Review: Star Trek: The Unsettling Stars
Written by: Alan Dean Foster
Published by: Pocket Books
Available as: Paperback (304 pages), ebook, and audiobook
“This isn’t just a ‘good and useful’ thing you’ve come up with, Spock. It’s much, much more than that.”
The Science officer found McCoy’s unstinting praise more disconcerting than the doctor’s usual sarcasm. “I am only seeking to find a way to aid refugees whose situation is not unlike the Vulcans’. I have lost an old world, and we both seek a new one.” He spoke as he guided the shuttle the short distance back to the Enterprise. Knowing McCoy, he braced himself. “If not ‘good and useful,’ what would you call it, Doctor?”
McCoy’s expression turned uncharacteristically solemn. “I’d say it qualified as downright noble, Spock.”
First, a little bit of background…
Alan Dean Foster is one of the more prolific and involved writers in Star Trek history, spanning virtually all of Star Trek’s existence. He wrote the story from which Star Trek: The Motion Picture was developed, a series of novelizations of The Animated Series episodes, and the novelization for J.J. Abrams’ 2009 movie, Star Trek.
Foster’s The Unsettling Stars returns to the Kelvin universe, but its publication has a story of its own. Originally titled Refugees, the novel was announced by Simon & Schuster in early 2009 as one of four novels set in Kelvin timeline, after the events of the 2009 Star Trek movie. However, in July 2009 all four books were removed from the release schedule in order to allow “J.J. and his team [to] continue to develop his vision.” The concern was that the books would conflict with the next film in the franchise, which had yet to be written. They remained locked up at Simon & Schuster even after the 2013 release of Star Trek Into Darkness and the 2016 release of Star Trek Beyond. All that changed at STLV last August when with the announcement that two of these Kelvin books would be released in 2020. At that time, Foster’s novel has been retitled The Order of Peace, but was later changed again to The Unsettling Stars. It will be followed later this year by David Mack’s More Beautiful Than Death.
One of the fascinating and controversial differences from the Prime Star Trek continuity made by the 2009 Star Trek movie was the destruction of the planet Vulcan. “I am now a member of an endangered species,” Spock observed in the film, a fact that left him “emotionally compromised,” and formed the impetus both for the direction of Prime Spock’s story from then out in the films and for key decisions made by Kelvin Spock in both Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond. Clearly this aspect – the fact that Spock was now in some ways a refugee – was what most gripped Alan Dean Foster when he was writing this novel.
On to the novel…
Set soon after the events of the 2009 film, The Unsettling Stars finds Captain Kirk and his crew still excitedly, and a bit anxiously, learning their jobs. Many of them had received battlefield promotions which vaulted them in rank ahead of older and more experienced officers. Are they up to the challenges of serving on the command crew of Starfleet’s flagship? Will their actions confirm the wisdom of their promotions, or will they prove unworthy of the honors they have received? This book gives us a Kirk who’s still quite cocky, a Spock who is not yet inclined towards friendship, and an Uhura who is not entirely confident of where she stands with Spock.
The plot centers around a chance encounter with a refugee ship from a previously unknown race known as the Perenoreans. When they rescue the Perenorean colony ship from an attack by three alien warships, Kirk and company find these new people to be almost obsequiously grateful for the assistance and desperate to return the favor by helping our crew in any way possible. Spock is able to locate a suitable planet for them to resettle, and once established there, the Perenoreans become just as eager to assist the race that has agreed to host their colony on their planet. But the Perenoreans’ zeal and creativity in helping their rescuers eventually leads to a conflict of cultures and a genuine threat to not only their host planet’s culture and to the Enterprise crew, but to the entire Federation.
This whole scenario opens up the opportunity for an interesting exploration of the Federation’s Prime Directive; however, this clear connection is never explored by Foster. His central concern is with the status of the Perenoreans as refugees, and the intriguing threat that their assistance poses, even with the best of intentions. In a day and age in which the welcoming of refugees is a hot button political issue, Foster’s book is not clearly on one side of the question or the other.
In the end, the plot of The Unsettling Stars takes a long time to build, and its payoff is fairly brief. Many of its themes are developed and redeveloped, stated, and restated a number of times, to the point where the reader can justly feel like they’ve heard enough, and the book should move on. And despite the fascinating premise with which it begins, the book’s resolution is not particularly clever. Because the conflict of the book is intellectual in nature, I would have liked for the resolution to have required outsmarting the Perenoreans in some way.
Foster’s novel does deliver in a number of areas. The Perenoreans and the race that hosts their colony are certainly creative and intriguing aliens with their own unique cultures and traits. The character interactions are good and it is is easy to picture the Kelvin timeline actors in your mind as you read. However, due to the novel being written back in 2009, some of the character beats are inconsistent with what was eventually established in the 2013 film Star Trek Into Darkness.
While it is likely not a book that I intend to read again. The Unsettling Stars is an excellent tie-in novel that deepens your appreciation for the Kelvin timeline and its characters.
The Unsettling Stars is available now
Star Trek: The Unsettling Stars was released on April 14th. You can pick it up now at Amazon in Paperback ($14.99), e-book ($9.97), and Audiobook CD ($17.50). There is also a digital audiobook available at Audible.
Coming up next
On August 11th, Pocket Books will release David Mack’s More Beautiful Than Death, the second Kelvin universe novel from the set they pulled from the schedule in 2009. And if you prefer your Kirk and Spock old school, on June 9th you can pick up Dayton Ward’s Agents of Influence set during the original 5-year mission of Star Trek: The Original Series. And on July 4th you can take a trip to the Mirror Universe in John Jackson Miller’s Star Trek: Discovery: Die Standing.
Keep up with all the Star Trek books news, previews and reviews at TrekMovie.com.