Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Buried Age

Star Trek: The Next Generation
The Buried Age by Christopher L. Bennett
A Tale of The Lost Era
Published July 2007
Read April 21st 2016

Previous book (The Lost Era): The Catalyst of Sorrows

Next book (The Lost Era): Terok Nor: Day of the Vipers

Previous book (The Next Generation): Death in Winter
Next book (The Next Generation): Resistance

Spoilers ahead for The Buried Age!

From the back cover:
Jean-Luc Picard. His name has gone down in legend as the captain of the USS Stargazer and two starships Enterprise. But the nine years of his life leading up to the inaugural mission of the USS Enterprise to Farpoint Station have remained a mystery—until now, as Picard's lost era is finally unearthed. 
Following the loss of the Stargazer and the brutal court-martial that resulted, Picard no longer sees a future for himself in Starfleet. Turning to his other love, archaeology, he embarks on a quest to rediscover a buried age of ancient galactic history… and awakens a living survivor of that era: a striking, mysterious woman frozen in time since before the rise of Earth's dinosaurs. But this powerful immortal has a secret of cataclysmic proportions, and her plans will take Picard—aided along the way by a brilliant but na├»ve android, an insightful Betazoid, and an enigmatic El-Aurian—to the heights of passion, the depths of betrayal, and the farthest reaches of explored space.

My thoughts:

The Buried Age begins with the depiction of a much-discussed event: The battle betwen the U.S.S. Stargazer and an unknown adversary, later learned to be a Ferengi vessel. Although Picard defeated the Ferengi using what later came to be known as the "Picard Maneuver," the Stargazer was too badly damaged and had to be abandoned.

The origin of the "Picard Maneuver" (no, not that one) is explored in The Buried Age.

This leads into an event I was excited to read about: the trial of Jean-Luc Picard and his culpability in the loss of the Stargazer. In the second season TNG episode "The Measure of a Man," it is revealed that the case was prosecuted by Phillipa Louvois, who was an old flame of Jean-Luc's. I've long been interested in seeing this fascinating backstory play out, so I was happy to learn that it would be featured in this novel. However, during the trial, Louvois came across differently than what I was expecting. I found her character just a little bit too unlikeable, especially with how her actions were regarded by the other characters involved in the trial. In "The Measure of a Man," I had the image of someone who was a little overzealous and a stickler for the law, but in The Buried Age she comes across as almost crazed in her attempt to prosecute the Stargazer case. I suppose that this accounts for the reception Picard gives her in the TNG episode, but I felt that it didn't cast her character in the best light here. Still, the outcome of the trial was a fascinating piece in the puzzle of the life of Jean-Luc Picard.

Phillipa Louvois was one of my favorite guest characters in early TNG, and I was a little disappointed by her portrayal in The Buried Age. Still, it does make sense given the feelings of animosity that Captain Picard has towards her in "The Measure of a Man."
After the fallout from the trial, Picard resigns from Starfleet to pursue academia and archaeology. This was an interesting period in Picard's life, and it was fun to see the former captain free from the world of Starfleet. I'm reminded of Professor Galen's admonition to Picard that he should not be in Starfleet, and should instead be traveling the galaxy with him on archaeological expeditions. The fact that Picard has pursued this for a period of time and come out the other side with the realization that Starfleet is the better choice was illuminating. Although, in this case, it may be that Picard was pressured back into the service, but it is a calling that has certainly dominated most of his adult life.

Much of The Buried Age follows Picard as he attempts to unravel an ancient mystery left behind by beings that lived in our galaxy millions of years ago. One such being is revived from an eons-long sleep by a team led by Picard, investigating an ancient base of operations. Seemingly devoid of any memories, she is called Ariel by her rescuers. Picard feels an immediate attraction to her, and the two of them soon find themselves in a serious relationship. However, because Ariel is so ancient and so far beyond Picard, the end result is all but inevitable. I have recently begun watching Doctor Who, and I feel like this vast power difference is how a relationship between The Doctor and any of his companions would actually play out. A being that is so ancient and evolved would see a human as little more than a pet, and in this way, Ariel is able to thoroughly manipulate Picard to her own ends. The betrayal is equal parts inevitable and shocking in that it happens so fast. Reading this part also reminded me of elements of the film Ex Machina.

One really fun aspect of this novel which I was not expecting was the immediate lead-up to the start of Star Trek: The Next Generation. We see the first meetings between Picard and a few of his senior staff. Of particular interest to me was Picard's recruitment of Data as his Operations Manager. Data's posting prior to meeting Picard was basically as a file clerk aboard a Starbase. Recognizing the great potential that Data possesses, Picard chose him to join a mission, and subsequently offered him a post on the Enterprise. I have to admit, I never gave much thought to Data's career before TNG, and it was interesting to see Bennett's take on his story.

An interesting revelation in The Buried Age is that Picard rescued Data from a dead-end career when he recruited him for a position on his crew.

Jean-Luc Picard in season one of TNG is a hard man to get to know by all accounts, and in The Buried Age, we learn a lot about why that might be. Picard is a man who is shaped by his experiences, and the huge betrayal by Ariel has led him to be a private man who holds himself at a distance from the people around him. Kudos to Christopher Bennett for crafting a fascinating story that explores the motivation behind this character. Picard has always been a favorite of mine, and this story chronicles a very important chapter in his life.

Final thoughts:

As someone who reads a ton of Star Trek novels, a few author names always seem to float to the top of the pile. Christopher L. Bennett is one of them. His stories often have a huge scope and weight to them, and although this word is overused, his works can easily be described as "epic." The Buried Age is quite possibly the quintessential expression of this. A huge story spanning millions of years is the backdrop for an astounding character piece that examines the life of Jean-Luc Picard and explains what made him the man we see when the TNG series begins. At times feeling a bit like Stargate SG-1, The Buried Age is a fun story dealing with ancient races and hidden secrets, while at the same time being a great Star Trek story, celebrating the thrill and excitement of exploration.
5/5 stars.

More about The Buried Age:

Also by Christopher L. Bennett:

My next read:

The final part of William Shatner's first Trek trilogy: Avenger!

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