Book ReviewsStar Trek: The Higher Frontier

Star Trek: The Higher Frontier

Star Trek: The Higher Frontier is set in the years between Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  The book picks up the threads from several different Star Trek episodes from across the years, and weaves them together into an exciting new Trek adventure story.  Fearsome armored hunters have begun attacking different groups of aliens across the Federation.  These hunters seem to have some connections to the Medusans (introduced in the Original Series episode “Is There in Truth No Beauty?”), the non-corporeal entities who, if looked at directly, can drive a humanoid mad.  Reuniting with Dr. Miranda Jones, Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise attempt to stop these armored murderers, but the Enterprise crew seems to be completely outmatched…

Christopher L. Bennett is one of my very favorite Star Trek authors, and I’m delighted that he’s returned to the post-TMP era that he first explored in his terrific novel Ex Machina.  Fans have long theorized that Kirk and the Enterprise went out on a second five-year mission after the events of TMP.  Mr. Bennet’s novel Ex Machina depicted the start of that, it’s very cool to jump ahead and see the end of that second five-year mission here in this book.

Mr. Bennett is a true master of Star Trek continuity, and this book continually delighted me by how skillfully Mr. Bennett was able to pick up dangling story threads from various episodes from the various different Star Trek series and weave them together into a thrilling novel.  The book is packed full with references and links to Trek continuity for the hard-core fans to enjoy; but those references never bog down the story; it stands on its own as a great Star Trek tale, one that pulses with the moral values of peace and understanding that lie at the heart of Trek.

I was delighted to see Mr. Bennett revisit Miranda Jones and the Medusan Ambassador Kollos from “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” — that was a memorable episode that also felt to me like it was ripe for a follow-up.  It’s great to explore what happened to Miranda after she merged with Kollos at the end of that episode, and it’s also fun to learn more about the mysterious Medusans.

I was also very happy with the ways in which Mr. Bennett wove together the events of the second Star Trek pilot “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, as well as the later TOS episode “By Any Other Name”, in which the Enterprise again crosses the galactic barrier.  Mr. Bennett skillfully follows up on story-points from those two episodes while also clearing up inconsistencies from them both.  Watching those episodes, one might ask: Why wasn’t Spock, who is a telepath, affected by the galactic barrier in “Where No Man Has Gone Before” like the other espers on the ship?  Why don’t we ever again hear about Starfleet giving its officers an “esper” rating, as we do in that episode?  Why would Spock, a pacifist, so strongly argue that Kirk should kill Gary Mitchell?  Why weren’t the other telepaths on the Enterprise affected by the ship’s later trips through the galactic barrier?  Mr. Bennett cleverly answers all of these questions.  That made me so happy!

It was nice to see the Aenar again, introduced in the Enterprise episode “The Aenar”.  This blind, telepathic offshoot of the Andorians were very interesting on Enterprise.  Mr. Bennett provides an explanation for why we didn’t see more of them in any 23rd or 24th century Star Trek shows.

I was truly tickled to see Mr. Bennett introduce the prime timeline version of the Andorian Thelin, who was introduced in the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode “Yesteryear”.  (“Yesteryear” is without question the best episode of the original Star Trek Animated Series, and it was a very cool idea to introduce the “real” version of Thelin, as opposed to the alternate-timeline version seen in that episode.)

One of the wilder ideas in Gene Roddenberry’s truly bizarre novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, was the idea of “New Humans”.  I was so surprised by delighted to see Mr. Bennett make use of that concept in this book.  (If you want to learn more about Gene Roddenberry’s bonkers novelization of TMP, I strongly encourage you listen to this episode of the Inglorious Treksperts podcast.)

I can’t recall seeing many — if any — previous stories explaining how/why Kirk and Spock wound up teaching cadets at the start of Star Trek II.  How did Kirk wind up riding a desk again after fighting so hard to get the Enterprise back in TMP?? It’s fun to see Mr Bennett create an answer to that here.

Speaking of Star Trek II, I enjoyed the book’s short sequence involving Saavik, and the references to her childhood on Hellguard (explored in various non-canonical Trek comic books and novels).

As a hard-core Trek nerd, I loved the technical discussions in the book that explain the differences between the TOS and movie versions of a starship’s deflector shields with the circular bubbles seen in TNG.

Mr. Bennett even makes a connection with Star Trek: Discovery and mentions Spock’s dyslexia.  I hated that idea on Discovery, but Mr. Bennett actually succeeded in making it not seem so stupid here.  Look what good writing can accomplish!

Higher Frontier was a terrific book from start-to-finish.  I really enjoyed it.

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