TNG: The Buried Age

Lost Era The Buried AgeStar Trek: The Next Generation: The Buried Age
A Tale of THE LOST ERA 

Jean-Luc Picard.  His name has gone down in legend as the captain of the U.S.S. Stargazer and two starships Enterprise.  But the nine years of his life leading up to the inaugural mission of the U.S.S. Enterprise to Farpoint Station have remained a mystery–until now, as Picard’s lost era is finally unearthed.

Following the loss of the Stargazer and the brutal court-martial that resulted, Picard no longer sees a future for himself in Starfleet.  Turning to his other love, archaeology, he embarks on a quest to rediscover a buried age of ancient galactic history . . . and awakens a living survivor of that era: a striking, mysterious woman frozen in time since before the rise of Earth’s dinosaurs. But this powerful immortal has a secret of cataclysmic proportions, and her plans will take Picard — aided along the way by a brilliant but naive android, an insightful Betazoid, and an enigmatic El-Aurian — to the heights of passion, the depths of betrayal, and the farthest reaches of explored space.

  • “This is a large-scale tale that’s occasionally more akin to Arthur C. Clarke’s universe than Gene Roddenberry’s.  Yet just before the book strays too far from the Trek track, it gets back on board with some first-class interactions between Picard and a clutch of very welcome characters….” — John Donnelly, SFX Magazine
  • “Bennett’s take is quite surprising, fitting in with all the known facts, but adding a new layer to them.” — Owen Morris, Dreamwatch SciFI
  • “Notable in Bennett’s work is his creation of unique and lively civilizations… each of them are unique, interesting, and provide further proof that world building is far easier in print than on television.” — Robert Lyons, TrekMovie.com
  • “Bennett loves his hard science and it always informs his tales, without overshadowing the story and characters at their heart. This is an interesting tale, well told.” — Paul Simpson, StarTrek.com

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Years ago, I imagined what stories I’d pitch if I ever became a Trek novelist.  One of my ideas was for an epic trilogy (since trilogies were all the rage back then) filling in the nine years of Picard’s life between the Stargazer and the Enterprise.  It was never more than a very tentative notion, and I never got around to pitching it. And when it was announced a while back that editor Marco Palmieri intended to do a Lost Era novel covering this span, I assumed the task would go to Michael Jan Friedman, who’s carved out a niche as the main chronicler of Picard’s early career aboard the Stargazer.  So I sadly gave up on my ambition.

I was thus very surprised when, some months later, Marco asked me out of the blue if I’d like to do the “Picard’s missing years” novel.  Naturally I said yes, and dredged up my old plans.  I soon decided, though, that my original idea wasn’t viable.  It would’ve had Picard found guilty in the Stargazer court-martial and demoted for several years.  This would’ve turned out to be the result of a conspiracy to keep Picard from getting command of the Enterprise, so that this key post would go to a conspirator instead.  But the conspiracy idea has been done too many times in Trek by now.  So ironically, even though I finally got to tell the story I’d wanted to tell for years, I had to start completely from scratch.

Marco’s suggestion was an epic quest, probably involving archaeology, that would reawaken the disillusioned Picard’s love of exploration.  I got the sense he wanted something in a similar vein to Orion’s Hounds in terms of its scope and conceptual breadth.  So I thought about doing for deep time what I did for deep space in OH — exploring and filling in the uncharted reaches of Trek prehistory.  As with OH, I built on a lot of ideas I’d been working on for my original SF.  Which is cool, because that required me to rethink the galactic history for my original SF universe and come up with something new that I’m very happy with.

In a way, though, this was as much a book about the distant future as the distant past, because the hyperadvanced civilizations of the past suggested paths for the future evolution of humanity.  My depiction of their advances and abilities was heavily influenced by transhumanist science fiction, and by the possibilities suggested by existing trends in genetics and cybernetics.  Ironically, many of the “incredibly advanced” technologies and bodily enhancements possessed by these ancients are ones that humanity may well achieve long before the 24th century.  We’ve already surpassed Star Trek tech in a lot of ways, and medical advances like Geordi’s VISOR are the stuff of the next decade, not three and a half centuries from now.

My original trilogy idea did have an impact on the structure of this book, if not the plot.  Since nine years is a long time, I knew I couldn’t just tell one story.  So I structured it episodically, essentially as four novellas.  The last three parts in particular have close ties and tell a larger story, but each part has its own focus, its own beginning and end, its own distinct characters and settings.  And the only characters who are in all three, Picard and the mysterious woman mentioned in the cover blurb, are in a distinct phase of their lives and relationship in each part.

Of course, this wasn’t just a quest story.  I knew I had to explore how Picard became the man we met in TNG. We knew he was an aloof, professorial, even forbidding figure there, yet over the years we learned he had a wealth of old friends and old flames.  So I knew something must have happened to change him, and that would be the core of my story.  But I also wanted to explore how he became captain of the Enterprise, how and why he chose his command crew, what shaped his values, choices and relationships, and so on.

And yet I had to balance this with the fact that these events were never referenced in TNG — the main problem faced by any prequel.  So I chose to tell a story that took Picard far afield from the events and politics featured in TNG, both literally and figuratively.  I considered making the whole thing classified or having it erased from Picard’s memory, but that would’ve been the lazy way out; I tried to find subtler reasons why Picard would not have discussed these events.

Also, as much as I could, I tried to work in references to events and lines from TNG so that it would seem as though those events and lines were references back to this book.  The goal was to create the illusion that the characters in TNG were talking and thinking about the events of The Buried Age on many occasions, but that the viewer just didn’t realize it until now.  The book foreshadows and influences many later events.  Why did Picard value consensus among his crew?  Why did he want a first officer not afraid to defy him?  Why did he trust Deanna Troi and Guinan so much?  Why did he get invited to speak at archaeological conferences?  All because of things that happened in TBA.

I felt a heavy Shakespeare focus was essential as well, to commemorate Patrick Stewart’s distinguished career as a Shakespearean actor and to acknowledge the Shakespearean flavor that much of Star Trek has always had.  Also, a couple of those old SF ideas of mine that dealt with ancient, reawakened civilizations used titles and names inspired by passages from The Tempest (such as “O brave new world” or “When I wak’d I cried to dream again”), so it was a natural fit.

I hit a major snag early in the writing process when I learned my initial plans for the Stargazer court-martial wouldn’t work.  It took a long time to research military and civilian law and figure out a new approach.  At the same time, I was distracted by the then-ongoing news about the attempts to redefine the term “planet.”  I got caught up in reading about all the exciting new discoveries made in planetary sciences over the past few years, and it was keeping me from focusing on the novel.  So I took a cue from Riva (“Loud as a Whisper”) and tried to turn a disadvantage into an advantage.  Rather than trying to shake my preoccupation with planetary sciences, I used it to help me focus on the novel by incorporating a lot of this material into the novel itself.  Thus, the novel features a variety of exotic planetary environments and star systems of types never seen before in Star Trek.  Hopefully that adds a sense of grandeur and adventure to the narrative.

But please, don’t ask me to write another huge, sweeping Star Trek epic anytime soon.  After Orion’s Hounds and The Buried Age, I’m exhausted.

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