Star Trek: The Next Generation – Collateral Damage
Written by David Mack
All right, if you insist. I’m here as a talent scout. Looking for backup dancers for an interstellar review of Klingon traditional music for kids called ‘What’s Opera, gagh?’
David Mack’s latest novel took me by surprise for a number of reasons. Right off the bat, the strikingly different cover design led me to believe that perhaps this novel was disconnected from the tight continuity that the post-Nemesis Star Trek novels have followed, perhaps serving as a bridge between those stories and the events in the forthcoming CBS All Access series Star Trek: Picard. But no, this book is, in fact, the culmination of a long-brewing storyline involving Captain Picard, Section 31, and the Federation. This was a pleasant surprise—that storyline has been fascinating, and this conclusion to it was immensely satisfying.
The second big surprise was the choice of antagonists and supporting characters. I had never thought that the Nausicaans would provide anything like the deeply interesting “bad guys” that Mack develops them into in this book. Memory Beta tells me that Mack introduced a bit about Nausicaan religion in his earlier novel “DS9: Warpath,” which I have not read, but here we get an in-depth look at Nausicaan culture, the character of a few Nausicaans, and even a little of the Nausicaan language. Mack has moved the Nausicaans from “generic surly thugs” to “Trek races worth exploring.” On the supporting characters front, I was surprised to encounter Thadiun Okona, of the poorly received TNG episode “The Outrageous Okona.” I was even more surprised to enjoy the character thoroughly, even while being annoyed with him. More than once, I was tempted to think of him as Trek’s Han Solo, a comparison that Mack spurs along, sometimes subtly and sometimes overtly. And of course, Okona is a Rush fan.
The third big surprise was how moved I was by the conclusion of one of this episode’s storylines. The novel follows a number of parallel tracks. In one, Captain Jean-Luc Picard is on trial for his actions years before, during a crisis managed by the now-collapsed shadowy organization Section 31. Mack writes this storyline with great attention to the technical details of the trial, making this book part legal thriller. In another, Geordi LaForge leads a team of engineers to try to save 60,000 colonists from a rapidly approaching disaster caused by a band of Nausicaan raiders who have stolen a compact power generator that was keeping the colony’s solar shield in place. It is a testament to Mack’s skills that I believed the jeopardy the Enterprise crew was in, sweating along with them as the story moved on. In yet another track, Acting Captain Worf, aboard the Enterprise-E, pursues the Nausicaan raiders, attempting to retrieve the power generator and stop them from using a deadly Husnock weapon against the Federation. Figuring out why the Nausicaans want to use this weapon is one of the pleasures of this book, and I was impressed with how Mack invoked some aspects of Worf’s personality and biography that are rarely remembered to bring this storyline to a conclusion that brought tears to my eyes multiple times. I had thought that I’d be most moved by some impassioned Picard speech defending truth, or standing up for dignity. But it was Worf who brought me to tears. Go figure.
Mack makes the interesting choice—explained in the book’s Acknowledgements section—of writing both Okona’s portions and the Nausicaan portions of the story in first-person style; Okona’s is in the past tense, and the Nausicaan leader’s is in the present. Mack does this as a writing experiment, which is fun to see, and though at first it was jarring for me, by the end I think it worked. How often do writers of licensed fiction get to try out experimental writing styles? Perhaps this is part and parcel of the Alex Kurtzman/Secret Hideout approach to Trek—trying new styles, and seeing what sticks.
If you’ve been following the Section 31 storyline in the TNG-era Trek books, this novel is an excellent and satisfying conclusion to that tale. While I had hoped for some seeds to be planted for Star Trek: Picard, in the end I was glad for what I got. If you haven’t been following that story, Mack gives you enough background to follow what’s going on here, and the Geordi/Worf/Okona/Nausicaan stuff is interesting enough to merit picking this book up.
Finally, even though the novels are not considered strict Trek canon, Collateral Damage ends with a plot point that seems to contradict what we know about one point in Star Trek: Picard’s plot. We’ve seen pictures of an Admiral’s uniform that is said to have been Picard’s, perhaps to be seen in flashback sequences. But “Collateral Damage” seems to make that impossible. I’m curious to find out if either Star Trek: Picard or a forthcoming Trek novel will help to settle that apparent contradiction.
Collateral Damage is available to buy now
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