August 2007 features the re-release of "Death in Winter" a paperback release of a 2005 hardcover TNG novel. This release sets up a series of post-Nemesis TNG novels starting in September (just in time for TNG’s 20th anniversary).
"Death in Winter" by Michael Jan Friedman
I’ve been reading books for nearly thirty years and reading Star Trek books for about twenty-two years. In all those years, there have only been a few novels that I couldn’t finish. The only reason I finished Michael Jan Friedman’s "Death in Winter" was to write a review.
Set in the aftermath of Star Trek: Nemesis, "Death in Winter" focuses around two poles: Beverly Crusher and Jean-Luc Picard.
In the wake of Shinzon’s rampage, Doctor Beverly Crusher has left the USS Enterprise to take over Starfleet Medical. One of her first acts is to travel (undercover) to Kevrata, a world subject to Romulan rule, where the native population is dying from a plague. The plague is similar to one that she experienced as a child. It is felt that Crusher’s previous experience will assist her on this mission. However, something goes horribly wrong and the mission fails.
Enter Jean-Luc Picard, who is sent – together with some old friends – to pick up where Crusher left off. Traveling with him are Pug Joseph and Dr. Carter Greyhorse, old ‘friends’ from their days on the Stargazer. When they arrive on Kevrata, they discover there is far more to the story than just a plague, and the Romulans are, of course, squarely involved.
Entering into "Death in Winter" is a painful experience in-and-of itself. The first hundred pages are dominated as much by the machinations of the Romulan Underground movement as it is by our familiar heroes. Inane and perfunctory banter between Romulan dissidents is enough by itself to make you want to close the book, but Beverly Crusher’s ‘undercover mission’ is an absolute joke. The entire tale unwinds in a slow, boring, and painfully obvious fashion. To make matters worse, this book took no chances; there are no storytelling risks in "Death in Winter" at all. Its ending will feel familiar to any fan of episodic television where the actors are under contract, because just by looking at the cover you know there is no real danger.
On this outing, Friedman’s prose seems rushed and lacks a depth and luster that his former works have possessed. His sense of character, particularly in Beverly Crusher, seems off (only Picard seems remotely familiar – and that’s being extremely generous), there are no ‘guest stars’ to get halfway excited about (even Sela comes off flat and one-dimensional). Every last character in the book seems to be a cookie cutter image, designed to do only what they need to do and no more. Most Star Trek novels, even the most formulaic of them, have one or two personalities that grab you and make you feel some level of joy, sympathy, or other emotion. Nothing of the sort is going on here.
The storyline is no better than the characterizations. The basic premise is that Doctor Crusher (and eventually Picard and Greyhorse) are on a humanitarian mission. I am all for a storyline that would involve something ‘humanitarian’, this one flops miserably. Instead of using some creativity to develop a non-violent way to handle things, the phasers and disruptors start firing (and keep firing) throughout the story. While I expect that from the Romulans (though I could see a three-dimensional Sela coming up with a far better way of exerting terror on her subjects) I was disappointed that Friedman decided to take the easy way out, guns-a-blazin’.
"Death in Winter" comes with other Friedman baggage, namely a reliance on his previous books in the Stargazer series. Those who haven’t read many (or any) of the Stargazer books may find themselves somewhat confused about the drama surrounding Dr. Carter Greyhorse.
Perhaps the most disappointing feature of "Death in Winter" is the lack of any substantial time with the crew of the Enterprise. While Geordi and Worf would have warmed the positronic circuits of Data’s brain with their detective work, they really don’t do anything. This is especially disappointing for a book that purports to be a "Star Trek: The Next Generation" story.
In short, "Death in Winter" is an abysmal work – suffering from far too much formula and not enough creativity. It is not one of Michael Jan Friedman’s best outings in the Star Trek universe (it may well be his worst). "Death in Winter" – from the cover art to the bland storytelling, to the lackluster finish – offers little of value to the reader, except (presumably) filler material and back story that will be necessary for the follow-up, J. M. Dillard’s "Resistance", a September 2007 release.
Related: TNG Novels Chart New Course