Book Review: Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Light Fantastic

Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Light Fantastic

Jeffrey Lang

Returning to the story begun in the novel Immortal Coil and continuing in the bestselling Cold Equations trilogy, this is the next fascinating chapter in the artificial life of one of Star Trek’s most enduring characters.

He was perhaps the ultimate human achievement: a sentient artificial life-form—self-aware, self-determining, possessing a mind and body far surpassing that of his makers, and imbued with the potential to evolve beyond the scope of his programming. And then Data was destroyed. Four years later, Data’s creator, Noonien Soong, sacrificed his life and resurrected his android son, who in turn revived the positronic brain of his own artificial daughter, Lal. Having resigned his commission, the former Starfleet officer now works to make his way on an alien world, while also coming to grips with the very human notion of wanting versus having a child. But complicating Data’s new life is an unexpected nemesis from years ago on the U.S.S. Enterprise—the holographic master criminal Professor James Moriarty. Long believed to be imprisoned in a memory solid, Moriarty has created a siphon into the “real” world as a being of light and thought. Moriarity wants the solid form that he was once told he could never have, and seeks to manipulate Data into finding another android body for him to permanently inhabit…even if it means evicting the current owner, and even if that is Data himself.

I have to confess I had hesitations about this book before I even started, but it has nothing to do with the skill of this author.  It has to do with Data.  He died in Nemesis and was resurrected in a recent novel.  I understand how it happened and understand how fan demand likely led to it… but I’ve come to dislike how death has no meaning in the universe of Star Trek.  Coming back from death has almost become a standard plot device in Star Trek.

More than that, though… when Data was resurrected, and again I understand the how and why as far as storytelling goes, he turned into an arrogant asshole.  To me, anyway, he has become a very dislikable character.

Enough about that, though.  When I read The Light Fantastic, I was treated to a wonderful galaxy-wide adventure.  Jeffrey Lang does what few Star Trek authors seem able to do — he blends characters and elements from the various franchises into an effortless and meaningful whole.  Often when there have been cross-franchise stories, I’ve found them to be a bit bumpy… sort of like it was an effort to mash the two franchises together and it was done just because fans would like it.  Lang, though, weaves together a story rooted in The Next Generation, but has very strong ties to the original series, and features involvement from Deep Space Nine and Voyager.  (And though the DS9 and VOY elements were small, they were done in such a way that they felt necessary to the story, and not a fan-wank add-on.)

Though I have a strong dislike of Data’s character — and, really, this story helped that dislike to grow due to Data’s rather despicable actions against his enemies — I was able to see past that dislike and enjoy the story.

When Moriarity appeared in a couple episodes of The Next Generation, I was not a fan.  I found the episodes a little laborious to watch.  Yet, Lang made Moriarity a sympathetic and enjoyable villain.  The best villain is always the one that has a very valid reason for doing his bad deeds.  And Moriarity’s reasons are certainly valid.

I hope in future stories that Data gets his head on straight.  He used to be a kind-hearted and genuine individual and I feel he’s lost his way… even if I can understand why the various authors have taken him in that direction.

Again, Data aside, Jeffrey Lang is an enjoyable Star Trek author.  Every author in this universe bring a different strength with them when they pen a tale, and Lang’s is clearly his ability to effortlessly piece together a galaxy-spanning saga that brings in numerous little nuggets of joy (like Easter eggs) for the die-hard Star Trek fan.

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