Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Star Trek: TOS--Strangers From the Sky (Bonano, Margaret Wander)

Rating: 5/5
Year: 1987
Genre: Sci-Fi
Read again? Yes

Strangers from the sky
Strangers from the sky
They crashed but didn't die
Thought they were gonna fry
On us they're gonna spy, they're green but not bug-eyed
Strangers from the sky.

Billed as the second "Star Trek" giant novel, "Strangers" is about a book by the same name that has become an overnight phenomenon. It seems like everyone in the Federation has read it or is doing so. It's probably on Space Oprah's book list.

The official story of First Contact between humans and Vulcans is that one of our ships rescued one of theirs in 2065, they sent a diplomatic delegation to Earth in 2068, and this led to the forming of the United Federation of Planets in 2087 with the Vulcans, Centaurans, Tellarites, and Andorians all happy and getting along together.

The book everyone's enthralled by tells a different story: In 2045 a Vulcan scoutship malfunctions and crashes in the South Pacific, on the edge of a mid-ocean kelp farm. The farm's tenders, Yoshi and Tatyana, find the wrecked vessel and two surviving (though injured) crew members.

The government of a United Earth, still putting things back together in the aftermath of a third World War and the depredations of Khan and Colonel Green, are concerned--and paranoid--enough to send in the CSS Delphinus under communications blackout. Captain Jason Nyere is under special orders: contain the aliens, ascertain the threat they pose, and report back to Command if they seem friendly. If they don't...kill them and any witnesses. He's a kind of softy moderate, doesn't want to kill anyone, but he'll do his duty if it comes to that. His executive officer, Melody Sawyer, is conservative enough for both of them and would kill the planet on a misunderstanding. Kind of high-strung.

The two Vulcans are T'Lera (the mission's commander) and her son Sorahl (the navigator). Vulcans have been snooping around Earth since the early 1940's, studying our cultures, languages, territorial squabbles and world wars. They have a Prime Directive--no interference of any kind, and death before discovery. When their ship malfunctioned, they tried to self-destruct, but that failed as well.

The story swings between The Book's version of events and "modern"-day, where Admiral James Kirk commands a desk and Spock is aboard Enterprise with a boatload of trainees. Bones McCoy has been reading The Book. Kirk hasn't. Bones is enthusiastic about it, trying to goad Kirk into reading the thing. Kirk is skeptical and uneasy. Something about that period of Earth's history--the mid-to-late 21st Century--makes him uncomfortable. He finally relents, but being Jim Kirk he doesn't settle for the commonly-available book-on-disk. He wants a proper book with paper pages. As he reads it, he dozes off and dreams of a conversation with the Vulcan woman. He dreams of a room in chaos, Vulcan blood, Tatya's screaming, and a woman's voice saying "You cannot do it alone!"--and it's all real, as though he'd been there.

Even Spock has read The Book. Light-years away on a training patrol, he meditates on a troubling conviction that not only is "Strangers" truly non-fiction, but that he was there on Earth in 2045, hearing a woman saying "You cannot do it alone!"

McCoy has a problem: Kirk's growing obsession with The Book threatens his sanity and his career.

And this is just the first third of the book.

Bonano's style is refreshing after that last Trek book ("Windows on a Lost World"). She's a good story-teller who stays out of her own way, lets the book do the work, and lets us lose ourselves in the story. She has a good feel for characters and personalities, pacing, and suspense. Her portrayal of the Vulcans is especially pleasing--they are individuals, thinking and feeling people, not the emotionless androids that too many Trek authors make them out to be.

This is what a Trek novel should be like.

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