Published Jul 2, 2019
What to Read this Summer Based on Your Favorite 'Star Trek' Character
Which book are you bringing to the holodeck?
By Margaret Kingsbury
I often find myself connecting Star Trek to my other hobbies, like reading. It’s hard not to, especially as Star Trek was my introduction to science fiction and I primarily read that and its lovely literary partner, fantasy. I love giving book recommendations almost as much as I love cracking open a new hardcover, and so I thought it would be fun to offer a few suggestions pairing Trek fan’s favorite characters with the book that matches best. So find your favorite character(s), and get to reading!
Jonathan Archer started it all as the captain of the first starship Enterprise. And in The Calculating Stars, pilot and mathematician Dr. Elma York wants to become the first lady astronaut. Her goals are especially pertinent in this alternative 1952 setting where a meteor has crashed into Earth, and the Space Race is now a matter of survival.
The Wayfarers books are such feel-good reads, just like Trip. They follow a multi-species crew as they work helping other ships travel faster. Not much happens with the plot, but a lot of excellent characters and relationships are developed, making it cozy sci-fi at its best. There are three books in the series so far. Start with The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.
If you like Discovery, you’ll love this similarly themed read. In book one — Ninefox Gambit — the logical Captain Kel Cheris tries to redeem herself after being disgraced for using unconventional methods to win a battle. The only way to do so is to join with the unpredictable, possibly insane General Shuos Jedao to achieve another victory. The world building is brilliant, where mathematics becomes the driving force behind the universe, and the entire series is stunningly written. The final book in the trilogy, Revenant Gun, was published last year.
I wanted to find a book that captured both Philippa Georgiou's: the strong and compassionate leader of the U.S.S. Shenzhou and the ruthless and manipulative empress of the Terran Empire. Meet Prunella Gentleman. Regency-era England is not ready for a truly powerful magician, but she doesn’t care. This magician gets stuff done, and has a blast doing so. British-Malaysian author Zen Cho has completed two books in the series so far, and they’re both so much fun to read. Start with Sorcerer to the Crown.
Stamets’ storyline was my favorite from season one, and Haimey Dz from Ancestral Night has similar struggles. Being infected by a nano-parasite from a long-extinct alien race gives her unique abilities, and Dz is the only person who can save her galaxy. With a mystery to solve, political corruption, and intergalactic travel, the book is perfect for Discovery fans.
Fun, hopeful, sincere, an excellent friend, a bit of a goof. These words describe both Tilly and the protagonists in the Once Upon a Con series, books that give me as much joy as seeing Tilly on my screen once a week. Each book (both fairytale re-tellings) revolves around the fictional hit series Starfield, which is like a cross between Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica. In Geekerella, Elle Wittimer wants to go to the ExcelsiCon — Starfield’s con — but her not-geeky stepmother refuses to let her go. But no one is a bigger fan of Starfield than Elle, and she’ll do anything to get there and meet the problematic new star of the series, Darien Freeman. I didn’t think it would be possible, but book 2 — The Princess and the Fangirl — is equally good.
I wasn’t going to include Tyler on this list, but the military sci-fi The Light Brigade is such a perfect pairing for him. There’s a war with Mars, and soldiers are turned into light to travel between interplanetary battlefronts. Those who survive the transformation and the ensuing battle are changed forever. Our protagonist, Soldier Dietz, finds his will and sense of self completely eradicated after the change and knows that something’s not quite right.
While Kaaro from The Wormwood Trilogy is more morally complicated than Captain Kirk, there are still some similarities. Kaaro is a reluctant, womanizing hero in a rich and diverse dystopian setting. Captain Kirk on the other hand isn’t so reluctant about being a hero. In the trilogy, an alien race lands in Nigeria and creates a biodome that enhances susceptible people’s psychic powers, like Kaaro. When psychics start dying, Kaaro decides he must investigate. Books one and two have been published, and book three is slated for publication in October. Start with Rosewater.
This completed hard science fiction trilogy (translated from the original Chinese) wraps a question of physics into a murder mystery, a video game, and the possible end of the world. I’m pretty sure Spock would find it fascinating. I found it that, and also a bit a-emotional, most likely due to a lack of cultural context on my behalf. But that’s also on brand with Spock. The series begins with The Three-Body Problem, which won the Hugo Award.
These three collected young adult novellas center around the teenage genius Binti, who is the first Himba to be accepted into the prestigious Oomba University. But when the jellyfish-like Medusae attack her spaceship leaving everyone dead but her, she must learn how to communicate and empathize with the galaxy’s most hated enemy. These books explore post-colonialism, the importance of cultural practices and rituals, and the ways we communicate with the other — all topics Uhura fans will enjoy!
If Bones is your absolute favorite character in the entire Star Trek franchise, you probably like some humor with your sci-fi. I give you Space Opera, an intergalactic romp written with a similar style of humor as Douglas Adams. The book’s Metagalactic Grand Prix is part Eurovision and part gladiatorial combat. In this musical competition, if you lose, your entire civilization is wiped out. We join Space Opera during Earth’s first year competing.
Captain Picard’s admiration of Shakespeare’s plays leads me to believe he would thoroughly enjoy The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie. A fantasy partly inspired by Hamlet, it switches perspectives between a prehistoric rock god and royal adviser Eolo. After Iraden’s ruler dies, Eolo observes the return of the king’s son Mawat, who finds his uncle in charge. This is a murder mystery, a revenge story, and an innovative epic fantasy about language, power, and the divine.
Data would love to read this primitive Earth book about AI. Ted Chiang’s short stories explore how future technology affects humanity. In my favorite story from the collection, "The Lifecycle of Software Objects," the two protagonists help create AI pets in digital space, but when the company fails, they decide to continue raising these pets into sentient, individual beings. Every story pushes the reader to think more deeply about the future.
Counselor Troi is adept at reading the emotions of others, as is Kate Mascarenhas. In The Psychology of Time Travel, she explores the psychological ramifications of time travel in an alternate history where four female scientists create the first time machine in 1967. Hopping decades and with a large cast of characters, the novel will have you thinking more deeply about the complexities of human memory and its effects on emotional well-being.
These super-fun novellas are perfect for Worf fans. Murderbot is a security android that shouldn’t have a conscious, but thanks to some self-inflicted hacks, Murderbot becomes a thinking android. But it’s also painfully shy and introverted and would rather steer clear of human interaction if at all possible. Unfortunately, it’s rarely possible. These humans seem to have a penchant for being murdered, and as their security guard, Murderbot must protect them. Start with All Systems Red.
A lot of you may have already read some books from the classic Vorkosigan Saga, but what I didn’t realize until I started working at a bookstore is that Lois McMaster Bujold is still writing new books in the series. One of the main characters in the series is the badass disabled infantry officer Miles Vorkosigan. I love all the characters, and you could spend a year or more reading through them all. You can kinda start anywhere in the series, but here’s a possible reading order. I started with The Warrior’s Apprentice.
When Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in Teixcalaan, she finds the previous ambassador dead. While everyone denies what’s clearly a murder, Mahit hides a nested personality implanted in her brain. Mahit’s personality isn’t as boisterous as Sisko’s, but her struggle with hidden personalities and the political nature of this space opera remind me of Sisko and his storyline.
If you like dissident and activist Kira Nerys, then you’ll love my favorite book of the year so far, Internment by Samira Ahmed. It’s a near future dystopian set in the United States about a teenage Muslim girl, Layla, and her family being forced into an internment camp after a Muslim registry is enacted. Internment is a true nail-biter.
I just finished The City in the Middle of the Night, a dystopia set on a planet where humans constantly struggle with an unwelcoming environment. I think you’d enjoy it if Dax is your favorite because the women protagonists (and they’re all women) have such complicated inner lives. Each character is radically different from one another, and I see a bit of Dax — and her many lived experiences — in all three.
The morally corrupt (at least in human terms) but always interesting Quark invites trouble wherever he goes, much like Tracker in Black Leopard, Red Wolf. This is perhaps the most buzzed fantasy novel of the year, written by Man Booker winner Marlon James. Based on African mythology, it’s a violent and brutal novel that you’ll either love or hate — much like Quark himself.
This gorgeous fantasy was one of my favorites last year. The plot revolves around three amazing women with seemingly unemotional exteriors. While all three are different, they share a practical nature and a stubborn resistance to cultural norms — exactly like Captain Janeway. The novel retells “Rumplestiltskin” with the fae. But this isn’t a Disney fairytale -- it’s a darkly feminist and lyrical novel for adults.
Chakotay is the first Indigenous American main character in the Star Trek franchise. In her Sixth World #ownvoices urban fantasy series, Rebecca Roanhorse sets up a world where the Dinétah Navajo survive a cataclysmic event that wipes out most of humanity. But not only do they survive, they thrive. Main character Maggie Hoske is a Dinétah monster slayer. While more morally questionable than Chakotay, she shares similar values of protecting those she loves. Begin with Trail of Lightning.
Dread Nation is such a fun, ass-kicking read, and I think B’Elanna Torres and Jane McKeene are pretty much the same person. After the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War, the dead turn into zombies. Black Americans are freed from slavery only to be forced into combat schools to train for fighting the dead. Enter Jane McKeene, zombie slayer extraordinaire, who uncovers a conspiracy when she investigates recent disappearances in town. She’s forced to enlist the help of her arch-nemesis schoolmate Katherine, and the two find themselves venturing to the west, fighting zombies as they go.
Kin Stewart was once a time-traveling secret agent. Now, he’s stuck in 1990s San Francisco. Sound familiar? “Future’s End” is one of my favorite episodes from Voyager. And of course Kin being a secret agent made me think of Paris, though Kin is more emotional, and the novel more poignant than “Future’s End.”
The Borg’s single-minded vision of the hive-mind and creating a society that undermines individuality create an interesting dilemma in Seven of Nine, who struggles with memories of her human past and with a growing independence fostered by her time on Voyager. Dolores Extract #1 — who names herself Elsie — faces a similar dilemma in Mem. Mems are memory extracts. Typically, when a memory is extracted from a human being, it temporarily lives as a version of that person, and dies not long afterward. Elsie is different. She never dies, and creates an identity for herself outside of the human she’s been extracted from. This poignant novella is a philosophical reflection on loneliness, memory, and what makes us human.
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