01 June 2016

Books: Star Trek: Elusive Salvation By Dayton Ward (2016)

The shared universe of Star Trek novels –and the sheer numbers published continuously since 1979 when Pocket Books overtook Bantam Books (who released a sporadic, but fair number of titles in the early to mid 1970s) - means the quality of them goes up and down from novel to novel. And it’s hard sometimes not to see these tales as nothing less than fan fiction, albeit “official”, for most seem to revolve around characters and situations established on the various TV series and movies over Star Trek’s 50 year life span. Even the fan web series, which began around 2000 and continue today, seem obsessed with doing sequels to TV episodes instead of trying to do original stories using the Star Trek characters. 

Part of that, I guess, is that fans like familiarity. By doing continuations of those stories, concepts and ideas, the readers are not subjected to anything that may be challenging. And I don’t mean to sounds like an ass when I say that, it’s just today’s media seems infatuated with idea that originality is somehow dangerous and that the audience only wants retreads of what came before. And that’s part of the reason why I sort of left the Star Trek original novel series behind, only occasionally dipping my toe back when something peaks my interest.

And while Elusive Salvation is a serviceable novel, light and fun, the reader clearly knows how this will all end from the start of the adventure. 

“The Arctic Circle, 1845: Escaping the tyranny under which their people have lived for generations, aliens from a distant planet crash land on Earth’s inhospitable frozen wastes. Surviving the harsh conditions will pose a challenge, but over time the aliens will migrate to more populated areas, with decades passing as they work to conceal their presence from their former oppressors, who continue to hunt them at any cost. San Francisco, 2283: When a mysterious craft is detected entering the solar system, Admiral James Kirk is dispatched by Starfleet to confront the vessel. He meets with an emissary from the Iramahl, a previously unknown alien race who have come in search of their brothers and sisters thought to have gone missing in this area of space centuries earlier. Having recently thrown off the last chains of subjugation by another species, the Ptaen, they now believe their lost people hold the key to saving their entire race from eventual extinction. New York, 1970: Roberta Lincoln, young protégé of the mysterious agent Gary Seven, is shocked when she receives the oddest request for help—from the future…”

As I’ve mentioned before, I do enjoy time travel stories, and beyond the great looking cover this book has (yes, I bought it because of the cover. Mostly.) it does involve that great trope of science fiction, time travel. It also has Roberta Lincoln from the TOS episode Assignment: Earth, a great character (and concept) that probably would’ve been neat to see as a TV series (that episode, as I’ve read, was really a backdoor pilot at NBC that never went anywhere). Of course it was Teri Garr’s wonderful performance that made the episode memorable. And while author Greg Cox has revisited Lincoln and her mysterious boss, the human Gary Seven, in a few novels that fleshed out the Eugenics and Khan conflict (the duology novels: The Rise and Fall of Khan Nooien Singh) no great origin story has been developed. Gary Seven remains a cipher and in this book by Dayton Ward, you’ll not get any clearer picture of who Seven is or why the organization known as Aegis does what it does (and how they're able to do what they do, because Ward spends no time even attempting an explanation).

Of course, one of the best aspects of these Star Trek novels is its ability to connect dots that were never intended to be made. The franchises does have a rich history, but a lot the Federation and Starfleet's origins were not nailed down continuity wise during TOS run, so it’s enabled these writers to make speculative jumps in their stories (such as: Gary Seven and this Aegis group are now connected to the Temporal Cold War arc that was part of Star Trek: Enterprise’s first few TV seasons). Which is great, I like that. But sometimes it’s the other stuff, the other characters and actions and the pacing of the book that divides these books from good to bad or just serviceable.

Ward, who also penned the 2013 Trek novel From History’s Shadow (which I did not read, and which the writer spoils entirely here), is clearly a fan of UFO’s and our governments history of “covering up” alien activity here on Earth. He seems to have spent a great deal of time researching real life conspiracy agencies like Project Blue Book and Majestic 12. He also takes pot shots at more modern Star Trek TV series that seemed to think James Kirk’s style of it's better to ask forgiveness than permission. This corporate utopian that slithered into Star Trek has been one my most critical aspects of the franchise in its later years; that what made the show, the crew of the Enterprise so much fun was its ability to break the rules and use “cowboy diplomacy” to resolve many problems.

Of course, Kirk is always right, but even when he is disciplined by his superior officers, his punishment is light. So the fantasy of Star Trek continues.

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