Well, it’s been a while since I last read a “Star Trek: The Next Generation” novel. So, I thought that I’d take a look at Diane Duane’s 1997 novel “Intellivore” since my second-hand copy of it has been lying on top of my “to read” pile for at least a month or two. If I remember rightly, I ended up buying a copy of this book after seeing a picture of it on a fan site for the old “Star Trek: TNG” novels.
Although “Intellivore” tells a self-contained story, it is probably worth watching at least few episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and/or seeing the “Star Trek: First Contact” movie before reading this book, since it kind of assumes that you already know the show’s main characters, the technology, the premise of the series etc…
Anyway, let’s take a look at “Intellivore”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins with Captain Picard taking a relaxing horse ride through the Alps. Of course, this is just a holographic simulation and it isn’t long before he is interrupted by a message telling him that his spaceship, the USS Enterprise, has arrived at the deep-space rendezvous point.
Following a spate of attacks on vessels and researchers in this remote region, Starfleet has ordered the Enterprise to meet up with the science vessel Marignano and another ship called the Oraidhe in order to scare away the space pirates suspected to be operating in the area. Although the mission seems fairly ordinary at first, things get a bit stranger when the ships run across a damaged pirate vessel with only one survivor on board.
Although Doctor Crusher can find nothing physically wrong with the survivor, he appears to be severely brain-damaged to the point that he is, to all intents and purposes, brain-dead. Needless to say, it seems like space pirates will be the least of the crew’s worries…
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although it gets off to a bit of a slow start, it’s a surprisingly compelling and suspenseful story. Unlike some of these novels, which are like extended feature-length episodes of the TV show, this one’s story is more like a traditional TV show episode- albeit with a lot more depth and detail. Although this results in a slower story that will probably only appeal to fans of the show, it contains a really good blend of sci-fi, drama and horror 🙂
In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, this novel is fairly heavy on them at times. If you like “treknobabble”, formal discussions, alien anthropology and scientific explanations, then you’ll be in your element here. This novel falls fairly heavily on the “scientific” side of things, although this is kept compelling by the mystery that the characters are trying to solve and the fact that all of this scientific stuff is used brilliantly in the novel’s epic final segment. This is a story that follows a consistent set of “rules” and a story where science is used to both unravel mysteries and solve problems in creative ways.
Not only that, the novel also contains the kind of cool sci-fi stuff that would have probably been prohibitively expensive for the TV show’s special effects team. Although I don’t want to spoil too much, the final segment of this novel is indeed epic and is well worth reading through all of the slower and more science-focused earlier segments of the story for.
Plus, to my surprise, this novel also contained a few horror elements too. These are subtle, ominous, psychological and/or tragic moments that really help to add a sense of suspense and unease to the story. And, although there are some lighter moments and beautiful descriptive moments, this novel’s tone is more on the grim and serious side of things. Still, this fits in with the story really well and helps to give it the kind of atmosphere that you’d expect from a more “dramatic” episode of the show.
Thematically, this novel is fairly interesting – with most of the story’s themes focusing on the topic of life, death, medical ethics and what it is to be human. Although the novel touches on the topic of euthanasia a few times, this is more of a background element and most of the story’s moral discussions are about whether it is right to kill the mysterious force that is threatening everything in this region of space. This also links into discussions about the food chain and the survival of the fittest (with scenes describing “benevolent” civilisations that have damaged or destroyed themselves and a ruthless, amoral civilisation that has prospered).
In terms of the characters, this novel is fairly interesting. In addition to introducing a couple of new captains for Picard to team up with, this story also occasionally focuses on both Data and Dr. Crusher too. The scenes involving Crusher are probably the most interesting, given that she is shown to act at least mildly out of character for a rather dramatic reason (eg: her horror at the idea of brain injuries and her hatred for anything that can cause them). Still, although this story is fairly Picard-focused, Data gets some of the story’s best moments – with the fact that this is a novel rather than a TV show episode meaning that we also get a much deeper look at how Data experiences things too 🙂
In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is reasonably good. Although it is a little bit on the formal and descriptive side of things, it is still “matter of fact” enough to keep the story moving. Likewise, all of the descriptions add extra atmosphere to the story and the formal dialogue, narrative moments etc… are also in keeping with the tone of the TV show too. Still, this is very much a novel for fans of the show who, for example, don’t mind the occasional scientific explanation and/or debate.
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 239 pages in length, it doesn’t feel too long. Likewise, although there are quite a few slower-paced parts of the story, they never get too slow and are usually there for a good reason (eg: atmosphere, characterisation etc…) and are supported by some well-handled mystery and suspense. Not to mention that, although the later segments of the story aren’t ultra-fast paced, they’re certainly a little bit faster and more gripping too 🙂
As for how this twenty-two year old novel has aged, it has aged reasonably well. Most of the novel’s thematic stuff is fairly timeless, although the flashback scene showing Dr.Crusher’s reaction to visiting a school for brain-damaged children during her medical training would probably be handled in a different way if it was written today. Still, thanks to the futuristic setting, the story as a whole still feels fairly fresh when read today (and even the novel’s reference to a “terabaud” data stream still sounds vaguely futuristic too).
All in all, this is a fairly good “Star Trek: TNG” novel. Yes, it’s a little bit more slow-paced than I’d expected and you’ll probably only really enjoy this one if you’re a fan of the show, but it is atmospheric, suspenseful, dramatic and also has a brilliantly gripping conclusion too 🙂
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.