Monday, July 12, 2010

Stargazer: Three

Stargazer: Three
© 2003 Michael Jan Friedman
247 pages

In addition to beginning the TNG relaunch this year, I also intend to pick up on loose threads in Trek literature that I have either left undone or never examined in the first place.  Encountering Picard's former shipmates from the Stargazer in Death in Winter left me thinking about the Stargazer series by Michael Jan Friedman, telling the stories of Picard's first command as a young 20-something. The first two novels in this series rank among my favorite works of Trek literature, but I've read the series through to completion despite having most of the books. I decided to remdy that, although I did not intend to do so today. I picked up the book at lunch, and...didn't put it down for the duration of the afternoon.

Stargazer: Three is third in the series, if the deceptively dull name is not too big a hint. The title initially disappointed me, but as I progressed deeper into the plot I realized Friedman had more in mind when titling the book than it simply following the second novel, Progenitor. As the story opens, Jean-Luc Picard is young man still in his twenties, commanding the Constellation-class ship Stargazer. Picard is the youngest man in Starfleet history to captain a vessel, an achievement that followed his taking command of the vessel during a crisis that saw the ship's former captain and first officer killed.  Not everyone appreciates Picard's accomplishment, chiefly his commanding officer: Admiral McAteer. McAteer wants to strip the young whippersnapper of his command, but cannot do so without proving him incompetent. In an effort to ruin Picard's name, McAteer routinely gives Picard missions beyond his experience, hoping to see the young man fail. Unfortunately for McAteer, the crew of the Stargazer prove worthy of the challenge time after time.

In Three, the Stargazer is sent to investigate a curious anamoloy on the Federation border with an aggressive, hostile race while its chief weapons officer, Lieutenant Vigo, is attending a security conference unveiling a new disrupter. When the Stargazer draws near the anamoly, a familar but alien face arrives in its transporter -- a woman who appears identical to two of Picard's officers, the Lieutenants Gerda and Idun Asmund. The stranger claims to be a Lieutenant Asmund from a Stargazer in another universe. She has arrived on Picard's Stargazer unexpectedly via a transporter curiosity. Picard must investigate the woman's claims, and find a way to send her back to her proper time while not provoking a nearby alien flotilla which has claimed the anamoly as its own.  Meanwhile, rebels intending to start a revolution on their home planet ambush the Federation conference and attempt to steal the new weapon: aiding them is Lieutenant Vigo's old friend and mentor.

Three develops the backstory for the Asmund lieutenants, who serve as navigator and helm officer respectively. Although biologically human, the two were orphaned as children and rescued by a Klingon captain who took pity on them. He and his wife later adopted the two, and raised them as Klingons -- a story mirrored by one of Picard's officers in the future, Commander Worf -- who is Klingon, but raised on Earth by humans.  The Asmund sisters see themselves as a pair, and Gerda is thrown off her stride by the appearance of this third Asmund, who claims her twin sister died in childbirth. While Idun immediately embraces the third Asmund, Gerda is suspicious and jealous: she does not believe the stranger to be who she says she is.

While providing both action and mystery, Friedman also continues developing his main characters. The crew of the Stargazer had immediate appeal for me when I read the first novel so many years ago, and I appreciate his continuing to spend time on them apart from the main plot. The plot itself isn't quite as interesting as the first novel, but then again it set a high standard for me. There are a few hat-tips made to the Next Generation show, as when Picard -- moving around his cramped ready room -- muses that one day he will have a room big enough for him to display personal items, keep fish, and maybe have a couch for visitors. Trek-lit readers will enjoy this, although newcomers should probably start with the first novel before leaping into this plot.


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