It's been a long while since I last read a Star Trek novel so, when The Stuff of Dreams came along for review, I found myself anxious to catch up with the original timeline and forget about the cinematic 'reboot'.
Right off the bat, you have to gives James Swallow credit for revisiting the problematic first cinematic adventure of Picard and crew. In taking us back to the Nexus, he can't help but prompt memories of the awkwardness of the Kirk/Picard encounter, and the weakness of Kirk's death. Rather than dwell on it, he mentions, forgets it, and smartly moves on.
Taking place within the post-Nemesis, post-Typhon Pact continuity, the story opens with the Enterprise being called to assist with destroying the Nexus before it can pass into the borders of the Typhon Pact. Of course, nothing ever goes precisely to plan, and Picard is dropped back into the Nexus itself on a desperate, ill-advised rescue mission. It's within the Nexus that the story gets interesting, with Picard rejecting its fantasy constructs for his life with Dr. Crusher and René, and Dr. Kolb desperately seeking its fantasy construct to erase the pain of his life. There are some nice glimpses of TNG events within those constructs, including one significant even that we've only heard of, but never before seen. Perhaps more importantly, the Nexus is given purpose, and the threat posed by its uncontrollable wandering is dealt with in a clever fashion.
Oddly, for somebody who has written several Star Trek novels, I felt it took a long time for Swallow to settle in and become comfortable with his characters. Worf, especially, felt and sounded wrong for the first half of the story, and Picard seemed too relaxed, too casual, too lacking in terms of his usual class and aplomb. It gets better, and by the end all is natural and right, but it made for a difficult beginning.
It's a short tale, and one that doesn't really add much to the Star Trek universe, but it's still an enjoyable read.Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins