#142: Requiem (TNG #32)

This week, Kirk’s battle with the Gorn captain remains the stuff of legend a century later, but the official Blu-Rays all cut off right at the good part. But when Picard tastes of the forbidden donut, he’ll get his own chance to put his stamp on history. How many personal growth arcs can Barclay sustain? Can beggars still not be choosers in the 24th century? And which TOS episode is this book really a sequel to? All this and more in Requiem, the perfect book to read after a phaser-induced siesta.

Requiem
Authors: Michael Jan Friedman, Kevin Ryan
Pages: 277
Published: October 1994
Timeline: In relation to “Arena” (TOS S1E18): four days prior (time travel portions); 75 years afterward (Stargazer prologue); and slightly over 100 years afterward (present)
Prerequisites: “Arena”; Reunion (TNG event novel) for recurring characters in prologue
Not to be confused with: The New Frontier novel of the same name, or the TOS episode “Requiem for Methuselah” (S3E19)

The Stargazer receives a priority message from the Gorn, a prospect Picard finds both exciting and nerve-wracking. No one has heard from the Gorn since Kirk’s battle with one of their captains at Cestus III, an encounter that has since passed into legend and become a popular Academy simulation despite the fact that its final pivotal moments are a matter of sealed record. Picard is aware of how huge this is for the Federation and prepares to upsell them on the deluxe package. So when they tell him they consider the Federation’s incursions in the Beta Quadrant a threat and formally declare war, it knocks the wind right out of his sails. Instead of taking the bad news back to the Federation, however, Picard calls an audible and, like a good Mythbuster, rejects their reality and substitutes his own, which in this case means pancaking the crap out of their leader and demanding to negotiate instead.

Evidently, something about this gesture and Picard’s force of will impressed the Gorn enough to call off war, because 25 years later, they’re holding a summit, to which the Enterprise-D is en route. Along the way, they encounter a giant abandoned station, toroidal in shape and unoccupied for at least 12,000 years. With enough spare time for a detour, they elect to investigate. Everything seems safe enough, so they let Picard beam over for a look—which, of course, is the precise moment everything goes to hell in a handbasket. Waves of increasingly powerful energy buildups surge through the station, and although most of the away team is rescued in the nick of time, Picard disappears in a blinding flash.

For once, fate deals the Enterprise a halfway decent admiral to work with, one who’s willing to take a little blowback from higher up if it means giving them every minute necessary to find the one man who can best ensure the summit’s success. Picard, meanwhile, learns he’s been thrown back almost a hundred years to Cestus III, just a few days before the historic massacre of the colonists there by the Gorn. Amid his attempts to blend in among colonists piqued by mysteries like the circumstances of his arrival and the advanced tech in his artificial heart, Picard wonders if he’s been brought there to stop the Gorn from slaughtering them. But when he realizes the specs they’re running on their spiffy new sensor array could blow them all up like a potato in the microwave, he starts to wonder if he’s not there to save them from themselves instead.

If you’re picking this up thinking you might get to see Picard go his own ten rounds with a Gorn, I’m sorry to have to tell you you’re going to be more or less disappointed. Nothing in the synopsis or early chapters can really adequately prepare you for what this book eventually turns into, which is a kind of bizarre hybrid of “Arena” and “The City on the Edge of Forever”. Picard is flung back in time by a mysterious ancient object; he meets a woman and falls in love with her; he realizes she (and also, in this case, a bunch of other people) must die in accordance with the Almighty Timeline; he returns, and all is normal, but At What Cost To His SOUL.

That’s not to say Requiem is bad, whether because it’s derivative or otherwise. The choices Friedman and Ryan have written Picard as making track very well for the character, and it’s an enjoyable enough adventure as far as it goes. What must be said above all else, though, is that Requiem is a shockingly lean novel—like, to an extent that frankly I’m amazed I enjoyed it as much as I did. Flavor only gets one so far, and it can’t be denied that Requiem‘s is indeed piquant. But it doesn’t amount to a whole lot when there’s not much there to be seasoned.

That said, it does manage to achieve the sort of theoretical, vaguely B-minus best that a book coasting almost entirely on style can hope for. It’s propped up largely by the aforementioned character work on Picard, whose time-travel gallivanting under the name Dixon Hill is fun when it needs to be fun and emotionally resonant when it needs to be emotionally resonant, but also by good subplots for Barclay and Ro Laren, though the former’s is yet another test of his mettle, which makes you wonder just how many personal growth arcs it’ll take before everyone’s convinced he belongs in Starfleet. Its original characters are solid too: Julia Santos is serviceable as a store-brand Edith Keeler, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I came around on Commodore Travers.

In the final tally, Requiem is missing a lot of things that could have given it more substance and heft. Meaningful communication with the Gorn is probably the biggest one; the book ends before they ever reach the summit, and not getting to see the diplomatic side of the Gorn is a sorely missed opportunity. Other things, like the complete lack of explanation for the ancient space station, may grate on the nerves of readers accustomed to both a genre and a franchise where opportunities for lore and world-building are practically infinite. But there are two key factors working to make me mostly okay with this.

One is that sometimes, you have to accept the mystery. Not everything can be solved or decoded in a pat 45 minutes or 270 pages. Because I like the cut of this book’s jib, because it ingratiated itself to me, I’m making a choice to accept some mystery. The other is that, as I think on it, it’s a nearly perfect entry point for a more casual fan. It takes a classic episode (or two) and pairs it (them) with the most casual-friendly cast, and sometimes two great tastes that taste great together are all you need. Plenty of Trek novels can and will give you more than this one does, but comfort food always has its time and place.

MVP & LVP

  • My MVP this week is Ro Laren. Riker makes Ro his acting first officer because he claims to want straight talk and no-nonsense solutions. But when she gives him exactly that, suggesting they enlist the help of the Bon Amar, Bajoran pirates among whom she counts friends, Riker winces. With the option on the table, Riker faces the dilemma of either going by the book and very likely failing, or accepting a more rough-edged kind of assistance than he’d like and increasing his odds of succeeding. Riker finally relents and takes their help, learning that even with all the regulations and safety nets of the Federation behind you, beggars still can’t always be choosers. Ro is a lot to handle, but her and Riker’s interplay here is fantastic as always, and she’s great at bringing out that next level in him that he sadly rarely hits.
  • LVP is whoever left the abandoned station running, am I right?? But seriously, I don’t really have anyone to put here this week. Good work, everyone! Pat yourselves on the back and grab a drink. Then pour it out, because this week we’ve got a

Ten Forward Toast

This one goes out to Ensign Varley, who gets rather graphically chopped in half by a closing hatch when the station starts going haywire. You know, everyone gives Barclay a lot of guff, but I think more people than not would freeze up at the sight of something like that just the way he does. Yes, it’s a life-and-death situation and time is of the essence. Still, who among us, right?

Nuggets & Stray Bits

  • “Phaser-induced siesta” (p. 200) is a cute turn of phrase. But if you don’t count those three little words, then Requiem marks the first time since beginning the Deep Space Spines project that I didn’t find a single nugget in 270-odd pages of text—another sign of the, shall we say, economical nature of the book. For a book otherwise so invested in flavor and style, this is very peculiar. It just isn’t a book that takes time to pause and smell the roses.

Final Recommendation

recommend Requiem, although maybe not so much to the veteran fan as to one just beginning to steep themselves in deeper Trek lore. It combines potent ingredients into a new story that, while light on anything of real substance or weight, manages to be as fun a read as one can get from all seasoning and no steak. Without question, there are some definite flaws and missed opportunities here, but it’s got a winning personality. Even though it’s not perfect by any means, I enjoyed it.

NEXT TIME: With a sweet new ride, The Search for the Founders is on

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2 Comments

  1. Adam Goss

    Makes me wonder if this was mostly Kevin Ryan’s work and MJF just helped out. I remember being frustrated with the novel, that yes it was indeed too lean and left out investigation of the station and encounters with the Gorn proper (not to mention the whopping big coincidence of the station just happening to send Picard to an historic moment involving the Gorn when on the way to MEET the Gorn – Wesley may have been right that space, time and thought aren’t as separate as they appear to be, but come on give us something to justify this level of coincidence!). Ultimately the novel felt like a great big tease, which I am guessing was not the intent, again making me think this was largely the work of a first-timer who got partnered with a veteran (Ryan’s previous Trek writing was just comic book stories, this was his first novel).

  2. DanInTennessee

    I read this novel a couple of years back as part of my Stargazer phase: Reading all of Michael Jan Friedmans books in the series; reading Christopher L Bennett’s “The Buried Age,” and two or three other books including this one. Though I enjoyed “Requiem, “ it was lacking in a lot of the ways you’ve mentioned, specifically, in that it’s neither about the Gorn nor the Stargazer. It’s a Picard time travel story that dances around those more interesting topics.
    MJF’s writing sometimes suffers in this way in other books as well. For example in the book “Death in Winter,” which is, ostensibly, about the romance between Picard and Dr. Crusher, MJF somehow manages to write a full novel which is completely devoid of that romance.

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