While I wasn't watching, something happened to Star Trek books.
Somewhere, in the intervening years, they grew up. Oh, I'm sure that
lots of them are still the same old universe-threatening traps or
plagues on the planet of cat-people or whatnot, but a book like
Mr. DeCandido's "Articles of the Federation" makes it clear that the
Star Trek universe has been allowed to mature.
Unlike every other Star Trek book I've ever read, "Articles of the
Federation" doesn't have a plot that involves starships. Instead,
it's a political drama following the first year of a president of the
Federation. Lots of well known characters zip through making
cameos---even Spock and Scotty---but the book is really about the nuts
and bolts of an imaginary government hundreds of years in the future.
And you know what? Mr. DeCandido makes it work.
"Articles of the Federation" is only peripherally science fiction, in
that it takes place in a sci-fi setting. Mostly, it's a blow-by-blow
drama. Who will be appointed to the Judicial Council? Will the
refugees be granted asylum? What will they do about the reporters'
dangerous story? Why is somebody trying to block the reconstruction
bill? Like any good soap opera, it mixes short bits that hold our
interest with longer arcs that keep the story together.
Overall, this book is really a utopian vision of America, embodied as
the Federation. Not that that should come as a surprise to
anybody---Star Trek has always been peripherally about America's place
in the world, and the Klingons didn't become friendly until the Berlin
wall came down. But it makes all the right moves to make us feel warm
and fuzzy about our ideals and our system of government, with the
inefficiencies, frustration, and political wrangling held up as
glorious examples of how democracy works. I admit it, I'm a sucker
for civics, but then most of us Americans are.
If I have one objection to this novel, it is that the characters are
too noble. They have character flaws, but they're all about quirks
and eccentricities, like President Bacco's obsession with her home
city's baseball team, and the press secretary's complete assholery
towards subordinates. In the end, none of them ever actually get in
the way of their performance. Likewise, they make mistakes, but those
mistakes never really cost them anything, they're just setups for the
characters to show how cool and mature they are as politicians,
admitting their mistakes and using them to build bridges to the
I didn't realize until afterward, but Mr. DeCandido is an author who
I've encountered and enjoyed before, also in a derivative context.
His book "Dragon Precinct" is a marvellous thought experiment about
how a Fantasy Adventure Party would interact with the realities of a
medieval city---with a little bit of modern cop sensibility thrown in
for good measure. It hit me right in the same place---feel good
All told, "Articles of the Federation" is an easy read, and an
interesting look at a rarely explored corner of the Star Trek
universe. If you aren't a Star Trek fan, you'll miss some of the
references---I know that I missed some---but the story is nicely
self-contained and doesn't fundamentally depend on Star Trek to make