This week brings enough environmental disaster to make Captain Planet’s head spin. Two planets, each in possession of something the other needs, must make nice before explosions both literal and figurative wipe them out. But the clock really starts ticking when an old man shows up to get the kids off his lawn—by any means necessary. Could Worf pull off a rugby shirt? How far is too far when it comes to embarrassing Wesley? What is a panty raid at Starfleet Academy like? It’s the book you can’t tell is pregnant.

Exiles
Author: Howard Weinstein
Pages: 271
Published: November 1990
Timeline: Season 31
Prerequisites: None
Not to be confused with: Exiles, the second part of the Vulcan’s Soul trilogy, published June 2006

Once again, the venerable Howard Weinstein returns to the fray, and it appears he figured since writing a story about an eco-catastrophe worked out so well last time, why not run with it again. Did he manage to catch lightning in a bottle twice? Well, sort of.

This time we’re dealing with not one, but two ecological disasters. One planet, Alaj, has made their own bed: their leader, Curister Zeila, can’t appear publicly without facing a dangerously angry mob, who will almost certainly spill over into real violence if they learn that the nefittifi, a bird essential to the Alajians’ cultural tradition and identity and due for an appearance in 22 days at the planet-wide Feast of the Awakening, has gone extinct. The other planet, Etolos, was just screwed by pure dumb luck: volcanic eruptions spewing ash into the atmosphere will force them to either relocate or die out. 

Despite Alaj being members of the Federation, it’s Prefex Retthew of Etolos that puts in the call to have someone come help the two planets work their differences out. The population of Etolos—only about 200 thousand—comprises members of a movement originally from Alaj called Totality who didn’t like the way the Alajians were treating the planet and decided to head for literally sunnier skies. Each planet has something the other needs: Etolos knows Alaj doesn’t have any nefittifi left, and is willing to give them a couple of breeding ones if Alaj will let them move their conservation efforts to a neutral planet Alaj isn’t doing anything with. Much of the first part of the book is about making sure such a reconciliation is even feasible in the first place and carefully putting together a peaceful meeting between the two sides.

Exiles is a book with two distinct villains separated cleanly into tidy little compartments. Ozemmik, Retthew’s right-hand man, is a bit of a loose cannon who isn’t as keen on reconciliation with Alaj as Retthew. A reader who is even halfway awake will quickly suspect he’s up to no good—and he’s not. Seriously, it’s not any more complicated than that. He orchestrates the terrorist bombing of the nefittifi habitat on Etolos, freely and loudly admits to it, and spends the rest of the book rotting in the Enterprise’s brig. Retthew and Ozemmik have a friendship extending back to childhood that’s supposed to also inform their professional relationship, but Retthew drops him like a hot potato and the story never mentions it again.

With a half to a third of the book still remaining, more conflict is needed to fill out the remaining duration, and it comes in the form of Danid, who to this point has remained anonymous while his ship slowly but inexorably moves on a collision course toward Alaj. Danid is the sole remaining representative of the Bekeem, a religious group also banished by the Alaj after protesting their treatment of the planet. In the intervening five centuries, the Bekeem acquired some pretty heavy-duty colony ship technology via unknown means, and now Danid intends to bring the full force of it to bear on Alaj. Danid shares the ship with a computer named Nole; their relationship resembles a far more benign version of what Overkill and Dangerboat have going in Amazon’s The Tick

The elements of environmental responsibility that distinguished Power Hungry are mostly downplayed here. Getting Alaj’s environment back on track is not emphasized as much as brokering peace with Etolos, acquiring breeding nefittifi, and heading off the incipient Danid threat. There’s also more humor in this book—though the jokes, such as they are, rarely land—as well as a “romantic” subplot between Deanna and the nefittifi caretaker Robbal that’s so chaste it’s kind of adorable. There’s more to keep it from getting too depressing and heavy-handed, but it also dilutes the focus somewhat.

That doesn’t mean Exiles is bad—it’s just a little more scatterbrained. Weinstein is still at this point the only writer in the novelsphere attempting to play to Star Trek‘s great strength as a vehicle for social commentary, which will continue to be worth no small amount of points in my mind as long as an author doesn’t totally screw it up. Despite that, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope his next effort travels a different direction. Two books don’t make a pattern, but I don’t want material of this nature and weight to start bringing diminishing returns.

MVP & LVP

  • This week’s MVP goes to Riker, for his classic maneuver of cornering the computer with indisputable logic, which saves the Enterprise from having to ram Danid’s ship to stop his planned genocide by a mere nine seconds (as Worf is all too pleased to point out, practically calling everyone weenies for getting all worked up about it). It’s a display even Spock would be proud of.
  • Our LVP this week goes to Geordi. In this book, Wesley Crusher has a friend tagging along with him named Gina Pace, who is thoroughly inconsequential to the story, but whatever—she’s there, nothing we can do. Gina is an artist, and she wants to draw Wes. Geordi, ever the master conversationalist and razor-sharp wit, asks: “Dressed or undressed?” DRESSED. OR UNDRESSED. This would be an incredible lapse of decorum from just about anybody, but especially from a senior officer on a starship. If Beverly had heard that, she’d have socked him in the jaw, then taken him to HR so fast his VISOR would spin. Not to worry, however, dear readers: I’ve discovered a scene cut from the final draft that gives this mess the proper closure it so desperately needs:

“Hello, Geordi. Why don’t you have a seat right over here?”

Nuggets & Other Stray Bits

  • At this point, Weinstein books are the only ones that have introductions. This one is no exception, but it’s only one page long. Someone must have finally gotten the memo that these things are self-indulgent and boring.
  • For some reason, this book has a disproportionate amount of Data not understanding basic idioms. I’ll be really glad when we’re past this kind of nonsense altogether. Some authors are under the impression that a good 50 percent of Data’s character comprises not understanding any sort of non-literal speech whatsoever, and. It. Is. ANNOYING. I don’t remember the show doing it as much as the books do, but a lot of the first three seasons also just sort of washed over me, so.
  • Riker and Geordi try to get Worf into American football (the sport, not the band), but then decide he might appreciate rugby more. Of all the goofy Z-plots that take up two or three pages in Star Trek books, this is the one I’m saddest was not followed up on.
  • p. 150: “She shook her head and her fingers brushed his cheek. ‘I just wanted to take you to Ten-Forward for Guinan’s special Koquesian ice cream.'” No lie: when my sister was very little, her baby word for “ice cream” was “koh-queese”. I highly doubt she’d read Exiles at the time.
  • pp. 178–179: Riker and Lopez reminisce about a particular type of “raid” they used to enjoy participating in back at the Academy. To be honest, I’m just as confused as Data, though I’m fairly certain they mean panty raids. Hard to believe they still do that in the 24th century, but knowing Riker, also not.
  • p. 185: Speaking of things they probably don’t do in the 24th century, Lopez mentions working for a circus. Those barely exist now. In fact, in December 2018, New Jersey became the first state to ban the use of wild animals in circuses, which is at least 75 percent of the circus experience if not more.
  • The inside back cover lists the next book, #15, as Spartacus, which ended up being #20 and coming out a year later than expected. Unfortunately, there’s next to no inside information about that book online or in Voyages of Imagination, so currently we can only speculate as to why it was pushed back.

Final Verdict

I give Exiles 3 out of 5 nefittifi. While it doesn’t pack quite the social conscience punch that Power Hungry did, and is a little sloppier overall, it’s still a perfectly serviceable and decent book. You get more than just the relentlessly dour picture of a planet on its last legs, but that doesn’t necessarily always work to the book’s favor. There’s a lot going on here and most of it is either watered down or doesn’t have the effect Weinstein intended. Nevertheless, I liked it just fine.

NEXT TIME: War is hell in Home Is the Hunter