When a long-standing and venerable franchise organizes its resources to mark a huge milestone, the result will usually go one of two ways. Either the fan wank will be absolutely over-the-top and sabotage what’s gone before in disturbingly asinine ways (Doctor Who), or the rich history will be explored and excavated in such a way as to cultivate a story that honors the past and, with a little luck, builds new bridges into the future (James Bond, Skyfall).
On that note, Simon & Schuster celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star Trek with this Legacies trilogy. I honestly don’t know if I should say they’ve pulled out all the stops or if I should claim welcome restraint. I suppose it’s both. What I will say is that this book checked every single box I’ve ever had about Star Trek, a feat that, quite frankly, I’ve missed in the franchise since the cancellation of Enterprise in 2005. And then it checked a few more just because it could. The result is an incredibly satisfying read that only elicits more tears and frustrations when I take note of the newer films.
For me, The Original Series is the end-all / be-all when it comes to the foundations of everything Star Trek can be. These are the characters I grew up on. These are the missions I enjoy the most. Without this foundation, nothing else could be built upon it. It comes back to this solid idea that continues to expand as our own culture does. But as with Star Wars, for me part of the fascination with Star Trek lies in figuring out how we got to what we see on screen. Today, the idea of the “prequel” is something of a quick slander that causes most to dismiss the stories that have yet to be told. Most say they’re unnecessary. And perhaps some are. But the truly big stories are worth telling. Many fans of The Next Generation will point back to Kirk and call him out for being a menace, an accusation that has been made on screen in Deep Space Nine. This, too, is easy slander that dismisses the rich and rewarding nuance that provides such story opportunities in TOS. It’s also the difference between being a good Starfleet officer and a truly great hero. For those who seek to understand such nuance backed by the incredible tapestry of Star Trek‘s history, this book is for you.
“The Prime Directive is not just a set of rules. It is a philosophy, and a very correct one. History has proven again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.”
— Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Symbiosis”
In the late 80s and early 90s when TNG was aired, we saw how Starfleet and the Federation at large had developed into a fully-organized society a la Gene Roddenberry’s original vision. In-story, there had been a hundred years of understanding and interpretation of the laws that were relatively new in Jim Kirk’s era. This book explores the early interpretation of the Prime Directive by the Enterprise‘s first commander, Captain Robert April, and the ramifications of a cover up and a secret that’s been passed captain to captain, first officer to first officer, behind Starfleet’s back, for the greater good of the known universe.
But guilt and loyalty to friends left behind have forced the hand of one of Starfleet’s most honored captains. Captain Una, also known as Number One, was but a young lieutenant early in her career, in charge of the landing party on a mission gone horribly wrong. Carrying the secret of those events through her service as Captain Pike’s first officer and ultimately passing that secret to Kirk and Spock, her career and advances in science and understanding have afforded her the opportunity to at long last make amends and perhaps put things right. To some, it would be an off-the-rails gambit perpetrated by an obsessed, desperate lunatic. Kirk and especially Spock know Captain Una far better than that.
The timing could not be worse, however, as Una’s gambit takes her back to the primitive world where it all began, which now lies in disputed Klingon territory on the eve of an upcoming peace accord with the Empire. Had Una been successful in her intent to act alone, she could be disavowed, assuming she would be discovered at all. But the Enterprise is in pursuit, for her captain knows all too well what’s at stake.
For those looking to fully appreciate the context of the references, here is some of what you can expect. I’m sure I’m missing a few because I didn’t take notes.
*Captain Christopher Pike / Number One / Vina / Talos IV – “The Menagerie”
*The Babel peace conference – “Journey to Babel”
*Kodos the Executioner – “The Conscience of the King”
*The Mirror Universe / the Tantalus Field – “Mirror, Mirror”
*Slingshot Effect – “Tomorrow is Yesterday”
*Klingon First Contact / The “Broken Bow” incident – “Broken Bow, Part I” (Enterprise)
*The Organian Peace Treaty – “Errand of Mercy”
*Captain Robert April – “The Counter-Clock Incident” (The Animated Series)
*The Romulan Star Empire – “Balance of Terror”
These references go beyond mere fan wank. They mark how the Star Trek universe has formed, and how things have evolved since. What’s more important is how these things serve to inform the story at hand, and it is done oh so very well.
In the classic Star Trek tradition, there’s quite a bit of social commentary to be offered. For example, the Prime Directive was a commentary on American involvement in Vietnam in the late 60s, a protest covertly hidden from network executives who never looked beneath the surface. Today, that commentary is even more relevant. But it doesn’t stop there. Within this story, you’ll find thought provoking commentary on refugees, racial intolerance, xenophobia, imperialism, and encroaching enviromental crisis caused by artifical development. In the progressive nature of Star Trek‘s tradition, there is usage of gender neutral pronouns, such as “hir” and “s/he.” It seems awkward to have these unfamiliar pronouns in play, but ideas like these aren’t really new. They’re just not used in everyday context. Here, there is ample reason to do so.
And above and beyond everything else, the character beats are there. One of the great things about a long-time franchise is that the characters are more fully-formed than many real people you can name. They have personalities and reasons for why they do what they do, the way they do it. It’s all here, every note pitch perfect, composed and conducted by a writer who knows what Star Trek should feel like. This is how you honor a legacy.
As satisfying as this book is, this is only part one. The cliffhanger ending serves only to add an extra level of “oh HELL no!” as anti-matter is injected into an already unstable situation. The ramifications of that will further open up Star Trek‘s vast sandbox in the second book. I’m grateful I don’t have to wait much longer. I have both remaining volumes on pre-order from Audible.
Book 2 – Best Defense – July 26
Book 3 – Purgatory’s Key – August 30
I can’t wait.