Section 31: Control
Written by David Mack
Published by Pocket Books (March 2017)
Mass paperback, 368 pages
That’s exactly what it is: Dr. Julian Bashir and his cohorts are up against a galactic Google that started as a surveillance program on Earth and has since morphed into a hot mess of an Evil A.I. that we all know Google will become one day.
It’s kind of a political thriller, kind of a cautionary tale, and to be honest, it’s a little disappointing.
David Mack is, in my book, one of the better Trek writers in the cabal at the moment, but the Section 31 stories are feeling less and less like Star Trek and more like James Bond vs. Hydra in Spaaaaace! The way Julian Bashir has evolved as a character, too, has become less and less interesting. Is it just me? Am I just getting old? I find I have less patience than I did for stories that just don’t feel like they gel.
Not to say it isn’t well-written. It is. Mack is still a very very good writer, and the craft of the book is top notch. Plus, he’s very good at getting the character voices right. Not only Bashir, but also Garak, Data, and Lal. But it’s the story that didn’t really engage me much. The idea of an over-reaching computer program that gains sentience has been done several times in Trek, and by now it’s become a tired trope. In addition to that, it was very easy for me to bounce out of the story and equate the Uraei program with the pernicious Google A.I. that reads our e-mails, watches the web sites we visit, and calls up advertisements based on our online behavior.
Besides Star Trek — with Vejur and the Borg and Nomad — there’s also The Terminator‘s Skynet, Minority Report‘s PreCrime division, Battlestar Galactica‘s Cylons, Ultron, Mycroft, HAL9000, Hex, all giving us massive pieces of technology that infiltrate our lives and spy on us “for our own good”. We even just got a version of it with AIDA becoming human and losing her marbles over on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Is it a sign of the times? Are we collectively trying to warn ourselves against the Coming of the Google?
It never ends well.
There are plenty of moral dilemmas here. Bashir is so fixated on taking down Section 31 that he doesn’t really think through the possible consequences of his actions. And it would seem his days as a doctor are past, as he doesn’t really act like one in this story. Plus, there’s the question of what happens if/when Uraei is disabled. Or can it be removed from the galactic network? Is it so ingrained in the Federation’s computer systems that there’s no beating it? And who’s in charge, Uraei or Section 31? What happens if you cut off the head of the secret Evil Organziation? Do they fall apart? Go to ground? Regroup around a new leader? Come back stronger?
Bottom line: read it for the enjoyment of reading David Mack’s work, not for the wholly original concept of a vast network of artificial intelligence digging into every part of our lives.