Sunday, November 30, 2008

Stargazer: Oblivion (A Review)

I wasn't expecting a truly breathtaking reading experience like the one I had with Hyperion when I started this. Which is fine because I wasn't seeking one. After the madness and intensity that was The Tropic of Cancer, what I now wanted was something light and fast-paced, and Michael Jan Friedman's Stargazer: Oblivion, book four of a six-part series focusing on Captain Jean-Luc Picard's first command, seemed to fit the bill. I was also drawn to the plot itself, which centers around Picard's first meeting with Guinan on a bleak and desolate outpost known as - you guessed it - Oblivion.

Guinan, as any fan of The Next Generation knows, is one of the few remaining members of a race nearly obliterated by the Borg (and, as anyone who's read my other Star Trek posts knows, I love the Borg). Played by Whoopi Goldberg, she was always portrayed as both the proverbial advice-giving bartender and an ancient, dignified survivor. I've often thought of her as a character to whom it would be difficult to give a back story without compromising her regal composure and aura of timeless mystery. She is just not an individual you could easily depict in emotionally heightened circumstances without rendering her unrecognizable. Guinan has seemingly always been Guinan, despite the horror of her people's destruction, so clearly Friedman had a rather difficult task before him. At the same time, however, he is not a Peter David, and Oblivion was never meant to be a grand David-esque epic involving metaphysics and the culmination of events eons in the making. Oblivion is simply not a "serious" Trek book. I'd say it's more akin to the Star Wars novels: a fast, fun pastime for fans featuring characters they already know and love.

Oblivion is basically a Star Trek episode in print format. The bulk of it involves Picard and Guinan on the run through the nooks and crannies of Oblivion, trying desperately to stay ahead of a group of those typically sneaky Cardassians. Their relationship – which Guinan will later describe as beyond friendship and beyond family – develops along the way as Guinan employs both her knowledge of the station's layout and preternatural skills as a "Listener" to keep Picard out of his enemy's hands. The twist here is that she already remembers Picard even before they met: their first encounter was actually in nineteenth-century San Francisco, where Picard the Enterprise captain had time-traveled to following a discovery in his own time of second officer Data's head in a 500-year-old cavern on Earth. In other words, there's basically a temporal loop going on here. Despite that neat tie-in with the Trek canon, Friedman's story nevertheless stumbles when he directly contradicts said canon. In the episode "Q Who," when the Borg were first introduced, Guinan states specifically that she was not present on her planet to witness its annihilation and that all her information about what happened is second-hand. But Oblivion strongly implies that she actually was there to witness a daughter's assimilation. That's really a pretty minor quibble, though. Unlike with Star Wars, where a series of novels has continued Luke & Co.'s post-film adventures, Trek books and comics do not actually occur in the "real" Star Trek universe. So I can probably ignore Friedman's little slip.

Other than that, there's not much to say. There are a couple of subplots on the Stargazer itself involving a covert saboteur and the start of a singularly bizarre love affair between a human and a non-corporeal cloud-like alien crewmember. Of course, as Oblivion is only one part of a series, none of these intriguing little secondary stories is concluded, meaning you have to read the next two books. Somehow I don't feel inclined to do so. Oblivion just didn't interest me enough to recommend the sequels. I would say it's more for a Trekker whose favorite character is Picard and who is subsequently willing to read anything that focuses on him. Or if you just want a breezy beach read, it's good for that too.


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