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Section 31: Control (Star Trek) Mass Market Paperback – March 28, 2017
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About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Stunned, bleeding, and falling like a stone, Julian Bashir was half-conscious when he and Sarina Douglas struck the ring-shaped metal platform. She landed on her back with a brutal thud. He crashed down on his right side and heard his ulna break. The fractured bone tore through flesh and fabric, flooding his arm with pain.
He struggled to breathe. His nose was broken, and his lips were swollen and split. He rolled onto his back to get the weight off his broken arm. Above him loomed the auxiliary control center of Memory Alpha’s main computer tower. Beyond the platform, the Federation archive’s underground city of core towers, each over two hundred meters tall and fifty meters in diameter, stretched away in concentric rings and vanished into the far unlit unknown.
All Bashir wanted to do was succumb to fatigue. Defensive wounds on his forearms stung with fresh cuts, and the sickening pain blooming deep within his torso told him he was bleeding inside. He doubted he could stand, much less force himself to endure a one-handed climb up the ladder to the facility’s main console.
Turning his head to look at his left hand was agony, but it had to be done. He opened his fist to see the data chip he had fought so hard to protect. It was intact, which was more than he could say for his palm. The chip’s corners had cut into his flesh because he had clutched it with such ferocity. He tucked the precious chip into one of his pressure suit’s chest pockets.
I didn’t come this far to quit here, he told himself.
Trying to sit up made his head swim. He rolled onto his left side and fought to push himself away from the metal grating. Get up. Get up!
His pulse thundered in his temples and made his skull feel as if it were being broken open from within. Probably a concussion, he realized. His suspicion was confirmed by a nascent urge to vomit. No time for that now. Have to keep moving.
Raised edges on the steel deck’s diamond-shaped grating bit into his knees and palm as he crawled to the ladder. He locked his one good hand on a rung and looked back at Sarina. She lay still, twisted and pallid. There was no time to assess her injuries; only minutes remained for Bashir to finish the mission that had brought him here—his first and perhaps last chance to strike the deathblow that would end the vile cabal he knew as Section 31.
He knew he should climb, but his heart demanded he go back to help Sarina. In spite of the ticking clock, he couldn’t forget he loved her. How much he would always love her.
Bashir let go of the ladder and looked back, but his conscience halted him. If I go to her now . . . how many more will die because I was selfish? This mission was bigger than her life, or his. Too much was at stake.
With his one good hand, he climbed the ladder. His broken right arm dangled, useless and vulnerable. Stabbing sensations filled his gut as he pulled himself upward. It took all his will to keep his grip on the rungs and continue his ascent; his body was desperate to give in, surrender to gravity, and plunge into the shadowy abyss between the core towers.
By the time he reached the apex of the ladder and clawed his way onto the control center’s upper level, he was delirious with exhaustion. He spent a moment on his knees, fighting to catch his breath. Ahead of him, at the end of a twenty-meter catwalk, was the auxiliary control panel of the main core. Bathed in icy blue light, it beckoned him. A glance at his wrist chrono confirmed he had barely two minutes to reach the console and finish this war.
He reached up and seized the catwalk’s railing. Every muscle in his body burned in protest as he pulled himself to his feet. Holding the railing to steady himself, he plodded forward. Each step shook drops of blood from the broken bones of his right arm.
The closer he got to the main console, the softer his vision became. He hoped to remain conscious long enough to complete his task, one staggering in its simplicity: all he had to do was insert the data chip into the secure input node on the console. The embedded software on the chip would do the rest.
If only we could have uploaded this remotely, instead of having to carry it into the most heavily guarded data archive in the galaxy—
The dull pressure of a punch was followed by a knifing pain between Bashir’s shoulder blades—ice-cold at first, then white-hot. He couldn’t see the dagger in his back, but he knew for a fact it was there.
Bashir tried to soldier on, only to find he could no longer feel his legs. They buckled under him as if they were made of rubber. He used his left arm to break his fall, but his bearded chin slammed onto the catwalk’s steel plates.
So close . . . The console was just a couple of meters away. Bashir fought to pull himself forward, his bruised and slashed left arm laboring to drag his entire body weight the length of two long strides that suddenly might as well be two light-years.
Behind him, halting steps echoed on the catwalk.
At the base of the console Bashir fished the data chip from his pocket. Clutching it, he extended his blood-caked hand toward the console’s secure input terminal only to find it stubbornly out of reach. To finish his mission, he needed to stand one last time.
The side of his hand found the console’s edge, but he couldn’t pull himself to his feet. He lost his grip and fell to the deck with his back to the console, facing his slowly approaching enemy, the agent of his imminent destruction.
In that moment Bashir realized two terrible truths.
His mission had failed, and he was about to die.
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First of all, it should be said that it's a very well written book, whatever you end up thinking about the plot twist that changes everything (and it does.) It feels like a great conclusion to the Section 31 series and a beginning of the next one. Whether or not they continue writing in this plotline, it's come to a conclusion in SOME way, and I think readers will agree. There's lots of action and suspense. The characters are great. The biggest drawback was the same thing it's been throughout the entire Section 31 series-- Sarina Douglas is just an awful, weak character, and it's impossible to believe she ever really cares about Julian-- and yes, that's a problem when the plot ends up hinging on how genuine their feelings for each other really are. But without giving anything away, you will feel at the end of this book that you have the explanation for what Section 31 really was, who was running it, why it existed in the first place, and much more. The book ends on a rather pessimistic note, but it feels realistic.
Now, for the spoiler-y part...
The existence of the Star Trek universe is based on manipulation and computer spying. All that wonderful universal peace and humanity's problems solved... well, it rests on everyone being spied on all the time. But was that all worth it, considering what the UFP got in return? What makes this narrative twist so fascinating is that by the end of the book, you do not know whether the answer is yes or no. Planets that refused anything which would have facilitated the computer spying have terrible poverty and suffering while a few rich people get all the benefits. Maybe the price really WAS worth it. I'm still not sure, although it's safe to say that the bargain never would have worked out in the actual reality we all have to live in once we put down the book. The most fascinating thing of all, though, is that we finally h ave an explanation for why everything always worked out so perfectly for Kirk, Picard, Janeway et al!! And it wasn't because it was "only a movie" or "only a TV show" or "only a fictional universe." Strings were always being pulled behind the scenes.
Okay, that's the end of the spoilers... basically, I would say that this is such a good book and raises such fascinating issues that everyone should read it, and not just Star Trek fans, either. But be prepared.
Details (and spoilers) down this way...
So I think I get why this happened. The climactic battle between Data and Bashir and Uraei/Control (and a broken and brainwashed Sarina) is excellently plotted and executed; and the notion that the entire thing (and not only it, but decades of circumstances preceding it) were all an infinitely intricate plot by Control to shed its dependence on the Uraei code and expand its watch over the galaxy is extremely tempting. But the two concepts are utterly, intractably incompatible.
Start with the most obvious: Sarina's murder. Control kills Sarina (by forcing her to gut herself) after Bashir has successfully uploaded the code that will prevent Uraei from restoring itself. Now, as a final act of vengeance by an evil entity lashing out in its dying moments, this at least makes some sort of visceral sense. (Although on deeper reflection it doesn't even really make much sense in that context, since Control is never shown to have an emotional aspect.) But in the context of Bashir succeeding being what Control really wants all along?? In this context, murdering Sarina AFTER Bashir has succeeded makes absolutely NO sense.
And for that matter, if this is what Control wants to happen, why did it arrange to fight Data and Bashir at all?? Did it really calculate, for example, that Sarina's last knife attack wouldn't just kill Bashir instantly, or that Lal would appear and destroy Control's avatar, after Data has been almost destroyed? Both Data and Bashir come within a hairsbreadth of losing this fight against Control—which begs the question: why in the world would Control deliberately set up that thin of a margin for error? Especially when it's absolutely not necessary? Driving Data and Bashir to develop the ultimate weapon against Uraei is one thing...but after they've come up with their plan to irrevocably obliterate the Uraei code, the most logical thing for Control to do is to JUST LET THEM DO IT. There aren't even "appearances" to keep up—its obvious that Section 31's biological agents have no clue what's going on and would do whatever Control told them to, and even if it were trying to keep up appearances, this is the final move of the game. There's nothing afterwards to keep up appearances for.
So that's the book's fatal flaw. I suspect that the twist was created at the end, and that its implications weren't fully thought through. Given the choice between the two, I think the last chapter should have been jettisoned to save the integrity of the rest of the story.
One other little nit: Uraei is highly reminiscent of the Whisper in The Breach (another excellent book). But in that case, the omniscient, omnipotent adversary was based on alien technology that was not centuries, or millennia, but literally eons ahead of humanity. So the idea of a piece of 22nd-century computer code advancing as far and as fast as Uraei does (note that it's carrying out intricate assassinations within a few years of its inception) is just a tad far-fetched. But that's a minor complaint.
All in all, if you can get past the story's inherent contradictions, this is one of Mack's finest works. And if you can—stop reading after Chapter 39.
This one is daring. (An entire chapter is written in a pseudo computer code.) This one immediately shot to the top of my list of best ever.
This one draws a dark shade over the entire history of the Federation. But without re-writing history, and being true to the established universe. In a gripping, tense story that is fully self contained in one book.
This is a must. I'm not sure I would say any of the others are a "must." But if you choose to read any Trek novel ever, this must be among them. So many of the others simply continue existing storylines. This is one of the few I think stand alone as an 'actual' sci-fi novel, that makes you think, that explores new territory.
Top international reviews
Currently I am on my holiday in Benidorm, Spain. When it came to deciding which books to take with me I saw this on my small pile of books I had yet to read (it had been on this particular pile since I originally ordered it back on the 10/1/2018).
I started it yesterday afternoon & a little over 24 hours later I have finished this brilliant story David Mack has crafted.
The way the story highlights the use of Artificial Intelligence if it was left unchecked is not only timely but also extremely relevant as our very own computer technology develops at a rapid rate.
Bashir, Douglas, Data, Lal, Graniv...all play excellent yet vital roles in the entirety of the story.
The stakes were real & there was everything to lose.
Read this quintessential Trek novel.
Few mistakes in the print here and there which was missed during editing, and sometimes dialogue can seem superfluous as the reader knows where it's leading, but the inner-monologue of Dr Julian Bashir is spot on! Absolutely fantastic, one of my favourite books in all of the literature, and I can't wait for further works from Section 31.
There are surprises throughout this book, plus a few plot twists. However, the twist at the end of the book caught me completely by surprise.
Rarely does an ending shock me.
Once I started to read this book, I would often find it hard to put down.
To fully enjoy this book, you should read the previous section 31 books.
If you have. Be prepared to be blown away.
Archeus: whenever you read the lines spoken by Shakti you will now hear Gideon from Legends of Tomorrow.
Die Konstruktion einer allwissenden, selbständig entwickelnden Computer"macht" ist doch arg plump und zu einfach. Einfach deswegen, weil einfach alles mit der Genialität dieses Programms erklärt wird.
Zudem geht es am Ende viel zu leicht von statten, das Problem zu lösen, während es in der Mitte des Buches so scheint, als sei alles verloren.
Weiterhin stört mich, dass die Figur Data keinen weiteren Tiefgang bekommt und allzu gleichförmig wirkt.
Positiv hervorzuheben sind die kleinen Dinge. Der gelungene (wenn auch an sich unnötige) Rückbezug auf Artikel der Föderation und die Verschwörung um die Absetzung von Min Zife (auch: a time to... Serie). Großartig ist die Figur des Garak als des Teufels Advokat, alleine diese paar Seiten sind das Buch wert. Ebenfalls positiv ist die Entwicklung von Douglas und Bashir, auch wenn es doch etwas kitischig wirkt.
Zum Schluss aber wird es haarsträubend: innerhalb von wenigen Seiten kann man in zwei hoch hoch hochsicherheitseinrichtungen eindringen. Unbesiegbare Gegner besiegen (und der Avatar von "Control" ist mehr als deplatziert, erinnert an Skynet aus Terminator Genisys) und auf einmal ist alles gut. Keinerlei Auswirkungen auf die Föderation, keinerlei moralische Wertung?!
Mir scheint als sei dem Autor am Ende selber nicht mehr klar gewesen, wie an das Buch zu Ende bringen kann.
Die beiden Verschwörer und Liebenden sind sich ihrerseits ihrer eigenen Funktion nicht mehr ganz klar und sehen auch die Gefahr, in der sie sich andauernd befinden. Da kommt eines Tages eine Reporterin zu ihnen um sie zu einem Gespräch in einer Art Faradayschem Käfig zu überreden. Bei diesem Gespräch erfahren sie, dass seit über 200 Jahren – praktisch seit der offiziellen Vereinigung der Regierungen der Erde, jedes Stück an Computertechnologie mit einem Stück Software versehen ist, das hilft Dinge aufzeichnen und zu kombinieren und in Gefahrsituationen die betreffenden Autoritäten zu informieren. Seine Hauptaufgabe ist der Schutz der Menschheit. Dieses Stück Software namens Uraei hat sich über die Jahre angepasst und die Expansion der Menschheit, die Entstehung der Föderation und alle folgenden geschichtlichen Ereignisse mit vollzogen und ist dabei zu eine unabhängigen Intelligenz geworden, die ihr Kernprogramm immer weiter ausgedehnt hat und nun auf praktisch alle Aspekte des Lebens im Umkreis der Föderation Einfluß nimmt. Und deswegen benötigen mögliche Verschwörer gegen dieses Programm Faradaysche Käfige, denn wenn Uraei erfährt, dass jemand unberechtigt von ihm weiß, hat diese Person oft sehr unauffällige Unfälle.
Im Zusammenhang mit ihren weiteren Ermittlungen erfahren Bashir und Douglas auch noch Einiges über das Entstehen von Section 31. Um ihren neuen, unerwarteten Gegner zu bekämpfen schließen sich die Beiden mit Data und Lal zusammen, die inkognito auf einem etwas abgelegenen Planeten untergekommen sind – und die diesen sehr bald verlassen müssen, als sie versuchen Uraei direkt zu beobachten und dabei prompt erwischt werden. Für einige Zeit können sie Exil bei Kanzler Garak auf Cardassia Prime Asyl finden, aber selbst dessen handverlesenen Wachsoldaten sind kein Schutz gegen Sextion 31 und Uraei. So geht die Flucht an einen ganz abgelegenen Ort.
Die Idee der vollständigen Überwachung in der Föderation erscheint vor dem Hintergrund unserer aktuellen Situation mehr als plausibel und dass eine KI, die die Menschheit schützen soll die in erster Linie verdeckt tut ist vielleicht auch nicht so an den Haaren herbei gezogen. Die Frage ist, was das bedeutet und diese finde ich in diesem Roman zu wenig diskutiert. Was gibt den größten Nutzen für die Zivilisationen der betroffenen Quadranten? Wie hätte sich die Geschichte ohne Uraei und Section 31 entwickelt? Das sind relativ offensichtliche Fragen, die hier zu wenig behandelt werden, während die Möglichkeit ob ein Vorgehen gegen die Beiden überhaupt möglich ist sehr ausgiebig diskutiert wird. Und zwar in der Regel sehr positiv.
Es endet vergleichsweise unerwartet – und hat sicherlich noch Potential für weitere Betrachtungen – insbesondere in Bezug auf das oben Erwähnte.