Book ReviewsStar Trek: Living Memory

Star Trek: Living Memory

Christopher L. Bennett’s Star Trek novel Living Memory is set in the era between Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  Admiral Kirk is serving as the commandant of Starfleet Academy, and he is attempting to oversee the incorporation of a group of alien cadets into the Academy.  These aliens, the Arcturan “warborn”, were genetically engineered for a war that no longer exists; can they fit into the more pacifistic Starfleet?  Is Starfleet, in fact, pacifist?  Meanwhile, Captain Spock and the U.S.S. Enterprise as well as Commander Pavel Chekov on board the U.S.S. Reliant find themselves investigating a series of cosmic “storms” that are escalating in intensity and starting to threaten planets across the Federation.  What connection do these events have to the younger days of Nyota Uhura…?

Living Memory is another terrific novel from Christopher L. Bennett.  It’s an entertaining continuation of the fun little slice of Trek continuity that Mr. Bennett has carved out for himself, chronicling the events that occurred to Kirk & co in the years after Star Trek: The Motion Picture and before Star Trek II.  Although only three years passed in real time between the production of those two films, more than a decade passed in the series’ continuity.  (That’s because TMP was filmed a decade after the end of the Original Series but was only supposed to have taken place a few years later.  With Star Trek II, the series jumped ahead a decade, in order to catch up with the actual amount of time that had passed for the actors.)

Mr Bennett had postulated in his earlier books set in this era (as was often assumed by Star Trek fans) that Kirk took the refitted Enterprise out on a second five-year mission following the events of TMP.  But then, Mr. Bennett’s novels have suggested, the Enterprise command crew split up.  Kirk accepted a position training Starfleet cadets and Spock was promoted to captain and assumed command of the Enterprise.  But rather than embarking on a new deep space mission, the Enterprise was attached to Starfleet Academy to use for training missions.  (All of this was suggested by the opening scenes of Star Trek II.)  Chekov took a new posting on the starship Reliant (which we also saw at the start of Star Trek II).  Star Trek II was a little vague on the status quo of Kirk’s other officers, so Mr. Bennett has filled in the blanks, suggesting that Uhura and Scotty took a posting together on another starship, the U.S.S. Asimov.

Living Memory contains two terrific, parallel stories, both of which created compelling mysteries that I had no idea how they’d resolve.  I really enjoyed both stories: the Arcturan warborn cadets at Starfleet academy, and the mystery of the subspace flares and their connection to Uhura’s past.

This book gives us a wonderful, and well-deserved, spotlight on Uhura.  It’s lovely to find out more about her family.  I particularly appreciated the way Mr. Bennett delivered a long-deserved exploration of Uhura’s lingering trauma from having her entire memory wiped by Nomad in the TOS episode “The Changeling”.  It’s crazy to me that this momentous event happens in the episode and is then not only mostly ignored in the episode’s second half, but it’s never again mentioned in any future episode.  I’d long ago decided for myself that the effects must not have been as permanent as suggested in the episode, because otherwise that would have completely destroyed Uhura’s life.  But Mr. Bennett suggests an alternative story: that the reason we know so little, canonically, about Uhura’s life outside of her involvement with the Enterprise’s adventures is because she responded to the horrifying erasure of her mind by throwing herself into her Starfleet career, and blocking out anything that would cause her pain by reminding her of the past she’d lost, including her family and friends from before the Enterprise.  This is a heartbreaking recontextualization of everything we know about Uhura.

I loved the way in which Mr. Bennett took great efforts to draw together all of the (few and far between) references we’d previously gotten about Uhura’s backstory, from both canonical and non canonical sources.  I was delighted to see some connections to the terrific old Uhura-focused novel Tears of the Singers, by Melinda Snodgrass.  (I read that novel decades ago, as a kid.)  Mr. Bennett’s notes indicate that the book’s reference to Uhura’s father being lost in space when she was younger comes from the 1970s Bantam novel The Starless World.  Wow!

As always, Mr. Bennett is a true master of Trek continuity, and I was continually delighted by the many references woven throughout the book.  The destruction of the Solar L5 colonies is a references to the terrific The Lost Era novel The Sundered.  Scotty tells a story about Peter Preston (glimpsed in Star Trek II) that references Peter David’s magnificent Scotty spotlight story from DC Comics’s Star Trek Annual #3 (one of my all-time favorite Star Trek stories in any medium).  We read that Hikaru Sulu is raising young Demora (who we met in Star Trek: Generations) after the death of her mother, as per Peter David’s excellent novel The Captain’s Daughter.

I love that Captain Terrell and the Reliant are so much a part of this book (as well as Mr. Bennett’s previous novel The Higher Frontier).  This makes Terrell’s fate in Star Trek II even more tragic.  It was also nice to see both Admiral Cartwright (from Star Trek IV and VI) and Admiral Morrow (from Star Trek III) mentioned.  I liked seeing Ashley Janith-Lau from the Terra Nova novella that was also set in this era.

God bless him, Mr. Bennett even makes some interesting attempts to fit the Klingon war storyline from Discovery into the TOS timeline (like Kirk’s posting as a lieutenant on the Farragut, which we know about from the TOS episode “Obsession”).  It’s a bit of a fool’s errand, because Discovery made a complete hash of established Star Trek continuity, but I respect Mr. Bennett for trying!

The setup of the Warborn and references to Maltuvis’ attempted conquest of their homework Arcturus is an interesting but bummer of a reminder that Mr. Bennet’s Rise of the Federation novels (a series of post-finale Enterprise novels) was left uncompleted.  I hope Mr. Bennett is able to return to that series to finish the story, someday.

The bit about Uhura’s mother working as an ambassador to elephants strikes me as a little silly.  (Though maybe Star Trek IV teaches that it shouldn’t be.)  My only other small complaint about the story was that some of the Kirk stuff in the books felt to me a little bit like narrative wheel-spinning.  It’s interesting to see Kirk adjusting to staying on Earth to oversee his cadets while Spock saves the day out in space with the Enterprise.  But because a major character arc of Star Trek II, III, and IV was Kirk’s realizing that “commanding a starship is [his] first, best, destiny” (after he’d already proven that in TMP), I don’t love the notion that Kirk spent six long years before Star Trek II mostly earthbound, overseeing cadets, before getting back into space as captain of the Enterprise.  It’s a bummer for me as a fan of the character.  (I prefer my head-canon that Kirk had only recently been assigned to oversee cadets before the events of Star Trek II.)

Living Memory is a terrific Star Trek tale, filled with wonderful connections to the vast tapestry of Star Trek continuity.  And it’s a delightful spotlight on Uhura.  I’m glad to have read it!

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