Welcome to the Light Fantastic, ostensibly the 12th book in the Star Trek: The Next Generation Relaunch, though depending on how one views the crossovers with other series, I suppose that’s debatable.
As with all reviews, spoilers are, if one wants to actually review a work, inevitable and thus will not be avoided.
Screw it, let’s just do the spoiler thing. Based off the events of the Next Generation episodes Elementary, Dear Data and Ship in a Bottle, The Light Fantastic reveals the fate of the holographic Moriarty. He remained imprisoned in the holographic universe the crew of Enterprise-D created for him. When the ship crashed on Veridian III, during the events of Star Trek: Generations, Moriarty lost his daughters in a computer glitch. Then, he lost the rest of his universe during the events of the Cold Equations trilogy. Through unclear means, Moriarty is able to free himself from his holographic universe and sets out to find Data and Lal (also resurrected in the Cold Equations trilogy), hoping to force Data to assist him in becoming real. To do so, he captures Lal, to incentivize Data’s cooperation. In turn, Data turns to the help of his best friend, Geordi LaForge. Eventually, they succeed in retrieving Lal, but not without guest appearances from other AI and holograms, ranging from DS9’s Vick Fontaine, the Doctor, the collector Kivas Fajo, and Alice, from the TOS episode I, Mudd. In the end, Moriarty gets his family back, and alludes to an even greater threat on the horizon, another galaxy of artificial intelligence.
The Light Fantastic is a fine book. And I don’t mean whether or not I enjoyed it. I did. Thoroughly. But as subjective assessment doesn’t actually help anyone all that much. That doesn’t help anyone know if they should read the book or not.
In short, if you’re already reading the Star Trek Relaunch universe, this is another fine addition that’s certainly up to par for the standards they’ve set. The characters from the television series and movies make returns and the characters are allowed actual growth.
One of the greatest strengths of the Relaunch universe is also one of it’s greatest weaknesses. Spawning from an inherently insular premise, the book requires detailed knowledge of past events to make sense of current events. If the synopsis didn’t make it clear, this book counts on the fact that the reader is familiar with both the events of the Relaunch and at least two television series. Which is fine, if you don’t intend to start any of your friends off with this book.
Elements from the Relaunch universe are bandied about, such as Scotty’s apparent death aboard the Challenger from Indistinguishable from Magic, Geordi’s sleeping with Leah Brahms (what happened to that girl on the Enterprise?), Picard’s marriage. Worf, for some reason, is a walking caricature of himself. In fact, the scenes on the Enterprise-E don’t really do anything, other than to apparently show the Enterprise-E since this a book about Data and Geordi. They don’t serve an actual story purpose, as far as I can tell. Fan service, maybe?
Another weakness is the structure of the book. For the first half, events skip around chronologically, ranging from as far back as events from TOS to those just following Cold Equations. While this sequencing eventually makes sense, the initial transitions are jarring. Really, it shouldn’t take the first 100 pages of a 250 page book for the chronology of events to fall into place.
In the end, Moriarty is restored, along with his wife and two daughters. Which, is kind of a problem. For a villain of such note, this novel certainly goes out of its way to make Moriarty not a criminal. He doesn’t break any laws (at least, not on the planets involved) and only kidnaps Lal so that he may save his family. Despite, at several points in the book, being referred to as “mad” and “unstable” by other AI’s and his own WIFE!!! A wife, I may add, who knows her own lack of mental stability. For creatures who have had much of their lives erased in a computer failure and know that much of their lives were erased, what that might do to someone is hardly explored. That creates a great weakness in the story.
Indeed, Data’s solution to retrieving Lal is quite clever, and nicely ties into established lore (pun intended) but does suffer from the syndrome that much fantasy and science fiction universes suffer from, wherein everything is inherently related. I suppose, in this case, that’s excusable, since the AI community has been established as quite close knit and small in the Star Trek universe. Also, it was nicely expanded upon in Cold Equations. But, the idea that Moriarty goes to a planet filled with androids—who don’t know their own creator—and magically has his family restored is a bit of a deus ex machina (again, sorry for the pun).
Once again, the Light Fantastic seems to be counting on the fandom of its readers. That’s not a bad ploy, since, as I’ve said, anyone reading this book is most likely familiar with the required history, but it’s certainly not a book I could recommend for anyone trying to get into the Star Trek novel line. Then again, the Light Fantastic seems to know this. It’s clearly a continuation of the events in Cold Equations and acts like it is. But, knowing you’re an asshole and still acting like one doesn’t stop you from being an asshole, so that can’t really salvage this book.
In the end, the Light Fantastic is a fun book with a shaky premise and weak story telling. The logic of its own universe is flawed, as are many of the solutions to plot problems. One of which is the apparent time is takes to travel across the Alpha Quadrant. It’s a fun book, but fun in the same way that fanfiction is fun. Shallow, entertaining, and with so much more promise, if only they’d really tried.
Don’t read unless you really like the Star Trek Relaunch universe. Or have three hours to kill on a weekday night that you never want back. Gods know it shouldn’t even take that long.