When the Battle’s Lost and Won: A Reflection on Coda Book I, Moments Asunder
As the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation taught us, all good things must come to an end. The continuity of the Star Trek novels is a very good thing that must come to an end, in order to reconcile the timeline of the novels with new canon. Authors Dayton Ward, James Swallow and David Mack give us the Coda trilogy as closure to that continuity, beginning with Ward’s novel Moments Asunder, a love letter to the past twenty years of Star Trek novel continuity.
“Have tissues and vodka on hand for this read,” the authors warned us, and I was crying by the first page, with its loving tribute to Dave Galanter, a Trek author whom we lost far too soon, and who is so missed.
Although Moments Asunder, Book One of the Coda trilogy, is rich in references to events and characters from the Star Trek novel continuity, a timeline (at the start of the book) of previously established, important events ensures that those of us who haven’t been able to read every book are not confused by the events of this one.
The story opens on a foreshadowing. Wesley Crusher, whose development we have traced from innocent, wide-eyed kid whose greatest ambition was to see the Bridge, to child prodigy who helped save the ship, to acting ensign learning to fly the ship of the line, to disillusioned Starfleet cadet, and finally, to mentee of a mysterious being known as the Traveler, is now a time-worn Traveler on his own journey. Standing on a planet whose advanced civilization has long since come within the compass of Time’s bending sickle, Wesley becomes aware that the Guardian of Forever is in distress. The Guardian is giving off waves of temporal distortion. I heard echoes of Time for Yesterday, by Ann Crispin. In that novel, waves of temporal displacement threatened the galaxy and all sentient life therein.
As Wesley is reflecting upon his travels and those whom he holds most dear, the Enemy emerges from the Guardian. It is an enemy whom Wesley does not recognize and whom he has used all his strength in resisting. An enemy who is attacking not just life, not just the planet, not just the galaxy, but time itself; through Wesley’s eyes, we come to see that time itself is at stake.
The contrast between Wesley’s knowledge of the nature of the existential and temporal threat and the following scenes depicting “business as usual” on the Enterprise is extremely poignant. We see characters we have come to care about facing crossroads in their career and making decisions about their futures. Geordi is considering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work on a new design of starship, talking it over with his partner. Worf is being offered his own command. Jean-Luc and Beverly are walking on a beach with their son, René, considering retirement so that they can focus on being a family. Are all of these promising lives to be swept away in the floods… not of water, but of time?
The stakes have never been higher. We see the adversaries through the eyes of the captain and crew of the temporal vessel Relativity. We watch them fight to the very best of their ability, and we see them defeated. We see crew after crew, ship after ship, destroyed. It is painful to watch as crew member after crew member succumb to rapid aging, and fall to dust before our eyes. And it isn’t just Starfleet officers in whom we are not emotionally invested who perish to time. Familiar faces and beloved legacy characters are not spared. Those battle scenes are hard to read.
When we finally learn who the mysterious adversary is, we realize that this is an adversary we have seen before and thought they’d been defeated. Like the Ring Wraiths, they have not been overthrown. They have come back in a far more destructive form.
Yet the book isn’t all battles and death and destruction. The author takes time to give us the moments that make it matter to us. Without those vital character moments, not even the highest stakes in the galaxy will evoke an emotional reaction. We have got to care about the characters. And these are characters we have loved for a long, long time. Personally, I love every one of those quiet moments. Beverly and Jean-Luc sharing a bottle of wine and remembering his brother Robert and nephew René. Riker and Troi breaking protocol on the Bridge by tenderly checking in with each other. Wesley, time-worn Traveler, enjoying a bonding moment with his little brother.
One of my favorites of those quiet moments was coming face-to-face with Simon Tarses, the half-Romulan, half-human ensign from TNG’s “The Drumhead”. Instead of losing a promising career, Tarses had weathered the legal troubles and become an MD. For us to have closure on that character was good.
However, my absolute favorite moment was when Wesley finds Picard reading a book which he describes as “historical adventure fiction, written over a century ago. It offers an alternative account to humanity’s first contact with Vulcans.” This loving homage to Strangers from the Sky, one of the essential classic Trek novels, was a moving tribute to beloved author Margaret Wander Bonanno, who passed away in April this year.
The book closes on a haunting cliffhanger of Picard’s questioning:
Did the moments lived to this point have any real meaning, or were they fated to be casualties to the coming storm? Could all of reality be saved without sacrificing this timeline, or was doing so the only key to victory? Was it his destiny to vanquish preordained expectations, or was he condemned to an inevitable, inviolable fate? How many moments were left, not just for him, but for René, Beverly, Wesley, and indeed an entire reality?
Wesley’s answer: I don’t know.
We’ll find out in the remaining two books in the Coda trilogy: The Ashes of Tomorrow by James Swallow, to be published later this month, and Oblivion’s Gate by David Mack, due for release in November.
Ruth Anne Amsden has been a Trekkie since she was a ten-year-old reader voraciously devouring Star Trek novels (her family did not allow television in the home). She is working toward her first BA and aspiring to professionally write Star Trek novels as love letters to the novels she loved growing up.