Monday, October 03, 2005

Star Trek: Exodus - 'New Day Rising'

WRITTEN BY: Shaun Hamley
PREMIERE DATE: 08/06/2005
PRODUCED BY: Artistic Hate

On post-Dominion War Cardassia, Liam Hansen and Jil Orra are on the run. They are wanted people, but for what? Running from Cardassian forces, trying to escape their clutches, Liam calls in a favour from an old friend of his, Sherman, as the three of them embark on a journey to try and escape Cardassian space. Unfortunately for them, certain notorious and dangerous Cardassian figures will do everything in their power to stop them, sending a dangerous Klingon bounty hunter to hunt them down...

It seems to be chic somewhat these days for online Trek virtual series to take a darker route to what we've seen on the screen, both in TV and the movies. Every man and his dog are looking to create a slice of Roddenberry's opus in which the universe is going to hell in a handbasket and most of it's characters are already there, but few of them have approached this kind of world in quite the way that online Trek writing stalwart Shaun Hamley has in this feature-length beginning to what is turning out to be an occasional series of episodes quite unlike what we're used to from Star Trek. Does his approach work? On the whole, the answer would have to resoundingly be...yes.

Exodus is unique from the beginning in which we are thrown into the action and into the lives of our human male and female Cardassian protagonists (as mismatched a partnership on paper as you could find), Hansen and Jil. To begin with, we're clearly already halfway into a story here right from the get go. Hansen and Jil are running, fugitives on post-war Cardassia (evoked beautifully, incidentally), but for what? Truth is, that's never made clear, and the fact is, it doesn't really matter. Not to this narrative, anyway, maybe it will become important at a later date. This episode isn't about their past, it's about their future, and what follows is a fast-paced narrative which at it's heart is about these two characters escaping and making a new life for themselves. There's much more to it than that, of course, but that's it's core, and the framework to hang a story about honour, sacrifice and the moral choices that arise in trying to protect those you love. I suppose a big question the episode raises is: are the needs of the one more important than the needs of the many? Hamley refuses to insult our intelligence by giving us easy answers to this question, or the other moral ones the story raises. He leaves it up to us to decide, as every good writer should.

But, apart from featuring prominently a pair of married fugitives and having a streak of true morality in it's veins, how does this stand out from the other Trek fare out there, I hear you ask? Well, I suppose to begin with the biggest difference is that this story, not even for the briefest moment, features any trace of the Federation whatsoever. It's extremely rare you get any kind of Trek story that completely ignores Starfleet or it's governing body, and in many ways this is what makes Exodus refreshing. It's not a story about clashing empires, or boldly going here, there and everywhere, it's about people. Troubled fugitive couple Hansen & Orra; the former's selfless old friend Sherman, who gave up his comfortable life to help starving, desperate Cardassians after the holocaust on their world; bounty hunter Kytra, a woman struggling to retain her honour whilst fulfilling her less than honourable profession; and Tirok, the psychologically-damaged Romulan adrift in space for seven years, regressed into an animal state in many ways. It's about these characters, by no means a tight-knit, bluer than blue crew serving a greater good, struggling to survive against the odds and an overpowering force (in this case the Cardassians). And yet, despite all this, it still feels like Star Trek. I suppose it has that moral centre that the best Trek episodes have had, yet still governed by action, suspense and more than one surprise to throw the reader out of their comfort zone.

It's not perfect, though, very few stories of any kind are. The grammar is occassionally the victim of a lack of editing, though this is a sparse complaint. As with the formatting, it's mostly spot on; the story is extremely long, even by feature length standards, and perhaps certain moments could have been shortened or excised; plus the sudden introduction at the end of the Bajoran doctor, set up clearly as an important character, is a little rushed. He kind of comes out nowhere. The character of Mekor, too, seems a tad underdeveloped. Given the fact he is the son of the legendary Gul Dukat of DS9 fame, there are acres of potential for the character. He's given less to do here than he should, but this is possibly due to the fact the other main characters are being established; and my one other gripe is how the Cardassians are presented here. I had hoped that the events of the Dominion War might have begun changing their attitudes and approach in many ways, especially from a military stance. Here, though, they are the classic, ruthless, arrogant antagonists of old. I don't expect Hamley to have turned them into Betazoids overnight, but perhaps more indication of a changing attitude in their society might have been nice. Mind you, this can be forgiven through how well and three-dimension Jill is written, and how excellently evoked the ghetto atmosphere on impoverished Cardassia is portrayed.

As you can see, those are minor niggles from a piece I find very hard to criticise. What we have here is an intelligently written slice of Trek of the highest order. It's exciting, has excellent characterisation, true depth, and even leaves the door open for future installments, plus plenty of unanswered questions. An excellent beginning to a fascinating new virtual Trek experience.

GRAMMAR: 1.5/2
DEPTH: 2/2
STYLE: 1/2



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