Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Buried Age by Christopher L. Bennett
Published June 27, 2007 by Pocket Books
The Buried Age covers the period of time in Picard’s life leading up to the first mission of the Enterprise-D. Following the loss of the Stargazer, Picard, believing that his future in Starfleet is in doubt, focuses on archaeology and begins an exploration of a buried age of the ancient galactic history.
Let the Gripes Begin
The premise is intriguing. Otherwise I wouldn’t have picked the book up. Picard isn’t exactly an open book, so having the opportunity to learn about his past prior to the Enterprise was something I just couldn’t pass up. But a book needs more than a good premise to be successful, and this one has some problems that keep it from being great.
First of all, the book is slow! At least in the beginning, it is. There’s very little action to drive the book along, and I’ve come to appreciate a fair amount of action in Trek books. It’s something I’ve become accustomed to, and while it’s not necessary for the book to be all action, there needs to be some. If I recall correctly, this is a gripe that fans had during the first season of TNG – too much talk, not enough action, so we’ve seen this situation before. With the show, it could be attributed to the fact that fans were comparing Picard and Kirk. It took time for them to get used to the fact that the two men are very different captains and have very different methods of resolving problems. Picard prefers a more diplomatic approach, while Kirk is the kind of captain who shoots first and asks questions later. Picard is the focus of the book, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised there isn’t a ton of action. Picard isn’t a cowboy.
The writing also has a tendency to get very technical, and I often found myself lost in all the science talk – it’s very difficult to follow at times. I get it – Trek is science fiction, so there are supposed to be technical bits. After all, it wouldn’t do to have Trek devolve into space opera. But I don’t understand why Bennett spends so much time having characters explain intricate technical phenomena, especially while glossing over the action bits. Every once in a while – okay, I can deal with that, but it seems like it happens so often in this book. I found myself skimming over those parts because they’re just too much. Those passages are difficult to follow, and I question just how relevant they are to the overall plot. I realize that some readers probably love all the tech details, and that’s totally cool. But I’m not one of those readers. The action is what I want to read! My eyes glaze over when I have to read a page-long explanation of some technological process I’m not interested in. Ugh! It plays a big role in ruining this book for me. There is just way too much tech speak!
(Spoiler Alert! Don’t read past this point if you don’t want to know what happens.)
I’d approached this book thinking I would be reading about my favorite characters. After about the first ten chapters, the only familiar faces and names I’d encountered were Picard and Guinan, and even then, Guinan only appears for a few pages. I almost gave up, but then Kathryn Janeway pops up unexpectedly at the end of Chapter 9. Her appearance was the only thing that kept me reading. Curiosity about how the plot would be resolved wasn’t even enough to keep me interested. Combine that with the slow pace and the lack of canon characters, and you’ve got one dull read. Maybe I should have somehow known what I was getting into when I bought the book, but I guess I thought learning more about Picard’s history would be more interesting. Luckily for me, things eventually did get more interesting. One reason is because more familiar faces, like Janeway, appear. After this, the plot seemed to pick up some steam.
Bennett somehow managed to sabotage my enjoyment of the action that eventually did appear in the book, though. How? By rushing through scenes. I know that he does it to move the plot along, and it’s necessary at times because the book covers such a large swath of time, but Bennett also does it when it would be better to let the action play out, such as when Ariel freaks out in the city. That scene would have been great if Bennett had been more active in his portrayal. Instead, he provides a passive account. One of the things that makes great books great is their ability to pull you into the story so that you feel like you’re sitting there watching the action from a front-row seat or even standing in the middle of the action. The way Bennett writes, you feel as if you’re only getting a re-cap. It’s just not engaging.
So it turns out that Ariel double-crosses Picard. I can’t say that I didn’t suspect that this might end up being the case, just from the summary on the back cover. But there were other clues throughout the plot, too, such as Picard’s uncharacteristic behavior in letting Ariel’s desires influence his actions so much, especially after he returns to Starfleet. On the other hand, for all we know, that may not be so uncharacteristic for Picard at this point in his life, given that we don’t really know much about Picard’s personality from before his time as the Enterprise’s captain. The only significant clues I’ve ever learned about his pre-Enterprise personality were gleaned when we saw his brashness as an Academy cadet in the TNG episode “Tapestry”, which depicted how Picard ended up with an artificial heart.
Part IV is the best part of the book for me. The action and flow of the plot in this part is more in line with what I’d expect of a Trek book, plus we get to see how Picard chose more members of his command crew for the Enterprise. Good stuff! This part of the book actually makes me want to watch TNG’s season 1. That’s saying a lot because Season 1 of TNG is probably my least favorite season in all Trekdom, no joke.
In addition to being plain old good, the final chapters also bring together some important themes of the book, namely guilt and the toll it can take on an individual; and the ability to let go of the past, live for the present, and welcome the adventure of the future. The latter theme is what hit home for me the most, as it’s something I’ve find myself struggling with often. Picard tells Ariel that she shouldn’t mourn the past. She should view the unknown as an adventure. Moving on in life is difficult, but you can’t remain somewhere that seems comfortable if it’s obvious that you’ve outgrown it, as Ariel has outgrown the corporeal plane of existence. Don’t look at the past in terms of what you’ve lost – look at the future with excitement over what new things you’ll experience and the new people you’ll meet.
The guilt thread is relevant to me, too, because I do have a tendency to feel guilty about failures, as Picard does. What Deanna tells Picard about his history of success – it almost sounds like she could be speaking directly to me. Like Picard, success has often come so easily to me that I expect it. Failure has been something that I’ve viewed as unacceptable, something that needs to be fixed. But that isn’t always possible or even desirable, and you mustn’t allow yourself to become obsessed by it.
The Buried Age begins slowly, but it eventually picks up steam and becomes an interesting read in the later chapters. It unexpectedly touched on some issues that I’ve been trying to deal with in my life, which has been rare for me when it comes to Trek books, though I know it’s not at all uncommon for that to happen. I don’t think I can go so far as to call the book great, but it’s a solid good.