This week, Voyager wakes up from a sketchy deal with one less computer core. But when they reboot in safe mode, they’ll need to get it back before it gets used to start a revolution. How many different ways can the EMH get “sick”? Is it cruel to drop continuity teases you know you can’t deliver on? And how necessary is it to tell people in the Delta Quadrant that you’re from the Federation? All this and more in Violations, the book that does a barrel roll.
Author: Susan Wright
Published: September 1995
Timeline: Voyages of Imagination places it between “Time and Again” (S1E3) and “Phage” (S1E4), though one reference late in the text puts it at the very least after “Prime Factors” (S1E10)
Not to be confused with: “Violations” (TNG S5E12)
Voyager approaches the Tutopa system, home to an informational hub called [checks notes] the Hub, which is run by a cartel known as [checks notes again] the Cartel. Janeway intends to avoid the Cartel to the greatest extent possible, which should be easy, because so does this book. Information is the currency of the Hub, and Janeway’s hoping they have some valuable enough to broker an exchange for locations of potentially homebound wormholes. They end up striking a deal with a ship called Kapon, the crew of which insists on an in-person exchange. Seems fishy, but okay! Sure enough, within seconds of the Kapon crew beaming over, the entire Voyager crew (except for the EMH, natch) loses consciousness, to the surprise of no one reading.
When they wake up, they discover they are missing exactly one (1) computer core, only the single most vital component of the ship, extracted with surgical precision. Once they cobble together something resembling environmental support, they track the Kapon into the Hub and, through sheer cussedness and repeatedly dialing zero until the operator picks up, secure a face-to-face with an agent from the Kapon’s guild named Andross (no relation, probably). Andross tries to cut a deal, but Janeway holds the line long enough to get him to admit it’s been taken to the third planet in the system, Min-Tutopa, to provide backup power to a communications center. They may even be able to directly retrieve it from an official named Administer Fee, though the appointment of the planet’s Supreme Arbitrator being locked in a stalemate may complicate that somewhat.
Janeway takes Torres with her to Min-Tutopa and presses Andross for an audience with Fee, and as he continues to beg her off, they start realizing he’s up to something way bigger than he’s been letting on. Meanwhile, Tom Paris and Neelix infiltrate the Hub to secure chemical compounds for the ship, resulting in Paris getting arrested and subjected to a virtual test of mettle with an unlikely partner, while Kes and Harry Kim turn to medical solutions to repair Voyager’s bioneural circuitry in an effort to keep the ship going until they can get back their sweet, sweet core.
I knew Susan Wright had written at least one other Star Trek novel already, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was without checking the archive, which can’t speak well to its memorability. (It was Sins of Commission.) This one is liable to stick for a good bit longer. For a book written from the series bible, Violations ends up syncing up with the general concerns of the first season quite admirably. With nothing really set in stone yet, Wright was free to play around with character pairings with a sort of gleeful abandon. I think she hit on some good ones, particularly Tuvok and Paris, who share an amusing scene where Tuvok believes he’s arranged a fair deal with a Hub denizen, only for Paris to facepalm as the Hubber makes off with a free isolinear chip. Although such naivete is a little damaging to Tuvok’s character, I can’t say I didn’t laugh.
The character Wright manages to do the most with by far is the Doctor, here called Zimmerman before they decided not to take the character in that direction. I’m actually sort of astounded how outré she’s able to get with just the barest sketch of a character. Naturally, many of the EMH’s functions depend on the core, and as things get worse for Voyager, so too for him. The Doctor getting “sick” could have been an insufferably goofy subplot, but it hits the right notes and avoids clanging even as he starts showing symptoms consistent with depression and Parkinson’s disease. As such, the parts with the Doctor were my favorites of the book.
The interplay between the characters kept me interested in Violations despite the fact that it’s a tad dry and only intermittently engaging. So far, this tracks pretty closely with how I vaguely remember feeling about Voyager in general. I remember it being a show that didn’t always stay interesting, hold together cohesively, or make much sense. In fact, a less charitable person might argue it rarely did those things. But it did have some fascinating characters, and sometimes they could buoy a saggy story, as they do here.
MVP & LVP
- My MVP this week is Harry Kim. He has his fingers in more pies than any of the rest of the crew, and he acquits himself well. He just gives a little extra oomph, and I simply want to acknowledge that I see it.
- This week’s LVP is Neelix. Many of his worse qualities are in evidence this week, particularly the extreme jealousy and possessiveness toward Kes—the ones that cause you to remember why a lot of people despise this character. I disagree with the commonly stated assertion that Neelix is “the Jar Jar Binks of Star Trek“—that’s too much of an oversimplification to be of any use to me—but there certainly are plenty of times he ain’t great, and this is one of them.
Nuggets & Stray Bits
- This isn’t related to the book, but I have to mention it somewhere on here: one of my reviews was linked in an article on The Escapist! The best part was that I found out about it completely by accident. I happened to be interested in the article and only discovered it while mousing over links. Anyway, now that people know we’re here, I’m going to have to ask everyone to hide the bongs and throw away all the empty beer cans. We gotta look professional now.
- Another thing this book does well is keep lots of plates spinning at once. What I mean is, just as you start thinking, for example, “We haven’t seen Neelix in a while, I wonder what’s going on with him”, the book pivots deftly to him within no more than a few pages of you having that thought. That’s not an easy skill to master by any means.
- There is one twist in this book I didn’t see coming, not because I missed the cues—though I often do that—but because there weren’t any. I checked to make sure it wasn’t just me, and I can confirm that the text leads you to believe one thing before springing the exact opposite on you. Without giving away too much, I”ll say it involves a character in the Hub, and it feels like a cheat to throw them a sympathy bone they didn’t earn.
- The end of Violations entertains the possibility that because of the bio-elements of its core makeup, there is a chance that Voyager could gradually achieve sentience. A really cool idea, although a bit cruel to tease in a line of novels that are written by different authors from book to book and don’t have any real continuity between them (yet).
- “‘This is Captain Janeway of the Starship Voyager,’ she identified herself, leaving out her usual references to Starfleet and the Federation.” — To me, this is efficient and smart. Why would you bother telling people in the Delta Quadrant about the Federation? They have no point of reference for what that is, and barring the same sort of fluke that brought Voyager out that way, they’re probably never going to encounter the Federation again in their lifetimes. Why put that in their heads? Why open with confusion? It’s a starship, it’s called Voyager. Most of these folks can pick that up as soon as you lay it down. I like where Wright’s head is at here. (p. 12)
- “As Chakotay quietly moved among the crew, he was aware that he had fallen back into Starfleet mentality. … He didn’t intend to oppose the principles that guided their crew, but he determined that their execution must be molded to meet their needs.” — Other than Neelix lording himself over Kes, the worst parts of Voyager for me so far in my side-by-side canon watch have largely involved Janeway’s bizarrely rigid adherence to Starfleet principles. I get that you want to be able to say you did everything right once you get home and have to give an account of your actions, but you’re stuck in an entirely unfamiliar place here, and there’s no manual for what to do when you get yeeted to the Delta Quadrant, no advisory that says “just hang tight and see if Q will blink you home” or something. You gotta adapt, and you gotta have some give sometimes. How do the books already understand this better than the show? (pp. 231, 232)
Average. After the outstanding The Escape and the execrable Ragnarok, Violations lands squarely in the middle of the two. Wright easily identifies fruitful character pairings and has a good handle on their dynamics, especially for a book based largely on a series bible. That makes it a bit less of a big deal when the plot doesn’t quite deliver on thrills. It’s also the first book to take a serious interest in the EMH, and goes some wild places with him. Not amazing, but you’d hardly be wasting your time by checking it out.
NEXT TIME: War is Hek in The Last Stand