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Star Trek: The Next Generation Continues… (Part I)

As readers of this site clearly know, I am something of a Star Trek fan.  Grin!  Ever since I was a kid, I enjoyed reading the various Star Trek novels published by Pocket Books, but over the past decade I have found the Trek books to be particularly enjoyable, and they have become my main avenue for consuming new Star Trek adventures.  Ever since the flop of Star Trek: Nemesis in 2003 and the cancellation of Enterprise in 2004, Star Trek novels have been pretty much the only way to enjoy new Star Trek stories!  Luckily, without having to worry any longer about having to maintain consistency with continuing TV series, the authors of the Star Trek novels have had the freedom to move their stories forward, shaking up the status quo in exciting ways.  The one-two-punch of a) that newfound fearlessness in breaking free of the old status quo of the TV series, allowing the characters to grow and change, while b) also establishing a very tight inter-book continuity between the novels, with characters and story lines continuing from book to book, has made the Trek book series particularly enjoyable to me.  I don’t read every new Star Trek book that is published, but I probably read six to eight new Trek books each year, and taken as a whole they form an enormous tapestry, an epic continuing adventure.  I love sagas.  I love them in any form, be they books (like Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, or Frank Herbert’s Dune, or JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings) or comic books (like Chris Claremont’s two-decade run writing X-Men from the late seventies into the nineties) or TV shows (like The X-Files, or Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica) or movies (the Planet of the Apes series, the Star Wars films, etc.).  One of the things I love about official, televised Star Trek is that aspect of the Trek universe being a cohesive whole, an expansive, ever-expanding saga.  Now, more than ever, that is also true of the Trek books.

Over the last several years, I have enjoyed writing about the various Star Trek novels I have read.  Recently, I decided to go back and re-read some of the old Trek books that I really enjoyed, such as as Excelsior: Forged in Fire and some of The Lost Era books (Serpents Among the Ruins and The Art of the Impossible).  I had fun doing that, so I then decided to go back and re-read some of the earlier books in the relaunch of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the new adventures of Captain Picard and his crew following the events depicted in Star Trek: Nemesis.  My recollection was that this relaunch was nowhere near as successful as the Deep Space Nine re-launch that Pocket Books had so successfully undertaken a few years earlier (telling stories set on DS9 following the events of that show’s finale).  I recalled feeling that the post-Nemesis TNG universe didn’t really come together until David Mack’s terrific trilogy, Star Trek: Destiny (click here for my original review).

Knowing where these books will wind up, it was very interesting to go back and re-read the early books in the relaunch.  My early initial judgement still stands –there is a lot of shakiness in these novels.  But I enjoyed re-reading them, and since I have never before written about these books on the site, I thought I would post some short reviews.

Star Trek: Resistance — Captain Picard attempts to rebuild his command crew after the death of Data (in Star Trek: Nemesis) and the departure of Riker and Troi (whose adventures would be chronicled in the new — and very good — novel series, Titan).  But tragedy strikes quickly when a new, humongous Borg cube invades Federation space.  I was very excited, originally, when I read that J.M. Dillard would be writing this book in the TNG launch.  Ms. Dillard wrote some of my VERY FAVORITE Star Trek books from when I was younger, terrific novels like Demons and The Lost Years.  She hadn’t written a new Trek book for years, so I was delighted she would be coming back into the fold with this novel.  Unfortunately, I found Resistance to ultimately be a disappointing, unsatisfying book.

The novel has several problems, in my opinion.  First of all it is very short.  This is a very slight story with a pretty simplistic structure.  Picard and co. discover a problem (the new, huge Borg cube), try one strategy to defeat it, fail, then develop a new strategy and that works.  The end.  I am oversimplifying, of course, but truly this  is a story that in my opinion begged for a much for detailed, complex treatment.  This adventure feels like it is over before it even began.

I also see in this book the problem that became clear to me in the canonical TV and film Trek adventures: that after creating this powerfull, unique group of villains, the Borg, the writers had no idea what to do with them.  Years ago, Peter David wrote a fantastic Star Trek novel, Vendetta (which still today is probably my very favorite Star Trek book) which was a wonderful, logical extrapolation of what might happen next with the Borg, following the events of “The Best of Both Worlds.”  One Borg cube was defeated?  OK, so next time the Borg will send three!  And our heroes would have to resort to desperate measures to defeat three Borg cubes, as defeating even one cube had been shown to be almost impossible.  But the TV shows never went that route, we never really saw a direct follow-up confrontation with the Borg.  No, instead we saw isolated groups of individualized, weakend Borg in later TNG seasons, and on Voyager the Borg seemed neutered, fairly easily outwitted and defeated by Janeway.  And while I enjoyed the big-screen Borg story in the film Star Trek: First Contact (which I recently wrote about in great detail) that film also shied away from showing us a full-on on confrontation with the Borg, instead telling a time-travel story.  All of these were, to me unsatisfying.  Ms. Dillard’s concept in this book was equally so.  Ok, one Borg cube was dangerous?  Well, now the now the Enterprise has to face a SUPER-IZED Borg cube!  It just feels a little silly and overly simplistic to me, all the more so because of how quickly and easily our heroes are again able to defeat these supposedly “unbeatable” villains.

In contrast to the DS9 re-launch books, which were so skillfully able to create a number of interesting new characters to add to the cast, characters who werewritten very compellingly and, more importantly, consistently, over the course of the initial books in the relaunch, these TNG launch books really struggled to create a cohesive, interesting new group of characters to mix with the pre-existing ones (Picard, Beverly, Worf, Geordi).  This problem is immediately apparent here in Resistance.  We are introduced to three new characters.  Two of them are very likable and interesting, and so of course they are killed off by the end of the book.  The third is the new Vulcan counselor T’Lana, who is immediately depicted as incredibly unlikable.  She takes an immediate, irrational dislike to Worf, she is borderline insubordinate to Picard, and she generally is portrayed as an arrogant, self-superior jerk.  Hardly the way to replace beloved characters like Data, Riker, and Troi!  This was the biggest mis-step of not only this novel, but of all these early Trek relaunch books.

Star Trek: Q & A — As with Resistance, there was much about Q & A that had me initially excited. First and foremost, it was written by Keith R. A. DeCandido, who’s one of the best Trek authors.  He has written some of my favorite of the last decade’s worth of Trek novels, including a really terrific book early in the DS9 relaunch (Demons of Air and Shadow).  As is evident from the title, Q & A features Q, and I love the idea of bringing Q — such a central Next Gen supporting character — back into play.  And I love the novel’s core idea: what if all of Q’s appearances over the course of the seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation weren’t just random adventures, but were in fact connected in some way, and that Q had an overarching plan and reason for all of his actions.  That is a great idea, and I love the way that, as the new adventure in this book unfolds, Mr. DeCandido takes us back through all of those prior Q adventures, and shows us how everything fits together.

Unfortunately, Q & A has most of the same problems that Resistance did.  First, it is way too short.  This is a story that craves a more detailed telling, but Q & A feels way too superficial to me.  I love that we get to pop briefly back into the events of all of Q’s prior appearances on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but each flashback section is super-short, usually just a few pages.  I would have loved to have had a more in-depth revisiting of those earlier adventures, maye a more detailed re-telling but this time from Q’s point of view.  As it stands, these returns to those earlier episodes feel very superficial.  Over the course of the novel, we also get a number of chapters that take place across the universe, checking in with many different characters from across the Trek universe.  This is a cool idea, and a good way to sell the galactic nature of the crisis.  But again, these check-ins (with Riker and Tori on the Titan, with the Romulan Donatra, with the Klingon Captain Klag) are so brief as to be very superficial.  Had all of these stories been woven together as running subplots throughout the novel, that would have been really interesting.  But as it is, these few-pages-long check-ins felt mostly like time-wasters to me.  (Compare this with the similar structure that Mr. DeCandido employs in another of his novels, A Singular Destiny.  That novel also pauses the main story-line for various chapters checking in with characters and situations across the galaxy, but in A Singular Destiny those digressions are far more fully fleshed out and compelling.)  Then there is the actual, central mystery, the event to which all of Q’s manipulations of the Enterprise crew has apparently been building.  I never really quite understood the nature of the threat, and everything is resolved so easily at the end (Picard literally doesn’t do much more than just walk into a cave) as to be laughable.  This was far too simple and easy a situation.  It didn’t feel like an adequate resolution to the universe-ending peril that the Q Continuum had apparently been fearing for so long.

And the books is just as unsuccessful at establishing new characters as Resistance was.  T’Lana remains unlikable and one-note, and the two new characters are also presented as being very unlikable.  First there is the new security head, Zelik Leybenzon.  I like the idea for this character: he’s a “grunt,” a non-commissioned officer who “made his bones” during the fierce combat of the Dominion War.  This is a rough man who didn’t go to Starfleet Academy and doesn’t really fit in with the officers on the Enterprise.  That’s a great idea, but it is undermined immediately by the way Leybenzon is presented as such a jerk.  I am all for drama and strife between our Star Trek heroes — why else would I love Deep Space Nine so much?? — but to be successful, I think that while presenting characters as different, with different backgrounds and different points of view that often clash, the individual characters still need to be sympathetic in their own rights.  Leybenzon definitely is not.  Slightly more successful is the Enterprise’s new Number Two, Miranda Khadohata.  Miranda is also a new character type, a new mother who has left her children to be raised, for now at least, by her husband while she serves in Starfleet.  Miranda is a much more sympathetic character than Leybenon, though she too does start from a place of making a choice that is a little difficult for me to sympathize with — that of leaving her children for potentially years so that  she can live the life she wants in Starfleet.  To me it feels like a bit of a selfish choice, choosing career over family.  (Though absolutely the argument could be made that it is not, particularly since she is serving for as noble an organization as Starfleet.)  My point here is that she too has several knocks against her right from the start as a character, which is a choice that I don’t think works so well.

There certainly are bits that I enjoy about Q & A.  As always, Mr DeCandido’s knowledge of Trek continuity leads to some fun references and connections.  In particular, I love how he weaves the seventh season TNG episode “Parallels,” in which Worf goes on an adventure through multiple alternate universes, into his story, giving that seemingly random adventure a new layer of meaning.

I certainly look much more favorably on these books now that I am reading them for a second time, knowing that the TNG relaunch will really hit its stride with the Destiny trilogy.  But there is no question that this was a rocky start.

I wil be back next week with my thoughts on the next two books in the tng relaunch, Peter David’s Before Dishonor and Christopher L. Bennett’s Greater Than the Sum.  Did those two authors (who, like Ms. Dillard and Mr. DeCandido, count among the very best of the Star Trek authors), fare any more favorably in my mind?  See you soon!

Previous Star Trek novel reviews:

Star Trek – Unspoken Truth , Troublesome MindsCast No ShadowExcelsior: Forged in Fire, Allegiance in Exile

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Sky’s The LimitDestiny trilogyA Singular Destiny, Losing the Peace,Immortal CoilCold Equations Book 1: The Persistence of MemoryCold Equations Book 2: Silent WeaponsCold Equations Book 3: The Body Electric

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – DS9 relaunch overviewThe Soul KeyThe Never-Ending SacrificePlagues of Night and Raise the Dawn

Star Trek: Voyager – Full Circle

Star Trek: Enterprise — Kobayashi MaruThe Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s WingThe Romulan War: To Brave the Storm

Star Trek: Titan – Book 1: Taking WingBook 2: The Red KingBook 3: Orion’s HoundsBook 4: Sword of DamoclesBook 5: Under a Torrent SeaBook 6: Synthesis

Star Trek: Typhon Pact – Book 1: Zero-Sum GameBook 2: Seize the FireBook 3: Rough Beasts of EmpireBook 4: Paths of DisharmonyPlagues of Night and Raise the DawnBrinkmanship

Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations – Watching the ClockForgotten History

Star Trek: The Lost Era – Book 1: The Sundered (2298)Book 2: Serpents Among the Ruins (2311), Book 3: The Art of the Impossible (2328-2346)

Star Trek: Mirror Universe (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Shards & Shadows – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire — Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Rise Like Lions –  Star Trek: Myriad Universes (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Shattered Light

Beyond the Final Frontier — Josh’s favorite Star Trek novels

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