Monday, November 26, 2018

Across the Universe

Star Trek #88
Across the Universe by Pamela Sargent and George Zebrowski
Published October 1999
Read August 21st 2018

Previous book (The Original Series - Numbered): #87: My Brother's Keeper, Book 3: Enterprise

Previous book (The Original Series - Published): Vulcan's Heart
Next book (The Original Series): #89: New Earth, Book 1: Wagon Train to the Stars

Mass-market paperback: | |
E-book (Kindle): | |

Spoilers ahead for Across the Universe

From the back cover:
The Hawking left Earth during the 21st century on a one-way mission to colonize a distant world. Due to the relativistic effects of pre-warp travel, its crew has aged only thirty years while two centuries passed outside the ship. When the Starship Enterprise comes to the rescue of the malfunctioning Hawking, the colonists find themselves thrust into a universe and an era that has left them behind. 
Captain Kirk intends to help the colonists adjust as best he can, but the task is not a simple one. The newcomers are survivors of a more violent, more paranoid time--and they have brought old suspicions, and an ancient weapon of mass destruction, into a world of unexpected challenges and dangers.
My thoughts:

A recurring plot in Star Trek features people from the past coming forward into the 23rd or 24th century and encountering our heroes, who must help them adapt to their new reality. Whether these people are genetically-engineered despots (as in "Space Seed") or a random cross-section of humanity (as in "The Neutral Zone"), it is a common trope that has been done a number of times in televised Trek. There are some interesting elements that stem from the use of this trope in Across the Universe. For one, one of the 21st century humans the Enterprise recovers is a distant ancestor of Pavel Chekov. I found the gradual uncovering of his character and the implications it has for the muddying of history to be a fascinating aspect of the novel, and I can only wish that this idea had been explored more.

Across the Universe is, unfortunately, a bit disjointed. The novel seems to revolve around two main plots, each having little to do with the other. After the Enterprise  rescues the crew of the Hawking, they set course for a colony world, Merope IV, where the 21st century humans are to settle. However, there is a strange menace threatening the people of the colony; a large biomass consumes an entire village and threatens to spread across the rest of the populated areas of the planet. The two stories do come together when the displaced 21st century humans prove their worth by working to defend the colony. However, some of the actions taken by these people as well as our heroes make very little sense to me. The leader of the people from the past offers to lead a group out to the "killer moss" and take it on using artillery-style phasers. Kirk agrees with this insane plan, without first having attempted any other less-drastic plan. First of all, these people are from centuries in the past and have never even seen a phaser before. Why would you trust them with this task? Second, why wouldn't you scan the creature and attempt to make contact with it or any of the other more "Star Trek-y" style solutions?

The frustrating thing is that both parts of the story have some fascinating elements to them, but because they have to share the real estate of this novel, neither of them get the room they need to fully develop. I would have loved to have seen a deeper exploration of the plight of the 21st century people and how they adapt to life in the 23rd century, just as I would have appreciated a story featuring this planet-spanning life-form and the understanding it and the people of the colony must reach spread over the course of an entire novel. As it stands, however, both stories are cut short before they can be fully realized.

There are a few interesting character moments in Across the Universe. The aforementioned relative of Chekov's, a man by the name of Dmitri Glakov, gets some interesting development, and it is through him (as well as their leader, Leander Cort├ęs) that we learn about the people and their lives aboard the Hawking. There is also a character with a link to Uhura's past, an administrator in the Merope IV government, Trent Ojuremi. I would have appreciated more exploration of the relationship between him and Uhura, but again, everything is rushed to fit both major stories into the novel.

Another frustration is the seeming inaccuracy of the back-cover blurb for this novel. The plight of the crew of the Hawking very quickly takes a back seat to the unfolding crisis on Merope IV. Plus, the tagline on the front cover is wildly misleading. While it's true the the Hawking carries a nuclear weapon aboard her, neither the ship nor the crew ever truly pose "a danger to the future."

Final thoughts:

Across the Universe is a book that contains a number of good ideas and some unique science fiction concepts, but they sadly seem to be wasted here due to the inclusion of too many competing plot elements. Not enough room is given to fully explore the questions that the novel raises, and the result is a bit of a jumble of interesting plots that ultimately go nowhere. The characters the story introduced were interesting, and I would have appreciated a deeper exploration of them. Unfortunately, it never really comes together well enough to be a truly good Star Trek novel.

My next read:

Next up is the beginning of the I.K.S. Gorkon saga: TNG #61: Diplomatic Implausibility!