Book Review: Star Trek: That Which Divides
by Dayton Ward
Pocket Books, 2012
Fans of the original Star Trek TV series will no doubt remember the episode “That Which Survives” from the show’s much-maligned third and final season. In that episode, the Enterprise approaches a planet that, as Captain Kirk quips, “even Spock can’t explain”: an entire world that seems artificially constructed. As Kirk and his party are transporting down to investigate, two things happen: a mysterious woman appears in the transporter room (and kills the transporter operator with a single touch), and the Enterprise is instantly hurled hundreds of light-years from the planet. On the surface, Kirk & co. face apparently the same woman, a melancholy siren named Losira whose touch is deadly. At the episode’s conclusion, we learn that Losira is a ‘projection’ – basically a hologram, only – in true Star Trek fashion – decade or more before the concept even began to become common. She was the last image of the Kalandans, occupants of the planet who died long ago of a disease they accidentally created. Although the story for the episode was reputedly the work of D. C. Fontana, the episode isn’t particularly memorable except for Losira herself, played by the gorgeous Lee Meriwether as duty-driven but ineffably sad. No fan would ever include “That Which Survives” on one of the top-ten-episodes lists fans like so much.
On virtually every one of those lists, however, would be the first-season episode “The Galileo Seven,” in which Mr. Spock and his crew on the eponymous Enterprise shuttle crash-land on a planet inhabited by bloodthirsty spear-wielding creatures and barely survive the experience. During the tense moments of that episode, Mr. Spock’s cool logic is constantly bucked by an angry character named Lieutenant Boma, who becomes outright insubordinate as hope seems to fade.
Both Lieutenant Boma and the Kalandans make re-appearances in one of the latest “Star Trek” novels, Dayton Ward’s almost parodically soporific That Which Divides. In that novel, Lieutenant Boma is serving on board the science vessel Huang Zhong as it investigates the peaceful planet Dolysia, in orbit of which a strange spatial rift opens every three years and allows travel inside the rift, to a planetoid the Dolysians call Gralafi. While investigating, the Huang Zhong is crippled by the energies of the rift and then fired upon by mysterious forces on the surface of Gralafi. The ship crashes with the loss of almost everyone on board – Lt. Boma ends up in command, as Ward hilariously puts it:
As the senior of the three members of the Huang Zhong’s crew to survive the ship’s crash landing on Gralafi, it had fallen to him to interface with the Dolysian miners who had come to their rescue.
- in case you’re wondering, no, the Dolysian miners in question here aren’t robots; Ward has just decided that ‘interface’ works here as a word for person-to-person communication. If it sounds instead like the kind of things computers do with each other, well, it’s got lots of company in this book. Here’s a snatch of narration from the final moments of the Huang Zhong:
“Our speed is increasing,” T’Vrel reported. “At our present angle and rate of descent, we will crash on the planetoid’s surface.”
From where she still sat at a workstation adjacent to Herbert’s, Advisor Zihl said, “It cannot be anything belonging to us. We possess no technology capable of such feats.”
In truth, [Captain] Arens did not believe the Dolysians to be capable of an assault of this nature on his ship. Every briefing he had read or received on the civilization and its level of technological advancement supported that contention.
That’s while the ship is fighting for its life and in the process of crashing – it would be singularly funny if it were in any way singular in this book, but instead, it’s common: on every page, the writing is padded out with arid nonsense like this, as stultifying as it is irritating. The Enterprise is dispatched to Dolysia to find out what happened, and in the course of their precisely by-the-book investigation protocol procedures, it comes to light that the planetoid inside the rift was constructed by our old friends the Kalandans, who are all still dead and who are represented holographically this time around by a different sad siren who also shows up to deliver pre-programmed bad news at regular intervals.
The plot wrinkle complicating all this is the appearance of some Romulan warships intent on figuring out what’s interesting the Federation so much about this one backwater world. When describing the situation to his captain, one of those Romulan officers unwittingly diagnoses the central problem with this novel:
“So the humans are conducting their own investigation?” Vathrael asked.
Sirad nodded. “It’s what they do, Commander. They investigate, discuss, document, and categorize anything and everything to the point of exhaustion.”
The problem is obvious: although he’s using concepts and characters from the original series, Ward is accidentally writing a Next Generation novel by mistake, trying to make Kirk & co. sound like the crew of that later Enterprise, who really do speak in extended, bloodless protocols and procedures like a third-rate retail store manager giving a policy orientation. Hell, Kirk has a fist-fight with the Romulan Commander at the book’s climax, and the whole thing reads like an air conditioner instruction manual.
Some Star Trek fiction fans have always expressed a fondness for books like this one, books that set out to narrate what amounts to an unfilmed episode of the original series. This fondness is utterly mysterious except as a kind of necrophiliac sentimentality; written science fiction has always been capable of a lot more than you could do with $650 on a styrofoam Paramount sound stage. There is no character-work in the numbing pages of That Which Divides, no humor, no insight into the legendary first five-year mission of Kirk’s Enterprise, no excitement, and no tension worth mentioning. None of this might be Ward’s fault – who knows what content-restrictions Paramount might still place on these novels, even though they’re extensions of an old, abandoned movie-continuity (this is not the Enterprise of the new movie franchise, remember), and younger Star Trek fans might not even bridle at such lackluster stuff. But fans who’ve read some of the sub-genre’s best entries will find this book brutally dull.