Review by C.J. Bunce
Of all the new characters created since Scott Bakula’s Enterprise went off the air and J.J. Abrams and Alex Kurtzman took the reins of the Star Trek franchise, one of the best contributions is Santiago Cabrera’s Cristóbal Rios, captain of the vessel La Sirena, a ship staffed by a motley myriad of holograms that mirror Rios’s image. In John Jackson Miller’s new Star Trek: Picard tie-in novel Rogue Elements, readers will learn the back story of Rios, how he got his ship, and how he was destined to have a run-in with Jean-Luc Picard, sooner or later. A familiar brand of space pilot, call him rogue or scoundrel or buckaroo, Rios had encounters before the days of Star Trek: Picard–the series–with several characters you’ll know well from Star Trek: The Next Generation and beyond, including the most ruthless villain the Enterprise-D may have ever faced. Star Trek: Picard–Rogue Elements is just out, available now here at Amazon and bookstores everywhere.
Nausicaans, dead Ferengi, and dead Klingons? Oh, my!
First off, you can’t review this book without discussing the novel’s major, surprising protagonist. I, for one, view the NextGen episode The Most Toys in the top two of all Star Trek stories. If all of Star Trek is a question, that question is “What does it mean to be human?” The key actors asking this question have been Spock, Data, the EMH, or Emergency Medical Hologram, and Seven of Nine. In NextGen, no conflict ever raised this question to the fore more than when the conniving, ruthless villain and collector supreme Kivas Fajo murdered his loyal assistant with a Varon-T disruptor–the banned weapon that turns the victim inside out, giving the android Data a sudden choice to eliminate Fajo and prevent further deaths. When confronted about his decision by Commander Riker, he had to decide whether to lie about it. In that moment Data became probably the most human of his entire existence. Fajo was imprisoned for his crimes, and worse for him, he lost his valued collection of rarities (including the only existing Roger Maris baseball card and a Salvador Dalí painting). But apparently as Boba Fett goes, so does Saul Rubinek’s Kivas Fajo. And if you’re a fan of the character like me, you’re going to be happy to see him turn up in Rogue Elements.
Some of the most fun you can have in Star Trek fiction happens when writers can take off their gloves, roll up their sleeves, and pull in key aliens from throughout the 55 years of the franchise. But how exactly do historic Romulans relate to dead Klingons, and how do a key friend from Picard’s Starfleet Academy days (and annoying Q visits) and frenemies from a Picard vacation to Risa affect whether or not Rios is ever going to be able to pay off the purchase of his ship? Why is that ship so big on the inside, like a Firefly class ship in another series? What’s with the Orphan Black ship holograms, all the books, and this strange Tox Uthat-esque plot device, this future Rubik’s cube/Tesseract/Magic 8 Ball thingy? How did Rios know Michelle Hurd’s Raffi before the events in the TV series?
As I mentioned in my review of the series (here), Star Trek: Picard is refreshing for several reasons, especially for fans of Star Trek Voyager, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and J.J. Abrams’ Kelvin timeline movies. It had much to overcome, including a fan base as disparate, fierce, loyal, and argumentative as Star Wars or any other major franchise. And 21st century Star Trek has real parallels to 21st century Star Wars. Star Trek: Picard seems to be more in common in vibe, tone, and accessibility with The Mandalorian than the Star Wars third sequel films, which focused more on steering the narrative into new places and challenging canon like Star Trek: Discovery. It makes sense this would happen with so many players in common behind the scenes. Star Trek: Picard finds a nice balance, with adequate fan service via a believable continuation of beloved character storylines, coupled with the introduction of a new generation of characters both written well and supported with good acting talent.
Miller fleshes out Rios like you would if you were exploring Han Solo for the first time. Or Firefly’s Mal Reynolds. Or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In a big way Miller’s novel is reminiscent of the original Star Wars Marvel Comic book series after Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin and Rick Hoberg wound up the movie adaptation. Those subsequent issues embraced the space Western trope as Miller does in Rogue Elements–including scheming Butch and Sundance efforts to complete a job and a rogue forming his own band of seven magnificent samurai types. What would you as Star Trek fan do if you could help build the next intergalactic rogue scoundrel? You’d add a sprinkle from all the above, along with a helping of the lovable faults of Star Trek greats Will Riker and Tom Paris. And that’s just what Miller does here. Along with a character pulled from the original series, who knows a thing or two about playing you at a hand of Fizzbin.
If you haven’t read Miller’s work before, all you need to know is his 2014 Star Wars novel, A New Dawn (reviewed here at borg), is one of the best tie-in novels of all the Star Wars expanded universe tales, more smartly written than Heir to the Empire and its progeny of novels–and beloved by its franchise’s fans. Rogue Elements is a similarly fun space ride.
Forget about the drama. It’s not Shakespeare (but he is relevant to this story). Come for the fun. Great, familiar guest characters from the past, spacefaring and business tactics, a big-time auction, and cool new holo-tech. Just out in hardcover from Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, John Jackson Miller’s Star Trek: Picard–Rogue Elements is available now here at Amazon. And catch up with all ten episodes of Star Trek: Picard, streaming on Paramount Plus and here via Amazon Prime, and available on Blu-ray and DVD here.