"Star Trek: The Next Generation: Tooth and Claw"

by Michelle Erica Green

The cover gives fair warning that Tooth and Claw may be too Klingon for many tastes. The novel does not center on Klingon culture, but it's hung up on such pastimes as proving one's worth as a warrior, posturing aggression to demonstrate one's manhood, and making long-winded speeches about honor. Of course these are staples of chivalric fiction much older than Star Trek, so it's unfair of me to label them "Klingon." But Tooth and Claw's illustration of a wounded Worf and Riker carrying bloodied bat'leths only emphasizes the degree to which Trek has adapted Klingons to the role of fantasy warriors.

The television-era story finds the Enterprise in the midst of a strange diplomatic situation. A doomsday cult on the planet Ntignano has launched a device that will cause their sun to nova in a matter of weeks. The Federation is assisting with an evacuation, but the complex gravitational eddies in nearby space have been mapped only by the Tsorans -- a hunt-obsessed species not inclined to help their weaker neighbors. To ease negotiations, Picard asks Riker to pilot the crown prince of Tsora to an offworld hunting preserve, filled with deadly predators unlike any others in the quadrant. But a series of technological disasters strands Riker and Akarr deep in the Legacy on Fandre, armed only with tranquilizer darts and Riker's blade.

What follows is an engaging if predictable coming-of-age story, as Riker guides the resisting prince through treacherous forests and more-treacherous discovery of possible sabotage by one of his own people. Meanwhile, Picard must find a way to convince the Tsorans to help the Ntignanos without breaching their rigid protocols. Everyone gets in on the hunt as Worf goes off to rescue Riker while LaForge tries to solve the engineering problems plaguing the Legacy. Data, who has been testing a program to study human use of colloquialisms, has a witty riposte for every crisis.

There's a concerted effort to redeem the characters' obsession with violence by playing up various conservationist missions. Having killed all their own prey animals, the Tsorans now defer demonstrations of their power into formal kaphoora hunts, in which small trophies may be taken from animals but the creatures may not be harmed. It's an attempt to envision a humane approach to sharing a world with deadly predators, but one can't help seeing the Legacy as an enormous zoo where mild torture of the inhabitants is encouraged for the profit of the zookeepers. The relationships between Tsora and Fandre and between Fandre and its Legacy are built on threats of violence. Moreover, Tsora's protocols concerning honor don't prevent family backstabbing and assassination attempts.

Unfortunately, we never learn a thing about Ntignano culture, nor why a doomsday cult would have wanted to destroy the entire solar system, which puts a damper on our interest in the Federation evacuation beyond the superficial desire to preserve lives. Still, Riker and Worf fans will enjoy Tooth and Claw, which showcases the strengths of both characters and gives them more depth than many TNG episodes. Picard has a fairly strong outing as well, trying to balance diplomacy against the urgent needs of the Ntignanos until he realizes innovative measures are necessary. The most interesting and complex Tsoran character, the queen, ends up being defined entirely by her sons and the patriarchal culture she inhabits; this is a shame, as it accentuates the formulaic manhood rituals being portrayed.

Still it's fun to read about the animals of the Legacy, and as with many mystery novels, it's entertaining to figure out what's really going on before the characters catch on. There's nothing deep about Tooth and Claw, but fans nostalgic for Klingon culture or for Riker in action will get a kick out of it.

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