Star Trek: The Next Generation - Takedown (8 out of 10) John Jackson Miller, Pocket Books, 2015. 368 pages.
Sometimes you just need a Star Trek fix. That leads to some questionable choices (trying to watch "Enterprise" again), but has also led me to some enjoyable recent Star Trek fiction. One of the best I've read in a while is John Jackson Miller's "Takedown." Set in a Federation that's seen a devastating Borg attack, and a recent war with the Typhon Pact (Romulans, Gorn, Tholians, Breen, Tzenkethi, and Kinshaya), it brings many of my favorite characters together into a confrontation that just feels right. It feels like Star Trek. Which is what I wanted.
For those of you who haven't kept up with Star Trek's ongoing mission past the end of "Deep Space 9" and "Voyager," many of the characters from those series have mixed in with characters from "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Captain Picard still has his USS Enterprise, now married to Beverly Crusher, and with a young son. Worf is his first officer, Geordi still on board as his engineer. Will Riker and Deanna Troi have a daughter of their own, and Riker was recently promoted from captain of the USS Titan to admiral. He's still on the Titan, using it as his mobile base of operations. Tuvok is his his tactical officer, but otherwise the ship is crewed by non-television series characters, but who have been fleshed out over the course of ten or so USS Titan novels. The third ship in this story is the USS Aventine, captained by Ezri Dax, who has her own crew of strong characters that have emerged from the novels. All of these come together in "Takedown."
The big threat in this book is a sort of sophisticated computer virus called Takedown. It's spread through communication between starbases and starships and planetary systems, and it completely cripples and silences whatever it touches. Admiral Riker, after an ambassadorial conference with the members of the Typhon Pact, plus Ferengi and Klingons, thinks he knows how to stop it. The Aventine is faster than the Titan, so he transfers his flag there. Admiral Riker immediately begins using Aventine to disable starships and communications arrays. The Romulans, Breen, Klingons and others who were at the conference with Riker do the same. The most curious thing is that they're doing it without loss of life, simply cutting off the subspace "radio" that the Star Trek universe uses.
Using a federation starship to strike at various peaceful targets, Riker brings things to a head with the Enterprise, with Captain Picard the only one who can talk sense into Riker, or die trying. Miller's characterization of all of the established characters is spot-on. There's no dialogue that seems off-key, which is a frequent problem with tie-in novels. He's also able to narrow the focus from the dozens of available characters to a handful that carry the story. He introduces a few new characters, most notably a Romulan senator who has spent his career being insignificant, but who becomes a force to be reckoned with. What happened at that conference, and how can Picard, Dax, and the other heroes stop it?
Miller's characterization is spot-on
Miller's greatest strength is that he knows the source material, and uses it well. He's able to pick up threads from single episodes and has characters pick them up and run with them. He remembers connections between characters from decades prior, and uses them to make a stronger story. He builds tension and suspense believably, turning sections of the book into submarine-style battles where starships fly blind. As he did with "Kenobi," he takes an already great character and add layers to them. He maintains the rules that there needs to be a reset button at the end of a franchise tie-in novel, but still have transformation happen.
If you're needing a Star Trek fix, but you're worried that you're not up to speed on where the novels have boldly gone without you, this one is a good one to get up to speed and hurtle you forward into a great adventure. I'm hoping Miller gets to play in the Star Trek sandbox again soon.