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Data discovers the truth about his creation in a story that reveals the origins of artificial intelligence in the STAR TREK universe

By Arnold T. Blumberg     February 13, 2002

Data discovers the truth about his creation in IMMORTAL COIL.
© 2002 Pocket Books
I used to be a massive TREK fan, and that meant not only following the show(s), but reading a ton of novels as well. But long before VOYAGER succeeded in shattering my connection to the franchise forevermore with its pathetic plots and criminally underdeveloped characters, I had lost interest in the plethora of novels from Pocket Books. In the early days-that's right, youngsters, I'm talking post-MOTION PICTURE here-the novels were exciting explorations of the TREK universe. True, they often fell victim to the old status quo trap, forcing novelists to introduce countless Author Stand-In Heroines (few of the dynamic authors that demanded attention were male in those days) so that someone could develop even if Kirk and Co. couldn't, but they were still great. Then they just got worse and worse until finally, the need to churn the stuff out in factory-like fashion reduced them to the equivalent of media tie-in popcorn, and burnt popcorn at that.

So I'm not sure what it was that made me pick IMMORTAL COIL off the shelf and decide to give the TREK novel experience another shot all these years later. Actually, I do know-I've been hooked on TNN's reruns of NEXT GENERATION for months now, and I've been impressed anew at what a wonderful show it was. I've also rediscovered my interest in Data, certainly one of the most endearing and intriguing (to borrow his terminology) characters ever created for the series. When I saw the cute play on the old Da Vinci illustration that graces this issue's cover, complete with Data's face, I knew I had to give this a look. For the most part, I wasn't disappointed.

I was always a sucker for exactly the kind of novels that non-fans, and fans who clearly were afraid to be pegged as such, would regularly rail against - those continuity-laden reference fests that tried to explain hundreds of years of TREK history by weaving in dozens of independent tales until everything meshed into a seamless whole. I just loved them, if they were done well that is. In fact, it's surprising that after decades of television and film, with so many writers toiling away independently with nary a thought to cohesive continuity, that so many fascinating threads could be laid bare and woven together with such clarity and precision. In the TREK universe, things seem to fit together despite themselves. And now Jeffrey Lang has added to the joy by finally answering all of our questions regarding the nature of artificial intelligence in the TREK universe.

When an accident injures Commander Bruce Maddox at the Daystrom Institute, Admiral Haftel brings the Enterprise to investigate. Data discovers that Maddox was on the verge of activating a new artificial life form, constructed with the aid of legendary scientist Emil Vaslovik. But Vaslovik appears to be disintegrated, the lab in ruins, and the android...missing. As Data and the crew of the Enterprise delve deeper, they discover a plot to hide the truth about the existence of artificial beings who predate Data by millennia and may hold the key to Dr. Noonien Soong's original breakthrough that allowed for Data's creation. Along the way, Data begins to explore a new emotion - love - but will his positronic brain be able to stand the strain? It does present an intriguing challenge, but perhaps it would be easier if he could just forget. Forget...that's a hint for the classic TREK savvy, by the way.

Granted, author Jeffrey Lang is not immune to some pretty basic and annoying writers' pitfalls. For one thing, he tends to let the plot grind to a complete halt when he feels the need to fill in the reader on some detailed point of continuity from the past. Early in the book, one character makes a clever reference to a classic adventure. I found this refreshing, since it respected me as the reader and allowed me to recall the story behind the reference without beating me over the head with it. I was disappointed to find out that one page later, Lang stops everything and has a new character ask Picard about the reference, allowing Picard to drone on for three (!) pages about plotlines and events that any TREK fan would remember from countless viewings. A word to the wise: there's no need to write these TREK novels as if there are any newbies cracking the cover. This is hardly a "jumping-on" kind of experience.

That aside, this is precisely the kind of romp through the TREK universe that I used to love, and while the prose is workmanlike, occasionally struggling to balance exposition with action, it holds back any pretensions of style and allows the voices of the characters to come through. For that, I am grateful that Jeffrey Lang made it so.


Grade: B+

Author(s): Jeffrey Lang

Publisher:  Pocket Books

Price: $6.99



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