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

Last week I wrote about the first two books in Pocket Books’ re-launch of the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel series, set after the final canonical on-screen Next Gen adventure, the (truly terrible) film Star Trek: Nemesis.  Here are my thoughts on books two and three of that re-launch!

Before Dishonor — when the early books in the TNG relaunch were originally announced, I was especially excited because it seemed that Pocket Books had assigned some of their best heavy-hitters as authors of the first wave of books.  Some of the very best long-time Trek authors (Michael Jan Friedman, J.M. Dillard, and Peter David) were being mixed with some of the very best of the newer Trek authors (Keith R.A. DeCandido and Christopher L. Bennett).  I was particularly excited for Peter David’s book, as Mr. David has always been one of my very favorite Star Trek authors.  (I mentioned in my last post that his magnificent Borg novel, Vendetta, might be my very favorite Star Trek novel of all time.). So I was very eager to read Mr. David’s book in this new TNG series.

Unfortunately, like the books that preceded it, Before Dishonor is rather a mixed bag.  There is a lot that I love about it.  As always, Mr. David’s prose is fantastic, very funny and very compelling.  I love that aspects of the book’s story are intended as a direct sequel to the events of Vendetta.  (Not only do we return to the great idea that the planet-killer seen in the Original Series episode “The Doomsday Machine” was originally designed as a weapon against the Borg, but the book also refences the storyline in Vendetta in which Geordi tried and failed to restore a rescued Borg woman to her individuality.  (It’s a story that is very similar in essence to what would, years later, be told on Voyager with Seven of Nine, just with a much less happy ending.  By the way, I have heard Peter David say that people at Paramount originally nixed his idea because they insisted that there was no such thing as female Borg, a ludicrous idea that Mr. David humorously references in this book.)  I love that Mr. David involved Spock in the story.  And I love love love the very controversial fate given to Admiral Janeway.  I could rant for days on how poorly Janeway was characterized on Star Trek: Voyager.  I love the idea of a woman captain, but I felt that Janeway as written was unbelievably arrogant and blindly stubborn.  I love that in this book her hubris finally catches up to her.  I know that Voyager fans were upset, but I loved it.

So what doesn’t work?  Primarily the characterizations.  Mr. David killed any hope we might have had of liking the new characters introduced in the previous books — T’Lana, Leybenzon, and Kadohata — by writing a story in which they organize a mutiny against Picard.  First of all, the whole mutiny business feels so cliche at this point in Star Trek.  How many stories have we had of mutinies, of characters disobeying orders to do whatever the heck they feel like?  It all feels very old hat to me.  And it feels like a total betrayal of the intentions of the previous authors, by turning these new characters into the bad guys.  How much more interesting would it been had, say, Geordi and Worf decided that they couldn’t obey Picard’s orders, while Leybenzon and Kadohata defended him?  That would have been interesting!  But that’s not what we got.

Mr David’s characterizations of the pre-existing characters also seemed somewhat off, especially Worf.  I have always loved the way Mr. David wrote Worf.  He always made him much more monosyllabic, and more prone to violence, than the Worf we saw on TNG.  Mr. David’s Worf always got some of the best one-liners, too.  That worked fifteen years ago, but the Worf in these books is a much different character now.  This Worf has been changed by the events of the Deep Space Nine series and the following novels.  He is now the first officer of the Enterprise.  So when Mr. David writes Worf as the Worf from almost two decades ago, it doesn’t really work, and it really sticks out

Ultimately, I still think that, when taken on its own, Before Dishonor is a great read and a very entertaining, ripping yarn.  I also love that, unlike the very short Resistance and Q & A, this is a much longer, complete novel, and I loved that.  But coming on the heels of two inconsistent novels, we have another apparent mis-step in which the TNG relaunch has clearly yet to cohere in any sort of satisfying way.

Greater Than The Sum — I have repeatedly praised Trek author Keith R.A. DeCandido for his grasp of Star Trek continuity, but I don’t think any Trek author has a more detailed knowledge of Star Trek minutia than Christopher L. Bennett.  In this book, Mr. Bennet attempts to clean up the mess of the Star Trek launch.  What I love about this novel is the way in which Mr. Bennett artfully attempts to take the stories and inconsistent characteriziations of the previous several books and weave them together into something approaching a coherent narrative.  It was weird how disdainfully Starfleet treated Picard in Resistance, how they didn’t seem to trust him at all despite all of his accomplishments.  Well, Mr. Bennett writes a scene in which Admiral Nechayev apologizes to Picard for that.  It seemed crazy that Peter David insinuated in Before Dishonor that the married Kadohata suddenly seemed to have a thing for Leybenzon, but Mr. Bennett writes a scene addressing that.  It seemed insane to me that the nearly psychopathic T’Lana would remain on the Enterprise following the end of Before Dishonor, but Mr. Bennett quickly reverses that by having T’Lana request a transfer early in the book (in a scene that does much to rescue her character, when she finally starts behaving like a Vulcan and a character who we might be able to like and understand).

I love that Mr. Bennett picks up on a nice detail in Mr. DeCandido’s book, the return of the Enerprise poker game.  I particularly love that Mr. Bennett returns Guinan — who had without explanation vanished from the Next Gen universe following Star Trek: Generations — to the fold, and while I was disappointed that this book establishes that she will not continue to appear on-board the Enterprise in these post-Nemesis adventures, I was delighted to see her situation addressed and her participation in the events of this book.

But Mr. Bennett’s best achievement in continuity is his work on the Borg.  There are a number of sequences here in this book that try to explain the many apparent inconsistencies in how the Borg have been portrayed between their introduction on Next Gen, their depiction in First Contact and especially Voyager, and the events of the last few books.  Mr. Bennett even provides an explanation for a long-standing continuity problem from the early Voyager episode, “Unity”.  In that episode, we meet in the Delta Quadrant a human woman who was assimilated by the Borg in the Battle of Wolf 359 (from the TNG episode “The Best of Both Worlds”).  The problem is that the Borg cube was destroyed at the end of that episode, so even if they stopped to assimilate Starfleet officers other than Picard during that invasion, how could anyone on-board that cube have survived?  Well, Mr. Bennett gives us an explanation.  Very nice.

In addition to all of this continuity clean-up, Mr. Bennett gives us a nice sci-fi exploration story in which the Enterprise encounters a new, fascinating sci-fi phenomenon, while also keeping the Borg along as a continuing threat to Picard and the Federation.  One of the hallmarks of Mr. Bennett’s novels, in addition to his grasp of Star Trek continuity, has been his use of real scientific concepts.  I love the new entity he creates to perplex and challenge the intrepid Enterprise crew in this book, and in particular there is a great sequence of combat between two starships while in orbit of a planet, in which Mr. Bennett attempts to utilize actual science in the depiction of the battle in a way I have never seen before in Star Trek.  It is very cool.

Mr. Bennett also introduces us to several new characters, T’Ryssa Chen (the half-Vulcan, very spunky and single-minded new Contact Specialist), new security chief Jasminder Choudhury (whose pacifistic beliefs might seem contradictory to her vocation), and new science officer Dina Elfiki. All three are immediately likable and investing, so already we are way ahead of the previous efforts in the past few books.  And while we don’t get to spend much time with Elfiki, both Chen and Choudhury are wonderful, complex new creations.  FINALLY, in this book, the new regular cast of character for the Next Generation’s continuing adventures has started to come together.

If I have any complaint about the book, it’s that at times it feels more like a clean-up effort to undo the mess of the previous few books than it does as a true stand-alone adventure.  I also felt that, despite Mr. Bennett’s efforts, here once again is the Enterprise faced not with a real Borg incursion, but one more offshoot group of Borg not really connected to the main Borg forces (and so more easily defeated).  I also wasn’t wild about one more story in which our heroes develop a method that they think will stop the Borg forever, only for that to be undone by the next story. (Luckily I know that the Destiny trilogy, that comes immediately after this book, will deal directly with the major Borg invasion I have always been hoping to see depicted in a Next Gen adventure.)   In the same vein, I was disappointed by the fate given to Hugh (first introduced in “I, Borg”).  Had this new plan for stopping the Borg actually meant something, maybe this would have worked for me.  But since it was clear even the first time I read this book that there was no way this would really stop the Borg forever — something made clear in the book’s epilogue and in the massive Borg story, Star Trek Destiny, that came immediately after this book — it felt like it was all for nothing, and a disappointing ending to Hugh’s story.

 

Well, even though I am still critical of these books, it has been great fun re-reading them.  After re-reading these four books, I also went on to re-read the entire Destiny trilogy, which was just as spectacular as I remembered (click here for my original review) and a series of books that I HIGHLY recommend to any Trek fan reading this.  I also had fun re-reading the very excellent books A Singular Destony, by Keith R.A. DeCandido (click here for my original review) and Losing the Peace by William Leisner (click here for my original review). The TNG relaunch maybe have had a rocky start, but those books and the ones that followed — right up to and including David Mack’s reently concluded Cold Equations trilogy (click here for my reviews of book one, book two, and book three of that trilogy) — gave us thrilling, compelling further adventures of the Next Gen cast and a continuation and expansion of the saga that I have loved for so long. With another multi-book crossover coming this summer (ominously titled “The Fall”), I am excited to see where these stories go next!

Previous Star Trek novel reviews:

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

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Sky’s The Limit, Resistance and Q & ADestiny 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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