When I got this book, Dayton Ward’s latest outing in the world of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, I was curious. I hadn’t picked up a paperback STAR TREK novel in a very long time (most likely it’s been close to 20 years, I think) since the novels went all kinds of sideways, twisting around and going into knots. I wasn’t a fan of where they were going, more than likely, so I stopped reading them. So, when Available Light was delivered, I was taken aback by its size. I remember STAR TREK novels being much smaller (hence why they were branded as “Pocket Books”), so it felt like I was holding a young adult novel and expected the font to be as big.
Thankfully, it wasn’t.
Far be it for me to waste your time on an external structure review, it’s the meat and bones we’re after. So, I heard good reviews about the new Enterprise characters and I was curious about the overall story. I ordered it to check it out.
I should’ve known the review came from a paid shill, and again, I should’ve known, I was in for what could possibly be a SJW mess. In the midst of writing this review, TrekMovie also shilled to the nether realm and drooled all over this book. Of course, I would expect nothing less from what has turned into a STD fan page.
It almost was, falling victim to the same tropes Bad Robot uses in STD.
Daton Ward does a great job filling in the reader with enough context that you don’t need to read the previous books that this apparently is a sequel to. It also rehashes some golden moments from STAR TREK TNG and some of the movies, which are used in such a way that if you are picking up a TNG book for the first time, and introduced to Picard in this novel, you’ll have no problems getting to know him.
Unfortunately, these also act as “references” to justify literary judgment calls, and I’ll touch on those in this review. This is going to be a long one, so brace yourselves by getting your favorite cup of hot beverage and snuggle in.
Oh yeah, I’m about to spoil some key moments in this book so if you’re looking to read this review before getting the book, scroll down to the final section labelled, “Final Verdict.”
Without further ado, let’s get into it.
Review Thesis: a Non Spoiler Introduction
Having read this entire book, and I have to admit I was entertained enough to continue reading (much to the author’s credit), in spite of that factor, I have to say that Available Light has been poisoned by Alex Kurtzman and the SJW agenda of Bad Robot / Secret Hideout. There is a “wokeness” factor along with a little bit of a Mary Sue-type character within the narrative, the identity politics of which sour the otherwise decent narrative.
From here-on, there be spoilers. You have been warned.
The story starts off with a few jabs at America’s anti-refugee, hardened immigration policy by placing Admiral Ross on a Federation colony world where the issue was at the forefront. The Ward takes the liberty of using this as a platform to declare, “Nothing to see here, your fears about refugees and immigrants are unwarranted.” Granted, STAR TREK has always been a battleground for hot-button political issues, but it has always done so tastefully or with slapstick camp and charm. This is a motif that Bad Robot Trek fails to capture, and sadly, it’s done sloppily here.
The next piece of political propaganda we’re subjected to is the debunked climate change myth. The main alien contact in the story describes their need to leave their planet after a “majority” of their top scientists agreed that climate change destroyed their world. Again, and unfortunate here as well, Ward made no attempt to hide the far-left narrative by doing something creative and clever. This is another divisive topic that continues to pit Trek fans against one another, and it’s as though STAR TREK creatives love to see fans kill one another.
They do a great disservice to the fandom.
Lastly, the story covers a past novel where Captain Picard was instrumental in removing the former UFP president from office. The claim that the president was dangerous and, in the long run, could not be allowed to continue rang very familiar as I continued to read the background behind the removal. It was later revealed that Section 31 assassinated the UFP President (which Picard had no part in).
This is has been the political wet dream of the left since President Trump took office in 2017. Ward didn’t even try to hid the symbolism behind the plot of President Zife’s removal, and anyone with an educated mind will immediately get the connection between Zife and Trump. The message here, probably, is that those who have been clamoring for the assassination of the POTUS are doomed to regret it in the end, with the character of Picard, knowing the consequences of his actions with S31, wallowing for more than half of his narrative.
The integration of politics is done very poorly, in my opinion. Whereas all of the other incarnations tackled the issues in such a way that while we understood what they represented, we are still not forced to be brainwashed by the propaganda included. Indeed, the original Roddenberry/Berman era of STAR TREK told us the narrative from both points of view, especially in the 1960s. During the height of the Vietnam War, America was in the throws of mass protests against the US action in Vietnam. STAR TREK, in episodes such as “A Taste of Armageddon,” tackled the issue of a culture forever locked in ongoing warfare. 50 years ahead of its time, predicting the era of online war simulation gaming, “Armageddon” presented the issue of war from both sides – the necessity for war versus the necessity for peace.
We don’t have that type of narrative, anymore. Now, it’s so cut, dry and one-sided that it’s no longer entertainment anymore. I’ll go so far as to say that the way modern STAR TREK handles today’s issues is no better than watching CNN – equally pointless, not-entertaining and to be quite honest, becoming the people’s greatest enemies. The way the issues are presented need to be tweaked or simply don’t write about them because you’re going to lose your audience (which is already happened to both CBS All Access and CNN).
It’s these ideas that have poisoned the potentially great narrative that is “Available Light.”
TNG: Starring Michael Burnham as T’Ryssa Chen
Available Light introduces us to Contact Specialist Lieutenant T’Ryssa Chen. She’s half-Vulcan, half-human and a jack of all trades. Her specialty is first contact but has a gift for engineering, sciences and tactics.
Sound familiar? Don’t we know someone who’s just like that?
Yes, we do. Michael Burnham – contact specialist and xenobiologist, human raised by Vulcans in the Vulcan way of life, a jack of all trades with gifts for engineering, sciences and tactics.
Chen is the exact same character as Michael Burnham from STD in every way. A character like this must be mandated by Alex Kurtzman, and I fear this is what we’re going to get in STAR TREK PICARD. Yes, the realization that Chen is a carbon copy of Michael Burnham ruins this novel. In fact, the scenes on the Enterprise revolve greatly around Chen, much like Burnham on STD.
Of all of the female characters (and believe me, there’s a whole ton of them and I’ll get to that in a moment), Chen is the Mary Sue of the story. This is punctuated in a climactic scene towards the end of the novel where she figures out a computer problem on the alien ship, making the engineer who designed the system in the first place seem disqualified to work on his own computer code. The exchange of, “I don’t see it” versus “I got it” is something that seemed like it was copied straight out of STD.
The difference between Michael Burnham and T’Ryssa Chen is that I enjoyed reading Chen in this narrative, even if she made me rage in the final act. She even begged Picard to give her a chance to fix a dire situation after he made his command decision. If there wasn’t precedence for Picard being persuaded to change his mind (TNG: “Lower Decks” and STAR TREK FIRST CONTACT), I would’ve closed the book right then and there. The only issue I have is, Ensign Vito in TNG: “Lower Decks” had to have her confidence boosted by Worf, and STAR TREK FIRST CONTACT involved what has become a hallmark scene in cinema and a great performance by Sir Patrick Stewart – each of them contained pages of dialog and a long, hard think by Picard.
Chen does this in one single paragraph.
Forgivable but I still mark this down in my checklist of my various violation calls.
No Balance and Supervisory Roles
In any given scene in this novel, the female to male ration runs about 3:1 (for those who can’t read ratios, for every 1 male character there is a minimum of 3 women). In absolutely no scene do two men share time, or three men, alone. Even in a scene between Taurik and some random dude who happened to be dating Chen (the emotion of which we don’t even feel), Dina Elfiki or even Chen are present (supervisory roles).
Admiral Ross’s arresting officer was a woman. Ross’s assassin was a scorned woman. Ross’s lawyer was a woman. Ross is interrogated and dressed down by a woman. Basically, Admiral Ross from DS9, a man’s man, gets destroyed by women.
In any and every scene with Picard, there is always a woman. On the bridge, Lieutenant Faur fills in for Work and has more dialog than Picard. When Picard is alone in his ready room, Beverly comes in. The only exception to this is in the end where Picard is talking to Admiral Akaar, but even then, Akaar, speaking of the female attorney general, “she’s right, she’s right.” She’s not physically in the scene but still has presence.
Girl (in) Power
The balance between male commanders and female commanders is ridiculously skewed and is usually taken down. We have the female AG as mentioned before, the female UFP president, the commander of the aliens is female, the main pirate commander who works with Picard is female, then we have the true leader of the away team, T’Ryssa Chen.
Male commanders or men in power are near non existent. Picard is emasculated by Lieutenant Faur and T’Ryssa Chen. Senthimal, the first pirate commander we meet, dies being stupid. Admiral Ross is assassinated. Crelin, the big bad pirate commander who is supposed to be the big bad terror in the latter half of the book, cowers before Branimar, the aforementioned female pirate commander and surrenders.
Worf has no voice. He has grunt lines and does absolutely nothing. His tactical genius is set aside for his female replacement. Literally, he has only a handful of lines and they amount to grunts. Making him first officer doesn’t negate his command abilities. Look at how he was treated on DS9 as commander of the Defiant. Worf’s genius is on full display and here, he’s reduced to a background character – an absolute affront to his character and an insult to Gene Roddenberry’s purpose for him. You would think in today’s woke culture Worf would be more pronounced than Picard, especially with him being (technically, under the makeup) a person of color. But the war against the phallus rages on and Worf is nearly eliminated. It’s almost as though he shouldn’t have been in the book in the first place. It wouldn’t have been much different.
Okay, so here’s where I talk about some of the positive things about this book. After all, I did say it was entertaining. It was, but only on the same level that season 2 of STD was “entertaining.” Of the latter, I enjoyed the Enterprise and Anson Mount as Captain Pike. Just as this book, Dayton Ward writes Picard rather well, I must say. I could almost picture Sir Patrick Stewart playing this version.
There are small nuggets in this book that made me smile. A comment about conduits going nowhere and doing nothing gave me a chuckle or two (a play on the GNDN stickers producers put on TREK set pieces as a joke). Some banter between Chen and Elfiki is entertaining, though they were executed as though it were between two men rather than women, but I digress.
The action was evenly paced. Even though it was coated with a sheen of social justice warrior tropes, it reads very well.
The narration is short and to the point. In the final chapter, however, Ward does engage in run-on paragraphing, which is a failing of the second STD novel. The way he writes his direct interaction with the characters is quite clever too, having the characters tell Ward off when he delves too deep into a particular character. It’s a seldom used literary technique and I liked how it was executed here.
Referencing / Backing Himself Up
The many times Ward made decisions for a character, he goes into a bit of exposition behind that particular liberty. It’s great to have the reference for those who haven’t seen TREK and are just getting into the novels for the first time, but it’s quite disconcerting that Ward didn’t have the balls to stand by his literary choices.
The way he used the background exposition was almost criminal. It’s akin to a first year university student writing a term paper with citations. Basically he’s saying, “Look, Picard did something like this at this point in history, I can make him do this!”
He made the choice to have Chen overrule Picard without a reference exposition. Why couldn’t he take a dump without one?
I was thoroughly disappointed in this book. It had such great potential but it was as though Alex Kurtzman had an edict to all of STAR TREK, even the novels. And this is my fear for STAR TREK PICARD. The powers that be seem to have a jonesing for a miserable Picard, a Picard who wallows in misery and seems to enjoy it. That is the premise of STAR TREK PICARD and the same for Available Light.
It’s nothing short of Bad Robot’s continuation of character assassination of our heroes. Worf, Picard, Spock and Pike. At this point, I am happy STAR TREK 4 has been cancelled. Had it continued Kirk would’ve been next. He probably would’ve been, as well, if STD continued in the 23rd century or Pike got his own series.
If you are morbidly curious as to see what I’m talking about, Available Light is STD-light, and more tolerable than watching a single episode of STD. Unfortunately, this book stinks of STD and I cannot in good conscience recommend it under any circumstances.
I’ll be reviewing two more TREK books including the upcoming Enterprise War on the STD side, and spoiling it so you don’t have to read it.
If I had to grade this book, it would be a solid D. Not an F but a good effort with a lot of wasted potential while at the same time being poisoned by SJW politics.