Continuing my celebration of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, I’m picking up where I left off last time, and counting down my 15 all-time favorite Star Trek novels. To reiterate my criteria: First and foremost, when I’m reading a Star Trek novel, I want to feel like I’m immersed in the Star Trek universe as I know it from the TV series and the films. I want the book to capture, as best as it can, the experience of watching a new live-action Star Trek adventure—but since it’s a novel, it can and should delve much deeper, and deliver concepts and events that aren’t limited by a TV or movie production budget.
The novel should adhere to the continuity and to the “rules” set forth in the filmed episodes and movies, which make up what has become commonly known as “the official canon.” I expect the characters to be written in a manner consistent with how they’re portrayed on screen. When I read the characters’ dialogue, I want to hear in my head the voices of the actors who play them.
So here are numbers 10—6...
10. Timetrap by David Dvorkin (1988)
At the time this novel was published, Star Trek: The Next Generation had just recently launched, and established that the Federation and the Klingon Empire of the 24th century had forged an alliance. So it was easy for me to accept the premise that Captain Kirk is somehow thrust 100 years into the future, to find himself surrounded by friendly Klingons who aren’t out for his blood. (There’s a twist, of course.) One of the reasons this book appealed to me is that, although it never comes out and states it explicitly, it is the first novel to go beyond the events of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which had been released two years earlier. Dvorkin presents an older Kirk who, although he is back in command of the Enterprise, reflects on how the years are starting to catch up to him, and the fact that he needs to wear the “archaic” reading glasses that McCoy had given to him as a birthday gift in The Wrath of Khan. It was very rare for a Star Trek novel to be set that far into the timeline, in the same era as the movies that were being produced, and it made the book feel more current and immediate.
If you’ve ever read Stephen King’s nonfiction book Danse Macabre, you may recall that it includes a long segment provided by writer Harlan Ellison, in which he describes in great detail the story idea he pitched to Paramount Pictures in the mid-1970s, for the first Star Trek movie. It’s a fascinating premise that takes the Enterprise back in time to the Pleistocene period on Earth, with Kirk and crew on a mission to stop a race of reptilian aliens from manipulating history. The aliens want to ensure that their distant brethren, the life forms that originally dominated Earth, don’t get wiped out, which in turn would mean that humans never become the dominant life forms on the planet. Obviously, that idea wasn’t pursued by Paramount, and ultimately we got Star Trek: The Motion Picture instead. But if you prefer Ellison’s concept over V’Ger, well, this is the book for you. (I wonder if Harlan knows about it!) My guess is that it got the green light in the wake of the phenomenal success of the movie version of Jurassic Park—just look at the cover. Whatever the case, it’s a good read—certainly the best Star Trek novel by Diane Carey that I’ve ever read. (Incidentally, Ellison reworked his story idea into the 2013 graphic novel 7 Against Chaos. I didn’t love it, but it was certainly interesting to see how he brought the premise to fruition all those years later.)
I can’t think of a more ambitious Star Trek novel than this one. It’s certainly the first, and possibly the only, one of its kind. The story spans hundreds of years, involving an expansive cast of characters, with a common thread that runs all the way through and touches all of their lives. It’s set in the mid-21st century, with space pioneer Zefram Cochrane making the first successful warp flight and World War III being fought, as well as the 23rd century, depicting an adventure of the U.S.S. Enterprise under Captain Kirk during his original five-year mission that ties into the episode “Metamorphosis,” along with a related voyage of the Enterprise-D under Captain Jean-Luc Picard that takes place 100 years later. It’s a grand, epic ride that never loses sight of the characters in play. At the time of its release, Federation could pretty much be considered the ultimate Star Trek novel, but within two years, the movie Star Trek: First Contact contradicted much of what was established in it, and as a result, the novel lost some of its impact. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s an impressive achievement, and still a story well worth reading—I actually think it’s better, and more true to the Star Trek canon, than First Contact.
I have fond memories of reading this book immediately upon purchasing it. It was a very engaging and enjoyable Star Trek novel, and it really stood out for me because it was published at a time when I was finding myself, more often than not, very disappointed in what was being released as professional Star Trek fiction. Much like Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which it predates by two years, it’s a story about how ecologically shortsighted we can be as a species, and the inconsiderate ways in which we treat other life-forms. In this allegorical tale, author Melinda Snodgrass addresses the poaching of baby seals by using an alien species, the Singers of the planet Taygeta V, as a stand-in. It marks one of the rare occasions in which Uhura gets to take center stage, and she finds herself in a romance with a brilliant but arrogant musical composer who may hold the key to helping the Singers—and to stopping a growing spatial anomaly from spreading throughout the universe. Snodgrass, incidentally, went on to join the writing staff of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and wrote one of its very best episodes, “The Measure of a Man.”
6. Faces of Fire by Michael Jan Friedman (1992)
This is the first work of Star Trek fiction to explore the backstory of Captain Kirk’s son, David Marcus, and to show how Kirk learned of the boy’s existence. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s the definitive version. Extrapolating from the somewhat vague clues provided in The Wrath of Khan, Michael Jan Friedman puts together a scenario that I feel works perfectly. While later novels (and comics) indicate that Kirk knew about David all along, Friedman establishes here that Kirk was not aware that he had a son until very late in the five-year mission, sometime after the original 79 television episodes. I much prefer this approach—that we the audience didn’t know Kirk was a father during those episodes because he didn’t know it either. In this novel, Kirk and David’s mother, Dr. Carol Marcus, are unexpectedly reunited as Carol is doing preliminary work on Project Genesis, and when Kirk takes a good look at the 10-year-old boy, he realizes the truth. Confronting Carol, he fails to convince her to tell David who his father is. She agrees to think about it—but only if Kirk stays away. This dovetails seamlessly with the scene in TWOK in which the older Kirk says to Carol, “I did what you wanted. I stayed away. Why didn’t you tell him?” In terms of Star Trek novels that flesh out underexplored bits of continuity, Faces of Fire is among the best—sort of an unofficial companion piece to the aforementioned The Pandora Principle, in that both books focus on key characters introduced in Star Trek II. My only real quibble—and it’s a pretty minor one—is that I feel the inclusion of a younger Kruge—the Klingon commander from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock who battles Kirk on the Genesis Planet and is responsible for David’s death—is a bit too convenient and too cutesy, in that “prequel” sort of way.
We’re in the home stretch! Next time, the countdown concludes with numbers 5—1! See you then.
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© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2016.