Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Stevil2001, Jun 16, 2017.
The Next Generation: Indistinguishable from Magic by David A. McIntee
Published: April 2011
Time Span: Stardate 60074.2-60214.1 (early 2383)
This is the first novel branded "The Next Generation" that I've reached in my marathon, but though it might be so de jure it has much less claim to that label de facto than other novels I've read that don't have "The Next Generation" printed on the title page. Events begin on the Enterprise-E with the whole Destiny-era gang-- Picard, Worf, Choudhury, La Forge-- but soon La Forge has joined the crew of the USS Challenger on detachment.
Instead of being a TNG installment, the book feels like the pilot for a slightly retooled S.C.E./Corps of Engineers series (with the exception of how it ties up; I'll get to that later). Scotty, still heading the Starfleet Corps of Engineers, captains the USS Challenger, a Galaxy-class testbed for experimental technologies. The ship is crewed by a bevy of familiar engineers from across Star Trek: in addition to Scotty and La Forge, Reg Barclay and Dr. Leah Brahms are the major ones, plus Nog is chief of security. On top of that, you have some familiar guest characters like Berlinghoff Rasmussen and Guinan, and some new characters, including the Challenger's delightful chief engineer and a very enthusiastic Klingon woman pilot. It reminds one of set-ups for new ongoing series like New Frontier or Typhon Pact. It's the kind of thing that could be overly fannish, but McIntee keeps it on the successful side. We would never ever see Barclay, Nog, and Brahms work together on screen, but this is what tie-in fiction is for.
The main plot of the novel begins with the Challenger investigating the mysterious reappearance of the NX-07 Intrepid, fresh out of the era of Enterprise, but with a dead crew far from its last known position. This part has a pleasing technical mystery to it: of course, a lot of it is bafflegab, but as in some Golden Age sf, it's fun to watch a team of highly competent professionals do their thing. Berlinghoff Rasmussen, as a native of the 22nd century himself, is brought on as a consultant, but soon things are disrupted by an it's-so-crazy-it-just-might-work plan from an old villain, and La Forge and Barclay have to save the day while prisoners. It's good, if generic Star Trek fun. Like I said, this is what tie-in fiction is for. Then, as the Challenger investigates the phenomenon that caused the displacement of Intrepid, things get bigger and crazier, and unfortunately, somewhat rushed. There are a lot of cool concepts in the second half of the novel, but I often felt like the characters were rocketing through them. (What happens to Scotty, plus his memorial service, are quite nice.)
Characters rocketing through things is actually the big fault of the novel. La Forge goes through a whole lot here, and it's curiously understated; we get very little sense of how La Forge feels about this all, what's at stake for him personally and emotionally. La Forge becomes captain of the Challenger halfway through, in a nice piece of continuity with Voyager's "Timeless," but surprisingly there's no coherent subplot about him adjusting to command or what captaincy means to him or how he has to act differently than he was. Similarly, he gets together with Leah Brahms, but I'm not really sure why: it's like they see each other again, and huzzah, they're back together.
What comes after the climax is disappointing. Indistinguishable from Magic is not the pilot for a new S.C.E. spin-off, because the book ends with the destruction of the Challenger and the return of La Forge to his old post on the Enterprise. It's a little annoying, because it seals that the events of this novel don't actually matter to La Forge. He gets two months of captaincy, and then he's back to doing the same thing he's been doing for the past eighteen years. Sure, he's "captain of engineering" now, but he doesn't really seem happy or sad or anything to lose a ship so quickly. The end kind of confirms all these characters will get rolled back to where they were; Barclay will go to the Voyager fleet again, and I'm very willing to predict Nog will be back on Deep Space 9 (if we ever get to see the station again, that is).
I kind of liked this book, but in the end, it just feels hollow.
Among the Challenger crew is Alyssa Ogawa, last seen as head nurse on Titan, now a doctor and chief medical officer on the Challenger... just two months after Sight Unseen! That novel, despite being written later, did nothing to set this up. Indistinguishable from Magic tries to paper over how a nurse becomes a doctor in literally moments, but I didn't buy it, and she pretty much could be any doctor character, so I'm not sure why McIntee bothered. Also the Challenger crew spends a lot of time being amazed at gigantic space life-forms, but Ogawa never mentions the time Titan spent exploring the ecosystem of gigantic space life-forms.
On the other hand, Nog gets a good couple scenes; I really enjoyed it when he flushes information out of a Ferengi underling by implying Grand Nagus Rom (his father) bought the Challenger from Starfleet. But like Ogawa's, Nog's presence doesn't quite line up. Not for timeline reasons (I don't think we've seen Nog for six years, in universe, though Memory Beta tells me he was mentioned as being on DS9 in Rough Beasts of Empire), but career ones. He's obviously there because of the novel's engineering all-star team set-up, but he's the Challenger's chief of security because that was the only position available. Okay, I buy that, because Nog was interim chief of security on DS9 between Odo and Ro, but later in the novel, La Forge considers Nog for first officer, but then passes him up so he's not denied the opportunity to be a chief engineer one day, because he'll be a great one. But Nog already was a chief engineer! If that's what he wanted, he could have just stayed on DS9.
I spent a lot of time wondering why Leah was willing to romance La Forge, given that she's married. It turns out that her husband died in The Genesis Wave novels. But if McIntee mentioned this fact for those of us who remember "Galaxy's Child" but do not remember The Genesis Wave, I did not notice, so I was very disconcerted until I read her Memory Beta entry halfway through.
You can't expect every thing to reference every thing, but it also jarred me that, when discussing if the Challenger can breach the galactic barrier, no one mentions the attempt of the Enterprise-E to do so in The Q Continuum trilogy.
Sonya Gomez puts in a couple brief appearances, which is nice given this book's pseudo-S.C.E. status. I don't think any other member of the da Vinci crew rates a mention, though; Mor glasch Tev is seen, but La Forge doesn't know his name, so he's just "a Tellarite."
Scotty may seem to be dead by the end, but we know from Engines of Destiny that he's still around in 2422, so he must get back somehow. Plus, he needs to invent transwarp beaming and give Spock the equations prior to 2387. Maybe his experience here is how he figures it out...?
In the acknowledgements, McIntee praises the cover artist. I can't imagine why, because it is the most generic uninspired thing I can imagine. A Galaxy-class ship with some motion blur, and a swirl. The book has much more interesting imagery that could have made a much better cover.
McIntee has a weird tendency to let dialogue scenes go on too long. Like, characters keep talking two or three or four lines after the point which the reader has gotten the point, either to just restate something yet again, or to squeeze in an ultimately irrelevant continuity reference.
According to the novel The Return, the captain of the Challenger in 2371 was a Vulcan named Simm. By the time of Indistinguishable from Magic, the first officer of the Challenger is Tyler Hunt, a man obviously named after the characters Sam Tyler and Gene Hunt from Life on Mars. The actor who played Sam Tyler: John Simm. Spooky.
There's a joke about how quitting Starfleet was the biggest mistake Scotty ever made aside from bleaching his hair, a reference to how he appeared in early issues of the Gold Key comics. I actually suggested this joke to Dave McIntee, but by the time I read the book, I had forgotten all about that discussion, so I was pretty delighted to discover it.
IIRC that's not on McIntee, but rather on Pocket who wanted him to use Ogawa.
Engines of Destiny was a standalone, not part of the larger continuity, and differing from other novels in its interpretations of certain things. While inter-novel continuity has been the norm since 2000, it has never been a universal requirement.
I can't think of Ogawa as a Doctor, too. Neither can I think of La Forge as Captain or Scotty gone.
Oh, interesting, thanks. That's so weird! Not too dissimilar to some of my own experiences writing A Choice of Catastrophes.
Engines of Destiny is included in the 24th-century Scotty timeline in the back of the paperback edition of The Future Begins.
IIRC, there was some talk about IFM being a little more loose, continuity-wise, compared to the rest of the novel-verse, to the point where people were surprised when a subsequent novel mentioned LaForge's stint as captain (and also, IIRC, had him quickly return to the rank of commander for some sort of T/O-related reason or something so it wouldn't get awkward if he and Worf disagreed on something).
The book did mention Geordi's LTR on the Enterprise, though, in a strange and unsatisfying way. I've decided to find it funny that different authors ship different characters, so Geordi and Chen were ping-ponging between different relationships, at least until Dayton became the primary writer for TNG and stuff settled down a little with the secondary characters. Personally, I think Leah Brahms getting together with Geordi is icky for several reasons, conveniently dead husband (oh, hey, there's one) or no, so I'm glad their flings don't tend to last past single novels.
Yeah, I remember some of the discussion from when it happened, so I'll be curious to see how it plays out.
Indistinguishable from Magic establishes that Tamala Harstad transferred off the Enterprise before the novel began, and her and La Forge didn't keep up a relationship. (Once he gets in a relationship with Leah, there's a comment that he doesn't even remember what Tamala looks like!) To be honest, I couldn't remember who she even was from Paths of Disharmony; I had to Google her.
Which has been ignored by the subsequent TNG novels, where Harstad is still on the E-E and still with Geordi.
I just realized I was actually thinking of the way a later novel tried to write out Geordi and Tamala's relationship.
Spoiler: Like I said, ping-pong
It was "The Light Fantastic" that begins with Geordi and Leah inexplicably hooking up in San Francisco with some cock-and-bull story about how he and Tamala were on a break, or in an open relationship, or something else that made no sense considering how they acted before and since in novels she's actually in, right?
Now that I'm remembering these were two separate stories, I recall I didn't have the same problem with IMF at the time because it was just a revolving door love-interest thing, with Geordi going from about to have a thing with the Aventine's engineer in Destiny, then getting involved with Tamala a few books later, then Leah now. It was after IMF that Geordi and Tamala became an item consistently enough that it was weird when someone would try to put him and Leah together.
The whole Leah thing was part of the Genesis Wave books if I remember correctly.
The fact that anyone put La Forge and Brahms together as a couple disgusts me on every possible level. *shudder*
That makes two of us!
My biggest problem with Geordi and Leah Brahms getting together in the books, is that it feels like a big step backwards for Geordi. They had to whole episode where met the real her, and got over the crush he had on the hologram, so it just felt like to much back tracking to me to suddenly have them together all these years later.
I like him and Harstad a lot better, so I was happy when they settled on that as Geordi's one stable relationship.
I agree. But I'd like to see more scenes involving Harstad. We have a picture of Brahms in our mind, but no picture of Harstad. Good scenes with important input by Harstad would make it easier for my imagination.
Same goes for Elfiki and Faur.
We have a thread for casting possibilities for Trek Lit characters:
Searching there can sometimes turn up useful suggestions.
There doesn't seem to be any consensus on Harstad (I think I envisioned her as Law & Order's Milena Govich) or Faur, but Dave Mack has proposed Sarah Shahi as a model for Elfiki.
I haven't read all of the novels in question, but my understanding was that The Light Fantastic came up with (what was supposed to be) the reconciliation of these inconsistencies going forward: Geordi was polyamorous and involved with these characters in simultaneous overlapping relationships, with the knowledge of everyone concerned.
Like @Kilana2, I also don't have much of a mental image for Harstad as a person (regardless of whom one would "cast" to play the character).
I could give a damn what it means for La Forge, what I don't get is why Brahms would be in any way interested in someone who, in essence, cyberstalked her, using his holographic blow-up doll to try to flirt with her, and then when she finds out about the blow-up doll and is (justifiably) pissed, he gets all self-righteous that she was so meeeeeeeeeeeean to him because he was just trying to be friendly, when what he was really trying to do was get in her pants by pretending to be compatible with her. (Like, for example, offering to make her fungili, and she says she loves fungili, and La Forge says, "Really?" as if he's surprised, when that was a calculated way to get to like her thanks to the knowledge he gained from his holographic blow-up doll.)
"Galaxy's Child" did a lovely job of assassinating La Forge's character. Having Brahms get together with La Forge assassinated Brahms's right alongside it. Bleah.
Yes, I can see some of that. In the earlier episode I might be able to understand a bit of how things developed. Though LaForge should have kept in mind this was not a holodeck fantasy but a representation of a real person. However, due to the stressful situation I might be able to see some extenuating circumstances there, though once the crisis was passed he probably should have said his good byes and moved on. I can even see him having a bit of a crush on Dr Brahms, but I also understand her anger. He makes a valid point that yes, he was trying to save his ship and so forth, but he took it that one step too far. It would have behooved him first of all to be upfront with the real Dr Brahms about the earlier mission. Hiding how he knew things about her just made it worse.
At the end of Galaxy's Child they had made some amends. And I can maybe see them as friends in the future once she realizes Geordi is not really a creepy cyber stalker, he just experienced some bad judgment and made a mistake (I'm going by his entire history of a character--we know he's not really a creep and with the old we all make some stupid, sometimes embarrassing mistakes sometimes).
But I agree that a romance would likely be out of the question I would think. I was glad when that was more or less dropped as an idea in favor of his current relationship with Harstad.
You bring up some really good points that hadn't occurred to me there.
Separate names with a comma.