Star Trek: Discovery: Wonderlands
By Una McCormack
Published by Pocket Books in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook
REVIEW CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS
She smiled. She did feel sometimes that Sahil treated her like she was some kind of legendary figure. Achilles, perhaps, or Hercules. No. Odysseus. Someone lost and trying to get home. She didn’t feel like a legend. She felt like a small girl who had fallen down a hole into a world where nothing made sense.
An entire year passed for Commander Michael Burnham between when she crash-landed in the 32nd Century at the beginning of the season three premiere of Star Trek: Discovery and when she was reunited with the USS Discovery and her crew at the end of the second episode of the season. What was Burnham doing during that year? What about Aditya Sahil, the lonely Starfleet relay station operator? And what exactly went down between her and Cleveland “Book” Booker during all those quiet nights on his ship?
Suffice it to say that if you’ve been wondering any of those things, or if you’ve wanted to know more about the Burn, or about the mysterious couriers of the 32nd Century, or if you’ve wondered how the Burn could have so thoroughly destroyed the Federation, Una McCormack’s brand-new Discovery tie-in novel, Wonderlands is for you.
McCormack gets these characters at a deep level, and they have their own distinct voices throughout the novel. Burnham and Book really are from two different worlds, and this book delineates the clash of their unique perspectives clearly. The events of Wonderlands flow logically from the characters themselves, and from the situation of the post-Burn galaxy. Burnham’s adventures here are at the same time exciting, disheartening, and hope-filled, often in equal measure.
McCormack ties the revelations of Season 3 of Discovery firmly into established Trek canon in satisfying ways, as well as picking up small bits from legacy Trek-Lit stories and incorporating them into the new canon along the way. The book’s title itself is a deep cut to Michael’s deep connection to Alice in Wonderland, read to her as a child by her foster-mother Amanda Grayson. And Wonderlands shows how Michael’s inner world uses Lews Carroll’s seminal work as a constant reference point.
“Everyone has their own story, Commander.”
And then there was Book. Cleveland Booker: thief, rascal, liberator of beautiful and mistreated creatures, empath, and easily the most annoying person she had ever crashed into from a great height.
Fans of the Burnham/Book relationship will find a feast in Wonderlands as it becomes increasingly clear that Book finds Burnham to be the most beautiful, intriguing woman he’s ever met. But typical Michael Burnham style – and still smarting from her tumultuous relationship with Ash Tyler – she is oblivious both to his romantic interests and to her own. While Book takes Burnham under his wing at the start of the novel, helping her leave the nest of Sahil’s space station to get her get established as a courier with her own ship, each has their own journey in Wonderlands.
Through their interactions we see both a growing bond along with a clash of ideological outlooks. Burnham is the “true believer,” but the pragmatic Book does not see how Michael’s antiquated Federation ideals could possibly be lived out in a post-Burn galaxy. While some have compared Book’s character to Han Solo, in Wonderlands he comes across more like Firefly’s Malcolm Reynolds. What matters for him is to keep flying, and he finds himself doing quite a bit of good for quite a few people along the way.
Even the most jaded Trek fan melted for the character of Aditya Sahil in Season three of Discovery, the man who faithfully stayed like a lighthouse keeper, maintaining the flame of the Federation day by day in his little office in his shattered space station. As McCormack describes Michael’s perception of him, Sahil is “The fixed point behind her, the still point in a whirling and still often surreal universe.” Wonderlands lovingly fleshes out more of his history, his family, and the realities of life aboard the station. It also adds a small cast of characters to his life, including Jeremiah, a crusty retired courier with an interest in ancient technology but no love for the Federation.
“I think the trick is never to give up hope”
“When the Temporal Wars hit, and Starfleet didn’t always deliver, people began to disbelieve. But the big worlds were complacent. And when something really big happened – the Burn – there was little trust left. It had started to fray long before the Burn.”
As you would expect from an author who started in the world of fan-fiction, McCormack weaves a few Trek deep-cut references, from the Vanguard book series, to obscure Vulcan jewelry first seen on TOS. But even here she focuses on serving the story and the characters, such as an old Christopher Pike Medal of Valor becoming an important touchstone for Burnham.
The novel adds depth and understanding to many elements of Discovery season three that worth more exploration, including trance worms, Sanctuary Four, Donatu VII, and Admiral Tal’s message. Probably the most significant explanation that Wonderlands offers is how The Burn could have so completely destroyed a Federation that spanned hundreds of inhabited worlds. This satisfactory backstory brings in elements of the Temporal Wars – first introduced in Star Trek: Enterprise – but also offers contemporary commentary on our 21st century when the ties of trust that once bound people and nations together seem more frail and tenuous than in many decades.
McCormack’s implicit plea is for a renewed era of trust and cooperation between people and nations, a spirit of selfless open-handedness that would thicken the bonds that we will need, as a species, to survive unexpected calamities in the future. And it’s that optimistic plea that most makes this book worth reading. More than the exciting action, the rich characters, the playful romance, and the answered questions, McCormack’s novel explores the optimistic spirit that makes so many people fans of this franchise. Definitely check it out.
It is also available as an audiobook on Amazon and Audible. You can listen to an excerpt below.
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