Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Ghost Ship

Star Trek: The Next Generation #1
Ghost Ship by Diane Carey
Published June 1991
Read June 20th 2017


Previous book (The Next Generation): Encounter at Farpoint

Next book (The Next Generation): #2: The Peacekeepers


Purchase:
Mass-market paperback: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk
E-book (Kindle): Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk

Spoilers ahead for Ghost Ship!

From the back cover:
In 1995, a Russian aircraft carrier is destroyed by a mysterious creature that just as mysteriously disappears thereafter. Three hundred years later, Counsellor Deanna Troi awakens in her quarters from a nightmare in which she senses the voices of the crew of that Russian ship, whose life-essences were somehow absorbed by the creature that destroyed them. And the nightmare heralds a danger to the Enterprise itself, for if Picard can't discover a way to communicate with the creature, it could absorb his crew just as it did the Russians.

Notable quote:
Finally there would be total unity within the Federation, the first step toward people’s being at home on any planet instead of only one. The principle from the old United States, basically; it didn’t matter if you were raised in Vermont and lived in California. You were still home, still American. If your name was Baird or Yamamura or Kwame, you weren’t necessarily loyal to Scotland, Japan, or Ghana, but to America. A few decades of space travel, and the statement became 'I’m a citizen of Earth,' and no matter the country. This ship was that kind of first step. Whether born on Earth or Epsilon Indii VI, you were a citizen of the Federation. The children on this colony Enterprise would visit the planets of the Federation and feel part of each, welcome upon all. This starship was the greatest, most visionary melting pot of all, this spacegoing colony. Unique. Hopeful. Risky.

My thoughts:

Ghost Ship begins in the year 1995 with a Soviet aircraft carrier encountering a strange phenomenon. Right off the bat, if you are familiar at all with history, alarm bells should be ringing. This book was published in 1991, and at the time it was written, no one could have predicted that the Soviet Union would fall within the year. Owing to the specific window in which it was published, the novel contains a glaring anachronism with the Soviet Union surviving until at least 1995! Of course, perhaps the Soviet Union didn't collapse in 1991 in the Star Trek universe. After all, in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (released in 1986), the city of Leningrad is referred to by that name. In 1991, Leningrad's name reverted back to Saint Petersburg once the USSR became Russia once again. In this universe, in any case!

Ghost Ship was the first original novel in the Star Trek: The Next Generation line. As such, it was written before much of the tone of the show and the personalities of the characters had been firmly established. While writing this novel, Diane Carey reportedly only had access to the series bible and a few scripts from the first season. Understandably, many of the characters seem "off" and the overall feel of the story didn't quite fit the television series. Adding to the difficulties was the fact that The Next Generation was the first new television series in many years, and the first Star Trek spin-off ever that didn't features the TOS characters. While the novelists penning the first original novels in the Deep Space Nine or Voyager book lines would at least have a template for how Star Trek works in the 24th century, Diane Carey was truly in uncharted territory.


As the first TNG original novel, Ghost Ship was also the first glimpse into 24th century Trek Lit.

The most glaring inconsistencies are certainly in the attitudes and behavior of the main characters. Picard is overly gruff and quick to assume incompetence when dealing with his officers. Geordi is extremely high-strung and emotional, bordering on insubordination when interacting with his superiors, most notably Commander Riker. Speaking of Riker, it is in his character that the largest differences can be found. His interactions with Data are cold and unfeeling, a stark contrast to the friendship that the two characters would develop during the series. This seems to stem mostly from early character descriptions of Riker, presenting him as distrustful of and prejudiced against Data, owing to his nature as an artificial lifeform. It's too bad that this characterization clashes so markedly with how he is portrayed in the series. It unfortunately sticks out quite prominently in this novel.


Many of the characterizations in Ghost Ship seem off. For example, Riker is prejudiced towards Commander Data due to that fact that he is not, in Riker's opinion, actually "alive."

With those obstacles in mind, Carey actually doesn't do too badly. The mystery surrounding the Soviet carrier and the other-worldly force that has ensnared them is certainly somewhat interesting. The plight of the Russians and the moral dilemma facing the crew in Ghost Ship is well-handled, and I definitely felt empathy for the decision that Picard and the Enterprise crew were forced into. The disembodied consciousnesses of the lost Russian sailors wish to be "set free"; essentially, they wish to escape the sort of limbo they have existed in for centuries and finally die. Picard must decide whether to grant this wish and consign them all to oblivion or allow them to continue "living" in the state they are in.

There are some odd methods that Picard uses to make his decision. At the height of the crisis, he decides to spend a couple of hours in a sensory deprivation tank in order to get a feel for what the Russians are going through, which struck me as an odd use of his time. It does, however, help him to realize the existential horror of what they are experiencing, which does aid him in his decision. Still, it seemed a strange turn for the story to take.

Final thoughts:

Ghost Ship is not a bad story; the crisis at the heart of the novel is a thought-provoking one and the story itself held my interest throughout. Fans familiar with their TNG heroes will find the characterizations quite jarring, but given the limited resources with which Diane Carey was forced to work, I'm impressed the characters even remotely resemble the ones we saw on television. Still, some odd story choices and the unfamiliar feel of the story do lower the score somewhat, in my opinion. An interesting story, but not one that fits well in the TNG milieu.


Also, as a random aside: note the upside down Battlestar Galactica on the front cover. Strange.

More about Ghost Ship:



Also by Diane Carey:

My next read:

The first Star Trek: Prometheus novel: Fire with Fire by Bernd Perplies and Christian Humberg!