Written by Dayton Ward
Published by Simon and Schuster/Gallery Books
“Our search for the truth must be unrelenting. We have to use every legal means at our disposal, shine all available light into every corner, so that no one can hide. It all has to come out.” – Phillipa Louvois
For the last year, the only licensed Star Trek fiction novels have been tie-ins to the CBS All-Access show Star Trek: Discovery. But now the novels have returned to the 24th Century with Dayton Ward’s Available Light. The book picks up plot threads from David Mack’s 2017 novel Star Trek: Section 31: Control and Ward’s own 2017 novel Star Trek: The Next Generation: Hearts and Minds. It is by no means necessary to have read those novels to appreciate this one, as it is a classic, fun Star Trek: The Next Generation-style yarn that stands very well on its own, but may also be setting the stage for the brand-new Jean-Luc Picard television show that is currently filming.
This novel takes the reader through a solid first contact story showcasing Captain Picard’s skills as both a diplomat and a warrior, but also confronts our Captain with an ethical dilemma based on his actions in previous novels. While Starfleet itself would rather Picard stay out at the far end of the galaxy until the Section 31 debacle works itself out, can he live with himself if he does not return home to face the music?
The result is a novel that doesn’t really break new ground but is content to provide the reader with a solid episode in the life of the crew of the Enterprise-E, and move the greater story on in substantial ways. It was an enjoyable read, and I recommend it.
NOTE: From here on out, there are SPOILERS.
“She gestured to the conduits above their heads. ‘As far as I can tell, half these ducts go nowhere and do nothing.’” – T’Ryssa Chen
Dayton Ward knows Star Trek inside and out, as his “GNDN” reference above shows. And this story is a classic Trek tale, in which our people are out exploring the vastness of space and encounter an enormous, seemingly deserted space ark. As they investigate the ship, they are surprised to find that they are not the only ones interested in the empty vessel. Captain Picard must manage the scientific portion of this mission while also working the diplomatic end with the space salvagers, who have staked a claim on the abandoned behemoth.
This is all interesting, mostly as a variation on things we’ve seen before, and it gives Ward a chance to explore both classic TNG characters like Picard, Worf, Geordi, and Beverly along with characters new to the novels, especially T’Ryssa Chen, as well as the Vulcan Taurik (who appeared in the TNG episode “Lower Decks,” but has become a major character in the TNG novels).
Back on Earth, the fallout from Dr. Bashir’s destruction of Control—the AI behind Section 31—continues. Many of the prominent admirals in the Trek franchise make at least a name-checked appearance here, and Admirals William Ross (DS9) and Alynna Nechayev (TNG) have significant roles, as does Attorney General Phillipa Louvois from the TNG episode, “Measure of a Man.” As Louvois investigates the extent of Control’s human network alongside Admiral Leonard James Akaar (born in the TOS episode “Friday’s Child”), Admiral William Riker, and eventually Captain Jean-Luc Picard comes under close scrutiny. Neither Akaar nor Louvois wants to tarnish Picard’s reputation, but his somewhat unwitting involvement in one of Control’s more heinous crimes makes him a person of interest.
But with Picard far out in space, both Admirals hope he’ll stay there for a while, so that he can return later, when things have cooled down. But the man who made an impassioned defense of truth in the pivotal TNG episode “The First Duty” could not live with himself if he didn’t come clean and tell what he knows, and let the chips fall where they may.
This is completely in character for Picard, and while the new Star Trek: Picard TV series is under no obligation to treat this whole storyline as canon, it could provide interesting character fodder for the background of the show.
When Picard airs, will Picard and Beverly have been married, with a son, like in the licensed novels? Will Picard have been an unwitting pawn of a 24th century Control? We should know by the end of the year.
This is a good, solid space adventure story, with many delights and is well worth reading for fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation and its characters. It fits into that world seamlessly, and Ward is a good writer.
If it offers very little that is daring and new, which is to be expected of licensed fiction, what it does offer is strong adventure, the classic Trek spirit, good characterizations, and quite a few lingering questions about how this version of Control could fit in with what we saw in Discovery Season 2. Perhaps upcoming novels will tell us? We can only hope.
Note: A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Available Light out now
Available Light is available now on Amazon, in paperback, audiobook, and Kindle formats.