Tuesday, January 2, 2024

The Last Best Hope

Star Trek: Picard
The Last Best Hope by Una McCormack
Release date: February 11th 2020
Read February 27th 2020

Next book (Picard): The Dark Veil

Hardcover: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk
Trade Paperback: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk
E-book (Kindle): Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk

Publisher's description:
A thrilling novel leading into the new CBS series, Una McCormack’s The Last Best Hope introduces you to brand new characters featured in the life of beloved Star Trek captain Jean-Luc Picard—widely considered to be one of the most popular and recognizable characters in all of science fiction.

My thoughts:

Una McCormack has earned a reputation as a stellar, thoughtful, and compelling author within the Star Trek literary universe, and is one of my absolute favorite writers currently producing Trek fiction. So when it was announced that she would be penning the debut novel for the (at the time) new Star Trek: Picard series, I was thrilled. The author who has become known for her deftness at weaving together political stories, usually involving Cardassians, was going to handle some of the toughest political storytelling in the Star Trek mythos: the impending destruction of the Romulan Star Empire, Picard's impossible mission to save the Romulan people, and the fallout of the mission and supernova on the United Federation of Planets. As a doctor of sociology, Dr. Una McCormack is singularly equipped to handle these stories!

I was not disappointed. McCormack deftly crafts a story that fills in some of the blanks from the years prior to Star Trek: Picard's first season. The passion and humanity with which Jean-Luc Picard tackles the problem of the Romulan evacuation is a perfect reflection of the character as we have known him throughout The Next Generation: a man who believes wholeheartedly in the principles of justice and compassion. This, of course, puts him at odds with the reality of the situation: as much as Picard wants to save everyone and ensure justice for all who are being evacuated, the "situation on the ground" makes this impossible. As the mission drags on and Picard faces numerous barriers, he continually finds himself having to compromise in the face of heated opposition from both the Romulan government itself, and eventually, even Starfleet and the Federation.

One of the obstacles that Picard faces feels very familiar to us here in the 21st century: denial of reality. There are many in the Romulan Empire who try to convince their citizens that the threat of the supernova isn't real; that it is "fake news," basically. When this novel was written, there were obvious parallels to climate change denial and the undermining of media by public figures. In the years since, even more obvious examples have made themselves known in the form of science denial, specifically in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now that the first season of Picard is a few years in the past, we all know where this story is leading: the eventual falling-out between Admiral Picard and the upper echelons of Starfleet, resulting in Picard's parting of ways with the service. Although the outcome is known, The Last Best Hope does an admirable job in showing us how it got to that point. There is almost a mounting horror as the Romulan evacuation efforts go more and more awry, and a feeling of crushing inevitability that is not ruined by knowing the outcome, but rather, is enhanced by it.

Raffi and Picard during the final days of the Federation's Romulan evacuation efforts.

I truly appreciated the background the novel provides, setting up the status quo in Picard season one. While reading the book isn't necessary to enjoy and fully understand the show, it does act as a nice bonus for viewers wanting more insight into things such as Picard's relationship with Raffi, the animosity shown to Picard by Admiral Clancy, and even some insights into the relationship between Jurati and Maddox. Viewers of Picard who chaffed at Raffi regularly calling Picard "JL" will perhaps understand their relationship more after reading this novel. Given the events of this book, the casual familiarity between the two characters made a lot more sense to me.

One final aspect of the novel that I wish would be picked up on by future canon Trek projects: there are hints in this story that there is more to the Romulan supernova than meets the eye. Given the speed at which its effects propagated through Romulan space, as well as the massive destruction it caused, an artificial origin for the supernova would do a lot for the verisimilitude of this tragedy within the Star Trek mythos. I would love it if some future Star Trek television show or film picked up these threads and crafted the story behind the causes of the destruction of the Romulan Star Empire.

Final thoughts:

The Last Best Hope is a thoughtful and mature examination of the events leading into the first season of Star Trek: Picard. Una McCormack is one of my favorite Trek authors, and the perfect choice to capture the political climate and the personal struggles of Picard in this period. I loved the answers to lingering questions that arose from the first season, and while reading this novel isn't necessary to enjoy and fully appreciate that season of Picard, the novel works very well as a supplement and is a terrific read for hardcore Trek fans, as well as those who might be wanting just a little more insight into the events of Picard.

More about The Last Best Hope:

Also by Una McCormack:

Next time on Trek Lit Reviews:

Next up is The Next Generation: Losing the Peace by William Leisner.

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