Notes for a Star Trek Bibliography: The Antares Maelstrom
The gaseous anomaly referenced in the title of Greg Cox’s new Original Series Star Trek novel gets a predictably prosaic description from Mr. Spock of U.S.S. Enterprise (no bloody A, B, C, or D):
The Maelstrom is home to immense, violent currents and eddies of supercharged plasma, whirling at exceedingly high velocities around a heavy mass at its core. The destructive forces at work are such that no vessel or unmanned probe is known to have withstood them long enough to make the crossing.
In The Antares Maelstrom, this violently-churning neon No Man’s Land, something long avoided by all spacefaring species, has become an irresistible temptation: it stands between the rest of the galaxy and the planet Baldur III, where vast deposits of the rare mineral pergium have recently been discovered, triggering a rash of would-be prospectors hoping to stake a claim and make a fortune. Baldur III isn’t a member of the United Federation of Planets, but the manager of the nearest UFP space station has requested that Starfleet send a starship to help deal with the chaos of argumentative ships suddenly swarming his station.
Enter the most famous captain and crew in the Star Trek franchise history. In the de rigeur “Historian’s Note” that now opens all Original Series novels, Cox is admirably terse, clarifying only that this adventure takes place in the “latter years” of the Enterprise’s first five-year mission. This is a wise choice for a number of reasons: not only was the original series scandalously cancelled after only three seasons, leaving those “latter years” without even sketchy canonical treatment, but also setting an adventure in those years means presenting readers with starship crew members who are as familiar with each other as we all are with them. This is an Enterprise with everybody exactly where they should be, so to speak: Uhura at communications, Sulu and Chekhov at the helm, Scotty in Engineering, McCoy in sickbay, Spock at the science station, and of course James T. Kirk in the captain’s chair. This configuration is already iconic; the author is free to proceed with a minimum of preliminaries.
Not that Cox lets his cast stay in those familiar places for long. The space station is overwhelmed, there are prospector vessels foolishly attempting to fly the rumored ‘safe passage’ through the Maelstrom, and there’s even a subplot involving contraband tea. Within a dozen pages of the book’s opening, “the Enterprise Seven” have been split into multiple teams handling multiple crises.
It’s one of the only approaches that makes any sense. The Enterprise far outguns any other ship in the book, and acting all together, this command crew is pretty nearly unbeatable. Split apart, they can face challenges, overcome adversity, experience temporary defeat; it’s not as satisfying as a one-for-all/all-for-one adventure, but it’s certainly a good deal easier to manage, and Cox, a veteran franchise-adaptor (including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, CSI, Farscape, Roswell, X-Files, and Xena), manages it all so smoothly that he scarcely misses an original series check-mark: Spock and McCoy banter at each other, Kirk has a couple of heroic set-piece moments, Chekhov and Sulu get fast-paced adventures, and Uhura indulges in a bit of singing - and, when she encounters frontier scepticism about the intentions of the all-powerful Federation, a bit of stumping on behalf of the infinite diversity in infinite combinations that was an integral part of Roddenberry’s dream and an integral part of the UFP:
“Joining the Federation doesn’t mean sacrificing your individual culture or the character of your community. The UFP isn’t about homogeneity or conformity; it’s about a wide variety of spacefaring civilizations, each with their own distinctive ways and customs and beliefs, working together in harmony and cooperation. I mean, look at how different Vulcans are from Tellarites, or humans from Kelpiens. Trust me, I’ve been to Andor and Izar, and the local cultures are nothing alike.”
In one of the book’s most interesting side-notes, Cox not only captures well the feeling of a frontier boom-town (“Beats the old days, when all you ever saw was the same faces, week after week, year after year. You would go ages without ever meeting anyone new”) but also clearly enjoys himself injecting a little Deadwood-style hyperbole into the speech of his many seedy characters (“That perfidious green reprobate! Is there no honor left in this benighted galaxy? No integrity?”).
And of course it’s not just the book that’s a multi-pronged homage … even the title is an homage, an allusion to an allusion. In 1851, Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab shouts out the limits of his white whale obsession: "Aye, aye! and I'll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition's flames before I give him up.” In 1982, Jack Sowards (with help from Harve Bennett and Roddenberry himself) put a science fiction update of this outcry into the mouth of the mad villain Khan: “He tasks me! He tasks me, and I shall have him! I'll chase him round the Moons of Nibia, and round the Antares Maelstrom, and round Perdition's flames before I give him up!”
Can Star Trek: The Moons of Nibia be far behind?
—Steve Donoghue is a founding editor of Open Letters Monthly. His book criticism has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, The Historical Novel Society, and The American Conservative. He writes regularly for The National, The Washington Post, The Vineyard Gazette, and The Christian Science Monitor. His website is http://www.stevedonoghue.com.