A Time to Love, by Robert Greenberger, is the fifth book in the Time to... series of Star Trek: The Next Generation novels, taking place immediately before the movie Star Trek: Nemesis. The first four books were up and down affairs, wallowing in Trek continuity and occasionally telling a good story. A Time to Love, however, is the first one that's been fully satisfying. It is rather lightweight, but for some reason it packs a punch. It begins the story of how William Riker, first officer of the Enterprise, finally finds himself with a command of his own after all these years under Captain Picard. While concentrating on this and his relationship with Deanna Troi, the book also tells a great story too.
A Time to Love is a short book (263 pages), but somehow Greenberger packs a lot into it. The first ten pages are a little slow as he summarizes what's happened so far in the series, but he does it in an interesting fashion: having Troi and Riker going through crew transfer applications, commenting on what's happened so far and how it's affecting morale. This scene is also important as it begins the realization, carried throughout this book and the next, that Riker has to finally make a decision about his life. He's 42 years old, he and Troi have rekindled their romance (in the movie Insurrection, but they haven't moved forward. Just what is he waiting for? Plus, he has turned down many command opportunities to stay with Enterprise, but is that still the right thing to do? I've never seen such an effective summary before, giving us new information even as it goes over old. Some of the later scenes, such as Geordi's, do slow down and tell us too much about the past without anything happening, but those scenes are not very long.
The characterization in this book is wonderful. Riker and Troi get the most, but everybody else is great too. Picard is getting fed up with the boring missions that he's been given, mainly to keep Enterprise out of the spotlight and allow time for the furor to die down. Picard feels put upon, and he wishes for a mission that he can sink his teeth into. The Delta Sigma IV mission turns out to be just what he asked for, but perhaps too much. His frustration when the ruling council on Delta Sigma IV is frozen with indecision is palpable, as his annoyance with himself when he realizes that he hasn't kept on top of the situation on the Enterprise very well during the mission. Crusher's indecision about the offer to head Starfleet Medical is hanging over her head, and she keeps coming to the realization that she and Picard will never have a romantic relationship and she must also look to her career. In the meantime, though, she is determined to do as much to help the people on the planet below as she is able.
Even better are the scenes with the various security officers as they try to quiet the situation down on the planet before it escalates into even more violence. We get scene after scene of these officers doing their job, many of which look like they're going to end with the typical "red shirt" ending, but they don't always. This makes the scenes that *do* contain something bad even more effective. Greenberger writes these scenes with tension, keeping the reader entranced to know what will happen next. These scenes also give wonderful characterization to Lt. Vale, the security chief who is responsible for all of these men and women. Greenberger perhaps has too many times where he says that Vale would give her life for Picard, over-emphasizing it a little bit, but overall her characterization is quite good.
Kyle Riker doesn't figure a lot in this book, except by his absence and the effect of the search for him on Will. These scenes are extremely effective, with Will contemplating what barriers that have been in the way of the reconciliation of him and his father, as well as taking stock of his life. Riker is taken on his search by one of the natives and they visit the man's home as well, emphasizing just what Riker has been missing all these years. While being full of action and conflict (emotional and violent), the book makes a very effective character study of Will, as well as the other regulars. I found it incredibly entertaining to read.
The only weak spot in the novel (and this may just be setting up something for the next few books) is the Geordi and Data story, where Geordi has to scrounge for parts by trading with various other starships in the area like some supply sergeant. Data suggests that Geordi become a true supply sergeant by getting everybody's inventory and seeing what they have and what they need, facilitating the delivery of these parts through a Ferengi trader. This subplot doesn't appear to have anything to do with anything except to give these two major characters something to do. I hope that changes, but in this book they felt forced into the story, and as short as it is, I think the other storylines could have been developed a bit more.
Still, that is the only true fault. A Time to Love flows very nicely, flying by as you read it. The prose isn't wonderful, but it's greatly functional, serving its purpose and getting out of the way. These are the characters I know and love, and Greenberger manages to tone the angst down considerably. No mean feat in this series so far. This is the first true winner in the series.