By Ani Bundel
When Star Trek went off the air after Enterprise in the mid-aughts, it felt like the franchise was facing a long hiatus on-screen. But no one can hold back those who will boldly go, and like The Next Generation reviving the universe the first time in the late ’80s, Discovery and Picard have once again brought Star trek back to its revered place in the nerd pantheon. Like with any revival, a new series spawns spinoff media as well, specifically novels and books. It’s little wonder then that San Diego Comic Con’s Saturday afternoon panel, “Picard 2020: A Literary Retrospective,” had much to dig into.
The irony of Star Trek’s long history of novelizations and companion works is that it’s always been a literary franchise, referencing Shakespeare and Greek and Roman myths from the outset. And no character is more intellectual in the books he consumes than Jean-Luc Picard. Played by former Royal Shakespeare actor Sir Patrick Stewart, the role has now been at the heart of both Star Trek revivals, making him one of the most interesting characters to explore in the novels and on-screen. Moderator Lauren Jackson sat down with Star Trek novelists and writers Una McCormack, David Mack, Stephen Graham Jones, and Alex White to talk about what’s on Picard’s bookshelf and the Picard on ours.
Though most would assume Picard only reads the highest forms of literature. For instance, David Mack pointed out that we know Picard is a lover of Shakespeare, that Prospero and The Tempest would speak to him. But Alex White noted that this isn’t always true. His formative readings were things like William Shatner’s TekWars, and so one should not discount that Jean-Luc might have some trashier novels on the shelf. (That being said, it should be noted in Picard’s first season, the character states he’s never been one for science fiction or fantasy. Doesn’t really get it.)
As for the Picard we find on our bookshelves, all the authors agreed that the idea “the more canon there is, the more hemmed in your are,” gets it exactly backward. Mack said that he, for one, finds that the more defined the world becomes, the more questions open up to explore. He also credited Stewart’s performances for giving writers so much to work with. The sheer depth of his acting, and the nuance he brings to the character, help authors work out what Picard would do when facing any given situation. McCormack agreed, saying, “having the blank sheet is the terror.” The story generates more stories, and the more she has to inspire her to work from, the easier it is to come up with new avenues as yet unexplored.
All agreed that Picard is a character who we need more of today in the world. Stephen Graham Jones pointed out that Picard has real qualities of leadership and rational discourse that often feel missing from the modern landscape, and that having an intellectual leader who pulls their wisdom from literature is always timely, especially now. As he put it, what people seek are “the empathy muscles that that exercises, “ he said, “I think that would be really helpful to the world.”
Una McCormack’s Picard: The Last Best Hope and David Mack’s Collateral Damage (featuring Picard) are both out now, as is Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians. Alex White’s The Worst of All Possible Worlds is out later in July.
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