Monday, February 25, 2019

The Valiant

Star Trek: The Next Generation
The Valiant by Michael Jan Friedman
Published April 2000
Read October 31st 2018

Previous book (TNG unnumbered): I, Q

Next book (TNG unnumbered): Genesis Wave, Book One

Previous book (TNG published order): #59: Gemworld #1


Purchase:
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Spoilers ahead for The Valiant
!

From the back cover:
Three hundred years ago, the S.S. Valiant was destroyed during an ill-fated attempt to cross the legendary Galactic Barrier. Starfleet had always assumed that the Valiant had perished with all hands aboard, until a pair of unusual humanoids arrive at Starbase 209, claiming to be the descendants of a handful of Valiant survivors who found refuge on an M-Class planet beyond the Barrier. 
Even more shocking, the visitors warn that a hostile alien species, the Nuyyad, are preparing to invade our galaxy. Uncertain of how much of the strangers' story to believe, Starfleet orders the U.S.S. Stargazer to investigate at once. 
Lieutenant Commander Jean-Luc Picard is second officer on the Stargazer. A young man who has yet to command a vessel of his own, he soon develops a special bond with one of the visitors, a strikingly beautiful woman who has inherited mysterious psychic abilities from her alleged Starfleet ancestors. But can Picard truly trust her?

My thoughts:

Over the course of his Star Trek writing career, Michael Jan Friedman has been responsible for nearly everything we know about the crew of the U.S.S. Stargazer. While (of course) non-canon, his depictions of the Stargazer crew which began in the TNG novel Reunion have informed my understanding of the pre-Enterprise years of Captain Jean-Luc Picard's Starfleet career. Now that there is an entire series dedicated to the adventures of the U.S.S. Stargazer under Picard's command, The Valiant could be thought of as book two of that series, following on the heels of the de facto first Stargazer novel, Reunion.

The Valiant takes us to the early days of Picard's years on the Stargazer, where he serves as the ship's second officer. While not yet a captain at the start of this novel, The Valiant depicts the circumstances under which he ultimately assumes command.

The Valiant could be considered a novel in the Stargazer book series, as opposed to a TNG novel.

The story involves a mission to the other side of the "Galactic Barrier," seen most famously in the second TOS pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before." That episode began with the Enterprise discovering the mission recorder buoy jettisoned from the S.S. Valiant, destroyed shortly after it attempted to cross the barrier. It was assumed that all hands were lost in that incident, but Starfleet learns that there were survivors who eventually settled and populated a world near the barrier. Representatives from that world make contact with Starfleet and warn of an alien threat: the Nuyyad.

The Stargazer is assigned to investigate this threat, along with a representative from the Kelvans, a species from the far-off Andromeda galaxy who have also settled near the galactic barrier thanks to assistance from Starfleet (see the TOS episode "By Any Other Name"). Also aboard is one of the representatives from the descendants of the Valiant, an offshoot of humanity who have been affected by the passage through the barrier in a similar manner to Gary Mitchell, who infamously turned against Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise, proving the axiom that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Starfleet and the Stargazer crew are understandably wary of this representative, fearing that she will prove as deadly as Mitchell.

The spectre of Gary Mitchell looms over this novel, making the Stargazer crew wary of the descendants of the S.S. Valiant survivors who also exhibit "superhuman" abilities.

The Valiant continues the work started in Reunion, familiarizing us with the characters of the Stargazer and setting up a much different environment than Picard would later find himself in on the Enterprise. Because Reunion is set much later, The Valiant is able to set up situations between characters that we see in that novel, and readers who have read Reunion previously will find interesting connections that ultimately result in some dramatic irony because the outcomes are already known.

I found my expectations as a reader subverted somewhat by Michael Jan Friedman. There were a number of times I was sure I knew where the story was going only to find myself surprised by the events I was reading. The descendants of the Valiant survivors were an interesting society, and reminded me somewhat of the people that Christopher L. Bennett created in his original novel Only Superhuman. I like the idea of a race of humans who exhibit extraordinary powers, but don't go down the path of Gary Mitchell or the Platonians.

Final thoughts:

Overall, a fascinating and satisfying novel that chronicles the events leading to Picard taking command of the Stargazer. I enjoyed the character-building for the crewmembers of the Stargazer that we see in other novels. I wasn't initially very interested in reading the Stargazer novel series, but after revisiting Reunion and reading The Valiant for the first time, I think I would like to see more about these characters. 4/5.

Also by Michael Jan Friedman:

My next read:

My next review is for book 8 in the A Time To series: A Time to Heal by David Mack.

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