Book Review: ‘Star Trek: Discovery: The Enterprise War’ Is An Adventure You Can’t Put Down

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.

Enterprise War back cover

 

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.

Boundless references 

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.

Lingering questions 

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.

Enterprise War front cover

 Final analysis

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.

Available now

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.

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TG47

Ok Dénes…

You’ve convinced me to put aside the Star Trek Vanguard novels that I’ve been working through and pick up my copy of the Enterprise War that arrived early last week :)

I’ll check back in for the spoiler part of the review very soon I expect.

CaesarGJ

Those Vanguard books are the best Trek I’ve read in decades, probably since I was first hooked on the Pocket Books of the 80s. (Still have a real soft spot for Ishmael, which reads rather like Kim Newman’s vampire novels do today.)

TG47

The Vanguard series is clearly a favourite among many fans.

And while the authors (Mack, Gilmore & Ward) admit that it had some rough going in writing as they were just getting into the writers room concept, it seems to really hold together.

Others here on TrekMovie have said that it would make a good streaming series or miniseries, and so far I agree…

…although the I suspect that if CBS were to make Vanguard a television production they’d get some unfair critiques about lifting ideas from The Expanse when the fact is that the Vanguard books were written first : I.E. metagenome molecule mystery; a ship named Rocinante.

Micah

While it’s totally fantastical it’ll ever happen, I love the idea of a Vanguard series. It’d suit modern audiences in having a few, big overarching mysteries, just as Discovery has done with the Red Angels, while combining TOS & DS9 in ways that’d appeal to old fans. If it’s my dream, I’d have them use TOS-style sets and the beautifully designed ships we see on the covers exactly as-is. Having said that, some story elements of the book overlap with Discovery (which I won’t name in case someone wants to read them!). I suspect if there was any real possibility of a Vanguard series they could get the writers back to update the concept/change characters and plot.

TG47

Vanguard could, with some updating, slip right into the current Discovery / Pike’s Enterprise production style.

I agree that Mack, Dilmore and Ward would need to do some tweaking, but an updated adaption would be fine. I don’t think the overlap with Discovery’s S1 plotline is too serious – as what’s a big mystery in Discovery is pretty much revealed from the start in Vanguard.

Clearly the Vanguard books are still attracting new readers, so it’s one of the stronger novel series.

Trying to track down paper copies to buy, I’ve found that there is an active resale market – I’m having to pay too much for used paperbacks.

Simon & Schuster seems to re-releasing the series in trade paperback…but so far just the first book is out. But the really weird thing is that they didn’t reset the type – just blew up the paperback pages and the cover image. It’s just weird… And frustrating because they aren’t shipping the Station diagrams that the old, blown up cover promises are included.

Uff … I still can’t get over that redesign of the ship. That simply does not work for me. But I guess it doesn’t matter in a novel :-D

Me either. There are ways to modernize the old girl without completely changing her appearance.

MysticalDigtial

I’m honestly amazed so many people are that diehard about a ship.

CaesarGJ

She’s just as much a character in the show and films as any of the actors are.

And as such is subject to recasting…

Julius Caesar

You just made my point. The recasting is also more miss than hit.

Legate Damar

Given all the demand for a Pike series, I think most people are pretty happy with the recasts. Unless they want to bring Jeffrey Hunter back from the grave to reprise the role.

TG47

I agree it was very necessary to update for current audiences.

While the Enterprise of TOS is iconic, it also owes far to much in colour to mid 20th century ocean going ships.

More, it has a certain awkwardness to its lines that we don’t see because we love it.

So, while I can get on board with the sentiment that the redesign could have been better, I can’t see how it could have been left without updating.

I’m really hoping that the production designer in Toronto (now Phillip Barker it appears) will have an influence on the ships being designed for the 33rd century.

albatrosity

Are you kidding? Do you even watch Star Trek? Ship designs are a big part of it. There’s a reason there are literally 200 Eaglemoss models on the market — people like and become intimately familiar with the ships.

Olaf

Really? I rather dislike the font they use for Discovery, but the enterprise is (almost) fine with me.

PEB

I always love hearing how people feel about the updated design but I honestly have to say I absolutely love it. As someone who loves the classic beauty of the original Enterprise design, for me, it’s a bit dated in areas. I completely understand why they did what they did but it’s also clearly a much more calculated and thoughtful approach. There seemed to be care in respecting what came before while also updating it for 2019. I mean she looks like a ship in the same family tree as the NX01. I can’t help but smile at that.

albatrosity

I agree, I really didn’t like the design at first blush, but the longer it sits with me, the more I appreciate the design homages and updates. I’m not super keen on the font, but otherwise everything is actually really nice. I just think some of it detracts from the real WOW upgrade that the TMP refit was. Like, the leap from TOS to TMP Enterprise was so impressive because of how many things they changed — the nacelle pylons were now swept back, the secondary hull was now wider and rounder, the torpedo bays were new. With the new Disco Enterprise, many of those changes had already existed as early as the Pike era, so by comparison the TMP refit now looks far less dramatic, which is a bit of a bummer.

Will

The Enterprise redesign was nearly a home run for me… it’s just the swept back pylons which, from what I’ve read, was a last second change made after the final design was approved… which makes me sad because the “old” version with the straight pylons… man I loved that.

FLB

If it’s indeed at the level of Diane Duane’s Rihannsu series… I may just buy my first Trek novel this decade.

That’s a pretty high bar to clear. Diane Duane, Vonda McIntyre, John M. Ford… rare talents indeed.

Julez

I have read all of the new books except this one. So far I have enjoyed them, ‘The Way to the Stars’ being my favorite so far. I will get my hands on this one next.

TG47

I’ve been wondering whether and how the remerger of CBS and Viacom might impact the tie-in novels.

The publisher Simon & Schuster is owned by Viacom and reports are that it will stay on that side of organization chart.

Nonetheless, I’m hoping that following the remerger, management of the Trek brand by CBS will have a more encompassing strategic vision that includes not only the movies but also the book properties.

dennycranium

I had the pleasure of hanging out with the author on two occasions.
He did EXTENSIVE research on the previous books written about Discovery so far. He also studied all of the bridge locations and came up with a duty roster. This research he did helped with making one feel like they were on the Enterprise.
John also worked with Kirsten Beyer and all of the people in the writing room of the show.
If this book sells well, he hopes it’s the start of something big. He has another novel set in the DSC universe for 2020. He couldn’t say if it was for the Discovery or the Enterprise.
I echo the reviewers thoughts on the book. For those of us jonesing for more Pike and crew, go BUY this book. We will get more of the Enterprise crew and hopefully, more adventures with them.
The author signed dozens of copies for readers during Shore Leave 41 and STLV this past weekend. He requested that everyone leave a review on Amazon or their favorite book site.
Go BUY this book!

PEB

Picked up my copy yesterday and I have to say as I started, I immediately became immersed in this novel. I think it’s the style of writing, the voice, that grabbed me. Really love the quality, and while I scrolled past the spoilers here – really can’t wait to see what the story is about.

Sean 3.0

”Dear Novelists, I am going to write a new series of Star Trek with dozens of plot holes and half finished story arcs, you’re welcome!” says Kurtzman.
“We’re in the moneeeey!!!!! KERCHING!” replies novelists.

Between subscriptions and paying for books and comics to fill in the gaps CBS has really hit on a money making scheme! Do you remember when we used to have novels that expanded on the characters without the need for concreting over plot holes?

Legate Damar

I’m pretty sure that’s still what we’re doing. I’m only a few chapters into this one, but so far the only plot whole they’ve addressed is a discrepancy between the first Discovery novel and season 2 of Discovery.

Sean

I think the story of the novel is excellant, don’t get me wrong. I just wish it wasn’t ‘necessary’ because no one at CBS explained what happened to the Enterprise… “hmmph, someone will write a book…”

Legate Damar

They explained it in the show. They said that the Enterprise was so far out that it probably wouldn’t be able to get back in time to make a difference in the war, and they wanted the best of Starfleet (Pike and his crew) to survive to carry on the Federation’s values if the Federation fell. The novel just adds to that by telling us what, specifically, they were doing during that time.

Captain_neill

If just after The Cage be cool if Enterprise had more the TOS look to it but I guess it’s aiming at DSC

TG47

Well, I’m done and I agree that this is definitely a solid Trek book. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read. A real chocolate eclair of a book.

John Jackson Miller seems to have found his feet in the Trek Universe at this point. The book has humour, Trek values and even an underlying science puzzle of sorts.

I loved his Titan novella Absent Enemies, but struggled to get into the Prey trilogy. This book doesn’t flag, and speaks Trek to me throughout.

**** SPOILERS AHEAD ***

With Miller’s long history of writing for Star Wars, I haven’t always been convinced that he’s looking for the Trek angle on a story.

But as Denés notes, ethical choices in difficult circumstances, in both the heat of the moment and over the long haul, are at the heart of this book. I found the resolution between the Boundless and the Rengru explored a new twist on a classic Trek trope of conflict due to misunderstanding or lack of communication. Between the two, it made it more than just a longish Trek episode for me.

A few things…

– I loved exploring the Lurians. I was laughing out loud at the early Lucian scenes.

– We got a lot of time and dialogue from other Enterprise characters, but other than Colt, Connelly and Galadjian, Miller was careful not to establish too much about their characters or backgrounds.

– I still have mixed feelings about Connelly, but Miller has made him 3-dimensional and credible. The book makes his death in the S2 opener of Discovery tragic in a classical sense, but flags the lack of acknowledgement of his death later in the show as callous.

-The navigator Jamila Amin did come across as smart and a bit wry, clearly a good bridge officer for Number One. I liked her, but would like to know more. While it could be that they were referring to another character at the Con, the actor Samora Smallwood is listed on Imdb as being in a Short Trek with Peck and Romjin, and has responded on Twitter that she she’s looking forward to fans seeing the episode.

– Last – It’s a nit-pick but it really bugged me. I know writers are often math adverse, but their readers aren’t. Dates need to be vetted.

The book opens with a transformative moment from Pike’s adolescence. It sets the date at 2336 and Pike at 17 years. The main story takes place in 2356. 20 years later. Which would make Pike 37 – and 35 two years earlier at Talos IV, and 38 during his command of Discovery.

I was sure that this was a misprint, but the text later says that the incident when he was 17 was twenty years earlier.

First, Anson Mount’s portrayal doesn’t put Pike in his 30s.

Second, Memory Alpha notes that Pike’s record displayed for all to see on Discovery’s bridge, puts Pike at the Starfleet Academy in 2324.

I found it an unfortunate distraction that kept me from diving in from the first page. Good thing that I had Dénes encouragement.