Era: The Lost Era/ Pre-Next Generation
Publisher: Pocket Books
Genre: Social SF
Publication Date: 2007
Jean-Luc Picard. Once captain of the Stargazer, now taking a leave of absence from Starfleet. As the Alpha Quadrant grows ever more dangerous, all Picard wishes is to explore the history of the Galaxy. But sometimes the danger finds you . . .
Between 2005 and 2016, the Star Trek Litverse (as the novels became known) became a complicated place. Each series had continuations, as well as spin-offs and wholly new sets of characters. But it also produced a handful of books which are essentially wholly standalone. The Buried Age comes under the banner of ‘The Lost Era’ but all that denotes is the rough timeline, being between The Original Series and The Next Generation. It’s the second of this novel line I’ve read, and is far superior to the prior offering, One Constant Star. You could probably read The Buried Age without much prior knowledge of Star Trek, but a fresh memory of The Next Generation would be helpful, as though it not reliant on them, Bennett’s book is chock-full of references and allusions to that series, as well as more than a few nods to others.
There’s a certain similarity to the new Picard series as this book opens. Both begin with Picard’s failure, and his subsequent journey to rediscover himself. But while the TV series focuses on his faith in the Federation and ability to lead, The Buried Age examines the other side of Picard. Not the Captain, but the Explorer. Picard’s love of history and archaeology was a defining trait that is often forgotten among all his diplomatic achievements, so any chance to see this side of him is a treat. Covering a decade leading up to the events of ‘Encounter at Farpoint,’ here we see a younger Picard throwing himself into his passion. Bennett has a great grip on Picard’s dialogue, and it’s easy to see the influence of Patrick Stewart’s performance in the page. More than that, Bennett works in various aspects of the character that were revealed over his televised tenure, forming him from the work of several dozen writers into a man who feels almost real.
As demonstrated in his Department of Temporal Investigations duology, Bennett’s real skill is in weaving together seeming irreconcilable episodes to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. The war between the federation and the Cardassians makes a brief appearance, as does the ongoing dispute with the Breen. The main focus of the novel is a masterful explanation for why there are so many ancient alien races in the Star Trek universe, as well as functioning as a character study of the famed captain of the Enterprise D. There are cameos from a host of familiar faces, as well as larger roles for some unexpected ones, but it never fees like an overdose of nostalgia. The only real knock against this book is the romance that runs through the central narrative, and even that only falls flat due to my personal distaste for romance.
This is a brilliant book for those looking for a little more Picard in their lives, and if you want something on a grander scale, it can offer that as well.