One of Our Planets Is Missing
I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Echoes, like its immediate predecessor Marooned, is a terrific read. The first series novel by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, The Escape, was the first original Voyager novel published: the writers knew nothing about the show or characters beyond what information they could glean from the writers' guide. Echoes, on the other hand, has solid storytelling and characterization, borrowing some of the former from the excellent TNG episode "Parallels" and the some of the latter from the excellent Voyager episode "Deadlock." Ironically, the series itself no longer depicts the characters the way this novel does; it really made me miss Kes, and Janeway before her latest rewriting.
Like "Deadlock," Echoes (also written with newcomer Nikki Hoffman) features multiple Voyagers and multiple Janeways. A planetary transporter opens a subspace rift which causes all the inhabitants of the planet to shift into a parallel universe, where things are slightly different from before. 2,410 universes over, however, the entire planet has ceased to exist, and when a population of several billion people is suddenly transported into that universe, they die agonizingly in the vacuum of space. The rift reopens every two and a half hours, sending another three billion people to their deaths. While the Janeway in the universe where the planet is missing works frantically to prevent any more bodies from joining the growing mass where a planet once was, the Janeway from the series universe tries to unravel the mystery of what is causing the rift between universes to open and why only half the universes seem to have Voyagers in them.
As a result of the phenomenon, an away team beamed down to the planet which experiences a shift winds up in the wrong universe, leaving one Voyager with two of Chakotay, Torres, Paris, and Kes, while another Voyager must contend with inexact duplicates. This allows some really nice character work in which we get to see the myriad of inconsistent characterizations from the series all working together: a ferocious Klingon B'Elanna working with a science-obsessed counterpart, a Janeway who wants to rush to a solution plus a Janeway who seems overly cautious given the number of lives at stake. Some of the characters are given new idiosyncracies, but with the exception of Harry Kim, whose voice shakes far too often, they're all pretty believable.
Moreover, there's nice continuity with series events, both in terms of plot incidents and relationships. Janeway and Chakotay are lovely here, particularly when "our" Janeway realizes that she has the wrong Chakotay on her ship but wants to reach out to him anyway. I also loved the captain's interaction with Torres: the various incarnations of the chief engineer come up with most of the answers to stop the phenomenon and reset the universe, yet she still has a lot of bite and doesn't always play by the rules. There's a really nice scene where the four doubled characters must sit in a briefing together. The two Chakotays are all business, the two Parises compete for attention, the two Keses work well together, and the two Torreses sit on opposite sides of the room scowling. Sounds about right.
The novel gets a little predictable towards the end - over nine thousand Janeways come up with the same solution simultaneously and send it out to the other Voyagers, clogging communications, then all fall silent to let the Janeway in the universe missing the planet make the final call. A lot of the description of the phenomenon reminded me of "All Good Things..." and indeed much of the conception of time-travel and alternate universe structure seems to have been borrowed from TNG, where it was substantively different than on Classic Trek and Deep Space Nine, which seem to have a more limited perspective on how many parallels are possible.
Of course, we only hear about a few thousand parallel universes, so the physics here should be more mindboggling than they are - there should be universes where Voyager never encountered the shock wave for whatever reason or where the ship was destroyed by the Kazon or where Chakotay's in command or...well, you get the picture. Was there a parallel set of universes where the breach was not sealed at the end...and if the shifts kept happening, albeit in fewer universes, eventually all the people would shift into a universe where it would...
Well, I'm not Hawking, and the temporal theory here is ultimately irrelevant to enjoyment of the story, which is much more about the people than the events. The writers did a good job making the mindboggling numbers of people caught in the disaster accessible, and in showing why the Voyager crew would feel obligated to get involved rather than turn away from a horror of such magnitude, seemingly unsolvable. The solutions devised both to try to save the Birsibans and to close the rift sounded plausible, and I liked the way Janeway implemented them even though she knew she was killing several thousand variations on her crew.
I'd rank this one pretty highly on my list of Pocket Books overall; I enjoyed it more than any of the TNG novels dealing with time travel or universe-hopping.
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