The Last Best Hope by Una McCormack
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The novel Star Trek: Picard: The Last Best Hope, by Una McCormack, is a suitable contribution to the Star Trek universe. If you’ve watched Star Trek: Picard on CBS, this novel provides more details on why Picard resigned from Star Fleet. While some aspects of the narrative are found wanting, the story itself is an interesting and comprehensive exploration.
The story begins with news that the Romulan star is about to go supernova. Picard insists the Federation pull out all the stops to mount a rescue mission. His passion gets him put in charge of the operation. He has his misgivings about leaving the Enterprise and leading such a daunting venture, but he luckily finds just the right mix of people to help him.
However, not everyone is keen on the idea of saving their enemies. Resistance comes from politicians, scientists, and even from the Romulans themselves. Star Fleet is behind Picard in the beginning, but political pressure led by politician Olivia Quest strains their efforts. Then the unimaginable destruction of Mars occurs.
The end of the novel answers some questions but leaves many more unanswered. Neither the novel nor the first season of Picard explain why the Romulan star unnaturally went supernova or why the synths killed everyone on Mars. Perhaps there is or will be a book that explains it. Though I am a fan of Star Trek, I am not caught up on all the Star Trek novels, nor privy to any insider information.
Star Trek: Picard: The Last Best Hope explores the difficulty of trying to satisfy morally conflicting interests. The author presents all sides very well. We don’t just see Picard’s high-minded ideals, we see the perspectives of the scientists who must give up their life’s work to focus on building transport ships. We also see the perspective of the Federation leaders and a politician named Olivia Quest.
Olivia Quest is the most antagonistic of all Picard’s complications. I didn’t like this woman, but not just because I wasn’t supposed to. She is written like a stereotypical narrow-minded politician. However, her arguments for not wanting to divert all Federation resources to support the Romulan evacuation are valid. I can’t say whether I agree with them, but I understand her viewpoint.
There is no growth of characters in this novel. Picard never sees Quest’s point of view or the points made by the Federation. Quest gets her way and falls deeper into her own self-importance. In my opinion, though, Raffi’s decline is the worst. If you like stories with happy endings, you won’t get it here. Picard is a tragedy. Despite the subtitle, this story gives us no hope.
On the plus side, the characters we know and love are as real in this novel as they are on TV. Some new characters introduced on the recent CBS series are also true to form. Raffi Musiker is by far the best one and her tragedy the most keenly felt.
Most of the time, the conversations in this novel are smooth and realistic. But a few irked me. One short conversation between Raffi and Picard felt awkward because they keep saying one another’s name. Raffi says JL’s name four times and Picard says Raffi’’s name two times. I don’t know about you, but when I’m talking to someone, I don’t keep saying their name. How did the editors miss this?
There is also a conversation between Picard and Koli that feels contrived. While I understand Koli’s argument with Picard, I feel her reaction is a bit melodramatic, especially considering how well she mitigated prior difficult situations. I get that as a Bajoran, she is traumatized by the similar brutality of the Cardassians. Yet I still can’t swallow it. Perhaps the author didn’t give us the opportunity to get to know Koli the way we got to know Raffi and other characters.
I also think Picard’s resignation is a forced scene. His decision is too rash, a characteristic very unlike him. For a man who is usually good at seeing all sides, he is completely unsympathetic to Star Fleet’s need to pull out. I understand why his feelings are so strong, but surely he could have seen the big picture without necessarily agreeing with it. A more believable approach would have been for him to take a moment and brood before turning in his resignation.
What is the point of Nokim Vritet’s character? His entire perspective can be deleted and the story will still make sense. One could argue, I suppose, that his story shows the reader the depths the Tal Shiar would go to keep the truth from their people. But this could have been conveyed in another way. Or, like other things in the novel, it could have been assumed that Trekkies already knew.
I also found Picard’s friendship with Zani to be artificial. We see a minor scene or two that shows him connecting to her. From there we’re expected to believe Picard has this growing deep respect for her friendship.
Star Trek: Picard is a sad tale. Picard’s downfall is disheartening. Truth be told, the entire message of the novel is depressing. While Star Trek: The Next Generation gave us hope for mankind, Star Trek: Picard makes us cynical. But this novel is still worth reading. Picard is ever the indomitable Picard, the character-driven story is wonderfully complex without being convoluted, and the Star Trek universe is always a universe worth exploring. If you’re watching Picard on CBS, you will want to read Picard the novel.