Review: Crucible Trilogy

"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.

Rating 5/5

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.

Rating: 4/5

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.

Rating: 1/5

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good reviews Robert…and thanks for helping us catch up to some of the latest trek novels. Look forward to future reviews of the other recent releases so we can all get ‘current’ on trek in print

Xai (Turning the pages..)

I’ve read the McCoy and Spock books and not yet Kirk. I completely enjoyed McCoy’s book and was drained at the key moment of his “alternate” life’s ultimate moment. (Sorry, won’t give that away…) I thought it was Trek at Trek’s best and agree with the 5/5 rating.

Spock’s book was an up and downer for me. The ending was just and tragic and very much showed there can be love in a Vulcan heart and still be Vulcan. But I was disappointed because it wasn’t nearly the book that McCoy’s was.

I’d still recommend both.

X

RonS

Good reviews Father Rob.

I think i would have given Crucible Kirk a 2.5 out of 5 only because of the time travel. I am a huge fan of time travel Trek in books, TV and Film. For me the book was dull in the begining, confusing in the middle but brought it home at the end.

Also, when are you going to update your stellarcross.org website? :D

I read the first book and absolutely loved it. I bought the other two books and will start them after I finish two other books I’m reading (non-Trek related). While I’m sad to read that the Kirk book may disappoint (that really was the one I was looking forward to the most) I agree that the McCoy story was immersive and well-written. I would encourage anyone on the fence to buy and read that book. It’s an adult tale, it’s very well-researched and it fills in the gaps between key points in the Original Series.

Excellent reviews, Robert.

Hal

Well, I read the first book and enjoyed it but the second book wasn’t available (okay it was an airport bookstore) so I had to go with the last book – the Kirk book. Haven’t finished it and not entirely sure I will. The first thing I was struck with was how “light” the book was, not only in pages but substance. I’m only halfway through it but will have to agree with Robert’s 1 out of 5.

And thanks for this great review! I hope there are more. I love reading Trek books but usually don’t because many I have come across aren’t that great. It would be nice to know what I’m getting into before I make a purchase.

steve623

I thought the McCoy book was really well-written and completely engrossing, and the characters “voices” really rung true. It was the best of the trio. I had a glaring mental roadblock on the Spock book. I just could not believe that, in light of all the personal growth Spock had in the 6 feature films, that after all that, he would pull a cmplete 180 and go essentially back to square one and undergo the Kolinahr a second time. I just found it completely unbelievable in light of the Spock I saw portrayed on screen, and my perception of the rest of the book suffered. The Kirk book, however, was really a mess, and suffered from being the lastest in a sub-genre of Star Trek literature – the “how Kirk didn’t really die in Generations” sub-genre. If this had been the first story of that type, it might have come across as more interesting to me, but as it was, it just seemed like hoop-jumping. I read the whole thing in a few hours and was sorry I took the time because I didn’t feel like I got any insight into Kirk. And that was the exact opposite of how I felt after reading the McCoy book, which I literally could not put down – I stayed up til 5 in the morning finishing that book, and I haven’t done that since I was a punk teenager with time to burn. If you’re interested in this trilogy, the McCoy book is the pony to bet on.

gregored

I have to agree that the first book is the best. I suppose the problems with the remaining two is that we have come to know more about Kirk and Spock, so there is less “room” to work with. In McCoy, though, there was a lot more space on the blackboard to work with.

doubleofive

I’m reading the Kirk book right now, and I thought it was interesting that they mention the life support belts from TAS “used during the last year of Kirk’s first five year mission” and how they weren’t used for long because no one knew the effects force fields would have on human bodies for extended periods of time. Other than that, I agree that I am fairly disappointed with the book as a whole. I was hoping that I would get to a point where everything would come together and make everything better, but I’m sad to read that it won’t. I’ll still pick up the other two books, especially after reading these reviews.

Sam Belil

Growing up as a huge fan of TOS, I always felt that McCoy was the most believeable and real of all the characters. I felt that the McCoy book was BY FAR the best of the three. The story in my opinion was the peffect thread to what I always believed to be by far the best and most dramatic episode of all the ST incarnations. The book was completely successful in capturing the essence of a truly beloved character. I also bought the book on Saturday night and could not put it down until I finished it. As I was reading each chapter I could completelty envision Deforest Kelly in each of those scenes. Having said that while I totally believe and maintain that Matt Damon and Adria Brody have no business playing Kirk and Spock – I can COMPLETELY SEE Gary Sinise bring McCoy to life.

Mark Lynch

So far I have only read the McCoy book and I have to say there were parts that made me laugh out loud and some that moved me to tears.
A wonderful book that captured McCoys character beautifully and the story was so well woven that most of the time whilst reading I was able to play out the story in my mind as if it was an extended episode. I too had problems putting the book down and on several occassions neglected my earthly household duties….

It is a shame that the following two novels appear to have been not so well put together.

However whilst reviews are helpful, I am still eager to continue reading this trilogy, and will be buying them soon enough.

Imrahil

I plan to pick up and read all these eventually; I’m sad that the Kirk book isn’t great.

How about some reviews of the Star Trek: Vanguard series? I’ve been reading that (well, the first one–book 2 is on the way) and it’s fantastic.

#5 – Glad you enjoyed the reviews. I definately plan to have some more on the way, as many as Anthony will tolerate!

#10 – Definately don’t want to discourage you from buying the books… I am sure that Pocket and David R. George III (and, incidentally, Anthony – if you buy from the above noted Amazon link) will be most appreciative.

#11 – The next Vanguard novel comes out later this year (June, as I recall, but I don’t have my master list with me – I am out of town on business) and I would imagine that we might see something as Mack’s new novel in the Taurus Reach hits the shelves.

Well, it’s off to dinner now… reading some ‘pleasure’ sci-fi (L. E. Modesitt, Jr. – The Eternity Artifact). So far the experience isn’t that pleasurable!

Rob+

well I can tolerate more book coverage!

i hope to review all new books, but probably not the eBooks. We will probably do some more reviews of recently released ‘arc’ series and maybe some retro reviews of classic books. Also we will do news items for announcements, covers, etc and periodic interviews and features. The books are a key part of trek’s future and present (along with the comics).

TrekMovie.com hopes to be the home of all that is happening today in Trek

…and yes if you do want them and click the amazon links, then like Bella Oxmyx…TrekMovie.com gets a piece of the action. Not much of course but if a million of you bought a book then I would have enough for a new pair of shoes!

And we all know, ‘Tony needs a new pair of shoes!

(ducks)

All kidding aside, the written word filled a void for Trek in the 1970’s, and it is doing so today as we wait for the new Trek film… it is an important part of Trek’s legacy… canon or no. Glad to be a part of the coverage here at trekmovie.com

Rob+

Stephanie

Regardless of what he reviewed for the Kirk Crucible book…I liked and enjoyed it anyway….It was hard to get into at first, but I was happy with the book. I was looking forward to what David George did in the last books, but he had warned that it would be different, so I didn’t go into the book expecting that it would be like the other two. BUT I liked the book and I still highly recommend this book. I would have given the rating a bit higher….maybe a 3 1/2/5…..
At least at the end, Kirk is alive….read it and find out how!

The only gripe that I have about the books was the fact that the McCoy book was phenomenal, and totally set up perfect ways that the Spock and Kirk books could be executed. In the first book Kirk and Spock each were doing their own thing at a certain point separate from McCoy: Kirk went into therapy about the whole Edith thing, Spock went off and did…something ( I don’t exactly remember what). Each situation in which could have been developed into separate books. And that’s totally what I thought: A character disappears from the McCoy book for 5+ chapters and that time will be covered in the next book. But it looks like is that it was the initial idea, but Deeg just changed the literary mechanism right before the Spock book. Kinda made them a bit dissapointing. But hey, that’s only my opinion. But man, did I want to see that book of Kirk in Therapy. Would’ve been brilliant.

~JYH