Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Light Fantastic by Jeffrey Lang
Published by Pocket Books, July 2014. Paperback of 370 pages at $7.99.
The cover: A younger Data with flesh colored skin gazes to his left, while behind him stands Lal, who’s being scanned by a device showing her robotic workings. A LCARS display in tan comprises the background. Alan Dingman designed and created this art and it looks good. It shows the two, assumed, leads looking like their television counterparts. Overall grade: A
The premise: From the back cover, “He was perhaps the ultimate human achievement: a sentient artificial life-form–self-aware, self-determining, possessing a mind and a body far surpassing those of his makers, and imbued with the potential to evolve beyond the scope of his programing. And then Data was destroyed. Four years later, Data’s creator, Noonien Soong, sacrificed his life and resurrected his android son, who in turn revived the positronic brain of his own artificial daughter, Lal. Having resigned his commission, the former Starfleet officer now works to make his way on an alien world, while also coming to grips with the very human notion of wanting versus having a child. But complicating Data’s new life is an unexpected nemesis from years ago on the U.S.S. Enterprise–the holographic master criminal Professor James Moriarty. Long believed to be imprisoned in a memory solid, Moriarty has created a siphon into the “real” world as a being of light and thought. Moriarty wants the solid form that he was once told he could never have, and seeks to manipulate Data into finding another android body for him to permanently inhabit…even if it means that is Data himself.” I picked this book up because it takes place after the fantastic Cold Equations trilogy by David Mack. I really enjoyed that series and wanted to read more about Data out of Starfleet raising Lal. This book sounds like exactly what I was hoping for. My expectations are very high. Overall grade: A+
The characters: Data inhabits the most up to date version of a Soong android, and he resembles a younger version of his father, as seen in “Birthright, Part I.” He is able to use the sophisticated circuitry to morph his face slightly so that he can go in public without being recognized. Upon losing Lal, Data reacts as any father would: he is willing to do anything to get his daughter back. Some of the things he does are not ethical, but I can understand his fear. Lal is in the same form as she was seen in the episode “The Offspring.” However, she is more human and at the behavior age of a late teenager. She is not happy with her father’s choices for her, can’t understand why he does what he does, and seeks a companion. Lal is in the book much less than I had hoped for and doesn’t evolve beyond this until the conclusion. Needing help to find Lal, Data contacts Geordi La Forge who goes with him on his quest. He acts as Data’s moral compass, continual reminding Data of what laws he is breaking, much in the way McCoy would speak to Spock when Kirk wasn’t around. Moriarty was a fantastic villain in “Elementary, Dear Data,” because he could effect the real world. He does so here in kidnapping Lal and her companion, but that’s the extent of his abilities. He doesn’t do much else but capture these androids and state that he always has work to do. He’s simply a plot device to set the story in motion. The justification for his return to the “real” world is great, but after that revelation I was done with him. There are three other characters in this novel from previous Next Gen episodes and from classic Star Trek. I was pleased with the female, but the two male characters had the book digress into a forced attempt to bring familiar characters together. It didn’t work for me. Overall grade: D
The settings: This book goes all over space as Data and Geordi look for Lal. It would destroy the plot to reveal where they go, as any obsessive Trekkie (I prefer that term to the the PC “Trekker”) would instantly know who would be encountered in certain locations. The story is also told wildly out of chronological order, shifting back and forth in time, going back to the classic Trek era, the time of the Next Gen series and films, and the “present” timeline of 2385, the year this book is set. The locations are very well described, making them easy to visualize and bringing back fond memories of the episodes and films they hail from. Overall grade: A
The action: The search for Lal involves many pit stops that result in many conversations where facts and choices are discussed. There are no fist fights or ship battles; there is no need for them–This is about a father’s search for his daughter. The tension comes from the obstacles that stand in his way. Some are entertaining, but most are not. Because the book jumps about in time, I found myself waiting for an uninteresting story’s installment to wrap up so as to continue or begin a different or more interesting story. The novel became an example of “Spot the Reference.” This left me very frustrated and bored as I was reading. Overall grade: D
The conclusion: A ridiculous change of sides occurs that made absolutely no sense. And all conflicts are solved in one paragraph. If this can be done, there’s no point in having a novel of 370 pages. Overall grade: D-
The final line: A tremendous letdown from what was established in Cold Equations. My expectations were too high, but what I got was too low without them. Pass on this unless you are a completist of Star Trek novels. Overall grade: D
Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!”, he reviewed comics for TrekWeb, and he currently reviews Trek comics at TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for two years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.