Our book today is the latest Star Trek novel, Greg Cox’s Star Trek Legacies: Captain to Captain, the first volume in a new trilogy from Pocket Books commemorating 2016’s 50th anniversary of the original appearance of the “classic” version of the show. The idea is clearly to celebrate the show’s rich history; the plot Cox unfolds is set in the original five-year-mission of the USS Enterprise under the command of Captain James T. Kirk, and he casts that plot backward into the show’s past.
Or at least a version of the show’s past. In Captain to Captain, the Enterprise welcomes a special guest: Captain Una, who for years was an officer on the Enterprise under the command of Captain Christopher Pike, an cool, collected officer enigmatically named “Number One.” She styles the reason for her visit as simply a chance to catch up with her old shipmate Mr. Spock, but in reality she has a secret motive: she wants to steal a special alien artifact she knows is hidden in the the captain’s cabin – knows that because the knowledge of the artifact has been kept a secret from Starfleet but handed down privately from captain and first officer to captain and first officer over the years, starting with Captain Robert April, through Christopher Pike, to James Kirk (if your eyebrow went up, Spock-style, at the prospect of a miracle device not only going unfound during ship-wide refits but also going unused during the drastic emergencies that happen to the Enterprise every week … well, mine did too). Captain Una has come to the Enterprise in order to steal that device and use it to save a small group of crewmates she lost years before – but first, there’s a friendly reception to get through:
The reception, which was being held in the main rec room, had been under way for some time. Officers and enlisted personnel mingled freely, sipping brightly colored drinks while sampling a buffet of exotic hors d’oeuvres from the ship’s galley, including Antosian puff pastries, Rigelian caviar, Illyrian mango slices, and bite-sized cucumber sandwiches. Given that the crew was already overdue for shore leave, Spock judged the festivities good for morale, which he had gradually come to realize was a significant issue with respect to humans and other more emotional species. The party was, of course, being held in honor of Captain Una, who certainly merited such hospitality.
It’s a brick wall, isn’t it? Maybe even a duranium wall. We’re told that the reception was held in the main rec room, as if we’d need to know that in order to get there; we’re told that “officers and enlisted personnel” were present, as if we’re reading the event notice on the ship’s bulletin board; we’re told that all the alien goodies came from the ship’s galley, in case we were wondering if Rigelian caviar came from the engine room; we’re told that Captain Una certainly merited the hospitality, as if Cox himself, not Mr. Spock, were reminding us of that.
It’s sludgy prose, and it fills the book. Captain Una succeeds in stealing her alien MacGuffin and escapes on her sturdy single-person space shuttle. Kirk and Spock quickly discover what they should have been able to predict before it happened and give chase, and by the time they catch up with her, she’s reached her destination: an abandoned alien laboratory on a world contested by the Klingons, who are now in hot pursuit as well. But even at what should be the book’s dramatic high point, everybody still remains not only firmly out of character but unbearably turgid. This is the ship-wide announcement Captain Kirk makes to his crew as they race to a very probable confrontation:
“Attention, all crew. This is the captain speaking. No doubt you are wondering what we are doing here in this disputed region of space. Certain details are classified, but I can tell you this: Captain Una has absconded with a potentially dangerous piece of alien technology that was recovered from Libros III some eighteen years ago, when the Enterprise was under the command of Captain Robert April. We have reason to believe that she is pursuing her own agenda on the planet, but her objective is uncertain and her mission has not been sanctioned by Starfleet Our goal is to recover Captain Una – and the aforementioned technology – before either can fall into the hands of the Klingon Empire. We hope to achieve that goal and return to our previous course with all due speed. Captain out.”
I read every new Star Trek novel, and I honestly have no idea how to explain stuff like this. The authors of these books always profess their long-standing love of the TV show, but who, after watching even two or three episodes only once, could think that endless corporate memorandum sounded anything like the Captain Kirk in the original series?
And what about that original series? In the history of Star Trek book-adaptations (excluding only the early quickie-adaptations done by James Blish, who was working from scripts in any case), the underlying “canon” has always been determined not by other books but by film: if something’s made it to the screen (small or big), it’s canon – and if it hasn’t made it there, it’s not. For instance, throughout Captain to Captain, we’re told that Number One is an Illyrian – because there’s a long fan-fiction history along those lines – but since we’re told nothing at all about Number One in the one filmed episode in which she appears, that’s not canon.
But what about somebody who is canon? I refer to poor Captain Jonathan Archer, the first captain of the Enterprise, who most certainly is canon, having helmed his vessel for several seasons of a fine TV Star Trek show. It’s true that his command took place before that of Captain April, but he’s not even mentioned when the book refers to “the earliest voyages of the Starship Enterprise” – Cox’s clear implication is that he’s working with the pre-Archer timeline of the original show, in which the Enterprise‘s command went first to April, then to Pike, then to Kirk. It was oddly pleasant to re-visit that version of the show’s fictional history, but it still made me feel sorry for poor Captain Archer and his beagle.
The next book in the “Legacies” series will be written by David Mack, who’s written a whole slew of some of the most stodgy Star Trek novels in the bookstore. But there’s a hum-dinger of a big plot buried under Greg Cox’s own stodginess, so I’ll have to hope Mack can tease some of it out.
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