The “giant” novels were Pocket’s stepping stone to hardcover Star Trek novels, which took over the ‘premium’ slots in the production of way too many novels at the start of the ’90s. They were longer, more involved stories, and the three Original Series giant novels were excellent. I’d heard good things about Metamorphosis, the first (of two) TNG giant novels, at the time, so I was happy to finally get to read it.

Now, I’m frustrated. This novel is well written, but has a big glaring problem.

Now, this isn’t a spoiler, this is the high-concept of the entire novel, stated clearly in the blurb: Data is turned into a human. The core tension of his character is that while as an android he is superhuman in many ways, there is much he is missing, and he longs to understand just how organic sentient life, and humans in particular, work. This is 1990, the series is still airing, so you know going in there’s going have to be a big reset button in there somewhere. If Data is still human at the end of the novel, then it’s not going to fit with anything else, and therefore he won’t be.

In fact, this novel is placed explicitly as happening right after “The Measure of a Man” in second season. (Which, by the way, is a very good episode, and well worth reviewing. Especially as it is the first appearance of Bruce Maddox, who shows up again in the first season of Picard.) Everyone is still feeling the emotional effects of the trial to determine if Data could be considered property, or an actual person. The Enterprise moves on to it’s next mission which is very interesting in and of itself.

In fact, given the prominence of that high concept, the plot does quite well without it. I won’t spoil that, but we are fairly deep in before the magic happens. Which, from our viewpoint, it might as well be, since Data is turned into an ordinary human down to the last detail (if perhaps with an uncanny resemblance to a 27-year old Brent Spiner). And we get treated to Data’s viewpoint as he discovers all he’s been missing. Sleep, eating (and the complexities of the human perception of taste), emotions, not being superhumanly strong and durable…. And, this is well done, and well thought through, and well presented.

This also serves as something of a bridge to a completely new plotline in the novel, as the Enterprise finishes up its mission, and goes on to the next, which, in the ordinary, run-of-the-mill, aired episodes scheme of things would be another episode entirely. Of course, Data (newly re-qualified for most of his duties) is different, and that ties in intimately with what’s going on here.

And here’s where we run into trouble. The big reset button that you know must be in here somewhere shows up. I do think it’s a little more forced than the change itself, and a bit more abrupt, pacing wise. But the big problem of the novel is here: the reset is basically going back in time so that Data never becomes human, and in so doing, he also loses all memories having been human. (Technically, he has the memories, just sealed away, so he gets a couple bouts of deja vu as we go through the finishing leg of the time loop.)

Plots are the general ‘engine’ of a story. The mainspring that serves it is that the main character will learn (or occasionally, spectacularly fail to learn) something by the end of the story. This is often subtle, but robbing the character of his memories at the end makes them unable to do this at all, and spells danger to the plot as a whole. I particularly find this irksome, and I am put out by any story that does this (the end of Silver on the Tree wrecked an entire series for me).

That said, Data does get to save the day at the end, and does learn something related to the main theme here anyway. But… we still have nearly two hundred pages that might as well not exist as far as any of the characters are concerned. I still give a limited recommendation to this novel because it is well written, and if you want to see how Data handles being human, this is a good presentation of it.