Sunday, April 7th, 2013

Q & A (Star Trek The Next Generation)Q & A by Keith R.A. DeCandido
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When I was growing up, I read more than any kid in my classes: and it was almost entirely licensed fiction: Star Trek and Star Wars mostly. Even today, I still maintain quite the collection of these books, even though I rarely indulge.

These days, I prefer more original works (though I still happily do most of my reading in the speculative fiction genres). The limitations of licensed novels are both stifling and well known: the individual author has no power to grow or change the main characters or world. Every story must end in the same place that it began. Perhaps the author can introduce new characters or locations that are allowed to have an arc: but they must be necessity not impact the characters that the reader actually cares about.

You can get some decent adventure stories with that setup but it’s tough to find anything much deeper. Yet, there’s still a bit of room in my heart for the occasional bit of licensed work. Sometimes, it can be fun to go on another romp with beloved characters: especially when they’ve been off-screen for a decade (and off of television for far longer).

Some romps work out better than others, though.

In a lot of ways, this book was set up in the worst possible position. It’s licensed, so right off the bat, the author has to tread carefully with regards to the license-holder. It’s set within the expanded universe, so characters have moved on or died — and those that remain seem to have laughably stagnant careers. And then there’s the entire conceit behind this particular novel: it’s going to answer a universe-and-tv-series-spanding question about just what the show’s most beloved rogue has been thinking all this time.

It’s a tall order.

In a lot of ways Q & A succeeds. It’s a fast and enjoyable read. It brings back all of my favorite characters and lets me spend a little time with them. It even ties up all of Q’s shenanigans into a nice cohesive (if a bit implausible) bow.

But I think the mere fact that it’s facing such a tall order is the book’s downfall. It has to spend time with all of the major characters (even if they’re off the ship), it has to introduce readers to the new characters that are being used to extend the life of the expanded universe franchises, it has to create a universe-spanning threat, it has to resolve that threat, and it has to wrap up a decade’s worth of Q’s exploits . And it has to do all of that in under 300 light-reading pages. Jiminy.

It doesn’t really manage all of that. That’s not much of a criticism: I don’t think it *could* have managed all of that. And there is definitely something to be said just for the fact that it *tried*. More authors should aim so highly, especially in the field of licensed novels where the impulse is always to recycle the same old cliches again and again just to cash a check.

It’s this book’s ambition makes me think that it wasn’t a callous attempt at cashing in; unfortunately, that evidence is entirely circumstantial. The bulk of this book is shameless fan-service. It largely consists of characters saying “Do you remember that time we…” before recounting the plot of a favorite episode or the narrator saying something like “He hadn’t seen that look since…” before recounting the plot of a favorite episode.

It’s basically a clip-show in novel form. And those clips take away both pages and pacing from actually telling the story of the book. It’s no wonder that the main plot feels rushed and ultimately unfulfilled when so much time is spent recounting events that we all saw on television (because who would read a Star Trek book if they weren’t already fans?).

Ultimately, I award this book a lot of points for aiming for the stars; but its execution just could not even begin to match its dreams.

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