Ben’s Book Breakdown | Excellent Characters Keep “Star Trek: Ex Machina” Flying
James T. Kirk has again become Captain of the starship Enterprise, Dr. Leonard McCoy has been brought out of retirement, and Mr. Spock has learned the value of emotions. Even the computer entity known as V’Ger, satisfied that it has joined with The Creator, has scampered off to explore new places outside the Universe. So what else is there to tell? Apparently, quite a lot based on the novel Star Trek: Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett, which tells the further tales of the stalwart crew of the USS Enterprise, only this story takes place almost immediately after the events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. However, this book isn’t a sequel to just the movie but also follows up on the events depicted in the 3rd season episode of the original “Star Trek” series For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky. Bennett has taken two separate stories that deserved following up on and combined them into this one novel. But does it work?
Bennett wrote this book in 2005, allowing him to borrow from the series Star Trek: Enterprise and the movie Star Trek: First Contact, as both take place chronologically before this story. For his main plot, we see the people from the asteroid ship Yonada now on their new world Daran IV, also called Lorina by the Yonadans, but their society is not entirely at peace. The former High Priestess, Natira, is now the Governess of this world and has taken it upon herself to vanquish the myth of The Oracle, whom some still religiously revere. There is another religious faction that worships The Creators as deities, believing that They constructed the Oracle. While the official government welcomes the presence of the Federation, the more conservative religious sects reject their presence, especially a leader named Dovraku. He is the most militant and is obsessed with the story of V’Ger and how it defeated the godkiller Kirk (who is infamous for defeating Landru, Vaal, and The Oracle). The B-plot of this book deals with Kirk’s insecurities and feelings of unworthiness as Captain. There is also McCoy’s feelings of being unworthy to serve as CMO; worst of all, Spock has yet to learn how to balance his acceptance of emotions with Vulcan logic. Finally, some crew members reject the presence of the Captain, First Officer, and CMO, which compounds the dilemmas each one is going through.
Star Trek: Ex Machina is a slow book, burdened by many chapters of needless exposition surrounding secondary characters or world history. Many ancillary characters have extensive backstories told that many readers might find boring, especially since most of the overall story doesn’t rely on any of this information. The same can be said regarding the world-building regarding the Yonadans and their historical and present-day culture. While some elements become relevant, much is thrown away, making most of this exposition a waste.
That’s not to say that the entire book is bad. One area that Bennett was strong in was the development of the familiar characters from the world of “Star Trek.” From Transporter Chief Rand to Captain Kirk and all of the beloved characters between, Bennett magically captured their voices so perfectly that as I read their scenes, I could actually hear them in my head as voiced by the actors who gave life to them. While most of the scenes are given to the main three characters, each secondary officer has plenty of moments allowing for amazing character development, illustrating how much they had grown. This is further substantiated by Bennett’s clever use of callbacks to both Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek: First Contact.
Sadly, the result of all these things is an uneven book. There are chapters that I breezed through with great ease due to the entertaining character dialogue and action, only to see it grind to a new halt because of the exposition and needless world-building. Still, I found the book to be largely enjoyable and would highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I had a wonderful time reading a story where the cast of characters was lifted directly out of a time in my movie-watching history. The needless padding of this book was at times irritating, but in no way did it rob me of my enjoyment when reading chapters where my beloved “Star Trek” characters came to life. Christopher L. Bennett’s book is uneven, but the great character moments won over any world-building shortcomings.
I give Star Trek: Ex Machina 3.5 out of 5 Oracles.