Back when I was a teen, I greedily devoured the fiction that was generated by the original Star Trek television series. It didn't matter if they were good or bad, I was still smitten by them, and it helped to breach that wide gap between when the original series aired, and when the franchise was revived in the 1980's. Looking back, I can see that most of them were pretty bad. But every now and then, a gem sneaks on through.
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One of my favourite episodes in the original series was Mirror, Mirror written by Jerome Bixby, which explored an alternate universe where the Federation never came to be, replaced instead by a brutal Empire that uses torture and conquest to expand their rule. It's a savage place, and one where assassination of one's superior officer was the way to move up in the ranks of Starfleet.
Which is precisely what Spock is doing as the book opens. He's taking Kirk out by the simple, but very effective method of strangulation. Along with a cadre of loyal crewmen, he takes command of the Enterprise for himself, and starts on the long treacherous road towards changing the Empire towards the brief vision that he has had of the Federation. Along with the rank of captain, he also acquires the beautiful Marlena Moreau as his 'Captain's Woman' and the technology of the Tantalus Field.
With Marlena, Spock finds someone that he can trust, a very rare commodity in the Empire, and ever odder for him, a mate. In this place and time, it's a good match, with two very lonely isolated people finding in each other that they can be more than what they think they can be. But will it be enough to topple an empire and bring about lasting change?
I was very pleasantly surprised by this book. Author David Mack takes a throwaway statement from an episode of the series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and expands it into a believable, expansive story that covers several decades, and draws on characters from both the various series and the films. We get to see the alternate universe's Carol Marcus and her son David, Saavik, Spock's parents -- who are very different in this universe -- many of the major and minor crew members of the Enterprise. What I found interesting about it all was that I could easily believe these characters and why they were doing what they were doing -- you might not care at all about their schemes and plotting, but it all made sense as to the why.
The hardest thing about the novel, well two, but I'll get to the other in a moment, is that it's really not a very coherent one. Each chapter is just a few pages long, and the point-of-view jumps from character to character, often quite suddenly, and often there will be years between what happens in each one, but all in all, it made a very satisfying arc from beginning to end.
What really got to me, was that while you darn well suspect what is going to happen by the end, and what this alternate Spock is forced to become to meet his grand dream of change, you also feel very very sympathetic for him. Even if he is someone who will murder, torture and sacrifice entire ships to the overall goal. He's not at all the civilized Spock that most of us grew up with, this is a man of great appetites and ambitions, and he's also damn ruthless, even when it comes to his family. But I think that's part of the appeal of this character to me -- I've always felt that the most fascinating people in literature are those heroes with the dark streak to them, and seeing if they will or will not succumb to the demon within.
I also had a dark chuckle at what Mack creates as to the real reason why the Klingon moon of Praxis blew up. I was rather more disappointed with the chapter that had Saavik in Starfleet Academy, as it's pretty much like any other military story about initiation into military life -- been there, done that, thank you.
While some purists may get upset at this universe and its inhabitants, I still found this to be quite a read. Sensitive readers may want to skip this one as there are quite a few scenes of sex and bloodletting here, and not at all for the squeamish in spots. I hope that Mr. Mack will continue on this line of writing -- it will be interesting to see what he comes up with.
Four stars overall, recommended.
Star Trek: The Sorrows of Empire
2010; Pocket Books, Simon and Schuster, Inc.