Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Buried Age

The Buried Age
© 2007 Christopher L. Bennett
439 pages

Captain Jean-Luc Picard's life changed when, in approaching an uncharted star system,  an aggressive alien vessel attacked him in mid-warp, crippling his ship, the USS Stargazer, and dooming it after twenty years under Picard's command. Although he succeeded in defeating his foe, creating the Picard Maneuver to do so, the ship itself had to be abandoned. Following a court-martial and disturbed by the loss of the people and ship he loved so dear, Picard opts to take extended leave from the service and explore the world of academia, pursuing a doctorate in archaeology. Disturbed by his increasingly sedentary lifestyle, his old friend Guinan appears with information that may spread light on a galaxy-wide extinction event several millions years ago -- information that Picard can't help but be intrigued by. Leading a team of civilian scientists, Picard journeys to a planet far beyond Federation borders which holds breath-taking secrets. This is the start of an extraordinary journey, one that will require Picard to work with Starfleet more and more and set him on the path to command the Enterprise-D.

Along the way he will shape the lives of and in return be shaped by several  young lieutenants -- an android whose talents and development are neglected by a Starfleet that doesn't know what to do with him; a bitter young Betazoid whose expertise has heretofore been ignored in favor of her beauty and empathic abilities; and an intelligent and compassionate young woman named Janeway who is at Picard's side when they make their first big discovery: a survivor from those millions of years ago, held in stasis and awaiting to be freed. Their experiences together will change them forever.

The Buried Age is an excellent novel. Although it carries Star Trek in the title, The Buried Age offers an experience beyond a simple "episode in a book".  It functions well as both a science fiction novel and a character drama, allowing Picard and others to explore a grand story involving a benevolent, highly-cultured galaxy-wide civilization that met sudden destruction.  Bennett relies more on science than most Trek authors, and the science in his works is more developed than simple background technobabbles. What makes the book for me is its spellbinding writing and characterization:  I visibly trembled while reading some portions of the novel, so caught up was I in the emotions Bennett forces his characters to endure. It's an especially strong Trek novel, given its abundance of subtle references to the series.  The book's essential function is to bridge Stargazer and the The Next Generation, and he does this well -- not only in telling the story of what happened to Picard after the court-martial but before TNG's first episode, but in focusing on Picard's character as he struggled to figure out where his life should go once he lost the life he matured with. Bennett also explores Data and Troi's early development and sees Picard prepare his first command team aboard the Enterprise-D.

Highly recommended to Star Trek fans, recommended to general sci-fi readers as well.


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