On Recommending Star Trek Fiction

Unless you’ve been living under a rock — or living in abject denial — you probably know that there’s a new Star Trek movie opening nationwide tomorrow. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, the 23rd-century, boldly going, all that jazz.

Don’t ruin it for me. I won’t see it until maybe Sunday. 🙂

I got to thinking. Let’s suppose that you see the movie, and you want to read an adventure of Kirk and his crew. There are a lot of Star Trek books out there. I should know; I’ve contributed to a few. So, what should you buy?

This isn’t a comprehensive or exhaustive list by any means. I’ll limit myself to ten books and graphic novels that relate, in some fashion, to the new film, its ethos, its setting, and even the times in which we live.

  • Best Destiny. Screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have frequently cited this 1992 novel by Diane Carey as an influence on the new film. This novel features two parallel narratives — young Jim Kirk’s first space adventure when he was a sixteen year-old juvenile delinquent, and a post-Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country adventure of Kirk and his crew as they face their impending retirement. Despite its length (it was one of the longest novels of its era), this a briskly paced book and ranks as one of Carey’s best. While I don’t cite it here, I would also recommend her Invasion! novel, First Strike from 1996 as a solid adventure during the “classic” period that people think of when they think Star Trek.
  • Burning Dreams. One of the novels published by Pocket Books for the 40th-anniversary of the franchise in 2006, Burning Dreams is Margaret Wander Bonanno’s novel of the life and times of Captain Christopher Pike, Kirk’s predecessor aboard the Enterprise. Bonanno paints a moving, affecting portrait of Pike, taking him from a young boy through to the end of his life. There’s a classic, Heinlein-esque feel to the book that is downright palpable on the page, and there are passages of pure beauty. This is Star Trek as literature, quite frankly, and one of the finest Star Trek novels ever published. I cite Burning Dreams here because it stars Pike, and Pike, portrayed by actor Bruce Greenwood, features in the new film.
  • Constellations (Short Story Anthology). Not a novel, Constellations was another of Pocket’s 40th-anniversary projects. It’s also the book that features my short story, “Make-Believe,” but that’s not the reason for citing it here, I promise. Rather, this is a solid collection of Star Trek stories that anyone can pick up and read, again set during the “classic” period. This is, basically, archetypal Star Trek fiction. If you’ve gone to see the movie, and you know nothing else, this is a book you’ll be able to sit down, read, and enjoy. And, really you should read it anyway, just because I’m in the book. 😉
  • Countdown (Graphic Novel). The official movie prequel comic from IDW Publishing. How did the Romulan Nero and the elderly Spock reach the 23rd-century? What does Nero want? And what happened in the 24th-century with Picard, Data, and others? Countdown answers those questions and sets the stage for the film. This is the baton passing from Picard’s era back to Kirk’s era, in a way. This collection is being followed by two new series — Spock: Reflections, which reveals more of Spock’s story prior to Countdown, and Nero, which reveals the untold story of Nero after the events of Countdown and prior to the film.
  • Crucible. Okay, this is an outright cheat. This is three books, not one. In 2006, again as part of the 40th-anniversary celebration, Pocket published David R. George III’s Crucible trilogy — McCoy: Provenance of Shadows, Spock: The Fire and the Rose, and Kirk: The Star to Every Wandering — that told an epic tale that spanned the the lives of these characters, showing how a single event — the death of Edith Keeler — altered their lives forever. Each book is different, as befits their titular characters. McCoy, frankly, is my favorite of the three (and there are some truly gutwrenching moments in the book). Spock is a challenging, nuanced piece of fiction. Kirk is a surprisingly different sort of novel; it’s a dizzingly mind-blowing novel of action. What these novels have in common is not just their root in the events of “City on the Edge of Forever,” but an examination of the concept of love, how these characters define love and their lives, and the lengths to which these men, each in their own ways, will pursue the love in their lives. If you want to know who these characters are, read these books.
  • Debt of Honor (Graphic Novel). I pulled this 1992 graphic novel by Chris Claremont and Adam Hughes off the shelf a few days ago and gave it a read. I hadn’t looked at it in ten years, probably. And I was surprised how much I really enjoyed it. It’s not a perfect story by any means — this story indulges in pointless continuity porn to an occasionally appalling degree — but when the story focuses on the story — Kirk confronting a menace that has bedeviled him from his cadet mission aboard the Farragut to the aftermath of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier — the story works magnificently. There’s a sense in this story that no other Star Trek story of the era (that being the early ’90s) ever really achieved; these characters had careers that stretched back decades, and they had history that lived and breathed as they did. If you want to feel the enormity of James Kirk’s life and career, this is the book you want. And Chris Claremont scripts some massively wordy dialogue, but it’s absolutely worth it for some of the speechifying Kirk indulges in. 🙂
  • Federation. Yes, Virginia, there is a 24th-century. Federation is the “crossover” novel published in 1994, from the writing team of Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens. In two missions separated by a century, Captains Kirk and Picard find themselves players in a drama that has already spanned centuries and threatens to destroy the Federation itself. This is a cool book, no matter how you slice it, and I have always loved the Keith Birdsong cover. (The paperback cover from 2006 is, by comparison, is terribly boring.) There’s a lot of history in this book, but if you’ve seen the movie and you’ve watched some Star Trek: The Next Generation, you’ll be good.
  • Harbinger. Early 2005 saw the debut of a new Star Trek novel series, Star Trek: Vanguard. Created and written by David Mack, Vanguard takes place in parallel with the original Star Trek series and is set on a space station on the frontier. There’s politics. There’s action. There’s mystery. There are some interesting — and deeply flawed — characters. It’s like looking at the original series through a different prism, influenced by modern storytelling and current events. Harbinger, the first book in the series, is set early in Kirk’s command of the Enterprise, and someone coming out of the film will find this an appealing take on the era the film chronicles. The fourth book in the series, Dayton Ward’s Open Secrets, should be on bookstore shelves as I type.
  • My Enemy, My Ally. Romulans! This is one of the best Romulan novels, written by Diane Duane and published in 1984. This is the first book in the “Rihannsu” series, which presents Duane’s take on Romulan culture. Duane’s books veer a little more toward the hard sci-fi/worldbuilding side of the equation, and if you ever wondered where the aliens really are in Star Trek, you will find them here. Simply fantastic stuff. I should probably reread it. There’s a really nice Doctor Who scene in the book.
  • Spock’s World. We close our list of ten novels with the other book Orci and Kurtzman cite in interviews as an influence on the film — Duane’s history of the world Spock calls his home. As Vulcan considers secession from the Federation, the history of Vulcan and the development of its culture is chronicled. I’m honest enough to admit that I actually do not like Spock’s World — the secession plot lacks drama, and the chapters on Vulcan’s history are only occasionally interesting, with the two best being the chapters on Surak and Sarek. However, given that this is the book that shaped the screenwriters’ view of Spock and Vulcan, I have to admit that this book is worth a shot.

There. Ten Star Trek books that someone who has seen the film should pick up and read. In my unbiased, not so humble opinion. You may need to hit a comic shop, a used bookstore, or Amazon to track down some of these gems, but the quest will be worth it, I promise. 🙂

And as a bonus, for an eleventh book, pick up Mere Anarchy. It’s a collection of six novellas that span thirty years of Star Trek history, from Kirk’s earliest days aboard the Enterprise to the aftermath of his death aboard the Enterprise-B in Star Trek: Generations, as Kirk and his crew work to save a planet from a tragedy and then rebuild it in the tragic aftermath. Written by Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore, Mike W. Barr, Dave Galanter, Chris Bennett, Howard Weinstein, and Margaret Wander Bonanno, this is a book that anyone who has seen the film can pick up and run with.

I hope the movie’s fab. Don’t spoil it for me. I’ll be pissed off if you do. 🙂

Published by Allyn

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

3 thoughts on “On Recommending Star Trek Fiction

  1. I’d recommend anything with Diane Duane’s name on it. And anything with Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens’ names, even if William Shatner’s name is on it too.

  2. Ok did you bail from AIM right as I was about to type “I wasn’t expecting it to all be a holodeck sequence Riker was watching…”..or was it just coincidence?

  3. There are days that I hadn’t read so many Star Trek novels just so I could read some of these again for the first time. Nice list, Allyn.

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