Probing the Federation’s Dark Side in Section 31 – Control

Section 31 - Control
David Mack

The blurb on the back of the book promises that the novel’s conclusion will be paid for by “Bashir’s dearest blood,” and let me be the first to tell you, gentle readers, that this is a novel that does what it says on the proverbial tin. If you’re in the market for a novel in which good triumphs over evil and our intrepid heroes emerge battered but largely unscathed, let me be the first to tell you that this ain’t it.

That said, Mack grabs the reader by the collar and launches directly into a frenetically paced 368 pages of intrigue, disaster, and a final hail-Mary pass that I finished nearly in a single sitting. The action pieces are clearly delineated, the threats brutal, and the losses painful, and all of it flows logically from the adversary chosen for this particular series.

Section 31 is somewhat controversial. The brainchild of Ira Steven Behr, it was perhaps a good idea that lacked a bit in the execution, especially in its incarnation in Star Trek: Enterprise. However, the idea is sound in that Behr wanted to explore a possible dark side to the Federation, which is something that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine revisits several times from “The Dogs of War” to “Inquisition” to “Extreme Measures” and other episodes. In “Inquisition,” Behr positioned Section 31 as a rogue element that acts outside Federation law for the good of the Federation, doing the dirty work that is necessary while maintaining plausible deniability for the Starfleet and for the Federation. We know that even the alternate version of the Federation established in 2009’s Star Trek also features a Section 31 that acts in Star Trek: Into Darkness, so Section 31 is a pernicious and yet abiding force in Star Trek lore.

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What Mack contributes in Control is a glimpse not only of how Section 31 might function but also Section 31’s creation. Mack’s vision is of an all-encompassing dragnet that is built into the very backbone of Federation life—its technology. The system was created prior to the formation of the Coalition of Planets and has simply been running as part of the “system backbone” ever since before Archer could put pen to paper.

If I have a complaint with the novel, it is with how the system is described. The novel suffers a tad from the problems inherent in describing a 24th Century computer network using 21st century terminology and concepts. As entertaining as the concept of a “planetary rootkit” might be, one would hope that computer science would have moved beyond rootkits as a concept in the next three hundred years. Mack unsatisfactorily waves away the issue by having the system be outdated and based on antiquated programs.

That said, while the science is at best hand-wavy in the great tradition of Star Trek technobabble, the real heart of the novel is Bashir’s Ahab-like quest to destroy Section 31. The preceding works in this series–Abyss, A Ceremony of Losses, and Disavowed—no doubt do a fantastic job of exploring the developments along the way to the point at which we find him in Control, but ultimately, Control represents a logical continuation of Bashir’s antipathy from “Extreme Measures.” The most disturbing part of the novel, outside of the section written in code which it behooves a reader to comb through, is honestly the sheer scope of the enemy Bashir and his cadre of allies seek to defeat. The book’s dedication reads “for all who dare to oppose the invincible in the name of freedom,” and Mack seemingly has created an invincible foe in Control.

The question posed, therefore, is whether engaging in the effort of tilting at windmills at this cost is ultimately worth the loss and sacrifice that Mack drags his readers through to the very end. The novel’s conclusion does not provide an answer to that question in the best tradition of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, rather leaving the reader to wrestle with that issue. Mack thanks the manufacturers of both Skyy Vodka and Larceny bourbon for helping him write the novel. Honestly, you may want to have a glass of something on hand when you finish reading it, but it is very much a worthwhile read.

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