Star Trek: The Original Series: Living Memory
By Christopher L. Bennett
Published by Simon & Schuster in paperback, ebook, and audiobook
REVIEW CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS
What episode of Star Trek—in any of its incarnations—did not get the follow-up it deserved? From what episode did the show just roll on, oblivious to the severe consequences of what had happened during that hour? For me, the answer to that question has always been the TOS episode “The Changeling.” Not only is Scotty killed by Nomad and brought back to life, but all Uhura’s memories are wiped away, and the episode ends with Nurse Chapel using the computer to teach her anew how to read. But in the very next episode, “Mirror, Mirror,” Uhura is back on duty, fully competent and active. It’s like nothing had happened. But her memories are not just about how to read, write, and serve as a communications officer. She has friends, a family, and had about 34 years of life before encountering Nomad. All those things go into making us who we are. How did Uhura recover from that kind of trauma? And what would be the long-term effects of losing everything that you once were?
Excitingly, Christopher L. Bennett’s Living Memory turns the spotlight on Uhura, one of Star Trek’s lesser-explored characters, and fleshes out the psychology and the consequences of what happened during “The Changeling”—and it turns out the fate of the galaxy may depend on recovering her lost memories.
Uhura is at the center of a mystery
The story unfolds when a mysterious and deadly scientific phenomenon starts erupting in spots across the galaxy, and the shocking common denominator turns out to be Nyota Uhura—her research and her singing. Admiral Kirk struggles to incorporate a race of alien warrior clones into the student body of Starfleet Academy, where he and Dr. McCoy square off with a beautiful peace protestor and her legitimate concerns about Starfleet’s increasing militarization. And when a key Starfleet Admiral turns up murdered, it’s up to Kirk, McCoy, Sulu, and Chekov to solve the crime before it turns into an intergalactic incident.
Set in between Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the best part of this book by far is the time spent with Uhura and the rich backstory that Bennett weaves together out of bits of previously existing canonical and non-canonical material as well as his own personal contributions. Trek novels, games, and onscreen stories have until now presented a very fragmentary and contradictory picture of Uhura’s past; heck, she didn’t even have a canonical first name until the 2009 Star Trek movie! Bennett finds a way to harmonize the material that is satisfying and true to the woman we met both on TV and in the movies.
Captain Terrell gets his hero moment
The science plot is fascinating and creative, and Bennett brings in all our favorite TOS characters to help solve it, which includes major hero roles for both Captain Terrell and the USS Reliant. The phenomenon that is ravaging the star systems of the Federation is truly nasty, and when all is revealed, it makes sense. The only disappointing thing is that when this threat is finally resolved, it takes place offstage, so to speak. But the journey to get there is excellent.
The weakest part of the book is the Starfleet Academy portion, which features an alien race about which all we know comes from production notes on Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I initially liked the exploration of this culture, but the philosophical arguments about their role in Starfleet grew less interesting the more they were repeated. Jim Kirk’s character has stuff to do at the beginning of the book and the end, but in the middle his importance wanes, which is disappointing. And I found that as the resolution of the murder mystery unfolded, I didn’t really care about whodunnit as much I probably should have.
Don’t miss the acknowledgments
After finishing the story, be sure to read the acknowledgements, as Bennett “shows his work” and lets us in on the process of researching Uhura’s character, pointing out where all the disparate pieces come from. It is a fascinating few pages; I wish that all Trek novels had this kind of afterword.
Living Memory is a fascinating deep dive into Nyota Uhura’s character in service of a basketful of fantastic science fiction concepts and a ho-hum murder mystery. Bennett’s story weaves together countless threads of Trek history, rewarding the passionate fan’s attention, but remains accessible for the casual Trekker as well.
It is also available as an audiobook on Amazon and Audible. Listen to a sample below.
More new and upcoming Star Trek fiction
August 17 – Picard: Rogue Elements by John Jackson Miller
September 28 – Coda Book 1: Moments Asunder by Dayton Ward
October 12 – Coda Book 2: The Ashes of Tomorrow by James Swallow
November 30 – Coda Book 3: Oblivion’s Gate by David Mack
December 21 – DS9: Revenant by Alex White
April 26, 2022 – Picard: Second Self by Una McCormack
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