Advertisements
    Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

  • Advertisements

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Reunion by Michael Jan Friedman (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry. This is actually supplementary to the first season of the Next Generation, specifically the episode The Battle.

The Star Trek expanded universe is so large and so expansive that it has its own particular phases of history, its own important and divisive figures, its own grand context for things. With the announcement of Star Trek: The Next Generation in the late eighties, the focus of expanded universe shifted a bit. Ever since the original Star Trek had gone off the air, novelists like John Ford, Vonda McIntyre, Diane Carey and Diane Duane had been free to carve out their own little corners of the shared universe.

There was a sense that the novels existed to expand the Star Trek universe outwards, with certain authors even developing their own recurring casts and delving into the history and culture of various fictional races in a way that simply wasn’t possible as part of a television episode or feature film. In the late eighties, this changed rather dramatically, with Richard Arnold becoming something of a “gate-keeper” of the expanded universe.

Although Diane Carey would write the first Next Generation tie-in novel, Ghost Ship, this represented something of a changing of the guard. The focus of the novels became a bit different, and the authors driving the line began to change. Michael Jan Friedman’s first published Star Trek novel was Double, Double in April 1989. Since than, he has written more than thirty different Star Trek tie-in novels, a few short stories and ninety-one issues (including annuals and specials) of the nineties Next Generation tie-in comic.

In terms of influence in the Star Trek expanded universe of the nineties, Michael Jan Friedman is a defining figure.

tng-reunion

It’s hard not to admire the sheer volume of material that Friedman has produced. He has written tie-in material for every Star Trek series except Star Trek: Enterprise. Even then, Friedman was chose to write Pocket Books’ 2001 serialised prequel Starfleet: Year One, which was republished the following year as a collected edition. Friedman is nothing short of prolific when it comes to Star Trek, and he has continued to be one of the most reliably consistent writers working in Star Trek tie-in material.

Along with Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman is one of the “grand old men” of nineties Next Generation era tie-ins. Both Friedman and David really defined Star Trek‘s expanded universe in the nineties and had a tremendous influence on what followed. After all, both played an important role in the “relaunch” of the post-Star Trek: Nemesis novel-verse in the mid-2000s.

Friedman kicked off the relaunched adventures of Picard’s Enterprise with Death in Winter, while David penned the decisive and controversial Before Dishonour. While neither Friedman nor David had had an extensive involvement in the stories told since, passing the baton to a younger generation, the use of the pair in the relaunch is a testament to their influence and their hard work in shaping what fans and publishers expected from Star Trek tie-in material.

And – in Friedman’s case – it’s easy to understand why. Friedman is a very safe pair of hands. He’s reliable. He is capable of producing an impressive three-hundred page novella with an enviable consistency. He has a solid grasp of the fundamental principles of Star Trek, and he knows how to craft a story that ticks all of the necessary boxes. In terms of what the powers-that-be wanted multimedia Star Trek tie-ins to be, Friedman was really the perfect writer.

After all, Friedman was active while the show was on the air. His first Next Generation comic, Return to Raimon, was published in October 1989. His first Next Generation novel, A Call to Darkness, was released in November 1989. This was as The Next Generation was entering its third year, when the show was really on the verge of becoming a mass pop culture phenomenon. For all that Star Trek is associated with geekdom and cult television, The Next Generation was very much a mainstream concern.

So this is the context in which Michael Jan Friedman was writing. He wasn’t writing tie-in novels for a dead show that was being kept alive by fandom. He wasn’t writing supplements to a movie series that was less popular than Star Wars and consistently releasing an instalment every couple of years. Friedman was writing Star Trek in the context of a massively popular international syndicated television show watched by millions weekly. So easy to see the appeal held by Friedman’s approach to Star Trek.

This praise is entirely sincerely. Friedman is, in terms of the quantity and consistency of his work, an incredibly impressive author. And he very rarely produces a bad book. You can pick up a Michael Jan Friedman book without worrying too much. You will generally get a structured story told in a very controlled manner, executed with the necessary technical skill. The worst thing you can typically say about a Friedman novel is that it’s a little boring, or predictable, or generic, or bland.

And, yet, there’s something very conservative about Friedman’s approach to Star Trek. There’s a sense that Friedman is a little too heavily fixated on continuity and minutiae. That he’s more interested in connecting dots between what happened on screen than he is with really sort of delving into the potential offer by “Star Trek in novel form” or “Star Trek in comic form.” It’s an approach that accepts the primacy of what we’ve seen on screen, and only really accepts the validity of secondary material that supports what has been broadcast.

Talking about his legacy, Friedman has been quite candid about his style and how it came to define Star Trek tie-ins in the nineties:

When I wrote Double, Double, my first Trek book, it stirred up a controversy because it picked up where a TV episode left off (that episode being What Are Little Girls Made Of?) instead of establishing a brand-new dramatic situation on some previously unknown planet. Now it’s unusual to find a book that doesn’t pick up on the events of an episode in one way or another.

In Reunion, which came out about fifteen years ago, I established the crew of the Stargazer, thereby filling in a big Next Gen continuity gap. Nothing like that had ever been done before. Now it’s done all the time.

Friedman has a point here, and he’s very much a trendsetter.

It’s interesting to contrast the work of Friedman with close friend (and some time collaborator) Peter David. Friedman is very fond of connecting to existing continuity, and of filling various holes left in the chronology of the television shows and the movies. In contrast, David tends to be a bit bolder and more expansive. He will use existing elements and make reference to certain aspects of continuity, but he’s a lot more willing to add to the mythos, and a lot more willing to experiment.

It’s worth noting that David’s style frequently led him into conflicts with the powers-that-be. Peter David launched a new Star Trek tie-in comic in October 1989, the same month that Friedman launched the Next Generation tie-in comic. David lasted fifteen consecutive issues (writing an epilogue to his run four issues later), before creative differences with Richard Arnold forced him off the project. In contrast, Friedman wrote seventy-seven of the eighty issues published during the six-and-a-half-year run of the Next Generation tie-in comic.

When Peter David got his own series of novels, New Frontier, it was basically an on-going story unfolding in parallel with on-screen Star Trek in its own corner of the universe. It featured its own alien races, its own space ship and its own back story and history. Sure, David borrowed recognisable characters from the show’s mythos. New Frontier features quite a few Star Trek guest characters among its main cast.

However, Friedman’s own series of novels, Stargazer, is very firmly a prequel series. It is a series that unfolds leading up to The Next Generation, with a pre-defined conclusion. It’s an entire collection of novels that exist to plug a perceived gap in the franchise’s own internal continuity. That’s perhaps the clearest point of comparison and contrast between David and Friedman, both of whom played important roles in the Star Trek expanded universe of the nineties.

(It is worth noting that Friedman’s first pitch for an on-going series novels did not involve Picard’s personal history on the Stargazer. The original pitch was for Friedman to build upon Starfleet: Year One. That would have been another prequel series, filling another continuity gap. However, once it became clear that Paramount was developing Enterprise, it was decided that Pocket would not push ahead with that idea, and so Friedman came up with Stargazer.)

Something of a forerunner of Friedman’s Stargazer series, Reunion is very indicative of Friedman’s authorial style. Published in late 1991, as The Next Generation was entering its fifth season, Reunion is an attempt to delve back into the past of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Built around a reunion of the bridge crew from the ill-fated Stargazer mission, the novel really offers readers a glimpse at Picard’s personal history.

Reunion feels like a conscious acknowledgement of Friedman’s style – the fetishisation of the past. The Stargazer crew are treated as heroes within the narrative, lauded by the Enterprise crew for the glimpse that they might offer into the past. When Guinan pities Troi for having to listen to all those stories, Troi is quick to defend this fixation on what came before:

I like listening to those old stories. Apart from their entertainment value, they give me insights into the captain that I’ve never had before. I can understand a little better how he became the person that he is.

Friedman is rather cleverly justifying his approach. This fixation on the past is a valid way to explore the franchise – it’s a nice way to explore character and to delve into aspects of Picard that would not be accessible otherwise.

That said, Friedman isn’t the strongest writer when it comes to character. There’s very little insight into Picard offered here. The reunion of the Stargazer crew doesn’t provide Picard with much opportunity for introspection. Instead, there’s a murder mystery and then a technical crisis and then the Romulans show up. It’s very much a tick-the-boxes collection of familiar Star Trek tropes served up in a three-hundred page novel.

Indeed, the villain is only defeated at the end because he uses that cliché Bond villain logic about keeping the hero alive until the last possible moment. The villain actually utters the line, “I wanted you to watch, Captain. I wanted you to see your friends die — that was the worst thing I could’ve hoped to do to you.” There’s nothing too strange or too startling or too provocative to be found here.

(Friedman is a little on the nose when it comes to the characters he has created for the novel. One of them – a human raised among Klingons – is clearly designed as an analogue for Worf. However, Counsellor Troi spends two clumsy paragraphs reflecting on the “strange symmetry” of this “mirror-image”, which can’t help but seem a rather patronising bit of reader hand-holding. The comparison and contrast with Worf might have been a bit more effective if it weren’t made so explicit.)

The story’s strongest emotional beat involves Wesley finally getting the inside story on the loss of his his father – an account of that fatal mission Picard ordered Jack Crusher to undertake all those years ago. In a way, this is very appropriate. Given Friedman’s style, it makes sense that the big moment at the heart of the story is resolving a dangling thread of continuity left hanging from the series.

To be fair, Friedman delivers on all these Star Trek narrative conventions with considerable skill. Reunion is a tight and pacey novel. It’s never particularly indulgent and it’s a very breezy read. It’s light and it’s well-constructed. It’s a perfect demonstration of why Friedman was one of the most reliable and consistent writers on The Next Generation tie-in material. It’s also a demonstration of Friedman’s limitations, and an example of what the franchise was really looking for in tie-in authors at this point in its history.

Read our reviews of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation:

Advertisements

2 Responses

  1. Interesting comparison. It is amazing they could tell any decent stories given all of the restrictions put on the two authors. You can’t blame Friedman for not developing Picard. This was when the series was still on the air he probably was not allowed to make any major developments about the character. The mystery is also given away a little more than half way through the book because of one comment. Friedman could have eliminated that but maybe he wanted to give it away.

    One thing that might be worth talking about is the fact that despite Richard Aronld leaving the restrictions were still tight until the late 90s.
    This is probably related to having the shows on the air but it was in the
    original series novels also. And they did not have any more movies coming out at the time.

    • To be fair, the last Original Series movie was The Undiscovered Country, which was released around the time that Gene Roddenberry passed, which was the point at which Richard Arnold was (if rumours are believed) escorted from the lot. However, I doubt he would have relaxed restrictions even if there were no further Kirk-based stories being produced.

      As far as I can read it, Arnold seemed to be power-tripping, but also trying to make the position of the tie-in material on the totem poll quite clear. According to Arnold’s view of the world, novels and comics were inherently inferior to on-screen Star Trek, and a lot of his public comments seem to focus on his attempts to “remind” them of this.

      It’s also quite telling that he specifically targetted popular writers who had written popular material. In other words, the tie-in writers who could plausibly be argued to be developing their own little corner of the shared universe during the movie years. It seemed he didn’t want people to talk about how Diane Duane or Margaret Wander Bonanno looked at Star Trek, because there was only one person whose vision of Star Trek mattered.

      Which was patently untrue – Nicholas Meyers’ vision was, at this point, stronger than Roddenberry’s and Piller’s and Berman’s would soon overtake it too. But Arnold seemed particularly worried about there being any hint that Star Trek wasn’t one gigantic monoform entity shaped by the will of one man. This was a lie, and Arnold only had a limited ability to enforce it, but he enforced it with a passion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: