Book Review: ‘Star Trek: The Unsettling Stars’ Takes You Back To The Kelvin Universe

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

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I would like to see more stories set in the Kelvin universe. That world has so much potential. The prime universe is getting a bit stale don’t you think.

The destruction of Vulcan personally impacted Spock. Seeing his home planet lost forever changed him. The Vulcans are now an endangered species. This is more interesting than the destruction of Romulus in the prime universe.

Picard has showed that Romulans can live on Earth in peace. There were Romulans living with Picard at his place in France. Vulcans could be living on Earth in the Kelvin timeline in a similar way.

The Romulans are not completely wiped out. They live on other planets in their vast interstellar empire. Vulcans live on their planet and surrounding star systems as a warp capable species. Vulcans are members of the Federation so they can settle on other member worlds like Earth for example as refugees.

Does the Kelvin timeline have a mirror universe? I guess every Star Trek universe has a mirror universe.

This book came out like a decade later after the 2009 Star Trek film. Better late than never they say.

The Kelvin mirror universe has already been explored in the comics.

His Name Is Rios the Kelvin universe does have a mirror universe… Every Star Trek universe has its own mirror universe.

Yes… I know. As I said, it’s been explored in the comics.

I don’t think the Prime Universe need be stale. The only reason to reboot is to tell the same stories again. We have so many stories to tell with actual earth history as it is. Star Trek has an entire galaxy and a few hundred years extra to make stories from, it shouldn’t get stale.

DarExc the prime universe is not fun anymore. It doesn’t excited me at all. Star Trek should do a unorthodox approach to telling stories. The prime universe is stale and so be it. The new shows could impress.

The Kelvin universe is not the same stories again, far from it in fact. If only Star Trek can go out of the box…

The only stale universe is the kelvin one.

Thanks for the article, I will now not be reading this book. I would love more Kelvin movies!

Please read it. I think it is worth reading. I was hearing the voices of Pine, Quinto and all the other actors while reading it. Great if you are a fan of the Kelvin timeline. I‘m a fan of all Star Trek.

Hearing the voices of Pine et al would be a tribute to the writer’s ear, but painful for mine.

Quinto has been fine in stuff like AHS, but his Spock reminds me more of Kevin Nealon than Leonard Nimoy.

So is this the only Kelvin novel that we are going to see?

The article says that another one will be released in August.

Oh, you definitely SHOULD read it. It’s a solid read.

You should read it. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Not fair to the writer hearing that from you. Solid storytelling and plot.

Definitely don’t read it.

One of these books (by Greg Cox) was about Spock Prime and the romulans or maybe the Klingons who were after him and his knowledge of the future.. which if you think about it would’ve made alot of sense for ST2 or even ST3.. granted the whole Admiral Marcus/Khan plot kind of made sense for the sequel (and I’m ok with that movie anyway despite everyone saying its bad. At least it was a big ‘event’ movie) but for ST3 the ‘Hunt for Spock’ could’ve been done instead of the rather dull superfluous Beyond. Nimoys death could’ve been taken into account as it could’ve been about Spocks katra. Also add some of Orci’s Days of Future Past ST3 story with the timeline device thing and Shatner returning as Kirk Prime to bring back Spocks katra to the Prime-verse (where it belongs/shades of Trek III), and maybe even have the Guardian of Forever as the timeline device (it was the 50th anniversary after all..and Treks most popular movies/episodes have dealt with timetravel) plus the obligatory big bad and space battles with Romulans and/or Klingons (shouldn’t the Klingons have been major peeved at what happened in STID?) and you’d have had a much more interesting/fan pleasing movie that celebrated Treks history for the anniversary. Also the trailer could’ve had shown all kinds of cool Trek stuff instead of Marvel/Guardians action and motorbikes and rock songs.. and could’ve ended on Shatner in one of those TMP style Admiral uniforms taking the centre seat to Alexander Courage (a’la Ford at the end of TFA trailer)

Didn’t they do this already on Star Trek New Voyages?

Fan movies don’t matter.

That’s not really my point. You can tell a story like that in fan productions because you’re not trying to sell it to a mainstream audience or make a profit and it’s a given that anybody that takes the time to view your creation is intimately familiar with the source material. The Abrams movies were clearly relying on drawing In casual fans and lots of people new to the franchise and you can’t really do that with fan fiction.

Thank you for a well-written review. Too often these days, reviewers think that retelling the plot of a book or episode, then adding one sentence of analysis, somehow constitutes a review. (Hint to reviewers: it doesn’t.) This article, however, has almost no plot-rehashing and is entirely analysis. Kudos.

I liked it for the most part but if you are a fan of both tos and the kelvin movies, you will probably feel like Alan didn’t try to really write a kelvin trek novel. The characters sound like tos and at times it feels forced like ‘this isn’t something I imagine this version of Spock or Kirk saying’. It feels terribly lazy. I may only give Alan a pass because he wrote it right after the movie came out ..but then I remember he should’ve, unlike other authors, the extra advantage of being the one who wrote novelizations for the first two movies, so he had access to the scripts…so he should know this version of the characters more.

Still, it’s a good book that gives all the characters enough space and I really like the big dilemma and plot twist (that I saw coming very fast )
I wish we got more kelvin trek novels and I was excited to read this one.

“Uhura who is not entirely confident of where she stands with Spock.”
Funny, they both seem VERY confident to me there…

Those who liked the relationship will be happy in this novel. Those who hated it will find it irksome that it isn’t ignored or made ‘cold’.. honestly, if you remove it and the nods about Vulcan Alan’s attempt at writing kelvin trek respecting the integrity of the different version of the characters would be almost a failure for the reason I stated above.

I think the Kelvin universe should have gone instead for a “no one trusts Starfleet to protect them” after Vulcan scenario. Federation members withdraw and the Enterprise has to pick up the pieces and prove the Federation is still relevant. Isn’t that the whole fun of a reboot? Alternatively you can have them leave Starfleet and go out on their own. Or have EARTH leave the Federation and Kirk and company choose to stay with Starfleet.
Alternatively see Star Trek The Rebel Universe PC game from the 80s and do something like that where they are on their own.
In a sector of the galaxy Federation colonies are wiped out by nanoprobes again and again while all subspace comms are non functional. Only homeworlds of primitive races remain un-impacted. The Federation chooses to quarantine the area, keeping it under wraps that this “quarantine zone” is expanding in the direction of the Federation homeworlds. The Enterprise is sent in, the only ship in the sector, to find out who, why, what.. and ally with the local races to end the threat.

Re: “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.”

I would have expected that they would have given the author the opportunity to go back and re-tune it to iron stuff like this out, thats unfortunate that that didn’t happen for whatever reason.

Still probably will check this out someday, I’m a big fan of the Kelvin films.

I think this book is worth reading. No, I loved reading it. Really!
@Andy: don‘t miss it.

Wow this book was suppose to come out over a decade ago??? Crazy. I don’t read Star Trek novels but I don’t understand why they pulled it not to conflict with Abrams ‘vision’ if it’s all non-canon anyway? Not something for me but nice to see something in the Kelvin universe happening again.

I may be remembering wrong but I think at some point JJ Abrams had big ambitions for a much more expansive multimedia strategy of interconnected movies, TV shows and books/comics all playing in the same canon. In that context the books probably would have been considered canon. It never worked out, at least in part because CBS didn’t want to leave the field to him.
I don’t know why they waited this long before releasing them after all. Maybe it really was JJ Abrams/Bad Robot holding them back and they are out now. Or someone simply rediscovered them by accident while cleaning out ;-)

One of the writers of the novels debunked these speculations already. It wasn’t jj abrams or bad robot fault.
In fact, the starfleet academy novels and the comics had no issues getting released regardless they could conflict with the movies or not.