Star Trek Book Reviews: “The Way to the Stars” & “The Captain’s Oath”

Two recent Star Trek books that we have not had the chance to review until now are Una McCormack’s Star Trek: Discovery tie-in novel, The Way to the Stars, and Christopher L. Bennett’s Star Trek: The Original Series adventure, The Captain’s Oath. Both are worth reading, though McCormack’s novel has the edge in both readability and impact on Trek canon. Short reviews of both ahead!

Star Trek: Discovery – The Way to the Stars, by Una McCormack

One of the most popular (if divisive) characters on Star Trek: Discovery is Ensign Sylvia Tilly: science whiz, motormouth, and bestie extraordinaire. On the show, we know her as a young prodigy with dreams of being a starship Captain someday, with definite mommy issues. But who is she? Where does she come from? And what drew her to Starfleet in the first place?

Una McCormack’s 2019 tie-in novel gives us an in-depth exploration of Tilly’s character in a story that covers a couple of years at an elite Federation boarding school. All of the Discovery tie-in novels to date have centered around massive events—planets in peril, threats to civilization as we know it, wars, and the like. The Way to the Stars reads like counter-programming to this trend. It’s a quiet, personal story, characterized by careful observation, realistic motivations, and meaningful encounters. It is a lovely, tender, sweet book—words which rarely apply to Star Trek novels.

Fans of Tilly, of Discovery, or simply of good, character-centered storytelling will love The Way to the Stars. Nothing huge is at stake on a galactic scale, but everything is at stake in Tilly’s life—and that makes the story matter in a way that big space battles often do not. Highly recommended.

Star Trek: The Original Series – The Captain’s Oath, by Christopher L. Bennett

The Captain’s Oath tells the story of James T. Kirk’s first starship command aboard the Hermes-class Scout USS Sacagawea, intercut with the early days of his command of the Enterprise. The plot centers around a number of dramatic and devastating encounters with a fascinating alien race whose thought processes and technology are so different from those of the sentient species known to the Federation that disaster seems to be the only possible outcome.

Bennett’s novel is a page-turner, with an alien race whose actions and motivations are so mystifying that this reader was desperately trying to figure out what was going on throughout the novel. That the conclusion is deeply satisfying is a testimony to Bennett’s skills as a storyteller. This is an imaginative and fascinating book. What was difficult for me was tracking the story among so many different time periods, with different casts of characters in each one. It all came together by the end, but at times the flashbacks and flash-forwards seemed arbitrary and perhaps too clever by half. My only advice is to hang in there if you get confused; the conclusion is definitely reward enough for your troubles. Recommended.


Both novels are available to buy now.

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Palizia

Wishing for a Tilly book with the title of Kirk’s book.

Denes House

Palizia, I LOVE this comment. Awesome!

TG47

Thanks again Dénes for profiling and reviewing Trek-lit here.

It’s always been a significant part of the Trek franchise, and I’d like to see it get more respect.

I’ve got Captain’s Oath on my ‘to read’ shelf. I could see from the opening pages that I’d need to be in the mood to focus through slice-n-dice time periods. It’s good to know that the effort will be rewarded.

I’m also curious to try ‘The Way to the Star’s now. Una McCormack is a deft Trek writer, but I wasn’t ready to dive to much into Discovery stories when it launched.

Denes House

Thanks, TG47! Definitely give “The Way to the Stars” a chance – it is sweet and lovely in a way that I never expected from a Star Trek novel. And I did enjoy “The Captain’s Oath,” even through all the time shifts. I hope you do, too!

Mark

I’m old school and have my issues with Discovery. I’ve found that I enjoy the Discovery novels more than the show itself.

Mark Calcagno

What’s better in the books?

TG47

I’ve just read two so far (Desperate Hours and The Enterprise War).

What’s great about the novels is that Simon & Schuster has gone to some of the strongest writers in their group of Relaunch novelists who know canon cold, and talk to one another.

They’re a diverse group, and have different styles and strengths, but all are good at coming up with solid Trek stories within canon.

Basically, there’s been a writers room of Trek authors for about the past 15 years. They talk about their novels with one another, and make sure not to accidentally kill off someone essential or have someone behaving out of character without a valid reason.

More, Kirsten Beyer – who has been part of this group of novelists and is now a writer for Discovery and Picard – has the lead in linking the new Discovery novels to the show.

If you haven’t tried Trek-lit in a while, these might be a good place to start.

The Relaunch post-Nemesis novels includes some truly fantastic books, but seem to have been set aside in an alternate timeline now that the Picard series is going forward.

PEB

I really enjoyed Enterprise War and Desperate Hours