Friday, 16 November 2007

TNG relaunch review

I don't believe the folks at Pocket books much like the term relaunch, however it’s just so much more catchy than post-Nemesis fiction or whatever else you might try designate the books set after the last canon Next Generation adventure. So, the relaunch of TNG in book form started a couple of years ago with the release of Death in Winter, but didn’t really kick off until recently with the trilogy of sorts released to celebrate TNG’s 20th anniversary. Here’s what I thought (some spoilers included):

Michael Jan Friedman’s Death in Winter kicked things off with it’s hardback release in 2005, it was also recently re-released in paperback just ahead of the most recent TNG books. The book takes place while the Enterprise is in spacedock following the battle in Nemesis and it’s primary purpose is to finally get Picard and Crusher together, which it does, hurrah! The book is therefore very much focused on those two characters, with what’s left of the established TNG cast (Worf and Geordi) getting a forgettable side-story that ties into the main events of the book.

The story is set on a Romulan occupied world, allowing Sela to return as a bad-gal. It also features appearances from some of the former crew of the USS Stargazer, as established in Friedman’s previous Stargazer books. Personally I found the Stargazer characters an annoying distraction; Not being familiar with them, having not read any of the Stargazer series, I didn’t relate to them at all, and I don’t think Mr Friedman did much of a job establishing them as stand-alone guest characters for this tale. The story in this book wasn’t hugely captivating, nor does it really establish a great deal of back-story to any of the books set after it. The novel came off to me as something of a time filler, easily missable and not very interesting.

And so we come to the first of this years new releases; Resistance, by J.M. Dillard. A Borg story, I like the Borg, so here was something to look forward to. The story was short, quick to read, and somewhat disappointing. In a lot of ways it plays as a sequel to The Best of Both Worlds and First Contact – well fair enough, those are the two big Picard/Borg stories, but that’s all it feels like, the story feels, despite it epic elements, small. A handful of new crew are introduced, only one survives to appear in the next book, but what feels really odd is the Enterprise is so empty, there are almost no background or side characters to flesh out the crew. The book at times felt a bit gimmicky, Borg Queen, saucer separation, cloaking devices, Locutus – throw them all in, it will be great, exciting! But somehow it just didn’t work this time, lots of interesting bits, but it didn’t work together very captivatingly.

The bits that did work very well in this novel were the development of Worf, as he struggled to realise he was indeed first officer material, and the introduction of the new Vulcan councillor T’Lana. T’Lana shone in this books as something very different, not just agreeing with Picard as one expects from his crew – an interesting and promising character. Overall the book wasn’t as satisfying as it could be, it felt a bit cobbled together, and too much like a sequel, but it was still interesting and worth picking up to start the tale of the new crew dynamic.

A month later Keith R.A. DeCandido delivered Q & A, a Q story, or indeed The Q story, as the book tries, and indeed very much succeeds, in tying every Q story together. The Qish elements of this book are perfect, Q feels very much like Q, and the way all Q’s appearances are tied together is brilliant. DeCandido does a great job making the Enterprise feel inhabited and introduces two new big characters; Second officer Miranda Kadohata and chief of security Zelik Leybenzon. These two were about the only parts of the novel I didn’t enjoy, I found both quite annoying. While T’Lana was a pest to the Enterprise crew in Resistance, there was something endearing about her, and that continues to be in Q & A. Kadohata and Leybenzon on the other hand, despite all the best efforts to flesh out their characters and establish them as unique and interesting people just didn’t have anything that made them stand out and say "look at me, I’m interesting".

DeCandido also manages to make the Trekverse feel much bigger (something really lacking in Resistance) with some brief appearances from characters from all over the galaxy. These short bits of story added a lot of interest and did something Michael Jan Friedman failed to in Death in Winter; make use of DeCandido’s (and others’) previously established characters and settings without them seeming out of place or in need of more explanation. All in all Q & A is a very clever, witty and thoroughly enjoyable book.

And then we return to the Borg in Peter David’s Before Dishonor. This book picks up from the threads of Resistance, but delivers so much more, the story was HUGE and the Borg were really something new and interesting. The book makes heavy use of Seven of Nine and Kathryn Janeway, indeed for the first few chapters you could mistake it for a Voyager novel, it also has a substantial guest appearance from Spock, and all work very well. The story has witty moments but is throughout very tense, much darker - in this instance the Borg feel like a bigger threat than any of their other appearances.

Interestingly the book is very much a sequel to Peter David’s earlier TNG Borg novel Vendetta, a book I read in expectation events might be referenced. I wonder how accessible some of the background from that novel - which is of course explained, but reasonably briefly - would be to someone who hasn’t read Vendetta. Either way it did a great job of making the Trekverse feel like one big adventure.

The new Enterprise crew did not come off in such a good light in this book, all three were involved in a mutiny, blindly following orders from Starfleet Command seemingly ignorant of that fact the orders they were given would have resulted in a futile and quick end to the Enterprise. This pushed Leybenzon even further down in my opinion and disappointingly took T’Lana down too. However despite her going along with the mutiny, some of the inner thoughts of Kadohata brought her up a peg or two in my eyes, she was a much less irritating presence in this story than in Q & A. Disappointingly another new character, Jon Stephens, who was delightfully quirky and a very enjoyable presence, turned out to be a Q and will presumably not return as a regular crew member.

Before Dishonor was an ambitious story, and thankfully it all worked, it set the Borg on an exciting new course, it played out a huge event, and it left lots of interesting threads for the new crew of the Enterprise.

All in all I think the TNG relaunch is off to a good start. Each successive book has been better for story and scope. What I’m somewhat disappointed by are the new crewmembers, T’Lana started out very interestingly, but by the end of Before Dishonor all three have been left in a bad light, I look forward to seeing the new crew dynamic develop in future books and hope the new members start to become a little more likeable. My biggest disappointment in the new crew though is the lack of diversity, aside from T’Lana the Enterprise still fells a lot like the Humans only branch of Starfleet. Which is a same, with so many new openings in the crew I’d like to have seen an underdeveloped alien species get a chance to take up a key role, perhaps the ever present, but generally minor roled, Bolians for instance.

The TNG relaunch continues next year with Greater Than The Sum which will be followed by the crossover trilogy Destiny, which I can’t help but feel will pick up some big threads directly from Before Dishonor, with all the utterances of the word destiny in the final chapter.

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