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Okay, so what WAS I thinking? In my desire to relive some of the greatness that was Star Trek the Next Generation (STNG) I thought I would read one of the novels. After all, it doesnt have to be genius to be a good read and since my dream of a new version of STNG on either AMC or HBO will likely never happen the only place to get more STNG is by reading. That said, I did my homework and this novel is the highest rated of the STNG novels on Amazon. I thought How could I go wrong?The premise is simple. Data gets to be human. Finally. Not just Data gets to have emotions or he pretends to be human on the holodeck. Nope. This book goes for broke by actually imagining a scenario that puts Data squarely into a brand new 27 year old body - you know, because apparently Data is 27.So, how is this achieved? I dont know. I dont think the author knows either and, frankly, I dont think either of us care. Thats not the point. The author does invent some crazy plot device about a planet with only nine habitable zones where per-technological people live. The planet also has some crazy mountain on it that people quest to and, to spare you about a 100 pages of reading, Data gets sucked into a quest, succeeds and, in a turn right out of AD&D, is rewarded with 10,000 exp, a magic item and one wish. Im just kidding about the exp and magic item but he does get the wish.Anyway, so hes human. So what? Well this idea of what Data is or what Data wants to be and why is really the best part of the book. The novel starts right after the episode of STNG where Data is put on trial and determined to be an actual living being. Thats right, they cant turn him off, take him apart, figure out what makes him tick, and build 1,000s other Datas. Nope. Data is a real, if unique, life form. Its a good couple of episodes - better than this book actually. You should go watch them again.This placement in the STNG cannon gives this book some of its best moments. It does this by actually letting you see the ramifications of those episodes, namely by reminding us it was none other than Cmdr. Wm. Riker who was prosecuting Data and making the case that he was not a life form. This makes Cmdr. Riker very unpopular with the Enterprise crew and, given that he is their commanding officer, things are awkward to say the least amongst the principle characters when this story begins. This is by no means a crucial part of the story but it is the kind of additional back story I was very much looking for in an STNG novel. And, frankly, it accomplished a miracle even larger than the transformation of Data into a human, it made me like Dr. Pulaski. There, I wrote it for all the world to see. Her character in this book was one of my.... its hard to actually type this out.... favorites. How is that even possible? Was she really Q in disguise? Did Worf sing enough Klingon opera to cause me to have a aneurism? Nope. I liked her because she was saying the kind of smart ass stuff I was thinking as I read this. A rare voice of reason in a narrative thoroughly lacking them.Speaking of Dr. Pulaski, its her observation that forms a theme in this novel. Namely, why is Data so obsessed with being a human when what he should really be doing is figuring out how to be the kick ass android he really is? Essentially she acknowledges that, frankly, there are tons of advantages to being an android and, really, not that many to being human. Also, she points out why on earth does Data want to be some other life form now that he is finally an official life form all his own? She does a really nice job of constantly pointing out his tunnel vision and reminding the reader of the conceit that being a human really the obvious end game for any robot, android, or silicon based intelligence. I found this point of view refreshing and wished it had been explored more.That would have to be the major weakness of this book, and one the editor should have tried harder to remedy. There are so many missed opportunities here and a lot of time is spent on things that just dont matter. For example, this rift among the crew is covered in about a dozen pages. Its fascinating and something that works much better in a novel than in a TV show. It humanizes the crew and makes you see them as people but, given the time devoted to it, it comes across as shallow. The quest, by comparison, makes up between a third to a one half of the book. Im not kidding. What a waste of space. Its written like campaign module from beginning to end including the pointless NPC, a native woman who accompanies Data on his quest, fulfills her own, disappears, and makes as heartless and stupid cameo at the end of the novel, encounters (you see a Bear/Monkey creature coming down the hallway - roll for initiative!), and, no kidding, more than one point where Data has to choose from a door on the left or a door on the right. All Data needed to do to make it complete was check for traps, hide his gold in a tree, and cast magic missile.The final third to half of the book is actually very interesting and should have been expanded. Data, now human, has to go with the crew to deal with a very complex situation on another planet. An alien race is calling for help as its being wiped out by invaders they cant stop and who wont negotiate with them. The author does a great job setting up the drama here and you really feel for this race as their planet is getting taken over step by step. However, with a thoughtful twist this cut and dried scenario, which should easily be resolved with some precision phasers blasts from orbit, gets complicated when its revealed that the alien invaders are really just a sub-group of the main alien race whove experienced a genetic mutation that makes them look different and possess extremely powerful psychic powers. That last point is irrelevant except for the fact that once this conflict turns from alien invaders to civil war the prime directive comes into play. These leads to some excellent conflict among the crew as they find themselves in a front row seat for genocide with no legal way to stop it. Roll into the above plot Data dealing with the loss of most of this cool android abilities, super recall of information, enhanced strength, speed, and durability, senses beyond the human range, and add in the very real human draw backs of eating, fatigue, and emotions like frustration and you get a wonderful illustration of Dr. Pulaskis question about why on earth would you want to be human?This part of the book should have been the whole book. I wish the author would have just started at this point and explained Datas transformation in flashback or something. This prime directive conflict was just fascinating and watching the crew try to solve it made for some excellent reading, especially after the painful Data & the Quest of Boring Mountain that preceded it. Okay, but this is STNG right? I mean, its a show famous for returning everything to the status quo five minutes before the end of the episode and since Data is clearly not a human we know he has to get changed back before the end of the novel. Well, in order to do that the author comes up with a completely convoluted love story for Data that drives him, Last of the Mohicans style, back to the Boring Mountain planet and right into the path of the even more boring NPC lady from his mind numbing quest at the beginning of the novel. Once there the author again gins up some kind of excuse to undo Datas wish, I swear I read it but I really dont know what the hell actually happened, and in so doing he returns Data back in time to the point at which Data chose to go on his stupid quest in the first place only this time Data wisely avoids that lame trip to D&D hell by beaming the hell off the planet before it can happen again.At this point you would think the book was over right? Wrong. Apparently the author loved his prime directive plot as much as I did so its at this point that he decides to subject you to it all over again. Im not kidding. The book then goes on to show you how the prime directive part of this book would be completely different if Data was his usual android self and not a stupid, slow, weak, smelly human. In fact, it becomes clear that the largely failed mission in this book can only be successful if Data is, in fact, an android. This might be an interesting idea if only the author had not chosen to practically rewrite the whole end of the book all over again with almost no story compression. Im not kidding. I found myself able to skip pages of this novel because, aside from Data being an android, they were exactly the same as the pages when he was a human. Talk about padding. Cut. Paste. Replace human with android. Add 100 pages to the book.While disappointing I cant say I completely hated this book. I went in with low expectations and they were met. I think it will keep me from reading any more of these novelizations in the future but it will make me wish somebody somewhere would take these characters seriously and give them the venue they deserve. Im serious. There is SO much potential here if only somebody would stop selling this material short, tell good stories, provoke interesting discussions of complex ideas, and reward Star Trek fans who are still able to discern crap from solid gold writing. Im sure I will be dead and buried before this happens but a fan can still hope.

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