Hot take: Star Trek: The Next Generation is a show we remember differently than it was. We remember the characters and the bold adventures they went on but we forget how incredibly long it took the show to find its voice. And even then it was often a bit silly. TNG was the funny trek, the goofy one next to the pulp of TOS or the at times brutal war drama of DS9. So much of TNG was a silly, ridiculous show often focused on the sex having adventures of William Riker instead of the epic drama of The Measure of a Man or The Best of Both Worlds.
So today we are looking at a random example of TNG from before it had really founfd itself. Published in May 1990, I chose Gulliver’s Fugitives by Keith Sharee using the complex method of “what’s on Hoopla I can listen to during my day trip?” So very random to be clear. There’s not much to say here either on background with the writer only doing this Trek book and I mean that as his entire writing career. Truly nothing to say. Audiobook was read well by Jonathan Frakes FWIW.
The story is pretty quintessential Trek planet of the week nonsense. The crew goes to a human colony in search of a ship missing for a decade only to discover the denizens worship truth (sort of) and ban fiction because they’re a Christian colony only to join with an underground resistance that worships conveniently public domain fiction and mythology. Inevitably rebellion ensues.
Insurrection is often correctly called the worst Trek film ever with a silly, low stakes plot nobody cared about and even the filmmakers agreed had a bad message. I bring that up to make a frustrating point. Insurrection is what a lot of TNG was in its first half. Nothing matters and the plot is a joke when you write it down.
That’s what we have here. A plot so ridiculous typing it out is a farce. This is a story that seriously deals with people code naming themselves after either myths or public domain characters to fight a theocracy. That’s not the worst idea but you need to fully commit to it with time and a sense of humor and definitely not having to work around preexisting characters with static status quos. But of course this is what it is.
The book is also prone to the big issues of TNG during Gene Roddenberry’s life. It’s far too soft with lots of ill timed humor. Wesley and Data are here in prime comic relief mode and it’s hell. There’s also a giant focus on Troi, death as always for the plot as she wrestles with her feelings. I’m guessing they backlogged these books because Troi’s powers are ill defined as in this age. Riker doesn’t get horned up, though I suspect it was considered.
But there’s a big issue I’ve gotta tackle. In the early days of TNG, the show was scared it cast an older bald man as captain so Picard was primarily a stern leader and not really a fleshed out character. Definitely not a character so beloved he’d get a sequel series in 2020. Of course Sir Patrick Stewart went on not only to reclaim the focus on the show but why the hell not became a major sex symbol far eclipsing Frakes as Riker.
That’s what we get here. Angry, stern Picard, not the warm in focus character we got. And that’s not a big deal. I’m going to be covering a lot of Trek now that this is a weekly column. There’s some great Picard stories to come, especially when we visit his early days. But I’m not overlooking that a running thread of this is Picard is ice cold. Nope, not the character. But again, early TNG.
So now that I’ve laid out my issues with the book, can I recommend it? No, but I’m oddly not mad this was how I let 90 minutes pass on a drive. I had fun listening to it even as it wasn’t very good. And maybe that’s what TNG was at its core. It wasn’t great but it was a blast as a timekiller. I’ll forget this in a week. Hell I rushed to write it now. But I’m not mad. That said, there are so many better Trek books. We’ll get back to Trek pretty soon.