Story: The same Starfleet officer exchange program that once put Riker into a life-threatening situation aboard a Klingon vessel now sends the Enterprise’s first officer to the icy planet of Paradise, a remote outpost whose population of colonists are trying to tame its ecosphere. Taking Riker’s place on the Enterprise is Commander Quentin Stone, an officer with a colorful history and a legendary unstable temper. Somehow, Stone has stayed in Starfleet despite this trait which has endangered his career and others’ lives, but his career may not survive a tour with the more rule-bound Picard in command. And on Paradise, unnaturally fierce creatures, an inhospitable environment, and an old friend’s teenage daughter may be the death of Will Riker.
Review: I’ve probably mentioned it once or twice before, but I make little time these days for the Star Trek fiction publishing program. Too many of the novels I’ve read under the imprint of any of the Trek series have turned out to be merciless stinkers, though there was once a time when I did go out of my way to read Peter David’s books. And though many a fan would probably disagree mightily, I still think “A Rock And A Hard Place” may be the best Trek novel ever to hit wood pulp. It captures the flavor of the series and its characters, and it brings a rather wild guest character into the mix to challenge them. (And if you spot a wee bit of a resemblance between Quentin Stone and Mackenzie Calhoun, the captain of David’s later Star Trek: New Frontiers novels, I seriously doubt that it’s a coincidence.)
Stone also provides something that the TV series almost never got around to showing us: a genuine challenge for Deanna Troi’s counseling abilities. Stone is a head case, but somehow he stays just this side of the border between functional and disfunctional to keep his butt in Starfleet red – and that proves to be the real challenge for Troi. She gets to be sympathetic and tough all at the same time, again, a balance rarely struck so well on the screen. It may be fair to say that, of all the regular characters, Troi benefits the most and is developed the most in the space of this novel.
Riker’s predicament is almost humorous when he finds himself trapped in a life-or-death situation with an old friend’s teenage daughter. (She has just a wee bit of a crush on our Number One, y’see.) But even that humor doesn’t rob the situation of drama – a Peter David trademark. This book strikes the perfect balance between the eye-rollingly joke-heavy Strike Zone (his prior Next Generation novel) and the too-heavy “Vendetta” (a Borg-filled “giant novel” which followed this book). I know lots of people like “Q In Law” and “Imzadi” better – but for me, “Rock And A Hard Place” is the quintessential Peter David Trek novel.
I would have loved seeing this story on TV, but I doubt that the series writers would’ve gotten this brave. Indeed, few of the Trek novelists have turned out anything nearly this dynamic.
Author: Peter David
Publisher: Pocket Books
Pages: 244 apges