Monday, November 19, 2012

Uhura's Song

Star Trek #21: Uhura's Song by Janet Kagan
Published January 1985
Read July 28th 2012

Previous book (The Original Series): #20: The Vulcan Academy Murders
Next book (The Original Series): #22: Shadow Lord

Click to purchase Uhura's Song from!
Spoilers ahead for Uhura's Song!

From the back cover:
Years ago, Lt. Uhura befriended a diplomat from Eeiauo, the land of graceful, cat-like beings.  The two women exchanged forbidden songs and promised never to reveal their secret.
Now the Enterprise is orbiting Eeiauo in a desperate race to save the inhabitants before a deadly plague destroys them.  Uhura's secret songs may hold the key to a cure - but the clues are veiled in layers of mystery.
The plague is killing Humans, threatening other planets - and Kirk must crack the code before the Enterprise succumbs!

About this novel:

On the planet Eeiauo, a Federation world, a deadly plague is ravaging the population. This virus eventually crosses species and threatens other worlds in the Federation. The novel turns into a race against the clock to discover a cure before death due to this plague becomes widespread. Uhura believes that a clue to the true origin of the Eeiauo species is found in an ancient, forbidden song she was taught by an old friend. Believing this to be the only lead to pursue, Captain Kirk takes the Enterprise on a mission to discover the long-lost forebears of the Eeiauoians, hoping that they will have a cure for the disease.

The mission to discover the Eeiauoian ancestors is successful, but Kirk and company must gain the trust of the aliens in order to get their cooperation in helping find the cure. Believing Kirk and the other humans to be children, the landing party must prove themselves by completing a sort of coming of age rite. The rite completed, the Enterprise crew get the cure and race back to Eeiauo in the nick of time to save the population and the rest of the Federation from the deadly plague.

My thoughts:

Uhura's Song was a fun story that I found fairly enjoyable. That said, there are a couple of things about the novel that bothered me a bit. First, the ticking clock aspect of the story seemed to be put aside at times. We are given to understand that the Enterprise crew has an extremely limited amount of time in which to find the cure to this plague before people begin dying en masse. However, in the "few days" they are allotted, the crew manages to follow an ancient clue to a far-off world, make first contact with the inhabitants, spend a few days trying to get on their good side, participate in a grueling trial to prove their adulthood, get the cure, AND get back to Eeiauo in time to cure the plague. This seemed to stretch credibility somewhat for me. I couldn't take the "ticking clock" seriously when the crew were able to accomplish all of this before their time was up.

Secondly, in a novel titled Uhura's Song, I would expect Uhura to have a very prominent role. I've always liked her character in Star Trek, and feel that she has often been criminally underused. I was excited to see her take center stage in this story, and for awhile, she does. Her knowledge of the ancient Eeiauoian songs provide the needed clue to finding the homeworld, but after that she kind of fades into the background. Instead, we have another character take up the slack: Dr. Evan Wilson, an almost superhumanly capable medical officer who steals the limelight for much of the novel. There were times during Uhura's Song that I felt Evan Wilson was almost a "Mary Sue" character, a feeling that persisted until the very end, when we finally find out her true origin and nature. I won't spoil that revelation here, but suffice it to say that it was fun and interesting enough to get me to hold off on the Mary Sue appellation.

Once again, Uhura takes a back seat to other cast members. But this time, it's a supporting character!

If there's one thing that Janet Kagen does extremely well with Uhura's Song, it's world-building. The alien culture we meet in this novel is a true joy to discover and explore. Although this idea may turn many off, the aliens are basically house cats writ large. They were clearly fun to write, and it's equally clear that Janet Kagan is very much a cat person. In addition, the idea that Captain Kirk and his party aren't adults in the eyes of the aliens is a fun concept, and one that really works for the story.

One final complaint, and a very minor one at that: Uhura's Song was published during a period of confusion with regards to Star Trek novel cover art. In this one, for example, we see Spock and Uhura wearing uniforms from two different eras, and the design of the Enterprise on the cover does not match the period that Uhura's uniform is from. The Trek novels published around this time suffered from these sorts of mashups a lot, and one can assume that the artists drew upon many different sources when composing the covers. If only a die-hard Trekkie such as myself were employed to curb these continuity errors before they were published!

Final thoughts:

A few niggling details keep this novel from achieving the "great" status that so many books have, but it was still a very enjoyable and interesting romp. The alien culture introduced is fun to read about, and some surprises along the way help the plot to remain compelling. I'd rate it a "pretty good." Not the best, but also certainly not the worst. A fun Sunday afternoon read.

How to pronouce "Eeiauo":

No idea.

My next read:

Next up is another novel from early on in the original Star Trek series novel run, Pawns and Symbols by Majliss Larson.

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