The Picard series that aired last January featuring Patrick Stewart was one my personal highlights of 2020. While the first season did have problems, initially with pacing, it ended up being both a worthwhile nostalgia trip and an excellent sci-fi adventure. One of its best moments the seventh episode entitled “Nepenthe“. In that episode Picard and Data’s ‘daughter’ Soji seek shelter with Deanna Troi and Will Riker. It is a heartwarming episode as it explores what happened to the couple since their marriage during the events depicted in Star Trek Nemesis. Now, while I am busy waiting for season 2 of Picard to arrive (hopefully late 2021) I have a tie-in novel Picard: The Dark Veil that continues to fill in the blanks. Written by James Swallow the novel takes place on the USS Titan. Some would consider it to be part of that franchise.
Picard: The Dark Veil takes place about 1 year after the uprising of the synthetics on Mars. Depicted in Picard it destroyed much of the Utopia Planitia shipyards. This event led to the stop on the help the Federation was giving to the Romulans in dealing with the evacuation of their home-world before their sun goes Supernova. In this novel the USS Titan responds to an emergency on home-world of the secretive Jazari. Their civilization has remained an enigma despite several of its members serving in Starfleet. The Jazari are in the midst of building a giant generation ship to transport all of its members across the stars towards some unknown objective. Riker and the crew of the USS Titan manage to help with the emergency but their ship suffers massive damage, necessitating a portion of the crew to stay on the Jazari ship.
We are back!
Things become interesting when a nearby Romulan Warbird captained by a thoughtful Romulan helps. As the Warbird was on a mission to find habitable planets for the evacuees from Romulus a clash ensues between the captain and its Tal Shiar executive officer. A lot about this clash deals directly with the major themes seen in Picard, especially those regarding synthetics. As the story is told from the perspective of Riker, Deanna and their son Thaddeus we are handsomely filled in with every detail about they have been up to since we saw them last in Nemesis. Of course, astute viewers of Picard will know that Thaddeus will die some time before the events of the series. That event hangs over this novel like a dark specter, as does the impending destruction of the Romulan home systems.
I should also warn that as Thaddeus is very young in this story there are lots of childish antics to read through. Swallow goes into considerable exposition on the Romulans and their problematic relationship with the Federation. Fans of the stories involving the Tal Shiar from prior encounters in The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine will be delighted. In no small measure this story is a spy-novel. First the uneasy relationship between the Federation and the Romulans and later with the Jazari involved lots of cloak-and-dagger. Ordinarily a tie-in novel to any major franchise is limited in what it can reveal. That is not so with Picard: The Dark Veil. The author all but confirms that the Romulans are themselves responsible for their star going nova. The illness that will eventually consume Thaddeus has an unusual origin, not mentioned in the series.
Picard: The Dark Veil is one of the better Star Trek novels
All told this is one of the better Star Trek novels I have read in a while. I wasn’t sure what to expect: a USS Titan story or a Picard story. It ended up being both. Picard: The Dark Veil is undeniably part of the Picard franchise and the retired Admiral is often talked about. In fact, Riker goes so far as to consult with him in his dealings with the Romulans. Star Trek has been dark and edgy for over a decade now. It feels like the Federation just can’t get a break. That clashes with the optimistic themes from TNG. That may put off some readers thinking Picard is a continuation of that classic series. But I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I was delighted to read this considerably expansion of the backstory of several favorite characters. They have been with me for nearly my entire life.