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.
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To any of the regulars on this board who haven’t made time for Trek-lit, you’re definitely missing some really great contributions to the Trek oeuvre.
I did have this book on pre-order, and was keen to read it immediately.
I did find it satisfying, but read it with the expectation that it would not line up with what will become the canon timeline locked down by Star Trek: Picard and the upcoming preparatory Short Trek.
David Mack has been fairly clear in interviews that, as he understands it, the Relaunch novel timeline has been set aside by the new streaming series writers. It seems as though 15 years of Trek-lit is now resigned to another thread of the multiverse, unless some heroic efforts are made to bring them together.
That said, I was surprised by how many loose ends in the TNG Relaunch book universe, big and small, Mack deftly resolved in this novel.
I’m not sure how much is permitted here by way of spoilers, but I will say that some of the quibbles raised in reviews and comments elsewhere are really unwarranted in my view. It’s a solid completion/conclusion to the Relaunch books.
I had been grieving that the Trek-lit storyline is not being included in the new television shows, but this really helped me past that.
In fact, after reading this one, I went back to read Christopher L Bennett’s ‘Greater than the Sum’ and are digging into the omnibus version of Mack’s Destiny trilogy (which Mack says was cleaned up a bit and has a revised scene vs the original). I’d read Mack’s ‘A Time to Kill’ and ‘A Time to Heal’ as well as the latest TNG Relaunch novels by Dayton Ward in preparation for ‘Collateral Damage’, but hadn’t expected to want to touch back to the Borg story as well.
All in all, definitely ‘Collateral Damage’ is a keeper.
This book troubled me much more than I expected. It wasn’t the Nausicaan story, which was brilliant. I loved Worf’s arc. And Okona was a nice twist on the character. The different writing styles was fresh and
I felt remarkably let down by Ward’s writing of the women characters.
Louvois seemed to live entirely in a trope of shrill, wronged woman. There was little nuance or reflection to her character, just anger at having been wronged by a man.
Beverly Crusher is introduced to Picard’s storyline as having the crucial role of balancing Picard, helping not do something he’d regret, basically being his ally and partner. She’s reduced to barely speaking and never seems to have that crucial payoff to her setup. When it comes time for Picard and allies to make crucial choices, that happens in a study over alcohol between men. Crusher isn’t a vital ally and partner for Picard and veers on the edge of being a prop.
Then there’s Marie Picard, who seems to be a badass vintner who turned the family business around after the death of her family, yet she gets no dialogue and basically just exists to serve people food and be seen, not heard.
The worst is Smrhova.
Smerhova spent most of the book angry at Okona’s sleazy flirting (on the verge of harassment) only to end the book as a sexual trophy for him feeling shame for her choice of sexual partner. I thought TNG-era Federation sexual morals were more progressive than that? I get that this was a play on classic madcap spy romps, where the lovable if slightly misogynist rogue finally gets the good girl who refused him and hated him the entire time. But along side the context of all the other poorly portrayed women the punchline doesn’t feel clean when it lands. It’s dirty in a skeavy, shameful way instead of empowering for her. And that’s just her role as a sexual object for Okona. Given the character’s naming after a professional sex worker, having Smrhova end her story feeling shame as someone else’s sexual conquest is ugly.
Smrhova’s other arc ends up as an affirmation of Worf’s greatness rather than her own awareness of competency. “[Worf] had the directness of Klingon, the rationality of a Vulcan, and the compassion of a Betazoid. Now I see what it takes to impress Captain Picard: something I’ll never be.” After doubting herself the entire book—which has been a significant struggle for her—that’s her final thought? It’s her last bit of self-reflection in the book before ending up as Okona’s sexual reward. It’s a shameful payoff to her notable professionalism and capability and accomplishments in her security work throughout the book and in previous novels.
And speaking of progressive sexual relations, La Forge’s partners in their open relationship also didn’t have much purpose beyond to bolster him up. Bechdel fail.
So while I thought that the Nausicaan arc was wonderfully written with a fantastic, redemptive ending that stands with the best of Star Trek, the rest of the book was deeply soured for me by Mack’s portrayal of the women in a manner that ran counter to Star Trek’s progressive equality, empowerment, and sexual positivity.
Aranamac, I didn’t find the women’s roles in general to be a problem.
That may be because I’ve read many of Mack’s Trek books, and I have in my mind the powerful characterizations of Captain Ezri Dax and Captain Erica Hernandez who shine so brightly in the Destiny trilogy. Deanna Troi and Beverley Crusher also have powerful roles in that.
I suspect that the less developed roles for women in Collateral Damage is due the book having Picard and Worf as the two main characters who are changed by the events. I agree: this book is about them. I can accept that in this book since Mack has written women as main characters and protagonists elsewhere.
I found Phillipa Louvois less sympathetic than Dylan Ward portrayed her in the preceding book ‘Available Light’. However, this was attributable to the inherently adversarial nature of the court process. More, this story is about the fallout personally for Picard, whereas in Available Light, Louvois was leading efforts to bring justice to the Admirals who had been members of or complicit with S31.
The Smrhova story is complicated. It’s interesting to see a character struggling with her own self-esteem against the reputation and expectations of the Enterprise. The issue with her brief fling with Okona is more that she is portrayed as feeling shame/regret after. I’d like to see this revised if we ever get more novels down the line. I don’t find that there is anything more inappropriate in Smrhova enjoying an adventure with Okona, than Picard with Vash.
Geordi – I suspect that Mack was doing his best to find a way to reconcile the inconsistencies introduced by the authors of Trek-lit with long-term relationships both on and off the Enterprise.
RIP DC FONTANA
Fontana and, months back, Peter Allan Fields (very nearly the only writer who made the 24th century interesting for me) in the same year. Then again, we lost William Goldman and Harlan Ellison in the previous year, the writers I most admired are pretty much all gone like the dinosaurs.
There will be new writers, new voices. The song goes on, though the singers change.
(That said, the loss of Fontana comes as a real blow for sure. I’m gratified, at least, that I was able to meet her at Loscon a few years back and tell her what her work had meant to me, much as I was able to do with Ursula Le Guin sometime before that. Maybe that’s the best we can do, not to hero-worship or put people on pedestals, but to simply express the gratitude they’ve earned.)
It seems so strange that TrekMovie.com still doesn’t have an obituary up…?
I feel the same; maybe they’re just taking the time to do it right. She certainly deserves it.
She was an inspiration and a trailblazer; I certainly hope she gets a feature here.
Hi all… we are working on some D.C. Fontana tributes. We’ll be recording a podcast next week and we’re going to have an article up by the weekend. We didn’t want to just do an obit, we wanted to pay her tribute by focusing on her great work.
Awesome, Ms. Ulster. I know you’ll do her proud (though I sure would’ve been honored to help).
That’s something this site struggles with, for some reason. When Neil Armstrong died, it took days and was a tad condescending.
It’s odd. As a former newsperson I applaud the instinct to publish a more in-depth feature on the woman who gave us so much of the DNA of Trek. On the other hand it seems strange not to publish a quick AP-style news item…this was huge news, bigger than anything having to do with Section 31.
Aranamac, thank you for your thoughts! You bring up some excellent points. I’d just point out that this book was written by David Mack, not Dayton Ward. I get them mixed up, too.
I didn’t touch on this in my review, but I did find Mack’s treatment of Louvois’ character to be a long way from Dayton Ward’s version of her in “Available Light.” In Ward’s book, her preeminent goal is a fair trial, and justice to be done. In this book, she’s out to get Picard. I didn’t think it was because she had been wronged, though – what I got was that she felt that Picard had done wrong, whereas in AL, she considered him a basically honorable man.
As to Smrhova – I don’t know anything about the derivation of her name, but I found her insecurities painfully familiar, and appreciated them. I did find her quick sexual turnabout surprising, and I can see your point about it seeming like she was a trophy.
Your points about Crusher and Marie Picard are well taken.
Thanks for the catch on Ward/Mack! That’s an awkward mistake. I even had the book in front of me and thought “Mack, Mack” but wrote “Ward, Ward”. I wish I could edit the post.
Good point on Louvois’. I didn’t recall what she was like in Available Light. And you’re right on her regarding “He did me wrong” versus “He did wrong”.
Okona is a Rush fan! Maybe I’ll read it.
Hugh Jess, if you are a Rush fan, you should also consider giving Dayton Ward’s Trek novels a read.
Ward identifies as a Rush fan, and it sounds like many of his books were written with the support of his Rush collection.
Thanks for the recommendation!
Trekmovie, I’m always happy to read your reviews on novels and comics (this book a really good review), so I’m really surprised you have not put out a review for the first issue of the Picard Countdown comic? I pre-ordered it weeks ago, read it the first day it came out and LOVED it!! What’s crazier I have never read a Star Trek comic until now. That’s how I’m excited about this show.
Maybe you’re waiting for the entire story to be released but I hope it will be covered. It’s just great to read our fist (mostly canon ;)) story of the 24th century again!
Soo… are you guys memorializing DC Fontana at all? I think I just have very different fan priorities to this site’s.
Yes of course we are, please see editor Laurie’s reply a few comment threads up. Also we did quite a bit on Twitter the day of the announcement of her passing. So no we didn’t forget her.
That’s great to know.
I personally don’t think Twitter is a great record of history, it has so much churn that it’s easy to be buried in a feed. This site I consider the main hub, so even though I’m old-fashioned and abhor tweets, I still think it’s a better testament to take time and immortalize more stories on the site.
As Laurie’s reply further up outlined (https://trekmovie.com/2019/12/03/book-review-star-trek-the-next-generation-collateral-damage/#comment-5471076), there are indeed plans for an article and a podcast episode. So I certainly don’t think Twitter is enough. My only point in mentioning it is that it’s an important platform for communication today and one used for immediacy. It is not the be-all-end-all communication medium. Just as with other communication mediums, there are different uses for each. A phone call is a different level of communication and urgency than sending a text message, which is a different level of urgency than sending an e-mail, and so forth.
Also note we embed our Twitter feed on the main page of TrekMovie.com, and you can always visit
https://twitter.com/trekmovie to see nearly everything we post without needing an account.
To Ian and others, I think that the key point here is that TrekMovie honoured DC Fontana’s death immediately using the quick medium for this site : i.e. Twitter.
This isn’t cable news or a newspaper service that has obituaries of key people prewritten so they can be quickly updated and posted within hours.
We do see some close to real-time postings from major cons, when TrekMovie has planned for it, but generally it takes a few days.
I’ve been somewhat surprised how much criticism I see here about it taking a couple of days to get articles written and up – on a number of topics.