Review: ‘TOS: Harm’s Way’ Delivers Everything You Could Want From A Star Trek Novel

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Star Trek: The Original Series – Harm’s Way
Written by David Mack
Published by Simon & Schuster in paperback, ebook, and audiobook

“How long until we get inside the caves? This rain is driving me up a wall.”
“The rain is incidental. It is our captors who compel us to climb this wall.”
He couldn’t see her, but some aspect of Spock’s inherited Vulcan telepathic talent felt Babitz’s glare of contempt aimed at his back. When at last she spoke, her voice was as steady as a blade in the hands of a Romulan assassin. “That was a clever mockery of my idiom, Spock. I trust you feel proud of yourself?”
“In general, yes. That particular bit of wordplay, however, was merely adequate, since I can work only with what I am given.”

The last Star Trek novel of 2022 turns out to be its best – and that’s saying something in a year that had an amazing book by Una McCormack (Star Trek Picard: Second Self) and a fun and exciting dive into Trek horror in Alex White’s debut novel (Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Revenant). But David Mack’s Harm’s Way is a home run of a yarn that does everything you’d hope a Trek novel would do, with panache, humanity, and a great deal of humor.

Set shortly after the events of the original Star Trek episode, “The Doomsday Machine,” Harm’s Way balances two parallel storylines: while Captain Kirk, Scotty, and Uhura face off against Klingon Captain Kang in orbit around a hideously inhospitable planet, Spock, Chekov, and Sulu race the elements, time, and a Klingon landing party in a search for alien secrets of unimaginable power. When their search for evidence of the deadly ancient Shedai species becomes more immediate than theoretical, Spock and his party must find a way to work with Klingon Science Officer Mara and her strike team in order to survive.

tos harms way book cover

I’ve not read Mack’s Vanguard series of Trek novels, written in collaboration with Marco Palmieri, Dayton Ward, and Kevin Dilmore, but though this book ties into that series, I never felt lost or confused. The characters, ships, and situations are so clearly drawn and so engaging that I was locked in from the start. Mack seems to find the most clever and humorous way of phrasing every sentence, such that reading each page is a joy. And his grasp of the canonical Trek characters is absolute–this is not just Mack’s Kirk, this IS Kirk. This IS Spock. This IS Scotty. Each character has a chance to shine.

Harm’s Way also often feels like an immersion into Klingon language and culture. If there’s a canonical Klingon word or phrase that isn’t used in this book, I would be surprised. Mack’s Klingons come to the story with a definite agenda and point of view, and the battle of wits between Kirk and Kang in space is as delightful as the uneasy alliance between Spock and Mara on the ground. A minor point that TrekMovie editor Anthony Pascale often mentions in his Trek reviews is that there is a difference between science and engineering. Mack understands that difference, and when Scotty and Spock interact, the difference is clear.

“They tell us our enemy has no honor. Yet what is honor if not courage free of the expectation of reward? What is honor if not the willingness to sacrifice all for a principle?”

This final Trek novel of 2022 checks all the boxes for what I come to Treklit to find. Our favorite characters handled well, new characters that sparkle and have their own lives, rousing action, humanistic philosophy, cool ships and technology, an alien menace, Trekkian diplomacy, a large dollop of humor, and a compelling climax. What else could you ask for?

Available now

Star Trek: The Original Series – Harm’s Way was released on December 13. You can pick it up at Amazon in paperback for $16.99 and Kindle eBook for $10.33.

It is also available as an audiobook at Amazon and Audible, ready by Robert Petkoff. Listen to a sample below.

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When David Mack is in top form, his books are excellent, and not just for tie-in fiction.

This one is clearly going to be considered up their with his best.

I totally agree that it works as a standalone. For those who have thought about giving Treklit a try, this is a great entry point.

By the way, I’m not through to the end, but only because I’ve been rationing it out as a holiday treat.

Following up to add, having finished the book, that I agree with Denès. Best of the year certainly, and one of the strongest of the Vanguard series.

I really liked how Mack gets all the voices correctly. I can hear Kirk, Spock, Scott, Sulu and Chekhov.

I also like the way he portrays Klingon culture and biological differences in a three dimensional, balanced way. You really can see this as a beginning of a rapprochement between two distinct cultures and sets of values.

It is however an action adventure, at times violent, graphically so. For those who find Mack’s books too dark at times, those might not be to your taste.

So many of the recent TOS books have had one thread with Kirk and half the crew in one place and another thread with Spock and the other half of the crew in a different place. But part of the fun of TOS is watching Kirk and Spock banter with each other and tackle problems together. It’s okay if they’re split up occasionally, but why are almost ALL of the TOS books splitting them up these days?

Spock was the first officer.

Having both of them running landing parties never made much sense except to put the top two actors on the call sheet in danger together. There’s a very compelling reason Picard and Janeway weren’t shown leading away teams, and writers are less likely to ignore that now.

In this case, the Klingons are in the area so the captain needed to stay with the ship no matter how much Jim Kirk wanted to ride into danger.

It’s a great Kirk story actually. I’ll avoid spoilers other than to say that Mack does an excellent job of giving us insight into how the final actions of Matt Decker in face of the Doomsday machine would have taken their toll on Kirk.

All of this is true, but so is what I said: Part of the charm of TOS is the seamless way Kirk and Spock work together and their obvious but understated affection for one another.

In understand the bromance has a strong appeal for many fans, but I’m happy to see other relationships shine in that ensemble.

As it happens, Akiva Goldsman co-Showrunner of SNW seems to put priority on the laying the foundations for that bromance over focusing on the characters that served on the Enterprise before Kirk’s captaincy. So folks like you will likely continue to have that niche covered while those of us who were really looking forward to a focus on Pike’s Enterprise will continue to have to love SNW for what it is instead of what it promised to be.

David Mack is one my very favorite Trek novelists. He really seems to understand the voices of the characters, in a way that reminds me of Michael Jan Friedman, Peter David, and Diane Duane. I can’t wait to read this.

Sorry, I gotta ask – the description says it takes place shortly after the “Star Trek episode, “The Doomsday Machine,” which is second season…. but it has Klingon characters they’ll later meet in “Day of the Dove” in the third season?  
That seems… wrong, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Great review, makes me excited to get this one. Thanks!

I didn’t read the novel, but why do you think this is wrong? In Day of the Dove, you see IIRC that Kirk and Kang know each other, so nothing precludes them meeting beforehand.

Not every interaction in TOS is a first meeting.

In fact, with Kirk’s reputation, even those Klingons who hadn’t met him, should have had the brief on him before the third season.

Indeed, it’s clear that Kirk and Koloth knew each other in Tribbles.

My impression from “Day of the Dove” was that they were surprised to meet Mara. but admittedly, I haven’t watched the episode for many years. Thanks.

It’s established in TOS “Day of the Dove” that Kirk and Kang knew each other before the episode. This has been developed in several Star Trek novels and comic books over the years.

Another important detail from “Day of the Dove” is that the emotional vampire (referred to in the text as [*]) impairs their memories, creates new ones that serve its purpose of fomenting violence, and manipulates the characters’ perceptions.

This is why Mara, Chekov, Sulu, et al do not remember having met before during the events of that episode. Those memories are being suppressed by [*]. But the unconscious recollection of those events is part of what stirs Mara to trust the Enterprise officers in “Day of the Dove” — and inspires Kang to trust Mara’s counsel.

Thanks, David! And thanks for a great novel!

After 13 years, I am currently trying my way through Vanguard. Made it to number 3 so far, but honestly: It’s chore. Especially if you hav read some actually interesting books beforehand. The last Trek book I read before that was “The Last Best Hope” and the difference between this series and the latter book is night and day. Vanguard is just soo predictable, full of cliches and tropes and cheeky dialogues, it’s really hardly bearable. I promised to give it a chance until the end of book 4, and if it doesn’t get any better I abort. I am really surprised, because I remember being quite fond of that book series back as a teenager in the 2000s

This and the rather boring Disco tie-in novel “Desperate Hours” make me do a hard pass on anything David Mack, to be honest.

I really loved Vanguard overall, but I agree the writing was laborious at times.

Sometimes the alternate writers in a series can end up having each of the writers assigned against their strengths.

In terms of David Mack, when he’s on he’s great. Desperate Hours is a ‘put everything back in the box where you found it novel’ based on the writers bible. Those aren’t his preference to write and it shows it seems.

If you’re haven’t tried the Destiny trilogy, you don’t know what he can do. That piece is high quality SF period.

David Mack never misses. I’ve read all his Star Trek book and they all are great. Wish they grab him to write a movie or to write for one of the shows (he would be a great fit for SNW)