Star Trek Picard The Last Best Hope by Una McCormack
Hardcover, 322 pages
Published February 2020 by Pocket Books/Star Trek; Simon & Schuster
I meant to read this before the show premiered but somehow I missed it until now when I have watched Picard the series twice. So yeah I am a fan of the show and I know the return of Star Trek under the guidance of Alex Kurtzman has been dividing the fans. This review is not really about the show but Una McCormack's excellent prequel to the show. I have to say this is the first time this author's work and I was very impressed.
This novel not only felt like the ST universe but more importantly McCormack gave the world a sense of life and function that felt grounded. That is one of the key reasons that this book not only tells the backstory to the show it makes the show better and gives it even more weight.
I really appreciated that all the conflict and drama came from the fact that Picard was attempting to mount an impossible mission. There were no action scenes or battles forced into the story to give it an action vibe. The novel is a political drama that follow Raffi and Admiral Picard on their mission to try and save the Romulan empire from disaster even when they are not interested in help.
The story sets up and tells the back story of Picard's infamous mission to try and save the Romulans. We get most of the back story hinted at in the TV series. We get excellent details on how Picard, Raffi, Bruce Maddox, and Geordi (!) move mountains to save a species that has been the Federation's enemy for centuries held in check by the thin political line of the neutral zone.
The writing is excellent, top-notch work of weaving multiple storylines and POVs. I know there is this idea out there that tie-in novels are lesser works of literature. Here again, Una McCormack proves that from a writing task that is nonsense. The structure of the story takes place over three years, balances A, B, C, and D storylines while planting seeds for 10 hours of television. at the same time the story is compelling and the characters already established by the history of Trek or the still in production script she was working from. Not a simple job but this novel pulls all that off.
A good tie-in writer knows how to use the relationship the reader has with the characters to their advantage and this is done here often. I actually think I benefitted in my reading experience because I had already watched the show. The relationship of Raffi and Picard is so important to this book and I think will ad weight when I watch the scene when Picard shows up at her trailer.
The moral weight of Picard, his role in Starfleet and his stubborn insistence on the mission and saving lives is the heart of the novel and in that sense alone it add depth to the show. That feeling is all there in the show but it is nice to see the level Picard worked for years on the mission. It means more when you watch the scene where He walks into the Romulan bar.
The novel also fills in information that some thought were holes in the show. This comes in explaining how the sudden crisis pushes the Starfleet shipyards to increase production to the point that they need android workers to pitch-in, plus pushing workers in ways that 24th-century citizens are not used to. At the same time, Picard is pushing federation colonies and worlds to accept Romulan refugees, something that a political operative on the Federation council pounces on.
Many Star Trek purists are really bothered that the stress of the Romulan crisis is putting such stress on the Federation. But look at what a tiny virus is doing to America as this is written. the Federation at the time of this story has just survived two Borg invasions and a Dominion War. As a show Picard is about one man's idealism saving The universe we all grown to love so nothing is more Roddenberry than that.
I know many were bothered by Picard and Starfleet's distrust of each other and the fact that Clancy told Picard off. McCormack sets all that up nicely showing the number of times they showed him respect, but Picard challenged them over and over.
While this novel had various obvious points of view it was trying to express. When Patrick Stewart sat in the writer's room with Kurtzman, Buyer, Goldsman, and Chabon. It is clear the border and the refugee crisis with the caravan coming to the border was on their minds. Although less than a year after it was released I felt a different political weight. While half of our country is refusing science and debating science behind wearing masks. I couldn't help think about that as Picard was debating with a Romulan Senator that he needed to believe him that his planet was about to die. The man refused to believe the science choosing to believe Starfleet was using the situation to exploit and destroy their civilization. Sound familiar?
Some little things I want to note, there is a part where a Romulan scientist talks about his love for Science Fiction, and I loved thinking about the Romulan science fiction novels with the evil Starfleet in them.
Was it perfect? No, throughout the novel I assumed the Romulan liason Tajuth would end up being the character living with Picard because I didn't remember his name. There is a character who is a personal guard of a Romulan Senator in the third act she dies but it would make sense to be Laris. Even though they were only in the first three episodes Laris and Zhaban were my favorite characters on the show. It would have made sense to tell there back story and deepen their relationship to Picard. I suspect that was the plan, not sure why that was not the case here.
If you enjoyed Picard I suggest you read this before a repeat viewing, put on the soundtrack as you read it, it is a quick read.