Star Trek: Sarek by A. C. Crispin

As I write this, I realize it’s been nearly 4 months since we lost Leonard Nimoy. This is the first Star Trek novel I’ve read since then, and having been a fan for decades, it’s a hard one to wrestle with. I rarely bother with Trek audiobooks for two reasons. First, most of them are abridged, which bothers me to no end. Second, most of them feel like second-rate fan fiction, rarely expanding upon the mythos in a way that seems credible or even in a way that matters. I used to devour the novels like mad in my teens and 20s, and when they were good, they were really good. But then the novel series as a whole hit a rut, and I stopped cold. I think I’ve read maybe 3 Trek novels since in the past 20 years. I’m discovering that I may have a need to reinvest in some of those missed novels, and as such Pocket Books and Audible need to deliver some more unabridged content because I can’t read paper books as quickly as I used to back then.

A.C. Crispin is one of the few Trek authors that I’ve always respected. She understood the core characters, she had a grasp for what made Trek tick in a way that felt right (a rarity since the mid-90s), and above all she understood the Vulcans. Her work in this regard always seemed an extension of the foundations laid out by D.C. Fontana (and that legacy continues here). And yet… this novel is one that was published years after I bailed out of that rut. So now, decades later, I find it on Audible, unabridged, and so very timely. The result is a bittersweet reunion of sorts.

In the wake of the Abrams reboot unceremoniously killing Spock’s mother Amanda in the equally unceremonious scrapping of Vulcan, this book carries this old fan back to the versions of characters I knew so well… to be confronted with Amanda’s death. The effect of how well this is delivered is that you grieve right along with Spock and Sarek. At the same time, you get to know all three of them again in the years before the original series via Amanda’s journal entries. That’s layer one of the nostalgia factor this plays upon.

Layer two of that nostalgia is that this novel is focused in the wake of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, aka the final voyage of the Enterprise under Kirk’s command, or so we were told. This book not only ignores the sentimental conclusion to that film, but it outright defies the illogical conclusion that Enterprise even needed decommissioning so quickly as Kirk and Sarek are pulled into a conspiracy that goes far deeper than the film suggested. What else is nostalgia for, if not to help revisit old friends right where you last left them decades before? While it’s a bit distracting at times, it should be noted that the accepted timeline of the films (which you can now find easily with a quick online search) goes right out the window here, suggesting frequently that the events of Trek III take place a mere three years before this book. And that is literally the worst thing I can say about this book.

Layer three of the nostalgia involves reiterating how much time has passed by showing us how much Kirk’s nephew has grown, a character not mentioned since his single appearance in the original series. As he’s become the target of the conspiracy, designed to bait Kirk, this aspiring Starfleet cadet is the sole survivor of the family line who must ultimately prove his worthiness to the name. So we get the past, the present, and the future in one cohesive story that picks up right where the original generation left off, helping to fill in some of the gaps on the road to The Next Generation. The conspiracy deals not only with the Klingons, but also with the Romulans in a plot that stretches back over 70 years. And because we’ve been given Trek content since this novel’s publication, we can see now how some of this potentially points back to the fallout of events decades before that on the timeline that we watched on Star Trek: Enterprise. That’s four major Trek races, three generations of beloved characters, and a plot that fills in some of the unanswered questions in two otherwise fuzzy eras (pre-TOS and post film series), all delivered by a writer who knows how to juggle all of this and make it count.

Aside from the compressed timeline, everything else here feels right. The politics of Star Trek are prominently on display. The racial characterizations and stereotypes are both played upon and swept aside as this uncertain era unfolds. The individual characters are written to spec, with all of their mannerisms and foibles in place. As a bonus, the narrator gives a cadence to his performance of them that stops short of mimicry or an outright spoof, so the effect comes across honestly. The overall result is a book that comes across as both welcome fan service and solid Star Trek in the grand tradition that the powers-that-be seem to have forgotten. For this fan, it’s like coming home.

4 stars

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