Fortune’s Light is the 15th numbered TNG novel, written by the now well established Star Trek author Michael Friedman.
Riker gets a message regarding an old friend who it seems has stolen a politically-significant artefact from the planet Imprima. The minor plot thread sees Data running a holodeck program of an underdog Alaskan baseball team.
We get to learn more of Riker’s past in this novel; at one point Riker was part of the Federation’s delegation to Imprima, opening it up to trade. Imprima’s culture is based on political units which in turn are based on economic interests, rather than nations. These political entities are run by Madragi – kind of like guild godfather’s, and who together make all the decisions for Imprima. Riker, of course eventually, moved on and at some stage joined the Enterprise; his friend, and other Federation delegate to Imprima, Teller Conlon, decided to stay behind to act as an economic ambassador. The evidence suggests that Conlon has stolen one of the Madragi’s crests. Riker beams down to the planet, alone, to try and sort out (initially) Conlon’s innocence. Before long the competing possibilities are that Conlon is guilty, that he’s being framed, that this relates to some personal vendetta, or that it’s all a an element an economic/political coup. Or all of the above.
Comments: Friedman’s one of Star Trek novels’ star authors, and his books of recent years have hit relatively high in the best seller lists.
But while I’m a fan of Friedman, this novel illustrates only some of his strengths and lags in other areas. Friedman is certainly appreciated for his characters – hence the popularity of the original characters in the Stargazer books, but also the limitation of his first TNG book A Call to Darkness. By this novel Friedman has honed his ability to do canon characters, but some problems remain. One problem is dialogue between core characters being stilted. This occurs most often in dialogue between Picard and Riker, which are generously interrupted by rhetorical pleasantries and apologies.
Less pertinent, but more amusing, is Friedman again making a mistake in the history of some idea. In A Call to Darkness he fudged some of his imaginings about genetic sharing in bacteria; here he seems to be under the impression that nobody’s ever understood the physics of baseball curveballs.
The greatest strength of this novel, commented in reviews elsewhere, is the originality of the Imprima culture. It says a lot about the limitations of the Star Trek universe that these sorts of speculative cultures are considered so unique. A similar example is the popularity of the culture of the TNG novel Masks.
But, most importantly, do the stories work? Yes, but not precisely by their own strengths; they’re carried by the writing. The mystery in the mystery story was weak, falling short of being truly engaging. The setting (Imprima) and the context (Riker’s history) are both interesting, but the plot progress feels like discreet events stringed together. As for the Data plot, at face value this seems terrible, not least because holodeck plots are so often poorly thought out. Nonetheless, I felt it worked; it didn’t receive too much time, it contained a subtle mystery (how will Data win or how will he react to a contrived loss); provided a focus point whenever we got a look at what was happening back on the Enterprise; and most importantly, didn’t depend on some ridiculous computer error to drive the plot.
Some minor notes:
- This comes up all the time, both in the novels and IIRC in the television shows, but I only just realised: isn’t it ridiculous for the captain to be calling a subordinate to tell them that they’ve got an intergalactic email? Sure, it might be important or whatever, but can’t he quickly delegate that task?
- Everyone has an idea as to how Data works, and Friedman’s no exception. I’m always wary of novels that portray Data from the first person perspective, which is how it’s done here. Nonetheless, and for the record, Friedman focuses on Data’s capacity on interpretative skills, with their corresponding motivations (i.e. why he needs to know something) and manifestations (i.e. how a particular interpretation results in a particular action or strategy). I suspect that the author sees Data’s relation to the world as that of a scientist or detective, who must interact with the world through tentative submissions and feedback to be analysed.
- Although the novel as a whole is engaging, I found the last chapter(ish) to be trying: Friedman makes sure to smooth down any hint of roughness, as all the bad guys get their due, all the good guys get a prize, and as the hero walks the girl to the bedroom while the camera fades to black.