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Twenty Years of Next Gen!! Josh Reviews The Sky’s The Limit

July 8th, 2009
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2007 was, believe it or not, the TWENTIETH anniversary of the launch of the very first Star Trek spin-off, Star Trek: The Next Generation.  The pilot episode, “Encounter at Farpoint,” is terribly clunky when looked at today, but as a kid watching that very first episode I was blown away, and hooked for life.

During 2007, Pocket Books released a number of great novels celebrating Next Gen‘s 20th anniversary, but one that I missed was a short-story anthology called The Sky’s The Limit.  I’m glad that I have remedied my oversight, because this collection is a delight.  The fourteen stories are presented chronologically, spanning the years between a time immediately before “Encounter at Farpoint,” and the time immediately after the last Next Gen feature film, Star Trek: Nemesis.

Meet with Triumph and Disaster, by Michael Schuster & Steve Mollmann — As Starfleet prepares for the launch of the Enterprise-D, the man who supervised her construction, Captain Thomas Halloway, is faced with a momentous choice.  One of the shortest stories in the collection, it’s a great introduction to the era of Next Gen, and a delightful fleshing out of a man only glimpsed very briefly in one episode.

Acts of Compassion, by Dayton ward & Kevin Dilmore — Beverly Crusher and Tasha Yar are tasked with seeing to the safe return of three Starfleet Officers who were captured in Cardassian territory.  Needless to say, the mission hits a few bumps along the way.  I was glad to see that Tasha was not ignored by the authors contributing to this anthology, and I really enjoyed this glimpse at the relationship between these two women.  I can’t think of any first-season episodes that gave us much information about how Tasha and Beverly interacted, but Ward & Dilmore do a great job in conveying the very different ways that these two officers viewed the world.

Redshift, by Richard C. White — Set during Next Gen‘s second season, this story focuses on the early days aboard the Enterprise of new Chief Medical Officer Dr. Katherine Pulaski.  Pulaski was an interesting character who, I feel, was done a disservice by the writers when she vanished off the show at the end of that season.  It’s nice to see her character fleshed out here, and White creates a crackling adventure scenario that keeps the story moving.

Among the Clouds, by Scott Pearson –A mishap in the lower stratosphere of a Jovian planet sends Geordi LaForge plummeting down through the clouds of ammonia ice to his certain death.  The story moves at a rapid pace, bouncing back and forth between the events that lead to Geordi’s situation and his efforts to save himself.  This is a wonderful story of exploration, and Mr. Pearson creates a vivid alien world in his depiction of this planet and the strange life that the Enterprise crew discovers living within it.  There’s a nice grounding in real science mixed with some delightful sci-fi extrapolation, all wrapped up in a great story of Geordi’s good heart and incredible engineering abilities.  One of my favorite stories in the collection.

Thinking of You, by Greg Cox — Mr. Cox sends some love towards two great Next Gen supporting characters: Ensign Ro and Lieutenant Reginald Barclay.  The unlikely pair is sent to provide engineering assistance to Lwaxana Troi, but quickly find themselves caught up in a diplomatic negotiation gone terribly wrong.  Cox has a great ear for writing the dialogue of these three distinct characters — I loved the way he bounces the three of them off one another.  There are also some fascinating digressions that explore the dynamics of just how a holodeck would work.  Great stuff.

Turncoats, by Susan Schwartz — This story is a follow-up to the sixth season episode, “Face of the Enemy.”  I am not a big fan of that episode, but was nonetheless taken by this tale.  “Face of the Enemy” introduced the character of Stefan DeSeve, a Federation defector to Romulus who returns to the Federation bearing critical information from Ambassador Spock.  That is an intriguing idea for a character, but DeSeve doesn’t get a lot of attention in the episode — he’s there more as a plot device, and after the episode he’s never heard from again.  Ms. Schwartz sets out to tell us more of his story.  It’s an interesting choice, to focus on so minor a character, but the result was successful (although I was less taken by the Enterprise-in-jeopardy side of the tale, as that didn’t seem to track all that consistently from where “Face of the Enemy” had left off).

Ordinary Days, by James Swallow — My favorite story in this collection.  Wesley Crusher is married and living on Dorvan V when Starfleet informs the colonists that they need to relocate, because a new treaty has ceded the planet to the Cardassians.  When the colonists resist the idea of leaving their home, Starfleet sends the U.S.S. Enterprise, commanded by Edward Jellico, to supervise their relocation.  This story is a bittersweet, emotional glimpse at the life that young Wesley Crusher COULD have lived, had he suppressed his unique gifts in an effort to live a more ordinary life.  The story unfolds at a leisurely pace, allowing the reader to slowly discover what is going on (and also to get to know and sympathize with Wesley in a way that we seldom did on the show).  Mr. Swallow resists any urge to present things simplistically — while Wesley’s absence from the Enterprise resulted in some terrible tragedies befalling that ship and crew, in many ways Wesley was able to find a home and personal connections in this life that he never did in the life we saw him live over the years of Next Gen.  Ordinary Days is a sweet, sad story, and it’s absolutely dynamite.

I’ll be back on Friday to discuss the rest of the short stories from The Sky’s the Limit, set during the period of the Next Gen movies.  See you then!

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