Intuition. Data has developed intuition.
-A realization reached by Jean-Luc Picard, Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise-E
One of the things that always baffled me about the Next Generation was the way people treated Commander Data. It wasn’t that everyone seemed so surprised when they learned he was an android; that much I could understand. What always threw me was how so many people in Starfleet seemed to consider it nearly impossible to create androids, when the Original Series had androids show up on it several times. I didn’t really consider it something to bother me, but the thought has lingered there on and off over the years.
Well, Immortal Coil does a fair job in closing the gaps. The time frame is deep in the Dominion War, which really doesn’t matter at all to the plot. News comes to the Enterprise that Commander Bruce Maddox, a fellow who once wanted to take Data apart to see what made him tick, is working on a new project-one that will revolutionize artificial intelligence. Unfortunately, some apparently doesn’t like it, and tries to blow him up. The Enterprise is called to investigate.
In the meantime, Data’s “mother”, a Soong-style android named Juliana Tainer, based on Soong’s late wife and programmed to believe herself to be the real thing, has “died”, and Data experiences the emotions of despair, thanks to his emotion chip. He comes to realize that barring fatal accidents, he will see each and every friend he has die of old age-if he’s lucky-and will likely feel the same emotions each time. The distraction of dealing with the question of what Maddox was doing is a welcome one-as is an attraction to the latest security chief, Lieutenant Rhea McAdams-an attraction that is returned.
In the course of this book, Data will face certain truths about his own origins, and his ties to artificial intelligence in the Star Trek universe. And there are portions of those origins that are bound and determined to stay mysterious.
I’m a sucker for Star Trek books that delve into the rich history that Trek has created-and there’s a lot to be had. I really wish I could go into detail on one aspect, but it would really ruin one of the big moments of the book, and I can’t do that! I will say, however, that it preserves the fact of Dr. Soong’s genius while making sense that certain events and individuals may have guided his steps-even if only slightly. In addition, Immortal Coil is a pretty decent mystery, as the crew of the Enterprise tries to find out why Maddox’s work was blown up, and who was behind it.
But the best part of the book is the continuing evolution of Commander Data. He’s dealt with death and love and everything in between before, but those were in days before he had his emotion chip installed. Now, he’s experiencing them in a new light, because he’s feeling those emotions instead of simply understanding them. And as the quote above indicates, he’s beginning to make decisions that are not totally based on facts.
Oh: another part of the book that was enjoyable. There are short portions between parts of the book detailing the journeys of Dr. Soong and a couple of associates, which ties into the events of this book-but I’ll leave that to the readers to discover. All in all, Immortal Coil turns in a good performance, and is probably one of the better Next Generation books out there. Definitely read this if you are a fan of Commander Data, or a Star Trek Chronology buff.