Tuesday, January 23, 2024

The Higher Frontier

Star Trek: The Original Series
The Higher Frontier by Christopher L. Bennett
Release date: March 10th 2020
Read April 2nd 2020

Previous book (The Original Series): The Motion Picture: 40th Anniversary Edition
Next book (The Original Series): Agents of Influence

Trade Paperback: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk
E-book (Kindle): Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk

Publisher's description:
Investigating the massacre of a telepathic minority, Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise confront a terrifying new threat: faceless, armored hunters whose extradimensional technology makes them seemingly unstoppable. Kirk must team with the powerful telepath Miranda Jones and the enigmatic Medusans to take on these merciless killers in an epic battle that will reveal the true faces of both enemy and ally!

My thoughts:

Christopher L. Bennett is a Star Trek author whom I have long admired. During his years of writing for the Star Trek IP, he has become known for a number of things: stories set during the Star Trek: The Motion Picture time period, and stories that tie up various, disparate pieces of Trek continuity. In both of these respects, The Higher Frontier is the quintessential Christopher L. Bennett Star Trek novel.

The Aenar were first introduced in season four of Star Trek: Enterprise. A subspecies of the Andorians, the Aenar are blind, but with highly developed telepathic skills. It is these abilities that cause them to be the target of a massacre that sets off the events of this novel. At the time of this novel's writing, the Aenar had never been seen outside of Enterprise, and the decimation of their population here might go some way to explaining why. This was, of course, before we met Lieutenant Hemmer, chief engineer of the U.S.S. Enterprise in season one of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Still, given the reclusiveness of the Aenar as well as their abhorrence of anything approaching violence, it makes sense that they wouldn't be a regular fixture of the wider Trek universe. Heck, we rarely even saw Andorians in the years between TOS and Enterprise.

The Aenar, a subspecies of Andorians, are targeted by hunters.

Another welcome follow-up in this novel is the union between Dr. Miranda Jones and the Medusan ambassador Kollos from the TOS episode "Is There in Truth No Beauty?." Their telepathic bond is the focus of a lot of this novel, and I appreciated the deep dive into Medusans. This is an area, again, that modern Trek has mined from, with the character of Zero in Star Trek: Prodigy. I enjoyed the exploration of the bond between Dr. Jones and Kollos, and was very pleased with the fact that the book acknowledged the very poor treatment of Jones in her appearance in TOS. I love when authors go back to sort of "clean up" some of the more problematic parts of past Trek, and Christopher Bennett is a master at it.

Dr. Miranda Jones and her link to Ambassador Kollos is explored in The Higher Frontier.

Another aspect of the novel that I enjoyed was the exploration of characters other than the "big three" (Kirk, Spock, and Bones). In particular, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov get some much-needed attention, and I very much appreciated the time spent with these characters. In one particularly amusing moment, the three of them discuss the "dramatizations" of their previous missions that have been broadcast back on Earth. Comments are made about the unrealistic special effects, the overly-dramatic acting, and even the ridiculousness of Chekov's hair! It's a nice send-up of Star Trek: The Original Series, implying that what we watched may just have been an in-universe reenactment of the actual events, rather than the sacrosanct "historical documents" that many fans would claim them to be.

Finally, I very much enjoyed Christopher Bennett's exploration of the "New Human" phenomenon, an aspect of Star Trek's depiction of humanity that was first introduced by Gene Roddenberry in his novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. This is another piece of Trek lore that seems like it would be difficult to square with what we have seen of humanity's future in the Star Trek produced since 1979, but once again Bennett has found a way to (mostly) seamlessly weave these disparate bits of continuity together. One aspect of this is an explanation for telepathic abilities among humans, as shown in the second TOS pilot episode, "Where No Man Has Gone Before." Humans who exhibited "extra-sensory perception" were referred to as "espers," and this concept was never really explored outside of that episode. A satisfactory and fascinating explanation for the existence of telepathy among humans is given in The Higher Frontier, and as someone who loves diving into the the minutiae of Star Trek, I love that we finally got it.

The Higher Frontier offers an explanation for human "espers" such as Dr. Elizabeth Dehner and Gary Mitchell from "Where No Man Has Gone Before."

Final thoughts:

As we have come to expect from Christopher L. Bennett, The Higher Frontier serves to weave together bits of disparate Star Trek continuity in ways that are both surprising and entertaining. Add to that strong character work for both major and minor characters and a story that takes place in a unique period of Star Trek history, and the result is another terrific story from an author whose work is always a joy to read.

More about The Higher Frontier:

Also by Christopher L. Bennett:

Next time on Trek Lit Reviews:

Next on my catch-up list is a Star Trek: Voyager novel: Seven of Nine by Christie Golden.

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