This week saw the first new Star Trek TV show debut in a long time. If you missed it, or because subscribing to CBS All-Access for a single show irks you, it was more than pretty good. In fact, I downright enjoyed myself in a way I haven’t since the Star Trek: Enterprise debuted in 2001. And it was my 12-year old son’s first real experience of Star Trek.
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There’s something about a pilot that teases, and leaves all the possibilities open, and sets a ship (so to speak) on a course. The Next Generation was sort of the origin story for the one crew. Deep Space Nine established the stakes and kind of show it was going to be (although it morphed over time to focus on a major interstellar war).
Voyager was probably the bull’s eye pilot for Star Trek, showing not only the origin story but the actual goal that would end the show after seven seasons. Even Star Trek: Enterprise gave us a new world of the past that we knew very little about.
Discovery up-ended this formula a bit. It was not an origin story of a ship, but of a war. The pilot has many federation starships in it, an admiral, and Klingon cults, and new races, and the cautious Vulcans.
And while we got to meet three main characters (Captain Georgiou, the First Officer Michael Burnham and Second Officer/Science Officer Saru) on the bridge of the USS Shenzhou, it’s Burnham, edging towards the cusp of getting her own command, who is the show’s star. This is her story.
And she’s a fascinating character. She’s a human, orphaned and then raised on Vulcan, and is actually a graduate of the Vulcan Science Academy, and a protégé of Sarek to boot. I can’t imagine how messed up and emotionally stunted someone would be growing up on Vulcan.
The pilot closes with a whole new reality for Star Fleet and the Federation, and for the crew of the Shenzhou, and from some of the teaser clips of the next episodes, you can tell this is not going to be your typical Star Trek show. And the pilot closes with a bunch of questions we can’t wait to get answered.
Luckily, only two days after the Discovery pilot, the first tie in novel was released Star Trek: Discovery – Desperate Hours, by David Mack. The novel is set about a year before the events in the Discovery pilot, and features the Shenzhou, Captain Georgiou, and a new, acting First Officer Burnhan, and a new acting Second Officer Saru.
The novel is classic Star Trek in tone, set in the same time as Captain Pike’s Enterprise, which shows up in the book, and gives us young Lieutenant Spock the Science Officer. I can’t imagine that writing the novel without a show even made was easy for Mack. I saw in interview that he worked with the first three scripts of the show, and presumably the show bible, and all of the vast Star Trek knowledge he’s gathered over the years.
The novel starts with a federation colony waking an alien thing that’s been dormant for 9 million years, which proceeds to wreak havoc on the colony. Starfleet sends the USS Shenzhou and the USS Enterprise to deal with it. The orders are strange, and the situation on the colony is not at all what it seems, and Pike and Georgiou, and Una and Saru, and Burnham and Spock have to work together, around conflicting orders, to deal with this danger.
I got the audio book (I don’t have time to read, so I audio everything) and my son and I have been listening to it on his commute to school. While Desperate Hours is a space adventure, the emotional core of the story is in the adjustments and conflicts and pains that Burnham and Saru go through as they (already spoiled by the pilot) become the permanent First and Second Officers of the Shenzhou.
Now, one thing on the conventions of the Trek universe. In the Trek universe, senior officers must constantly be putting themselves in danger, insubordination is a small offense, and engineers must pack every duty station with explosives that are triggered by vibrations. We’ve seen this through five series so far and is necessary to the Trek form, much like the moral and physical suspensions of disbelief in the superhero genre. If you’re not good with those, you might not enjoy this.
But we’re enjoying the book a lot. We’re halfway through and we’ve found that it to be a great complement to the show, which hasn’t given us all the information we want yet on the new world we want to explore. I recommend the show and the book if you like Star Trek.