“A Little Adventure”: A Review of the Novelization of TNG: “Encounter at Farpoint”
“Oh no, Number One. I’m sure most of [our missions] will be much more interesting.” — Captain Jean-Luc Picard
In my experience, novelizations of the Star Trek episodes and films can add rich and layered backstory and characterization to the episodes and films. They are far more than simply transcripts of the shows; they can give us deep insight into the thoughts and feelings, the inner life and the core beliefs, of our favorite characters. David Gerrold’s novelization of “Encounter at Farpoint” is an excellent example of this.
Introduction of a New Captain
One of the things I cherish most about the novelization is the glimpse we get into Picard’s feelings as he takes command of the Enterprise-D. We get to see his ship through his eyes: the wonder, the beauty, and the sheer power of her. At his side, we get to walk the corridors of the brand new Enterprise-D for the very first time.
Picard on the Bridge presents himself with such poise and confidence that it’s only when he settles into his Ready Room with a cup of tea – Earl Gray, hot – that we get a sense of Picard’s vulnerability, excitement, and trepidation. We see him soul-searching with regard to his readiness for command.
Why, Picard asks himself, have other good captains in Starfleet history failed? They were kind, compassionate people, who should have succeeded but didn’t. Upon reflection, he arrives at the conclusion that it was hubris, inflexibility, and refusal to consider other viewpoints that resulted in the downfall of other captains.
A message of “motherly advice” from Admiral Hidalgo is ultimately what gives him the final push he needs to stop second-guessing himself and his ability to handle this command. She reassures him that Command cherishes his judgment, and has assigned the very best crew to him. Now, all he has to do is get to know them.
A Crew to be Proud Of
The first new crew member we meet is Worf, at Ops. He’s the fulfillment of the long-ago prophecy by the Organians that, one day, the Klingons and the humans would become friends. He’s a green lieutenant, loyal to Starfleet but deeply proud of his Klingon heritage. He’s impulsive and aggressive and has yet to learn to temper those qualities. It’s a surprise to see a Klingon on the Bridge, but we learn that the Klingons and the Federation formed a mutually beneficial alliance, some years before.
I cherish meeting Lieutenant Tasha Yar, Chief of Security, in the novel because we can bypass her physical appearance, which can be so distracting on screen, and focus on the core of her character. She has come from a brutal background, but Starfleet has taught her that there can be a better life for every sentient being, and that she can be part of building that better life: “If it is to be,” she says, “let it begin with me.” Above all else, Starfleet counts all life, everywhere, as sacred, and Yar takes this to heart as a most sacred charge.
Although sometimes referred to as “a potted plant on the Bridge,” Deanna Troi is so much more than just her distracting physical appearance. Her empathic abilities have earned her great responsibilities as translator, advisor, and liaison between captain and crew. The novelization gives us a beautiful glimpse into her strengths in people skills and empathy.
I love the backstory the novel provides on Doctor Beverly Crusher. We learn that she chose to join Starfleet Medical Corps to honor the memory of her late husband Jack. “If Jack Crusher could no longer reach for the stars, she and his child would.”
It’s interesting to see First Officer Riker, before he grows his beard, through Picard’s eyes. He only knows Will’s record; he doesn’t know the man. The novel gives us insight into the journey by which Riker won his captain’s approval.
Yet, while Riker is earning his captain’s approval, Lieutenant Commander Data is seeking to win Riker’s approval. The first android to serve in Starfleet and touchingly naive in his desire to fit in, Data is at first viewed with discomfort by his shipmates. The novelization gives us insight into Riker’s process of learning to accept Data as a person.
Perhaps the most moving scene in “Encounter at Farpoint” is the conversation between Data and Admiral Leonard “Bones” McCoy. I so cherish that the novel gives us a background on Bones’ cameo appearance. It seems he moved Heaven and Earth to get the privilege of giving the Enterprise-D a proper send-off.
I also deeply appreciate throw-back references to Kirk, who after all these years has achieved legendary status, and to the nod to traditions that began on the first Enterprise. The most memorable one was the tradition that the captain, upon assuming command, shall board his vessel by shuttlecraft so that he can be piped aboard.
The novel acknowledges the push and pull that has always existed in Starfleet between the diplomatic and exploratory branch, and the military branch. Picard commands by the axiom, Any military operation is automatically a failure, at the same time as acknowledging the need for defense.
Alliance between the Empire and the Federation means that the Klingon threat is obsolete, and that a new adversary can be introduced. The Ferengi, the new threat, are compared to robber barons and are feared by Federation and non-Federation alike. Historical exposition introduced in the novel makes them much less caricatures and much more threatening than they would appear in later episodes.
The novel is well worth reading, not only for the rich characterizations and the insight into now-legacy characters, but also for David Gerrold’s exquisite prose. Each word is chosen as carefully and lovingly as a surf-polished pebble on the beach. Even a short novel like this is a masterclass in writing craft. I give this novelization ten out of ten peanut butter chocolate fudge sundaes with blue whipped cream.
Ruth Anne Amsden has been a Trekkie since she was a ten-year-old reader voraciously devouring Star Trek novels (her family did not allow television in the home). She is working toward her first BA and aspiring to professionally write Star Trek novels as love letters to the novels she loved growing up.