Star Trek: The Light Fantastic
Last year, David Mack wrote a terrific trilogy of Star Trek: The Next Generation novels, under the subtitle “Cold Equations.” (Click here for my review of book 1, click here for my review of book 2, and here for my review of book 3.) It’s a great trilogy that moved forward the continuing, post-Nemesis 24th century Star Trek story that has been ongoing in the Trek novels for many years now. Most notably, Cold Equations repaired the biggest sin of Star Trek: Nemesis and (Careful! Spoilers! Spoilers!) brought back Data.
Interestingly, this major event in the Trek books was itself a direct sequel to a stand-alone Trek book from about a decade earlier, a book called Immortal Coil by Jeffrey Lang. That novel introduced the idea of a secret society of android artificial intelligences and led to several fascinating developments in the life of Lt. Data. (Click here for my review of Immortal Coil, a terrific book.)
And so I was delighted to see that now Mr. Lang himself has written a sequel to David Mack’s Cold Equations trilogy, a book focusing on the newly-resurrected Data called The Light Fantastic. What a wonderful bit of full-circle perfection. The Light Fantastic is a phenomenal follow-up to Cold Equations, thoroughly exploring Data’s new status quo following the events of that trilogy.
It is difficult to discuss this book too deeply without ruining some of the surprises of Cold Equations, so if you are reading this but you have not yet read Cold Equations, you might want to stop here.
Still with me? The Light Fantastic picks up about a year following the events of Cold Equations. Data and Lal, both newly returned to life, have settled into a quiet life on, of all places, Orion Prime. (When Noonien Soong inhabited the new android body now possessed by Data, he used his intelligence to create something of a casino empire for himself, an empire Data now finds himself running, mostly as a way to keep that parto f his father alive in some way.) But their tranquility is shattered by the return of Moriarty, the holographic entity from “Elementary, Dear Data” and “Ship in a Bottle.”
I was thrilled to read of the return of Moriarty, a wonderful character from TNG and a terrific foil for Data. I was also delighted by what Mr. Lang has done with his character. The narrative of The Light Fantastic jumps around in time, often flashing back to show us what became of Moriarty and the Countess in the years after they we trapped in a holographic simulation back in “Ship in a Bottle.” It turns out things have not gone all that well for Moriarty, and when he finally escapes back into the “real world,” he has quite a bone to pick with Data. He’s also in rather desperate straits, and as such has also become even more dangerous than before.
I was thrilled by how sympathetic Mr. Lang has made Moriarty, while still keeping him as quite a fierce threat to Data. Like all the best villains, Moriarty has a legitimate point of view, and over the course of the book I came to be quite sympathetic towards him. Not the least of which is because, once again (just as happened after “Elementary Dear Data”), our heroes have completely forgotten about him, content to let him continue on in his simulated reality forever. I was also delighted that Mr. Lang chose to flesh out Moriarty’s wife, the Countess. She didn’t have much to do in “Ship in a Bottle,” where she was introduced, but she is a pivotal character in this book.
It’s interesting to see Mr. Lang explore the character of the newly-resurrected Data. In many way,s this is the same Data we have always known, but also in many ways this new Data is quite different. It’s an interesting frisson and a delicate balance — it’s intriguing to see some change in Data but, of course, we don’t want his characterization to stray too far from our beloved Data that we know — and Mr. Lang strikes a good balance with this. I am interested to see where they take Data’s character in future books. It was also nice to see Lal fleshed out. She’s only in Cold Equations very briefly, and this is not the same Lal we knew from “The Offspring.” This is a teenaged, rebellious-phase of Lal, and the father-daughter dynamic between her and Data is a fun one to explore.
I was also delighted to see this novel feature the turn of a fantastic supporting character from The Original Series! I did not see that coming at all, but that character’s connection to a group of androids makes his/her inclusion in this book a clever twist. (I am trying not to ruin the surprise.) I was intrigued by the choice to leave this character still at large at the end of the book. I wonder if we will see him/her again in future books.
In a slightly less-positive twist, I was also surprised to see Geordi depicted in this book as being in a romantic relationship with Leah Brahms. I like the idea of Geordi winding up with Dr. Brahms (as hinted at in the Next Gen finale, “All Good Things…”), but the past several TNG novels had established that Geordi had just begun a relationship with a fellow Enterprise officer. I had liked that development, and I was surprised to see that brushed aside in favor of a rekindled relationship with Dr. Brahms. (I sort of wonder if Mr. Lang write this book unaware of that recent development from the other novels, and if the one reference to Geordi’s other relationship in this book wasn’t just an editorial gloss slipped in at the last minute.) But while that was weird, I loved seeing Geordi and Data paired up again, back on an adventure together.
Other than that slight discontinuity with Dr. Brahms, my only other issue with this book has to do with the final fate of the android Alice. I was quite upset by what happened to her, and I was surprised that Data and Geordi and even Lal didn’t seem to care a whit. That seemed shockingly callous of then. I found Alice to be a very likable, sympathetic figure, even though she takes some actions late in the story that run counter to our heroes interest. I couldn’t believe that none of our heroes seemed to care at all about what happened to her. Weird.
Other than that, The Light Fantastic is a terrific book. It’s a fantastic continuation of the over-all TNG saga, and in specific it is a wonderful follow-up to Cold Equations, exploring everything that I wanted to see explored following the end of that trilogy. Bringing back Moriarty was a stroke of genius, and I was delighted by where this novel wound up going. I loved Mr. Lang’s writing style and the fun way that the book jumped around in and out of different time-periods.
This one is a winner.
Previous Star Trek novel reviews:
Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Sky’s The Limit, Resistance and Q & A, Before Dishonor and Greater than the Sum, Destiny trilogy, A Singular Destiny, Losing the Peace,Immortal Coil, Cold Equations Book 1: The Persistence of Memory, Cold Equations Book 2: Silent Weapons, Cold Equations Book 3: The Body Electric
Star Trek: Enterprise — Kobayashi Maru, The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s Wing, The Romulan War: To Brave the Storm, Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures, Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel
Star Trek: New Frontier – Series overview, Stone & Anvil, After the Fall, and Missing in Action, Treason and Blind Man’s Bluff
Star Trek: Mirror Universe (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Shards & Shadows – Star Trek: Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire — Star Trek: Mirror Universe: Rise Like Lions – Star Trek: Myriad Universes (Books 1 & 2) – Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Shattered Light