REVIEW of Star Trek: Discovery: The Enterprise War
Written by John Jackson Miller
Published by Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books
432 pages – $16.00 (retail paperback price)
“These people need me, Spock.” He leaned over, toward him. “You need me.”
“You…need me,” Spock parroted.
“Yes, Spock. We need you.”
“Captain…I request you…take me to…”
“Take you where, Spock?”
“…a facility. Where I can be helped.”
“Sure thing, Spock. I’ll take you.”
Eyes wild, Spock grabbed the Captain’s hands, surprising him. “I will take you, Christopher Pike. To be helped.” (p. 414)
The Enterprise is back, again
To the strains of Alexander Courage’s original Star Trek theme music, the U.S.S. Enterprise warped onto our TV screens at the end of Star Trek: Discovery‘s first season, bringing delight to fans and great anticipation for Season Two. When that second season kicked off, it was revealed that the Constitution Class ship had just returned, battered, bruised, and barely functional, from an extended deep-space mission that had kept the ship out of the Klingon War that occupied much of Discovery season one. And while the Enterprise had Captain Pike aboard, as well as the mysterious and beautiful Number One, everyone’s favorite Vulcan Science Officer, Mr. Spock, had returned from that deep-space mission mentally and emotionally battered, and had in fact checked himself into a Federation mental institution.
As a plot device, these situations meant that we got Pike as the captain of Discovery for the second season of DIscovery, Number One as a recurring guest star, and had to wait to see the bearded, adult Spock until halfway through the season. But how did the Enterprise and her crew get into such a state? What could have kept the Big E out of a war that nearly wiped out the Federation? And what could have so rattled Spock that his Vulcan equanimity was completely overwhelmed?
John Jackson Miller’s The Enterprise War answers all of these questions and more in quite possibly the most entertaining, thorough, and exciting way possible. This new novel is not just my favorite Star Trek: Discovery tie-in novel, it ranks with the best Trek novels I’ve ever read, right alongside Diane Duane’s Rihannsu Trilogy and David A. Goodman’s autobiographies. Miller writes these characters, ships, alien cultures, and scenarios with vigor, insight, and joy. He gives us a Pike that is still reeling from his experiences on Talos IV (TOS: “The Cage” and “The Menagerie”), and surrounds him with some of the characters you’d expect (Dr. Philip Boyce, Lt. Cmdr. Una, Mr. Spock) and others who are new and a lot of fun. And he gives us a sequence that lit the fires of my imagination and made me laugh with delight, while longing to see something like this on screen someday.
The novel should prove especially enjoyable to ship geeks, like myself, who relish in the starships and technology of Star Trek and love the tactics of navigation and space combat. So much of this novel depends on the reader being able to visualize what’s happening around the Enterprise and explores Enterprise functionality that fans have always wanted to see onscreen but have never had the opportunity to see, and Miller writes it all with a clarity and creativity that makes all of it come alive. Few writers are able to pull this off, but here Miller does, and with style. This is a must-read Star Trek novel for fans of TOS, Discovery, and science fiction in general.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough – go out and get this one, and read it before you move to the spoiler section of this review.
If SPOILERS are like the mouth of Hell to you, STOP READING NOW!
There be Crew here!
After a key, character-defining scene from Christopher Pike’s pre-Starfleet days, the novel takes us to the Enterprise, under Pike’s command, receiving the first news by subspace radio of the outbreak of the Klingon War at the Battle of the Binary Stars. The ship is near the beginning of what was supposed to be a year-long scientific survey of the Pergamum Nebula, a treacherous and noxious area of space long famed as a sort of “Bermuda Triangle” for disappearing ships by many Alpha Quadrant races. The news comes with a direct order – do not return. Continue your mission. It’s a direct order, but it’s months old. So Pike disobeys it, the harrowing return journey out of the nebula serving to help us get acquainted with Pike’s crew, with the punishing conditions inside the nebula, and with the aliens who are surreptitiously watching the technologically-advanced ship with greedy eyes.
The crew includes Dr. Phillip Boyce, familiar to Trek fans from “The Cage,” here allowed to be as crusty and iconoclastic a curmudgeon as any Trek doctor has aspired to be. Lt. Commander Una, Pike’s “Number One,” played by Majel Barrett in “The Cage,” and by Rebecca Romijn in Discovery Season Two, is here a dedicated and disciplined officer, with a mind trained by the orderly and logical Illyrians, a character point established most recently in David Mack’s “Desperate Hours,” but that harkens back to older Trek novels like “Vulcan’s Glory,” “The Children of Kings,” and “Child of Two Worlds.” Una is an important character in “The Enterprise War,” and much of the plot turns around her actions. Miller takes Spock from where we last saw him in “Desperate Hours,” and peels back his mental and emotional layers. He is every bit the heroic, noble character we know from The Original Series, but he is placed in situations where he has to make difficult, life-or-death decisions that test his loyalties, his logic, and in the end, his life. We get to know Lt. Nhan a bit better here than in Season Two of Discovery, and Lt. Connolly, who we meet (briefly) as the Science Officer of the Enterprise in Season Two, before he meets a rather sudden end, has a lot to do here. Yeoman Colt shows up, as well.
But there are some faces you might not expect. Transporter Chief Pitcairn, a minor character in “The Cage,” and his bespectacled Asian assistant, unnamed in “The Cage,” but called “Sam Yamata” in “Child of Two Worlds” and in this novel, both have quite a bit to do. A standout new character is Dr. Galadjian, the ship’s chief engineer, who got the position due to his brilliance in theoretical design and engineering, but whose capabilities are really put to the test when he is forced to get his hands dirty in actual starship conditions. Galadjian is a lot of fun to read, and watching how Pike leads him gives real insight into just why Pike is one of Starfleet’s most celebrated Captains. During a panel discussion at Star Trek Las Vegas, Miller commented that a character from The Enterprise War shows up in one of the Short Treks episodes planned for release later this year. By this, he probably means a character original to this novel, and is not merely referring to Spock or Una. If that’s so, I’m hoping it’s Galadjian.
The story plunges us into a conflict between an alien confederacy known as The Boundless and their eternal enemy, the crustacean Rengru. Our crew is tested in a hopeless situation, and their Federation ideals are thoroughly examined. I was pleased to see a thoughtful mention of how people with disabilities are able to live full and rich lives thanks in part to assistive technologies, something that TNG’s Geordi LaForge embodied and that Star Trek: Discovery has embraced deeply, but that Trek’s utopian vision of the future sometimes blurs out. Along the way, Miller gives us a spectacular sequence involving the saucer section of the Enterprise stranded, floating upside-down on the surface of a liquid planet. Imagine Christopher Pike standing on the domed viewport covering the Enterprise bridge, staring up at his command chair. Imagine the difficulties in operating an upside-down starship! It’s a fantastic setup, and Miller really puts the reader there with vivid descriptions.
In “The Cage” and throughout Season Two of Discovery, allusions are made to Christopher Pike’s religious upbringing. The Talosians punished Pike using his childhood memories of stories about the Lake of Fire. In “New Eden,” we learn that Pike’s father was a science teacher who also taught comparative religion. Pike is clearly familiar with religious texts and customs and speaks in ways that the very religious Terralysians can understand. Throughout the season, Pike makes reference to “faith” as a necessary human response to difficult situations, though whether he intended religious faith is less clear. In The Enterprise War, Miller strews Biblical references – both overt and subtle – thickly throughout the narrative. From the naming of the nebula that is the setting for almost the entire novel, references to Ararat, Hell, angels, demons, and even a twisty reference to Easter eggs, Miller’s story and his Pike stand firmly in this characterization. As both a “ship geek” and a “Bible geek,” I thoroughly enjoyed both the presence and the depth of these references. Sadly, there is no indication that Miller’s Pike has any present-day religious life, something that would have been very interesting to explore both for Star Trek in general and in the specific situations in this book.
But it’s not just Bible references that Miller sprinkles liberally in this novel. Of course, there are plenty of fun canonical Star Trek references. There’s an early mention of Regulation 46A (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), a significant appearance of the Lurians (think DS9‘s Morn), a clever mention of the “Delta Vega problem,” yet another drop in the bucket of mystery that is the Denobulan species (think ENT’s Phlox), and even an odd red shirt joke. Miller also makes plenty of references to “Desperate Hours,” and adjusts one seeming incongruity between that novel and Discovery season two. And of course, we see adult Spock’s renewed acquaintance with “The Red Angel” that he first saw as a child, and that played such a key part in Discovery Season Two. Miller also peppers the story with an extended discussion of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and many assorted references to that classic work.
My one burning question throughout the novel is about The Boundless, an alliance of five alien races that all evolved to sentience on the same planet. One is insectoid, one is reptilian, one is avian, one is aquatic, and one is arboreal. They evolved on a planet deep inside a harsh, forbidding region of space that has a reputation for swallowing up ships. Given all this, how is it that there is not a single direct mention of the Xindi in this novel? I spent the better part of the book expecting to find that The Boundless are an offshoot of the Xindi, their backstories and structure are so similar. Were The Boundless intended to have been the Xindi, but the editors objected? Did no one notice the similarities prior to publication? I find that very hard to believe.
The Enterprise War is now one of my favorite Star Trek novels, ever. I enjoyed it thoroughly and couldn’t put it down, reading it during my lunch breaks at work, while on the elliptical at the gym, and even well after I should have been in bed. It’s exciting, creative, and answers some of the major lingering questions from Discovery season two’s premiere. One of the highlights of season two was Anson Mount’s Christopher Pike, and Spock, Una, and the Enterprise were delightful to see onscreen. This novel brings back all that joy and deepens it.
If you haven’t read a single Star Trek novel this year, read this one.
Star Trek: Discovery: Enterprise War was released on July 30 and is available now at Amazon in paperback, ebook, Audio CD and on Audible.
Listen to a sample of the audiobook.
Note: A review copy was provided by the publisher.