Una McCormack takes readers on a journey with Jean-Luc Picard as the Romulan Empire prepares for its defining life-or-death struggle with the Hobus Supernova. Our review of “The Last Best Hope” follows the break.
Star Trek: Picard – The Last Best Hope – Una McCormack
With Star Trek: Picard now at the forefront of the Trek universe, there is a natural desire to explore what leads our twenty-fourth-century hero into a life of relative isolation in retirement at LaBarre. Certainly, between the Short Treks episode “Children of Mars” and the flashback scenes we have witnessed in several first-season episodes thus far, we have a pretty clear understanding of what happened and why. What the televised reflections do not give us, however, is a glimpse into the triumphs and challenges of the effort to relocate the Romulan people before the Hobus Supernova spewed its destructive effects across the Empire. In “The Last Best Hope”, author Una McCormack takes on the daunting task of providing that background to the reader, background that has the potential to enhance and enlighten viewers of the new series.
The book, which covers roughly four years of events in its 322-page length, has a lot of lifting to do. McCormack is wisely selective about where she chooses to flex her wordsmithing, telling stories that illustrate the genesis, execution, and dissolution of the Romulan relief mission with great effect. At the same time, she realizes her limitations and doesn’t seek to go too far afield with the book. We spend time with Geordi LaForge because he is integral to the storyline. We learn of Worf’s role as Picard leaves to take command of the mission. Will and Deanna are mentioned in passing. Where one might be tempted to want to work a bit more with their presence in the pages, McCormack only gives them space when needed, and in ways that are necessary to the unfolding of the story.
Instead of a serious Next Generation revisit, “The Last Best Hope” focuses on bringing depth to several key individuals featured in the first season of Picard. Captain (later Admiral) Clancy receives some dimensionality as her involvement in Starfleet leadership develops across the scope of the story. Agnes Jurati and Bruce Maddox are heavily featured, and their interests and relationship serve to expand the fan’s appreciation of what transpired between them on-screen.
In particular, it is worth noting that Maddox’s story is written in such a way as to generate endless fascination, speculation, and wonder. When we see Maddox back in “Measure of a Man”, he’s a laser-focused and, arguably, heartless machine. By the end of the episode, he clearly gains perspective on his search for purpose and meaning through the creation of positronic life. As we fast forward to the book, Maddox feels like a different person – even when he is just as focused on the creation of artificial life as before. As a reader, I feel my appetite whetted to learn more about Maddox’s evolution between his first appearance and the events of the book. Worth noting, since I began the novel before seeing John Ales in the role, I had mentally cast Brian Brophy’s original Maddox in my mental play as I read. McCormack did an outstanding job of capturing Brophy’s delivery and tenor of speech throughout the story, which added to my disappointment when Brophy did not return to reprise the role on-screen.
Several Romulans play vital roles in the evolution of the book. Most are relatively predictable, but one significant player really stands out, a scientist named Nokim Vritet. McCormack uses Vritet’s character beautifully as a bellwether of the crisis, the response, and the very real emotional toll of the disaster. I found myself eagerly anticipating his next appearance, the opportunity to see what he was researching, or pleading, or resigning himself to. His story, more than that of any other, struck me deeply. How hopeless must so many be when confronted with the truth that others obscure for selfish gain? A timely question in our present Western culture.
Arguably, Raffi and Picard are the two main players of “The Last Best Hope”. What was seen in an episodic form in the series is foreshadowed here in prose, but with few surprises? The exploration of Raffi’s family life leads us to understand her sheer loss when Picard announces that he’s resigned from Starfleet, and her seething anger upon seeing him again. Her dedication to the mission is clear in the series, but McCormack gives concrete examples of ways that her advice and counsel helped Picard and company make worlds move; at least, at the beginning of their mission.
Picard’s journey too is about what you would expect. What leads one of Starfleet’s greatest leaders into seclusion and despair back home instead of walking among the stars? The televised series gives us clues, but McCormack builds those clues out through short tales of political intrigue, diplomacy, and humanity that became his hallmark during his time as captain of the Enterprise. The turn of his psyche, starting about halfway through the book and continuing through its full decline at its close is painful to read – emotionally painful. Here we see a man who was, for all purposes, seemingly indefatigable being systematically broken down bit by bit, until only a shell remained.
In covering such a lengthy period of time, McCormack’s choice to share relevant story content in relatively short scenes is both blessing and curse. In some instances, the prose feels right and richly full. In others, such as Captain Clancy’s interaction with Olivia Quest (a Federation council member from a border world) the brevity of the encounter left the mind feeling that much was left to be explored for lack of space. These lacking encounters are, by far, in the minority, but as a reader, I did struggle with this at times.
“The Last Best Hope” offers a much fuller overview of the evolution of the Star Trek universe since the events of “Nemesis” than the series itself, but it still does so from what feels like a bit of altitude. Given the goal of the book, this is fine. Plenty of room is left for other stories to fill in further aspects of the Picard storyline and to explore the genesis of other series characters (Rios, for example, is never mentioned in the book, unless I somehow missed him in passing.) Ultimately, the novel is a solid backstory that will provide readers with value and context as they watch the events of the new series unfold, and is a welcome addition to the bookshelf of any serious Star Trek fan.
A review copy of this book was provided by Gallery Books. The opinions and views expressed in this review are solely those of the reviewer. No compensation, beyond that of providing a review copy, has been provided to the reviewer.