The primary appeal of Star Trek is watching brave heroes boldly go in the name of discovery, exploration, and diplomacy. But talk to any Star Trek fan and they’ll tell you about the franchise’s secondary appeal: workplace drama. The scifi spectacle might draw fans in, but it’s the relationships between characters that keeps them hooked.
Those friendships are the focus of The Star Trek Book of Friendship, from BenBella Books’ Smart Pop imprint. Kirk and Spock, Bashir and Garak, Janeway and Seven of Nine: They all get their due. The official tribute to the greatest friendships in Star Trek history comes, fittingly, in the form of conversations between two friends. Authors Robb Pearlman and Jordan Hoffman [Ed. note: Jordan Hoffman has written for Polygon.]
Pearlman and Hoffman were gracious enough to provide an introduction to Polygon’s exclusive excerpt to The Star Trek Book of Friendship, also in the form of a conversation between two friends. Read on for that and, below the horizontal line, an excerpt from the book’s chapter on Jean-Luc Picard and Will Riker.
Robb Pearlman: I’m vibrating with the excitement of an overheating warp core! I’ve loved Polygon since my parents first hooked Pong up to our black & white Magnavox.
Jordan Hoffman: How is that possible, that’s from before websites even existed?!
RP: Space and time have no meaning anymore, Jordan, so don’t question it.
JH: Fair enough. Star Trek is loaded with such whacked-out premises, but you know what is the foundation of that show for me?
RP: You aren’t going to start talking about how the USS Reliant is actually upside-down again, are you?
JH: No, but I do want to revisit that at a later point. For me, it’s about the characters, and how they relate to one another through unique friendships.
RP: Agreed! And it does seem like there’s an infinite variety to the infinite combinations of friendships. With a gold standard being Kirk and Spock, there are the spoken and unspoken loyalties that make up Picard and Riker’s friendship, the fun frenemy pairings like Quark and Odo, and so many others. It’s also been incredibly gratifying to me to see friendships exist in the Star Trek fandom, whether that’s online or at conventions. In fact, that’s what inspired me to create The Star Trek Book of Friendship!
JH: We met at a con if you recall. You were there promoting your first few Trek books like Fun with Kirk and Spock and The Wit and Wisdom of Star Trek, and I was there moderating panels and hosting the previous Star Trek podcast. And then, one night we stayed up until dawn making Armus jokes.
RP: Ah yes, I remember it well! There may have been salsa and chips involved, too. We started talking about Star Trek and went from there. I mean that’s the thing. Whether you’re just meeting someone or have known each other for years, Star Trek gives people an instant and undeniable shorthand that bonds people to each other. It’s that sense of connection, that sense of enjoying the same shared experience, that serves as a launchpad for deeper and more meaningful friendships.
JH: Talking through Star Trek was a great way to stay sane as we worked on the book throughout the pandemic. And getting our Star Trek friend J.K. Woodward to do the illustrations is a cherry on top. His painting of Garak dressing Dr. Bashir should be in the Louvre.
RP: There’s a parallel universe in which it is! We should also say that the book has a special appearance by our friend, Dr. Erin Macdonald, and a foreword written by our other friends and Star Trek icons Robert Picardo and Ethan Phillips, too.
JH: That’s right! In fact, a portion of the proceeds for the book go to The Planetary Society, so the book offers a way for Star Trek friends to help friends reach the stars!
RP: We’re all in this together. Now if you’ll excuse me, I want to be alone.
JH: Ok. But keep your hailing frequencies open. I have more thoughts on The Reliant.
R: Picard and Riker are friends who will do anything for each other. Even if their first meeting was a little weird, with an unusually stern Captain Picard testing Riker out by making him do a saucer docking maneuver under a microscope, their friendship soon flourished.
J: How many times did they face the threat of, “Oh, no, Will Riker is going to get promoted?” Feels like a lot! Some would call their bond a career-killer for Riker. They’d be wrong, of course. But Picard needed that. That’s why he chose Riker in the first place, because he stood up to Captain DeSoto on the USS Hood at Altair III and kept him out of harm’s way. And he knew he could give Riker the absolute worst jobs ever and trust him to do them, like making him be the prosecutor in “The Measure of a Man” to force him to prove to the best of his ability that Data lacked sentience. That’s quite an
ask! But they both knew the only way to save their friend was to not communicator-it-in, they had to come correct. Not unlike Kirk fighting Spock in “Amok Time,” in a weird way.
R: Wait, does this make Bruce Maddox the T’Pau or Stonn?
J: I’m sorry, the thinner atmosphere surrounding that analogy requires a tri-ox compound shot if we’re to continue. But the writers knew they had something good there. There are a few episodes where Riker must go up against Picard. Most famously, of course, the end of TNG season three’s “The Best of Both Worlds.”
R: I can still hear those trumpets blaring as the “To Be Continued . . .” came on the screen. And as someone who chose to spend their summers sitting in air-cooled comfort watching television and reading rather than having to go outside to play sports (the word still gets stuck in my throat), waiting for the summer of 1990 to end for the next episode to air was a particularly difficult season to get through. And don’t forget about TNG season seven’s “The Pegasus,” when Riker is ordered to keep the prototype cloaking device a secret from Picard—you can see it destroying him. It didn’t do much for my anxiety levels, either.
J: That whole episode stresses me out. I can watch anything, but I can’t bear to see Riker lie to our beloved captain. It wasn’t his fault, though! I really do love the way the two of them regularly know what the other is thinking, though, like the ending of TNG season two’s “A Matter of Honor,” and Riker’s on the Klingon ship. Neither of them quite knows how that standoff will work itself out, but they trust each other enough to let it happen.
R: For that, the best is TNG season six’s “Rascals,” when the aged-down Picard, or as I like to call him, “‘Lil’ J-L” must pretend to be Riker’s son. They both know exactly what to do and how to play it, but Riker is just loving every moment of it. He knows he’s going to be retelling this for years and years, because “Oh boy, this is going to make for a funny story.” Riker is one of the very few people who can crack a joke at Picard. And like any good friend, he knows exactly when to do it.
R: When you meet Raffi, it’s like, wait, is she supposed to be a Riker 2.0? Which, of course, she’s not. She’s her own person. And then Riker shows up cooking pizza later in the series.
J: Robb, I’m gonna need to grab some tissues if we’re talking about the group hug here.
R: We are. It’s a sensational part of a sensational first season of Picard. Partially great fan service, certainly, but also it narratively shored up that friendships with these wonderful characters were just expanding not breaking apart. Picard, Riker, and Troi are more than friends, they’re family. They’re our friends and family.
The Star Trek Book of Friendship will hit shelves on May 10.