As I was researching the tie-in novel articles, I realized just how many of the TNG tie-ins I didn’t read. Not that I’m going to go back and read them now; it’s just interesting to me. But even with missing some of them, I can confidently say that the following list are ten of the best tie-in novels TNG has to offer.
The same caveats from the previous article apply to this one.
The Plot: The Enterprise is asked to send a team to a human colony undergoing a violent revolution. Data and Tasha go check it out and they find that things are not always what they seem to be, and the bad guys on Treva (the colony) aren’t who they say they are. For one thing, they’re led by the man who saved Tasha from the planet where she grew up, and she’s not sure if she’s going to bring him to justice or join him.
Why I Liked It: Until that episode with Tasha’s “sister”, we never really got a good look at what brought her to the point in her life where she was the Enterprise’s security chief. Lorrah takes us through the harsh realities of the way Tasha grew up, and reading this book at age ten I really didn’t understand just what was happening. But Lorrah spares very little detail (without getting explicit or pornographic) and we get to see Tasha grow from a frightened girl to a confident woman. Also, Lorrah introduces us to Darryl Adin and his crew, who make a further appearance on this list. She writes Data and Yar very well, and added a lovely coda that occurred after Tasha’s funeral in season one. A very strong TNG novel.
9. The Children of Hamlin, by Carmen Carter, published November 1988
The Plot: The perpetrators of the Hamlin Massacre — aliens slaughtered the adults and abducted the children — are back, and only a Federation ambassador and a mysterious woman can communicate with them. But even as the Enterprise ferries a crew of farmers to their new colony, the Choraii — disembodied intelligences in bubble-shaped ships — are looking to steal more children. And still no one knows why.
Why I Liked It: One of the better parts of the early TNG novels was that they had the luxury to involve every member of the main crew. This book was a little light on Riker, but that was okay, because at the time I didn’t really like him that much. It more than made up for it with Tasha, Beverly, and even Wesley. As a ten-year-old, the scenes of nudity appealed to me*, but even re-reading the book now I can see the layered story that Carter crafted here. I found this book to be much better than Dreams of the Raven, the first book of hers that I read (it involved brain-eating bird-men), and my copy (which I still have) is quite well-read.
8. Ghost Ship, by Diane Carey, published July 1988
The Plot: The Enterprise, its crew still finding its way, finds a soul-stealing creature moving through space. It turns out this creature ate the essences of a lost Russian aircraft carrier in 1995, and the people aboard are communicating with Deanna via telepathy. When the creature starts coming after the Enterprise, though, it becomes a battle for survival as well as a fight to rescue those who are trapped.
Why I Liked It: I have to give Diane Carey a lot of credit here — she had maybe a few episodes and the show bible to work from and she managed to turn in a great adventure story that showcased every character, re-introduced us to the ship and crew, and made us believe that, even though we knew everyone would survive, there was genuine peril present. In fact, I really have to commend all the novelists working on the first-season books (even Gene DeWeese, who wrote The Peacekeepers, which I didn’t really care for): they were doing a difficult job and they still managed to do it well. Carey’s later books got a little too nautical for my taste — her best work is still this and the Lieutenant Piper TOS novels — but here she was in her element, and even now I’m still impressed at how good this book is.
The Plot: The Enterprise discovers a graveyard of ships held there by an artifact whose very existence makes most humanoids violently ill. Unfortunately, they won’t be able to escape unless they solve the puzzle of how it works — and, more importantly, how to shut it off.
Why I Liked It: I make no bones about the fact that I like bottle shows, and this was definitely a bottle show (for the most part). But Crispin also brought us something so alien, so weird, and yet so ultimately non-threatening that I was able to enjoy the book without worrying about who was going to kill whom. Crispin has written several strong Trek novels, including Time for Yesterday and Sarek, and this too fits that mold. Early TNG novels, I think, had higher ideals than the show did sometimes, and this book was one of those.
6. Strike Zone, by Peter David, published March 1989
The Plot: Did you know the Klingons have a race they despise? Did you know the race is called the Kreel? Well, apparently these are things that have happened, and the Enterprise is called in to negotiate even as they orbit a planet with super-powerful weapons that the Kreel found and are using to exact vengeance on the Klingons. But who is behind the weapons themselves?
Why I Liked It: This was the first Peter David novel I ever read, and it’s the first of four on this list. David is a masterfully-funny writer who also knows how to do action sequences, as we learned in his later novels, and even though this early novel has its problems, it still stands out as one of the best in the TNG continuum. The Kreel are unpleasant and annoying; Worf and Wesley get a chance to shine; and if the ending is a bit strange then so be it. It’s still a good book.
5. A Rock and a Hard Place, by Peter David, published January 1990
The Plot: Commander Riker goes to assist terraformers on a cold, dangerous planet plagued by genetically-engineered beasts gone wild. Meanwhile, his replacement, Commander Stone, continues to perplex the Enterprise crew even as he earns their respect.
Why I Liked It: In Commander Stone, we can see the early genesis for several characters used in David’s New Frontier series, but even then, this was the first TNG prose exposure to a flawed protagonist — and I’m not just talking about the flaws our heroes had. Stone was a little Asperger-y and a little nuts, still flagellating himself (literally) for something he did in his past. Meanwhile, Riker has to fend off not only the advances of a precociously-mature 15-year-old but also the planet itself, and David’s ability to write harrowing adventure tales is at the forefront in those segments. Also, he brought us the knowledge that Beverly used to play strip poker, and let me tell you what that image did to my 11-year-old brain. (On second thought, let’s not. You don’t want to know.)
4. Metamorphosis, by Jean Lorrah, published March 1990
The Plot: While exploring a planet with a very strange geology, Data is pulled into a quest along with one of the planet’s natives. The quest, given by the gods of the planet, turns Data into a human, with all the slings and arrows thereof. But as Data learns, being human may not be all he hoped.
Why I Liked It: Only a year or so after their last appearance, we get to revisit Darryl Adin and his motley crew of lovable rogues who would fit right in with Captain Mal. They added a lot to the story, but it was really all about Data — who was pretty much the most compelling and popular character on TNG. Data’s quest to become human was fraught with danger, and once he actually achieved his goal, we learned an awful lot about just what Data is capable of by seeing what he can’t do as a human. After failing in a mission thanks to knowledge he might have had had he still been an android, he falls into a depression and eventually decides not to be human after all. This triggers a rather-lame “it never happened” moment with the alien god-beings, but the payoff is quite strong in the end as the ship’s cat treats Data like a human even though he isn’t one. This is the only story where Data gets to become human (as far as I know), and I’m glad Lorrah got to tell it — she’s a good storyteller and the book is fast-paced and well-written.
The Plot: A Federation ambassador joins Picard, Troi, and Worf on a primitive, geologically-active planet, and they promptly get lost there. Riker, Pulaski, Data, and a couple of security officers follow them down, leaving Geordi, Wesley, and Guinan in charge of the ship. What follows is an adventure story unparalleled in the TNG continuum as everyone on the planet — including the ambassador — begins a frantic search for the mask that will grant leadership to any who wears it.
Why I Liked It: Adventure? Excitement? Maybe a Jedi craves not these things, but I certainly did, and this story had it in spades. The planet would never have been done justice on screen, but here on the page Vornholt brought us there. I smelled, tasted, felt, saw, and heard everything that the main characters did; I experienced their successes and their failures. Plus, Picard got laid, which was, you know, good for him. I’m really kind of sad that we never revisited this world, but then, once you’ve told a story like this, there’s really nothing to go back to. If you like fantasy and Star Trek, read this book.
2. Vendetta, by Peter David, published May 1991
The Plot: A year or so ago, one Borg vessel nearly destroyed the entire Federation. Now there are three on the way, and it’s up to Captain Picard, his old friend Captain Korsmo (Peter David doing a little Mary-Sue duty), and Kate Pulaski’s old ship the Repulse to stop them before they do it again. Of course, they also have a little help — remember the planet-killer that Commodore Decker flew his ship into back in TOS? Well, its big brother is here, and it is pissed off.
Why I Liked It: When this novel was published, we’d only experienced the Borg twice — “Q Who” and “The Best of Both Worlds”. Peter David was given the task of making us fear the Borg again, and he pulled it off admirably, weaving together a tale of multiple starships, new and powerful characters, and in the end a battle that it looks like the good guys can’t possibly win. I mean, if 39 starships were destroyed at Wolf 359, how can three take on three Borg ships and survive. (This was before Voyager routinely ate Borg ships for breakfast, naturally.) Possibly one of the best tales ever told in the Trek universe, and in terms of TNG tie-ins, the only person who can surpass it is David himself.
The Plot: The Enterprise is to play host to a wedding uniting two powerful spacefaring families, but of course things are going to be complicated by the arrival of two of the most powerful personalities ever to grace the halls of the Enterprise: Q… and Mrs. Troi.
Why I Liked It: This book was hilarious; that’s the only way to describe it. It’s David at his humorous best, working in cerebral humor, pratfalls, and even sexual humor (Wesley’s girlfriend breaking his ribs while trying to massage him after nearly killing him by making breakfast is classic). Plus there’s an appearance by the Corbin Bernsen iteration of Q, several races with all sorts of crazy color schemes, and in the end a love story as old as that of Romeo and Juliet, albeit without the teenage suicides at the end.
One thing I noticed about my favorite books is that they all were published in 1991 or earlier. I think that’s because, in those days, the Pocket Books editors allowed the writers to take more chances and write bigger, better, crazier stories. The later books are much more prosaic. Also, in the earlier days of TNG prose, the authors didn’t have quite the body of work to work from, so they had to make stuff up. I’m not saying that none of the newer novels are any good — the Titan series is one of my favorites, and David Mack’s Destiny is amazing — but back then, the writers could just write.
The other thing is that I read a lot of these books in my formative years. I tried to get my family to read them too so I could discuss them, but the only person who ever took a shot was my grandmother, and she only read How Much For Just The Planet?. In her defense, she did enjoy it, but I think she read it just to humor me. Later, my friend Bri-chan** and I traded the books back and forth, reading and discussing and eventually even starting work on our own somewhat-derivative-of-Deep-Space-Nine novel about a space station, but for the most part the tie-ins were something that I read to make myself happy.
Although after my friend Matt got his hands on Diane Carey’s Battlestations! and basically That’s-What-She-Said his way through the whole thing, complete with illustrations (he’s a comic artist), I discovered that not everyone read the books the same way I did.
What are your favorite TNG tie-ins?
* I was ten. Don’t judge. Of course, I still like nudity in books, so maybe I never grew up. Who knows?
** Ever since she saw his old name on Twitter, my daughter — who was five at the time — has been calling him Bri-chan. It’s cute.