So far, my reading for the Science Fiction Experience has taken me to a galaxy far, far away, to the center of the Earth, and to the planet of Pern. You had to know it would take me to the 23rd century eventually, right? That’s where I went for my next book, Star Trek: The Abode of Life by Lee Corey.
I thought this was going to fit in for the Vintage Sci Fi challenge too, only to discover that it misses the cut-off by three years–it was published in 1982. The best laid plans of mice…
I picked this one up because it promised me a planet with no stars. The planet turns out to be Mercan, out on a very distant corner of the galaxy, which the Enterprise stumbles on when flung out by a fold in space (I don’t pretend to know what that means). The Mercanians believe they are the only life in the universe, but the stability of their society is being threatened by new scientific discoveries casting doubt on that idea. Kirk has his hands full trying to get help to repair the Enterprise, without setting off a civil war at the same time.
There’s a lot that’s fun here, and it met my absolute, cardinal, cannot-be-a-good-Trek-novel-without-this requirement: Spock and McCoy get to snipe at each other. Also, Scotty gets to worry about his engines, and Uhura makes jokes about opening hailing frequencies, so I’m saying we’re doing well on the characterization here.
The Mercanians may have been the most interesting part. They have a complex and unusual society, and I enjoyed seeing how some aspects of it played out. Most especially, they have vastly advanced transporter technology. As a result, they have no vehicles (why would you need them?) and no advanced communication (you can just go talk to people in person!) Considering I was just on Carl’s blog talking about the ramifications of transporter technology, picking this book up shortly later was very well-timed (and not deliberate).
Oddly enough, one of the most fascinating (ahem) things about this book was where it fits in the chronology. Not the internal chronology (which is somewhere on the five year mission), but the chronology of the Star Trek publishing world. It’s somewhere between.
First there were some very early novels that I like to refer to as “Star Trek Lives” era, which are not always quite on top of characterization and often inconsistent with later incarnations (understandably), but also have a wonderful earnestness to them, and an obvious passion for telling one more Star Trek adventure. Time went on, and later we got dozens and dozens of numbered paperbacks and particularly epic hardbacks, which tend to be of a higher quality and have a clearer picture of how they fit into the larger universe.
This one was in between, and it took me most of the book to figure out the distinctions. The characters are spot-on, and the context all fits the larger universe. At the same time, the book is a little more cerebral–Kirk spends more time thinking about things than I would expect in later books.
But I finally hit on what I think is the big difference. This book felt obligated to explain things. The Prime Directive must have been explained at least three times, and characters’ names, ranks and contexts on the ship are very carefully noted. In other words, it reads like a Star Trek book that has no confidence people picking it up know about Star Trek. Maybe it’s the last echo of the earlier era, when the show was canceled and the fanbase was relatively small and the show wasn’t a Thing yet, it was something that had to be saved. This book wasn’t quite sure the job was done yet.
Or I’m just reading way, way too much into all of this, based on my impressions of different eras in Star Trek fandom. That could be too.
I’d say the book fits in somewhere in between in a larger sense too. It was not an epically fantastic adventure, but it was much better than quite a few Star Trek novels I’ve read too. It was in between, and an in between-quality Star Trek novel is well-worth the read.
Buy it here: The Abode of Life