Book Review: ‘Second Self’ by Una McCormack

September 20, 2022 at 11:01 am | Posted in Books, Reviews, Sci-Fi, Star Trek | Leave a comment
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Star Trek Picard: Second Self is the newest Star Trek novel in the Picard line of novels published by Gallery Books. It was written by Una McCormack and was released in September of 2022. 

The first thing I’ll say about this book is that it is a long time coming. We have not had a Star Trek novel in almost ten months since Deep Space Nine: Revenant came out last year. As such, there has been such a drought of Trek publishing that fans have been itching for a new release. This book was scheduled for release in May, but due to paper shortages kept getting pushed back to September. As such, this book has an important role in the history of Star Trek publishing.

While Picard is on the cover of the book, he actually has very little page time in the book. This really is Raffi’s book, along with Elnor and another character. As such, I think that Raffi actually makes a compelling primary character. She really has been the glue throughout the Picard novels thus far (Ironic that she is the glue, and not Picard, since the series is named after him). 

This book tackles many difficult themes that Una McCormack is famous for. Her previous books all deal with war or post-war societies, and she examines the ideas of redemption for war crimes and justice for war crimes. Those themes are what made The Crimson Shadow an amazing book, and her other thematic explorations are what made The Last Best Hope one of the best standalone Star Trek novels. Those two books alone made me an Una McCormack fan. Unfortunately, this book tries to tackle these deeper themes, but fails due to the confusing plot and the character continuity issues. 

The biggest issue I have with this book is it’s character continuity issue. This book follows Raffi’s search to find (spoiler redacted). This individual, who will be well known to many a Star Trek watcher and reader, takes an incredible prominence in the book, despite being left out of the marketing and treated like a mystery in the first third of the book. It is for that reason that I am trying my best to avoid spoiling the identity of this character. 

However, this is one of the few times where my “continuity” self cannot let go of my brain. This spoiler character has some major roles in the post-Nemesis line of Star Trek novels and I cannot help but like their appearance in that line rather than here. Ironically, Una McCormack was the primary writer of that character in those books, so its funny to have her succeed so strongly in those books but fail so miserably here. 

My other primary issue with the book is the plotline. This story is set up in five parts. Parts one and five are in the present (2399). Parts two and four are a flashback to just after the Dominion War in 2375-2376. Part three is a flashback to a flashback to 2340, during the Occupation. It makes sense within the structure of the book, but having half of the book as flashbacks and less then half in the present makes it very frustrating. Had McCormack had more time in the present, these flashbacks would have worked better. I think this is why John Jackson Miller’s Prey trilogy worked so well, as the flashbacks in those books was less than a third of each book, whereas here it makes up the bulk of the story.

In addition to the flashback issues, we are largely following the flashbacks of this spoiler character, and since that character is prominent in other Trek literature, it is frustrating to see their story twisted in these flashbacks and to be made even more melancholy. What made the post-Nemesis line so great was its sense of hope and its sense of redemption. Both are present here, but they are drowned out by this sense of dread, depression, and tragedy. This book has little to no humor, and it hurts it significantly. 

If there are some good moments in this book, it comes from Elnor and Raffi’s relationship. They have a good dynamic throughout, and I would like to see a book where Elnor serves as the sidekick/comic-relief/”Watson” to another Picard character (a Rios/Elnor novel would be spectacular!). I also enjoyed Picard’s moments in the book, and his interaction with Laris (although, he should have had a much bigger role). 

This book also serves as a good bridge book for Picard seasons one and two. Since I have only seen season one, this book came just at the right time. I might just watch season two now that I have all of the necessary set up.

Overall, I’m actually pretty let down by this book. First of all, it’s a depressing book. That worked really well for The Last Best Hope, and actually served as a way to establish the tone of this line, but it was a detriment here. Also, this is the first book in months and there is an expectation that it should have knocked it out of the park and led the way for a new era of Trek publishing. Instead, the new era begins on a whimper. I give Picard: Second Self a three out of five. It was ok, but ultimately failed to keep up with it’s Picard-novel predecessors.

Reviewed By: Jonathan Koan for Roqoo Depot.

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