DNA thieves, Beverly Crusher’s maiden name and a few guest appearances from the USS Stargazer. Can author Michael Jan Friedman maneuver the Star Trek TNG books into this new era?
Before writing Death In Winter, author Michael Jan Friedman had just wrapped up his 6th Stargazer book, a spinoff book series focusing on a young Jean Luc Picard aboard his previous ship, the Stargazer. Death In Winter was originally published in 2005 (hardback) and then paperback in 2007. This was his 37th and final Star Trek book.
Given his extensive work with a young Picard (as well quite a few Picard focused TNG books), Friedman must have seemed like a safe pair of hands to kick off the “relaunch” book phase. An interview with Friedman revealed that managing editor Margaret Clark came to him and stated that the story was to wrap up the Picard and Beverly relationship once and for all. It seems they wanted to get that ambiguoty out of the way, so other events could then proceed.
Initially Friedman hadn’t necessarily thought to directly involve the Romulans or set the book in amongst the political and social fallout from Nemesis. However the story would eventually pivot towards a Romulan heavy cast, with the Picard/Crusher plot humming away in the background.
In regards to the shared continutiy amongst the relaunch novels, supposedly, this new fangled “relaunch” timeline would work as a single continuity because Simon & Schuster organized a writers room with a managing editor who acted like a showrunner. TNG, DS9, VOY, the spinoff Titan and a few others would now share a common literary timeline and universe.
At this point the Star Trek book writers were given a lot more freedom then they had in the past.
The book opens with an intriguing scene featuring a Romulan spy, posing as a waiter, attempting to steal a small sample of Picard’s DNA. Since the good old method of plucking a hair from a hairbrush really wasn’t an option when acquiring a sample of Jean-Luc Picard’s DNA, the waiter pinches his champagne flute instead. We can assume from there he and his comrades go about the thankless task of retro-fitting Tom Hardy into Picard’s persona.
Still in historical mode, Friedman shows us a young Beverly Howard, living on Arvada III. There she witnesses her grandma whipping up miracle cures with the local produce, and before she knows it she’s on her way to med school. Maybe she joined Starfleet to pay off her student debt?
Cutting back to the present day, Riker is off to command the Titan while Picard is left to deal with the Romulan political quagmire. It’s not long until a couple of former Stargazer crewman show up and start helping out and causing trouble in equal measure.
Meanwhile, Crusher has left the Enterprise to engage in a covert mission to cure the deadly Bloodfire, while the Romulan’s want to snatch her away and keep the cure all for themselves. Selfish bastards.
A lot of the readers enjoyment of this book will depend upon their interest in the ins and outs of Romulan politics. There is back-stabbing, double-crossing and hidden agendas everywhere. But somehow it never seemed to quite gel with the Picard/Crusher storyline. It simply felt half-baked and rushed. Personally I’m just not a huge fan of the Romulans or Sela, and so although the political manouvering was interesting in parts, it never quite had me turning the page as rapidly as I’d hope.
But there is a redeeming feature that makes this worth the read. Picard finally realises that he needs to tell Crusher how he feels. And by the end of the book, they are… together? Togetherish? She chooses to come back aboard the Enterprise and professionally point her medical tricorder at whoever may need her help.
Star Trek The Next Generation is tough to write, and now that The Enterprise is without Riker, Troi and Data, I think that Friedman tried to plug those gaps with a couple of his Stargazer characters. It misses the fun interplay between Geordi and Data, or Riker and Picard. Although I’d like to read at least one of the Stargazer books one day, I’m not familiar with them. So when Pug and Carter showed up, I just felt vaguely annoyed I didn’t get to spend some time with another TNG character. What about Guinan? Or Barclay?
Star Trek The Next Generation is tough to write, and now that The Enterprise is without Riker, Troi and Data, I think that Friedman tried to plug those gaps with a couple of his Stargazer characters.
And what is with the pointless Geordi/Worf subplot? It felt like Friedman was a bit short on his word count, so he tacked on a side story that went nowhere.
Oh yeah. Tasha Yar, err I mean Sala shows up because Romulans. Oh and Admiral Janeway shows up (see pointless subplot above).
For me, I found the main tension of the book came from the Picard/Crusher will-they-won’t-they moments. I wished the book focused less on the Romulans and expanded the Picard/Crusher storyline a bit. I would have written the ending to be the new Enterprise team banding together to save the day. A lot happens in the book and there are a lot of characters. A simpler, more cohesive story could have beem much more effective.
I don’t envy the writer who has to “relaunch” the post Nemesis litverse. There were a lot of loose ends to tie up. A lot of characters to shuffle around. Friedman’s writing style is fast-paced, which is fine as long as it doesn’t feel rushed. Unfortunately, this book did feel rushed.
Friedman is known as a writer who likes to explore the untold past of Star Trek characters. The book begins with some interesting history and I found myself really enjoying those aspects. Perhaps he would have been best to focus a little more on some backstory elements, and have those elements play into the current events.
There is also something to be said for easter eggs vs backstory. When the two Stargazer crew show up, I suppose it was meant to be a nice easter egg for the Stargazer fans. But if you haven’t read those books then it becomes a bit of a confusing and frustrating experience. It may be the same with the many Romulan characters. If you know the backstory of them from the show or movies the story might feel a lot richer. Although I’ve watched every episode of TNG (and the movies) I simply don’t remember that many specifics of each character. It can be nice for those with that extra knowledge of the books or the show to get a little something extra from the story, as long as it still reads well if you don’t have that knowledge. For me, I felt like I needed a history lesson before I could appreciate all the details.
The book has generally received negative reviews online. It currently has a meagre 3.64 score on Goodreads. Even the most positive reviews online tend to be along the lines of “Hey it’s not that bad!” The Trek Collective stated that they “found the Stargazer characters an annoying distraction.” While Trek Lit describe the Geordi/Worf subplot as a “strange misstep”. Trek Movie declared “Friedman’s prose seems rushed and lacks a depth and luster that his former works have possessed.”
On a more positive note, Trekcore declared that “Overall, Death in Winter was the story that many fans had been waiting for; the coupling of Picard and Crusher.”
Friedman actually never wrote another Star Trek book after this one. It seems likely that the negative response to this book might have meant he decided to give the Trek books a rest. I’m pretty sure this book is simply not Friedman’s best work.
Sales for the book were below average.
The final verdict
An average first entry into the post Nemesis relaunch. Worth reading mainly for the Picard/Crusher plot. Don’t worry, there are better books to come.