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STAR TREK: THE EUGENICS WARS
VOLUME TWO: THE RISE AND FALL OF KHAN NOONIEN SINGH
by Greg Cox
Pocket Books Hardback, 2002
338 pages including Afterword
Written for TrekWeb by Alexander Chase, edited by Steve Krutzler
Book Description: In STAR TREK: THE EUGENICS WARS, VOLUME TWO the engrossing tale of the man called Khan continues in this lighting-paced second volume detailing Earth's 'Alternate Twentieth Century'. As readers witnessed in Volume One of the acclaimed Eugenics War saga by Greg Cox - author of The New York Times best-selling Q Continuum trilogy and numerous other Star Trek novels including Assignment: Eternity - the Chrysalis scientists developed an artificially enhanced breed of men and women - an uber-race designed to take command of the planet, exercising its will over all imperfect organically-bred humans. One of Chrysalis enhanced creations named Khan Noonien Singh has asserted his superiority over his laboratory-spawned brethren. Khan's drive has reached frightening maturity: he is determined to seize control of the planet. Volume two explores the enticingly awesome threat Khan poses to future generations.
The faults of Greg Cox's The Eugenics Wars: Volume One (see TrekWeb's March 16, 2002 review are not only replicated in THE EUGENICS WARS: VOLUME TWO but are magnified into fatal flaws which ultimately doom the story. While reading THE EUGENICS WARS: VOLUME TWO one can almost hear believability groaning under the strain. The result is a story which is openly dismissive of the spirit of Star Trek - and its characters - while religiously observing its cold-hard facts. Indeed, Cox's THE EUGENICS WARS: VOLUME TWO bears all the hallmarks of an author observing a chronology of events and characters without ever actually watching the episodes which form the source material - as if the chronology was compiled by someone else and handed off to Cox for him to piece together. THE EUGENICS WARS: VOLUME TWO is a jigsaw puzzle, pieces are forced where they don't fit and never (it seems) does Cox pause to consider manufacturing a new piece to produce a more snug fit - both in terms of the puzzle but also its ultimate picture. The final result is a story where all the pieces fit but its meaning makes little sense. Some will be able to appreciate the way the are pieces put together but even the most devoted Trek fans will find the final composition noticeably lacking in beauty or logic.
The last third of The Eugenics Wars: Volume One was sorely missing the focus of the first two-thirds of that book (Roberta Lincoln and Gary Seven's attempts to thwarted the clandestine Chrysalis Project). However, it is forgivable because one sensed that the author was tying up loose ends before embarking on the ambitious second half of the story (Khan's rise of power and ultimate fall) in THE EUGENICS WARS: VOLUME TWO. Unfortunately, Cox's story never regains its focus. Whereas it was clear that Volume One was principally the story of Roberta Lincoln, despite the denouement of the title, it is never clear whether THE EUGENICS WARS: VOLUME TWO is about Roberta Lincoln (Gary Seven's role is noticeably fragmentary), Khan himself, his superhuman brethren, the ancestor of Star Trek: Voyager's Captain Janeway Shannon O'Donnell, or even Captain Kirk in dealing with the situation involving a 'lost' colony of genetically engineered humans seeking Federation membership. Indeed, the story shifts perspective from one character to the next almost every chapter, never allowing THE EUGENICS WARS: VOLUME TWO to settle into a smooth flow. Considering the subtitle of the book very clearly tells us this is about 'the rise and fall of Khan Noonien Singh', it is a rather obvious flaw. This gives the book a "stop-and-go" feel as one aspect of the story gains speed (noticeably the Kirk storyline set in the 23rd century, the final resolution of which is very tame) only for the book to shift gears to another time period, character or event.
There are two other flaws which contribute to the disappointing back story of Khan Noonien Singh. First, is Cox's decision to model his story partly on The X-Files (an international conspiracy which no one knows about) and the James Bond films (the films, not the Ian Fleming novels). While the second has earmarks of the first (how do the Bond villains contract out construction to build secret hideouts in volcanoes anyway?), the choice of a Bondian framework to bring the Aegis agents Seven and Lincoln into the story of Khan ultimately has the effect of transforming the 'Napoleon" of the TOS episode "Space Seed" into Ernst Stavo Bloefeld or, even worse, Dr. Evil. Indeed, some will find it laughable when it turns out Khan possesses his own "laser" located on a "Death Star" which he plans to use against humanity (though not for $ 1 million dollars, or even $ 100 billion). In choosing this framework, Cox sets out to squeeze Star Trek canon into the chronology of real historical events rather than simply creating a truly revisionist history like Robert Harris' Fatherland. This should have been the framework for the story of Khan and the Eugenics Wars, with a little bit of historical fiction like Allan Massie's Caesar series, Christian Jacq's Rameses series or Bernard Cornwell's Arthurian series thrown into the mix to focus the story principally on Khan. Because of this, Khan comes across more as a well-funded gangster rather than a Napoleon or Caesar of the late twentieth century.
This is not helped as crucial aspects of Khan's rise to power are left out. For example, it is never explained how Khan comes to control a quarter of the planet (except for a brief reference to "jobs") but rather Khan simply announces it is so at a high-level meeting, though such control is totally "covert" in substance. Reality should have been shaped to the story rather than the story to real historical events; Khan's power made overt to his time rather than hidden. It would have made the story less predictable (indeed, the identity of Seven's "mole" in Khan's inner circle is telegraphed hundreds of pages before it is revealed).
The second flaw pertains to Cox's continuity name-dropping raised in the review of Volume One. In THE EUGENICS WARS: VOLUME TWO, Cox uses established Trek characters in a manner akin to waving a loaded gun in a crowded restaurant. A bit character introduced in the film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home makes a brief - and completely unnecessary - appearance. This character is not only introduced but an entire chapter is told from his perspective and then he is never heard from again except in a couple of passing references. A character mentioned - though never met - in the TOS episode "Tomorrow is Yesterday" is also introduced though he serves no useful purpose. Also, the Janeway ancestor Shannon O'Donnell of Millennium Gate fame - or lack thereof - plays a significant role which totally contradicts the spirit of the Voyager story in which she was introduced. Finally, Cox makes extensive use of the superhuman compatriot of Khan, Joaquin, briefly seen in the TOS episode "Space Seed" but made fully flesh by Judson Scott's performance in the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Cox bizarrely ignores the significant characterization of Scott's scenes in TWOK and reverts the character back to its two-dimensional "heavy" suggested in "Space Seed."
When Cox does this - which is often - the intelligent Trek fan is usually forced to decide whether the characters of Trek canon are a clever producer's lie or whether Cox's characterization is simply unbelievable. For most loyal Trek fans, it will be an easy choice. And it is not just with characterization that Cox falls down but also flippant referencing. For example, given the character's tendency to frame problems in terms of pop culture references, many readers will wonder how Roberta Lincoln could possibly know The Borg's catch phrase "resistance is futile" except by watching it on Star Trek: The Next Generation. There are several instances of this when Cox's characters trip over reality simply because he wants to introduce another 'nod and wink' to the fans. THE EUGENICS WARS: VOLUME II would have benefited greatly from a merciless editing to remove such bizarre instances.
Ultimately, many readers will find the attempt to reconcile Trek canon with historical fact an interesting one - as this reviewer did - but that the final result isn't very satisfying.