Hugo Reading Progress

2024 Hugo Awards Progress
29 items read/watched / 57 total (50.88%)
3215 / 7751 pages read (41.48%)
495 / 1360 minutes watched (36.40%)

06 September 2023

Star Trek: The Destiny Era: Takedown

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Takedown
by John Jackson Miller

late November 2385 (concurrent to The Missing)
Published: 2015
Acquired: May 2016
Read: June 2023

The premise of this book sounds fun, and potentially interesting: Admiral Riker has gone rogue, and Captain Picard has to stop him. Picard has spent a career bringing in evil admirals... but what if that evil admiral is the man he trusts most in the universe? Immediate Hunt for Red October vibes. It's a cracker of a premise.

Unfortunately, if you're a writer, you have to work back from and figure out what circumstances would bring this about. And, alas, there's not really any. Riker is not going to become an evil admiral. So it's got to be mind control. And if you're John Jackson Miller, you fish through old Star Trek episodes to find one that's ripe for a sequel. (I feel like every Star Trek book of his I've read has done this, bar The Enterprise War.) "The Nth Degree" is a perfectly logical choice for a follow-up; well, I guess so, anyway, as it's one of those TNG episodes I've never gotten around to! But it seems to have some intriguing loose ends, and the powers of the Cytherians make good sense for giving Riker both a motivation and an advantage.

But once you construct it like that, I feel like the premise is fulfilled only in a purely mechanical way. All this is to say, I thought the first half of the book, where the characters and the reader are trying to figure out what's going on, worked well. It's fast, it's sharp, it's tense.

...but the Picard vs. Riker thing never really materializes. Riker is so smart, no one can really compete with him at all. So what we get instead is more Riker vs. Riker, Riker's conscience vs. Riker's programming. But this is all external, because Riker isn't a viewpoint character once he's possessed. And Riker comes up with plan after plan; we don't see Picard having to do clever things to outwit his old friend. Indeed, the cleverest ploy comes from Dax on the Aventine when she fiddles with the lights.

The second half of the novel, I thought, really fizzled away the potential of the first. Once you find out what's going on, it doesn't even really feel like anything's at stake. In the first half, you're like, who's trying to short out communications across the galaxy? what's this all in aid of? In the second half, the answer is it's not really in aid of anything, it's just an end in itself. There's not actually really any kind of danger coming. The book swerves into making the Cytherian-controlled people other than Riker into a new threat, but this never really convinces; one is a comedy Ferengi whose plan is to sell the Federation mortgages. On top of this, I found the action around the climax fairly confusing.

One of the things tie-in books live or die on is characterization: do the writers capture the characters from the shows? But in reading Takedown I came to realize this actually has two parts. One is, obviously, capturing voices, the feeling that you can imagine the actors delivering the lines. Miller is great at this. But there's another: the feeling that you learned something about the characters you didn't already know. Sometimes this is a change in character, but I think it can be a new situation, a new turn, something you didn't expect. Takedown doesn't really achieve this. (And I know Miller can do this, because I think he did it in both Pike books.) Riker, Picard, Dax... they're all just kind of there, reading their lines as they go through the plot. The non-tv characters feel pretty thin. I think there's potentially a great Riker-as-admiral book to be written, but I still don't feel like I really know that Riker yet. Riker went through this whole experience, but it didn't give me much insight into him; Picard had to potentially do a big thing, but I don't know him any better either.

Maybe I'm being unfair. It has a good zip to it, and the first half is solid. But I feel like a better book with this basic premise exists somewhere in the multiverse, and I wish I'd read it.

Continuity Notes:
Other Notes:

  • Riker experiences a holoprogram of the Titan, and one of his clues it's a fake is that some of the ranks are wrong. "Always getting the ranks wrong," sighs the creator of the program. "I forget how closely people pay attention." Miller's Titan novella, Absent Enemies, received some flack for getting the ranks wrong, so it's a cute reference.
  • I found the account of the political career of Senator Bretorius totally hilarious, especially the jokes about his biographers and his (lack of) participation in Shinzon's coup. His last line is also great.

I read Destiny-era Star Trek books in batches of five every few months. Next up in sequence: Prometheus: In the Heart of Chaos by Bernd Perplies and Christian Humberg

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