This week, when the Enterprise investigates a ship that crashed on a Dyson sphere, they find a heck of a prize in an old cereal box. But before they have time to help him come to terms with outliving his usefulness, the sphere pulls the Enterprise in, and suddenly, they need his help to make it go from suck to blow. Meanwhile, some lower-decks action pads out the page count and takes some heat off of the senior staff. Will Scotty respond well to therapy? How badly would Picard flip out about food on the bridge? And how does Dr. Crusher really feel about Scotty? All this and more in Relics, the book that’s very proud of its en dashes.
Author: Michael Jan Friedman
Published: November 1992
Timeline: Season 6
Prerequisites: Basic familiarity with Montgomery Scott
The above clip is a pretty perfect summation of the conflict that drives “Relics”, the sixth season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that completes the unofficial “guest star from TOS” trilogy. Scotty is restored from a transporter buffer he put in a diagnostic loop to save himself from a crash and arrives in the 24th century only to find, as Abraham Simpson foretold of Homer, that what he’s with isn’t it, and what’s it is weird and scary. However, the clip is less comprehensive when it comes to the novelization of the episode, which adds more wrinkles and layers and is, by and large, the superior version.
Unlike Encounter at Farpoint and Unification, Relics covers only a single 45-minute episode, so you might imagine that an author having to stretch the episode’s events to novel length would have their work cut out for them. Normally, I wouldn’t get terribly excited about Michael Jan Friedman being that author, but he steps up and he delivers in a way that he has yet to with his own material.
Relics begins with a hearty portion of original content in the form of an extended account detailing the moments leading up to the crash of the Jenolan, the transport that was ferrying Scotty to an uneventful retirement on Norpin V before encountering the fateful gravimetric interference. I’m grateful for this prologue for a couple of reasons. For one, you get to know Franklin a bit better. We know Scotty can be taken at his word, but it’s hard to give two tribble plops about a character we never see. Watching Scotty and Franklin form a rapport makes Scotty’s sadness at Franklin’s loss more relatable. Second, it makes the incident itself seem less abstract, and less like an obvious contrivance to get Scotty on the Enterprise-D. It gives it some much-needed immediacy and emotional heft.
Friedman then covers barely the beginning of the episode before launching into yet another book-exclusive element, a subplot centering on a young ensign named Darrin Kane. Feeling resented by Riker and not getting anywhere with the direct approach, he skips straight to the top of the chain of command for answers. Although Picard lends him a sympathetic ear, it quickly becomes obvious that the reason Darrin Kane is languishing in the lower decks is Darrin Kane. His friend Andy Sousa is kind and supportive, but Kane calls him “helm jockey” and says nice guys finish last, despite the fact that Sousa regularly pulls conn duty and he has yet to score it once.
Kane is also, it turns out, the ensign who escorts Scotty to his guest quarters, an assignment he treats with his expected irritation. The two also have another run-in that doesn’t appear in the episode. Scotty visits the shuttle bay for nostalgia, and Kane, working the post for the regular guy who’s out with appendicitis, calls him in to security as an intruder—a big-time dick move that pretty well establishes Kane’s bottomless capacity for cruelty and pettiness.
This Kane business might sound like pointless fluff that takes away from the main attraction, but it actually improves the episode substantially. In all honesty, I’m not a big fan of “Relics” the episode. There’s not enough time on TV to give the conceit its due consideration and exploration, and Geordi pays for that lack of room for nuance by being written uncharacteristically ill-tempered and mean-spirited. But with Darrin Kane around to fill the jerk role, he takes a lot of the heat off of Geordi. Geordi also benefits from the reader getting to see his thought processes and inner feelings more clearly laid out, so that when he does blow up on Scotty, it seems more reasonable and not like he’s simply pissy and/or impatient.
Smoothing out those rough edges helped make Relics the first novelization I enjoyed more than the episode it was based on. It’s easy to think of these kinds of things as naked cash grabs pandering to a bunch of easy marks, but it just goes to show, you never know while drilling through these books when you’re going to strike oil. Not all of the added material is successful: a landing party exploration of the inner surface of the Dyson sphere raises more questions than it answers, and a restored deleted scene between Scotty and Troi demonstrates well enough why it was cut in the first place. But these are minor quibbles that shouldn’t stop you from checking this one out. In fact, next time I feel like returning to this episode, I may very well head to my bookshelf rather than my couch.
MVP & LVP
- My MVP this week is Andy Sousa, proving that nice guys do finish first. Everyone in Star Trek is always having to put on such a brave face and act so bold and intrepid that it’s nice to run into someone who’s just … well, nice. Would that we all had a friend like Sousa.
- LVP of the week goes to Deanna Troi. Turns out there’s just not a whole lot for her to do in this episode. Her counseling session with Scotty doesn’t achieve anything, and she’s in the landing party inside the Dyson sphere because…? It’s okay for a character to sit one out if they’ve got nothing to do, although some can be shoehorned into any number of situations with minimal awkwardness. Deanna Troi, however, is generally not one of them.
Nuggets & Other Stray Bits
- There’s a cute anecdote in the acknowledgments about how apropos it was for the story about Scotty to have a tight deadline. (Friedman had four weeks to write the whole thing, which only serves to make its quality that much more impressive.)
- Beverly is visibly charmed by Scotty’s wiles. Better old men than candle ghosts, I say. (p. 70)
- The Ten-Forward scene with Data doesn’t have quite the same crack comic timing, though it’s nice to see Guinan make an appearance where before she was absent. You can’t have a scheduling conflict with a book appearance!
- In the book, Scotty uses the holodeck to recreate not just the NCC-1701, but the entire bridge crew as well, with whom he relives a cherished birthday memory. It’s amusing how uncomfortable Picard is here with the idea of food on the bridge—one imagines staining the carpet with chili must be worth at the very least a write-up and a dressing-down in the ready room, if not getting busted down a rank or two.
- The shuttle they give Scotty in the episode is called the Goddard. However, here it’s christened the Christopher, a name with much more personal and thematic resonance.
- There is a fair amount of conspicuous en dash deployment in this book. Is it important to MJF that we know that he knows how to use them correctly? If so, well … way to go, Mike.
I give Relics 4 out of 5 Dyson spheres. It’s strong enough, in my opinion, to stand alongside Vonda McIntyre’s treatments of The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock as a demonstration of how to effectively expand source material. The new Darrin Kane subplot takes care of some of the episode’s biggest problems, most notably how unpleasant Geordi comes across. It’s unquestionably superior to the TV episode it’s based on, making it a great bridge from the show to the books for those looking to get on board.
NEXT TIME: Deanna and Worf get paired yet again for Nightshade