At one of the last book sales we went to last year, I picked up a handful of Star Trek: The Next Generation spin off novels from the nineties. I remember having a few of these when in the full throes of my William T. Riker obsession, and figured they’d be a nice easy way to pass the time. While my dad got knee deep in the extended Star Wars universe, the only forays I made into the extended Federation were a few books centering on my favorite characters. They were, if I recall correctly, “Imzadi”, “Q-Squared”, and “Q in Law”. This week I finished reading A Rock and a Hard Place by Peter David, and I have thoughts, many, many thoughts. Not the least of which is that, as it turns out, Peter David wrote the aforementioned books as well, and so apparently my experience of this Star Trek Universe is limited to one writer.
In the post Pulaski adventures of the Enterprise, Commander Riker is temporarily assigned to a base called Starlight, on a planet called Paradise. A world that is in the early stages of terraforming. A childhood friend of Riker’s is in charge of the team building the planet, along with his wife who also knew Riker in his youth, and their teenage daughter, who of course develops a crush on Riker. Strange things begin to happen, and before he knows it he is fighting for his life in an increasingly hostile environment. Something pursues them from the ice, something that eats its own, and can survive in this hostile terrain.
Meanwhile on the Enterprise, Commander Stone, the temporary first officer, is pursuing something else. But whether it is Deanna or Worf, I am not quite sure. As the crew ponders whether their temporary officer is actually insane or not, they are called in to rescue hostages at the center of a thus far bloodless coup, on a planet about to join the federation. When a distress call comes from Starlight, the crew rushes to save their beloved number one, and the two Commanders are thrust together.
Star Trek: The Next Generation was one of my earliest forays into science fiction, and so I have a soft spot for my first love. There are several characters and story arcs of Star Trek: The Next Generation that I simply adore. Anything involving Lwaxana Troi, or Q. Anything where Captain Picard lets his hair down, figuratively of course. The relationship between Troi and Riker has always been my sweet spot. It is why Insurrection is my favorite of the movies, and why I literally jumped for joy when watching Picard, only to find myself moments later balling tears for their loss as parents. Stupid Romulans. In A Rock and A Hard Place I get to hear the inner thoughts of Riker and Troi, and I have to say that some things are better left to the imagination.
If this action is indeed set in the third season or later, then some of the things that they wonder about each other in the book, are far more intimate than implied by the show at a comparative time. Considering how far in advance of their wedding this action is (that’s not a spoiler at this point right?) then surely some of their soul searching is ludicrous for such emotionally advanced beings as exist in the 24th century. Although then you have to consider Beverly’s boob joke in Insurrection. Certainly if they actually felt the way they did about each other in the show as they did in this book, then in season two’s “Shades of Gray” his fake wife would have appeared as Deanna instead of Minuet. Beyond that, the things that Captain Picard wonders about them are far more intimate than I want to think about him thinking about. The removal of the boundaries between their inner thoughts and us as the audience, does not work for some of the characterizations set up by Gene Roddenberry. I think Data, Worf, and Wesley are carried through flawlessly, everyone else, well there was a lot of cringing involved.
Cringing however was not simply brought on by inner dialogue and character exploration. The rest of the cringing can be attributed to this book having been written in the 90s. An adult Riker talking about making fun of an intelligent teenage girl he knew in his youth, only to discover she’d pulled a Sandy on him and married his friend, there is not one aspect of this that is plausible. A young Riker using Buch as a surname just to make a bookworm joke about a girl in his class, and that he recalls it so dispassionately, just does not jive with the Riker I know, or the universe of Gene Roddenberry.
Worse than that however, was the sexualisation of the fifteen year old daughter. I get it, this is the planetary equivalent of the wild west, you have to grow up and grow up fast when you are terraforming. But the description of her as “slender, but round in all the right places” I would have thought to be inappropriate even almost thirty years ago. Thankfully Riker rejects her sexual advances on two separate occasions. Yet the fact that he is given the opportunity to reject the sexual advances of the fifteen year old daughter of his childhood friend twice by this author seems ridiculous, did all adult men in the nineties fantasize about young girls this way? I really don’t want to pick at that thread too much.
The character of Commander Stone was interesting, and fairly well fleshed out. After hearing several different versions of his past, delivered to various crew members, the final version of what happened to him turned out to be far more gruesome than any of his renditions, and actually made you understand why he told the false stories in the first place. He does not quite fit in Starfleet, and that is half of his story line of course. To witness such horror, and realize that your ideals prevented you from providing aid, it is amazing that he didn’t go insane. Although, perhaps he did.
The nineties casual misogyny of this one author isn’t going to stop me from reading more Star Trek: The Next Generation “authorised fan fiction”, not yet anyway, we’ll see what happens in “Fortune’s Light.”