I think law and precedent are on my side when I say the arrival of Star Trek: Picard means that every day is now Captain Picard Day. The other thing it means, of course, is that I’ve been lured back for my umpteenth re-watch of Jean-Luc Picard’s original adventures on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
If you, like me, are missing the crew of the USS Enterprise-D, may you find some solace in these read-alikes curated for your particular character preferences.
Let’s start with the man himself. Through each re-watch of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Picard’s qualities as a leader and the gulf between him and seemingly most of Starfleet command become more striking. He’s put in endless dangerous, ethically complex situations, and he manages (with the help of his crew) to come out the other side. Temperamentally, Zan, of Hurley’s queer, feminist space odyssey, differs wildly from Picard. But she faces a similarly isolating predicament as a pawn in the conflict between two warring sides for control of the Legion, a flotilla of decaying organic world-ships.
Is that a gun in your pocket, or have you just been to Risa? Oh, to find a book that captures the mischievous twinkle in the eye of everyone’s favorite chief lech, William T. Riker. Chen’s thriller blends levity and action in a way that mirrors Riker’s personality. After bungling a mission, a spy by the nickname of Kangaroo is forced to take a “vacation” on an interplanetary pleasure cruise. A double murder onboard turns this into a working vacation, with plenty for wise-cracking Kangaroo and his handy personal extra-dimensional portal to investigate.
Commander Data and Murderbot are two very different sentient androids, but they share something unique and important: an unerring fascination with humanity and all its messy parts. Wells’s series tells its story from the perspective of Murderbot, a security bot who hacked its governor module to become self-aware and oh-so-snarky. While Data spends his time on the Enterprise wishing to be human, Murderbot is largely dismissive of the humans around it. But it’s deeply engrossed with so much of the human experience—particularly our soap operas.
A Klingon raised by humans is the ultimate outsider story. So too is Binti’s. The first of the Himba people to gain acceptance to Oomza University, Binti gives up her family and everything she knows on Earth to pursue new knowledge among the stars. Her way forward is dangerous—pockmarked by increasing interstellar tensions—and made all the more difficult by the loneliness of her identity. Any number of Worf’s story arcs connect to this same theme. If that’s a topic you connect with, this trilogy of novellas will feel like a homecoming.
With the exception of that business with the Scottish ghost, Dr. Beverly Crusher is a reasonable, level-headed center in near-constant Enterprise chaos. As a character, she shines in sorting through that chaos aboard the ship, and she likely could help Rosemary Harper, who joins the aging Wayfarer and its ragtag crew as a clerk in the first book of Chambers’s series. When the Wayfarer scores a lucrative job, life on board becomes dangerous and unpredictable. But the most interesting part of the journey is how this diverse, unusual found family reacts to those obstacles.
Central to Drayden’s bizarro trip through space is an emphasis on empathy. Set centuries after humans fled a ravaged Earth, the story takes place inside the belly of a giant space beast, which humans have carved (literally) into their own starship. On twin tracks, two young women uncover the dirty, uncomfortable secrets that keep their stratified, leeching society alive. Those who admire or envy Counselor Deanna Troi’s empathic abilities will feel equally in touch with their emotions after turning the last page.
Geordi La Forge is defined by his quick wit and his engineering expertise. If that’s your cup of tea, sky surgeon Alana Quick likely will be too. Desperate for work and in need of medication for a genetic condition, Alana stows away on the Tangled Axon, a cargo ship in need of TLC. She hopes that pluck will land her a long-term gig. But she gets more than she bargained for in the crew of the Axon, the members of which are strange in their own unique ways. While companionship and romance bloom, conspiracy and danger threaten the Tangled Axon at every turn.
Admittedly, trying to select a perfect read-alike for a long-lived, bartending alien Whoopi Goldberg was a challenge. But Guinan’s El-Aurian identity, and the long view it gives her of time and space, makes Merritt’s Pilot X a decent fit. The titular pilot is Alendan, a member of a race that has mastered the rules of time, able to roam freely through it. Unfortunately, this is no breezy romp; as happens with time travel, things get messy. When our pilot and his quirky time-ship find themselves in the middle of a secretive time war, things get messy indeed.
Wesley fan, huh? A bold choice. It deserves an equally bold novel that understands Wesley’s chronic adolescent FOMO. The restless teen at the heart of Mirror in the Sky is Tara Krishnan, a biracial high school junior struggling to fit in with the cliques of her prep school. The course of Tara’s life, however, is soon altered by current events: NASA intercepts a message from space that confirms the existence of a parallel planet to Earth. The planet, dubbed Terra Nova, is a mirror to Earth, right down to its inhabitants. The questions Tara and everyone else have are natural: Is there a different version of me on Terra Nova? A better version even?
So you enjoy interstellar chaos. Then do I ever have a book for you. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Q is a disrupter—a minx and a menace. Something similar can be said of tech mogul Vivian Liao. Interrupted in her attempt to go off the grid, Viv gets sucked off the planet and tossed into the middle of a galactic firefight she doesn’t understand. Luckily, she’s endlessly crafty, a trait that rallies a ragtag group of space wanderers to her side and simultaneously alienates them. She’ll need their begrudging help to confront the all-powerful Empress, save the universe, and get herself home.
She’s a messy queen who lives for drama and she brightens every scene she enters. Every cameo from Deanna Troi’s mother is wild, wacky, and ultimately vexing to Picard. I feel secure in assuming he would be similarly vexed by Space Opera’s campy Metagalactic Grand Prix, an over-the-top spectacle that combines interstellar Eurovision with high-stakes gladiatorial combat. When humankind earns its way into this galactic talent competition, we’ll be singing for more than our supper—we’ll be singing for our survival.
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