From the back cover:
He was perhaps the ultimate human achievement: a sentient artificial life-form—self-aware, self-determining, possessing a mind and a body far surpassing that of his makers, and imbued with the potential to evolve beyond the scope of his programming.
And then Data was destroyed.
Four years later, Data’s creator, Noonien Soong, sacrificed his life and resurrected his android son, who in turn revived the positronic brain of his own artificial daughter, Lal. Having resigned his commission, the former Starfleet officer now works to make his way on an alien world, while also coming to grips with the very human notion of wanting versus having a child.
But complicating Data’s new life is an unexpected nemesis from years ago on the U.S.S. Enterprise—the holographic master criminal Professor James Moriarty. Long believed to be imprisoned in a memory solid, Moriarty has created a siphon into the “real” world as a being of light and thought. Moriarty wants the solid form that he was once told he could never have, and seeks to manipulate Data into finding another android body for him to permanently inhabit . . . even if it means that is Data himself.
Returning to the story begun in the novel Immortal Coil and continuing in the bestselling Cold Equations trilogy, this is the next fascinating chapter in the artificial life of one of Star Trek’s most enduring characters.
I had a great many thoughts while reading this novel. Regular followers of my reviews will remember than I very much enjoyed the books that preceded this one in the telling of Data’s story: Jeffrey Lang’s own Immortal Coil, as well as the Cold Equations trilogy by David Mack that finally returned Data to the land of the living.
Is it Data, though?
That’s the question I kept asking myself while reading The Light Fantastic. And as troubling as this may be, the answer I was forced to come to was no… and yes. A lot of the elements that made Data who he is are there: the sometimes child-like innocence shows through occasionally, but it is definitely tempered by an “edge” that his character didn’t have before.
As user “Deranged Nasat” put it on TrekBBS’s Trek Literature board, “Data 2.0 is both greatly familiar and alarmingly unpredictable.” This is not exactly the Data we’ve come to know and love, but something new… but still someone who is familiar. And Jeffrey Lang is able to craft his voice perfectly.
The characters in this novel are a real treat to read about. The friendship between Data and LaForge has certainly changed, but still retains many of the elements of the close relationship they had in TNG. And kudos to Mr. Lang for addressing the minor discontinuity between David McIntee’s novel Indistinguishable From Magic and the later TNG novels with regards to LaForge’s relationship(s). Polyamory (or at least open relationships) seems to be a topic that is being explored lately.
Other characters in the novel such as Lal, Alice, Shakti, and Albert Lee were welcome additions, and each had unique moments that were a pleasure to read. The primary antagonist, Moriarty, and his consort, the Countess Regina Bartholomew, were likewise compelling. Moriarty has the potential to be a very cliched villain, and it is the character’s seeming awareness of this that contributes to how well he works in the story.
The continuity connections in this novel are nothing short of spectacular. As with his earlier entry, Immortal Coil, Lang mines the entirety of Trek history for ties to his story, drawing from the original series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.
I particularly enjoyed the ending of this story. Both ambiguous and sowing the seeds for further adventures, the ending left me excited for further adventures with Data and even, perhaps, Moriarty.
In an interview on Trek.fm’s Literary Treks podcast (an interview in which I had the privilege of taking part), Jeffrey Lang said that Margaret Clark — editor of the Trek literature line at Pocket Books — called Lang’s story a “nice dessert” after the seriousness of The Fall and its political intrigue and machinations. I would have to agree.
While the threat in The Light Fantastic is quite real, the story felt like a much-needed bit of lighter fare, and one that I enjoyed immensely. In my opinion, The Light Fantastic is the top Trek novel of the year (so far… we still have Seekers on the way, not to mention another Voyager entry from the amazing Kirsten Beyer!)
Top marks for this one from me. I look forward to seeing many more Jeffrey Lang novels to come!
– Reviewed by Literature Editor Dan Gunther
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The Light Fantastic