With Discovery off our screens until January now is a perfect time to check in on this first tie-novel. Written by Star Trek veteran David Mack, it’s set in the period before the disastrous Battle of the Binary Stars. The Shenzhou is still active, Michael Burnham is still brand new in her job and Federation space is peaceful. Until something colossal, destructive and seemingly invincible wakes up on the newly established colony world of Sirsa III. The Shenzhou renders aid but when Starfleet make the decision to save the world at the expense of the colony, they find themselves facing off with another Federation vessel.
The USS Enterprise. Captained by Christopher Pike and with Spock aboard as Science Officer.
Mack does four clever things here. The first is launch the Discovery novel line with the one meeting everyone wants and, odds are, no one is going to get; Michael and Spock. Mack gets both of their tones of voice absolutely down and, as the novel progresses, the pair become a partnership far more than rivals. Their exploration of the colossal, seemingly indestructible ship menacing Sirsa III neatly balances action and character as the pair fight for their lives, and work out their pasts, at the same time.
Mack also impresses with how much he gets inside the other characters’ heads. Saru, here, is revealed to be one of the most interesting and nuanced characters on the show. Mack shows us his entitlement, his painful self-awareness and the genuine despair he feels about Burnham and what he sees as her effortless success. Saru is the hero of his own story, but no one else’s and he knows that all too well. It’s impressive, complicated writing made all the more impressive by how well it fits with the show and its own exploration of everyone’s favourite permanently worried scientist.
Likewise, Georgiou here is absolutely the level-headed diplomat we met in the early episodes of the show, but she’s also a Captain and Mack shows us the strain that places her under. The Shenzhou is a small, older vessel and Georgiou’s constant balancing act of ego and efficiency, diplomacy and pragmatism is one of the engines of the novel. Her relationship with Pike isn’t as detailed as Burnham’s with Spock, inevitably, but having the two Captains in the novel is a neat way of bedding Discovery into continuity. Especially as Mack successfully unites the two disparate views of this period in Starfleet history. His Pike is a more driven, direct officer than the man we meet in the original show but that fits very much with Discovery‘s tone. This is, like the show, a story about Starfleet working out what it is, and it’s fun to see how Mack maps that narrative onto Pike’s life.
That leads to the novel’s final success. This is not the calm, orderly Federation of later series. Sirsa III is one step up from a frontier town and Mack cleverly folds in a very human threat to raise and complicate the stakes. Like Starfleet, the UFP hasn’t worked out what it is yet. The process, for both organizations, is ugly but as we know, it’s worthwhile.
As is this book. Fans of the show will enjoy how close in tone it is, while fans of the original series will enjoy this very different perspective. And if you’ve not watched Discovery yet? You should, it’s great. But start here. As zero episodes go, you don’t get much better.
Release: Out Now
Formats: Ebook, Paperback & Audiobook
RRP: £7.99 (Ebook), £10.99 (Paperback), £16.00 (Audiobook)