"The City on the Edge of Forever" is one of Star Trek’s finest hours. Harlan Ellison’s tale of personal sacrifice on behalf of others serves as the touchstone from which the lives of McCoy, Spock, and Kirk flow in David R. George III’s Crucible trilogy. These books, commissioned for the fortieth anniversary celebration, are unique in that they stand outside all other literary continuity. George limits himself to the original episodes, the animated series, and what we know of the original crew from references in later Treks. Also, while the stories can, theoretically, be read in any order, they really should be read in their order of release. The interweaving stories read better in order, and could serve to spoil the enjoyment of the other books. Sadly, reading the books in order may wind up leaving readers with a sub-par feeling at the end.
Crucible: McCoy – Provenance of Shadows
In "Provenance of Shadows", the trilogy begins by painting a picture of two lives, struggling to find purchase in ever-passing existences.In the timeline that we are familiar with Leonard McCoy recovers from his cordrazine injection and returns to duty shortly before the events depicted in the episode "Operation — Annihilate!" Over the next century, the story follows his loves and losses, as well as his professional triumphs and personal sorrows. In the past, we follow the life of Leonard McCoy the lost… lost in a time that is not his own, unable to practice his passions, and fearful of altering the timeline. George doesn’t waste a single page, creating the lengthiest Star Trek novel in the process.
But all is not well in either timeline as Leonard McCoy must deal with the echoes of his past: the loss of his mother, his painful relationship with his father, and an ill-fated marriage. McCoy, in both timelines, holds his secrets close to his vest, hiding who he truly is from those who love him, and often from himself.
If I have any complaint concerning this book, it is brushstroke approach that is brought to covering the McCoy we know. While the reader learns a great deal about Leonard McCoy’s life in the familiar timeline, the glimpses only serve to whet the palate for further adventures and stories (for both McCoy and the rest of the crew) set in some of the `lost years’ of the crew of the Original Series. The brevity of the snippets we do get may be a bit distracting for some readers, but it is important to remember that the mission of the story is to share a lengthy history of Leonard McCoy from the time of his encounter with the Guardian of Forever through the history we have of him.
George is able to take a greater deal of latitude in dealing with McCoy’s life and details, both because he deliberately decided to use only the televised details of McCoy’s life as the basis of the story (as he notes in the foreword), and because, in the altered timeline, we know nothing of what happened to him. In the best tradition of Star Trek, the interweaving tales featured in "Provenance of Shadows" uses technology, politics, and adventure to explore the human condition in a way that serves the story without overriding the prose. Ultimately, the `altered’ timeline accomplishes this far more effectively than does the `restored’ one, but both lives remain eminently readable to those interested more in a character piece than in a space-based shoot-em’ up.
Extrapolating an alternate history based on fifty-two minutes of film is a notable achievement, but filling that alternate history with such vibrancy is something that few writers can pull off. "Provenance of Shadows" is the authoritative tale of the life of Doctor Leonard McCoy, and proves to be a worthy beginning to the Crucible trilogy.
Crucible: Spock – The Fire and the Rose
Having seen an entire life in "Provenance of Shadows" we turn our attention to "The Fire and the Rose", the second installment of the trilogy. Spock is the focal point of this outing, and where "Provenance of Shadows" was a very linear story, "The Fire and the Rose" follows Spock from the retirement of the starship Enterprise in 2293 through a tumultuous nineteen years of life.
In the wake of Jim Kirk’s death, Spock looks back over his life. Throughout the novel, George effectively interposes the present storyline with events from Spock’s time with Kirk. From Gary Mitchell to the Whalesong Incident, Spock reviews his life and decides that his emotions have done more harm to him than good. Unable to achieve the balance he long sought, Spock leaves his work behind, returns to Vulcan, and seeks to master his emotions once and for all.
Like "Provenance of Shadows," "The Fire and the Rose" is populated with new faces. Not dealing with the requirement of creating an entire alternate history in the process, George is given the ability to develop slightly more fully the more important relationships he has created for the work. At the same time, he takes Spock’s existing relationships (his family, his crew mates) and employs them laudably to cover the nineteen year span of the story.
"The Fire and the Rose" seeks to tell only a single story. It connects many aspects, but they all feed into Spock’s immediate situation. They inform him on how to proceed, what to consider, and where he needs to go to achieve what he needs. As the climax approaches, these same qualities push Spock to a level of vulnerability only hinted at in the series. After finishing the book, the reader will be able to easily see how the events lead Spock to be the man we find on Romulus in the 2360’s, and provides all the reader needs to arrive at a deeper understanding of the life of Spock.
Crucible: Kirk – The Star to Every Wandering
Following a pair of outstanding novels covering the lives of Leonard McCoy and Spock, David R. George III takes on the life of James T. Kirk in the final book of the Crucible trilogy, "The Star to Every Wandering". In his foreword, George writes, "For good or ill, I like to defy reader expectations… When it works, that can be a very good thing. But there’s a risk involved there too…" While George served up luxuriant tapestries in his previous Crucible volumes, his efforts to make "The Star to Every Wandering" defy reader expectations only serves to undermine the foundation of the entire book. What went wrong? Just about everything.
First, the framework of the book is a disaster. The first two books were both so successful because they showed substantial portions of the lives of McCoy and Spock. In the process, George was able to draw the reader into the journey and bring them a satisfying destination. The reader was able to make a connection with the character, goring to possess a deeper understanding of them with each passing page. In sharp contrast, "The Star to Every Wandering" fails to provide an expansive view of Kirk’s life, and we arrive at the end of his journey only to find that there was no real destination. It wasn’t that there couldn’t have been one, however. Both "Provenance of Shadows" and "The Fire and the Rose" provided ample material that could have been mined to explore Kirk’s life. However, after taking great pains to set up Kirk’s problem in the previous two books, there isn’t a payoff here. There isn’t an ounce of suspense on this voyage. As soon as the ‘disaster of the week’ is understood, you know what must happen at the end.
Not only does the base storyline fail, the telling does as well. Even the opening of the book fails to hook you. The first two-dozen pages are mainly rehash. Certainly, they are done with the style and grace that George always brings to his books, but, as a setup to his story, he picked some of what is arguably the worst Trek to revisit. After the first sixty pages, there is still nothing left to motivate the reader. It’s a real shame, because the narratives that follow have potential value, but the potential is never realized.
Another glaring disparity between the current book and its predecessors is the lack of any secondary characters of substance. Certainly there are secondary characters, but they are all strictly utilitarian. Compare Ambassador Tremontaine from "The Fire and the Rose" or Tonia Barrows from "Provenance of Shadows" with any of the secondary players in "The Star to Every Wandering". Not even individuals we know fairly well have depth to them. They appear in the story for the minimum amount of time necessary to do their part, and then they disappear. There is no reason that this should be so with so many characters to choose from, but even Edith Keeler, richly featured in "Provenance of Shadows" exists in Kirk’s story only because she has to – reduced to being solely a means to an end.
None of these deficiencies are a result of a failure to take chances. George takes chances on every page; his chances simply fail. In a work that could have shown us the complete Kirk, George skews towards only one side of his essence, and nothing is able to overcome that single fundamental flaw. On American Idol, the judges often cite song selection as a reason for failure. Without trying to sound too much like Simon Cowell, "The Star to Every Wandering" suffers from poor story selection, a weak lead, and an absolute lack of danger. Only the foreword, afterward, and acknowledgements hold anything of real interest… but that’s not what most folks read books for.