Lately I’ve found myself wishing the Pocket Books Star Trek tie-in novels could get a reboot.
I remember the days when you could pick up a Star Trek novel and enjoy a couple of hundred pages with familiar faces and friends from the franchise. There might be a continuity reference to an obscure-to-you episode thrown in or a wink to a previous novel, but it didn’t hinder you from enjoying the story or feeling like you were being left out.
But somewhere along the way, the Star Trek novels have become more insular and dependent on an internal continuity that seems to be growing more complex with each passing novel. With three of the four modern Treks sharing the same publishing universe, it’s becoming more and more difficult for me to pick up and fully enjoy a novel set in them. And it’s a shame because I really enjoy a good Star Trek novel.
The Light Fantastic had the chance to be a really good Star Trek novel. Following up on the success of Mortal Coil, Jeffrey Lang focuses once again on Data and his family. Apparently, Data is back from the dead (because no Trek character killed on-screen can stay dead for long on the printed page) and living on Orion with his daughter Lal and her mysterious “babysitter” Alice. When Lal is kidnapped by Moriarty (seen in two TNG episodes), Data is forced to come out of hiding to try and find his daughter. Seems that Moriarty has figured out that he and his wife are trapped inside a computer bank and not really out among the stars as he thought and he wants to be free with a real body outside the holodeck or computer core.
Lang ties-in a ton of Trek continuity from various television shows, movies and (I assume) books in his story. How Moriarty determines he’s in a computer core and how delicate that life can be is a nice tie-in to events in Star Trek: Generations. And the tie-in of building an android body to a couple of classic Trek installments is also nicely done.
But where the novel falls down is its over-reliance on previous novels in the franchise that I haven’t had the time or inclination to read. I’m going to assume that Data’s return to life is a central plot point of the last trilogy that I didn’t read. And while I could read and enjoy (most of) The Light Fantastic without knowing every single little detail, I still felt like I was missing something by not having spent 900 or so pages with the past trilogy (which was built on the last trilogy which built on a couple of other novels….well, you get the point). It all adds up to a frustrating experience from a book that I was, quite frankly, looking forward to.