Oct 21 2013 2:30pm

Had We But World Enough and Time: Christopher L. Bennett’s Star Trek novel Watching the Clock

Star Trek Department of Temporal Investigations Christopher L BennettMy choices about which Star Trek novels to review are usually simple. I look for books with girls on the cover, and books with awesome Boris Vallejo cover art. I like my sci-fi with a major case of girl cooties, which the Star Trek novels of the 80s and early 90s were happy to provide, which helps explain why so many of them sold so well. My Boris Vallejo fetish is sometimes embarrassing. I want to hang the cover painting from Time for Yesterday on my bedroom wall and gently lick the corners until I die of cadmium poisoning.

Anyway, the day has finally come (not the day I die of cadmium poisoning): I am reviewing a Star Trek novel that acknowledges the existence of all of the extant television series. It seems most fitting and appropriate that that novel should be Christopher L. Bennett’s Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock, originally published in 2011.

This is not the kind of Star Trek novel I would usually read, because there aren’t any girls on the cover. To be fair, the only person on the cover at all is Christopher L. Bennett (who IS NOT the same Christopher Bennett who published a spiritual guide titled Hangin’ With God in 2005, it turns out. Because I clicked the wrong button, I have the Kindle edition of this book). I usually buy my Trek novels in paperback because the cover images are higher quality in person than on screens. This cover art is kind of an abstract image that might be a clock and might be a space station. Anyway, it looks exciting and flame-y, though mangled by electronic reproduction, and I love a time travel story. I adore vintage, but I’m willing to embrace the new, if somewhat concerned that it won’t be sufficiently girly for my tastes. But there are some great cases of girl-cooties in the time travel canon. I am totally committed to being excited about the enterprise of reading a Star Trek novel without any girls on the cover. On my Kindle, but still. Time travel!

I got into Star Trek because of the cool, fun, optimistic vision for the future of humanity and girls. In the early stages, Bennett’s interpretation of cool, fun, and optimistic focuses on the trials and tribulations of the men who work to bring science and bureaucracy together, in this case, Agents Dulmer and Lucsley. There are girls. Female characters in the early chapters include a girl hostage, a girl pilot from an alien cat race, and an archaeology grad student who knows a lot about warp engines (HE MAKES A CASE FOR IT—IT’S PLAUSIBLE). She gets beat up. Bennett assures me that the future has the technology to partially heal black eyes. We partially heal black eyes in the present, too, using an ancient invention known as the cold compress. I’m relieved to know that in the bright and unified Star Trek future, a humble doctor or med tech has rediscovered this use for raw meat.

The aspiring archaeologist is here to stay—accidentally travelling 15 years forward in time has saved her life, but ruined her plans (and her funding) for graduate school. Teresa Garcia provides a nice contrast to the grey-suited punctuality of Agents Dulmer and Lucsley, and after a few chapters of strenuous training at the Department of Temporal Investigations, she embarks on a heroic quest to save the universe and herself by not having sex with a Deltan.

And of this, some words must be said.

Deltans are like cans of spray paint—not safe in poorly-ventilated spaces. Their sexual pheromones overpower those in their immediate vicinity, because the Federation that can slap a steak on a black eye has not yet worked out some kind of miniaturized air filter. It’s completely unsurprising that Garcia becomes infatuated with a Deltan, because all humans who spend time with Deltans become infatuated. And it makes sense for her to decide that the risks of psychically-enhanced sex with someone she only likes because he smells good are not worth taking (EDWARD AND BELLA: PLEASE TAKE NOTE). What makes no sense at all is for her superiors to decide that she needs to work with this guy so that she gets over her infatuation. Garcia is not confronting some sort of spiritual flaw—she’s having an uncontrollable hormonal reaction to his pheromones. The DTI is horribly short-handed, so their decision to pair Garcia with the object of her schoolgirl crush could have been painted as an unfortunate necessity. I resent Bennett’s decision to present it as an opportunity for spiritual growth.

Despite my resentment, I appreciate the care Bennett took in dealing with the rest of Garcia’s sex life. With the encouragement of Deanna Troi, Garcia enjoys casual relationships with other characters. This prevents the novel from being the story of the girl who saved the world through maidenly virtue.

Outside of Garcia’s story, Bennett’s science jargon crowds out compelling characterization. The real protagonists of this story are ethics and temporal physics. They’re careening around the universe having encounters with people that reveal their true nature. After many encounters, their true nature remains incomprehensible. I like hard science fiction as much as the next girl, but this thing desperately needs an injection of Captain Kirk. The end result of all this celibacy and paperwork is an effort at defending history, to be carried out by the most boring civil servants available. This is a creative idea, and I wish Bennett had made it more interesting.


Watching the Clock is available now from Pocket Books

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

1. RiceVermicelli
I think I disagree with you about the clock/space station thing. I think that cover art aspires to be a Mockingjay.
Margot Virzana
2. LuvURphleb
While I love to hear about fellow femal star Trekkies that are not in my family, I found Watching the clock to be excellent. Of course trouble with tribbles has a fond place in my heart as one of the first star treks I ever saw (age 6) thus making trials and tribbleations another fond callback and lucsly and dulmar are awesome. They are solemn because they deal with a solemn subject and don't like time puns because time puns are so easy to make. Take my profession for instance- phlebotomy. I hate getting called vampire or whatever because it got old! (That was a tangent)
Um anyway I also liked how the story called back to all the TNG Time problems. captains holiday, cause and effect, I can't remember the rest since I've only read it once.
Anyway to finish my unintentional essay here, book interesting to me. :)
Bennet, please write more.
Ellen, live long and prosper (though that poster licking may shorten your life considerably)
Christopher Bennett
4. ChristopherLBennett
Uhh, no, the author of Hangin' With God is not me. Some web pages confuse me with him, but there's absolutely no connection.

The cover image is a stylized representation of the Shepherd's Gate Clock at the Greenwich Observatory in London. My original suggestion was a "cast photo" of the main characters posing in front of the Shepherd's Gate Clock, and the artist experimented with a floating-heads cover incorporating that stylized, swirly version of the clock face, but eventually it was decided just to go for the simplicity of the clock face alone.

If you want "an injection of Captain Kirk" into your DTI, the sequel (or prequel -- either works), Forgotten History, should be exactly what you're looking for.

And for the record, I love writing -- and reading -- about female protagonists. That's why my featured temporal agent from the far future was a lady named Jena Noi (named partly in honor of Noys Lambent from The End of Eternity) instead of Enterprise's rather bland Agent Daniels -- I figured we had more than enough white male human temporal agents in the book already.

And no, the reaction to Deltan pheromones is not uncontrollable. We saw in ST:TMP that Kirk, Decker, Sulu, and the rest of the male crew of the Enterprise were able to resist their attraction to Ilia and work with her as a fellow professional. There's no reason why Teresa Garcia shouldn't be capable of the same level of self-discipline. Her crush on Ranjea, as I explained in the book, was more about her loneliness and sense of displacement as a person out of time, her yearning for a sense of belonging, than it was about biochemistry. Once she faced that truth, the chemical attraction became easier to manage.
5. Mark Atwood
This is one of the worst reviews I've read in a long time for one of the best Trek books I've read in a long time.

Hint to readers: read the sequel too. Not only is a sequel, it's a prequel as well (which you can do when the topic is time travel.)
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
6. EllenMCM
@4, I would have liked to see more of Jena Noi in the story. I know she's a secret agent and thus very mysterious, so maybe you revealed all you could. But if a girl is gonna lock lips with Agent Lucksley, that moment is kinda empty without an explanation.

Obviously, you know Garcia better than I do, but it looked to me like she was working with Ranjea in an appropriate manner before being partnered with him.

I apologize for mt error in re. Hangin' With God - It showed up on your amazon page.
Christopher Bennett
7. ChristopherLBennett
@6: I'd love to write more about Jena myself. Maybe you'll get the chance to get to know her better sometime. But I prefer to leave Lucsly's past fairly mysterious.

And Amazon is a source that should always be taken with a grain of salt. They still have a listing for a "hardcover" by me called Hidden Truths -- which was the working title for the short story I contributed to the Star Trek: Constellations anthology.
8. Cybersnark
Though I would love for Christopher to write a book about hanging with God(s).

It could star Apollo, and Trelane, and Q, and the Prophets. . .
Alan Brown
9. AlanBrown
I haven't read any DTI books yet, but I liked Mr. Bennett's recent Rise of the Federation book, so I will keep an eye out for this one.
10. Millie
Well everyone is entitled to have it's opinion but to me this was one incredibly good book (and the continuation is also great)
It manages to put together coherently and with an interesting plot the time travel in Star Trek. To me it's something quite incredible.
(Thing is up until this books, i really dislike many temporal stories in ST... The worst of it being the catastrophic temporal cold in Enterprise)
5 of my french friends have read it (all fans of Star Trek up to the Abrahams version) and we spend hours discussing the DTI books of Mr Bennett... And we all agree. It's pretty damn good !

Kristoff Bergenholm
11. Magentawolf
I was always intrigued by the DTI series, but never got around to reading it. Now I'm hit by ths review, and I'm left rather scratching my head.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
12. EllenMCM
@11, clearly it has its fans. I felt that the character development was weak and unsatisfying, and the focus on temporal physics didn't do anything for me as either a fan of Star Trek or a fan of time travel stories. It's a matter of taste.
Bruce Arthurs
13. bruce-arthurs
Hangin' With God? Wasn't that an alternate title for STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER?
14. Zeno
Ellen, I wanted to comment on this review. Most of your reviews can give a person,at least me, a sense if they would like to read the book that you reviewed. For whatever reason this review does not work on that level. All the reviews you did before have worked done that. Regardless of agreeing with you about every single point.

Your comment about getting into Star trek paritally because of the girls is somewhat confusing. Star Trek,especially the first two series has never had many well developed female characters. What does that have to do with your Star Trek reading? Particualry since you have a reviewed almost exclusively the orignial series which had very few female heroes with the expection of a few mary sue characters.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
15. EllenMCM

I didn't see any Star Trek on television until I was 20. my formative years as a Star Trek fan were years of reading novels. There are some crucial differences between the books and the series, and strong female characters are among them.

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