09 November 2022

Star Trek: Picard: Second Self by Una McCormack

Star Trek: Picard: Second Self
by Una McCormack

I was not much into season one of Star Trek: Picard, and what little I've seen thus far of season two hasn't won me over much either. One of the things that hasn't worked for me has been the character of Raffi; she's fine as part of the ensemble, but the episode of the first season that focused on her was absurdly melodramatic and poorly written. There have been some good Picard novels, however, and I in particular think that Una McCormack is an excellent author with a great grasp on character. So after some early positive reviews, I went ahead and picked this novel up. It helps bridge the gap between seasons one and two of Picard, focusing in particular on Raffi and Elnor.
Published: 2022
Acquired and read: October 2022

It was a good gamble. McCormack's characterization transformed Raffi for me; seeing her from the inside makes her feel real in a way the show never really managed. She's just so very good at the small moments between people that make them come to life: Raffi and Picard, Raffi and Laris, Laris and Picard, Rafii and Elnor, Raffi and her old coworkers at Starfleet Intelligence. Seeing what each thinks of the other, how each uses the other, and how each feels the other is using them, makes them all click in various combinations and feel all the more real for it.
The book has a nested structure: parts one and five take place in the present of Picard, parts two and four follow Raffi right after the Dominion War, part three is during the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor. As always, McCormack also does a great job with the complexity of geopolitics. The book mostly revolves around a Bajoran colony annexed by the Cardassians; the Bajorans were driven out, and then during the Dominion War, Romulans occupied the colony, but then pulled out following the peace treaty; now the Romulans are returning as refugees following the explosion of their star. There's a lot of traumas and histories embedded in the history of the planet, which McCormack's novel explores in depth, along with the personal histories that get embedded in the social ones: who were these Bajorans, these Cardassians, these humans, these Romulans?

If you're a McCormack fan, then you'll know she has the best handle on Garak other than Andy Robinson himself, and the big hook for this novel is that Raffi is tasked with bringing Garak in to appease the Federation's Bajoran allies without aggravating their Cardassian or Romulan ones. In her novels in the so-called "Destiny era," McCormack developed a history for Garak after the show, but this goes in a slightly different direction though it seems to share commonalities up until the events of The Fall: The Crimson Shadow. As always, McCormack really gets Garak, but he also doesn't steal the show from Raffi; he fits perfectly into this story of compromising who you are and figuring out how to live with yourself. There's one passage that almost made me tear up, as McCormack briefly flashes forward from a young Garak to a DS9-era Garak to reflect on what the story's events meant to him. (McCormack's ability to actually have a perspective and narrative style are, of course, what makes her the best working Star Trek author. None of the other ones would dare abandon third-person limited past tense voice to do something interesting like this.)

The book is riveting reading; I think I allotted myself four days to read it, but ended up blasting through over half of the book in one day because I was enjoying it so much. The best Star Trek novel I've read since, well, The Crimson Shadow. (But when will she write her amazing original novel?)

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