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Literature / Star Trek: Ex Machina

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A book in the Star Trek Novel Verse, set in the immediate aftermath of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Dealing with the ramifications of that film's events, in particular Spock's newfound philosophy of balancing logic with emotion, the novel also follows up on the classic Star Trek episode "For the World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky".

From the back cover:

In the aftermath of the astonishing events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the captain and officers of the U.S.S. Enterprise remain haunted by their encounter with the vast artificial intelligence of V'Ger... and by the sacrifice and ascension of their friend and shipmate, Willard Decker. As James T. Kirk, Spock, and Leonard McCoy attempt to cope with the personal fallout of that ordeal, a chapter from their mutual past is reopened, raising troubling new questions about the relationship among God, Man, and AI. On the recently settled world of Daran IV, the former refugees of the Fabrini worldship Yonada are being divided by conflicting ideologies, as those clinging to their theocratic past vie with visionaries of a future governed by reason alone. Now, echoes of the V'Ger encounter reverberate among the Enterprise officers who years ago overthrew the Oracle, the machine-god that controlled Yonada. Confronting the consequences of those actions, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy also face choices that will decide the fate of a civilization, and which may change them forever.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: It's revealed that Dovraku's father was this. An abusive parent of the physical variety, he also battered his wife. His actions are shown to be, in part, the reason for Dovraku's pathological devotion to pure logic, and his simultaneous rejection of passion. A Freudian Excuse, but a realistic one.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Explored with the Oracle. It was originally designed to help the Fabrini people, and encourage democratic points of view. Unfortunately, several thousand years in the void and at least one violent coup means it got damaged, and the original programmed got garbled, resulting in the very straight example Kirk and Bones had to deal with.
  • Alien Arts Are Appreciated: The Lorini government has decorated its public buildings in a wide variety of alien art forms, most of them from the Federation. The public speakers even play Andorian music. One of the art styles on display is Tellarite Erotic Abstract (introduced as part of a Funny Moment in Star Trek: Millennium). The fact that alien arts are promoted over native examples is likely significant - the current rulers are somewhat obsessive in their desire to move away from tradition. They want the people to reject their past entirely and embrace a new outlook.
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  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: Played with, as there are many kinds of interference. Commissioner Soreth informs Governess Natira that the Federation can only advise, rather than provide her people with Federation equipment. He notes that if the Federation were to impose rather than guide, no matter how well-meaning it was in doing so, it would risk subsuming Lorini culture rather than gaining a strong and unique member to add to its diversity. However, Soreth's attitude toward the traditional Lorini/Yonadi belief system proves him a hypocrite, even if he doesn't realize it; he wants the Lorini to change and adapt to suit his own rather narrow ideas as to what constitutes "progress".
  • All of the Other Reindeer: The Vulcans, in how they respond to Spock's newfound philosophy of balanced emotion. Despite his admirable personal and professional traits, other Vulcans on the Enterprise crew reject him entirely. At least one requests a transfer rather than live with his presence.
  • Alternative Number System: Megarites apparently count in base eight.
  • Ancient Astronauts: The Enterprise science team figure this is how the Lorini's original homeworld had anyone on it at all, given the star's age and their relative youth. The Lorini themselves had similar ideas, but it was one of many hypothesis, and we don't see if it's correct.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Kirk's history of destroying repressive AIs controlling humanoid cultures is what leads Dovraku's followers to view him as the nemesis.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: After V'Ger did exactly this in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the peoples of the galaxy are engaged in intense speculation as to what it means. Some are considering it a sign or omen, and others have declared Earth (the site of its ascension) a holy world. Dovraku has convinced himself that other computer-gods will be able to follow in V'Ger's footsteps, including the Yonadi Oracle (this is pure nonsense).
    • The novel confirms, through Spock's Psychic Link with the V'Ger-Decker-Ilia fusion, that the combined being is indeed exploring higher planes of existence; "realms that made four-dimensional spacetime seem flat and claustrophobic".
  • Ascended Extra: Many of the supporting characters, who are based on actual and specific crewmen glimpsed during the events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It's possible to match each specific character, even most of the really minor ones, to a face.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The Escherites. A sapient variety; one of the Enterprise crew is Escherite. Essentially, it's a big grey caterpillar.
  • Binding Ancient Treaty: The Shesshran had one of these with the Fabrini, which they honoured when the Fabrini's Yonadi descendants wanted to settle on a world in their star system. In Shesshran culture, contracts and promises are held in the highest esteem, so even though they weren't entirely happy about it, they were quick to permit the Yonadi settlement on the neighbouring planet.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Several of the featured species, whose physiologies and cultures are expanded from background material associated with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. These include the balleen-feeder Megarites, who require "drysuits" when out of water, and survive on nutrient injections where they can't filter-feed. Then there's the Zaranites, who rely on fluorine-dependent micro-organisms as part of their respiration.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The Shesshran operate somewhat differently from humans, and most other races. They are unashamedly belligerent without apparent motive, and like shooting at things to say hello. They fantasise about killing their own children and generally behave in a bloodthirsty fashion. They're actually quite reasonable and honourable beings - it's just that they are naturally highly individualistic predators, with strong hunting instincts. They reject all hierarchies and authority, and view the universe through the eyes of a lone predator.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: The Betelgeusian characters.
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution: The Oracle is programmed to deliver these during a showdown on Yonada, so as to hammer home Dovraku's points. Then Spock re-re-reprograms it to deliver them to Dovraku's goons.
  • Brainwashed: Lorina's leader and former High Priest, Natira, more or less insists that all those continuing to worship the Oracle or the old gods are brainwashed, despite this by no means being the case. Debate as to degrees of religious indoctrination and/or free choice (genuinely or hypocritically promoted) drives much of the plot, and is probably the novel's major theme.
  • Catchphrase: McCoy's secondary catchphrase, "I never say that" is used several times, including for the Everybody Laughs Ending, when Kirk imitates it.
  • Call-Back:
    • In addition to the mind-meld with V'Ger, Spock also thinks about the mind meld with Nomad, and how wrong that went as well.
    • After restoring the Oracle, Spock borrows the phrase of another mechanical mind - "I am not programmed to respond in that area."
  • Call-Forward:
    • Kirk's still shaken about his behaviour in the first movie, and it's beginning to turn him into the man we see in Wrath of Khan. Later on, he and Spock have a discussion about Carol, and her decision to keep David out of Jim's life.
    • At the end of everything, Bones states he's going to write a book on alien biology. Voyager confirmed he did, and it will eventually become required reading.
  • Character Development:
    • Bones starts to learn more about alien biology, after his problems with it throughout the original series.
    • Sulu starts to get an interest in captaincy.
  • Continuity Nod: Quite a few, to both TV episodes and other Star Trek novels. Examples:
    • Several references to "that disaster in the Lantaru Sector", meaning the classified Omega incident described in the novel Section 31: Cloak.
    • Christopher Lindstrom's mission on Beta III is mentioned several times, referring to the Starfleet Corps of Engineers story "Foundations".
    • One of the more subtle continuity nods is a line from Lindstrom, mentioning that in Starfleet it's taught that the truth is an officer's first duty. This references the popular TNG episode "The First Duty".
    • Chekhov's behaviour in "The Way to Eden", with his New Old Flame from that episode, is given some focus.
    • The fact that the wall of Enterprises in The Motion Picture apparently excluded the NX-01 is noted, and given the handwave that there'd been a mix-up. Meanwhile, Soreth is noted to have met T'Pol.
    • In their discussion on Vulcans who've previously tried rejecting logic, Spock brings up those who've become fanatical, then immediately clams up, for reasons Bones pegs as being highly personal.
    • Even six years on (from his point of view), Kirk is still hurting over the death of Edith Keeler. More so in fact than Lori Cianni (the person besides Sonak who died in the transporter accident), whom he dated.
    • Faced with imminent death, Scotty notes Sulu still has a fascination with time pieces.
  • Deconstruction: As with Wrath of Khan, Kirk has to deal with the idea that riding off into the sunset after the adventure of the week is over doesn't actually fix everything, especially if you have to face the consequences.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: Tomaneru Vari, working to save his people from the impending nova of their sun (a star named Ganidra) responds to a question about faith by saying: "The only thing I have faith that I'm not going to let that bitch Ganidra take my people down without a fight".
  • Dung Fu: A young Lorini farmer throws a handful of dung at Natira in the opening scene of the novel.
  • Emotions vs. Stoicism: Stoicism, Spock! Or so the other Vulcans disapprovingly insist when confronted with his emotions. One of the novel's subplots explores the prejudice Spock is now facing from mainstream Vulcans, for daring to question the suppression of emotion in the aftermath of his encounter with V'Ger.
  • Everybody Laughs Ending: As was so often the case in the original TV series, the conclusion uses the "everybody laughs except Spock ending". Spock is just as amused as the others, of course, he's just not showing it.
  • Fantastic Racism: Commissioner Soreth (a Vulcan) holds particularly outdated views on other races. Humans he considers immature and in need of Vulcan oversight, Andorians he believes to be treacherous, and telepaths are at best slightly immoral and at worst downright perverted. He is essentially a throwback to the Vulcans of Star Trek: Enterprise season 1-3, a century before. Given how long Vulcans live, he is at most one generation removed from them after all.
  • Fantasy Pantheon: The Yonadi/Lorini pantheon is explored in some depth.
  • For Your Own Good: A lot of Federation and Lorini officials, in various questionable ways.
  • Giant Flyer: The Shesshran are a sapient example, resembling pterosaurs.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Lorini leader Natira argues that many of her people are still in the grip of this - even if they've in fact made a free choice to follow the old ways.
  • Hold Your Hippogriffs: "I don't give a Tribble's Eye".
  • Horse of a Different Color: The Lorini use konari, creatures which resemble Protoceratopian dinosaurs, as draft animals.
  • Hypocrite: Commissioner Soreth and several other Vulcan characters. They condemn Spock's exploration of emotion while failing to confront their own emotional stake in doing so, or their evident delight in snubbing him.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Seeing Rishala use her religion's stories to distract some guards, Soreth thinks on how this is similar to what Surak did on Vulcan. Then he immediately decides this clearly isn't the same thing.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: An implicit, somewhat slyly-given example. Two crewmen - an Eeiauoan and a Caitian - are mentioned to have started fighting. Given that both races are feline, we have a literal Cat Fight. They’re told to “groom and make up”.
  • Kicked Upstairs: Why Kirk was an admiral in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. After a particularly controversial violation of the Prime Directive (for the purposes of saving a civilization from destruction), Kirk became a household name. His career was dissected in the media to the point where his reputation - as both a hero and a troublemaker - was blown out of all proportion. Half of Starfleet Command wanted him dismissed from the service, the other half idolized him. Admiral Nogura eventually solved the problem by promoting Kirk, acknowledging the good of his actions while keeping him behind a desk, and so out of trouble. It seemed the safest compromise.
    • This is later expanded on by the novel ''Forgotten History'', which provides further details of the fateful mission that led to the violation, as well as the motives of several admirals involved.
  • Knight Templar: Out of many characters who fall into Well-Intentioned Extremist or For Your Own Good territory, Minister Tasari is probably the most likely to qualify as a Knight Templar. His attempts to preserve the peace involve brutal treatment of malcontents and a disturbing tendency towards quashing dissent by any means available. As he tells the far more reasonable Natira:
    "My lady...perhaps we should not be so squeamish about death. The Oracle dealt it out when it needed to, and order was well maintained".
    • The only reason he doesn't fit here is because he's not doing it out of any fanaticism, just a sort of unthinking lack of concern.
  • Lady Land: The Megarite homeworld of Megara, where the ruling matriarchs are considered to be the more sophisticated of the species. They spend their lives sitting on beaches, doing little else, and consider travel to be "beneath" a female. The males are relegated to the distasteful realm of offworld trade and diplomacy, though many of them seem to enjoy it, being considerably more raucous and spontaneous than the somewhat stuffy females. Of course, there are exceptions, those Megarites who reject the traditional system. The young female Spring Rain On Still Water prefers the more adventurous male life, and has been condemned by her matriarchs for "lowering" herself.
  • Lampshade Hanging:
    • When going over his behaviour in "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky", Bones thinks about how ridiculous and out-of-character some of his choices were, and figures his impending death was colouring his logic.
    • Thinking of his encounters with V'Ger and Nomad, Spock notes how similar they are (human-made probes coming into contact with non-human tech, returning to their creators as a much more dangerous entity).
  • Law of Alien Names: Fabrini/Lorini names have three syllables, typically consisting of alternating vowels and consonants.
  • Machine Worship / God Guise: Dovraku and his followers believe that the Oracle, V'Ger, and other AI's of their ilk are gods, and consider Kirk to be the Great Satan due to his penchant for Logic Bombs...
  • Manipulative Bastard: Possibly Dovraku, although it doesn't really take much to manipulate disaffected angry teenagers.
  • Meaningful Name: Spring Rain On Still Water. Her name serves as a clue to her non-conformist attitudes and spontaneous behaviours: "Spring Rain Upon Still Water, I/ Disturb the smooth and staid, and make/ More interesting sounds".
  • Mind Hive: What the V'Ger-Decker-Ilia fusion has become, as far as Spock can tell, with Voyager able to use the means it ascended to also recreate all those galaxies worth of lifeforms it previously recorded.
  • My Species Doth Protest Too Much: As mentioned above, Spring Rain On Still Water, and her unconventional views on travel and contact with offworlders. She is critical of her people's tendency to ignore the wider universe and instead glorify a simple life in the home over exploration or curiosity. These views - and her actions stemming from them - have caused her to be rejected by her family.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Kirk taking a fresh-off-the-line spaceship out on a cruise, only to find problems with it (and the crew), just as happened between The Voyage Home and The Final Frontier.
    • McCoy, exasperated by the sheer diversity of aliens on the refit Enterprise, sarcastically asks what’s next - hortas and talking spiders? Those readers familiar with the works of Diane Duane will get the joke (a reference to two of her characters, crewman Naraht and K’t’lk).
    • A highly hungover Bones mistakes an alarmed Doctor Chapel for the ship's computer. A few minutes later, she scoldingly asks him is she looks like someone's mother. Of course, Chapel's actress played the Enterprise computer, and Lwaxana Troi, who was someone's mother.
  • Named After Their Planet: Unusually for Star Trek, averted with the Shesshran, who are from Kachissat (Daran V). Played straight with the Megarites, revealed to be from Megara.
  • Noble Savage: The Deltans tend to view the Humans along these lines, due to the latters' philosophy of "boldly going", seeking external growth rather than inward exploration.
  • Nuke 'em: There's a lot of old nuclear missiles lying around in Yonada.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Uhura pretends to be confused and afraid in the face of Dovraku's plan, so as to distract the guards. Apparently all those times in the original series when she also did the "captain, I'm scared" thing were this as well. Kirk works better when he thinks there's a damsel in distress.
  • The Only One: Lampshaded.
    "Scotty, there are lives at stake on Daran IV and there aren't any other starships out there."
    Scott sighed. "Of course not. There never are, are there? Sir."
    • The novel also provides an explanation for the ludicrous situation of having only a single starship in Earth's solar system to protect the Federation capital. Apparently, losses in recent years have streched Starfleet thin (Continuity Nod cluster ahoy), and there was great concern in some quarters precisely because of the limited defense. The V'Ger incident proved these critics right. Why the same situation crops up in later films still needs explaining, sadly, but that's not this novel's concern.
  • Out Grown Such Silly Superstitions: Natira wants the Yonadi to stop believing in the Oracle's divinity post-haste, almost to the point of obsession. Much of the story is devoted to showing that, even with the Oracle itself proven a fraud, those traditions still have value.
  • Parental Neglect: Sarek comes across as a somewhat neglectful parent, if only due to his Vulcan cultural heritage. He certainly never gave Spock the emotional support his son needed.
    "Amanda, if the boy seeks my approval, he knows what he must do to earn it. Offering an emotional demonstration as a reward when no reward has even been earned is illogical on multiple levels".
  • The Power of Trust: An important theme throughout the book.
  • The Purge: The Yonadas went through one during their long space-flight, when a group of conservative elements seized control and tried getting rid of the Oracle. Then, six centuries later, they got purged themselves, and the Oracle was reinstated.
  • Psychic Link: Spock maintains one with the Voyager (the V'Ger-Decker-Ilia fusion created at the climax of The Motion Picture). At least, he does at first. The connection begins to fade after a couple of weeks, though it's still active enough for the Voyager to help out at the climax.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Rishala is a mix of this and Good Shepherd.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Soreth tries giving one of these to Spock, who just shoots it right back at him.
  • Repeat What You Just Said: McCoy figures out how to save Spring Rain On Still Water with such a moment - though in his case it's "repeat what I just said".
  • Rite of Passage: For Betelgeusian males, their entire adolescence is essentially one long Rite of Passage. Chased from the pride by elder males as they approach puberty, they spend their teenage years and early manhood surviving alone in the wider galaxy, often winding up joining organizations like Starfleet to earn experience. Then they return to a pride and fight its members to win acceptance, and membership.
  • Science Is Wrong: Rishala, who is nonetheless intelligent, believes that scientific investigation is largely a waste of the sentient being's potential for true discovery. In this, of course, she clashes with the protagonists. She believes science pales compared to spirituality and is dismissive of Kirk's need to explore the cosmos:
    "More learning about things, more material illusions. Where will you go to learn the truths that matter?"
  • Scotty Time: After the events of The Motion Picture, Scotty's been padding his times more and more to Kirk.
  • Shout-Out: Chekov pondering the ethics of a telepathic police force (think Bester the Psi Cop from Babylon 5). An Actor Allusion. Earlier, he signs off a conversation with "be seeing you", just as Bester did.
  • Sidetracked by the Analogy: Commodore Fein turns a discussion about Kirk's love for the Enterprise into a semi-Non Sequitur about art, after Kirk mentions the Mona Lisa as something else people don't get tired of staring at.
    Fein: "And I don't see what the big mystery is about the smile. I mean, aren't you supposed to smile when you get your picture taken?"
    Kirk opened his mouth, but couldn't find a response to that.
  • Suicide Attack: A teenage Lorini is recruited by villainous cult leader Dovraku, and becomes a suicide bomber. He detonates his explosives at school and kills several other students.
  • Take That!: While hung-over, Bones thinks about "Spock's Brain", and finds it physically painful to think about, and notes he probably would even if fully sober.
  • Transhuman: Will Decker was essentially a 23rd century transhumanist, with a personal spirituality deeply concerned with "unexplored potentials of the human mind". His particular dream was an All Your Powers Combined scenario whereby different species could transcend their limits by uniting their psyches and spiritual essence. This, he hoped, would let them sense or reach new levels of existence. For this reason, he was strongly drawn to species with telepathic abilities.
  • Trauma Button: Pointed out by Bones, about Spock's dealings with Vulcans being arseholes to him for embracing emotion. Given his childhood on Vulcan, bullied by the other kids, Bones states it's no surprise Spock is as pissed as he is.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: A chapter near the book's conclusion is set many centuries in the past, showing the construction of the world-ship Yonada. It allows us to meet the historic figures who would become the Yonadi/Lorini gods. In a sense, given that these figures both built Yonada and created the Oracle, they truly were the creators of the world, and of the faith. Yonadi religious mythology is therefore shown to be Very Loosely Based on a True Story in its entirety.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: McCoy evaluates the Saurians along these lines. They're immensely strong, can breathe almost anything, have incredible stamina...but being nocturnal and having huge, sensitive eyes, they can be rendered helpless by shining a bright light. Saurians serving in Starfleet wear protective lenses.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Gnawing at the back of Spock's mind is the question of how his father Sarek will respond to his new philosophy of incorporating emotion into everyday life (Sarek having always encouraged Spock's commitment to pure logic).
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Several characters, including Natira and Soreth. Both are assisted in eventually reaching awareness of their own well-meaning extremism, and taking steps to remedy the fault.
  • WTH, Costuming Department?: Invoked.
    • McCoy's opinion on The Motion Picture-era Starfleet uniforms:
    "Maybe for once they'll design something that doesn't look like a pair of pajamas".
    • Chekhov's opinion of the classical uniforms, especially bright red shirts for security guards. That Chekhov is now one of those guards probably has nothing to do with this.


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