A Mosaic For the Rest of the Crew
In Pathways, Jeri Taylor does for the remainder of Voyager's characters what she did for Kathryn Janeway in Mosaic, tracing the histories which brought them together in the Delta Quadrant. When she wrote the previous novel, Taylor was an executive producer of the series, able to incorporate much of its content into some of the episodes; now that she has retired, it's unclear whether the backstories she has given the characters will remain canonical. I hope so, because Pathways is longer and more detailed than most Trek fiction, dropping familiar names from previous series and utilizing established settings like Starfleet Academy and Mount Seleya. It begins with most of the command crew getting stranded in an alien prison camp; to pass time while they attempt to devise an escape route from the horrific place, the crewmembers tell one another their stories.
This book veers from established canon in certain instances, such as the long history of Janeway's friendship with Tuvok and the locale of the incident which got Tom Paris courtmartialed. It also changes the species of Chakotay's animal guide as set down in the Voyager "Bible," and alters a major event from Neelix's life as he himself explained it in the episode "Jetrel." However, for anyone who hasn't watched "The Cloud" and "Resolutions" two dozen times as I have, I doubt these issues will ever arise. It's a satisfying read, juggling past and present tenses more effectively than Mosaic and offering quite a lot of material in its 400-plus pages.
My favorite thing about this novel redeemed my least favorite thing about Taylor's previous one: Captain Kathryn Janeway comes across here as smart, resourceful, gutsy, and sensitive, much more strongly than she's been portrayed on the series for the past season. Some of the Decameron-like tales are more engrossing than others, but since all the stories are flashbacks unrelated to the events set in the present, one can skim any given character's chapter without losing the thread of the narrative.
Chakotay is the first to speak, when Harry Kim asks him how he came to forego Starfleet for the Maquis. His self-characterization, as a directionless boy growing up in a tradition-bound tribe, unfortunately continues his portrayal as a passive-aggressive contrary begun in the episode "Tattoo" during Voyager's second season; I much preferred the proactive, committed spiritualist of the earlier episodes, but that Chakotay has vanished from the series. Taylor describes in past tense his reactions as a Starfleet officer to the horrors of war, rather than showing us his experiences, which makes him seem even more passive. It's particularly disappointing that while his father's death triggers his decision to join the Maquis, his former Academy girlfriend Sveta is the catalyst.
Chakotay spends most of his life being manipulated by women like Sveta and like Seska. This characterization makes Chakotay's instantaneous decision to follow Janeway understandable - he's a woman's man all the way - but I'd much rather have learned that his devotion to Janeway stems from their common ideological values and mutual suffering at the hands of the Cardassians. I also can't help but wish that we'd gotten to hear Chakotay telling his story to Janeway or even to Seska, who's more intriguing than Chakotay himself - especially in light of our knowledge that, contrary to Chakotay's and Torres' assumptions, Seska's true aim is not to win Chakotay's love but to spy on his organization. It's a real shame the Cardassian spy died before telling her own story.
Chakotay and Kim have a common figure in their pasts, an Academy instructor who serves as the bridge between their tales. Harry's life story is sweet and a little predictable, much like Harry. However, his tale does lead me to wonder how someone who worked so hard to impress his survival training instructor doesn't know enough to boil the polluted water the crew must drink in the prison camp. I appreciate the fact that Harry had a gay Academy roommate, as well as the fact that there's a gay couple from Voyager on the away team - details which I am certain will be taken out of canon by the television producers. In several other places, most notably the characterization of Janeway, Taylor seems to be trying to compensate for the shortcomings of the series where network demands might have prevented her from more progressive developments.
Janeway is adored by all. Tuvok finds her compelling, Tom finds her attractive, Torres credits her with turning her life around. Neelix finds her voice "husky as old velvet." Chakotay thinks at one point that she looks like a goddess. We never learn precisely how she tracks her crew to the prison planet, but when the captain finally enters more than halfway through the novel, her actions are both shocking and unexpectedly brilliant. This is the Janeway I hoped to discover in Mosaic. The novel contains a touching, tender scene between captain and first officer which I am not sure whether to read as a sop to Janeway/Chakotay fans or a reflection of what Taylor genuinely wanted for the series, but in any case I adored it. After all of Taylor's tradition-bound backstory about Janeway and her relationships, the author seems to be indicating that she understood all along what a 24th-century woman might be like unfettered by 20th century restrictions - just couldn't work it into a 20th-century network series.
Still, I have some of the same annoyances with Torres in Pathways as I had with Janeway in Mosaic, particularly the obsession with an absent father and subsequent male figures. (With the exception of Tuvok, none of these characters has a fleshed-out mother.) Torres's potentially volatile Klingon sexuality is dealt with in a frustrating, repressed manner, culminating in a threatened rape by a Cardassian and then a crush on her paternalistic savior, Chakotay, a passion which is at least more believable here than in the episode "Persistence of Vision," in which we were led to believe she'd repressed those feelings for years. Why Torres fell out of love with Chakotay, and in love with Tom, remains vague. There's also some annoying coyness about whether she had sex with her high school boyfriend when there was no doubt about the men's intimate lives. In general, I thought there was too much emphasis on her relationships and not enough on her skills as an engineer, but that does spare the reader the technobabble details of her work.
Kes is for me the most compelling character in Pathways. Because the character is no longer on the series, her story must be told as a dream sequence, but that allows a moving introduction by way of Neelix's memories. Kes comes across as wonderfully courageous, proud of who she is even when she makes mistakes, unrestricted by her gender in thought or deed although she has been threatened as a result of it. It's easy to understand why Neelix adored her, particularly after reading his own dark history - including a gritty and vivid descent into drug addiction and recovery. Neelix's tale may be Taylor's greatest dramatic achievement; it contains the greatest emotional range, from the giddy joy of a birthday surprise which changed his life to the utter devastation of the holocaust that killed his family. The character is often treated as shallow comic relief on the series, but this novel gives him depth and insight.
Tom Paris's story comes as a bit of a letdown: I had expected his rebellion against his famous father to go much deeper. It's hard to swallow the rapidity with which he progresses from a nearly pathological fantasy life which got three people killed to repression to admission to jail to Voyager to recovery. Like Janeway's coming to terms with her past at the end of Mosaic, the sequence is so rushed as to seem superficial, which makes me wonder whether he's even begun to resolve the issues underlying the crisis.
Tuvok's is the final story in the novel, a wise choice because it's also the longest: he has a brief career in Starfleet, attempts Vulcan mental mastery, goes through pon farr and fathers four children, then experiences months of ardurous travel in the desert on a pilgrimage to sacred Mount Seleya. Sometimes he sounds very un-Vulcan - "You do us proud, Ensign" - and there are annoying details such as the revelation that Vulcans can't participate in many Academy sports because their superior strength gives them an unfair advantage; is the whole Federation stuck with human standards? It would seem so in terms of Tuvok's concerns about his kids. But it's appealing to see him in the role of father, though I'm sorry we don't learn more about his wife.
I'm a bit amused that Taylor included the young Vulcan Vorik, played on the series by her son Alexander Enberg; I'm also a tad disappointed that Seven has no memories of her life among the Borg, but at the same time, it's a huge relief to read something about Voyager which barely mentions her. This isn't a novel which will please everyone, but Pathways is an entertaining and engrossing read, with far more substance than all of last season on the series. Taylor exits on a high note.
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