A book by Greg Cox
One of the biggest shames of my book collection is that I have not read very many Star Trek novels for quite a long time, this is despite owning quite a few of them. I’ve picked up discounted ones online and also digital copies of a few of them through sales on Amazon, and yet a lot of them still sit there. As to avoid the sort of burnout that could happen if I predominantly read nothing but the entire series of Star Wars books, which is what it seems like I was doing lately, I’ve decided to dip my toe into reading some of my numerous Star Trek novels that I’ve had for a long time and have not opened.
For this review I decided to read Star Trek Legacies – Captain to Captain seeing that the premise of the book highlights a character that I feel has been largely overlooked in Star trek fandom up until recently. That character is none other than Captain Una Chin-Riley, commonly known professionally as “Number One.” The character actually only appeared in a single solitary episode of Star Trek- The Original Series called “The Cage” that was a repurposed version of the original pilot episode of the show that was later scrapped. Originally portrayed by Majel Barrett Roddenberry, the character has received a bit of a resurgence with the advent of the new show Star Trek – Strange New Worlds. Due to the portrayal of the character by Rebecca Romjin I now have a keen interest on learning more about the character and a book like this jumped out at me as a perfect opportunity.
“An epic new trilogy begins – a tie-in for the milestone 50th anniversary ofStar Trek: The Original Series – that stretches from the earliest voyages of the starship Enterprise to Captain Kirk’s historic five-year mission and from one universe to another! Hidden aboard the USS Enterprise is a secret that has been passed from captain to captain, from Robert April to Christopher Pike to James T. Kirk. Now the return of the enigmatic woman once known as Number One has brought that secret to light, and Kirk and his crew must risk everything to finish a mission that began with April so many years ago. Nearly two decades earlier, April and his crew first visited the planet Usilde, where they found both tragedy and a thorny moral dilemma. Today the legacy of that fateful occasion will compel Kirk to embark on a risky voyage back to that forbidden world – which is now deep in territory claimed by the Klingon Empire!”
On paper, this book seems to be a recipe for boredom – a book that pushes aside a lot of the big action set pieces that make up modern science fiction, all replaced with an entire story built around exploration and cultural differences of numerous alien races, as well as what it means to observe The Prime Directive in situations where it may not be the best idea. Surprisingly, I was on the proverbial edge of my seat the entire time, and could not wait to read more anytime I had to put the book down.
The book revels in world-building, especially with establishing the political spheres of two alien races that are completely at odds with each other. On one hand, you have the primitive Usildar, a race of arboreal tribal creatures that are frequently compared to some sort of apes. These are the original inhabitants of the contested planet that Una finds herself on, and recently have been forced to live in fear of a race of interlopers. Next, you have the race referred to as the Jatohr, creatures that somewhat resemble gigantic slugs and really push the boundaries of how “alien” an alien can be in Star Trek. Normally, most creatures in the world created by Gene Roddenberry nearly 60 years ago, are varying sizes of humanoids with some sort of forehead or nose prosthetic in order to tell them apart (or as my favorite Star Trek podcast refers to it – “loaf”).
The Jatohr are bizarre creatures that are completely devoid of any sort of human anatomy, move on the ground via slime on one large mollusk-like foot, communicate through a series of gargles that are translated via an external machine on their behalf, and have small robotic arms that allow the creatures to pick up and manipulate things. Even something as innocuous as the gender of these creatures is completely different to that of humans and other humanoids as it is shown that they exist in one hermaphroditic gender. truthfully, these are the sort of aliens I would love to see in the show now that they have computer generated effects and the money to use it.
Aside from solid worldbuilding and the creation of some interesting alien races, this book does a great job of chronicling the history of the Starship Enterprise throughout the eighteen or so years that the particular model of the ship was in service that we see in the classic show. the book jumps around through numerous points in time including the main time frame, the captainship of James T Kirk, references to Una’s time as the first officer for Captain Christopher Pike, and finally flashbacks to her time as a rookie Starfleet officer under the leadership of Captain Robert April, a character that is so sparsely used in the classic material that there was not even a canon depiction of his likeness until recently (yes I’m aware of the cartoon). Showing scenes from this period was really cool and did a great job fleshing out some things that I did not know about the history of the ship and Number One’s past.
The reason the book does this is that the entire plot hinges on the fact that on one solitary away mission, Number One’s first one ever as leader, a horrible accident happened resulting in the disappearance of numerous members of Starfleet due to her run-in with the Jahtor. This is obviously a haunted Una for the better part of two decades to a degree that she feels that she would rather put her job in jeopardy then allow her former friends to rot away for the rest of their lives and what could very well be an alternate universe. Faced with the possibility that the Klingons are about to gain access to the star system that the planet exists in, thus removing any possibility of rescue, she knows that this is possibly the last time she can even attempt to save her friends.
By the end of Captain to Captain, I was so eager to read more of the story to see where some of the characters end up that I immediately purchased the next book in the series. This one ends on such a cliffhanger that I absolutely did not want to miss any time seeing where the plot goes. What I would estimate to be somewhere around a 10-to-11-hour book felt like it flew by, and I was able to power through it very quickly due to how engrossing it was. For one of my first forays back into reading Star Trek novels, I couldn’t have asked for a better choice than this book. This series was actually created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the franchise and I truthfully can’t think of anything better than highlighting characters that may have been overlooked in the series prior. If the quality of most modern Star Trek books is like this, I think I might slowly start incorporating more of these into my reading very soon.