Miscellanea and Ephemeron
10/20/2004 Archived Entry: "Book Review: The Expanse"
Reviewed by Jane Melander
Sometimes, the line between exploiting a real-life event and merely studying it is very fine indeed. Such is the case of The Expanse -- the Season 2 finale of Star Trek Enterprise on which the novelization by J.M. Dillard is based.
First, some background. I recall the arguments of many in Trek fandom when it was announced that the producers of Enterprise would be introducing a new story arc that would have 22nd century Earth suffer a massive and sudden assault, resulting in the loss of millions of lives.
Perhaps the events of a real life attack on US soil, set at the dawn of the 21st century, were still a little too fresh in memory. There were many in fandom that worried producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga were cashing in on the nation's own wounds and obsession of future attacks. Jumpy from anthrax attacks and color-coded terror alerts given on a continual basis (matching ironically with the yellow and red alerts of the original Star Trek series), some were all too quick to condemn the proposed story arc as potentially exploitative. With a pre-emptive war already underway in real life, the Season 3 arc for Enterprise had the potential of exploiting fact for fiction--a sort of righteous and bloody crusade that many thought would be contrary to creator Gene Roddenberry's vision of a hopeful and peaceful galaxy. We were attacked, so the rallying cry goes, so now it's time to hunt down and destroy those who would destroy us.
Many fans, including myself, lacked faith that the producers were up to the task of centering an entire season's episodes on one horrific and destructive event without it devolving into smarmy exploitation. The producers, Berman and Braga, weren't known for their subtlety. Certainly they weren't subtle in using the cool seductiveness of Jeri Ryan's character, 7-of-9, in her skin-tight catsuit in Star Trek Voyager or the angular curves of Jolene Blalock's character, T'Pol, in Enterprise to entice the targeted young male demographics. Many of their 'message' episodes were dealt a heavy hand. Fans voiced that the producers were overextended, acting both as executives and head writers for the new series while also guiding the lackluster Star Trek Nemesis for the big screen. The first two seasons of Enterprise seemed, at times, half-fulfilled with promising plot lines but ineffective delivery--not for lack of trying by the actors but by lazy writing and limp, contrived endings. With many fans jumping ship, the series struggling to find ratings, and UPN threatening cancellation, Season 3 with its ambitious arc would either be Enterprise's triumph or swan song.
In hindsight, with Season 3 completed and Season 4 just starting, I can look back to the arguments back then and say that our concerns were for the most part unfounded. Star Trek has always been strongest when it has dealt with the events of the current world, all the while viewing those issues in another environment (like the future, or between rival alien cultures). Certainly there were missteps taken. There were a number of times when I wished the producers would take more risks in Season 3 and truly engage in examining the human condition. However, by bringing in new writers (including the extremely talented Manny Coto, who penned the exemplary episode, Similitude), there were pearls along the way. The Expanse and The Xindi ushered in an ultimately compelling story line that kept me interested until the resolution in the suspenseful season finale that aired in May 2004.
So what does this all have to do with the book? I'm finally getting to that! Having already seen all of Season 3 on television, my goal in reading the novelization was to learn some extra background about the characters and how they dealt with the crisis at this early juncture to the arc. Obviously, the written word can be a better means to get into a character's head or provide a scene that otherwise would be missing in the filmed version due to time or budget constraints. Such is the case with Dillard's novelization--to some extent, at least.
The Expanse opens in the year 2153 with a scene we never witnessed in the filmed version. The prologue begins back on Earth, in the Florida Keys, with a young woman named Elizabeth Tucker. Lizzie, as her family and friends call her, is the youngest sister of Charles "Trip" Tucker, who serves as chief engineer aboard Earth's first deep-space ship--Enterprise. As we get to know Lizzie, we learn more about her family and the big brother she admires so much. As a highly successful architect, Lizzie specializes in designing living spaces that combine function with a flair of style and harmony that fits its culture and environment. She's a unique person who despises boring, impersonal high rise 'boxes' (as she calls them). You get a feeling she's a chip off of the Tucker block--a young woman who's unafraid to speak her mind and stand up for her beliefs. She's also someone who likes to have fun. We meet Lizzie in her favorite element--30 feet below the Gulf of Mexico's surface in her scuba gear. She's just returned home to the Keys after landing the winning bid to design the new corporate offices for a health firm in Chicago. She's home to enjoy some well-deserved rest and relaxation. It's just an ordinary day, much like any other. I, for one, came to really like her, which made the final scene of the prologue--her death--all the more riveting and unbearable. Just like that sunny morning in September a few years past, we all now can relate at some level to the sudden swiftness of the unthinkable and the unbearable emptiness that remains for the survivors.
As we learn in subsequent chapters, an alien probe has attacked Earth in a sudden and vicious assault--decimating a wide swath from Florida, through the Keys and Gulf of Mexico to Venezuela. Everything in its path is utterly destroyed--including Lizzie and millions of others. Earth forces are thrown into shock and there is a real fear that other attacks by the unknown aliens may follow. A desperate call is sent out by Admiral Forrest to Enterprise--return to Earth to help protect their home.
Although it is difficult for Captain Archer and the crew to fathom the magnitude of the tragedy, no one is as personally affected aboard ship as Commander Tucker. After getting to know Lizzie in the opening scene, it makes his shocked denial and utter devastation at the news all that more heartrending.
However, even though grief-stricken, Archer and his crew are delayed from getting home themselves by a surprise attack by the Suliban. The captain is abducted and, as T'Pol and the crew are left searching for a way to retrieve him, Archer finds himself ushered to a meeting with a mysterious humanoid figure from the future. Not surprisingly, the figure already knows about the attack on Earth and informs Archer that the probe was sent by a race known as the Xindi. Archer is not told much about the Xindi, other than they are located within the hostile region of space called the Delphic Expanse and, according to the mysterious figure, they believe that Earth is responsible for the destruction of their home world in the future. Archer learns that the Xindi are desperate to save their race so they are developing an even more powerful weapon that will destroy all of Earth. Archer finds himself caught between believing the words and motives of the humanoid figure to stop the weapon from contaminating the timeline and his own goal of saving Earth from further destruction.
The little glimpses into Captain Archer and the characters from Enterprise were wonderful, although frankly I wished there were more. If you missed the third season of Enterprise and want to read how it all started, you can't go wrong with The Expanse.
The Wapshott Press
Ontology on the go!
"Ontology on the Go!"
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