Gauntlet, by Michael Jan Friedman


Thank you, Number One.  I was beginning to actually feel capable of commanding a starship for a moment there, but you have managed to completely disabuse me of that notion.
-Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the U. S. S. Stargazer

Before Captain Picard took over command of the Enterprise, he had been the captain of another starship.  That starship was Stargazer. Stargazer has been visited before in novels, and on each occasion it was visited by Michael Jan Friedman; previously seen in The First Virtue and Valiant; the crew is seen again in the “present” day of Next Generation in Reunion.

Now, Friedman is writing about the adventures of that crew-with a significantly younger Jean-Luc Picard-in an ongoing series called, appropriately “Stargazer”.  Gauntlet is the first book in this series.  Captain Picard is given a task by Admiral McAteer-to recover a cargo stolen by the pirate White Wolf; and if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, catch the pirate, too.  Picard soon learns, however, that he is being set up:  due to political games in Starfleet, McAteer hopes to embarrass a rival admiral by making his protégé fail in his mission.  Even so, Picard is determined to prove that he can complete his mission-even where other captains before him have failed.

Making matters even more interesting, Picard gets saddled with a number of new crew members each have what could be considered fatal flaws.  Personally, I can’t imagine how some of these folks got into Starfleet in the first place.  You’ll see what I mean.  Luckily, his regular crew is still together, and are actually almost normal in comparison with the newer characters; of note are the human twins Gerda and Idun Asmund-humans who had been raised as Klingons, and one of whom is involved with a strange flirtation with the ship’s doctor; and the chief engineer, Phigus Simenon, a Gnalish with a cranky disposition.

On the plus side for Gauntlet, I rather liked the fact that Picard continues a habit seen much in the Next Generation-the conference with senior officers to figure out how to solve a problem.  The pirate White Wolf is an interesting character as well, although there was a twist or two that wasn’t as shocking as perhaps it should have been (I’ve been reading too many books, probably).  And the interstellar obstacles in the Stargazer’s path to get to the Wolf are just fun-an area of space that I’d hate to try to navigate.

The minus side, though, kind of overbalances it a bit.  I realize that it’s becoming the “in” thing with Star Trek authors to crew a ship with the most eccentric characters they can come up with.  It’s gotten very annoying.  Of the new crew members, only two or three of them look as if they belong in Starfleet-and that’s only because their little quirks aren’t as obvious.  Worse yet, though, is the fact that there is very little plot to this book, as it spends a great deal of time on the characters and how they interact with each other.  Ordinarily, I’m okay with over-balancing in favor of the characters.  I tend to like the characters to drive the plot a bit.  But in this particular case, all it did was make me wonder why some of them had gotten into the fleet, much less how they didn’t wash out of the Academy (I do blame Peter David for some of this; it seems he’s pioneered the habit of making odd characters Starfleet officers).

The biggest problem I have, though, isn’t really Friedman’s fault.  Between the Challenger books, New Frontier, DS9 relaunches, Original Series “Below Decks” launch, the new Enterprise books, and a future Voyager relaunch waiting in the wings, I can’t help but think that Pocket Books is over-saturating the Star Trek market.  Do we really need a Stargazer series?  It’s getting to the point where books on a favorite series is going to come out on a yearly basis more than a monthly.  Maybe I’m a dino, but I miss the days when one month had a Next Generation book and a Voyager book, and the next had an Original Series and a DS9 book.  It’s a trend that I’m not sure I like, and I hope that Pocket Books does some serious thinking about how much further they’ll go with this.

(2013 note:  things seem to have swung in the other direction now; the over-saturation comment seems to have been prophetic at this time.)

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