#144: Federation (TOS/TNG event)

This week, when Zefram Cochrane’s warp drive starts to get its space legs, it isn’t long before a shady character comes a-callin’. But when Cochrane tries to tell him the science he wants won’t work, it sets off an intergalactic chase that spans hundreds of years and discarded body parts. Why does the Starfleet emblem look the way it does? Who invented inertial dampers? And how many people attended the final World Series? All this and more in Federation, the book where Chekov finally spills the beans.

Federation
Authors: Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
Pages: 467
Published: November 1994 (hardback)
Timeline: Spans almost 300 years, from Zefram Cochrane’s inaugural warp flight to right before season 4 of TNG
Prerequisites: The main ones are “Metamorphosis” (TOS S2E9), “Journey to Babel” (TOS S2E10), and “Sarek” (TNG S3E23). Also, “The Paradise Syndrome” (TOS S3E3) for Intro to the Preservers 101
Not to be confused with: The first level of Star Trek: Judgment Rites

Fans of Star Trek no doubt wondered if the Original Series and The Next Generation would ever cross over from the moment the latter premiered, and no doubt moved up to openly clamoring for it when the latter started to actually get good. In 1994, twenty-eight years after it first aired on viewers’ TV screens, that dream finally came true. At long last, the old guard and the new blood were united in one epic adventure that encompassed all of time and space. With bated breath, audiences trembled in anticipation of getting to see the two legendary Enterprise captains, James Tiberius Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard, stand side-by-side and cooperate on a mission of unprecedented galactic import. And that crossover, the event that brought those two titans of space exploration together in the twilight of 1994, was…

Star Trek Generations. (Which we’ll talk about in a few weeks.)

But in the immortal words of a wrinkly old Muppet from another famous Star franchise: “There is another.” Off in the lonelier, less celebrated literary arm of the Trekverse, a similar though no less grandiose story was released a mere 17 days before its silver-screen counterpart. Because of that scheduling proximity and several superficial plot details, it’s practically inevitable that one might try to compare Federation not just to Generations but also to First Contact,1though really it’s not much like either of them at all. Truthfully, it strains credulity to even call it a crossover.

First proposed in 1987 when The Next Generation was still in preproduction, Federation was gently rejected for being too ambitious at the time, a reason that seems at best mildly silly when you’re talking about Star Trek. It took a few more lumps over the next few years, until finally, in 1992, Pocket Books contacted the Reeves-Stevenses and asked them to resubmit it, claiming the time had become right. Whether this story required a “right time” to come out is, in my opinion, somewhat debatable; given the core ideas and basic outline, I imagine it would have turned out excellent no matter what form the final product took. That said, a full-crew crossover in one medium or another was only a matter of time, and if any story would merit one, Federation is it.

Federation follows three different tracks that gradually converge on a single climactic point. In the first, Zefram Cochrane has just returned from the first successful extrasolar warp flight, and his top patron, the mysterious Micah Brack, is excited about the possibilities, but also wary. Brack is aware of both the impending arrival of Adrik Thorsen, a colonel in the eugenics-favoring Optimum Movement, and of Thorsen’s intent to attempt to suppress Cochrane’s discoveries. Having already made moves to make his patents open-source, Brack arranges for Cochrane to leave the solar system to avoid detection, urging him to return only when it’s safe.

Against his better judgment, Cochrane comes back a touch early and winds up arriving at Earth during the peak of the post-atomic horror, where he is promptly arrested by Thorsen following a brief escape attempt. Thorsen believes that one of the parts in Cochrane’s technology, which once wiped a station on the moon out without a trace in a malfunction, can be harnessed to create a no-muss-no-fuss “warp bomb” that he can use to enforce his twisted idea of peace and keep the Optimum Movement in power. Ethical considerations aside, Cochrane tries to explain that the science to make that sort of thing any bigger simply isn’t possible. But Thorsen’s refusal to accept that outcomes escalates Cochrane’s polite demurring into outright refusal, and Cochrane finds himself forced to go on the lam again. He’s safe for about 40 years until Thorsen catches up with him again, at which point he puts his ship on autopilot and sets a course for the Nowhere System, population nobody. After forty days in the space desert, he’s found by the Companion, who takes him to the planetoid where the Enterprise eventually discovers them in “Metamorphosis”.

Meanwhile, over on the TOS side, Kirk receives a visit from Admiral Quarlo Kabreigny, who’s so severe she makes Admiral Nechayev look like Captain DeSoto. Kabreigny demands to know why Kirk attested that Nancy Hedford died five months prior when she is in fact very much alive and pleading for Kirk’s help. Spock learns via some informal inquiries that the Starfleet Archives were breached and Kirk’s personal log about Cochrane was stolen. Kirk suspects someone is going after Cochrane armed with that knowledge (among other things) and teams up with Nancy the Companion to track him down and rescue him from his captor. And in TNG times, the Ferengi tempt the Enterprise-D with a scrap of Borg cube. Barely surviving a scuffle with the Romulans at the rendezvous point, the Enterprise acquires the Borg chunk and hits a bigger jackpot than they could have dreamed: there’s a Preserver artifact embedded in it. But when they hook it up to the ship, it changes their course, sending them inexorably toward a black hole.

Like the Reeves-Stevens’ previous novel, 1990’s Prime DirectiveFederation is nothing short of outstanding. Having read it, it comes as little surprise that the couple was hand-picked as writers for season four of Enterprise solely on the strength of it. The only complaint I could possibly think to bring against it that isn’t purely semantic is that there’s sometimes a feeling of, as Milhouse van Houten once so eloquently put it, “when are they going to get to the fireworks factory?”—but even that’s to be expected on occasion from a novel that’s nearly 500 pages long. Federation is packed to the gills with compelling action, riveting narration, and even the occasional well-earned bit of comedy and/or emotional pull.

Best of all, it’s truly a “where no one has gone before” kind of story. There are two pages near the end of this book—if you’re familiar enough with it, you might be able to guess which ones—that I have probably reread, no lie, at least fifty times between finishing this book and writing this review. Those two pages may very well be the true heart and soul of Star Trek, and everything—in this novel and in all the shows—builds toward them. They serve as a refreshing reminder that even our wildest dreams today will one day look hopelessly limited from a new perspective.

I doubt this level of praise will come as unexpected to anyone. Federation is mesmerizing, a first-ballot contender for a top-three “if you only read a few Trek novels ever, it needs to be these” list. It’s no exaggeration to say that more than any other Star Trek novel, and even more than a great majority of television episodes, it is the essential expression of Star Trek‘s highest aims. If you’re into the books and you haven’t read this one, fix that. If you’re not and you’re mildly curious, it may be the single best spot to dip a toe. The only problem with that is, if you end up wanting more, it’ll be almost all downhill from there.

MVP & LVP

  • My MVP pick for this book is Picard, for the scene where he realizes he won’t be able to outmaneuver or out-firepower a Romulan Warbird, so he orders all power to the forward structural integrity fields and plows right through it, barely taking a single scratch in the process. After it’s all over, Riker is calling an ensign to go get his brown pants, and Worf is practically speaking in tongues and has already composed nine Klingon operas in Picard’s honor, and all Picard does is tug on his jacket and tell them to save the incident as a training simulation. Honestly, I don’t know how you even walk right with balls that big.
  • The LVP of the week is Monica Baker. I’m a little conflicted about doing this, but I stand by it, and here’s why: Early in the book, Cochrane has a chance to kill Thorsen, but Monica stops him, reasoning that if he does, he’ll “become” Thorsen. I might have agreed were it not for the fact that Thorsen never at any point comes remotely close to earning, pursuing, or wanting a redemption arc. Thorsen is a truly rarefied kind of evil, a kind the average person can’t achieve even by consciously trying to. If he had shown contrition even one time, Monica would have been right. And mercy and forgiveness do go a long way—longer than we think, a lot of times. But this is one of those ultra-rare exceptions where sentiments like “if you kill him, you become him” are wasted. You can’t oppress an oppressor. You could also argue someone else might take up Thorsen’s cause if he’s eliminated, but one, he’s as pathologically single-minded as any all-time classic Star Trek villain, and two, after even just a hundred years (maybe even less) there’s no Optimum Movement left to back him. It’s just him! Take him out!

Nuggets & Stray Bits

  • Federation was one of four novels to be reprinted in 2006 for the franchise’s 40th anniversary, along with The Entropy EffectStrangers from the Sky, and Vulcan’s Glory. Of the four reprints, it is the only one whose cover art (right) I like better than the original’s.
  • Of all the novels you’d think Voyages of Imagination would have some juicy info about, it’d be this one, right? But the Reeves-Stevenses declined to be interviewed about it! Maybe they felt they said all they needed to say about it in the acknowledgments.
  • Inertial damping, implied to be as important a breakthrough for interstellar travel as warp drive, was discovered by … the R&D department of a chain of simulator theaters?? Cute idea, and a nice nod to the fact that scientific revelations happen just as often by accident as on purpose. (p. 36)
  • Team “Baseball Isn’t a Thing in the Future” scores an especially painful point in this story. Cochrane returns to Earth in 2078 and is taken to Battersea Stadium, home of the London Kings and site of the final World Series in 2041, an event attended by a mere 300 diehard fans. Woof! (pp. 80–82)
  • One of the most ingenious parts of the book is Cochrane explaining to Thorsen how he achieves faster-than-light speed by drawing a graphed series of curves … which ends up looking like the Starfleet emblem. (Or, as it’s referred to in the text, the Cochrane delta.) This would have been really corny if they hadn’t stuck the landing, but, you know: high risk, high reward. (pp. 137–39)
  • Riker is revealed to have taken Data on a holodeck snipe hunt during the events of “Captain’s Holiday” (S3E19). My question with this is, how would Data fall for that? Wouldn’t he simply check his internal memory banks for information on the creature as described, or ask the ship’s computer, at which point the sham would be revealed immediately? Maybe Riker laid some rules down upfront. “No accessing the computer for help” or something. But wouldn’t that have raised suspicion too? or is Data just game for anything? I don’t know about this. (pp. 179–80)
  • An ensign dispels the old “you die every time you’re transported” myth for a bewildered Cochrane. If there’s maybe a touch of condescension in it, that’s fine; we’ll just say it’s pointed at the reader who still thinks that’s a clever argument. (p. 279)
  • “[Picard] remembered all too well what had happened with the acting ensign’s last experiment in nanotechnology.” — This is in all probability a reference to the season three episode “Evolution”, though at first I thought it was a callback to the TNG novel Boogeymen. It is very likely, however, that I am not correctly remembering how that book played out.
  • Riker, trying to remember exactly when and how the original Enterprise was destroyed: “It’s been a long time since I read Admiral Chekov’s books.” Man, did everyone who ever served under Kirk get a book deal or what? When can we expect Lt. Kyle’s memoir? or Dr. M’Benga’s lurid tell-all? (p. 402)
  • Two ships with names worth explicating here: a shuttle called the Ian Shelton, presumably named after the Canadian astronomer who discovered a supernova that was visible to the naked eye in 1987, and an Oberth-class ship called the Garneau, which I’m going to guess is christened after Marc Garneau, who has accomplished many things in his life but for the intents and purposes of this specific bullet point was most notable as the first Canadian to go into space. Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens are themselves Canadian, so I’m reasonably confident my guesses are right.

Final Recommendation

I strongly recommend Federation. There’s a reason this book managed to endure as a fan favorite despite its events and timeline being invalidated within two years of its publication. The story it tells is way more than merely TOS and TNG joining forces or a Zefram Cochrane joint. Federation gets down to the very core of everything Star Trek is about and paints the whole picture, a panorama of the full breadth and meaning of the journey. It is absolutely spectacular, and everyone who counts themselves a Star Trek fan needs to read it. Near the very peak of the Star Trek literary experience, if not the peak itself.

NEXT TIME: It’s off to the Gamma Quadrant to retrieve some stolen Antimatter

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3 Comments

  1. Adam Goss

    Various thoughts – sorry to be long-winded, you wrote a great review and it’s got me thinking:

    A. You might edit the “recommended reading” at the top to include “The Paradise Syndrome” for basic orientation on the Preservers

    2. Just how insane is Starfleet history for Riker to not remember the Genesis incident? What tidal wave of crazy events happened in the 78+ years after to drown out THAT bit of info?

    C. I have not read this book since the late 90s, and I could have sword the villain was Colonel Green, not this Thorsen guy. Was Green even talked about in the book?

    4. I agree this is some of the Reeves-Stevenses’ best work, way clearer than their previous two books. I still say it’s not as great as some of your other Diamonds of the First Water but yeah it’s up there all the same. Their TV writing isn’t bad either – I think it helps when they have a good showrunner, like Manny Coto (or the guys behind Batman The Animated Series), steering them. I think left to their own devices, they’d be confusing me left and right still. I also agree about a certain “waiting for fireworks” sense, given then length, but when it finally happened I remember thinking “ok on the one hand, a little disappointing HOW it’s happening, but on the other this makes SO MUCH SENSE!” So kudos to them for having my expectations both subverted AND upheld.

    E. The end pages with the big sweeping surprise – YES. Reminds me a fair deal of my own fanon Trek ideas, somewhat.

    6. Pretty sure no nanites in Boogeymen… but I could be wrong. (not one of the better ones, I felt)

    G. I remember thinking seeing the TNG crew messing with Borg tech felt weird and ill-fitting to me, as there was no precedent for that and it seemed to be way too big a thing to use so casually (like, if there’s Borg tech in the plot, there should BE Borg in the story!). But then Voyager started doing it left and right a few years later so it gets a retro-active pass from me now.

    8. Snipes and Data…. yeah I got nothing.

    • Adam Goss

      Er, I meant “prerequisites”, not “recommended reading”

    • jess

      To hit some of your points:

      A: Added.

      C: Nope, Col. Green is never mentioned even once.

      4. I do like other Trek books more, including Prime Directive, but this one I feel like is the most, like, “if you read this, you will GET IT.”

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