Survivors by Jean Lorran really took me by surprise. It’s a great book, a refreshing new take on both Data and Tasha Yar. Did anybody else know Data had ‘flirtation routines’ that made him more popular with the ladies than even Riker? Not me.
The story is about a lot of things; Tasha’s early life, Tasha’s death at the hands of Armus, ethical dilemmas, and Data’s gradual emotional awakening, all sewn gracefully through a narrative that sets Tasha and Data off on a mission together, to look into the cries for help coming from a fringe non-Federation planet.
I almost didn’t read beyond the first few pages, though. The author gushes in the prologue about how much she loves Trek, how everyone should join the fan clubs, how the fan-phenomenon has changed her life, blah blah. It predisposed me against her, to be honest, and prepared me to read a low level piece of fan-fic. And the first chapter only reasserted that view:
We cold-open on a flashback to Tasha Yar’s youth, as she runs around evading ‘rape-gangs’ on a devolved Federation backwater planet. Am I the only one who found Tasha’s mentions of ‘rape-gangs’ to be not only awkward, but just tonally off? To talk about something so hideous in concept so casually, it just always seemed blase to me. Like someone acting, like people talking about something they know nothing about. Would anyone who had been through that ordeal ever want to talk about it again? I doubt it.
So there was that, amidst this picture of a life surviving off scraps and learning to get by that again seemed strained and unbelievable. The cherry on the cake came when she was caught and we got to hear her captors talking-
“We’re throwin’ ya back, gel. Grow up and get some bazooms! Then it’ll be worth it t’feed yer hungry belly, ’cause there’s allus geezers’ll pay high fer fresh meat- an’ you’ll get nice clothes and lotsa pretties, and plenty o’joy dust t’keep ya happy.”
All of which I could barely bring myself to read. Do you feel that way? It just seems amateurish beyond belief. This guy is a cartoon. It just rang so false I almost put the book down there and then. Almost, but didn’t, and I’m very glad for it. After a few more pages trawling through the slums of New Paris with this troupe of dumb-gangster cliches, the book opened properly, on the Enterprise.
I didn’t start to forgive the book for another 50 or so pages though. By then Tasha and Data are on a shuttlecraft together going to investigate the rebel world. And at that point it becomes delightful, and very skilfully done.
We get back story on Tasha, on her love for the man Darryl Adin who rescued her from the rape-gang planet, on his betrayal of Starfleet, all wrapped up and around her fear of men and intimacy, her difficulty understanding the Federation’s idea of morality (the Prime Directive), and her feelings towards Data (in the wake of their liaison in the drunken second episode of the show, followed by the imperative from her- “It never happened!”)
Then we get more on Data, how hurt he was by Tasha saying that, how he later came to enjoy and take great pleasure in the friendship they built, his difficulty understanding her emotions, especially when her former love Adin comes back into play, and ultimately, in the coda at the end of the book, how he begins to understand what ‘family’ is when he listens to the farewell message Tasha had recorded for him, after she dies at the hands of the black goo Armus.
The mechanics of the story itself, their travails on the planet in revolt that they go to, are interesting enough, but really just a frame for numerous well thought out flashbacks and conversations to occur within, peppered with glimpses of the wider Federation world we rarely got to see in the series. Trainee cadets do no-win morality exercises (perhaps similar to the Kobayashi Maru) on the holodeck to determine if they have fully internalized the Prime Directive. They are sent out on intern ships on real low level missions to beef up their experience.
I really enjoyed this book, once over the opening hurdles. If only someone had thought to cut away the first six or seven pages, it would have been as near to perfect as I could imagine. 4/5 stars.