"Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Best and the Brightest"

by Michelle Erica Green

Boldly Going Forward

The new Star Trek: The Next Generation novel, The Best and the Brightest, introduces a new "next generation" - a class of cadets three years behind Wesley Crusher at Starfleet Academy. The book follows six members of a "quad," a grouping of freshmen and upperclass advisors who live and work together during the new cadets' first year, as they progress through the Academy and graduate.

This particular group includes a former Bajoran Vedek looking for a new calling, a girl from a species which doesn't enter puberty until well into their third decade, a feline male raised apart from his species, an adventurous human raised on an offworld colony, a joined Trill with a newly hatched symbiont, and an Earth-reared Starfleet brat. It's the latter two who are getting most of the attention, however, because they fall in love. And they're both women.

One would think that by the 24th century this wouldn't be so remarkable, but Star Trek has never had a gay character who was a series regular - nor even a human character who was attracted to a member of the same sex. The closest Trek has come to presenting non-heterosexual characters onscreen was William Riker's romance with the androgynous Soren (a character who claimed to feel like a woman, and was played by a woman), and Jadzia Dax's love affair with Lenara, a woman whose body was host to the symbiont to whom Dax was married in a previous life, when she was a man.

"Mine is an interspecies romance because one character is a Trill, but she's a first host - she doesn't have memories of being a man," Wright pointed out in an interview last week. "She's not a pseudo-man, she's only ever been a woman." The relationship was meant to be interracial as well, since Moll Enor is described as being dark-skinned in the novel, though the cover illustration depicts a fairly Caucasian-looking woman. Still, Wright intended not to make a big deal about any of the aspects of this relationship which might have aroused prejudice in centuries past.

"There are never any labels put on it in the book, there's never any question that this would be unsuitable or strange in any way because they are the same sex," she said. "Paula Block, the Star Trek publishing liason at Viacom, was totally encouraging. It's funny that it's getting a lot of attention because we're not really advertising it that way." The book has been written about in The Blade and other gay papers in addition to the usual Trek forums, where it is gaining attention in part just because it introduces a new set of characters.

After the success of the New Frontier series by Peter David, Pocket Books Star Trek editor John Ordover pitched the idea of an Academy book with all-new characters. "It's a way for the novels to carve out a special niche of their own in the Star Trek universe, because you can see a lot of the events from a different perspective," explained Wright, who included appearances by Captain Picard, Wesley Crusher, Harry Kim, B'Elanna Torres, and Jadzia Dax, among other familiar names. Wright devoured the Star Trek Encyclopedia and had planned to read the young adult Starfleet Academy novels, but Ordover told her that he wanted The Best and the Brightest to be aimed at adults.

"The conception was to have a group of people like you and your friends, going through the Academy and thinking about how becoming a part of Starfleet affects your lives," Wright said. "You can see from the whole Nog storyline [on Deep Space Nine that cadets are very involved, they're not just off in some corner going to school - they're there [at the Academy] for the first year, and then they go o training missions. I wanted to introduce this whole lifestyle of creating this network and having to work in a group, the dynamics of getting so many different people involved and how you can make them work towards a common goal."

Wright came up with the idea for the lesbian romance; she told Ordover that she wanted to have a same-sex relationship with two of the major characters. "There's precedence for it," she added. "Right before Gene Roddenberry died, they had done a press release about how they wanted to open up more sexually and be more inclusive without labels in the 24th century. And they did - look what happened with Worf and Dax. If it's consensual, and the two people want to do it, why isn't it all right to let them? You can laugh about it, friends can nudge each other, but it's none of anyone's business - no one is critical of it."

The response to the novel thus far has been very positive. "I'm pleased," the author admitted. "Peter David did this too, he had a sort of hermaphrodite character - but I just wanted to be in-your-face, right there. There's a younger generation that's just more sexually accepting. The college age students are figuring out this out and hopefully fighting for our rights, since nobody else is! Though I got nothing but acceptance from my editors and Paramount."

Wright, who penned three previous Trek novels - TNG's Sins of Commission, Voyager's Violations, and DS9's The Tempest, based on the Shakespeare play of the same name - is also pleased that the new characters, which she brainstormed into existence along with Ordover and Carol Greenburg of Pocket Books, are being well-received. "I'm getting reports from people who aren't so into Trek, they just pick up an episode here and there, who like that this isn't hooked into the timeline. You don't have to have seen every episode of TNG" to read this novel.

A longtime fan, Wright's first fiction publication was Sins of Commission, though she has also written nonfiction books about sexuality and some erotica, all under the same name (rather unusual for a field in which even major writers like Anne Rice use pseudonyms). Her most recent nonfiction book, Destination Mars, examines human conceptions of the planet from prehistoric fear of the "red star" through the Pathfinder mission. She has an original science fiction novel, After The Warming, in the process of being published.

"I thought she handled the multiple storylines and multiple timeframes excellently," said Ordover. "I thought that the Jayme/Moll relationship hit exactly the right note. It was just a romance, nothing special about it because of the gender issue, just because of the characters involved. Paramount's only stipulation (which I would have insisted on anyway, as would the author) was that it be handled the way we did handle it - as no big deal. Having just seen the DS9 episode 'Rejoined,' we knew there was precedent for this kind of relationship in the Trek universe, and that informed our thinking as we were brainstorming."

Rahadyan Sastrowardoyo of The New York Times, a Trek fan, said that he thought the novel's lesbian romance was a good example of how same-sex romances should be treated in any science fiction, and hopefully someday in so-called mainstream fiction - "as commonplace, no big deal, and realistic. Ms. Wright and Mr. Ordover should be praised for their progressiveness."

Wright said she hopes the novel will have a positive influence, especially in light of the recent political sex scandals, of which she groaned, "Don't get me started. These people who are serving our country being asked to lie about their sexuality. Who doesn't lie about their sexuality? That's what we're taught, we're taught to lie even to our partners. Star Trek has a lot of influence, it reaches a lot of people, and people will see that it's accepted, it's not a bad thing."

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