BOOK REVIEW: Rogue Elements, by John Jackson Miller

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Era: Pre-Picard

Publisher: Gallery

Genre: Space Opera

Pages: 404

Publication Date: 19/08/2021

Verdict: 4/5

Leaving Starfleet under a cloud of suspicion and mistrust, Cristobal Rios sets out on his own. But the life of an interstellar traveller is not an easy one, and Rios soon finds himself entangled in gang warfare, hidden treasure, and the deadly world of antiquities . . .

I loves the first season of Star Trek: Picard, but it was a much darker show than a lot of other Trek. The notable exception to that was the fifth episode ‘Stardust City Rag’ which saw our protagonists go undercover to a world of casinos and ridiculous costumes. While Picard’s eyepatch and terrible French accent were a big hit, the big hat and feathers of Rios brought the most colour I’d seen in the entire show. ‘Stardust City Rag’ was a light bridge between two equally dark halves of the story, and stood out because of that. With Rogue Elements, John Jackson Miller captures the energy of that episode and translates it into prose form. While the show that spawned it is a slow, sombre exploration of character, Rogue Elements is a lightning-paced, action-packed, space opera adventure. And yes, Rios’ magnificent hat gets a mention.

Coming off the back of a lengthy post-Nemesis canon readthrough, Rogue Elements is just what I needed from a Star Trek book. You don’t need to have read a dozen other books to get the most out of this one. It’s that vanishingly rare thing in genre fiction: a standalone. Sure it would help if you’d watched Picard, but Rogue Elements tells a complete story. It’s also got a pretty narrow focus: Rios acquires a new ship (La Sirena, as seen in the show) and finds himself having to keep up with both his own debts and those of the previous owner. What follows is a madcap scrabble across several star systems as Rios and his crew of oddballs try and stay one step ahead of those who want them dead, all while trying to unravel the mysteries of the ship they’re flying. Away from the neat and orderly crews of Starfleet, Rios’ crew are drawn from all over the place, with aliens both familiar and new getting in on the action.

But while this is a standalone story, it’s still a part of the Star Trek canon, and liberally references events and characters of Trek throughout the ages. from ‘A Piece of the Action’ we have gun-toting Iotians, who haven’t changed all that much from Kirk’s day, except now the gangster-emulating species now run their protection rackets on an interstellar level. The 1920s slang used by the Iotians is a running gag throughout the book, and never gets old. We also see a return for Kivas Fajo, last seen in ‘The Most Toys’ and now trying to rebuild his collection. Miller nails Saul Rubinek’s delivery, and uses the man’s uncertain allegiance to full effect. But while these are nice little ties to the past, the book is not reliant on them. Everything you need to know about these people and places, where not delivered organically in the text, is presented in the form of in-universe books (some of them written by familiar names). Books within books are pretty much a guaranteed win for me, and Miller’s dabbling with the technique is great stuff.

 

All in all, Rogue Elements is just what I wanted. It’s not the sort of book that will keep you up at night thinking about ethics and morality. But it is thoroughly fun. This is entertainment in its purest form.

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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