Friday, May 17, 2019

Death in Winter

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Death in Winter by Michael Jan Friedman
Published September 2005
Read February 20th 2019

Previous book (The Next Generation): A Time for War, A Time for Peace
Next book (The Next Generation): Resistance

Next book (Post-Nemesis Continuity): Titan: Taking Wing

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Spoilers ahead for Death in Winter

From the back cover:
Long before Captain Jean-Luc Picard took command of the legendary Starship Enterprise, he fell deeply and hopelessly in love with Doctor Beverly Crusher. Though, for one reason or another, Picard never acted on his feelings, he found a measure of contentment as Beverly's close friend, colleague, and daily breakfast partner.
But when Doctor Crusher leaves her position on the Enterprise to become the chief medical officer of Starfleet, the brightest light in Picard's life is taken from him. And he has hardly resigned himself to his loss when he learns that Beverly has been declared missing in action on a distant planet -- and presumed dead.

Kevratas is a bleak, frozen world on the far side of the Romulan Neutral Zone where the Federation has become the plague-ravaged natives' only real hope of survival and freedom. Starfleet has no recourse but to send in another team to try to save the Kevrata -- and Picard is the natural choice. Critical to the success of his mission are two colleagues who served under him when he commanded the Starship Stargazer -- Pug Joseph, a man with a past to live down, and Doctor Carter Greyhorse, who has served time for attempted murder -- as well as a Romulan who left his people years earlier and never expected to return. Together, they follow the trail of Beverly Crusher to Kevratas, determined to succeed where the doctor failed.

On the Romulan homeworld, meanwhile, the political vacuum created by the demise of Praetor Shinzon has been filled by his staunchest supporter, Senator Tal'aura. But there are those who oppose her, including Commander Donatra and the warbird fleets under her command, because of the way Tal'aura has mishandled rebellions on the Empire's subject worlds.

And one rebellion in particular; the movement for self-determination on frigid Kevratas.

So begins a desperate struggle -- not only for the freedom of the long-oppressed Kevrata but also for the soul of the Romulan Empire. Before it's over, destinies will be forged and shattered, the Empire will be shaken to its ancient foundations, and Jean-Luc Picard's life will be changed...forever.

My thoughts:

As we learned during the TNG seventh-season episode "Attached," Jean-Luc Picard has had feelings for Beverly Crusher for many years, ever since his early years captaining the U.S.S. Stargazer. Similarly, Crusher has developed feelings for Jean-Luc as well, feelings which have never truly been acted upon. In fact, in recent months, there has been a growing distance between the two of them, culminating in Crusher's transfer off the Enterprise and back into her former role as head of Starfleet Medical (see the A Time To series).

While serving in her new role, Crusher is sent off on a secret mission behind the neutral zone to the Romulan-controlled planet Kevatras in order to help halt a plague threatening its inhabitants. She was chosen for this mission due to her familiarity with the virus, encountered in her youth while living on the planet Arvada III with her grandmother. During the course of the mission, she is captured by Romulan forces commanded by Sela, the half-Romulan daughter of Tasha Yar.

Sela attempts another of her plots in Death in Winter.

Picard, of course, leads a rescue mission to Kevatras with a couple of old crewmates from his Stargazer days: "Pug" Joseph, who has left Starfleet and now commands a merchant ship, and Carter Greyhorse, who was Picard's chief medical officer on the Stargazer and has been in prison for the past few years for attempted murder in the TNG novel Reunion, also by Michael Jan Friedman. It was a surprise to see the Stargazer characters in this novel, especially Greyhorse, who has an interesting arc throughout Death in Winter. Their inclusion has made me want to read the Stargazer novel series all the more now.

While the Picard/Crusher romance is central to the novel, I found myself more interested in the Romulan political situation. Following the coup by Shinzon and his eventual death, the Romulan Empire finds itself in turmoil. Tal'aura, the senator who set off the thalaron weapon which killed the Romulan Senate, is now Praetor, while a significant faction of the Romulan military opposes her rule. While I'm not the biggest fan of Sela and feel that she is a bit overused in the novelverse, I thought it was interesting to see Tomalak again. In Death in Winter, he is the commander of the military forces loyal to Tal'aura, and it was fun to imagine Andreas Katsulas once again delivering lines in Tomalak's bombastic manner.

I miss Andreas Katsulas! It was fun to imagine him playing Tomalak once again.

One part of this novel that I thought was a strange misstep, however, was the aborted rescue mission by Worf and Geordi. For a good portion of the novel, the two of them attempt to piece together where Crusher and Picard have gone, and make plans to try to follow them. However, at the last minute, Admiral Janeway makes a surprise visit to the Enterprise for the sole purpose of stopping them. This part of the story was abandoned so quickly that I thought maybe it was the victim of a massive rewrite. The end of that subplot felt so abrupt and disjointed that it made me wonder why it was in the novel at all in the first place.

Death in Winter finally gets these two crazy kids together.

As we get closer to the end of the novel, most of the major plots seem to resolve themselves. However, it isn't until the very last few final pages that the Picard/Crusher romance plot is resolved. As I was reading, I thought that the author might leave us hanging. Instead, Picard and Crusher admit their love for each other in a frankly awkward and rushed scene. I'm happy that these two characters do finally get together, but the payoff from that scene was unfortunately lacking. Rather than a mature, reasoned beginning to their relationship, it feels like an awkward, adolescent attempt to mimic ideas from romantic films. It sadly felt very out of place for these two seasoned characters. Nevertheless, I mostly enjoyed Death in Winter despite some of the oddities of the plot.

Final thoughts:

A mostly interesting start to the TNG post-Nemesis novels. It really does feel like the beginning of a new chapter, both in the lives of the crew and on the interstellar political stage. I found myself fascinated by the Romulan intrigue and in-fighting more than with the romantic plot between Picard and Crusher, but I'm very happy with the direction things are headed in both arenas. A worthy read, but not the best that Trek lit has to offer. 3/5.

More about Death in Winter:

Also by Michael Jan Friedman:

My next read:

My next review is for a classic Captain Pike story: Vulcan's Glory by D.C. Fontana!

1 comment:

  1. Federation President: Congratulations on your first day as Head of Starfleet Medical!

    Luscious Bev: Thanks!

    Federation President: u ready to go undercover on a solo undercover mission in Romulan space?

    LB: ...ummm...sure.

    lol. It's like saying "Hey congrats on being appointed Secretary of Agriculture - here's your hoe and giant bag of seed." MJF was never one to bother with setting up a detailed explanation to get the story where he wants it. He just sort of throws things together. He's not as bad about it as John "ok the Enterprise D crew are gonna be used as crash test dummies and terrorists steal half the ship!" Vornholt but it's still kind of funny.

    Good review. I listened to the Literary Treks episode too and I agree with almost all of your points. I think this book is much better than its reputation. Reading comments at Trekbbs made me expect the worst, but I ended up thinking it was pretty decent. As you said, the Romulan sections were the highlight of the book. Another thing I like about this one (and Resistance) is that we get to see Dr. Crusher in a major role. She's a very underutilized character, imo. I thought the romance portions were handled fairly well. Good catch on connecting the final scene of the book with the Riker-Picard scene in Farpoint. I would never have noticed that.

    There was some recapping which is something that I usually hate, but since it was a book about examining the relationship between Picard and Crusher I don't think it seemed as intrusive as it usually does. I also didn't mind the recapping of Reunion; it makes sense considering it's a 20 year old book that many people may not have read. This isn't the gratuitous page filling recapping of well known episodes that we find in some books.


    I think this would have been a very good Stargazer book, but instead it was just a pretty good TNG book. I didn't hate the Geordi and Worf scenes onboard the Enterprise, but I wish those scenes had been replaced with more scenes featuring the fate of Dr. Greyhorse or maybe with a couple of more Crusher scenes. I would have loved to see a scene with showing Beverly getting her undercover assignment, or a scene at the end showing Beverly's thoughts after Picard confesses her love for her. The book could have been improved immeasurably with 10 extra pages filling in those blanks, but those parts were inexplicably left out for some reason.

    Final score:

    3 out of 5 forgotten lucky marbles.

    p.s. "Legacy" is still probably my favorite MJF trek book. Since you've been reviewing Pike era novels recently, you might want to check that one out. It (sort of) fits the bill.