Captain, they will be in close range in fifteen seconds. The Enterprise will never be in greater danger than it is at this moment. I urge you to fire upon them.
I’ve never fired at another ship first-without provocation.
In another ten seconds, I and every system on this ship will be inoperable. It is your decision, Captain.
-Commander Data and Captain Jean-Luc Picard, U. S. S. Enterprise
Between the movies “Star Trek Insurrection” and “Star Trek Nemesis”, a great deal happened in the Star Trek franchise. The big highlights included the end of the Dominion War; the transition of the Starfleet officer, Worf to the ambassador to the Klingon Empire, Worf; and the epic return of the U. S. S. Voyager from the Delta Quadrant. And sometime in the offscreen time, other things seem to have happened: Data seemed to be emotionless again; Jean-Luc Picard began taking orders from Admiral Kathryn Janeway; Will Riker and Deanna Troi were ready to be reassigned to the U. S. S. Titan; Doctor Crusher was to return to Starfleet Medical; and Worf and Wesley Crusher showed up wearing Starfleet uniforms. Clearly, a whole lot happened between movies, and fans were left wondering just how this all came about.
Fortunately, we can usually rely on some books to fill in the missing spaces.
A Time to Be Born and A Time to Die are the first pair of books in a 9 book cycle that will answer many of those questions. This story starts out deceptively simple-at the largest mass graveyard of the Dominion War. At the Battle of Rashanar, every ship had ended up destroyed-both Starfleet and Dominion vessels. This is an unlikely event at best, and Captain Picard and the Enterprise are dispatched to investigate the mystery, while also driving off scavengers who see opportunity. Picard is also curious about a number of spatial anomalies that seem to be infesting this region. At the same time, though, he must work with another captain who has spent far too much time trying to bring out the dead of the battle, and with a race only nominally in the Federation-a race that remain a mystery to the Federation (and only really got invited in because of the situation with the Dominion). Unbeknownst to Picard, however, there are dangers beyond simple scavengers lurking in the region of space the locals have come to call the Boneyard….
At the same time, the reader gets to catch up with the newest inductee to the mysterious beings known as Travelers-Wesley Crusher (once best known as the Trek character most requested to be tossed out an airlock-funny how life works sometimes…). In a vision that is to be his greatest test, to see if he can maintain the detachment of the Travelers, he sees a chilling sight-the Enterprise undergoing the final countdown to self-destruct, and the ship’s destruction at the end. Wesley must make the choice to let things unfold as he has seen, or act against the philosophies of the Travelers and act.
The choices made will lead to a number of serious changes for some of the Enterprise crewmembers, and not necessarily for the better.
I picked up these books with anticipation; I was really looking forward to reading about what happened between movies. I came out of it with mixed emotions. There were aspects of these books I really enjoyed-the appearance of the Androssi (familiar to S.C.E. readers), for example-gotta love their taste in ships; and the fact that Picard seems to be heading to the end of his career (or is at least perceived by some that way-and their opinions have weight). I was also impressed with the truths behind the anomalies (which I’m not going into) and the method used to deal with those truths (which I’m also not going into-but it was damned clever). On the other hand, I felt I was reading about some of the early episodes of the television series, due to the actions of “Ensign Brewster”, which I was iffy about. It’s to Vornholt’s credit, though, that he has Picard understand the trouble of relying on assets that could vanish at any time.
There’s enough character bits for fans of almost every character; Riker gets to show off his leadership skills, Data is forced to make some tough decisions about himself (and some of those are imposed upon him), and Doc Crusher gets to demonstrate why she’s the worst poker player on the Enterprise. Picard, though, is the one who gets to go through the ringer; he’s the captain, and anything that goes wrong falls squarely on his head-and a whole lot goes wrong. His interactions with a Starfleet counselor in many ways leads to the meat of the second book.
The events in A Time to Be Born and A Time to Die fit their titles well, and while it may not be the strongest Star Trek effort I’ve ever read, they do a respectable job in opening this particular chapter in the careers of the captain and crew of the U. S. S. Enterprise. Looking forward to the next pair.