Monday, 9 July 2018

Picard: In His "Own" Words

Nearly three years ago I tapped out a review of David A Goodman's Autobiography of Captain James T Kirk.

Now, with the Autobiography of Spock soon to hit the shelves I've turned my attention to the second in his series which takes us to one Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Beware, there might be SPOILERS ahead.

Again an "autobiography", this second book stays firmly in the mold of the first giving us a full narrative from early years right through to - in the case of Picard - his twilight years in the ambassadorial corps.

Goodman's grasp of the lineage of the character is excellent and his knowledge of The Next Generation and Picard (of course) is exemplary. The influence of episodes such as Family and Tapestry are there from the beginning talking us through his early years at the Picard vineyard in France to his first and second attempts to join Starfleet which would eventually reveal more to his increasingly distant father than Jean-Luc initially imagined. There is indeed a great deal of detail within the events Goodman is "editing" for the former captain.

We join Picard as he steps through the tough Academy years, reliving the time he won the Academy Marathon as recounted in The Best of Both Worlds and meet up with Admiral (Captain as was) Hansen on the occasion, even take a few steps on the Enterprise-C which is odd since this was never even mentioned on screen - even in Yesterday's Enterprise when you would most have expected it.

Martha Botanides and Corey Zweller make appearances too (but their exit is far too convoluted) as do Guinan (many times!), the Crusher family and in fact many more notables from Picard's past. Even old flames - as they would be by the time of The Next Generation such as Olivia Dubois and Jenice Manheim from The Measure of a Man and  We'll Always Have Paris do a turn in the book allowing us to "see" their first encounters with the future Enterprise captain and in some respects make more sense of their later reunions with him and the reasons for their attitudes towards Jean-Luc.

There is a great deal of the book handed over to events that take place right up to the point at which Picard takes command of the Enterprise-D with meticulous attention to the years on the USS Stargazer and how he made his way through the ranks to become the ship's captain.

While a fascinating read it does have a few drawbacks which become apparent fairly quickly. The pre-Enterprise years, while interesting and deeply "researched" do feel as though they go on for a considerable amount of time in some ways forcing the appearance of future The Next Generation characters just for the sake of name dropping them in. It also means that his command years on NCC-1701-D are heavily condensed with only one event from each of the seven seasons being used and his most famous period of exploits being shoddily condensed. We get Conspiracy, We'll Always Have Paris, The Best of Both Worlds, Family, Unification and it goes without saying, The Inner Light, all receiving attention with the four motion pictures getting a shot too for good measure but certainly there's more of a leaning towards Generations and First Contact than the others indicating a certain authorial preference just as was with The Final Frontier? What about Darmok? I could pick more...

It is a crackingly entertaining read and does avoid the pitfall of making part of the main character's existence into an almost-joke as Goodman did with Star Trek V in his Kirk book. I'm not for a second suggesting that this should be taken and presented as canon because there's a bit in there that does feel a tad convoluted and I'd draw your attention to how a lot of notables from his past get killed off conveniently at Wolf 359.

Post Nemesis is where fans will certainly have a lot to say with not only Picard marrying Beverly Crusher but there's what could be seen as a highly controversial story move in regards to B4 that isn't one handled by the continuing novel series by rival publishers Simon and Schuster (this is published by Titan Books). 

It does get quite speculative in these later pages but I suppose there are always the possibilities of alternative futures and the like so anything can - and therefore will - happen. While Goodman's book is a great read I feel that the tone isn't quite Jean-Luc enough. There's a certain aloofness, perhaps a little more ego than I might have expected or anticipated to the writing which doesn't seem in keeping with the Enterprise captain and, if I'm honest, didn't feel that different to the tone of the Kirk autobiography. 

I mean you do feel for Picard when he's recounting his assimilation by the Borg and some of his early relationship issues with his brother but otherwise it feels very average on the emotional scale. That might be by design but I imagined Picard writing something with a bit more of a flourish to it than Goodman has managed. It also, as suggested betrays the author's preferences when it comes to events within the known 24th Century timeline. There are of course elements that you can't ignore but what of Dixon Hill for instance?

There is that rather ironic twist to the tale in that we've only recently had news that Patrick Stewart could be returning to his most famous TV role very soon - which means that a bug chunk of this title could be incorrect within a matter of months and along with those little inconsistencies which could be from a case of trying too hard to cram in as many cross-references as possible, this doesn't sit as well with me as Goodman's first tome on the captain of NCC-1701.

While I have my reservations here over the way in which Picard is presented from his own perspective, it is a book packed with fan-nodding references and a lot of love for the franchise. It's entertaining from the beginning and I did absolutely rip through it in a couple of days just in the same way as I did with the previous Kirk autobiography. One for fans of The Next Generation whatever their interest level I think!

Have you dipped into the Picard authobiography? What was your verdict?

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