Star Trek: Unspoken Truth
Some of the earliest Star Trek books I ever read as a kid were written by Margaret Wander Bonanno (one of these days I really have to go back and re-read Strangers from the Sky to see if I still like it as much as I did back then). After the mess with the novel Probe (which is a fascinating and horrifying tale — head to Margaret Wander Bonanno’s web-site and click on “Probe: The Novel I didn’t Write: The Whole Story” on the right-hand side of the page for all the gory details), though, Ms. Bonanno was unable to continue writing Trek novels. Thankfully, a decade later, editor Marco Palmieri (a phenomenal editor of the Star Trek line who was sadly fired himself a few years ago) brought her back into the fold. Her first new novel, Catalyst of Sorrows, was OK, but her next book — an exploration of the life of the Christopher Pike called Burning Dreams — was phenomenal. When I heard that she was working on a new novel that would explore what happened to Lt. Saavik after her brief appearance in Star Trek IV, I was very excited.
The main story of Star Trek: Unspoken Truth is set in the days following the events of Star Trek IV. But the novel continually jumps around in time, allowing us to get glimpses of Saavik’s terrible childhood spent on the Romulan outpost nicknamed Hellguard, her early days on Vulcan (after having been rescued from Hellguard by a young Spock), her time at Starfleet Academy, and the events of Star Trek II-IV. I particularly enjoyed the way the narrative wove in and out of familiar moments from those three films. In particular, Ms. Bonanno makes a real meal out of Saavik’s one brief scene in Star Trek IV. That scene in the movie has always disappointed me. While I was glad she at least got that one moment (even though the creators of the Trek films had clearly decided to jettison the character), it always struck me as a poor finish to the rich character who had received so much on-screen time and development during Star Trek II and III. Ms. Bonanno really fleshes out what was going on in that scene, what Saavik was thinking, why she blurted out that comment about David Marcus, and more. Her writing really redeemed that scene for me in a wonderful way.
Much of Unspoken Truth — particularly the first half of the novel — is made up of short scenes. I found this story-telling style to be quite engaging. Through an accretion of vignettes, Ms. Bonanno is able to build in our minds a fully-realized picture of Saavik — who is is, and what she’s been through. The novel playfully references previous non-canon explorations of Saavik’s early days, specifically the novel The Pandora Principle written by Carolyn Clowes, and two issues of DC Comics’ Star Trek comic book series (issues seven and eight) which were written by Mike W. Barr. It’s been a long time since I’ve read any of that material, but from my recollection there’s nothing in Unspoken Truth that directly contradicts anything that those writers established. (Though I will note that while I’d recalled Hellguard to have been a chaotic place, the scenes on Hellguard in Unspoken Truth have more of an orderly, Enders Game style focus on the military training of young Romulans. But that could be because Ms. Bonanno chose to explore Hellguard in the days BEFORE the Romulans abandoned it, And, as I said, it’s been a LONG time since I read any of that other material…) One certainly doesn’t have to have read any of those books/comics to follow anything in Unspoken Truth — though the novel does expect one to come in (and rightly so, I think) with an understanding that Saavik is half-Romulan, something which is quite well-known among Star Trek fans even though it’s never actually mentioned on-screen.
I really enjoyed how well Ms. Bonanno balanced an explanation of Saavik’s past with an exploration of where the character went after Star Trek IV. Not surprisingly, the character finds herself at something of a loss following the tragic events of the Trek films, a situation that only becomes further muddled by a not-exactly-by-chance encounter with another survivor of Hellguard. It’s unfortunate that a mid-novel plot twist was spoiled by the copy on the back cover of the book, but that’s not Ms. Bonanno’s fault! My only complaint about the adventure that takes up much of the second half of the novel is that, in order to preserve some surprises and plot-twists for the end of the tale, the readers aren’t allowed to have nearly as much insight into the reasons for Saavik’s actions as we did during the novel’s first half. This makes for an exciting finale to the story as secrets are revealed, but also caused me to find some portions of the second-half of the book to be frustrating, as I found myself wondering just what the heck was going on and why Saavik was doing the seemingly out-of-character things she was doing.
My other complaint about the story — and this could be considered a small spoiler, so readers beware — is that there never was any resolution to everything left hanging between Saavik and Spock by their muted farewells in that one scene from Star Trek IV. I was sure that the story would eventually circle back to all that these two left unsaid in that one frustrating scene, but that was not to be. I wonder why! The only thing I can surmise is that perhaps Ms. Bonanno didn’t want to avoid treading on any of the ground covered in the Vulcan’s Heart series of novels by Josepha Sherman and Susan Schwartz, which also deal with the Spock-Saavik relationship. (I haven’t read any of those novels.) But whatever the reason, that’s a huge unspoken truth that is left unaddressed by the novel’s conclusion, and I was disappointed by that.
Still, it’s phenomenal to see this terrific Star Trek supporting character given so much attention. Saavik is a very rich character, and I greatly enjoyed having her be the focus of this novel. As she did for Captain Christopher Pike in Burning Dreams, Margaret Wander Bonanno has peeled back the curtain on this character, to allow us to explore her history and inner life. I’d love to see where the adventures of Saavik go from here! Unspoken Truth is a terrific novel, and I eagerly await Ms. Bonanno’s next Star Trek work.
Previous Star Trek novel reviews:
Star Trek: Typhon Pact — Book 1: Zero-Sum Game,
Star Trek: Voyager — Full Circle