Friday, February 9, 2018

Prime Directive

Star Trek
Prime Directive by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
First published September 1990
Read December 13th 2016

Previous book (TOS - Hardcover): Spock's World

Next book (TOS - Hardcover): Probe

Spoilers ahead for Prime Directive!

From the back cover:
Starfleet's most sacred commandment has been violated. Its most honored captain is in disgrace, its most celebrated starship in pieces, and the crew of that ship scattered among the thousand worlds of the Federation... Thus begins Prime Directive, an epic tale of the Star Trek universe. Following in the bestselling tradition of Spock's World and The Lost Years, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens have crafted a thrilling tale of mystery and wonder, a novel that takes the Star Trek characters from the depths of despair into an electrifying new adventure that spans the galaxy.

Journey with Spock, McCoy, and the rest of the former crew of the Starship Enterprise to Talin-- the planet where their careers ended. A world once teeming with life that now lies ruined, its cities turned to ashes, its surface devastated by a radioactive firestorm-- because of their actions. There, they must find out how-- and why-- this tragedy occurred and discover what has become of their captain.

My thoughts:

The "Prime Directive" has a storied place in Star Trek history. Also known as Starfleet General Order One, the prime directive governs the interaction of Starfleet officers with other cultures that are not a part of the Federation. The directive is particularly concerned with societies that have not yet achieved warp drive. All effort must be made to prevent interference with the natural development of a planet's society by Starfleet officers, especially if they have not yet crossed this important technological milestone.

Many times throughout Star Trek, various crews have found themselves in conflict with the idea of the prime directive. After all, drama is born of conflict, and it makes sense that the writers of Trek would use this all-important rule to generate story ideas. This means, however, that there are many instances in which our heroes have, if not outright violated the prime directive, at least come very close and have skirted it from time to time.

Because of the events of Prime Directive, Kirk loses command of the Enterprise and must clear his name to get her back.

In this novel, thought by many to be one of the best Star Trek novels ever written, Kirk and his crew are accused of violating the directive in the worst way imaginable, an event that culminates in the complete destruction of an alien society. However, how this came to pass is not immediately apparent when reading this novel. Instead, we join the story after the tragedy has occurred, and see where life has taken our valiant crew since.

Kirk is working as a laborer, having been cashiered out of Starfleet, while the other members of his command staff are scattered around the Federation. Their goal is to ultimately clear Kirk of any wrongdoing in the affair, and Prime Directive follows their efforts to do so.

Eventually, through flashbacks, we get to see what transpired to destroy all life on the planet Talin. On the face of it, it would seem that Kirk and company had some responsibility in the calamity, but of course, we will eventually find out that the ultimate cause is much more complicated and Kirk and company will be exonerated.

There is a lot to love about Prime Directive, and it certainly earns its reputation as one of the best Trek novels of all time. The Reeves-Stevenses have crafted a very compelling story that puts each of the characters in a really interesting place. I would have loved to have seen this story adapted for the big screen, as it has a very epic, cinematic feel to it. The writers of the Kelvin Timeline films have cited Prime Directive as one of their influences, and I can't help but think that I would have enjoyed an adaptation of the novel a great deal more than what we got in, say, Star Trek Into Darkness.

The character work in Prime Directive is excellent, and the Kirk-Spock-McCoy triumvirate is particularly well-represented.

The character work in particular is top notch, with the authors capturing the voices of the main characters brilliantly. The holy trinity of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are in perfect form here, and the story feels like it has real consequences to the lives of the characters. My only complaint story-wise is the "side quest" that Sulu and Chekov undertake to get where they need to be in the story; there were times that this particular part of the novel felt a bit ridiculous.

The final piece of the puzzle that solves the mystery of the destruction of the planet Talin was also a highlight of Prime Directive. The force that was ultimately responsible is a fascinating concept, and without spoiling it outright, I will say that the entity that caused the calamity is something that I would love to see explored more. Prime Directive adds much to the lore of the Star Trek universe in ways that were very surprising. Note: for a more spoilery discussion of the conclusion of Prime Directive, check out episode 174 of the Literary Treks podcast, in which Matthew Rushing, Bruce Gibson and I discuss the book in more depth.

Final thoughts:

In many ways, Prime Directive exemplifies the best of what Star Trek novels have to offer. A compelling story with real stakes for our characters, and all brought to life with Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens' penchant for crafting a tale that had me turning pages late into the night. A solid 5/5 Trek novel, and quite possibly the best book to give to someone who is interested in reading Trek fiction but has never picked up a Star Trek novel before. Great stuff!

More about Prime Directive:

Also by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens:

My next read:

Next up is my video review of Una McCormack's latest Cardassian epic, Deep Space Nine: Enigma Tales.

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