ROTF: Tower of Babel
The United Federation of Planets has weathered its first major crisis, but its growing pains are just beginning. Admiral Jonathan Archer hopes to bring the diverse inhabitants of the powerful and prosperous Rigel system into the Federation, jump-starting the young nation’s growth and stabilizing a key sector of space. Archer and the Federation’s top diplomats journey to the planetoid Babel to debate Rigel’s admission . . . but a looming presidential race heats up the ideological divide within the young nation, jeopardizing the talks and threatening to undo the fragile unity Archer has worked so hard to preserve.
Meanwhile, the sinister Orion Syndicate recruits new allies of its own, seeking to beat the Federation at its own game. Determined to keep Rigel out of the union, they help a hostile Rigelian faction capture sensitive state secrets along with Starfleet hostages, including a young officer with a vital destiny. Captain Malcolm Reed, Captain T’Pol, and their courageous crews must now brave the wonders and dangers of Rigel’s many worlds to track down the captives before the system is plunged into all-out war.
- “There is a lot in this book for the avid Star Trek fan to pick up on…. I’m really looking forward to seeing where Bennett takes these characters next!” — Dan Gunther, TrekCore
- “Tower of Babel is… a terrific continuation of this “Rise of the Federation” story. THIS is what the Enterprise TV show should have been all about, showing us the baby steps and the early trails and tribulations faced by this young, unprecedented interstellar alliance.” — Josh Edelglass, Motion Picture Comics
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When I developed Book 1 of Rise of the Federation, I went into it with the idea that it could be the first of a series, and I began considering longer-term story possibilities. Book 1 was about the Federation defining its identity, choosing what kind of state it was going to be. Thus, it followed that Book 2 should be about its early efforts at growth and consolidation: the first attempt to recruit a major new member and the establishment of the tradition of Babel conferences to debate the questions of membership, which would in turn bring out some of the lingering tensions and fissure lines within the still-fragile union.
So you’d think that when I got the assignment to do a sequel, it would’ve come fairly easily. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. At the time I was working on the Book 2 outline, my attention was still primarily on the recently released Only Superhuman — doing publicity, tracking its performance, and so on — in addition to which, I came down with a terrible cold and severe throat irritation that kept me up at night for over a week. It’s hard to focus on plotting a novel when you can hardly breathe. I finally figured out some remedies for my sore throat, but I’d lost a lot of time on the outline and had to struggle to meet the deadline. What I turned in was sufficient to get approval, but it turned out not to be a clear enough blueprint to guide me through the writing process, and thus I floundered and fell badly behind on that as well, even though I’d specifically asked for enough time that I wouldn’t be rushed.
Still, I finally managed to get my head in the game and cope with some of the problems I was having. For one thing, I decided to delete a whole subplot that was unconnected to the rest of the story and could be saved for a later book (one of the advantages of doing a series). I realized it was interrupting the momentum of both the narrative and my own writing process, and that was part of what was slowing me down. That was a significant setback in word count, since I had to backtrack and come up with something new to take its place, but once I cleared that obstruction, the ideas flowed more easily, and I wrote the entire replacement subplot in a single day. (It was actually an idea I’d already thought of as a future possibility, but it plugged in nicely here.) I still had some trouble with the rest, since one of the major plot threads in the outline wasn’t working and needed to be seriously rethought, while another was lacking in needed detail. But I got a handle on it by abandoning my tendency to write in chronological order, instead tackling each separate plot thread one by one, so that I wouldn’t keep having to shift focus and lose momentum. That helped me finish the book in time for my deadline, and I had some nice moments of serendipity along the way, particularly a new subplot that sort of spontaneously emerged and allowed a certain character to play a more proactive role in the resoution of the crisis. But in those last weeks I worked so hard and was so stressed out that I ended up straining my shoulder pretty badly. I was very glad that the Shore Leave convention arrived just after I was done. I got to hang out with my writer friends and stay with my cousins in the area, and had a really nice visit to my audiobook publisher too, so that really cheered me up.
It’s hard for me to look at Tower of Babel objectively, since the writing process was so turbulent. There are probably things I could’ve done better, but now that I think about it, there are a number of things I’m rather proud of. In particular, I had fun with the worldbuilding of the Rigel system, taking all the disparate references to Rigel this and Rigel that in the screen canon, along with the ones in the current novel continuity, and building a cohesive whole out of them. Why did I choose Rigel as the first major addition to the young Federation? Because I wanted Archer to go after a major prize, a coalition of worlds whose addition to the union would increase its size and power significantly in one fell swoop, so that the stakes would be as high as possible. And I didn’t just want to create some hitherto-unknown civilization, since that would raise the question of why it was never heard of later on. Rigel has so many distinct worlds and cultures that it gave me a rich multispecies community in a single system — although it did come with certain conceptual problems and contradictions that I had to navigate my way around. Also, ENT’s “Demons” and “Terra Prime” had included Rigelians among the delegates to the initial Coalition of Planets talks, and a couple of earlier sources (the classic Spaceflight Chronology and the novel Starfleet Year One) had postulated Rigel as a founding or very early member of the Federation, in contrast to the traditionally accepted founders of Earth, Vulcan, Andoria, Tellar, and Alpha Centauri. So the idea of Rigel being in at the beginning, or nearly so, had some precedent.
The cover to Tower of Babel is much more along the lines I was hoping for than the cover for A Choice of Futures turned out to be. It showcases the lead ships of ROTF, Captain T’Pol’s Endeavour (based on Doug Drexler’s conjectural NX-class refit) and Captain Reed’s Pioneer (of the Intrepid class which debuted in “The Expanse”). It’s the first time the NX refit design has been used on a novel cover, though it’s previously been seen in the Ships of the Line calendar.