Star Trek The Lost Era: The Buried Age
I read Christopher L. Bennett’s novel The Buried Age back when it was originally released in 2007. I remembered loving it, and I’ve been wanting o re-read it for a while now. When the latest “Lost Era” novel was published recently, David R. George III’s One Constant Star, it seemed fitting to return to The Buried Age before reading Mr. George’s new novel.
“The Lost Era” was a six-book series of Star Trek novels published back in 2003 that chronicled some of the events in the approx. eighty years between the end of Star Trek VI and the launch of the Enterprise D in “Encounter at Farpoint.” (I have reviewed several of these “Lost Era” novels: click here to read my thoughts on The Sundered, Serpents Among The Ruins, and The Art of the Impossible.) Several years later, in 2007, one additional “Lost Era” novel was published, Christopher L. Bennett’s The Buried Age. That’s been it for the series, until the publication this year of One Constant Star.
The Buried Age takes place over many years, moving from the destruction of Captain Picard’s first ship, the Stargazer, in 2355, to his assuming command of the Enterprise D in 2364 just prior to the TNG pilot episode “Encounter at Farpoint.” This is fertile grounds for a story, as Mr. Bennett has astutely realized that, though the Stargazer was destroyed many years prior to Picard’s assuming command of the Enterprise, almost nothing had been revealed about what Picard was up to during those missing years.
The book begins with the story of the final day of the Stargazer, and the Ferengi ambush that resulted in the ship’s having to be abandoned. This is probably my favorite section of the book. It’s a phenomenally compelling blow-by-blow chronicle of how everything went wrong on board the Stargazer. Mr. Bennett has taken the hints we got in the first-season TNG episode “The Battle” and brilliantly worked backwards to reconstruct the full story, showing us how Picard could have been taken unawares by the Ferengi. It’s tough to imagine the Ferengi — not a very threatening species, despite the intention that they would be back when they were initially introduced in the first season of Next Gen — could have possibly beaten Picard and the mighty Stargazer. Mr. Bennett successfully constructs a scenario in which this seems plausible, while also sticking carefully to the continuity as established in “the Battle,” in which we see that DaiMon Bok was able to recover the Stargazer intact.
Even better than the story of the battle is the story of Picard’s subsequent court-martial, and the end of his relationship with Phillipa Louvois. Here again, Mr. Bennett has skillfully taken the hints of backstory we got from Next Gen (in this case, from the terrific second-season episode “The Measure of a Man”) to reconstruct the details of the case against Picard, and what drove Phillipa to betray the man with whom she was romantically involved.
The book then shifts into a story completely of Mr. Bennett’s invention. He postulates that, though Picard was cleared of any wrong-doing in his court martial, the blow to his confidence caused him to step back from Starfleet and attempt to return to the world of academia. This was a path Picard had previously considered pursuing, in order to follow his mentor, Professor Richard Galen (as established in “The Chase”). Picard decides to earn his doctorate in archaeology at the University of Alpha Centauri. While there, he becomes engaged in a mystery, one that stretches far back into Star Trek history.
What mystery is that? The Federation is aware of many ancient civilizations (as are Star Trek fans!) from various encounters over the years. But it seems that there is a mysterious period in the galaxy’s history, between 250 million and 100 million years ago, for which there seems to be little record. Picard (influenced by his mentor. Dr. Galen) postulates that some great cataclysm swept the universe at that time, devastating planets and civilizations. Spurred on by some clues from Guinan, he sets off on an expedition to discover the answer to what could have happened. Along the way, though, Picard and his team wind up unleashing a terrible threat, one linked to that galactic cataclysm, and Picard devotes himself obsessively to the containment and eventual defeat of this dangerous new evil.
It seems that in every one of his novels, Mr. Bennett sets himself the task of addressing one area of Star Trek continuity, and weaving together the many often-inconsistent references to that particular area, from across Trek canon and non-canonical stories, into a consistent, logical whole. I adore this aspect of Mr. Bennett’s books, as it often elevates his novels into a true feast for the hard-core Trek fan. Here in The Buried Age, Mr. Bennett has set his sights on the over-all mega-history of the Star Trek universe. Meaning, not just the couple-hundred years in which all of the Trek TV shows and movies have been set, but the larger millions-of-year history of the Trek universe. Mr. Bennett has taken the various examples we have seen in Trek of ancient beings and long-lost civilizations and woven what little we know of those entities and their civilizations into an incredible long-term, large-scale map of the history of the Star Trek universe. It is fascinating!
The other great joy of the book is the exploration of the development of the character of Picard, allowing us to see how he became the man we first met in “Encounter at Farpoint” — a man loathe to use force, who valued diplomacy over all; a man who was in charge of a starship filled with families who nevertheless disliked children; and a man who kept himself reserved and withdrawn from his crew-mates, and from the possibility of any sort of romantic relationship. That is the Picard who we met in “Farpoint,” and it’s easy for the audience to assume that that is what he always was like. But Mr. Bennett’s story suggest that this was not exactly so, and that it was these events — not only the loss of the Stargazer but also the dramatic events of the years that followed — that shaped Picard into that man who we would meet at “Farpoint.”
The final chapters of the book are also exceptionally fun, as Mr. Bennett starts putting all the final pieces into place as the book catches up to “Encounter at Farpoint.” We follow Picard as he puts his command crew together, and Mr. Bennett cleverly answers all sorts of little questions we might never have been aware that we had. We learn why Troi doesn’t wear a regular Starfleet uniform; why Picard agreed to allow Beverly Crusher as his CMO despite their complicated personal past; we even lean just what it was about Jean Luc Picard that originally caught Q’s attention!
The Buried Age is a great Star Trek novel. This is not an action-packed book. It’s focus is on the character of Picard, as well as on the afore-mentioned exploration of the “future-history” of the Star Trek universe. The result is a story that is very rewarding to the serious Star Trek fan, one that pulls together many wonderful details of the large Trek universe while also telling an important untold piece of Trek backstory. I loved it.
Previous Star Trek novel reviews:
Star Trek – Unspoken Truth , Troublesome Minds, Cast No Shadow, Excelsior: Forged in Fire, Allegiance in Exile
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; The Light Fantastic
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – DS9 relaunch overview, The Soul Key, The Never-Ending Sacrifice, Plagues of Night and Raise the Dawn
Star Trek: Voyager – Full Circle, Unworthy, Children of the Storm, The Eternal Tide, Protectors
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: Titan – Book 1: Taking Wing, Book 2: The Red King, Book 3: Orion’s Hounds, Book 4: Sword of Damocles, Under a Torrent Sea, Synthesis, Fallen Gods
Star Trek: Typhon Pact – Book 1: Zero-Sum Game, Book 2: Seize the Fire, Book 3: Rough Beasts of Empire, Book 4: Paths of Disharmony, Plagues of Night and Raise the Dawn, Brinkmanship
Star Trek: The Fall — Book 1: Revelation and Dust, Book 2: The Crimson Shadow, Book 3: A Ceremony of Losses, Book 4: The Poisoned Chalice, Book 5: Peaceable Kingdoms
Star Trek: New Frontier – Series overview, Stone & Anvil, After the Fall, and Missing in Action, Treason and Blind Man’s Bluff
Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations – Watching the Clock, Forgotten History
Star Trek: The Lost Era – Book 1: The Sundered (2298), Book 2: Serpents Among the Ruins (2311), Book 3: The Art of the Impossible (2328-2346)
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
Beyond the Final Frontier — Josh’s favorite Star Trek novels