This week, the Library Computer begins its look at the six ‘what if?’ tales of alternate history featured in the two new ‘Myriad Universes’ anthologies. We start with "A Less Perfect Union," an alternative take on the TOS era based on a successful Terra Prime and a solidly isolationist Earth. But history takes a turn again, and brings T’Pol along for the ride. We have a review, author interview and exclusive online excerpt.
About Myriad Universe
Over the years, several alternate universe tales have been told in various forms of Trek media, but Myraid Universes, the new anthology series from Pocket Books goes beyond the well-known ‘Mirror Universe’ and instead farms other potential historical aberrations. The two new large sized trade paperback anthologies ("Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Infinity’s Prism" due in July and "Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Echoes and Refractions" due in August) contain three novella-length stories a piece. Each story is set in a different Trek era (and different Trek universe) This week we’re examining the lead-off hitter for the first anthology, William Leisner’s A Less Perfect Union.
REVIEW – STAR TREK MYRIAD UNIVERSES: INFINITY’S PRISM
Part 1: A Less Perfect Union
One of the great advantages of being able to set a work in an alternate universe is the ability to jettison continuity for the sake of telling a great tale without constraint. Leisner takes an outstanding ‘what-if’ premise but, doesn’t fully make the most out of it. The original content of the story, particularly surrounding T’Pol, is intensely interesting, but much of the remainder of the story focuses on a blending of several Original Series episodes (or at least their most memorable moments) and is less satisfying.
When Leisner drops the TOS homages and focuses on original storytelling, the story works… very well! But when he falls back on the familiar lines of so many episodes, it falls flat. Many ‘in-continuity’ stories suffer from the micro-universe syndrome, but Leisner was free to disregard established continuity and so there was no need to include every single tip of the hat to TOS that he possibly could.
In short, the storyline is outstanding, the execution is a bit uneven. The tale has potential, but it falls a little bit short of where it could be.
TrekMovie: What was the inspiration for A Less Perfect Union?
William Leisner: The primary inspiration was the final season of Star Trek: Enterprise, and the producers’ concentrated efforts to fill in the history of the galaxy leading up to the Original Series. The two-parter "Demons" and "Terra Prime" established a key moment when the pre-Federation Coalition of Planets nearly fell apart, so that presented itself as a natural point of divergence to create a different 23rd century. Stylistically, Harry Turtledove was a large inspiration, and his fans can try to spot the couple of references to his works I threw into the story.
TM: What challenges did you encounter in developing the story?
WL: The biggest challenge was probably in the portrayal of Jim Kirk, who in this tale is not the noble and enlightened leader of men we know from the TV series — and is, in fact, a bit of an ass — and yet, is still supposed to be seen by the reader as sympathetic. The same could probably be said, to varying degrees, about all the pre-established characters — trying to keep them recognizable as themselves, while at the same time, making them different, was a challenge across the board.
TM: A lot of familiar faces make appearances in A Less Perfect Union. Was there a specific character that you enjoyed writing for the most or wanted to be sure to include?
WL: There were one or two characters in particular I knew I had to include, but I won’t mention them here so as to avoid spoiling their appearances. It was quite interesting writing T’Pol, not only because it meant getting inside a Vulcan’s mind, but a very psychologically-damaged mind, bearing the scars of over a hundred additional difficult years of life. I also enjoyed being able to bring in a number of one-shot characters, like Chris Pike, Nancy Hedford and Ra-ghoretreii, and being able to let them interact with other characters in different ways.
William Leisner has another Star Trek project in the works which should be officially announced at the Shore Leave Convention in July.
STAR TREK MYRIAD UNIVERSES: INFINITY’S PRISM
A Less Perfect Union by William Leisner
Sunrise over Death Valley.
At the first hint of light, the nocturnal creatures that gave the lie to this place’s name started scurrying for the cool shade of their burrows. The temperature, which had dipped down to almost 20 degrees Celsius overnight, had already started to climb again, heading for an expected 50 degrees.
And T’Pol, who had spent the last half hour staring at the ceiling of her bedroom, lifted the thin sheet off her body and pushed herself slowly up out of bed. She slid her bare feet into an old pair of slippers and shuffled into the kitchen, where she turned on the tap and waited patiently for the ancient pump to draw enough water up from the underground spring to fill her teakettle.
The pump, like the house it was in, was over two hundred years old. The small adobe structure had been built just after World War III by a small group of religious cultists who wished to separate themselves from the rest of their violent race. This locale, one of the most forbidding on the planet, proved ideal to this purpose: no one had discovered any evidence of the group’s ritual mass suicide until two years after the fact.
Once she’d coaxed enough water out of the spigot, T’Pol placed the kettle on a small heating unit and then reached for her tin of chamomile tea. She was not quite as cut off from the world as the original inhabitants had been—that would be close to impossible on twenty-third century Earth. But her nearest neighbors, in the town of Furnace Creek several kilometers away, were very protective of their privacy, and hers by extension. One of them, though, a Mr. Timbisha, made regular sojourns into Beatty for supplies and provisions, and occasionally gifted her with small comforts, such as tea or fresh fruits. One time, he had brought a small jar of plomeek seeds, obviously smuggled to Earth by black marketers. Each time she went out to gather new leaves from her small shaded garden, she wondered how he had known what they were, and how much they must have cost him to obtain. The one time she had offered to compensate him, he refused, saying, "Some of us still remember how much Earth owes you."
Now that T’Pol thought about it, though, Mr. Timbisha had been an elderly man when she first moved to the Southern California desert. Most likely . . . yes, she remembered now: Timbisha had died, like so many humans she’d known over the years. He’d been dead for . . . decades? Could that be right? Hadn’t she seen him just . . . No. But if he was dead, who was it who had been bringing her her tea?
And with her thoughts returned to tea, the whistle of the kettle finally penetrated her consciousness, though she had the sense that the water had been boiling for some time.
She squeezed her eyes shut, willing her disorganized thoughts and memories to reorder themselves. The scent of chamomile as it was released and carried by the steaming water helped in that regard. Sighing, she lowered herself into a chair at the kitchen table, both gnarled hands drawing warmth from the ceramic cup.
It had been growing increasingly difficult for her to maintain her mental disciplines as the years went by. She’d struggled with her failing abilities for a long time, particularly since her time in the Expanse, and the damage she’d inflicted on herself through the abuse of trellium-D. But matters had gotten to the point recently that she’d begun to worry that she was developing Bendii syndrome or some other infirmity. She’d lived on Earth for so long, without the benefit of a Vulcan physician; she could be suffering from any number of undiagnosed conditions . . .
But that was just paranoia. T’Pol still retained enough of her logical faculties to understand her current difficulties had begun just over a month ago, shortly after hearing the news about Elizabeth Cutler: at the age of 147 years, the last surviving human member of Jonathan Archer’s Enterprise crew had died of natural causes at her home in Tycho City, attended by five generations of her progeny.
And with her passing, T’Pol was alone, in yet one more sense.
T’Pol was startled out of her thoughts by a quiet alarm bleeping throughout the house, indicating that the property’s proximity sensors had been tripped. Bighorn sheep occasionally came down from the surrounding mountains in search of greenery to graze, but not as the sun was on its way up. Setting her cup down, T’Pol stood and reached for one of the kitchen drawers, from which she withdrew an outdated but still functional phase pistol.
She then activated a small countertop viewscreen, each of its three panels showing different views from the rooftop visual sensors. A man in denim pants and a plain blue cotton shirt was approaching from the direction of the old National Park Visitors Center, following the faint footpath that led to her front steps. T’Pol moved quickly through the house to the foyer and peered outside through a small optical lens set in the door. The man walked with both hands held away from his body, palms forward and empty. He was purposely presenting himself as harmless as he approached, but that did not mean he in fact was. Once he got within fifty meters of the house, T’Pol pushed the door open and aimed her pistol at his chest. "Do not come any closer," she called to him.
The man did as he was told, at the same time lifting his hands a bit higher. "I mean you no harm, Lady T’Pol," he shouted back.
"Nor do I intend to harm you," T’Pol replied. "However, my intentions are subject to change if you do not leave this property right now."
"Ma’am, my name is Christopher Pike, and I’m—"
"I do not care who you are, or what your reasons are for tracking me to my home. I do not welcome visitors, and I will defend my home and my privacy to the fullest."
The man now closed his hands into fists, and dropped them to his sides as he pulled himself up straight to his full height. "Lower your weapon, Commander," he called out in a voice that came from the inner depths of his being and rang with the characteristic authority of a starship captain. The muzzle of T’Pol phase pistol actually dipped slightly as her long-dormant yet deeply etched military instincts responded to the man’s tone and bearing.
Her lapse was only momentary. "Starfleet stripped me of my commission a long time ago," T’Pol informed him.
The man—Pike—started walking again, now ignoring the weapon aimed at him. "Once a Starfleet officer, always a Starfleet officer, they say."
"If you’re here on official Starfleet business, shouldn’t you be in uniform?"
He cracked a small grin. "I grew up in the Mojave; I know better," he told her. "If I had come to Death Valley in that heavy velour turtleneck, before long I would be begging you to use that phaser on me."
T’Pol lowered her pistol arm to her side, realizing there was no deterrent factor if Pike was making jokes about it. No doubt he’d faced more frightening foes in his life than a 176-year-old hermit lady. "What is this about, Mister Pike? What could Starfleet possibly want with me more than a century after my discharge?"
"Well, it’s not Starfleet, per se. It would perhaps be more comfortable for us both if we were to discuss this inside."
T’Pol tried—and failed—to suppress a sigh of resignation. She took a step back, holding the door open for Pike, and then indicated the small parlor that made up the front of the house. It was sparsely furnished and undecorated, as befitting one who did not entertain. Pike took a seat on a hard wooden mission chair as T’Pol settled onto a threadbare but comfortable sofa. "Lady T’Pol, I was asked by Prime Minister Winston to come speak with you. He intends to petition the Interstellar Coalition to admit Earth as a member. And he wants your support in that goal."
T’Pol raised one eyebrow. "Indeed? And what makes him believe I’d give it?"
"Because you know from firsthand experience that a partnership between humans and nonhumans can work." Every muscle in T’Pol’s body tensed at that, from the base of her neck to the fingers still wrapped around the phase pistol in her lap. Somehow, she managed to control her emotional retort as Pike obliviously continued, "You were right there at Captain Archer’s side, from the launch of the NX-01 to his court-martial."
"I fail to see the relevance of these statements," T’Pol told Pike calmly, changing her hold of the pistol to minimize the chance of accidentally discharging it. "Carter Winston is not Jonathan Archer."
"No, but like Archer, the prime minister wants to extend the hand of friendship and cooperation to the other powers of the galaxy."
"Carter Winston is a businessman. He spent a lifetime manipulating commodities markets on dozens of colonies and other Earth-subjugated worlds, amassed several financial fortunes, and then used his wealth and reputation to launch a political career, leading him prematurely to United Earth’s most powerful governmental office. Forgive me if I find the comparison inapt."
"Listen, I’m as cynical about politicians as the next person," Pike said, lowering his voice to affect the sense that he was sharing a confidence. "But like you said, the guy is a businessman first, and a damned smart one, too. But if the business of politics is getting votes and keeping yourself in power, then petitioning for Earth’s admittance into the Interstellar Coalition is a losing deal for him."
T’Pol cocked her head and narrowed her eyes at the human. "You’re going to tell me now that Winston is advocating this union selflessly, for a higher, more noble purpose."
"What if I did?"
"I would tell you that you were correct: it would be a losing deal for him," she said, a small touch of regret coloring her tone. "Are you familiar with the reasons Vulcans renounced emotion, Mister Pike?"
"Because of war," the Starfleet captain answered. "You nearly wiped yourselves out, right?"
"Correct. The emotions of fear and hatred are too powerful and too destructive. Your people have turned those emotions against extraterrestrials, which is perhaps the only reason you have avoided the fate my ancestors suffered. And no matter the best intentions of Prime Minister Winston or yourself, a proposal like this will only serve to rekindle that fear and hatred. I have seen it happen too many times over the past one hundred and nine years, as recently as just this past week."
"So, when I report back to the prime minister, I should tell him, don’t even bother?"
"I would advise phrasing the message a bit less bluntly."
Pike slid forward to the edge of his chair and leaned toward her. "Would that be the same advice—less bluntly phrased—you gave Captain Archer when he decided to act as mediator at Weytahn?"
T’Pol narrowed her eyes at Pike. That was, in fact, the essence of what she’d told Jonathan when he’d first proposed negotiating a peaceful settlement between Vulcan and Andoria over the long-disputed planet, which Vulcan called Paan Mokar. But that was irrelevant. "As I have already said, Carter Winston is not Jonathan Archer."
"I understand," Pike said. "But let me ask you; at that point in history, was Jonathan Archer yet ‘Jonathan Archer’?"
"He’s gotcha there, T’Pol."
When she was first introduced to Jonathan Archer, he was suspicious and headstrong, and highly mistrustful of the Vulcans, whom he blamed for holding his father’s warp engine research back for decades. Even after the successful negotiations at Weytahn, it would be years before T’Pol developed the kind of unquestioning regard for Jonathan they were now talking about.
"I understand you have misgivings," Pike continued. "More anyone else on Earth, I’d bet. But I’d also bet that you have more reasons to want to see things change than most humans. Our best chance of affecting those changes is with your support, even if its just tacit."
T’Pol said nothing for a long time. The last thing she wanted to do, so soon after the disaster of her visit to Berkeley, was to put herself out there again, trusting in supposedly well-intentioned humans. But if there was even the slightest chance that she could help advance Jonathan’s last unfinished mission . . . "I will have to meditate on the matter before reaching any decision," she finally told Pike.
"Of course." Pike stood up and started to put his right hand out to her, before he remembered the Vulcan aversion to casual physical contact. "Thank you again for your time and your indulgence, ma’am."
"Captain Pike . . . " He stopped at the door and turned back. "Why did the prime minister send you here to make his case?" she asked.
"Because it’s my ship that will be undertaking the diplomatic mission to the Coalition," he told her. "And because he thought you might be more favorably inclined if you were asked by the captain of the current Starship Enterprise."
Her heart seemed to skip a few beats at the mention of that piece of information. Still, she kept herself steady and said in a dismissive tone. "Sentimentality is an emotion."
"That’s what I thought," Pike said, a corner of his mouth twitching upward. "Good day, ma’am."
"Good day, Captain," she said, and stood staring at the door for several seconds after he’d left, deep in thought.
"Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Infinity’s Prism" is available for preorder at Amazon
(ships July 22nd)
COMING NEXT WEEK
Next week, the Library Computer looks at the 2nd story from "Infinity’s Prism," Christopher L. Bennett’s intriguing Voyager-era contribution to the Myriad Universes anthology, Places of Exile. We will again have a review, author interview and exclusive excerpt.