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Star Trek: The Next Generation – I, Q by John deLancie & Peter David (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.

I, Q is John deLancie’s second attempt to write a story featuring his popular and iconic Star Trek: The Next Generation character. As with The Gift, he is teamed with an experienced Star Trek tie-in writer to help bring his vision to life. While Michael Jan Friedman’s collaboration with deLancie for the first annual of DC’s first Next Generation series was a less than promising debut for the actor-turned-writer, I, Q works a lot better.

It’s hard to tell if this is because deLancie works better with Peter David as a collaborator, or that his style works better in prose, or simply that he has developed as a writer in the years since that first comic was published. I, Q is far from the perfect Star Trek novel, but it’s an enjoyable enough read – it captures the voice of its celebrity author quite well, and breezes along inoffensively. There are moments when the novel seems to bask a little too heavily in its central character’s filibustering, but it’s a perfectly serviceable read.

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There’s a very clear division of labour going on here. Reading the book, one can discern the two voices at work. As deLancie explained in Voyages of Imagination, David tended to work on the plot, while deLancie worked on the character of Q:

I didn’t know enough about Trek to write a Trek novel. I told them I would write a series of interior monologues because the part I did know was the character. Peter and I sat down and figured out a story. As he would write the story, I would go back on the second pass and fill in all the Q stuff. As a third pass, I tried to condense the story, somewhat successfully and somewhat unsuccessfully.

The transition between the two styles is hardly seamless. Indeed, towards the start of the book, it almost seems like deLancie and David are alternating chapters. We get pages and pages of pseudo-philosophical musing from Q, followed by brief spurts of dramatic action.

The two integrate their styles more successfully once the narrative takes off, but there’s always a sense that Peter David was the driving force at this point, while John deLancie is shining through at another. It is initially quite distracting, but the two develop a nice rhyme fairly quickly. It helps that David’s storytelling sensibilities (never taking the franchise too seriously or too self-importantly) fit quite well with deLancie’s decidedly irreverent voice.

Much like Andrew Robinson’s A Stitch in Time, I, Q decides to emphasis its celebrity author’s insight into his character by framing the story as a narrative related to the reader by the character himself. This makes I, Q feel a bit different than most of the surrounding tie-ins, and it also allows deLancie to welcome readers directly inside Q’s mind. Although the novel doesn’t always live up to the potential of perceiving the universe through the eyes of a god-like being, it is an interesting enough hook to carry a fairly standard story.

The plot of I, Q is pretty much your standard mystery adventure. To their credit, deLancie and David structure it as such. It’s very much an archetypal adventure story, to the point where the story freely trades in iconic imagery and metaphorical settings as set-dressing. For example, Picard gets to see the Q Continuum as something of a Dixon Hill adventure; later on, familiar Star Trek aliens are used in a thinly-veiled holocaust analogy. These are pretty basic (and familiar) images and concepts, but they work well in the context of I, Q.

After all, nobody is here for the plot. The whole point of the plot is that it allows the reader a chance to read a story about Q written by John deLancie. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and the way that David and deLancie are so candid about that is one of the strengths of the novel. I, Q isn’t a classic Star Trek novel, but it isn’t trying to be. It’s an excuse to read deLancie playing Q, rather than watching him do so.

deLancie’s voice shines through the book. Indeed, the audio book feels almost redundant – it’s difficult to read the prose without hearing deLancie narrating the story inside your own head. The rhyme of the words, the structure of the sentences, the balance of earnestness with wry cynicism… they all feel very much like deLancie’s take on Q. This makes sense. He had been playing the character for well over a decade at the point when he released I, Q. He clearly has a working knowledge of how Q ticks as a character.

That said, as with The Gift, there’s a sense that deLancie is fonder of the more dramatic and threatening version of Q who appeared early in the run of The Next Generation. At one point, he pauses to admonish Picard for daring to stand up to him. “I am the bad guy!” Q protests, glossing over the fact that he hasn’t really played that role since Hide & Q in the first season. Even when Q has bullied and harassed the crew since then, there’s always been a sense that he’s more selfish and ambiguous than genuinely threatening.

deLancie relishes the weightier material – the sense that Q might be sarcastic and playful, but he also has a pretty serious bite. The novel leaves it somewhat ambiguous as to whether Q still has that raw edge, or if he’s simply trying to convince himself that he hasn’t been totally domesticated. Either way, deLancie’s voice for the character feels perfectly in step with his portrayal in the series.

At the same time, there’s a sense that deLancie isn’t well-suited to writing Star Trek tie-in material. That’s not a major weakness for a writer, to be fair. It only really becomes a concern when you’re writing a Star Trek tie-in. Peter David is there to ground deLancie in the shared universe, but there are a number of sequences where it feels like deLancie has wandered off the reservation a bit, forgetting that he’s narrating from an omnipotent perspective rather than a strictly human one.

These distracting moments vary in intensity. There are several points where Q’s narration is decidedly human in scope. “It was big,” he tells us. “Grand canyon big.” Although Peter David is no stranger to slipping profanity into his Star Trek novels, the repeated use of “ass wipe” is distracting. Given Q’s tendency to throw out bowlderised family-friendly insults like “micro brain”, it seems a bit surreal to hear the character using contemporary insults in his internal narration.

There are a few sequences where this becomes a more serious problem. A diversion to Times Square at New Year feels particularly surreal. Although I, Q was published in 2000, the sequence reads like one of those awkward attempts at poignancy made in the wake of September 11th. At other points, deLancie’s narration wanders off on tangents as Q discusses theology and other matters of the universe. While these are fun, they do tend to stop the narrative dead.

I, Q is not a great Star Trek book. It’s certainly far from the best tie-in written by an actor appearing on the show. However, it is an entertaining and enjoyable diversion, and one that captures the spirit of deLancie’s playful trickster – as well as suggesting how deLancie himself sees the Enterprise’s iconic adversary.

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

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