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The Entropy Effect

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Wikipedia article




'The Entropy Effect' is a novel by Vonda N. McIntyre set in the fictional Star Trek Universe. It was originally published in 1981 by Pocket Books and is the second in its long-running series of Star Trek novels (and the first original novel in that series; the first of the series is the novelization of 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture').

Plot summary



The 'Enterprise' is engaged in an unprecedented scientific study of a naked singularity primarily by Spock's efforts, when a top priority message forces Captain Kirk to divert to Aleph Prime, a mining colony in a nearby system. The interruption ruins the observation cycle, making the time a complete waste of effort. Upon arrival, the high priority of the message seems to have been a mistake: the 'Enterprise' was needed simply to ferry a single criminal to Rehabilitation Colony Seven, in the same system.

The criminal turns out to be a theoretical physicist, Dr. Georges Mordreaux, convicted of murder and unethical research on self-aware beings. Spock thinks he would yield insights on the phenomenon he'd been researching - namely that for some unknown reason, the increase of entropy has begun to accelerate. This effect would cause precarious ecosystems to collapse and unstable stars to go nova within two decades, and result in the end of the Universe in less than eight more. But the case against Mordreaux seems very odd, with incomplete evidence, and Spock disbelieves that Mordreaux could be capable of the violence inherent in the crime. Prosecutor Braithewaite accompanies them on the journey, convinced that Mordeaux is dangerous. He also has a nagging feeling he's seen Spock before, though Spock is certain they've never met.

While at the planet, Hikaru Sulu meets up with his idol, Captain Hunter, who commands 'Aerfen', the fighter ship that had been his first choice for assignment. As Kirk and Hunter are friends, he manages to arrange a transfer, leaving his friend and lover Security Chief Flynn behind. Meanwhile, Spock attempts to interrogate the Aleph Prime computers to obtain information on Mordreaux's case, only to discover the records apparently no longer exist - and he later ascertains that this is due to a virus which has also infected the 'Enterprise's computers, the library computer alone being unaffected owing to its protected status. The purpose of the virus is to remove 'all trace or mention of Dr. Mordreaux' from all Federation records. Clearly the virus was written by an expert, as Spock (who is, of course, one of Starfleet's top computer scientists) only discovers it 'after' it has done its work on the 'Enterprise'.

While en route, odd things continue to happen, such as Scotty seeing Spock appear in two places at the same time. Suddenly, a disheveled Mordreaux appears on the bridge and shoots Kirk and Flynn with an old-fashioned slug-throwing gun. The slugs, however, contain a neurophilic metallo-organic substance, colloquially termed 'spiderweb', that seeks out and strangles nerve fibers, and are thus extremely deadly, generally used only in the rare outbursts of terrorism in the Federation.

Flynn alerts security before she succumbs, but Mordreaux is still confined to his quarters. Kirk is rushed to sickbay where Doctor McCoy struggles to save him, but he dies while Spock is mind-melded to him. The drugged Braithewaite later sees the two terminate the life support that was maintaining Kirk's brain-dead body.

As Braithewaite begins to put together facts to form a working theory of conspiracy, Spock determines from their incarcerated physicist that he has, in fact, developed a time travel device using the transporter. Since Kirk's death was committed through time travel, Spock modifies the 'Enterprise' transporter to try to save Kirk, which results in Scotty's earlier observations. Spock then tries to go farther and farther back in time, to stop the damage to the timeline before it starts, only to be thwarted again and again by the inexorable tendency of the universe to follow the same paths as before. Spock, already haggard from weeks of continuous scientific observation, is pushed to the limits of endurance by the stresses of time travel.

In the present, the 'Enterprise' falters from the power drain required by the time travel device. As Scotty struggles to brings systems back online, he is compelled by Braithewaite's evidence that some kind of mischief is afoot. However, McCoy tries to divert attention, to give Spock enough time to accomplish his plans.

Spock discovers that the Mordreaux that murdered Kirk is from a timeline in which he and Kirk had successfully defended Mordreaux against the earlier charges; at some unspecified time after this, Mordreaux lost his sanity, decided it would have been better if he 'had' been sentenced to rehabilitation, and returned to take revenge on those he blamed for his persecution. It was only some years afterward, when he managed to regain his sanity, that he realised the entropy effect himself, and began working to undo the damage he had caused; the naked singularity was merely one of the first physical manifestations of this damage. Mordreauxs from other timelines had attempted to go back in time to persuade earlier versions not to attempt time travel, but just like Spock, they had all failed - and, in fact, exacerbated the problem by further eroding the already-fragile timeline. During one of these trips, Spock encounters the younger Braithewaite, explaining why the lawyer found him familiar.

Ultimately, it is Mordreaux who convinces himself to halt the research. A version of the physicist from a period where the fabric of reality is being torn asunder jumps back to join Spock as he confronts the younger Mordreaux, at a time just before he sends his friends back in time (which act will cause the naked singularity and the acceleration of entropy increase). The strain of so many travels is too much for his body and it disintegrates. The sudden realization by the younger scientist that he'd rather die than face the consequences lead him to destroy his device and his research. Spock returns to the "present" of the restored timeline to find that all is well, but that he has the memories of both versions of reality. It might be theorised that this is because Braithwaite activates the auxiliary time-changer unit installed in the transporter console, thus pulling the 'original' version of Spock into the 'new' timeline before the 'original' timeline ceases to exist.

Needless to say, Spock decides not to reveal any of this, citing merely 'unpredictable events' as explanation for various anomalies, such as his being out of uniform (as a disguise of sorts for his trip back to Aleph Prime, as he did not wish to be identified as a Starfleet officer by any Aleph citizen who might see him) or the partly healed bullet graze inflicted by the future Mordreaux. He informs Kirk that the singularity is in the process of forming an event horizon and becoming a Hawking black hole prior to its self-destruction; in the alternate reality which is now 'his' reality, Spock's observations made it clear from the beginning that the singularity would shortly destroy itself, though he was unable to deduce its cause.

The novel ends with the 'Enterprise' leaving the vicinity of the singularity, with Sulu about to be granted a field promotion to Lt. Commander, Kirk having realised that it may be the only way to persuade Sulu not to transfer.


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