Alternate History in Star Trek part 12: TNG Spinoffs of the Later Run

By Tom Anderson



In this article, I’ll be looking at the spinoff media – specifically comics and novels – which were produced with the setting of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (TNG) during the later four seasons of that show’s run. In other words, from around 1990 to 1994, following on from the earlier spinoffs we covered in part 8. As I said last time about The Original Series (TOS) spinoffs of this era, while it may sound like only a brief span of years, it was a golden age in terms of quantity of authors churning out books, if not necessarily always one of quality. TNG had hit its stride in terms of popularity, and authors also typically had a better grasp on the characters and setting compared to earlier comics and books. As the setting became more firmly formed and writers were allowed to more explicitly tie it back to the era of TOS (as seen on-screen with episodes such as “Unification” and “Relics”), this also allowed more freedom for crossovers, time-travel stories and, ultimately, alternate history speculation. For this reason, there will be three novels in this period (along with one from TOS which I mentioned in part 11) which I will cover entirely separately in part 13, giving them the space they deserve for a fuller analysis. Here, we’ll look at everything else from TNG non-canon spinoffs in this era (excluding other formats such as video games, which we’ll get to).


As a reminder, the third incarnation of TV Star Trek, Deep Space Nine (DS9) debuted at the beginning of TNG season 6 and ran in parallel with it for two years, which means I will need to awkwardly allude to occasional crossovers between the two which we won’t cover properly until we get to DS9 itself. With that in mind, let’s begin with comics.


Last time in part 8, I had already overshot the year 1990 in covering the Michael Jan Friedman-penned TNG DC Comics series, getting as far as the strange decision to revive Ardra from “Devil’s Due” as an antagonist in storylines circa 1992. This comics series would run as far as 1996, somewhat outlasting the TV series itself, so we may as well go all the way up to the end. I am not personally familiar with most of these, and whoever writes the synopses on Memory Alpha and Beta appears to have largely given up by this point, so there is not a great deal to say for many of these. Although I will say that “Separation Anxiety” is a great title for an issue where the Enterprise uses its saucer separation sequence for once (less SFX budget needed in comics form!) Ensign Ro also gets to be a significant character in these ones.


However, we suddenly arrive in a very relevant topic with a four-part miniseries entitled “The Worst of Both Worlds” which, as one might be able to guess from the title, involves the Borg. Picard and company are thrust into an alternate reality in which the Borg won in “The Best of Both Worlds”, successfully assimilated Earth, and the Enterprise’s stardrive section alone is one of the last ships left, commanded by Riker. If this sounds familiar, it is strikingly similar to the dystopian alternative reality briefly glimpsed in the episode “Parallels”, but these comics came out several months before that episode. It’s not clear if there was any deliberate influence or just parallel (haha) ideas, but it is a striking coincidence. Unfortunately I can’t find enough information about this one to do it justice, but I get the impression that (unlike the glimpse in “Parallels”) our prime crew are able to do something about the Borg victory rather than just striving to get home. This probably represents the most significant comics exploration of an alternative reality, other than the mirror universe, thus far. And, as I said when discussing “Parallels”, a Borg-victory timeline is a far more interesting dystopia than the mirror universe in my view.


Following this miniseries, the novel authors Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens guest-wrote an issue, “Lifesigns”, which is explicitly set in the second season rather than the ‘now’ of the then-current TV episodes (unusually) and also set before their novel “The Captain’s Honour”, which you may remember is the one with the crazy but cool idea of a Starfleet ship crewed by Romans from that one planet in TOS. Michael Jan Friedman then returned with a multi-part storyline beginning with “The Rich and the Dead” about Picard’s love of the noir detective Dixon Hill holoprogram, except (I think?) Q shows up and decides to make it real, as well as shrinking Worf and Troi to the size of dust motes. If I’m right about that (no synopses to work from), that’s actually a really good concept – lets you do the ‘holodeck gone awry’ plot in a way that’s way more reasonable than suggesting life-threatening incidents can just happen with the technology without any interference of this type. Again, by this point the DC Comics were working with a strict timeline (which they even published in the comics!), in this case inserting this storyline after the episode “Rightful Heir”, before then fast-forwarding to the seventh season again for the next comics.


“Children of Chaos” has a significant flashback section involving Picard on the USS Stargazer, an early appearance of Michael Jan Friedman’s interpretation of the Stargazer’s bridge crew (notably Picard’s then-first officer Gilaad Ben Zoma) and Picard’s past. He would later go on to feature this in many later works, including a dedicated novel series that began in 2002. Friedman decided to use the Chalnoth, an anarchist species who had featured in the episode “Allegiance”, for backstory as Picard’s opponents – although this slightly falls down in that Picard needs an antagonist ‘government’ to negotiate with for plot, and the Chalnoth aren’t supposed to have one. To complicate things further, soon afterwards came a storyline where Riker and fellow ex-USS Hood crewmembers reminisce about a past adventure in a flashback (so we get to see clean-shaven Riker again). While all this jumping around can be confusing, it also shows how much more solid the different ‘eras’ of Star Trek were becoming, making them accessible for stories of this kind.


One of the final arcs in the Friedman DC comics was “War and Madness”, the cover of whose trade version tells you everything you need to know: Riker gazes at the floating head of a Borg whose light is shining on a Klingon ship, while a Tholian ship weaves a web below. This one is explicitly set after “All Good Things” and the ending of TNG’s TV adventures, and is one of the earliest re-appearances of the Tholians in the TNG era. The Tholians blame at first the Federation, and then the Klingons, for attacks on their bases. However, it turns out that the attacks were carried out by a stolen Klingon Bird-of-Prey commanded by one of the Borg liberated by Hugh’s individualism from “Descent”, Enab, who thinks the Tholians’ natural organic collective (which they have, apparently) is the key to future advancement. Incidentally, Enab is ‘Bane’ backwards and his appearance is clearly based on that Batman villain. No word on if he is voiced by a vacuum cleaner and later fights an Australian (to quote my mate’s description of “The Dark Knight Rises”). Incidentally, this means that between the prime and beta canon, Klingon Birds-of-Prey have been (1) stolen by Kirk and company in Star Trek III, (2) commandeered by Riker in “A Matter of Honour”, (3) stolen by Ferengi in the backstory to “Rascals”, (4) here stolen by Borg, (5) stolen by Gul Dukat later in DS9, and probably some others I’ve forgotten. The Klingons really need to invest in some better security locks. Ironically, in their first appearance in Star Trek III, Kruge’s ship was originally described in an earlier script draftas a Romulan one he had stolen!


The final Friedman issues are one-shots or two-parters, and really do reveal that ideas were running thin. An issue called “Gateway” does not bring back the Iconians (as I expected) but rather the aliens who abducted crew members in the creepily atmospheric episode “Suspicions”. It also features the USS Hornet, which in this version slightly resembles the USS Voyager and also has a female captain – perhaps a sign of influence, as Star Trek: Voyager had debuted by 1995 when this comic was published. The very last issues have Q turn everyone into an android, which is totally different to that earlier storyline where he turned everyone into a Klingon. And there the second DC run of TNG comics comes to an end.


Throughout this time and before, of course, there had also been accompanying comics in annuals and specials, which we’ll briefly run down. First of all, from the first annual way back in 1990, we have a strikingly-familiar looking storyline attributed to Q actor John de Lancie, although Friedman is credited with supplementary dialogue. Q transports Picard to an alternate timeline with a fascist Federation analogue, and Picard’s family backstory is explored, including a tragic death of a close family member which he is forced to confront. Yes, I think it’s fair to say season 2 of Star Trek: Picard may have taken a wee bit of inspiration, especially given John de Lancie was directly involved with it. All the more remarkable that this was written before “Family” and thirty years before its reprise in “Picard”!


Friedman is explicitly the writer for the next two annual stories: “Thin Ice” from 1991 features a distress call from a captain Riker has a past connection with, and an interesting design for a past ship; “The Broken Moon” (1992) is a self-contained story. Other writers then get involved, Mike W. Barr with “A House Divided” (1993) and “Brother’s Keeper” (1994) by veteran Howard Weinstein. For the final annual story, Weinstein and Friedman teamed up to write “Future Imperilled” (1995), which is the second half of the TOS-TNG pseudo-‘crossover’ which I covered in my previous article. There were also specials, including one by veteran writer Diane Duane told from the perspective of Data’s cat Spot(!) and “Cry Vengeance” (1994) by famed X-Men writer Chris Claremont, which again tried to tell a TNG story that called back to TOS. Friedman’s one-shot “Out of Time” (1994) features Captain Frasier Crane, I mean Morgan Bateson, from “Cause and Effect” struggling to adapt to the 24th century, only to receive advice from fellow time displace-ee Montgomery Scott – a cute idea. This will not be the last appearance of Bateson in spinoff media. Scotty also gets to appear revisiting the Enterprise-A, preserved as a museum ship (apparently) in the one-shot “Old Debts” (1995). Captain Koloth from TOS reappears as an antagonist, one of a few appearances which did not age well (he even died in one of the early DC TOS comics!) when he was brought back as a more sympathetic character in DS9.


Early on, Peter David also did a long-running pseudo-crossover entitled “The Modala Imperative”, with a planet being visited by first the TOS crew and then the TNG crew a hundred years later. Other self-contained miniseries include 1995’s “The Landmark Crossover” (er, I think you forgot to update your working title, Michael) which crosses over TNG and DS9 – we’ll get to that when we introduce DS9 at last. And with that, we have come to the end of DC’s run on TNG’s comics.


Novels next. Last time, we arbitrarily cut off with Peter David’s “Q-in-Law” from 1991, and will now continue along the numbered Pocket Books series. However, it should be noted that it was in this decade that zillions of completely separate novels series started to proliferate, some of which have some novels in the numbered series and not others! So expect things to get complicated, but for now, let’s move on.



Howard Weinstein’s “Perchance to Dream” (1991) is an example of a story that was rejected as a TV script, but reworked into a novel on Michael Piller’s encouragement – focusing on exploring interactions between little-used combinations of characters, in this case Data and Troi being lost on a mission together. “Spartacus” (1992) by T[erry] L. Mancour puts Picard in a dilemma between obeying the Prime Directive and abandoning escaped alien slaves to the less-than-tender mercy of their captors. “Chains of Command” (1992) by Bill McCay and Eloise Flood illustrates how novel writers have a tendency to accidentally use episode titles or slight variations before the original episodes do (see also ‘Masks’, ‘Sarek’, etc.) and, oddly, is also about Picard in a moral dilemma concerning the Prime Directive and a slave revolt. That’s a bit of a back-to-back coincidence!


“Imbalance” (1992) by V. E. Mitchell brings back the Jarada, an insectoid race mentioned a few times in early TNG that never caught on as an antagonist – they will also appear again in some other spinoff books. John Vornholt returns to TNG with “War Drums” (1992), in which Worf has to help solve a dispute involving young feral Klingons on a colony planet. And, again with the weird coincidences, the next book “Nightshade” (1992) by Laurell K. Hamilton, also features Worf negotiating a peace between two warring factions on a planet! If this happens again, according to Ian Fleming, it’s enemy action.


“Grounded” (1993) by David Bischoff is one I’ve read myself due to my school library having it. While the story isn’t that interesting, what I like about it is that it feels like a very ‘reality ensues’ take on your average TNG (or Star Trek in general) episode. A mysterious alien life form has infected the Enterprise-D and is slowly consuming the ship. However, rather than this being resolved by the end of the ‘episode’, we get told the events in flashback while Picard and co. are gloomily crammed into a booth in a dingy bar on a starbase. They have been told by Starfleet that the Enterprise will be destroyed by photon torpedoes as they couldn’t stop the life form and can’t risk it spreading further, and the crew will soon be split up and assigned to new ships. Of course, it’s all avoided and worked out in the end, but it works well as a subversion to the usual format.


“The Romulan Prize” (1993) by Simon Hawke features the Enterprise encountering a new, advanced, prototype Romulan vessel, which the cover artist evidently didn’t get the memo on. “Guises of the Mind” (1993) by Rebecca Neason is another one I’ve read because my school library had it (I don’t think this counts as enough of a coincidence for Ian Fleming, just a consequence of publication dates!) This was actually Neason’s first writing and started out as a TOS story before being shifted to TNG. It’s Troi-centric and focuses on her empathic powers, as well as noting she was bullied at school for not being a full telepath like other Betazoids (something which I feel should’ve been brought up in the show itself). Troi has to help a human nun who is a telepath herself but has always denied it and tried to hide, while the ship is on a mission to the planet Capulon IV, which plans to join the Federation. Its people used to be telepathic, but this is now suppressed, other than their king. Their new king Joakal is kidnapped before his coronation and replaced with his identical twin brother who was stolen at birth, or something. (Notably Joakal, well-meaning but naive, did offer to share the throne and was delighted on meeting his brother – memorable scene). Naturally, the secret to finding the truth lies with the nun embracing her telepathic powers. What I found particularly memorable about this one was how it deals with matters of faith, which are usually either neglected or feature clumsy or offensive portrayals in Star Trek – fish trying to write about the flight of an eagle. By contrast, this one is thoughtful about it, and the portrayal of the Capulon people’s monotheism is just different enough to remind you they’re aliens (e.g. always referring to the God with the definite article, never God alone).


Yeah, definitely just publication dates, as more ones that my school library had and I’ve read are coming up now. “Here There Be Dragons” (1993) by John Peel (no, not that one – though this one is British and worked with Terry Nation) involves the crew coming across a planet in a nebula inhabited by 12 German villages from the Middle Ages, which were scooped up by the Preservers from TOS and deposited here. (Star Trek authors really, really like using the Preservers). It’s implied that the end goal was to see what happens if you put them on a planet where dragons are actually real, hence the title. Meanwhile, some ne’er-do-wells from Federation space have found the world and set up shop here, using Clarke’s Third Law to pretend to be magicians with phasers and transporters as their magic, while actually here to hunt the dragons. An away team goes undercover; memorably, Data uses the alias ‘Dieter’(!) and, when Picard eventually has to explain his true nature to a local scholar named Michael Kirsch, Kirsch readily accepts the idea of an android by interpreting Data as Picard’s alchemical homunculus. It’s basically Eric Flint’s 1632 in reverse. We also get to hear about how the locals have rationalised their history (Kirsch having been punished for critiquing this doctrine of history) by arguing that just as there were 12 tribes of Israel and 12 disciples of Christ, only 12 villages were raptured to this new world. The story ends with the planet being cut off against and the baddies being brought to justice, but an automated outpost of the ‘Preserver Union’ notes to itself that, ironically, this unwanted outside interference has broken the villages out of their stagnant state and led to new developments.


“Sins of Commission” (1994) is the first Trek work by Susan Wright, who would later be noted for bringing quite a lot of sex into her books, but this one more focuses on Worf as a detective hunting down a villain. “Debtors’ Planet” (1994) by W[illiam] R[och] Thompson concerns a plot by the Ferengi and others to uplift a planet protected by the Prime Directive and turn its people into a weapon against the Federation. “Foreign Foes” (1994) by Dave Galanter and Greg Brodeur is another one my school library had; Brodeur is Diane Carey’s husband, and the story evolved from a possible TNG script they worked on in the first season. The planet Velex has been fought over between the Klingons and an enemy race of theirs which we never hear of before or since, the Hidrans (they don’t even have an article on Memory Beta!) This aspect is a bit silly, but is nothing new for Star Trek, that a significant galactic power can just be never brought up except in one or two episodes (e.g. the Tzenkethi in DS9). Having said that, the plot is really interesting and evocative of a detective novel, in that the one key to the unfolding mystery (a Hidran ambassador is killed and Worf is on trial for murder) seems to be a passing event with no connection with anything. Data, though he doesn’t need to eat, tries some of the planet Velex’s grain, then researches the Hidrans before the upcoming peace summit, reading the logs of some of their veterans who have fought the Klingons. It turns out that the planet’s grain contains nanotechnology from an earlier race of aliens who had uplifted it, which is harmless to organic beings but has affected Data’s positronic brain, making him overly influenced by the Hidrans’ biased accounts. All the events of the story were due to Data acting behind the scenes, and the book ends with a climax of Data hijacking the Enterprise and planning to attack the Klingon homeworld. It’s a rare appearance in the novels of the fact that Data seems to almost destroy the Enterprise as often as he saves it!


“Requiem” (1994) by Michael Jan Friedman and Kevin Ryan (both authors of the contemporary comics series, as we’ve seen) interestingly brings back the Gorn from TOS, and states that Picard has negotiated with them in past. But then Picard is flung back in time to the Gorn’s original appearance in the TOS episode “Arena”, finding himself on the planet Cestus III days before the massacre by the Gorn. This is an interesting idea, as it’s a contrast between someone here and now trying to move past a bloody historical episode with being confronted with the reality of it. The book does portray Cestus III as now a desolate planet in Gorn space by the days of TNG, whereas DS9 would eventually mention that a new human colony has been planted there and even has a baseball team from a city named after Captain Pike.


“Balance of Power” (1994) by Daffyd ab Hugh, a man with the Welshest name in existence but who sounds more Californian than Bill and Ted in his forewords and afterwords, is another one I read at the time. A mad scientist has produced a load of inventions which may or may not change the balance of power (title drop) in the quadrant and they will now be auctioned off on his death. Geordi was tutored by this scientist, but is convinced he was a charlatan and there’s nothing to any of it. Due to a weird comedy of errors, Picard ends up negotiating on behalf of the Klingons (having been picked due to his service as Arbiter of Succession) while the only sufficiently senior Starfleet officer near the auction who can negotiate for the Federation (and who isn’t Geordi, who refuses to pay anything for it) is...Worf. Yes, the fact that the Federation isn’t supposed to use money is addressed, and the fact that the main medium for exchange is gold-pressed latinum, as it can’t be replicated. Except Wesley Crusher’s supergenius roommate at the academy has just co-invented a device that lets you replicate it, potentially destroying the economy of all of known space...and it’s just fallen into the hands of a Ferengi. It’s an enjoyable tale, but comes with the predictable punchline that, yes, Geordi was right and it turns out the scientist’s alleged superweapon is a useless piece of junk.


We’ll leave it there for the mainline TNG novels, but also take a look at some of the separate ‘giant’ novels and others from this era. The first of these was “Metamorphosis” (1990) by Jean Lorrah, in which Data is actually transformed into a human for a brief time. A year later the same plot would appear in the Red Dwarf episode “DNA” but this is probably a coincidence. Next came “Vendetta” (1991) by Peter David, which I have already alluded to in a number of past articles about Star Trek. This story sums up a lot of what David brought to TNG-era novels; his love of bringing back concepts and races from TOS that others would prefer to forget, his worldbuilding using established minor characters, and much more. “Vendetta” was mostly written as a follow-up to “The Best of Both Worlds”, intended to show the Borg’s first reappearance after that. In some ways, it’s a time capsule of attitudes about the Borg back then. For example, we see a planet where a Borg ship is scooping its cities from the surface, assimilating its computers and ignoring its people, rather than assimilating them. Ironically, David was forced to add a disclaimer saying his interpretation of the Borg was different to the on-screen one, just because he portrayed two people as being assimilated, and the editors didn’t want to imply it was that common! One of those characters, a human smuggler named Reannon Bonaventure who was taken out in the void, may have been an inspiration for Seven of Nine – though her story ends much more tragically, as she is unable to regain her humanity and ultimately ends up committing suicide. (Apparently the editorial punch-up with Richard Arnold was also because they didn’t want there to be female Borg, bizarrely). The other assimilated character is a Ferengi named Turane, who rather optimistically thinks he can do a trade deal with the Borg, only to be assimilated and become a spokesman named ‘Vastator of Borg’ (you see, back then David was thinking of how Locutus is a Latin title, and...) The other early weirdness is that Turane’s first officer is named Martok – which creates a bizarre mental image when that name was later used for a Klingon general in DS9!


The other aspect of “Vendetta”’s plot involves a mysterious woman named Delcara (not ‘Declara’ as it says on the back cover!) who is the last survivor of a race wiped out by the Borg. Consumed by hatred, she declares ‘I am vendetta!’ (title drop) and once appeared to Picard in a dream when he was still at the academy with a rival named Morgan Korsmo. In that class, Picard learned about the Planet Killer that Captain Kirk and crew stopped in the TOS episode “The Doomsday Machine” and speculated that it might just be a prototype for a bigger and badder machine, because shut up. Turns out that Delcara has indeed found the full-scale doomsday machine, which Picard speculates was built by the Preservers (do you see what I mean?) Though Delcara’s main target is the Borg and she partly saves that planet mentioned earlier from assimilation, she is not shy about eating anyone’s star systems on the way to refuel the weapon. This leads to conflicts with races including the Gorn and the Tholians, and may be the first appearance of those races in the TNG setting in terms of chronological publication. Also involved in the action is the USS Chekov, which is captained by Picard’s bitter old rival Korsmo, and his first officer is Commander Shelby from “The Best of Both Worlds”. This establishes several characters who will later move on to the USS Excalibur, the setting of David’s later “Star Trek: New Frontier” series. In the end, both Delcara and Vastator of Borg are destroyed in the final confrontation.


“Reunion” (1991) by Michael Jan Friedman is the first appearance of his aforementioned Stargazer crew and setting via flashbacks; at the time he did not think he would be able to reuse the characters and setting, but, as said above, he would eventually do so. “The Devil’s Heart” (1993), the final Star Trek work by Carmen Carter, introduces some ideas that may have influenced the later episode “Gambit”, with Picard racing to find a mysterious and powerful artefact that affected many civilisations in the past.


We will leave it there, as the remaining three ‘Giant’ novels published before 1995 are also the three I want to devote an entire article to, along with the TOS novel “First Frontier”. All four of these, the others being “Dark Mirror” by Diane Duane, and Peter David’s “Imzadi” and “Q-Squared”, involve alternate history and time travel as a central factor to their plots. For that reason, I will see you next time in part 13 to explore these four stories alone.

 

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Tom Anderson is the author of many SLP books including the Look To The West series (Diverge and Conquer, Uncharted Territory, Equal and Opposite Reactions, Cometh the Hour, To Dream Again), The Twilight's Last Gleaming, Not An English Word, The Curse of Maggie, The Unreformed Kingdom, The Surly Bonds of Earth and Well met by Starlight.