This week, a planet of peaceniks needs help controlling its feral cat infestation, and the Enterprise is one of two ships enlisted for ad hoc animal control. But when the other captain recommends an aggressive plan of attack, Picard thinks doing as the Romans do may not be such a great idea. What exactly is Admiral Delapole’s nickname? Is there a regulation against quoting regulations? How can a society based on a total lack of self-preservation maintain itself? It’s the book where you can totally tell it’s a stunt double.
The Captains’ Honor
Authors: David and Daniel Dvorkin
Published: September 1989
Timeline: TNG season one, supposedly after “Skin of Evil”
Prerequisites: “Bread and Circuses” (TOS S2E25)
The M’dok, a race of felinoid warriors, attack the Centurion, a Constitution-class starship. Despite the M’dok ship’s considerable size advantage, the Centurion prevails through cunning and ingenuity, and as the Enterprise comes screaming in at maximum warp to make sure they aren’t all dead, the Centurion’s captain, Lucius Aelius Sejanus, invites Picard over for a banquet. Picard notices an unseemly bulge in Sejanus’ lowerus regionus, which Troi clarifies is not of a “grateful to be alive” variety, but rather more in the “just killed a homeless person” vein.
The M’dok face widespread famine in their home system, and Tenara, a planet with a decentralized society and a philosophy of never engaging in conflict (personal or large-scale), presents a juicy target. Picard, of course, believes peaceful resolution is possible. Sejanus, however, wants to train the Tenarans in self-defense, teach them how to use weapons, build them defensive facilities, etc. Basically, he’s itching for war—which isn’t all that surprising, to be honest, given that he and his crew are subjects of the Magna Roman Empire.
The Magna Romans have had a previous encounter with the Enterprise—just not this Enterprise. If you recall your TOS, the Magna Romans appeared in the episode “Bread and Circuses”, where Kirk and company discovered their civilization on the planet 892-IV, which had developed a Roman Empire almost exactly like Earth’s, except in their case, the Empire never fell and remained the dominant society across the millennia. If you’re hoping for some down-to-earth deconstruction of this farfetched concept, you’re going to come up short, and frankly, David Dvorkin wouldn’t be the man for that job anyhow. You’ll have to take it at face value that about five years after Kirk’s visit, the Magna Romans joined the Federation, and much like how the Intrepid is staffed entirely with Vulcans, the Magna Romans have their own ship, the Centurion (nee the Farragut), on which they can comfortably observe the habits of their own culture. That those habits include warmongering, proselytizing, ostentatious social climbing, and military dong-swinging provide the story’s main conflict.
Most of this is filtered through the experience of an ensign named Jenny de Luz, whom Worf assigns to the landing party. de Luz starts off as sort of an audience surrogate, but before long, it becomes apparent that what she really is is a thinly veiled Tasha Yar substitute. Most of the differences are superficial: she’s a redhead instead of a blonde, she’s from “Meramar” instead of Turkana IV or New Paris or wherever, and she’s an ensign instead of a security chief, though she still has the workload of the latter.
de Luz quickly emerges as the “main” character of the ensemble, and it creates more awkwardness than it prevents. Like Survivors, The Captains’ Honor was clearly written (or at least in the process of being written) before Denise Crosby left the show, which is certainly liable to put a book featuring her prominently in a bit of a bind. That being the case, however, instead of scrambling to find-and-replace every occurrence of “Tasha” and “Tasha Yar”, why not just say it’s set prior to “Skin of Evil”? This seems like more of an editorial gaffe than a writer’s flub, but an already not-great author such as David Dvorkin needs all the breaks he can get.
While Ta—er, Jenny gets cozy with one of the Magna Roman officers and considers transferring to the Centurion, the rest of the crew tries to keep Sejanus and his men from launching an all-out war. Picard gets angry with Sejanus when Sejanus destroys a M’dok ship Picard totally had on the ropes, while on the surface the other senior officers have to combat the indoctrination of Tenara’s children by Sejanus’ sniveling nephew Marcus Volcinius, on top of the largely futile attempt to overcome the Tenarans’ total lack of willingness to defend themselves to any extent whatsoever.
Eventually, Sejanus gets too mad with power, bites off more than he can chew, and his plans start to crumble, at which point he and his crew beat a hasty retreat. Of course, the book just lets him slip away. Any sort of justice will have to wait for another day, and Dvorkin offers up some weak tea about how maybe Picard and Sejanus aren’t so different after all.1 In fact, almost everything in this book goes unresolved. Jenny de Luz’s Magna Romance and transfer worries are solved more by the fact that her beau is killed than by any definitive decision-making. The M’dok situation gets shelved entirely only to return in one brief sentence on the next-to-last page, which reveals that they are open to talks.2 It’s a messy end for a book whose problems start off small and get more and more magnified as the story goes on, though I nevertheless would call it the best of Dvorkin’s three Trek novels, which isn’t saying a whole lot.
MVP & LVP
- My MVP this week is Picard, if only because sometimes the best way to rise to the top of the heap is to just stay in your lane. He does some solid captaining, holds his own against a shrewd tactical opponent, and displays a saintly amount of patience with an annoying fellow captain. He doesn’t act like a big fat idiot, and sometimes that’s the best you can expect.
- For this week’s LVP, I’m giving it to Geordi. Geordi lets the ship get crippled by some Magna Roman “exchange officers”, who he really ought to have done a better job of supervising. It’s a miracle they didn’t rig the ship to blow up. Wake up, Geordi!
Nuggets & Other Stray Bits
- This book continues the trend of authors having absolutely no clue what to do with Worf. This week, Worf spends over half the book studiously quoting the Starfleet regulation handbook, which sounds more like something you’d expect from Data, and even then it would be tiresome right out of the gate. It’s this incessant rule-quoting that’s responsible for Worf staying on the ship while the previously unknown and unheard-from Jenny de Luz goes planetside. He finally gets over it eventually and spends the rest of the time trying to teach the Tenarans how to put up a fight, but to no avail, and it’s too little too late. Still, not enough to earn him this week’s LVP slot, which is kind of amazing.
- There’s only one scene that explicitly shows a M’dok warrior killing a Tenaran, but boy howdy, is it brutal.
- p. 45: The crew briefly reminisces about Admiral Delapole after listening to his message. Geordi says they had another name for him: Old Iron-something. Picard cuts him off and says yes Mr. La Forge, we’ve all heard that name, no need to repeat it. But inquiring minds want to know: what’s the full nickname? My guess is Old Ironballs.
- Riker is all about the Tenaran leader’s daughter. I won’t lie: it brings me great comfort to see the natural order restored after Picard got the romance plot in Masks. Page 71, however, shows us a voice of conscience we don’t see Riker listen to very often: “His appreciation of Gretna Melkinata went beyond such considerations, though; he was powerfully attracted to her. Which is something that a career Starfleet officer should know better than to let happen, he told himself.” Uhhh, since when has THAT ever stopped Riker from boldly going where no man has gone before?
- Page 175 offers a brief connection between Magna Romans and Romulans that gets quickly discarded in favor of a more salient similarity between Magna Romans and Klingons. Although Worf means it as a compliment, it ends up not being so much of one.
- p. 225: “Riker stroked his beard thoughtfully”—you mean the one he didn’t have in season one? Guys! Figure out when this book is set already!
I give The Captains’ Honor 2.5 out of 5 redheaded Tasha clones. David Dvorkin and his son Daniel do deserve some credit for being the first ones to try to bring TOS material into the world of TNG. The effort is laudable, even if they chose a rather forgettable episode to revive. But the generic-brand Jenny de Luz proves a frequent distraction, several characters are under- and/or misused, and virtually no aspect of the story concludes in a satisfactory fashion. This is his final Star Trek novel, but I’ll say it anyway: strike three, Dvorkin, you’re out.
NEXT TIME: Children ruin everything in The Cry of the Onlies