Saturday, September 19, 2009

Stargazer at last

As I've said here before, I have been behind in some of my Trek fiction reading. So now I'm reading Michael Jan Friedman's Stargazer series. I read the books that laid the groundwork for the series, Reunion and Valiant, as they were published, so I've started with the first book published under the Stargazer banner, Gauntlet. As I write this I've just started the fourth book in the series, Oblivion, but it's not too early to write some comments on the series.

Friedman introduced the crew of the Stargazer, Jean-Luc Picard's first command, in the Next Generation novel Reunion. The Stargazer series begins shortly after a young Picard has been given command of the Stargazer. The books are resolutely old-fashioned. Each novel is a standalone, though there are a few ongoing arcs from book to book. The prose is solid and unpretentious, the types of stories being told the kind that could be adapted to any of the Trek book series. They've generally got good, basic SF stories -- space pirates, space anomalies, and so on -- and there's a lot of focus on the original characters in Picard's crew. The execution isn't always what it could be -- in Gauntlet, there are some brief scenes involving the space pirate that read like something out of a pulp circa 1940, complete with "they'll never take us alive, mwahahaha" dialogue, and the truth behind the pirate's activities and motivations doesn't really make a lot of sense to me. I'm also of the opinion that the crazy Starfleet Admiral is a story element that should have been retired a long, long time ago.

But by and large this is straightforward Trek; I've read a lot of TOS and TNG novels that feel pretty similar to these books. That may be why the series hasn't had a new entry in five years. If there's a book series loosely comparable to Stargazer (a single author, books-only series) it's Peter David's New Frontier. I may not always enjoy it, but New Frontier is undoubtedly idisoyncratic; you won't get that same experience elsewhere. Stargazer doesn't stand out in the same way. And compared to newer series like Vanguard, it feels very dated and old-fashioned. If it hasn't generated the kind of following that New Frontier has, that's not too surprising.

If there's another problem with Stargazer, it's that it's set so early in Picard's command. The one other Stargazer officer fans tend to know about is Jack Crusher, and these books are set years before he shows up. We know how important Crusher's friendship was to Picard -- it's one of the few things we know about the Stargazer years -- and it seems like the sort of thing that might be expected to be explored in a series like this. But it isn't.

I'm liking the books well enough. They aren't bad, though they're sometimes a bit simplistic. The prose is unobjectionable. It's just that they feel like the product of another era -- the Ordoverian era, perhaps. I probably would have enjoyed them just fine fifteen years or so ago. After the DS9 relaunch, Vanguard, Titan, Destiny, and so on, they just don't excite me.


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