#128: Sins of Commission (TNG #29)

This week, when a passenger liner pulls up alongside the Enterprise, an already stressed-out Worf is embarrassed by a social connection. But when an explosion forces the cruise ship’s evacuation, the aquarium exhibit could be the undoing of them all. Are we too hard on Alexander? When did Barclay get busted down? And do we really want to know what goes on in the “Vibration Room”? All this and more in Sins of Commission, the book where Geordi, unsurprisingly, has blow-up dolls on the brain.

Sins of Commission
Author: Susan Wright
Pages: 277
Published: March 1994
Timeline: Over a year after “The Drumhead” (S4E21)
Prerequisites: “The Drumhead”, but only for a featured character, not really events from therein

Not long after the Enterprise arrives at the planet Lessenar to assist with environmental cleanup, a passenger starliner, the Prospector, rolls into the neighborhood. Its captain, Jacob Walch, happens to be an old friend of the Rozhenkos. After an explosion cripples the Prospector, the Enterprise takes on its evacuees, a group comprising mostly a bunch of grumpy boomers but also some members of the Sli, a jellyfish-like race heretofore known primarily for two things: 1) amplifying the emotions of nearby beings, and 2) wrecking the absolute dookie out of the few Federation and Klingon parties that have attempted contact.

One of the Sli dies in transit, which invokes the wrath of their handler, a Ferengi named Mon Hartog. Hartog manages the Sli and books their “emotive concerts”, events in which their powers of amplification are turned on a receptive audience to euphoric effect. Naturally, that means Hartog has skin in the game, and as such, he’s quick to cry foul, accusing the Enterprise crew of murder.

With the remaining living Sli taking up a cargo bay, it’s not long before their emotional broadcasts start to wreak havoc on everybody aboard the ship. Simon Tarses, still dealing with the fallout of “The Drumhead” and ready to transfer off the Enterprise yesterday now that his probationary period is over, goes pretty far off the rails. Worf, already stressed out from the appearance of Captain Walch and some phone calls from Kurn expecting Alexander to come back to Qo’nos and learn how to lead his clan, is even more forward than usual. Beverly is unprofessionally flippant, and even Riker and Picard manifest different behavior patterns. Matters go from bad to worse when Hartog reveals that Walch’s brother served on a ship destroyed by the Sli and accuses not only Walch of committing the murder, but also Worf of helping cover it up.

Although Sins of Commission is not really a very good book, it’s peppered with samples of the kind of flavor that is a part of books I tend to really like. For one thing, I like a good inscrutable alien, and the Sli fit the bill nicely. They sort of hearken back to the Kh!lict from Windows on a Lost World with their Hypercolor mode of communication, but this time, the code is far less easily cracked. The officers also have the kind of casual looseness with each other that’s typical of the better TNG novels.

But Sins of Commission is filled with the kinds of mistakes that for the most part should not be happening in books at this point. Some of them are misfires on basic core details that even a mostly oblivious goof like me can tell you don’t smell right on the first pass. (A few such are detailed below.) Also, however, there are certain story parts Wright loses track of … and she loses track of them hard. The thread involving Lessenar, notably, disappears pretty much entirely once the Sli business gets rolling, and ends up getting such quick lip service at the end that they end up shrugging off a massive Prime Directive violation (yes, I will talk about this some more in a little bit). And, of course, a plot relying heavily on loss of emotional control is a little bit wasted in the notoriously Vulcan-light TNG.

I was also a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see some of the original characters introduced here at their best. There are two in this book whom I enjoyed: Lt. Chryso and Ensign Puckee. Chryso isn’t much more than Ro Laren in a blue tunic instead of a red one, but I always enjoy women who are strong against Riker. Meanwhile, Puckee deftly walks the thin line of being able to question and improve on a superior’s suggestions without coming across as insubordinate. Unfortunately, because of the Sli, we don’t get a good sense of what they can do at their uncompromised best.

I think the bones of a good Susan Wright take on the Star Trek universe are there, and I applaud the efforts to get outside the box with the Sli, but this just isn’t the story for them or the TNG crew. Also, the Ferengi always make for weak villains in TNG even in the best of circumstances. I feel really bad for this one: it could have been a lot better with even just a light amount of editorial TLC. But at the rate they’re starting to crack these things out at this point in the project, it’s not altogether surprising that one might slip through the cracks here and there.

MVP & LVP

  • My MVP this week is Deanna. Considering emotions are involved, she’s the de facto choice to get put on the Sli case, and she handles the investigation well enough. I have to wonder, though. Do first-time authors just coincidentally have a tendency to pitch stories heavily involving Deanna Troi and Worf? Or is that a beat they get put on, like an initiation type of thing? “Give us a story with these two, and then we’ll go from there.” I’m not a writer, I know nothing about the ins and outs of the publishing industry; I’m just curious. I also had Data down as a runner-up, though I forget why. Maybe I’m starting to get too far ahead on the reading. Or not taking good enough notes. Or both.
  • My LVP, of this book specifically but also of Star Trek: The Next Generation in a general sense, is Worf. Given the chance, Worf will always do or behave the dumbest, most diaper-baby thing or way possible, and this story is no exception. He would rather die on the hill of defending his baroque notions of honor than let a few people see some emails about Alexander wetting the bed, even though doing that would clear him as a suspect in a murder investigation. Granted, he’s being affected by the Sli, and probably worse than most on the ship, because his brain is a big open book waiting to be scribbled in. Previously, I’d always thought Alexander was a bit of a whiner, but this book made me consider that that might just be a product of television—it’s easier to feel sympathy for him when you don’t have his high-pitched prepubescent whine in your ears.1

Nuggets & Stray Bits

  • The Lessenar stuff is total dead weight. The Prospector could have pulled up to them beside any planet and it wouldn’t have made any difference. With a few alterations, I’m sure it could have been scrapped entirely. As I said earlier, it ends up getting mentioned briefly at the end, where it’s revealed a massive Prime Directive violation took place. To paraphrase: the away team gives a guy some transceivers to use for coordinating relief efforts in rural areas. Instead, that guy uses them to stage a coup against the corrupt government. Picard’s thoughts on this? “Uhhh …. whoops!” He shrugs it off by saying it’s an unfortunate consequence, but these are the first people who have figured out they can do that, and we can’t just go changing what has up to now been a perfectly good system because one planet figured this out. Uhhh, YES, YOU CAN? This is a pretty big backdoor you got hanging open here, guys. Astounding.
  • “[Simon Tarses’s] were on Deck 13, on the underside of the saucer section, so he had only two windows in the main room. They were slanted out from the floor, in the opposite direction of those in Deanna’s quarters. Deanna liked looking down onto the starfield for a change, though it made some people uncomfortable, as if they were falling into space.” — This is a cool thing I’d never considered before. It’s actually brought up a couple of times in the book; this is simply the first mention of it. But it also seems like the kind of thing you’d just get used to after a while, like getting your sea legs. (Space legs?) Maybe it’s more fair to assume it refers to civilians. (p. 13)
  • “Unbidden, [Riker] thought of Deanna’s mother, Lwaxana, and the look on her face if she ever found out ‘Mr. Woof’ was subliminally doing a Klingon mating dance around her daughter…” — I am fairly certain this is the first mention of the “Mr. Woof” nickname in a Star Trek book, which is very weird, because I can’t believe it didn’t come up at any point in Q-in-Law. (p. 20)
  • “Except for the hood and gloves, the low-pressure suits were similar to the regular uniforms—red shoulder panels and black bodies—but the material was much thicker. Riker and Worf looked like someone had pumped air into them. ¶ Geordi suppressed a laugh behind his faceplate. Data would have been curious, and this wasn’t the time for a long explanation about a stray thought as strange as a Worf blow-up doll.” — Believe me, it’s not just Data who needs a long explanation of what’s going through Geordi’s head here. Geordi gonna Geordi, though, I guess. Also, the shoulder panels and tunics as described are more like the ones on Voyager/early-DS9 uniforms, not those in TNG. (p. 81)
  • While investigating the wreckage of the Prospector, the team passes an area called the Vibration Room, which activates when they come within range. It also releases a smell that Geordi really likes, and which Data breaks down as incense, human flesh, and some other components he is “unable to define without further analysis”. Let me speed your research up there, Data: IT’S CUM. YOU’RE SMELLING CUM. This is a weird passage, though less surprising when you learn Susan Wright would go on to write a trilogy of novels about humans being sold to aliens as sex slaves. (pp. 86–87)
  • Picard, p. 191: “I bet our two security guards have contributed more to our appearance of aggression with their red and black uniforms than the presence of a murderer on board.” — Another uniform description gaffe! Officers in operations, which includes security, wear gold. Not red! Did an editor read this? Actually, maybe not. From the author herself in Voyages of Imagination: “…though some ideas took more explaining or reworking than others, Sins of Commission was accepted without any changes.”
  • Sins of Commission marks the first book appearance of Nurse Ogawa. However, it’s a non-speaking appearance, and she’s referred to exclusively by her first name. (p. 205)
  • Riker, p. 228: “I’ll send Ensign Barclay to perform the rarefaction.” — Ensign Barclay, eh? Not a lieutenant anymore? What did he do to get busted down? Probably finally put the wrong person in one of his holodeck programs.

Final Recommendation

I do not recommend Sins of Commission, but it’s a light DNR. There are lots of fascinating and amusing bits as well as signs of potential that inspire hope for later books by Wright, but there are also a lot of mistakes of varying degrees of seriousness, and unfortunately, those mistakes are too amateurish for me to really be able to say in good conscience that this is a good or well-put-together book. I’m interested to see what else Wright has coming, though.

NEXT TIME: Jake Sisko visits the other side in The Star Ghost

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2 Comments

  1. Adam Goss

    Also why would Worf during season 5 be doing any kind of mating dance about Deanna? Is it just due to the book’s events, or is this another gaffe, considering their relationship doesn’t even begin until season 7?

    As for the uniforms… at first I thought the color pattern of the pressure suits was deliberate (why would Worf be wearing red after all) and maybe it’s just that they have a similar pattern of colors broken at the shoulder level without being the same as standard uniforms (and Starfleet outerwear not matching the color scheme of the regular uniforms is nothing new in Trek, even back in 1997). But yeah, the other gaffes… It makes me wonder if Wright was writing this on a deadline and someone at Pocket just really wasn’t doing their job in catching the errors. I could see a first-time Trek author getting distracted and forgetting a basic detail on a draft or getting one wrong in a rush of thoughts, or dropping plot threads, but if you’re an editor whose JOB it is to proofread these things?? Yeah someone dropped the ball a bit, and while I’m not a huge fan of Wright’s books (her Mirror Trek women duology was decent, but her original alien sex slave books are extremely disappointing for multiple reasons), I’m more inclined to hold the editor responsible in this case. I will say that I still want to try reading this one myself, eventually.

  2. There’s a later Susan Wright book where Kirk uses a comm badge, so she’s got form for this kind of mistake.

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