Essays, Star Trek: The Next Generation

Making it So: the Return of Jean-Luc Picard & Star Trek’s Nostalgic Future

A couple of months ago, I pontificated on whether the pursuit of nostalgia was a good thing for my second favourite entertainment franchise, Star Trek, in the wake of rumours that Sir Patrick Stewart may well be reprising his iconic role as The Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard. This weekend, at the Star Trek Las Vegas fan event, those rumours became reality. The second captain of the USS Enterprise is, officially, on his way back.

What does this mean, now, for the future of Star Trek?

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Essays, Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: Voyager

Nostalgia & Star Trek: Picard, Discovery and the Future

Nostalgia seems to be a double edged sword right now in Hollywood. What on the surface appears to be a comforting guaranteed winner in terms of audience satisfaction and cinematic box office is becoming something of a poisoned creative chalice. The lacklustre critical (if not box-office) responses to pictures such as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom or Ocean’s Eight, sequels to long-standing, well-regarded franchises; or Lucasfilm’s decision to put a hold on more A Star Wars Story anthology movies after the tepid box office (by Star Wars terms) of Solo, seemingly putting immediately paid to rumoured Boba Fett & Obi-Wan Kenobi-centric films. There is a nostalgia blowback in progress, the ripple effect of which we are only beginning to understand.

Is this a ripple effect that, like the Nexus in Generations, threatens to engulf the future of the Star Trek franchise?

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Books, Star Trek: The Original Series

Star Trek: The Original Series – ‘First Frontier’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 64 million years ago.

Sometimes you just click with a novel and sometimes, as in the case of First Frontier, you just don’t. For an indefinable reason, Diane Carey’s novel co-written with scientist Dr. James Kirkland was easily my most arduous reading experience of the Star Trek tie-in universe yet. This could well be a level of personal preference and, as always with my pieces on Cultural Conversation, I’ll be looking conceptually at First Frontier and what it does as a novel. I would, however, be lying if I said it was an enjoyable read.

First Frontier is an interesting tie-in novel, the seventy-fifth in the line of The Original Series books, for several reasons. For a start, there is the inclusion of Kirkland in the writing process. Carey is someone who will be well known to many who read Star Trek tie-in fiction, given how she was one of the most prolific novelists in the franchise, particularly throughout the 1990’s. Kirkland, however, is a scientist first and writer second, at least in terms of fiction, and came to co-write First Frontier, as a self-confessed major Star Trek fan since the 1960’s, after Carey read an article in Discover magazine about Kirkland’s discovery of the ‘Utahraptor’, one of the biggest dinosaurs ever found.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Star Trek: The Next Generation – ‘Q-Zone’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 1 billion years ago.

The middle part of any trilogy can be tricky, and Greg Cox’s ‘Q-Zone’ suffers from such pacing and momentum issues as he continues weaving the interesting backstory of Q, the all-powerful being who has tormented Captain Picard and the Enterprise-D crew from The Next Generation pilot onwards. If ‘Q-Space’ established the problem and the stakes, ‘Q-Zone’ adds the context we need to understand what not just Picard and his crew, but the entire universe, are facing.

Star Trek has a fascinating relationship with God, and or Gods. It doesn’t really know what to do with them. The Original Series often made them strange, meddlesome or simply annoying. The Next Generation held a firmly atheist, rigid orthodox view that there was no Almighty, and indeed Q was the perfect example of that; he was the culmination of the message Gene Roddenberry wanted to convey all along, that he might be fascinated by God, but he doesn’t really believe anyone all-powerful is all-knowing, given how frequently Q ends up proving he’s little more than an omnipotent trickster. Deep Space Nine, perhaps because it was more egalitarian in how it developed a galaxy of species, built its whole mythology around the Prophets and a belief in more than just scientific ‘wormhole aliens’. Subsequent series, on the whole, tended to avoid the thorny subject altogether.

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Star Trek: The Original Series

Star Trek: The Original Series – ‘Spock’s World’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 5 billion years ago.

It feels an unexpectedly timely moment to read ‘Spock’s World’, one of the signature novels from Star Trek writer Diane Duane. Though written in 1989, it deals with an issue that resonates for anyone living in the United Kingdom today, as this writer does: a Referendum. A decision on the part of Vulcan as to whether or not to secede from the United Federation of Planets. Duane could not have possibly known her novel would strike a chord in this way, but it turns out to be a happy accident.

Vulcan, in many respects, has remained more of an enigma in Star Trek than it by any rights should have. While The Next Generation explored the Klingon race and culture in depth, as did Deep Space Nine, only prequel series Enterprise truly delved into the first alien civilisation Gene Roddenberry presented in The Original Series as important to the human experience, through the character of Spock. The Vulcans evolved into a species known for their control of emotions, living through principles of logic and reason, as a direct counterpoint to the rash, hotheadedness innate in the human race. Enterprise, certainly in its first few seasons, made this central difference in both cultures a crucial aspect of the entire series, with the first Starfleet warp ship preparing to explore beyond Earth’s solar system, despite warnings from the Vulcans that humanity was ‘not ready’.

‘Spock’s World’ was written over a decade before Enterprise was even conceived, indeed it debuted only a couple of years into The Next Generation-era. For millions of viewers, Star Trek was *still* at its core Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the crew of the original Enterprise, with TOS the yardstick to follow. Duane’s story takes place just after The Motion Picture; Kirk is an Admiral who takes a temporary devolution in rank to become Captain of the Enterprise once again. TOS *did* explore Vulcan society, principally in legendary Season 2 premiere ‘Amok Time’ which introduced the Vulcan physical and psychological ritual of pon farr, but that classic series never truly was concerned with backstory and mythology of worlds and societies as the TNG-era began to explore. Vulcan always, still, remained a mystery.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Star Trek: The Next Generation – ‘Q-Space’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 5 billion years ago.

Star Trek in many ways was forever changed by the character of Q, who first appeared in The Next Generation’s pilot episode ‘Encounter at Farpoint’, played with delightfully sadistic joie de vivre by John de Lancie, and who grew to be, aside from the Borg, probably Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s greatest antagonist across the run of the series.

Q, of course, is an omnipotent being, who we later discover is part of the Q Continuum, which exists on a different plane of existence, containing a race of beings all known as Q who appear to have complete dominance over time, space and matter. They are the ultimate personification of a God, with all the powers of a God in-between. Q wasn’t by any means the first time Star Trek had toyed with the idea of a God-like being, of course; The Original Series has Captain Kirk’s USS Enterprise bump into a God-like entity ever other week – indeed many speculated after ‘Encounter at Farpoint’ that the mischievous Trelane from ‘The Squire of Gothos’ could have been a Q. The only difference is that few of them had the scope, reach and power of the Continuum. Q, literally, can do anything, be anyone and go anywhere, any*when*. That, as a concept, was always going to be a game-changer.

‘Q-Space’, therefore, attempts to dig deeper into the Q Continuum than certainly many of the TV series which featured Q were ever able to do. The first of a trilogy badged under ‘The Q Continuum’ prefix from writer Greg Cox, ‘Q-Space’ takes a cue (pun probably intended) from half a dozen concepts from both The Next Generation, The Original Series and indeed Voyager, and begins working to craft them into a broader, intertextual narrative which shines a light on Q’s history, his home, and give Picard and his crew one of their most cosmic adventures to date. Cox has an ambitious reach for this trilogy and while ‘Q-Space’ perhaps takes too long getting to the core point of what it’s trying to achieve, some exciting building blocks are placed across the novel.

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Star Trek: The Original Series

Star Trek: The Original Series – ‘The Star to Every Wandering’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 5 billion years ago.

The Star to Every Wandering is an unusual Star Trek novel. Author David R. George III is undoubtedly aware of this fact, for numerous reasons. His editor Marco Palmieri at Pocket Books, who produce the tie-in novels, encouraged George for a start to not worry about canon and continuity, two of the most precious and sacred elements of Star Trek. This gave George the license he needed to go off-piste with his trilogy of Original Series novels, under the banner ‘Crucible’, timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the franchise in 2006.

The Crucible trilogy deals with the three most archetypal characters in Star Trek history: Captain Kirk, Commander Spock and Doctor McCoy. They all spiral around one of the most celebrated and classic episodes in Trek history, ‘City on the Edge of Forever’, a time-travel story penned by science-fiction legend Harlan Ellison which sees Kirk & Spock use a mysterious, ancient time-portal called the Guardian of Forever to rescue a crazed McCoy from the year 1930, where he changes the course of history on Earth to such a degree that the Nazis win WW2 and the United Federation of Planets, nay the entire future of Star Trek, ceases to exist. Consequently, by making the Crucible books about one of Trek’s strangest alien creations, George has enormous scope to take his three protagonists anywhere and any ‘when’ in Star Trek history. Continue reading