigations, you probably have an affection for these characters that I lack, and the novella will rank higher on your list than mine. If this is your first dive into this world, you may not be drawn in. The story does have its charms, however, and it has a satisfying ending. And it’s short! At less than 100 pages, it’s a quick read. I give it a slight recommendation.
Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Shield of the Gods by Chirstopher L Bennett is available now in e-book at Amazon for $3.54.
More Star Trek books this summer
And there is more Star Trek reading to keep you company by the pool this summer. On Tuesday Pocket released Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Enigma Tales by Una McCormack in Paperback. And coming on August 29th is Christopher L. Bennett’s fifth novel in the ‘Rise of the Federation’ series: Star Trek: Enterprise: Patterns of Interference.
And Dayton Ward has another one of this Star Trek travel books coming out on July 11th, with the Hidden Universe Travel Guide to the Klingon Empire.
Note: A review copy was provided by the publisher.