So, I really like Star Trek, and science fiction in general. But one of the most annoying problems with the genre is the inability to tackle the consequences of being human. Recently I've been trying to branch out into science fiction and really found it barely comprehendable, because of the inability to make the worlds convincing in a human fashion. Particularly the use of genetic enhancements and super elongated life spans. Otherwise known as a literary device known as deus ex machina. Commonwealth Saga and The Dreaming Void, I'm looking at you. Star Trek isn't completely immune to this, but in Deep Space 9 TV and books and the Alternate Universe they just nail this. People are PEOPLE. While there are many many great things to say about this collection of stories, all of these stories just get it right, to a greater or lesser extent, but on a fundamental level.
For this review, I'll tackle each story individually and then look at the themes that run through each of them and how they fit together as a whole, in comparison to the rest of recent Star Trek books. For brief story summaries, go the the book's Amazon Page.
A Less Perfect Union is a great start to the collection. First of all, the story flows in a natural fashion, particularly if you have a rough grasp of the background of the original series. These alternate or 'myriad' universes as they call them can create authorial nightmares in terms of exposition and development. Because of the established characters and the mental acknowledgement the reader has that these are going to be different, particularly The Original Series characters, its way too easy to overload on plot exposition and positioning characters within the new universe, but this story just does that very well. Particularly by gradually introducing characters in a natural fashion, like Doctor McCoy. The story itself isn't all that strong, mostly because a significant plot point requires a significant oversight by a major character, but the strength of the universe as a realistic and well-developed setting really makes this story work.
Places of Exile is in my opinion the weakest story of the three, but not really by the fault of the author, who did a fine job of building the characters of the arguably the worst Star Trek series. Where the story kind of hiccups is in Species 8472/Scourge/Groundskeepers, which I can't really blame the author for again because they were really difficult to flesh out. I was intrigued by the general plot premise, and thought the developing of the Delta Coalition to be just a whole lot of fun to experienced. Immigration issues are touched on in a political way, but again like a great deal of this collection just flows naturally. One thing that I really appreciated is the consequences of the deaths of the major characters. B'Elanna's collapse after the death of Tom was totally believable, espeically since it reminded my of the earlier seasons of Voyager, before it all descended into madness. Not only that, I missed Tuvok. There were moments where I just wanted to see Tuvok. So while the plot is a bit iffy, again the new setting works really well, the development of the Delta Coalition was natural (if way too fast timewise. No way Voyager could create a Delta Federation in under two years.) and well fleshed out, and they touched a grand scale that was great to see.
Seeds of Dissent is one of the best stories I've ever read period. Despite being the shortest story of the three, it flows in a natural fashion over a short period of time that makes it feel like you have experienced these events. The pacing is masterful, and the creativity on display was masterful. The development of the characters of Julian Bashir and Ezri Dax in particular were very well done. One of the literary techiniques that Swallow uses is a natural perspective shift. As the story begins, it begins through the perspective of Bashir, but as the plot quickens the perspective gradually to Ezri Dax. Not only that, but the characterization of Bashir is wonderful, and the universe-in-a-bottle that is created in the Defiance just feels authentic and very very unique. The only real weakness I feel is the crew of the Botany Bay, who feel like filler rather than actualy characters, but that just seems like a consequence of the direction of the plot. But overall, quite simply on of the best stories I've ever read.
As a whole, these stories work really well together. The universes are each truly unique, touching on great points. Thematically though with each universe, is that the standard Star Trek universe isn't necessarily better. The best example is Places in Exile, where the what-if scenario is explicitly 'better' than how the canon universe turned out to be. In most other alternate universe stories, the universe is distinctly worse, but these scenarios aren't necessarily worse. While A Less Perfect Union and Seeds of Dissent universes had discintly negative turning point, but these universes have a natural feel to them that even the Alternate Universe doesn't have. In the end, the transition from the Alternate Universe to these Myriad Universes is a great transition for the Star Trek book series, that allows a creative foundation while freeing the authors to create very realistic and unique universes. Kudos to the authors for taking this concept and executing it exceptionally well.