Hard-core Trek fans know this secret already. But for those of you who enjoy the shows, and especially for fans of the first season of Picard, you may be feeling like you missed something. Who the heck is Raffi Musiker? And Agnes Jurati – what’s the backstory there? Romulans? What was that deal? There is a way to find out.
OK, so I’m late to the party, but I’m willing to bet there were a lot of confused people out there – Picard was terrific, and I’m excited for whenever season 2 starts, but recently, I found two books that were published that truly fill in most of the holes. (The other big hole was Data’s death, referred to frequently – watch the movie Star Trek: Nemesis, not the best of the ST films, but pretty good nonetheless, and there’s your other missing part.)
The Last Best Hope
Picard: The Last Best Hope, written by Una McCormack and published just over a year ago, takes us through the discovery of the imminent supernova of the Romulan system’s star, Starfleet’s response, Jean-Luc Picard’s management of the rescue mission, and the subsequent downfall of that mission. All of which leads us to the beginning of Picard, with Picard’s anger toward Starfleet, Raffi’s anger towards Picard, and all those Romulans, including Elnor.
Dr. Bruce Maddox, who featured prominently in one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Measure of a Man, is also important to this backstory. We do see Maddox in flashbacks in Picard, but his story wasn’t really explored in the series. In the TNG episode, to refresh your memory, Maddox planned to disassemble and study Data with the hopes of creating a large number of Data-type synthetics. His bid to do this is thwarted when Data is declared, finally, to be a person with individual rights. But Maddox hasn’t given up his dream of building synthetic life, and this has tragic consequences, detailed in Last Best Hope.
Now, it’s likely that other Star Trek books – and I understand there are MANY – show a lot of information about different offshoots of the Trek universe. But one of the most fascinating pieces of The Last Best Hope was the glimpse into the ultra-secretive, maze-like life of the Romulans. As Picard works through his mission to relocate the population of many of the Romulan worlds, the Romulans are fighting back against the help they desperately need, not trusting the helpers. They are, by nature and circumstance, xenophobic, distrusting of anyone else, resistant to help, unwilling to consider any other viewpoint, discovery or action that isn’t that of their leaders (or the Tal Shiar, their intelligence service). This has tragic and permanent consequences, barely touched on in Picard, but understanding them is important to understanding Starfleet’s actions before the series begins, and Picard’s current situation.
If you enjoy (or prefer) graphic novels, The Last Best Hope is serialized as a graphic novel in three volumes under the title of Star Trek: Picard – Countdown (there are several other Star Trek books called Countdown – be sure you’re searching for the Picard series). As close as I can tell, it’s the same story in a different format.
The Dark Veil
The second book in the series, The Dark Veil, written by James Swallow, was interesting but not quite as vital – at least as far as we currently know. While I really enjoyed The Last Best Hope and thought it was well-written, The Dark Veil didn’t give me the same vibe. Which, for me, was a little discouraging, as Will Riker is probably my favorite character in all the Star Trek series. The story is bookended by Riker on trial with a Romulan starship captain and his Tal Shiar minder, following a rescue attempt that nearly goes seriously wrong.
This story takes place a year after The Last Best Hope ends, after Picard has resigned from Starfleet following a decision that he wants no part of. Starfleet has decided to rescind its offer of helping the Romulans relocate before their sun goes supernova, after the synth attack on Mars (detailed in The Last Best Hope) leaving the already-suspicious race angry and feeling used and deceived. They believe that the offer itself had been made in bad faith, a tool to subjugate the Romulans, and now that they’re facing this disaster on their own, that feeling has only been intensified.
Riker is captain of the Titan, a new class of ship. The Titan carries his family – wife Deanna Troi and son Thaddeus, whom we hear about only in flashback in Picard (Thad has died by the time Picard begins), and is escorting, along with the Romulans, the Jazari race as they leave the Alpha quadrant completely to return to their ancient homeworld. The Jazari are nearly as secretive as the Romulans, but for completely different reasons. They have stripmined their planet for the materials to create their generation ship, and won’t reveal the reason for this exodus. But after a disastrous accident, which damages not only their ship but the Titan and the Romulan ship as well, a deeply hidden secret is discovered and ignites an attempt by the Tal Shiar officer to wipe out the entire race.
Why the Jazari are keeping this secret, and why the officer takes such drastic action, is referred to in Picard – not directly, but you’ll understand some scenes in Picard a lot better once you read The Dark Veil. This was the most enlightening part of this book – we already know that Riker and Troi marry at some point after the end of TNG, and nothing about them felt like an “aha” moment. Learning more about their young son (whose death does not happen during this book) was interesting, but as he’s only five or six years old in this book, much of what we learn about him in Picard hasn’t yet happened. Dark Veil felt more “standard TV show book” than standalone novel, like The Last Best Hope.
Coming: Rogue Elements
A third book in the series will be published this coming August. Rogue Elements will focus on Captain Rios before he meets up with Picard and crew, when he’s at the helm of La Sirena and still part of Starfleet. He was another mysterious Picard character, and I’m looking forward to his backstory.
Since Season 2 of Picard doesn’t have a start date yet (and most likely won’t debut until the end of 2021, if not 2022) you’ll have plenty of time to catch up on these books, and hopefully understand more about the events referred to in the show. Now, I’m off to rewatch season 1, and I’m expecting it to make a lot more sense. If you’ve read these books, have other books to recommend that will illuminate aspects of this series, or specific books in the Star Trek catalog that you consider “must reads”, drop a comment below!
Follow me on Twitter: @ErinConrad2 and @Threeifbyspace
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