The Star Trek novel universe has expanded dramatically since the days of Spock Must Die! That very first original series tie-in from James Blish is now a staggering forty-nine years old, yet I remember its red-flensed cover as if it were yesterday. I devoured it, because it was a brand new adventure for the crew of the USS Enterprise … but the truth of the matter is, it wasn’t that good. Mr Blish will forever have my thanks and he his place in history for his episode adaptions but his self-navigated flight into the final frontier lacked the particular eye and ear vital for a Star Trek book to feel like Star Trek.
Much anti-matter has passed through the warp coils since then, and there have been hundreds – if not thousands – of Star Trek tie-ins. All for me stand or fall by that same eye and ear: if as you read you can see and hear the TV show, you’re halfway there, and if there’s a good story to boot, you’ve cracked it. The challenge becomes doubly difficult if you’re dealing with a cast of newbies, as here, one with whom you cannot rely on templates and have to find your own vision and voice. A well-timed witticism can do it … an unexpected burst of compassion, perhaps, or even reference to something classically canon, if handled right. Anything that brings out the essence of classic Star Trek characters – their humanity. Bernd Perplies and Christian Humberg’s Prometheus trilogy certainly tries for the eye – their OTT dedication to describing the colours of the railings on a Constellation class starship bridge, for example, makes you feel as if you’ve just bought your first colour telly – but there’s less success when it comes to the ear. And it isn’t just because the characters are new; it’s because they are painted disappointingly flatly. At the end of what’s an easy four hundred thousand plus words of trilogy – Fire With Fire, The Root Of All Rage, In The Heart Of Chaos – I knew scant more about Captain Dick Adams of the NX-74913 than I did at the start. The same goes for his crew, and, too, the many cameos – Ezri Dax, Alexander Rozhenko, Ambassador Spock, and others – who pepper the story. They all, somehow, fail to become flesh.
This is all a bit of a shame, as Prometheus was clearly intended to be epic. And in many ways, is. It’s galactic war, after all. The Federation and Klingon Empire’s investigation – the former favouring diplomacy, the latter shoot first, ask later – into terrorist bombings of space stations and colonies and more – leads them first to an isolationist race and then to something much more powerful with technologies beyond anything encountered before. Be thankful, then, that the Prometheus is an experimental ship capable of splitting into three – yes, three; eat your heart out Will Riker – battle ready sections, even if part of you is left wondering if it wouldn’t have made more sense to assign three individual battleships instead. That’s kind of this trilogy in a nutshell – spectacle that tries to outdo the very thing it’s trying to emulate – and sometimes it works, sometimes not, while other times you have to ask yourself, why? Perplies and Humberg can get carried away but clearly love playing in this sandbox – the dedications to Star Trek’s fans and progenitors mark it as something of a love letter to the show, in fact – and for that reason many of the trilogy’s weaker elements can be forgiven. If you like your bangs big and bold – and who doesn’t? – then you literally can judge these books by their covers, even if as a whole they are not necessarily my cup of Earl Grey. Mike Wild