He’s been back on television since January, and now the legendary ‘Star Trek’ character Jean-Luc Picard has returned to the world of books. The new ten-episode television series starring Sir Patrick Stewart is still airing one at a time each week on CBS All Access and Amazon prime but has already been renewed for a second series. It would seem that the future of the television show is in safe hands, but could this new book based on the show and the famous character be the first in a whole new series?
This isn’t the character’s first trip to the bookstore. Such is the popularity of Picard – and the show that he came from – that he’s been recreated in every form of entertainment media you could imagine. On top of the ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ television series that he came from, there have also been ‘Star Trek’ movies featuring Picard. There are video games featuring Picard and his crew. You’ll even see Picard’s face in a few of the games you might find on online slots websites. You wouldn’t necessarily make a connection between people who like ‘Star Trek’ and people who play online casino, but there must be one. If there weren’t, there wouldn’t be a whole four official ‘Star Trek’ online slots currently available. It all serves to highlight the mainstream appeal of both the franchise and it’s biggest (sorry, Captain Kirk fans) star, and bodes well for the popularity of any new book series.
As keen on ‘Star Trek’ as they are, fans of the show won’t just buy anything that has the show’s logo on it, so the first thing any new book series would have to be is good. That brings us to ‘Star Trek Picard: The Last Best Hope,’ which is now available online and in most reputable bookstores. If you’ve been watching the new show and found yourself confused by the backstory involving the destruction of Romulus and the subsequent synth attack on Mars, you might consider this to be essential reading. This book, written by Una McCormack, attempts to fill in a few of the blanks. We’ve only seen a few glimpses on the screen of what Picard has been up to in the eighteen years between the last movie he appeared in and the first episode of the new series. This book does its best to plug as many of the holes as possible.
McCormack is a solid choice for this duty. She’s got plenty of experience writing ‘Star Trek’ books, and so her knowledge of the show’s lore is second to none. ‘The Never-Ending Sacrifice,’ written in 2009, is considered to be one of the best ‘Star Trek’ books written during the first ten years of the 21st century. She also received plenty of warm reviews for her ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ book ‘The Way To The Stars,’ which was released last year. McCormack isn’t an author who focuses too heavily on phaser battles, interstellar combat, and typical science-fiction action sequences. McCormack is at her best when she’s writing about characters and feelings, and she does an excellent job of getting into Picard’s skin in ‘The Last Best Hope.’
In some ways, the author has been given a nearly impossible choice. If you’re familiar with the show, you already know how things are going to end for Romulus, and you already know what’s going to happen on Mars. Showing us Picard before either event has happened, trying to fight against the inevitable, could make for dull material. We know his efforts are doomed, and so we feel like we already know how the story is going to end. On a ‘big picture’ level, that’s true – nothing that Picard says or done in the book contradicts anything we see on the screen, and so he’s ultimately unsuccessful in his efforts. What makes reading it so rewarding is that it gives us tiny points of detail to cling on to, and shows us the ‘why’ instead of just the ‘how.’
Some people have complained that the Picard of the new TV show isn’t the same as the Picard as the old TV show. McCormack shows us why. The optimistic Picard of old is there in print during the novel’s beginning. He’s gone by the end. He’s been changed by what’s happened to him and around him, and this book is the story of that change. It isn’t just about Picard, either. Such are the nature of the time constraints placed upon a modern television show that the character of Raffi feels underwritten on screen. Here in the book she’s more human and relatable. We’ve been given a caricature of her by CBS. The book makes her three-dimensional and allows us to feel much more sympathy for her.
Books based on television shows tend to go one of two ways. They’re either cash-grabbing tie-ins that use the material from the show but don’t tell us anything new about it, or they’re careful, well-considered stories that take that material and enhance it. ‘The Last Great Hope’ falls into the latter category. If you’re struggling with ‘Picard,’ you may find that reading this book helps you to engage with both the show and its characters. If you already love ‘Picard,’ then you should find that this only serves to make you feel more enthusiastic about what you see on your television. You’ll understand why Picard has changed. You’ll grasp why Raffi is the way she is. You might even have a better understanding of why the Federation suddenly seems so cold and distant toward one of its all-time great officers.
We suspect that there will be more Picard-related books to come in the future. People will want something to read during the time between series, and the more series are written, the more books there will be. Every set of tie-ins has to start somewhere, though, and the first book sets the tone for what follows it. Una McCormack has set the benchmark very high indeed. We hope everybody else is up to her standard.