I'll say this for Star Trek Voyager novel Mosaic: it left me wanting more. The writing's quite good for a Trek novel: lush, vivid descriptive moments, lively shipboard scenes. My problem with Mosaic is that it didn't bring me closer to Kathryn Janeway, despite the fact that it's her official "biography," written by Voyager's executive producer. This may be canon, but it reads like fan fiction - mediocre fan fiction, at that.
It's impossible for me to associate the listless character in the novel with the vivacious, resourceful woman we see on Voyager. Even on bad weeks, Janeway comes across as confident and quick-witted - sometimes overconfident, sometimes rigid, but never passive. That character is largely absent from this book. Even in the audio recording, read by Kate Mulgrew, Mosaic's Janeway sounds like an impostor.
The main story, reminiscent of Christie Golden's excellent Pocket Books Voyager novel The Murdered Sun, starts promisingly in series-time near a strange alien base. And the initial flashbacks to Janeway's childhood are illuminating. Kathryn's mother Gretchen sounds like a really interesting woman - in an era of replicators, she chooses to cook. This is fascinating - a woman who's apparently a housewife by design, not social expectation or necessity! But we don't find out how or when she made these choices, or if they were her own; she's mostly a passive appendage of her family for the rest of the novel, a maternal stereotype instead of the mathematician suggested in early Voyager character sketches. Kathryn has mostly contempt for her mother's anachronistic ways. Yet she fawns over her father, the stalwart Starfleet Admiral who forgets to acknowledge her existence.
This might not be so disturbing were it not for Kathryn's aversion to other women. During the course of Mosaic, she does not have one girlfriend or female mentor. Kathryn's childhood peers grow from nasty schoolgirls to timid, whiny adolescents, yet she views them as worthy competitors for her first lover, a self-absorbed risk-taker. Kathryn's artistic younger sister is portrayed as flighty, and her college roommate (who hardly seems like Starfleet Academy material) lacks her workaholic tendencies. I could buy that young Kathryn developed a self-esteem problem because her father ignored her, but it's disturbing that her need for male approval leads to disdain for women.
Mosaic isn't contemptuous of female interests - indeed, it's very much a "women's novel," with far less action than love affairs and family issues. But there's no indication that women can relate to one another in ways which have nothing to do with male priorities. I missed the Janeway of "Elogium" and "The 37s," who likes and trusts other women rather than regarding them as competitors for male attention, and I found myself wishing that Janeway was a little more like Xena - strong and independent, with friends of both sexes.
This novel does not acknowledge that women and men can be friends, outside father-daughter or boyfriend-girlfriend situations which are too close for comfort. There's an embarrassing blind date between young Janeway and Will Riker, who's characterized here as bright and affable. Kathryn is so panicked at her attraction to him that she can't even talk about schoolwork, and flees the scene. When she chooses a role model at the Academy, she gravitates toward ascetic Admiral Paris, whom most of us think of as the guy who messed up his son Tom. Paris is a domineering perfectionist who orders Kathryn never to cry, yet shows affection toward his own absent family - her fantasy version of Admiral Edward Janeway.
Kathryn later falls for Paris' protegé Justin, a hard-nosed Starfleet operative who rescues her from a terrible situation just like her father did years earlier. Even Mark, her lover from Voyager premiere "Caretaker," whom Kathryn's's known since youth, grows up from awkward boy in need of her protection to sturdy confessor figure. Her emotional bond to Chakotay is most disturbing; when he saves her life, Janeway actually mistakes her first officer for Daddy.
Despite the attention to her love life, we learn little about the men beyond their appearances. We never really learn what her fiancé is like as a person; Kathryn informs her father that he'll love Justin once he gets to know him, but the reader never does get to know him beyond his appearance - so it's hard to like him, or to like her for choosing him. I wish we'd gotten one scene with Mark which made him sound like something more than a safe haven in her memories.
Janeway in Mosaic is both stubborn and passive, a daredevil who's riddled with insecurities and prejudices. There's too much telling, not enough showing; we see little character growth until the end of the novel, when Kathryn uncovers the repressed memory of her failure to save her father and fiancé from death during a military mission. This section could have been deeply moving, demonstrating that Janeway really has grown up to be strong and independent.
But it's written like a Star Trek episode, rushing to resolve its crisis just before the close. In the course of a few pages, Janeway uncovers a devastating secret, confronts it, gets over it, draws strength from it, changes her life, saves her crew, and gets the ship back on course for home. I'm sure it was a structural decision to save all the revelations for the climax as a means of building suspense, but the sequence is preposterous from a psychological point of view, so it's hard to accept Janeway as the complete person she's described as being on the final page.
Much of what I want to know about Kathryn Janeway - how she got interested in science, how she advanced through the ranks, what her ten-year relationship with Mark was like - is not here. The people she's going to be compared to (Kirk, Spock, etc.) are unquestionably heroes, known for strength and bravery even during their troubled youths. Janeway's fairly strong in the face of actual torture, yet up against what Kira underwent in the Resistance or what Picard went through at the hands of the Cardassians, she's barely even challenged. There just aren't character-building moments; lovely descriptions of Indiana can't replace dramatic details about what shaped Janeway into the woman she is now. While I understand the desire to avoid technobabble, a single instance of Janeway acting as science officer would have added greatly to our understanding of what science means to her and how it dovetailed with her Starfleet command career.
I did like Janeway's solution to the problems with the aliens on the planet where much of her crew is stranded--the reason for her flashback. She finally showed some of the mettle we've come to expect from her, and from all Starfleet captains. It's interesting that both she and Chakotay experienced torture and lost their fathers to the Cardassians; this could make for a great scene between the two of them on the show.
I wish Taylor had filled in some blanks for us, told us how Janeway felt about making Chakotay her first officer, or how she reacted to Tom's implacable hatred of his father. I'm particularly interested in what Janeway thought of the Maquis, given her own experiences with the Cardassians. But none of that is in this novel. Considering that more of Mosaic is devoted to her love affairs than to her scientific career, I hoped at least that we'd see the positive aspects of her femininity, her nurturing side--this is after all a woman who enjoys playing a Victorian governess in a holonovel.
Yet Janeway holds true to negative stereotypes of women in power--privately insecure, vulnerable to repressed passion. She's a girl in an old boys' network. How long must women endure a Trek and a captain focused on male standards, male expectations? After reading Mosaic, I sure don't want to be Kathryn Janeway. She may be a woman in charge, but she's all alone up there, and she's not even getting much credit for it.
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