Book Review: Feel The Burn With ‘Star Trek: Discovery: Wonderlands’

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.

Sahil is a big character in Wonderlands

“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.

Available now

Star Trek: Discovery: Wonderlands was released on May 18, 2021. You can pick it up at Amazon in paperback for $14.49, or Kindle for $11.66.

It is also available as an audiobook on Amazon and Audible. You can listen to an excerpt below.


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Una does a great job. As does John Jackson Miller. I’ll pick this up.

Miller’s “The Enterprise War” is my favorite Trek tie-in novel of recent years.

Makes me want to get back into star trek novels again.

A great place to START would be McCormack’s Star Trek Picard tie-in novel, “The Last Best Hope.” But they are all accessible enough.

I’m only lukewarm towards Discovery, yet your wonderful review of this book makes me eager to read it. That means you’ve really done something with this review!

Oh, that’s very kind of you!

My copy arrived today.

Any new Una McCormack Trek novel is an auto pre-order for me. She’s got a unique perspective that really complements what we see on-screen.

As for Denes’ review, I think I’ll pass back here once I’ve finished the book. 😉

Come back here and give us your feedback once you’ve read it!

So they introduced this seemingly-major plot element on the show only to simultaneously ignore it substantively while mentioning it about every other scene, but now they’re burning it off via a tie-in novel?

Jesus, this show.

What seemingly-major plot element are you referring to?

The gap year.

I didn’t find the season’s lack of information about Burnham’s gap year to be much of a hindrance to their storytelling. In episode three, we get a summary of the information that we needed to know for the season to proceed apace, when Burnham briefed the Discovery crew.

This book I think ably fills whatever void there was, and actually does much more, expanding on characters and the universe of the 32nd Century.

My point was that it was mentioned too frequently on the series for the series itself not to deal with it. Did they need to deal with it? Absolutely not. But if that’s the case, why mention it so frequently? Whether the book is good or not is irrelevant to me, because I’m never going to read it; it’s the show itself that I care about, and the show bungled this plotline. It bungles almost every plotline, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

I’m not a hater or a troll, but isn’t the “Missing Year” something that we all thought would have been shown a bit more in the actual show?

I would have thought so, personally. (Granted, I kind of *am* a hater; hopefully not a troll, but I definitely lean closer to hate than to love with this frustration of a series.)

There are probably a number of practical reasons why this missing year was mostly talked about, not shown. 1) Some people are already complaining that the show is focused too much on Burnham and doesn’t give the rest of the crew enough to do. Expanding on her solo year would have excluded all the other regular cast members from appearing at all. 2) While not featuring any of the regular cast, Burnham should still meet a lot of characters during that year of solo adventures. That means a lot of actors that need to be cast in a lot of roles. It would be a really small universe if she only ever met the same 3 or 4 people during that year. 3) Lots of adventures with lots of different characters would also require lots of new sets, locations (or CGI), props, costumes, alien makeup etc.
Points 2 and 3 boil down to logistical reasons and cost. Point 1 has a story perspective, plus you don’ want to alienate your regular cast by getting rid of them for an extended period of time (there might also be contractual obligations).

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, DIGINON – the gap year would by necessity focus on Burnham, and would feature none of the regular cast. Spending one episode without the rest of the crew was enough, I think.

This is the second book of Una’s that could have been a season or bunch of episodes of Trek.
I find these to be essential reading and it would have been fantastic had this one been released while season three aired at least (right after “Far From Home”) like they did with the Picard novel “The Last Best Hope” which came out between episodes three and four IIRC.
There’s so much world building going on here that would have enhanced watching season 3 of Discovery immensely.
On the other hand, now season 3 of Discovery is better than ever after reading it :)

Right on with your last sentence, Ernst Hauke Fischer – the Disco tie-in novels really enhance the experience of watching the show.

I remember back when I started reading Trek novels, in the 1980’s, where the novels ran on their own, because there was no weekly Trek being produced. They had to fit between the movies, but that wasn’t very difficult. Starting soon, there will be new Trek on the screen at least half the weeks of the year! I love that they have talented novelists working on side-stories like this one.