Book Trek #2: Star Trek: The Next Generation – ‘Q-Space’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 5 billion years ago.

Star Trek in many ways was forever changed by the character of Q, who first appeared in The Next Generation’s pilot episode ‘Encounter at Farpoint’, played with delightfully sadistic joie de vivre by John de Lancie, and who grew to be, aside from the Borg, probably Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s greatest antagonist across the run of the series.

Q, of course, is an omnipotent being, who we later discover is part of the Q Continuum, which exists on a different plane of existence, containing a race of beings all known as Q who appear to have complete dominance over time, space and matter. They are the ultimate personification of a God, with all the powers of a God in-between. Q wasn’t by any means the first time Star Trek had toyed with the idea of a God-like being, of course; The Original Series has Captain Kirk’s USS Enterprise bump into a God-like entity ever other week – indeed many speculated after ‘Encounter at Farpoint’ that the mischievous Trelane from ‘The Squire of Gothos’ could have been a Q. The only difference is that few of them had the scope, reach and power of the Continuum. Q, literally, can do anything, be anyone and go anywhere, any*when*. That, as a concept, was always going to be a game-changer.

‘Q-Space’, therefore, attempts to dig deeper into the Q Continuum than certainly many of the TV series which featured Q were ever able to do. The first of a trilogy badged under ‘The Q Continuum’ prefix from writer Greg Cox, ‘Q-Space’ takes a cue (pun probably intended) from half a dozen concepts from both The Next Generation, The Original Series and indeed Voyager, and begins working to craft them into a broader, intertextual narrative which shines a light on Q’s history, his home, and give Picard and his crew one of their most cosmic adventures to date. Cox has an ambitious reach for this trilogy and while ‘Q-Space’ perhaps takes too long getting to the core point of what it’s trying to achieve, some exciting building blocks are placed across the novel.

‘Q-Space’, in many respects, is about children, and the development of children. Q of course has always seen the human race as children (savage children, admittedly) and always took joy across The Next Generation in tormenting Picard and his crew by testing their resolve, challenging their pre-conceptions, sometimes for the purposes of comedy (such as putting them all in Sherwood Forest for ‘QPid’) and sometimes flinging the Enterprise into danger which would have far-reaching consequences (such as setting them on course with the Borg in ‘Q-Who’). Q’s entire rationale for visiting Picard, in particular, did begin to grow into a twisted form of strange affection for them all. He began to see them, strangely, as family.

The idea of Q never caught on with Deep Space Nine and his one visit (early on in the show in ‘Q-Less’), showed up how Q’s essential dark whimsy never worked alongside the grimier, grittier aesthetic of the Cardassian space station, or the earthy brawn of Benjamin Sisko. The writers of modern Star Trek had already created a tonal parallel to TNG in Voyager, of course, so it served as little surprise Q fitted in much more seamlessly when visiting Captain Kathryn Janeway, beginning with the excellent ‘Death Wish’, an episode which allowed for exploration of the Continuum for the first time. Through his Voyager appearances, Q develops not just a metaphorical family but a literal one – having a child with an elegant, abrasive female Q, who of course becomes known simply as q. These are storylines and themes carried seamlessly into ‘Q-Space’.

One interesting aspect to emerge from the Voyager episodes featuring Q (which always delved much more into the cosmic goings on of the Continuum, rather than how TNG simply had the character testing Picard and his crew), was how the Continuum had grown stale and divested of purpose. Episodes like ‘The Q and the Grey’ explored the idea that eternal omnipotence had caused certain Q to question the point of their very existence, and added an extra psychological dimension to why Q does what he does. In some respects, Q ends up like a dark reflection of the Doctor from Doctor Who; travelling the universe getting into adventures which the austere, grounded rules of his arch, unknowable race find concerning. The main difference of course is the Doctor serves as a hero, while Q is always a Loki-style trickster who makes the lives of less advanced beings difficult.

‘Q-Space’ starts stitching together all of these aspects and brings Voyager’s propensity for exploring the grander concepts of the Continuum together with the traditional manner in how Q visits the Enterprise – dressed in ridiculous garb, testing Picard’s patience etc… and here, of course, he warns the crew off their mission to potentially open a wormhole in the Galactic Barrier surrounding the galaxy, in hopes they may be the first ship to cross into a new galactic realm (after Kirk’s Enterprise, of course). It’s a similar situation to when Q warns Picard about exploring further because of threats such as the Borg, except the only difference is that he has a vested interest in keeping the Barrier unmolested because of a mistake he made millions of years ago which could threaten the entire universe.

By the end of ‘Q-Space’, we don’t quite know the full story yet. We simply know, as Picard witnesses, that a younger version of Q, wandering through the cosmos looking for adventure in a universe where he is bored from seeing and doing everything, uses the Guardian of Forever (a being clearly as powerful and even more unknowable than he), to access a realm even he has no knowledge of, from which he inadvertantly rescues a sly, all-powerful being known as 0. This of course questions the very idea of the Continuum’s ultimate omnipotence and claims they are the most evolved, advanced species of being in the universe; they clearly have some way to go if they don’t know who or what 0 is or where he came from, and Cox works to dispel the myth that Picard honestly never believed: that beings so petty & mischievous as those Q came from could ever truly be representative of ‘God’, a perfect being.

That’s a very Star Trek idea, ultimately, questioning the veracity of ‘Godhood’, and its precisely what Gene Roddenberry did on a weekly basis in the 1960’s, and what William Shatner later did with The Final Frontier and his immortal one-liner: “what does God need with a starship?”. The rules, of course, were very different in the 60’s. Q is almost the ultimate evolution of Roddenberry’s scepticism about God as a living, breathing entity, but The Original Series played fast and loose with canonical rules and continuity which the TNG-era worked hard to establish as it built-out the Star Trek universe. Hence how Cox has to work to mystify the Galactic Barrier once more, despite how Kirk’s Enterprise managed to cross what should be a powerful, unknowable force in both ‘Where No Man Has Gone Before’ and ‘By Any Other Name’.

The TNG-era wanted to make our galaxy seem much bigger and more dense than TOS ever did, hence why the Kelvans for example made an appearance in TOS, despite being an extra-galactic race. DS9 and VOY especially worked to establish how the Gamma and Delta Quadrant’s were vast enough an unexplored ‘final frontier’, let alone other galaxies or universes. They consequently never told the kind of stories TOS did which never burdened themselves with that level of understanding of the vast parameters of our own galaxy. ‘Q-Space’ makes a point of these limitations being important, hence the role played by Leto Faal, a dying Betazoid scientist who feels like the apex of the ‘grouchy scientist’ cliche 90’s Trek played with multiple times across all of the shows. Faal doesn’t care about limitations, he only cares about his place in history – even at the expense of his children.

Which brings us back to the heart of ‘Q-Space’. Children. Faal’s unloved children are brought aboard the Enterprise-E, which unlike the crashed Ent-D which had entire families, the invasion by the Borg in First Contact and war with the Dominion has (wisely) led Starfleet to reconsider children on what are fast becoming military vessels more than exploration ships, particularly the flagship. Then there is of course q, Q’s nascent young child who the female Q brings aboard to watch the Enterprise face the barrier, and the concerned gaseous species the Calamarain, almost an an educational experiment. Much like how the movie Insurrection dealt with Starfleet observing an alien species in a lesser stage of development, q is brought in to observe the Enterprise crew during crisis, and even at one point Beverly has a nice exchange with the female Q about raising exceptional sons with a sense of destiny. The rules are different but the concept is the same.

You suspect the ultimate message Cox will try and convey in his overarching trilogy will be a lesson learned by Q, which we can all appreciate, about quite what you teach your children, and how you guide them. Q as a youth was allowed to wander, fall prey to the spell of a manipulative being who corrupted his innocence, and potentially did something terrible. It’s an apt metaphor, indeed, for some level of parental guidance to warn off the ‘grooming’ of a child, as arguably 0’s manipulation we see here is some form of that. Q always tends to learn a lesson from Starfleet crews (even if he refuses to acknowledge it) so that could be where Cox’s story is taking us, beyond the trips across billions of years, to civilisations long dead, to realms beyond our known universe.

Like every good Star Trek tale, it’s a story rooted in a deep sense of humanity.

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