Reviews

RESISTANCE (ST: TNG – the Second Decade #2), by J.M. Dillard

 

After my successful encounter with the tie-in book acting as a prequel to the new Picard TV series on Amazon, and feeling some nostalgia for the world of TNG I enjoyed during its run, I went in search of books that might bring back some of that old “magic” and also fill the hiatus between the last TNG movie Nemesis and the current TV show. My search brought me to this novel that was indicated as focused on that time period and also on the most interesting adversary ever created in the Star Trek universe: the Borg. The book promised to bring the old enemy back, so I decided to take the plunge in the hope of connecting once again with a narrative arc that, highs and lows notwithstanding, had managed to capture my imagination in the past.

In Resistance we encounter a Captain Picard having to adjust to a series of changes in his command staff: Riker, the former first officer now promoted to captain, and his wife Counselor Troi, have moved to their own ship; Worf, the best candidate for the position of XO is reluctant to take the post; a new Vulcan counselor has been assigned to the Enterprise; and the loss of Data, whose sacrifice saved them all, still feels very painful.  On top of all this, Picard hears again his connection to the Borg and the voice of the collective, which was not completely vanquished and is now working toward the creation of a new queen and the resurgence of the assimilation program.

Compelled to act quickly, Picard contravenes Starfleet’s orders and heads to intercept the Borg cube before the queen can be activated, and when the first attempt at destroying her fails, chooses a dangerous path to prevent the possibility of a new, devastating invasion.

While the main theme for this novel looked promising, this story unfortunately did not completely deliver on that promise, mostly because it did not add anything new to the concept of this detached enemy following directives like a computer, without personal or emotional motivations. Worse, the plot seems like a mere rewrite of the script for First Contact, with the addition of some outlandish notions bordering on the absurd, like the premise that to build a new queen a male drone is subjected to a special treatment that turns it from male to female. I’m still puzzling over this, since it’s established in canon that Borg drones are captured and assimilated beings – both male and female – and that their inclusion in the collective does not change their gender and at most makes it irrelevant to the hive mind’s goals.

If the writing is good enough and the pacing adequately sustained, the story falters in the plentiful descriptions of characters’ thoughts and feelings with an abundance of telling vs. showing that soon becomes tedious and spoils the overall effect.  Not to mention that some of the characters’ decisions feel out of place, namely Picard’s disturbing solution for boarding the cube without raising the alarm: in consideration of his past trauma at the hands of the Borg, it goes against everything we have seen so far about his PTSD.

There are however some positive elements in Resistance, the most significant being the look into Worf’s personality as he still labors under the weight of guilt for the failure of a previous mission: the reasons for not wanting to accept the position of first officer come straight from his psychological makeup and past history, and help to shed more light into what makes him tick.  And the newly-minted Counselor T’Lana is a promising addition to the team – should she remain as a canon character and be further developed, of course – because her nature as a Vulcan and her posting as a counselor dealing with the crew’s emotions could lead to interesting developments.

When all is said and done, Resistance ended up being something of a letdown after my successful experience with The Last Best Hope, even though I acknowledge that at least the action scenes held my attention and the book was a fast, diverting read. Still, it had a little “paint by the numbers” flavor that did not completely agree with me, although it did not stop my search for more interesting and promising books: as this “quest” is undergoing during a difficult moment in everyone’s life, I feel in great need of some optimistic stories and I have to admit that Star Trek, even in its direst visions, always had the power to offer at least a glimmer of hope. And a vision, no matter how idealistic, of a better future is exactly what everyone needs when finding themselves in dire straits…

So, can anyone advise me on some good titles to read in the Star Trek tie-in universe?  😉

 

 

My Rating:

Reviews

THE DOORS OF EDEN, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

 

I received this novel from Pan McMillan through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

This book was one hell of a rollercoaster ride, indeed: there is something to be said about starting a novel with little or no idea, or expectations, about what you’re going to find, and it’s like embarking on a journey into a strange land, not knowing what kind of peoples or beasts you will find. The Doors of Eden is exactly like that, and not just in a figurative way, because the phrase “worlds enough and time” – which ends up being quoted at some point – describes perfectly the core concept of the story.

It all starts like a mystery, with two girls – Lee and Mal – taking a trip in search of outlandish creatures and with Mal disappearing into what looks like the portal into a strange, impossible world, the disappearance being recorded by the authorities like an accident and Lee having to deal with survivor’s guilt and the burden of being a witness to something that defies reason.  That is, until four years later, when Mal reappears out of the blue while freakish events start sending the world into turmoil, adding new elements – science fiction, pure science, thriller, just to name a few – to the narrative mix.

At the same time, MI5 agents Julian and Allison are investigating the home incursion on renowned physicist Kay Amal Khan, and soon find themselves facing inexplicable episodes like untraceable phone calls or information windows appearing on computers disconnected from power.  Not to mention some equally eerie matters like the strange individuals, looking like one of the discarded branches of humanity, popping up here and there, or the shady activities of tycoon Rove, whose figurative fingerprints seem to be all over the place.

What it all boils down to, as it’s evident from the incident of Mal’s disappearance, is that the theory of parallel worlds, where evolution took widely different paths, is not a theory at all and for some reason the barriers between these worlds are getting thinner, with an ever-increasing risk of intrusions between realities. Dr. Kahn’s theoretical work postulated this possibility, but now that it’s become a dangerous, potentially deadly reality, everyone is after her – either to fix or exploit the situation…

If Adrian Tchaikowsky’s previous book, Children of Time, put me in connection with his notions on the path of evolution of creatures different from mankind, this new novel takes that concept and multiplies it for what looks like an infinite number of instances: between the chapters dedicated to the core events and characters, there are interludes written in the form of an academic lecture on parallel evolution, where every possible permutation of intelligent life is shown with an abundance of fascinating detail. Where at first I saw that these… interruptions as a distraction from the story, after a while I understood they were an integral part of it, better still, they were the way to introduce the crucial idea at the basis of the novel –  and to show how these endless shifts were the result of small changes growing into an avalanche effect.

The logical progress from the primordial ooze to these mind-boggling alternate Earths is mind-blowing and nothing short of fascinating: the way Tchaikowsky turns the words on the page into a cinematic depiction of steamy jungles or endless seas, peopled by the most bizarre creatures, is nothing short of riveting while being at the same time an informative and easily understandable presentation of the infinite possibilities of evolution. I can make no claim on scientific knowledge of the processes of evolution, but reading those sections of the book was no struggle at all, while it proved equally fascinating and a close look into this author’s scope of imagination.

The characters are as carefully drawn as the background in which they move: Julian and Allison have something of a Mulder & Scully vibe, in that they are attracted by the spookier aspects of their investigation and are not afraid of getting their proverbial feet wet, while the antithesis between her willingness to take the weirdest of clues at face value and his very British adherence to propriety serves to define them well and make them quite relatable.  One of my favorite characters is that of Dr. Kahn: highly intelligent and amusingly sarcastic, she’s quite different from the prototype of the brilliant-but-detached scientist in that she’s very rooted in reality and possesses a huge capacity for empathy, particularly when she finds herself among non-human creatures (I will come back to them in a short while) and realizes, after the first understandable moments of revulsion, that no matter the shape, people are still people with all of their fears, desires and needs. And she, being a transgender and the continued object of hostility and scorn, is best qualified to see beyond mere outward appearances.

The “bad guys” are given as much depth as the “heroes” and if it’s simply impossible to share Rove’s world-view or his ultimate goal – particularly when the plan is revealed in its complexity, ruthlessness and longtime preparation – it’s also easy to see where he comes from and what shaped his mindset, not least because his kind finds far too many real-life examples in the present world.  Rove’s main henchman Lucas is also an interesting character, balanced between opportunistic choices and some faint glimmers of a conscience, which gift him with more facets than one would expect from someone in his position and… career choice.

I want to reserve a special mention to the non-human creatures I spoke of before, from one of the many Earths: once again Adrian Tchaikowsky managed to offer a different point of view on animals I find absolutely repulsive, and to turn them into beings I could empathize with. If it looked difficult with the spiders from Children of Time, here it seemed impossible, because we’re talking about rats – yes, critters that manage to make those spiders look like house pets and who come on the scene Hobbit-sized and even more revolting for their humanlike appearance:

They were hunched, half the size of a man, wearing rubbery black uniforms with gas masks and goggles and wielding ugly-looking weapons designed for use up close against crowds, because that was their entire life where they came from.

If you add the detail of their world being literally swarming with them due to unchecked breeding, the picture being painted here is something straight from the worst of nightmares. And yet the author is able to humanize these rats, give them distinct personalities and add poignancy to their appearance: much of it is due to the character of Dr. Rat, but also to a scene in which a whole family group runs for safety bringing all their worldly possession with them.  Ludicrous as this might sound, in that moment I thought of the cute rats in Disney’s Cinderella, and stopped seeing these as the scurrying vermin that would otherwise have me run for cover. Yes, Adrian Tchaikowsky did it again…

Prepare for a full immersion in a huge story teeming with amazing ideas and graced with as much heart in it as there is science. It might feel like far too much at times, but it’s a journey totally worth taking.

 

My Rating:

Reviews

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Titles That Would Make Good Band Names

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday (created and hosted by  The Broke and Bookish) is now being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future week’s topics can be found here.  

 

 

This turned out to be one of the funniest TTT memes I engaged in: first I had no idea that so many of the books I read would be perfect for this week’s theme; second it was fun to try and match the books’ titles with the music genre of each imaginary band.

On this subject I must admit that my knowledge is very, very limited, so I went searching for the definitions of the various musical genres, which means I might have incurred in some big mistake and that’s why I prefer to apologize in advance for them: any correction from my better informed fellow bloggers will be much appreciated 🙂

And now, let’s the fun begin!

 

Half Off Ragnarok

(from Incryptid #3), by Seanan Mc Guire

For this one I found the term Epic Metal, a ‘classic’ metal bonded with epic-inspired lyrics and mentions of heroic battles. It sounded perfect!

 

Tainted Blood

(from Generation V #3), by M.L. Brennan

Given the inspiring book’s focus on vampires, this band might play Disco Underground: I really have no idea what kind of music this is, but the ‘underground’ bit sounds perfect for a light-allergic bloodsucker…

 

Mayhem

by Sarah Pinborough

If there is a word that evokes thoughts of Hard Rock it’s ‘mayhem’: what better term to define the aggressiveness and harshness of this genre’s typical sound?

 

Fortune’s Pawn

(from Paradox #1), by Rachel Bach

For some reason, this name makes me think of Country music: no real reason for it, only it sounds like they belong together.

 

Kings of the Wyld

(from The Band #1), by Nicholas Eames

Given that this book tells of a daring adventure in a savage land, I think my band would play Celtic music, so very evocative of heroic feats, wide plains and rolling hills.

 

Strange Dogs

(from The Expanse #6.5), by James S.A. Corey

With a name like this, I can only imagine a Punk Rock band, whose outlandish stage costume should of course include metal-studded dog collars…

 

Night and Silence

(from October Daye #12), by Seanan McGuire

This title could easily belong to a song from Enya, therefore making it perfect for a New Age group playing restful and inspiring music.

 

Pariah

(from Donovan #3), by Michael W. Gear

Considering that the definition I found for Gothic Rock speaks of elements like “horror, romanticism, existential philosophy, and nihilism”, a group who chose such a name as ‘Pariah’ would fit perfectly there.

 

In an Absent Dream

(from Wayward Children #4), by Seanan McGuire 

Well, what else would they play but Trance Music? Repeating rhythms and sounds that would lead the listeners to enter a sort of dreamy state, maybe reaching for some inner peace.

 

Tiamat’s Wrath

(from The Expanse #9), by James S.A. Corey

With a name like this I immediately think of ensembles like Two Steps from Hell, or Audiomachine: their music is largely defined as ‘epic’, by I prefer to label them as Neo-Classical Orchestral. Given that their work is often used for movie trailers, I also found the definition Cinematic Rock.

 

Should any one of these start a concert tour, I will let you know…. 😉

 

Reviews

THE BOOK OF KOLI (Rampart Trilogy #1), by M.R. Carey

 

I received this novel from Orbit Books, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

There was no doubt whatsoever that I would enjoy this new work from M.R. Carey: after being enthralled by The Girl With All the Gifts, The Boy on the Bridge and Someone Like Me, I knew I would be in for another fascinating journey, but The Book of Koli went beyond any expectations I might have held, and confirmed its author as a skilled storyteller in the post-apocalyptic genre.

Civilization fell a long time ago – probably centuries – so that the glories of the past have become more myth than remembrance for most: it’s not specified what happened, but it would seem that a series of climate upheavals and devastating wars destroyed the world as we know it, and what now remains of humanity is confined to small, enclosed villages leading a hardscrabble existence.  Nature now rules rather than mankind: some genetic modifications introduced in flora have turned the trees into aggressive, murderous creatures that sunlight can wake from a light slumber, and fauna is just as dangerous, if nothing else because of its increased size and inherent hostility.

Koli, the story’s POV voice, is a boy in his mid-teens living in the village of Mythen Rood, a 200-odd souls settlement that’s considered quite big for the usual standards, which shows how humanity has indeed dwindled in numbers after the fall. Koli is ready to face the testing ceremony that will mark his passage into adulthood and which consist in attempting to “wake” the pieces of old tech in possession of the village. The defense of Mythen Rood is based on four pieces of still-functioning old technology salvaged from the past: those able to activate and wield them are called Ramparts – their role of protectors also making them the de facto rulers or the community.

As every young person undergoing the testing, Koli dreams of becoming a Rampart, youthful imagination and his interest for a girl fueling those desires into something of an obsession that leads him to break the rules and come into the illegal possession of a dormant piece of tech he’s able to wake: a DreamSleeve. The object and its AI interface Monono Aware will open Koli’s mind to unexpected possibilities but also bring about the beginning of a dangerous adventure that will change his life forever.

The changed Earth we see depicted here is both a strange and fearsome place, and seeing it through Koli’s eyes – and his limited vision – shows how people’s look has turned inwards for fear of the outside: enclaves are protected by barriers, the world beyond them filled with real dangers but also by less physical ones brought on by ignorance, which is encouraged and enforced from those in power through mechanisms that are as old as the universe. It’s no surprise that Ursala, a sort of wandering doctor who travels between settlements with her drudge – for all purposes a mobile first aid/defense unit – is welcomed for her skills but considered with suspicion by the leaders, because her considerable knowledge and the news she brings from ‘out there’ might pose a threat to their authority and the aura of superiority they need to project to assert their power.

Koli’s experience in the outside world is a coming of age story, of course, and a hero’s journey as well, but it’s also a way of showing that world and how it mutated from the one we know: being on his own is certainly a harrowing situation, but it also illustrates how limiting an existence based simply on survival can be.  The most striking narrative detail here comes from the language and the way it adapted over time, becoming simpler, less concerned with grammar and syntax: I saw a few comments declaring how this aspect of the story interfered with some readers’ experience and made their progress through it more difficult, but to me it was instead the perfect way of driving home the changes people went through from a flourishing, technology-rich society to a more primitive life. Far from bothering me, this less-refined language was the perfect complement for the background the author created and added a level of poignancy to the story that would be lacking with a more polished form of expression. Anyone who read Flowers for Algernon and remembers the language progression in the protagonist’s diaries knows what I mean…

At the start of the novel, Koli is your typical teenager, preferring the carefree company of his friends to the drudgery of the work all villagers must share, and dreaming of a brighter future, one where he might be able to add the qualifier of Rampart to his name, and as such he makes ill-advised decisions dictated by inexperience and hormones, and yet he does not come across as foolish because he’s always guiltily aware of the possible consequences of his actions, and of the often illogical motivations driving them. There is a sort of mature candor (for want of a better definition) that makes him very relatable, the kind of protagonist it’s easy to root for, and his world-view, in spite of the simplified language – or maybe because of it – shows a wisdom that goes well beyond his actual age.

[…] it seemed like nothing would ever happen to change it. But it’s when you think such thoughts that change is most like to come. You let your guard down, almost, and life comes running at you on your blind side.

Yet it’s through his encounter with Monono Aware that his personality truly takes flight, this interaction between two creatures coming from very different worlds and times who nonetheless find the way to build a bridge between them, one who changes and enhances them equally through the bond of an improbable friendship that’s a pure joy to behold.  I don’t want to spend too many words on Monono because she must be encountered with as little prior knowledge as possible, but let me tell you that her liveliness, her ebullient glee and her expressive mode are the elements that make a huge difference in this story.

Where the first part of this novel was an intriguing introduction to a strange world and to wonderful characters, in the end I realized it was only the foundation of a larger adventure that will certainly develop in depth and scope in the following books, and I can hardly wait to see where Mr. Carey will lead us next. Please let us not wait too long….

 

My Rating:

Reviews

THE SIEGE OF TILPUR (Powder Mage 0.1), by Brian McClellan

 

This novella from Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage series was an unexpected surprise, because I thought I had explored them all, so as soon as I saw this title I wasted no time to acquire and read it: the end of the saga left me somewhat pining for this world, and going back to it, even for a short number of pages, felt like a treat.

This is set in the far past of Field Marshal Tamas, at the time when he was a young sergeant in the Adran army, just 19 years old but already burning with the ambition to scale the ranks despite the apparently insurmountable obstacle of being low-born and therefore having little or no chances to rise beyond a certain level.

The Adrans have been laying siege to the enemy fortress of Tilpur for a long time, sacrificing a great number of soldiers against its strong, magic-enhanced walls, and after the latest bloody charge, one that still made no dent in the enemy’s defenses, Tamas is trying to find a way to breach them without losing too many lives and at the same time putting himself in the limelight that will finally show his mettle.

This younger Tamas is as driven as the older one I encountered in Promise of Blood, but he still has to develop the deep loathing for the nobles’ privileges that will inspire his later revolution: it’s here, however, that probably for the first time his ambition clashes with the… glass ceiling of those privileges and maybe sets him on the path that will make him the man we’ll know in the trilogy.

The Siege of Tilpur is both a social commentary on Adran society at the time of Tamas’ youth and a very engrossing tale of a commando-style incursion that will keep you glued to the pages until its very end.  Very recommended for every fan of McClellan’s work.

 

My Rating:

Reviews

THE LAST EMPEROX (The Interdependency #3), by John Scalzi

 

I received this novel from Tor Books, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

A series’ ending might probably be one of the most difficult tasks an author faces: readers’ expectations, narrative twists and resolutions, characters’ paths – it all must come together at the end, and I also imagine it might not be easy to let go of a world that one has so carefully built over time. Well, The Last Emperox turned out to be a very satisfactory ending to the Interdependency series, and did so by also being a compelling and fun read from the very start, where it offered a sort of recap of what went before by observing a character’s thoughts as his ship comes under attack. Not only did this choice avoid any dangers of info-dumping, it also managed to turn into entertaining recollections what could very well have been the last, terrified considerations of an endangered individual. After all, this is a work from John Scalzi, and one must expect some playful rule-breaking…

So, the Interdependency is a galaxy-spanning civilization whose settlements are connected by the Flow, a system of wormhole-like paths that allow ships to cover vast distances in a relatively short time. The Flow has been in operation for centuries, but recently scientists have discovered that the whole system is going to collapse, therefore isolating these far-flung settlements and very likely dooming the inhabitants to death, since only one planet in the whole confederation is able to sustain life in an Earth-like environment and all the others are artificial habitats depending heavily on Flow-driven commerce. Such catastrophic news brings out the best and worst in humanity, as it’s wont to do: some of the  great  merchant Houses try to speculate by amassing even more riches and power, others try to help in maintaining a level of civilization and the newly elected Emperox, Grayland II, finds herself dealing with a difficult situation, several attempts on her life and the conflicting agendas of various Houses.

Despite the light, playful tone, this series deals with several quite serious subjects, like the way people react when confronted with an imminent catastrophe – considering the moment in which I read this book, with humanity facing a worldwide crisis, I thought it was very spot-on and I was glad for the author’s trademark lightness because observing the various fictional players it was impossible not to make disheartening comparisons with actual events. The series, and The Last Emperox in particular, shows how personal advantage is paramount for power-hungry individuals and how sowing distrust and misinformation helps drive their agendas, while the general population is divided between the few who plan in advance against a worst-case scenario and those lulled into the complacent belief that those in power will find a solution before the inevitable becomes a reality.

Where I found the second book in this series, The Consuming Fire, somewhat uneven in pacing due to the shift between the quicker-flowing sections and the long chunks of exposition dialogue, this final installment turned into a swift, riveting read as the antagonists’ plots battled against the Emperox’s and her allies’ countermeasures, generating a constant race against time, fueled by shrewdness and political expediency that kept the story lively and the tension high.  Most of this narrative tension rests on the three main characters: Grayland II, whose desire to be a good and just ruler needs to be balanced against the challenging decisions she must take in the face of the forthcoming Flow collapse; Nadashe Nohamapetan, the very embodiment of the evil lady, the dastardly plotter whose ambitions are surpassed only by her ruthlessness; and Kiva Lagos, the foul-mouthed, crafty ally of the Emperox who remains my favorite character and one of the best sources of humor in the whole series.

It’s worth noting how these three women are not only at the very center of things, but also the most striking figures among the various personalities peopling this series: for example, if Nadashe is a vile adversary who stops at nothing to fulfill her goals, she ultimately does not come across as totally bad, if that makes any sense. As I saw her labyrinthine plans taking shape, I was torn between wanting them to fail and at the same time feeling sorry if they didn’t: in a way I ended up envisioning her as poor Wile E. Coyote, who concocted equally convoluted and far-reaching plans to win over Road Runner, only to be always spectacularly defeated in the end – and that never failed to elicit some form of sympathy from me.  On the other hand, there was no ambiguity in my cheering for Kiva’s success, and although at some point she managed to set in motion a series of events whose serendipity might appear totally unbelievable, it all worked within the over-the-top setup of her character, making it easy to suspend my disbelief and equally easy to observe her antics with an amused smile. Grayland looks less intense in comparison with these two formidable figures, her apparent candor masking instead a firm determination and a core of integrity that seems to be sorely lacking in the Interdependency, and that’s the main reason I was surprised – or rather stunned – at her unexpected choice for solving the quandary and giving her subjects a new direction and a hope for the future. I must say I did not expect the direction the story took and that in this instance the author managed to drop a very unpredictable twist on me here.

Where The Last Emperox draws all the narrative threads of the series to a good close, I find myself sorry to have to leave this universe, and I hope that John Scalzi might decide in the future to return here, maybe to show us how the former Interdependency fares in a post-collapse of the Flow future.

 

My Rating:

Reviews

PICARD – Season 1 (spoiler-free review)

 

There is no doubt that the fans’ hopes for this new production in the long-running Trek franchise were high, partly because of its focus on one of the most iconic characters for this universe, and partly because the more recent offerings did not exactly meet viewers’ expectations, maybe (and this is only my personal opinion) due to the fact that they chose to look at the past of this universe rather than envision its possible futures, and therefore had to deal with issues of canon and continuity that provoked displeasure from some hard-core fans.

Did the first season of Picard meet those expectations? I would largely say yes, although it was not exempt from pacing and narrative problems.  The story is set some twenty years after the events of the last TNG movie, Nemesis, and starts from the premise that a supernova threatened the obliteration of a good portion of the Romulan Empire: the Federation and Starfleet mounted a huge operation of rescue and relocation of the affected population and gave Picard, promoted to the rank of admiral, the task of coordinating the effort. Despite the technical difficulties and the political problems – not everyone in the Federation was happy with the idea of investing so many resources in aiding a long-standing enemy –  the operation proceeded competently until it was wrecked by an unforeseeable disaster: the androids designed to increment the workforce suddenly and inexplicably turned on their creators, destroying the shipbuilding facilities on Mars and killing tens of thousands.  Faced with Starfleet’s decision to stop the rescue mission in the aftermath of the tragedy, Picard threatened to resign in the hope of waking up their conscience, but his resignation was accepted with no qualms and he retired to his family home, angered and defeated.

As the series opens, it’s been fourteen years since that day and the Picard we meet is a disaffected, reclusive man who nevertheless rises to the occasion when a young woman comes to seek his help after having been the victim of a brutal murder attempt… I will leave the rest of this complex, many layered story for you to discover, and concentrate instead on the first season’s characterization and storytelling.

There is no question that characters are the backbone of this show, both the old and the new. Jean Luc Picard is of course the one who enjoys the most screen time, but he’s very different from the person we knew (or thought we knew…) from the seven seasons and four movies of TNG: he’s older, disillusioned and quite bitter about the way his career ended – the rescue and relocation effort could have been its crowning achievement, not just for the amount of lives saved, but for the opportunity of turning the Federation’s ideals of diplomacy and cooperation into tangible fact, of showing that even long-standing differences can be overcome in the name of a worthy goal.

Present-day Picard is not the man we remember anymore: he has turned inwards, almost forgotten to look up at the stars and see the promise they offer; there is no more hope in him and at some point he understands that for all this time he has been vegetating, waiting to die as he claims in a moment of merciless introspection. The long years spent in this self-inflicted isolation have left their mark on him, and it’s not a welcome sight: even once he embarks on the “adventure” that’s the focus of this story, he has moments when he seems unaware, or worse dismissive of other people’s feelings, when it appears as if he’s using them as convenient tools to fulfill his goal. And yet, where these moments should make us think less of him, they help instead to make him look far more approachable than he was in the past, as if, shedding that mantle of unshakable authority that made him one of the most celebrated Starfleet captains, he gained in humanity.

This less-than-flattering view of Picard is only the mirror for what happened with the Federation, which has turned into an insular entity, more concerned with its own problems than with the expansion of knowledge and the betterment of its members that were its founding principles. It’s often been one of the mandates of science fiction to examine our present and to reflect it back at us through some imaginary filter, so we could take a good look at what we are, and the image that we see in this mirror is far from flattering: the hope and optimism that were at the roots of the earlier incarnations of Star Trek are present in name only, replaced by an unprecedented wariness toward the other that denies those lofty ideals. The prequel novel The Last Best Hope does a good job of showing how this kind of mindset came to be, and it’s indeed a useful key to decipher the atmosphere we breathe in this first season of the series, to understand the kind of inner journey Picard has to take in the TV series to rise up again from the depths of disillusionment he had fallen in and regain the armor of moral authority that was the main component of his personality.

Back to the characters, there are some new faces here who end up forming the crew Picard needs for this unexpected mission, and while they are all interesting, they are not given sufficient space to really grow into fully-featured personalities: ten episodes and a story that needs to explain enough of the past to help us understand the present are hardly enough to show all the facets that would deepen our understanding of them. Still, it’s a good start and my hope is that they will be given room to expand with the second season: if I choose to see this first run of the series as a prologue, there might be a good chance they will be allowed to mature fully and to create a new “family” for the old captain.  On the other hand, the appearance of a few familiar faces from the past is more than welcome, either the cameo roles of Riker and Troi or the more substantial presence of Data and of 7of 9 from Voyager – and in this respect I look forward to her return in Season 2 because the metamorphosis from her former aloof personality to the present ass-kicking awesomeness represents one of the highlights of this series.  In this respect, I would like to address some of the accusations of “fan service” I read online, and while I admit that the show was at times guilty of it, I’m also aware that it needed to build on the ties of the past to better establish its footing in this “present” – and I’m also certain that no one, not even those detractors, was able to remain unmoved when Picard finally uttered his trademark “Engage!” at the end of a certain episode…

The first season of Picard, while promising, is not immune from some narrative issues, particularly in the pacing that feels too slow in some instances and far too swift in others, blithely skipping over some details that would have helped make sense of the progression of events –  and yet it all comes together in the final episode, one whose emotional content was enough to make me forget all previous doubts and criticisms. Not perfect, no, but promising enough to encourage me to wait for next season with great anticipation.

 

 

My Rating: