Book Trek #7: Star Trek: The Next Generation – ‘Q-Strike’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 600,000 years ago.

The conclusion of Greg Cox’s three-part exploration of the Q Continuum brings proceedings to a natural and understandable close, as Q manages to win the day over the evil entity 0 (aka Nil) and save reality as we know it. ‘Q-Strike’, thankfully, despite being the longest of the three books, also comes off as the breeziest read of the trilogy.

‘Q-Zone’ spent a significant amount of the page count establishing the central relationship between Q and Nil, which very much reflected an abusive friendship or destructive father/son dynamic; Nil presented himself as a cool, dangerous and exciting role model, but in short order proved thanks to his devastating destruction of the Tkon Empire, when they dared to challenge his omnipotence, that he was little more than a self-aggrandising bully who simply wanted to treat mortals in the universe as his play things. The Q we have seen across The Next Generation and later in Voyager has always been considered to be the ultimate omnipotent trickster, but he never overstepped the boundaries into outright genocide. What ‘Q-Strike’ does is play the line between making Q much more *human* in terms of his character and give him certain shades of grey on his moral compass.

It helps that Nil and his collection of extra-dimensional cronies—the cruel Gorgon, weirdly sadistic (*) and judgemental, apocalyptic The One (aka the bearded God figure from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier)—are truly without any sense of humanity. Cox does an impressive job with Nil of making him demonstrably alien in the truest sense of the word; in one of the more chilling sequences in the book, Nil appears on the Enterprise-E bridge and murders a defenceless crewman, Ensign Clarze, using shadowy, not quite tangible tentacles from his true form, something Lovecraftian in how it can’t quite be glimpsed properly or fully by mortal eyes (perhaps not even fully by Q himself). Clarze had appeared in both previous books so his sudden death does strike something of a cold, vicious chord, and places Nil beyond any sense of redemption.

‘Q-Strike’ also continues to explore the idea that the Q Continuum aren’t quite as omnipotent or God-like as Star Trek has always portrayed them as. They step in like angry parents of Q eons in the past in order to stop Nil and banish him beyond the Galactic Barrier, but it takes a concerted joint effort on their part to contain Nil, aware they can never quite destroy him. There is a sense the Continuum know he is, in technical terms, greater than them on the cosmic sphere, especially given Q can never quite defeat him alone. If Q were truly omnipotent and God-like, nothing would be greater than him or the Continuum. Though their conceited sense of self-worth remains un-checked, ‘Q-Strike’ goes to great lengths to make the point the Q are still just aliens – even if they are among the most advanced in the universe.

Interestingly, Cox also suggests the Prophets in the Bajoran Wormhole, extra-dimensional entities outside of linear time who played such a key role in the mythology of Deep Space Nine, could well be equivalent to the Q in terms of their power. Cox keeps this more to a suggestion but it helps continue the central thematic idea of grounding Q in many ways, with the overarching story having been about the development of an errant, bored child who falls under the sway of a dangerous bully, and ends up having to be bailed out of serious trouble by his disapproving parents – only to later find he must face his childhood bully once more as an ‘adult’, with all of the realisations therein as to what his former influence was always really like.

From that perspective, the Continuum trilogy has nicely managed to delve into a fascinating, formative part of Q’s past through the lens of a very human story, which good Star Trek always does. Q may have always been a self-aggrandising lifeform who delights in testing humanity as a species, largely through Captain Picard, but he was never a bully, and would always play fair if Picard or his crew proved themselves a match for his games. Nil shows the dark flip-side of what would happen if someone with the powers of Q, or worse, was left unchecked to manipulate reality into whatever they pleased; it’s the ultimate cosmic story in many ways, played out on the Star Trek stage, and consequently the Enterprise and her crew can do little but react.

The ship is served much better in ‘Q-Strike’ than the previous book, as Cox puts down certain cosmic rules to ground the final confrontation between Q and the unleashed, crazed Nil on the Enterprise itself, throughout the vessel and even cleverly in a holodeck recreation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest (a thematically apt story). This allows Picard and the rest of the crew more direct involvement in the action, once Picard’s sojourn with Q through his past ends and leaves him with the context to understand the Enterprise’s role in these proceedings. It makes the Enterprise more pivotal to the action, with the Q/Nil conflict, pursuit by the Calamarain, and even the transformation and destructive behaviour of Dr. Lem Faal, the Betazoid scientist to blame for the mess.

Faal and his sub-plot has arguably been the weakest aspect of the trilogy. An utterly unpleasant character to read, Faal’s determination to unleash Nil, in the belief his power would save his life and bring back his dead wife, was easy to guess early on in ‘Q-Space’ when his character was first introduced. The reader always felt one step ahead of the characters in the story when it comes to Faal, and his development here as he tries to corrupt his son Milo (quite well characterised, infact, across the books as a young boy just trying to win his father’s love), feels like a less interesting distraction from the impish, strange and prickly confrontation between Q and Nil. It serves a key purpose to the story, but never reads as particularly addictive.

Ultimately, ‘Q-Strike’ manages to wrap up a story which, as I stated in one of my previous reviews about the preceding novels, probably didn’t need to be a trilogy given the amount of story. It doesn’t particularly delve into any of The Next Generation characters, instead focusing on Q, but this isn’t a bad choice. Greg Cox manages to flesh out some contextual backstory for TNG’s most memorable alien being which makes complete sense when you consider his character across all of his television appearances, even if it can’t be truly considered canon as such.

You won’t likely find more of a cosmic, sprawling and truly alien story in Star Trek than the one Cox plays out here.

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