Review: ‘Star Trek Picard: Second Self’ Is An Engaging Character Study That Delves Into Trek History

Star Trek Picard: Second Self
Written by Una McCormack
Published by Simon & Schuster in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook

If you could meet your younger self, do you think you would enjoy their company? I think back on my 16-year-old self, and I think I would find him to have been frustratingly cocky, so certain about the things he should have held loosely, and so careless about things that are long-term vital. Star Trek explores this kind of scenario well from time to time, in episodes like TNG’s “Tapestry,” and even SNW’s recent “A Quality of Mercy.” And Star Trek Picard: Second Self, the latest Trek novel from Una McCormack, gives one popular legacy character the chance to revisit their past self in an intriguing way, and to find redemption of a sort, as well as a closure that the character likely will never get in canon Trek.

Second Self is billed as a Raffi Musiker novel, and her journey is the narrative engine of the story, but the questions at its heart belong to this popular legacy character, who occupies about 50% of the story, but will be a surprise to readers who only know what they see on the book jacket or in promotional material.

This book takes place in three different time periods, starting shortly after the events of season one of Star Trek Picard, then like peeling back the layers of a chroniton onion, takes us back to the end of the Dominion War, then back again to the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor and its colonies. Arriving at the dark heart of the mystery, the story then journeys back out through the layers in reverse, concluding in the Star Trek “present day.” The structure is both intriguing and complicated enough to be a little confusing. Each time period follows a different cast of characters, most of whom we are meeting for the first time. Structuring the book this way was a risk for McCormack that mostly pays off, even though it requires the reader to pay  careful attention.

The “second self” that Raffi has to reckon with is her life as an addict. When we meet her in Picard season one, she is strung out on snakeweed, and fans have frequently asked how someone living in the post-scarcity economy of the Federation could possibly become a drug addict. This book explores that, through comparison with the oft-forgotten addiction storyline of a key Trek character other than Raffi. This is a book layered in sadness and regret, things that even people living in a material utopia would have to deal with.

McCormack is my favorite current Trek novelist. Here she is dealing with characters that are so far inside her wheelhouse that even the actors playing these roles probably don’t know them as well as she does. There’s a stretched-out galactic political intrigue plot, a sci-fi concept twist for interest, and plenty of gap-filling in Starfleet history. While Jean-Luc Picard is the biggest photo on the cover, he’s actually a minor character, which has been the standard for the tie-ins following McCormack kicking off the Picard novel series with Last Best Hope in early 2020. And while Elnor features strongly on the cover, he remains very sketchily drawn in the story. I wish we had more insight into him. But where Second Self truly shines is in exploring the characters of Raffi Musiker and giving a fan-favorite legacy character a story conclusion that feels somehow very right.

I wish I could say more without spoiling it! But I can’t. So, pick it up and enjoy it for yourself, then come back here and tell me what you thought in the comments section.

Available now

Star Trek Picard: Second Self was released on September 13. You can pick it up at Amazon in hardcover for $25.00 and Kindle eBook for $31.50.

It is also available as an audiobook at Amazon and Audible, ready by January LaVoy. Listen to a sample below.

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I admit to being a bit disappointed. The plot was fine and the character work with Raffii and [redacted] was fantastic, but I picked this one up in the hopes that some writer finally had an interest in giving Elnor some exploration, maybe even an actual arc. And nope, no such luck. (I’m pretty sure one of his big canon details was wrong, but it would be such a major snafu that I keep second guessing on whether or not I’ve missed something.) It felt like the writer got handed the character at the 11th hour and did due diligence, but had zero interest in any actual exploration. Which, again, disappointing given how many changes he went through between seasons and how little he was used in S2.

I’m trying to remember what legacy characters had an addiction problem. All I can come up with is Reg or LaForge and holo-addiction lol

The only one I can think of is Garak.

Given the book’s look at the aftermath of the Dominion War and the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor, you might be right.

ah – I remembered his implant as a device that was just acting up and causing him trouble but yes, going to back to look at the details, he was definitely using it on purpose constantly. Kind of a “Terminal Man” situation

My mind goes to T’Pol, in terms of characters with addiction.

yeah but it also said ‘fan-favorite’ so that rules that out ;)

Yar’s entire planet did.

im surprised people are asking that question. economics are far from the only reason people become addicts

Right? It’s similar to the backlash to those scenes at Vasquez Rocks. They kind of missed an important part of post-scarcity economics: just because Raffi is living in a trailer doesn’t mean that wasn’t her choice. She spent all her time online looking up conspiracy theories. She probably wanted a spartan lifestyle. Her remark about Picard’s heirloom furniture was more about how Picard had left the fight and wasn’t doing his exile the “right way” in her mind.

Exactly. I mean it’s kinda like camping in a way. Why do people feel the need to suck it up in the woods if they can be in a SPA instead? Some people just like that kind of life.

You camp to hopefully see wildlife. And NO PEOPLE.

except that doesn’t explain why people pile into camp sites filled with other people

Not enough camp sites!

Oh, joy. A novel about the worst Star Trek character in decades.

Please stop trolling. It’s embarrassing

final warning for trolling.