Book Review: Encounter at Farpoint by David Gerrold

The most dangerous ‘same old story’ is the one in front of me right now. Self-righteous life forms who are eager not to learn, but to prosecute, to judge anything they don’t understand or can’t tolerate.

I love Star-Trek: the Next Generation. When I meet someone who loves Star-Trek: the Original Series better, I don’t understand or tolerate them. They may be family or friends, but still I stand dumbfounded, as they tear down Picard and Data, and sing the praises of Kirk. Who are these people? Where do they come from? Will they admit—at the very least—that Q is the greatest villain we have ever seen?

I love the show, so it follows that I would love the TNG novels. Well, I don’t love them all, but I intend to review a bunch. Reading the novels in the voices of one’s favorite characters brings one great joy.

I come at this one from a different place since I’ve been made aware of the new Star Trek TV series that may be on our horizon in the not-too-distant future.

Though I am told I saw Star-Trek: The Voyage Home at the movies when I was a baby, my beginnings as a fan is tied to TNG. The forthcoming series may make a lot of new fans, and it may turn out to be a fine starting point for them. Who’s really to say? But, why not delve a little bit into Star Trek’s past to learn what the future could hold.

I invite you to read this novel by David Gerrold, based on TNG’s pilot episode, because Farpoint is the ideal station to visit for any new Starfleet hopeful.

Here’s what happened when I went there.

What fans don’t always talk about is that this entire show was about the human race getting put on trial by a superbeing. It had a fearful symmetry that way. The first episode/book (Encounter at Farpoint) began with Q charging us all with being a savage, war like, un-evolved race which was not fit to venture outside our own solar system. Of course, it is put on Picard to answer for all of our crimes, real or imagined, and setting out to do so was the basis for a series, right up to the finale.

Reading this book, I remembered the little things. They are not all good things, so to speak. I roll my eyes with the best of them when Riker (ship’s new first officer) and Troi (ship’s counselor) trip over their feelings for each other in the midst of adventure. I’m human. I get annoyed, or start to laugh out of turn, when Troi winces painfully as she detects an unpleasant emotion.

Still, the author did these characters justice. My impression of Gerrold is that he knew who these characters had the potential to be. It helps to remember that Captain Picard is meeting most everyone for the first time, and most of the crew only have vague ideas about him. Unlike TV, prose has the capacity for internal dialogue.

Since I’m a grammatical case study, trained to root out this sort of thing, I stumbled over some of the editing flaws in my copy of the book. One occurs on the back cover, where they insist Farpoint Station lies in orbit of the planet Cygnus IV. Anyone who flips through a couple chapters can see that it’s actually hanging out at Deneb IV. (Did it just get nerdy in here? Good.)

But it’s the philosophy of TNG that sets it apart from other shows, even in the Star Trek franchise. Kirk has been accused of being a space cowboy or cop, and DS9, which I love, has been categorized as military science fiction. TNG really was about explorers learning about new species, and why the prime directive of not interfering with these species, is actually kind of a good thing. It was also about understanding strange creatures for the first time.

At Deneb IV, the strange creature was the size of a space station, not what it appeared to be, trading its life force for cheap energy, and it didn’t know any better. With Q watching, Picard and his crew must sort out a moral dilemma. It would be their first of many.

I thought the book succeeded, but as it turns out, nobody knew if the show would succeed. It was sluggish for a time, but overcame this uncertainty, and eventually became something special. I’m glad that it did. When people ask me who the best captain is, I’m comfortable answering like this. “Picard is the best captain. He was smart enough to stand aside and let Data figure things out.”

Life as it is lived isn’t necessarily the way life has to be lived. We can do better.

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