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Literature / Star Trek: Immortal Coil

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A novel in the Star Trek Novel Verse, written by Jeffery Lang.

He is perhaps the ultimate human achievement: a sentient artificial life-form — self-aware, self-determining, possessing a mind and body far surpassing that of his makers, and imbued with the potential to evolve beyond the scope of his programming. Created by one of the most brilliant and eccentric intellects the Federation has ever known, the android Data has always believed he was unique, the one true fulfilment of a dream to create children of the mind. But is he? Investigating the mysterious destruction of a new android created by Starfleet, Data and the crew of the USS Enterprise uncover startling secrets stretching back to the galaxy's dim past. That knowledge is coveted by beings who will stop at nothing to control it, and will force Data to redefine himself as he learns the hidden history of artificial intelligence.

The novel received a direct sequel (three of them, actually) with David Mack's Star Trek: Cold Equations series, which was in turn followed by Lang's Star Trek The Light Fantastic.

This book contains examples of:

  • Amnesiac Resonance: M-5 doesn't remember its past, evidently a precaution of Vaslovik's, but the programming of "survival at any cost" is still hardwired into it.
  • And I Must Scream: The way Sam talks about it suggests that he was to some degree aware for at least some portion of the half million years that his android body was lying inert in the lab.
  • Arc Welding: The book finally addresses a throwaway line of Lore's about how Data's emotion chip contains memories, a fact the series and films never explored. They turn out to be pertinent to the problem.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Of every variety seen in the history of the franchise.
  • Back from the Dead: The Juliana Tainer android.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Or rather, "because you were nice to someone I care about"; Vaslovik is generally not fond of Starfleet and Starfleet captains in particular, but he's willing to give Picard some benefit of the doubt because Picard defended Data in "The Measure of a Man".
  • But Now I Must Go: Rhea, at the end of the story.
  • Call-Back:
    • "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" factors heavily into the plot. As does "Requiem For Methuselah".
    • Riker and Picard discuss the events of "Measure of a Man". Riker's still feeling lousy about having to play prosecution against Data. Meanwhile, Picard's role in defending Data eventually earns him the trust of a critical character.
    • Pretty much every artificial intelligence that had ever appeared in any Star Trek show at the time the book was written gets at least a mention.
  • Came Back Wrong: It was already implied in "What Are Little Girls Made Of?", but Immortal Coil confirms that the transfer of Korby's consciousness was imperfect, and so the android Korby was ultimately not quite the same person as the human Korby.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The silver band around the planet Odin. Also known as Wesley's nanites, who Vaslovik found and brought to somewhere where they could breed.
  • Continuity Nod: Many.
    • At the Daystrom Annex, Riker takes note of how Haftel's office has Daystrom's photo in pride of place, but the man looks troubled by something.
    • Barclay is working with the Daystrom Institute, having taken leave from Jupiter Station and Dr. Zimmerman to do so. Voyager's EMH gets brought up as an example in AI research.
    • Among the examples of AI being studied are the Moriarty hologram, the Exocomps, and Wesley's nanites.
    • Picard thinks, seeing Data's reaction to grief, about the moment in First Contact when he told him to turn off his emotion chip. He muses that, though it was justified because he was unnerving everyone else, it probably was not a good thing for Data himself. Shortly after in the conversation, he thinks about their talk in Generations in the Enterprise-D's stellar cartography section.
    • Picard watching Data dance with McAdams notes the sheer difference between his expression there, and when he danced with Keiko O'Brien during "Data's Day".
    • Among the artifacts in the robot collection is Norman, who is noted to still have the expression he had when Kirk and Mudd fried his brains, as well as Brown, and the androids the Enterprise had been building for Thessala and Henoch.
    • Talking with Sam, Picard notes they act more than a little bit like Q.
    • Vaslovik's general distaste for Starfleet and for a certain type of officer in particular. One wonders if, when he made his comments about Starfleet destroying the facility on Exo III, he was aware of which Starfleet officer was responsible.
  • Continuity Porn: Pretty much every Artificial Intelligence in Star Trek history shows up or is mentioned in some way.
  • Creative Sterility: The motive for the villains is that they want to change so this is no longer true for them.
  • Deader than Dead: Probably the only reason Lore was merely discussed, rather than appearing in person.
  • Delayed Reaction: A pretty impressive one — five hundred thousand years after the rest of the androids went into stasis, Ruk finally figures out the underlying meaning of being told "patience is your best attribute".
  • Deus ex Machina: M-5 and the nanites are a somewhat literal version.
  • Does Not Like Spam: Rhea insists she hates fish, due to having grown up with fishers for parents. She even got into security just to get away from anything fish-related (incident with an Antedean aside). Except that thing about her parents is a lie.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Flint is a nigh-immortal who frequently changes his appearance, travels around the universe for fun, and has a lot of problems with Killer Robots. And then there's that strange little silver device he carries, which makes an awful lot of noise...
  • During the War: Takes place during the Dominion War, after "In the Pale Moonlight", but before the Breen have gotten into the fight. At the beginning of the story, the Enterprise is coming back from a diplomatic mission trying to get the Tzenkethi to side with the Alpha Quadrant forces.
  • Everyone Can See It: Apparently everyone on the Enterprise knows about Picard and Dr. Crusher... except, it seems Picard and Dr. Crusher themselves.
  • The Fog of Ages: Ruk had been waiting five hundred thousand years for someone to show up on Exo-III, and he wasn't exactly a genius to begin with, so by the time the reader gets a look inside his head, he's pretty much forgotten his reason for being and what it is that he's waiting for. He's right on the verge of a potentially significant breakthrough when his train of thought is interrupted by Korby's arrival.
  • Foregone Conclusion: In-universe. While reliving some of Soong's memories, Data momentarily gets so caught up in the experience that he starts to feel worry, before realizing that of course Soong, Graves and Vaslovik get out safely.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The shuttle Data uses to recover Dr. Trainer's body is called the Turing. As in Alan Turing, and the Turing Test that was named after him. You know, where a computer demonstrates human intelligence, such as Data does. And Rhea.
    • Much, around Vaslovik. For starters, the fact he's an old man in the Soong flashbacks, which were decades before the main story, and yet is still around and active during the modern parts, which even with the longer ages of people in Star Trek is still more than a little unusual — especially considering that Graves and Soong, who were much younger than Vaslovik in those flashbacks, were both old men by the time they appeared on the series, while Vaslovik is not only still alive (and without any of the age-related ailments that Graves and Soong displayed in their appearances), but has seemingly barely aged at all in all that time. Also, the fact he doesn't like Starfleet captains (especially gung-ho types).
  • The Friends Who Never Hang: While Data and Doctor Crusher do spend time together, Crusher muses at one point that she and Data arguably spend the least time together of all the senior staff as Data obviously doesn't often have need of her medical services.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: While the other androids go into stasis, Ruk alone is left active to wait for someone to show up. It takes five hundred thousand years for this to happen. By then, Ruk is so far gone he can't even remember his reason for being, so when the moment comes, he doesn't even remember that the other androids exist, let alone that he's meant to revive them, and ultimately dies without ever completing the very task he was put in that situation for in the first place.
  • Grow Beyond Their Programming:
    • Data has finally managed to grasp intuition.
    • The androids of Exo-III want to do this. They really want to do it.
  • Hand Wave: The book gets around the problem of Flint having died at the end of "Requiem for Methuselah" by having the E crew point out that an immortal man with experience changing his identity could easily have faked it.
  • Heroic BSoD: It turns out that Data's emotion chip actually has this built into it; in times of extreme grief, it just...shuts off.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Sam lures the androids into the nanite belt, knowing their hatred for him will make them chase him.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight:
    • How do you disguise an advanced prototype android with a sophisticated AI that everyone and their brother is looking for? Why you just give it a fake Starfleet record and stick it on the Federation flagship as its Chief of Security, of course!
    • The same applies for Sam the bartender.
  • Incredibly Lame Fun: Ruk spent most of his time alone on the planet picking up two rocks of similar structure, one in each hand, and seeing which hand would successfully crush the rock first. Thousands of times...which he has been keeping a very precise count of.
  • Innocently Insensitive: McAdams suggests that maybe the reason Dr. Soong was able to do what no one else could have something to do with how much he wanted it to happen. Data asks if that means he didn't want Lal to live. In retrospect, it's potentially an intentional Invoking of this trope to further conceal her true identity
  • Insufferable Genius: Turns out Ira Graves was always a smart-ass, even in his student days.
  • Just a Machine: Picard momentarily thinks this about Data, then chides himself for it, given everything they've been through.
  • Killed Off for Real: Lore's brain was destroyed in the crash of the Enterprise-D, because Data had set up a security system designed to prevent anyone from stealing it or trying to reactivate Lore, and the crash set it off.
  • Lampshade Hanging:
    • A little jab is made at the duplication machine from "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" and the unnecessary spinning mechanism.
    • Later on, a particularly implausible part of "Requiem for Methuselah", namely the bit where the Enterprise got shrunk, is met with dubiousness from the E crew. Then they acknowledge they've seen similarly weird things, and it's not outside the realm of possibility.
  • Last of His Kind: Sam
  • Let Us Never Speak of This Again: Soong and Graves, after their visit to Exo-III, and Vaslovik's disappearance.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Subverted with the scientists visiting Exo-III. They did awaken the androids, and give them the means to get off-planet, but Sam just notes someone would have done so sooner or later.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Soong's viewpoint while fleeing Exo-III. He never sees anything concrete, just hearing what could be noises and reflected light, following the expedition out of the cave.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten:
    • While not known to the general public, among roboticists, Daystrom's M-5 has roughly the same reputation as Frankenstein's Creature.
    • The ship gets into a battle while Troi has the bridge. La Forge's first comment after she briefs him? "I was worried you were steering us into a planet again." Troi's reaction even Lampshades it; she immediately thinks to herself, I guess I'm never going to live that one down.
  • Passive-Aggressive Kombat: When Data politely yet firmly declined Maddox's requests to hand over the bodies of Lore and the prototypes, Maddox sent him a pithy email and cut off all contact.
  • Precursors: The Old Ones of Exo-III, who built robot servants when their planet started freezing over. Things went bad when they realized the robots lacked consciences, and the robots got a little resentful. And then they tried pulling the plug...
  • Ragnarök Proofing: Soong and Vaslovik find, in the course of their exploration, a door fifty-thousand years old, which despite having some sediment growth over it, still works after Vaslovik gives it a sonicing. He's impressed.
    I've always said you can tell a species by the quality of their ball-bearings.
  • The Reveal: Sam is an android. And then later on he reveals he was one of the Old Ones. The Old One, responsible for everything that happened.
  • Rewrite: Back in "What Little Girls Are Made Of", Ruk explained that the Old Ones grew fearful of their servants, apparently without cause, and tried turning them off, so the robots turned on them in self-defense. Here, we get the testimony of an Old One, which states the situation was more complex than that. There is some wiggle room since even in the original episode Ruk's memory was pretty hazy after fifty thousand years alone.
  • Ridiculously Human Robot: Rhea McAdams.
  • Robotic Psychopath: The Exo-III androids wanted to be able to grow, but they're also completely, hopelessly, psychopathically angry at everything. Data and Rhea agree that helping them become more intelligent would not be a good idea.
  • Shout-Out:
    • On realizing there's a mystery to hand, Picard comments "the game's afoot."
    • Trying to console Data, Picard quotes Farewell to Arms, specifically "the world breaks everyone, and afterwards everyone is strong at the broken places". Unfortunately, he's dealing with Data, who finishes the quote, specifically: "those it does not break, it kills."
    • Later on, Picard compares Data and Rhea to the main characters of The Thin Man. He's aghast when Troi and Riker don't get it.
    • At the very end of the story, Picard compares Data's situation to Casablanca.
  • Summon Bigger Fish: The Enterprise and a space station owned by the immortal Flint come under attack by rogue androids trying to capture a sophisticated prototype android. Luckily for Picard and company, Flint has spent the last century or so collecting other artificial life-forms and A.I.s, including Richard Daystrom's M-5 computer. When the android fleet is at risk of destroying the Enterprise, Data plugs the M-5 into the station's weapons array, and turns it loose to engage in its primary objective - survival. The station — and presumably M-5 with it — is ultimately destroyed by the android fleet, but not before it deals significant damage to said fleet. (It also serves quite well to get the android fleet's attention off the Enterprise.)
    Data: Under the circumstances, it seemed like our best chance to stop the androids.
    McAdams: Yeah, not to mention our best chance to get killed in the process. You know that M-5 is crazy, don't you?
    Data: Crazy is an imprecise term. It is...single-minded.
  • The Bus Came Back: Bruce Maddox reappears, and he's gotten slightly nicer in the interim. He's also working for Admiral Haftel.
  • Wham Line: "Dammit, Akharin."
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Soong suffered dreams from childhood of a dog a neighbour kept to keep people off his lawn. After the visit to Exo-III, it's mixed with what he thinks he might have seen until the day he died.
  • You Are Not Alone: Barclay's justification for working with Maddox on this project, despite Maddox being kind of a jerk, is that if they could create another Soong-type android, Data wouldn't have to be alone any more.