Era: The Next Generation
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: SF Noir
Publication Date: 2002
Dixon Hill is the greatest detective the city by the bay has ever known. He is also a hologram, the gumshoe alter-ego of Jean-Luc Picard. Yet when the Enterprise is struck by disaster, Dixon Hill may be the only one who can save the ship . . .
This is a weird book and make no mistake. If you like your Trek stories in a more traditional mold, then you’re in for a surprise. Were it not for the Captain’s Log interludes and the names of a few characters, you’d never know this was a Star Trek novel. That’s because almost every page of this slender volume takes place within the confines of the Enterprise’s holodeck. Picard is but a side character here, hidden within his persona of Dixon Hill, accompanied by Mr Data and the Luscious Bev. It makes for odd reading, but there’s a certain charm to it. This is as much a detective novel as it is a science fiction one, and Smith nails the hardboiled noir style in both content and tone. If this is the level of storytelling Dixon Hill’s cases have, it’s no wonder Picard finds them so appealing.
The holodeck has been a standpoint of Star Trek since The Next Generation first debuted, through both Deep Space Nine and Voyager too, as well as a few moments in Enterprise and Discovery. Of course, the majority of epsiodes featuring the holodeck derive their drama from technical malfunctions, and that is the case here too. The Enterprise is in danger, and only a MacGuffin can save them. Unfortunately, said MacGuffin is located in the holodeck, where the safety features have been knocked offline. As you can expect, there’s a ticking clock to race against too.
Holodeck epsiodes are traditionally an opportunity for the actors to wear silly costumes and maybe play a different role to usual. While there is an element of that here, with Data spewing cliched lines much to everybody else’s chagrin, some of the fun is missing when it’s words on a page rather than faces on the screen. Nevertheless, the pacing is good, and A Hard Rain provides a nice break from the heavier books I’ve been reading of late. Just like the holodeck episodes of old were used to break things up. It’d odd, really, that most of the Star Trek books I read are serialised narratives when it’s the epsiodic nature of the show that I love so much. In a way, A Hard Rain might be the easiest book to imagine as a TV episode yet. It’s a single story, well-told and having little bearing on anything else.
While I don’t think it’s going to appear on many readers’ favourite lists, there’s a lot to like about A Hard Rain. It might not have much meat on its bones, but what there is tastes amazing.