It has been a while since I slipped into a Star Trek novel. I’m still back on The Original Series, and the last one I read was 1995’s The Ashes of Eden, the first novel that introduced the Shatner-Verse version of Trek novels. But I was eager to see how the newer novels tied in with the new Trek television offerings, especially those around the new Picard series.
So I dug into the first in the series from Simon & Schuster, Last Best Hope by Una McCormack, and was blown away by the story, the writing, and the way it weaves into the universe’s continuity.
Set in the years leading up to the events depicted in season one of Star Trek: Picard, this novel gives backstory on the mission, the characters, and the events that shaped Jean-Luc Picard, evolving him into the man we meet in the series. I remember when the series was first airing and people complained that this wasn’t the Jean-Luc they knew.
Well this is why.
The series hints, and mentions the mission that Picard was in charge of, the evacuation of Romulans before their sun goes nova (as seen in Star Trek (2009)), and the drive to succeed at it, and the things, people and events that hold it back. What McCormack has done with this story, and what Trek has always done, is hold a mirror up to our current reality, and lets us examine it in a new way.
Last Best Hope does that in the best way possible, and shows the personal cost to those involved.
We are given a story of disaster (from a supernova to the fires on Mars), refugees, politics, and secrecy.
Picard is given the rank of admiral, and gives up the Enterprise, and begins his mission, the biggest of Starfleet’s and the Federation’s history. The mass evacuation of Romulans from their home system. But lies and misinformation abound, as the secretive Romulans misrepresent the supernova’s projected damage and timeframe, politicians in the Federation say the feel sorry for the Romulans but don’t think that everything should be redirected to help countless souls, especially when they have been an enemy for so long.
Picard, who recruits Raffi Musiker as his XO aboard the U.S.S. Verity, remains focused on the mission, and the desire to save as many lives as possible. But politics, and other plans on both sides of the Neutral Zone seem to be determined to disrupt everything.
From Bruce Maddox’s work on an android life form like Data, from which he is repurposed by Geordi LaForge to help design synthetic lifeforms to help out at the Mars shipyards, to hungry politicians, the secretive Romulan security force, the Tal Shiar, and the spreading of misinformation, there is a lot in this story that feels incredibly relevant to where we as a people are presently.
Jumping from a Trek novel written in the 90s to one written in the 21st century is a huge revelation. And while there’s been a number of discussions how most Trek novels are arguably not canon, the writing, the story, the way it ties-in with everything else in the Trek universe, this one would have my vote as official canon.
I know there have been some comments on the use of swear words in these new iterations of Trek, and while I get it, I also realize that each time any of the characters swear in this book (and the series) there’s an emotional context for it, it’s not done for shock value, it’s done as authentic reaction to what is happening.
This is the best Star Trek novel I have read in a long time. It’s engaging, it’s heartbreaking, because we know it must end with Picard leaving Starfleet (and I know people couldn’t believe that would happen, but seeing the events play out in the way they do, it would have been impossible for Picard to stay in Starfleet.
It puts his character exactly where he needs to be, physically, mentally and emotionally for the first season of Picard, and fills out the back story to the series beautifully.
And while I am looking forward to continuing my journey with The Original Series novels some point in the near future, I’m not sure they will be able to stand up to Last Best Hope, now available from Simon & Schuster. This is definitely one to read as you boldly go…