Review: The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard
Author: by David A. Goodman
Publisher: Titan Books, Hardcover 288 pages
Over the years, some who have reviewed my career as captain of the Enterprise have questioned my decision, specifically how I could let a teenager who’d never gone to the Academy take the conn of the Federation flagship. My answer is that I trusted my first officer, who’d trained the young man, and our experiences proved him to be correct: Wesley was an excellent navigator and helmsman. But that wasn’t the true reason I did it. The reason that I acceded to it was much more personal.
I enjoyed having Wesley at his father’s post. (Page 223)
There are times, as a reviewer for TrekMovie.com, when reading a Trek novel can feel like a chore, chugging through page after page, hoping to find interesting things to talk about. And then there are times when as soon as the package arrives, I tear it open eagerly and read the book every spare available moment out of sheer delight. The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard was one of those more delightful times.
After James T. Kirk, arguably the most recognizable Star Trek character is Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Spanning 178 episodes and 4 films, Star Trek: The Next Generation turned Star Trek into a franchise, and Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard became the face of Star Trek, for many fans and non-fans alike. Embodying benevolent authority with ease, combining the virtues of the diplomat, explorer, philosopher, and king all in one package, the character is as popular today as ever.
Which is what makes The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard: The Story of One of Starfleet’s Most Inspirational Captains such a delight. “Editor” David A. Goodman, author of The Autobiography of James T. Kirk, staff writer for Enterprise, and currently executive producer and writer on The Orville, takes the stories we know so well, and the backstory that we think we know so well, and fills in many of the gaps, giving the whole thing a fresh, exciting spin – making it feel almost brand-new. Curious about Picard’s childhood? It’s here. Wondering how Picard first met Guinan? You’ll love it. What happened to him after the (prime universe) events of 2009’s Star Trek film? Just wait and see.
Goodman, channeling Picard, grounds the story in a troubled home, and paints our beloved Captain as a man in search of a father, who finds a family. Raised by a mother who loved him and a father who could not express his emotions, young Jean-Luc reached for the stars. There, he found challenge, adventure, success, and horror, all the while bound to his home by ties he could not explain.
“[Jean-Luc] is not in school anymore.” Father was very aggravated, impatient with what must have been a tragic situation for him. “He’s a grown man.”
“I know, you don’t have to tell me,” mother said, but her voice wavered. Then it looked like she’d started to remember. “You were in space.”
“Yes, Maman,” I said.
“You’re the pilot…you always wanted to be the pilot…”
“Come to bed,” Father said.
“I’m having tea with Jean-Luc…”
“I said come to bed!”
“We’ll have tea in the morning, Maman,” I said. I helped her to her feet, and my father took her hand and walked her out of the room. I sat alone in the room.
Nothing I’d seen in my years of command prepared me for this. (Page 130)
The author picks up on the fact that every other supporting character we meet in The Next Generation seems to know Picard from way back. He has a history with every admiral, captain, scientist, and star-crossed lover the Enterprise-D comes across. Telling these stories makes this book richly layered, and there’s a treat to discover on every page. It also brings enormous poignancy to stories like the Battle of Wolf 359, as a Jean-Luc Picard partially-assimilated by the Borg into the persona of Locutus faces a fleet full of faces that he knows, personally.
The book is based entirely on canonical Star Trek, ignoring the continuity of the Star Trek novels, allowing the author to tell his own story, especially about Picard’s life following Star Trek: Nemesis. This makes the book easily accessible to fans that have not read any other Star Trek book. At the same time, he digs deeply into that canon, bringing forth fanboy treasures galore. My favorite deep canon bits involved the disappearance of the Denobulans, and their eventual impact on the destruction of the Hobus star. Fans will pick up numerous references to characters and events in every Star Trek series, including a nice link to Star Trek: Discovery.
Even cranking through Next Generation episode highlights at trans-warp speeds, the narrative still leaves out some fairly significant bits of Picard’s life. Given the prominence of the Crusher family in this story, it is surprising that Wesley Crusher’s departure with the Traveler is not mentioned. Goodman gives excellent attention to Picard’s relationship with Beverly Crusher – some of their scenes made me cry! – but the absence of other flames like Vash, Kamalla, and especially Nella Daren is keenly felt.
Goodman has a lot of fun with his footnotes, including a running joke from his Kirk autobiography. There were a couple of weird editing errors in my copy of the book, such as an incorrectly labeled footnote and some typos, but these little gaffes are trivial to the enjoyment of the book.
I soon returned to the repaired Enterprise, fully repaired myself. Robert had become the brother I’d wanted. Maybe even the father. I realized that I needed Robert; he was the only one left in the world who knew me before I’d become “Captain Jean-Luc Picard,” the only person I could show true weakness to. (Page 246)
In the center of the volume are a selection of Picard-related photographs from the Federation Archives, and each one is a delight. These photos and illustrations were made specifically for the book.
Goodman tells TrekMovie that his next book will likely be The Autobiography of Spock. In this book, Goodman’s version of Spock’s wedding to an unnamed human woman is amusing in the ways that the bride’s identity is shielded from the reader. This left me curious how Goodman will address that gap in canon in his next novel.
Bottom line: The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard will delight casual fans and canonical deep divers alike. It is fun, exciting, and emotionally satisfying, and brings new insight into one of Trek’s most beloved characters. Highly recommended!
The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard was released October 17th in hardcover, and retails for $24.99. You can pick it up at Amazon for $18.81 or get the eBook version for $8.01. You may also want to pick up Goodman’s other Trek books: The History of the Federation and The Autobiography of James T. Kirk .