Mon 22 Feb 2010
Yes, it’s a Star Trek book. I thought I’d already established my nerdiness prior to this. However, note the author: Diane Duane not only wrote an episode or two of Star Trek: The Next Generation but I think even a couple episodes of Gargoyles (a cartoon that no one under the age of 20 probably remembers, but it was Disney and most of the voice actors were from ST:TNG (1)) and at least one other ST:TOS book other than this one. Oh, and also So You Want to be a Wizard? and its myriad sequels, a standard of the YA fantasy genre. She lives in Ireland with her husband, fantasy author Peter Morwood, who apparently writes big ol’ Irish-inspired epics.
The plot’s pretty simple: Vulcan is having a debate over whether to stay in the Federation or leave it. Spock, Kirk, and McCoy have been called to Vulcan to assist in the debates on the side of staying in the Federation (obviously) but Sarek, Spock’s father and the Vulcan Ambassador to the Federation/Earth, is called to speak on the side of withdrawing from the Federation.
For fanpoodles of the new movie, please remember that because this is based on ST:TOS, Vulcan is intact, Amanda is still alive, Spock isn’t dating Uhura, and other random things one may not know about due to insufficient exposition to TOS prior to the reboot. However, there are funny bits if one is aware of the developments in canon post-1988(this book’s publication date). Sarek’s age was a bit off; the discussion of First Contact (between the Vulcans and Terrans) bears no relation to the movie First Contact; there’s some stuff in ENT about when the Surakian Vulcans came into control that, well, didn’t happen; and no one was quite sure what Dr. McCoy’s middle name is. (Fans found out in the sixth Star Trek movie that his middle initial was H.; canon doesn’t have an actual full version for it, but it sure isn’t Edward. Memory Beta says it’s Horatio, which is pretty much as bad as Tiberius. At least it’s pronounceable.)
Half the book, though, isn’t about Our Heroes and their debate, although the debate is reasonably lively and interesting. The alternate chapters are the Michener-like description of the entire history of the planet and sociology of Vulcan — well, confined to about 100 pages. At the beginning, it’s pretty slow, especially for those who aren’t huge fans of the Clan of the Cave Bear-like settings. (Like me.) Towards the end of the interludes, though, as the debate is heating up, we get things we recognize: Surak, the founder of the dominant school of Vulcan thought by the 23rd century, and Sarek and Amanda’s love story, which is particularly nice to see,
Ms. Duane’s conception of Amanda is, thanks to the time difference between when Spock’s mom first showed up (the late ’60s) and when the book was being written, significantly more interesting. In the TV show, she was a schoolteacher — but, well, really, how does a schoolteacher become an ambassador’s wife? Well, by not really being a schoolteacher; in this novel, she was one of the most important researchers for the Universal Translator working with the Vulcan language.
Of all the characters in the story, James T. Kirk is easily the least interesting. Despite his xenophobia (well-documented in TOS), it’s Dr. McCoy who shines in this story, with his dedication to the cause, lively debate, and zingers. Kirk mostly seems to be an adjunct to fill the gap between Spock and McCoy. Spock, of course, is the titular character and quite active, but he seems to be more useful as a symbol than anything else. He is one of the bridges between the two worlds, being half Vulcan and half Terran. He’s also . . . well, something more important, but then we’re getting into true spoiler territory.
Overall, I’d recommend it, if one is only going to read on Star Trek book. (What a coincidence — I’ve only read one Star Trek book.) It’s fairly well-written, although I’d avoid it if one doesn’t like long, philosophical narration (not data dumps) and a lot of historical data. Clearly, if one isn’t at all interested in the history of Vulcan, this won’t be terribly interesting. If one is looking for something more like an actual episode of TOS, with phaser fights and Tholian webs and Kirk seducing the green chick, this is not that book. The main conceit is a debate. (Fittingly, the friend who recommended it to me is the person with whom I coach middle-schoolers in debate.) Debates, while probably rousing in person, don’t make for high-action stories. And yet I liked it quite a bit and feel confident in recommending it. The audio book was read by Leonard Nimoy himself, in case one prefers those. 4.5/5 stars.
(1) ST:TNG = Star Trek: The Next Generation, and ST:TOS is Star Trek: The Original Series. DS9 is Deep Space 9; VOY is Voyager, and ENT is Enterprise, in case anyone cares and didn’t already figure it out.