This week, when the Enterprise checks out a warp signature a few light years off course, they find a people huddling in a galactic corner waiting for the end. But when it turns out they’ve arrived ahead of the expected company, Picard’s mediation skills will be stretched to their limits. Does a Star Trek novel need an “entr’acte”? Should Tamarian reference-speak be Starfleet SOP in dangerous situations? And are y’all ready to talk some poop-beaming theory? All this and more in The Last Stand, the book that dares to ungrow the beard.
As the Enterprise surveys a system with two planets stripped of all higher life—one bombarded with radiation, the other ravaged by a virus—they pick up something a few light years away making warp one. The trail leads them to the planet Nem Ma’ak Bratuna, whose people, the Lethanta, believe an invading force called the Krann are on their way and mistake the D for them initially. Learning that the Lethanta are originally from one of the toasted planets they just surveyed, Picard is keen to ask them about their history, but all they’re interested in is how they got past the Krann—whom Picard et al. have no idea about, seeing as, unbeknownst to them, they dropped back into normal space only after bypassing their lines.
The Lethantan minister of security offends Picard into calling for an emergency beam-up, but a second friendlier meeting yields more information. I’ll shorten this up as best I can, because there is a lot to take in, but basically, the Lethanta once enslaved the Krann some seven thousand years prior. After a millennium of servitude and exploitation, the Krann rose up against their oppressors and took their world back. A treaty staved off violence for two hundred years, but the hatred was too strong, and the Krann laid waste to Eul Ma’ak Lethantana. The remaining Lethanta rode colony ships for two thousand years until they found Nem Ma’ak Bratuna, where, after a period of infighting, a group of peace-spreading monks established a theocracy and warned that the Krann would return at some point to finish the job. Now, many years later, right as that belief has started to fall out of favor among the populace, they’re indeed back to finish what they started.
Picard, ever the diplomat, believes peace is still possible, and opens a dialogue with the leader of the Krann, Presider Hek, who agrees to allow observers aboard the flagship to see that they have nothing to hide. The Lethantans agree to a similar arrangement, and so while Data and Ro Laren check out Nem Ma’ak Bratuna, Deanna Troi and a freshly shaven Riker (!) dress up in Krann digs and mingle on the promenade. But even though they get some juicy leads on a possible superweapon, many of the Krann alive today appear to have never even heard of the Lethanta or witnessed a battle in their lifetimes. And there’s still the matter of that mysterious warp signature simmering on the back burner…
The Last Stand is a Brad Ferguson joint. Previously, he’s brought us the second book in the Lost Years saga, A Flag Full of Stars, as well as Crisis on Centaurus, a book I never cease to be amazed to discover actually has fans (plural). The Last Stand is the kind of book that starts to crumble the more you pick at it, and though I won’t be able to avoid a certain amount of that picking, I did enjoy this one more than those other two. Most of that comes down to the history and world-building, which some might consider excessive and detrimental to the story’s momentum, but is the kind of thing I do enjoy for its own sake when it’s done well. It’s easy to feel like Star Trek novels don’t have a lot of time for this kind of indulgence, and in a way, they don’t, but I personally am glad Ferguson made the time and space for it. The history of the Lethanta and Krann will be catnip to you if you’re a lover of lore (not him).
Another rarely attempted thing I enjoyed seeing here was the effort to capture the experience of regular citizens during major upheaval. So often, sweeping changes to an entire alien society filter through only a handful of government leaders and/or top scientists, and you never see how it goes on to affect the population at large. There’s an attempt to do that on both sides here, and I really appreciated the effort. The people of a society often have little in common with their leaders, and it was neat to see Ferguson explore both the Lethanta’s and Krann’s disconnects in knowledge and belief between the two.
Of course, it probably won’t take an astute reader long to notice that the dynamic between the Lethanta and the Krann is more than a little similar to that of the Cardassians and Bajorans, the major difference being that the Lethanta have remorse and have resigned themselves to the impending vengeance. I had hoped the book would have had more to say in this vein, particularly from Ro’s point of view, and I think it missed a big opportunity here. In fact, Ro is maybe the most underutilized character in the entire book; she and Data are so thoroughly ignored in favor of the Riker/Troi espionage thread that she gets shot in the face off-page and we don’t even learn about it until they’re beamed back up.
And it wouldn’t be a Brad Ferguson novel without at least one unbearably corny element—replacing “hell” (the curse word) with “hull”? Really?—and the final act is somewhat rushed, but overall I thought this one was all right. It had some neat ideas and tried a few different angles, and though it wasn’t entirely successful, I feel like Ferguson is doing pretty well just to not actively embarrass himself in most cases. The Last Stand has some solid bones, and if you have to cringe through a “What the hull?” every now and then, well, that’s no worse a cost of business than usual.
MVP & LVP
- No real standouts for the MVP this time around, so I’ll just give it to Picard. He is really committed to peace between these two races, seven thousand years of baggage be damned. But he also knows when it’s time to send a message another way, and he isn’t afraid to do it, nor does he take it lightly. You get a lot of the things that make Picard Picard in this one.
- I had no such trouble picking a LVP this week: it’s definitely Jemmagar, the Lethantan minister of security. His paranoia, loaded questions, and accusations of colluding with and even being the Krann offend Picard into briefly ending talks with the Lethanta, and the leader, Kerajem, reams him so hard he doesn’t show up for the rest of the book. I like to imagine he got terminated without severance. He is so unlikable from the very start and never lets up. He even literally scoffs “Liberals!” at one point. Sad to say, if we ever met aliens, too many of us would be Jemmagar.
Nuggets & Stray Bits
- Cover Art Corner: The Last Stand marks the beginning of a new design for TNG covers. The title is now written in a thicker, more prominent, more Trekish font. I dig it.
- The shuttlecraft Justman makes an appearance here. Usually I like to see what scientist it’s named after, but in this case, it was named after a beloved producer by Rick Berman. This is a roughly season five story, so it predates the Justman’s TV appearance in the episode where it’s fitted with the experimental metaphasic shielding. (p. 29)
- “Everyone in the officer corps believed the attachés had gone through that special door in the star chamber, the recently installed air lock [sic] to nowhere that the officers called Hek’s Closet.” — Hek’s Closet is part of an attempt to set Presider Hek up as a sadistic and fearsome guy, but it’s a reputation he never quite lives up to. He’s pretty reasonable and willing to listen for a guy who’s about to carry out a 7,000-year agenda of revenge, and the book can’t really decide whether it wants to paint him as open to change or hellbent on vengeance. (p. 71)
- Minister of labor Presinget, p. 80: “If this transporter gadget is how you people get around, then the bathrooms around here must be something terrific.” — I’d imagine everyone who’s thought about Star Trek for more than two minutes has tried to apply transporter tech to bodily functions, and anyone who’d claim they haven’t is lying. Personally, I think you would want to avoid depending on it, since you could potentially cause your intestinal muscles to atrophy from disuse. Better to stick to au natural movements. That’s my theory, anyway.
- Presinget again, p. 82: “I never thought I’d get to see [Nem Ma’ak Bratuna from space] for myself. Only pretty-boy Space Force types ever got to go into space, when I was younger.” — A planet full of Jemmagar types has an organization called Space Force? Is Brad Ferguson a prophet?
- There’s an entr’acte between chapters 9 and 10, which features Kerajem talking to a daughter and granddaughter we never see again. I didn’t even know what an entr’acte was and had to look the word up. Having learned it, it seems like a bit of a highfalutin contrivance for a Star Trek novel. Just make it another chapter, dude.
- “[Riker and Troi] were as conspicuous as a pair of burned-out bulbs in the center of one of those garish antique signs that cultural anthropologists kept on exhibit at the Las Vegas Cultural Preserve.” — Now there’s a future museum that would be fun to visit. What do you think they have there? Slot machines? Velvet Elvis? Any comedians doing a holo-residency? Louie Anderson, maybe? Gabriel Iglesias? I gotta know. (p. 155)
- Riker, p. 175: “Not a chance, Deanna. These people would give the Ferengi a run for their gold-plated latinum.” — Really? Gold-plated? I know the editing really starts slipping in the back half of these things, but you’re telling me no one caught this one?
Average. Though there are more than a few ideas in The Last Stand that don’t get explored to their fullest potential, it also features plenty of neat things you don’t get to see very often in Star Trek novels, and this one goes down smoother than other Brad Ferguson novels due to a significant reduction in (though not altogether elimination of) the kind of embarrassing goofiness that characterizes his other work. It could have been a lot better, but it also could have been a lot worse.
NEXT TIME: Picard goes behind his dad’s back in Starfall