With the eleventh feature film of the Star Trek franchise on track to possibly deliver a tale of the first adventure of Kirk and Spock aboard the starship Enterprise, one might wonder about Spock’s first mission aboard the storied vessel. Veteran Trek script writer D. C. Fontana attempted to do just that back in 1989 with "Vulcan’s Glory" – recently re-released by Pocket Books.
At least a decade before the arrival of James T. Kirk on the scene, Captain Christopher Pike commands the starship Enterprise. Having recently returned to Earth for repairs and upgrades, crew transfers are also effected. Enter one Lieutenant Spock, a young Vulcan scientist who seems to have problems relaxing (according to his former commanding officer), and Lieutenant ( J.G.) Montgomery Scott, an engineering whiz and moonshiner of note. Both are new assignees to the Enterprise, and both are in for quite a ride.
Spock doesn’t arrive without his share of concerns, however. Back on Vulcan, Spock is confronted with family and relational duties… duties he has managed to avoid quite well since his enlistment in Starfleet. A thin fragile line exists between Spock’s natural Human and Vulcan tendencies. Spock, who has chosen to live as a Vulcan, still struggles with hiding his human heritage. This struggle, drawn out over the pages of "Vulcan’s Glory", makes the story all the more enticing.
After departing Earth on a mission to the planet Areta, the Enterprise is diverted to investigate the possible fate of a large spoil-of-war from Vulcan pre-history; an emerald known as Vulcan’s Glory. The Glory itself serves as a catalyst for what follows.
On Areta, Christopher Pike transports to the surface to investigate the outcome of trade relations that he surreptitiously worked to establish on a previous visit, only to find himself in between two bickering fathers whose missing children may spell the end not only of trade relations between two ‘tribes’ of natives, but also of the planet’s future.
"Vulcan’s Glory" is an interesting take on Spock’s first mission, but–in spite of its billing- the book is not simply a Spock story. Much of Chris Pike comes through in the writing of Fontana, who sets up one part of a credible back story that leads to Pike’s feelings (as expressed to Dr. Boyce) at the opening of "The Cage". While the elements of Fontana’s story are not built upon by Margaret Wander Bonanno’s later "Burning Dreams", "Vulcan’s Glory" is able to stand as a compelling tale in its own right.
Certainly there are some complaints about the story. Some things just seem pedantic – for example, while Scotty-as-moonshiner is quite a humorous side-story, it barely serves the plot of the story. Lost is an excellent storytelling opportunity to paint a picture of his first days on the Enterprise. Of course, since this was billed as a Spock-centric story, this can be understood… but the failure to write more for Scotty than the brewing of engine room hooch is lamentable. Criticism aside for a moment, most of the lines delivered by Scotty come across with a flawless Doohan-esque quality that is readily apparent.
Of particular intrigue is the explanation given for the name of the ship’s first officer, Number One. Far from a title, Fontana tells of the enigmatic woman’s origins on a planet where genetic engineering produces excellent specimens. Number One was the ‘top’ product of her genetic batch… perfectly analytical, perfectly athletic, perfectly…well… perfect. In the ‘modern age’ of Trek, of course, we know that genetic engineering is not practiced in the Federation (well, not legally anyway), and in that respect "Vulcan’s Glory" reminds you page-by-page that it was not written anytime recently.
Spock presents an interesting dilemma for the reader. It is easy to believe Fontana’s take on him when reading "Vulcan’s Glory"… the mannerisms and the thoughts behind them are readily apparent in any TOS episode where Spock is fighting to remain in control of himself. It’s worth nothing that Fontana is able to build upon the Vulcan mystique she developed during the Original Series era, allowing her to complicate Spock’s interactions with his fellow Vulcans. The ritualism of Vulcan society, we learn, carries over even into family proceedings. His encounter with his family in "Vulcan’s Glory", as well as with his betrothed speak quite clearly on the nature of Vulcan social interaction. On the other hand, certain aspects of the honor code of Vulcans would seem to preclude some of Spock’s actions, particularly as they surround Lieutenant T’Pris. While the story does not elaborate on these particular events being a further motivator for Spock to develop a deeper Vulcan observance, the reader can only conclude – based on the on-screen evidence of the Spock character – that this is, in fact, the case.
In some respects, the story practices some level of retconning the technology and terminology from "The Cage"/"Where No Man Has Gone Before" era. Landing parties carry phasers, not lasers; dilithium crystals are employed in the ship’s engines; and transporters, not materializers, are used. Some will have issues with this, though it really doesn’t detract from the story – unless you are really, really hardcore about such things.
"Vulcan’s Glory": a prequel to "The Cage", an interesting and at times amusing look at Chris Pike’s Enterprise, and a novel worthy of a read today nearly twenty years after its initial publication.