Exploring Discovery on the Page
Even with all power to the forward engines, season two of Star Trek Discovery is still months away. We've gotten to know and love these new characters, but our craving for more is like an M-133 Creature on a low-sodium diet.
New episodes (and Short Treks) are on their way, but there are other routes to the 23rd century. For the first time in Star Trek history, the tie-in novels are being published in direct consultation with the producers of a show. Never again will we read an awesome Trek novel, then have any of its nuts and bolts retconned away. (Big ups to Kirsten Beyer, current Lit Czar of the Alpha Quadrant, for keeping an eye on the telemetry.)
There are currently three Discovery titles in stores (and on your Kindles, Nooks and whatever else they call a PADD these days.) And each is terrific. All are set before the Battle of the Binary Stars, but digging in with these characters brings additional shading to the first season, and one big honkin' Easter Egg is sure to have repercussions once the show is back on the air.
The books can be read in any order, but my nerdish devotion to The History of the Future suggests going according to the timeline. That means first up is Dayton Ward's Drastic Measures, set 10 years before the Battle of the Binary Stars and 19 years before the events of “Where No One Has Gone Before.”
That's the when, but what's more exciting is the where: Tarsus IV.
That's right, scan your record tapes. That's the planet where Kodos the Executioner sentenced 4,000 Earth colonists to death. We know about this from the TOS episode “The Conscience of the King,” because young James T. Kirk was there. What we didn't previously know was that Gabriel Lorca (a Lt. Commander at the time) was stationed there at the Federation's advisory post. (Tarsus IV was stalwartly independent of the UFP, but still on good terms.) When the food blight that caused havoc to the outpost hits, the U.S.S. Narbonne is the closest ship, so its Commander, Phillipa Georgiou, is dispatched to offer assistance.
Hardcore fans will drool during the scenes that fill in the blanks of the Tarsus crisis, and may perhaps drop the novel from their hands in delight during the few scenes with a teenage Jim Kirk. Even though we know how the story will end, there are surprises. More importantly, we get in some quality time with Georgiou and Lorca.
Lorca, as is no surprise considering his opposite, is a righteous and noble man, and one whose heart has been broken. Georgiou, as has been evident through glimpses of Michelle Yeoh's performance, is a forthright woman who likes to take chances, and has a bit of a warped sense of humor. This last bit is something that extends through all three of the books; Georgiou loves a good zing (especially one that takes a moment to land), especially if it is one aimed at one of her senior officers.
This leads us to Fear Itself by James Swallow, set six years later. (That's four years before the Battle of the Binary Stars if your math isn't too good.) Georgiou is now captain of the Shenzhou and she's got, among other things, two officers who rarely see eye-to-eye: Michael Burnham and Saru.
Fear Itself is definitely a Saru story, and we get a great deal of insight into his quite-peculiar existence. Just how, exactly, does a creature who is always afraid function in Starfleet? Not easily, is the short answer. The longer answer is a rich inquiry into his character, much of it in the heat of conflict. When aiding a ship from Peliar Zel (remember them from TNG's “The Host”?), Saru discovers a cargo hold packed with members of a telepathically sensitive race called the Gorlans. Why they are there is a mystery, as is also the question of who the real villain is when Saru and other members of the Shenzhou are taken captive. Then there's more trouble when the Tholians show up. (And those Tholians are nasty.)
This is the shortest of the three books, but it doesn't lack for impact. The scenes between Saru and Burnham are particularly great, and I can't wait for Discovery's second season now that I understand our Kelpien friend a little better.
Next up, the first book published, is David Mack's Desperate Hours. Set just one year before the Battle of the Binary Stars, this is a terrific yarn in which we get to really understand the dynamic between Georgiou, Burnham and Saru. There's also some great stuff in here about Burnham's early years on Vulcan and, for those of you excited about seeing her interact with a certain Mr. Spock for the first time in Discovery's season two, well, hate to break it to you, he's all over this book.
A colony is under assault from an advanced underwater spaceship that's been at rest for centuries. The Shenzhou comes to save the day, but so does the Enterprise. Georgiou and Pike nearly blast each other out of the sky while citing regulations, but Burnham and Spock cool everyone down after contacting one another on back channels. There's a race against the clock and, as away missions divert, Saru pairs up with the Enterprise's Number One … and he kinda has a crush on her? Who wouldn't!?
Desperate Hours is the most TOS-ish of the bunch, and a rousing, juicy read. I definitely recommend saving it until last, and savoring it. If you time it right, you'll put it down just when it's time to join the crew of Discovery for season two.
Oh, and that Easter Egg I mentioned? Yeah, I'm not going to tell you where it is. (Okay, it's in Drastic Measures.) You'll know it when you see it, trust me. And if I read it right, I look forward to seeing an old friend in an upcoming episode.
Jordan Hoffman is the former host of Engage: The Official Star Trek Podcast. He is also a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can be seen on Film.com, ScreenCrush and Badass Digest. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels.