Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Pandora Principle

Star Trek #49:
The Pandora Principle by Carolyn Clowes
Published April 1990
Read November 27th 2018

Previous book (The Original Series): #48: Rules of Engagement

Next book (The Original Series): #50: Doctor's Orders

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E-book (Kindle): | |

Spoilers ahead for The Pandora Principle

From the back cover:
A Romulan Bird of Prey mysteriously drifts over the neutral zone and into Federation territory. Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise investigate, only to find the ship dead in space. When Starfleet orders the derelict ship brought to Earth for examination, the Enterprise returns home with perhaps her greatest prize.  
But the Bird of Prey carries a dangerous cargo, a deadly force that is soon unleashed in the heart of the Federation. Suddenly, the only hope for the Federation's survival lies buried in the tortured memory of Commander Spock's protégé, a cadet named Saavik. Together, Spock and Saavik must return to the nightmare world of Saavik's birth -- a planet called Hellguard, to discover the secret behind the Romulans' most deadly threat of all...

My thoughts:

The backstory for Saavik is one that always fascinated me. Although it never made it into the finished film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was to initially establish her as having a Romulan background and an unorthodox childhood. Unfortunately, it was left to non-canon Trek to fill in the missing pieces of her life, and Carolyn Clowes stepped up to take on the task.

The Pandora Principle provides an interesting look at Saavik's early years.

Saavik was rescued in her youth from the Romulan colony world Hellguard, where horrific conditions caused her to be living an almost feral lifestyle. Throughout her early years, Spock served as a paternal figure, helping to raise her in the Vulcan way. This father/daughter relationship might seem odd to people who have read later novels detailing Spock and Saavik's relationship, especially Vulcan's Heart by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz, but those are issues probably best discussed in a separate review.

In the "present" (which is sometime between Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), Saavik is a cadet at Starfleet Academy attempting to acclimate and take on this new challenge in her life. Meanwhile, a Romulan Bird-of-Prey is discovered, devoid of life, and drifting into Federation space through the neutral zone. The Enterprise transports the captured warship back to Earth where it is examined by Starfleet scientists. Aboard the ship, a number of strange containers are found which, when opened, release an agent that depletes all oxygen in the area in which it is exposed. Thankfully, the two environments where a pair of the boxes are opened are both fully-contained: Starfleet headquarters, and a sealed habitat. Unfortunately, the habitat where the second box is opened is an entire city unto itself, and there are many casualties.

The plot has links back to Hellguard, forcing Saavik to confront lingering issues from her hellish youth on that world. The perpetrator of the scheme against Starfleet has a very personal connection to her experiences on Hellguard, and Saavik's confrontation with the person in question is one of the more memorable parts of this novel.

Regardless of whether you prefer Alley or Curtis-flavored Saavik, this novel gives a great deal of context for this criminally-underexplored character.

Another highlight of the novel for me was Kirk's role in it. He is at Starfleet Headquarters when disaster strikes, but luckily he is in the sub-basement, sealed off from the rest of the building. He must work with a young team of officers to figure out the problem and devise a solution. It was fun to see new characters working alongside Captain Kirk; after all, it's Starfleet, they must have geniuses other than just the crew of the Enterprise!

Speaking of Kirk, we get a reprise of the central personal conflict of this point in his career: he wants to be a captain, and Starfleet wants him to be an admiral. His game of one-upmanship with Fleet Admiral Nogura is amusing, but ultimately the debate gets a little tired. During the period between The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan, Kirk seems to pinball between captaining the Enterprise and taking a post at Starfleet Command. There have been so many novels detailing one role or another during this period and divining some crazy reason why he has to command the Enterprise again that it borders on lunacy. Of course, they're all non-canon and certainly don't have to conform with one another, but suffice it to say I was completely unsurprised that the issue was raised yet again in this novel.

Captain or Admiral? No one can decide, least of all Kirk!

The only major issue I had with the novel was the very poor science involved in the weapon the Romulans use against the Federation. At various times, it is described as a virus (which doesn't make sense), and as an ionizing agent with chemical properties that, again, make very little sense. In many ways, it is simply a MacGuffin, a plot device, whose workings don't really make a huge difference, but I would have appreciated a little more thought put into it so it didn't come across as so completely nonsensical.

There is also an interesting new alien character who goes by the name of Obo. Exceptionally talented at repairing equipment and also oddly perceptive at times, I didn't quite know what to make of him. He was interesting enough that I would enjoy seeing more of him, but there were times in the novel that his part in the story seemed oddly incongruous with what was going on around him. I did appreciate the relationship he had with his "guardian," for lack of a better term. The way he gets aboard the Enterprise is somewhat contrived, but as the story gets going, I kind of came to appreciate him. To a certain point.

Final thoughts:

Overall, an excellent novel detailing the life of one of my favorite ancillary Star Trek characters. I've always wished that Saavik was featured more in the Trek films, and I'm glad that she finally gets her backstory told in this novel. The Pandora Principle would go on to influence further stories about Saavik, including one of my favorites, Unspoken Truth by Margaret Wander Bonanno. Only the sketchy science surrounding the main plot of the story detracts a little from The Pandora Principle, but it is still a very interesting novel that goes to some unexpected places.

More about The Pandora Principle:

My next read:

Next review is for the final book in the A Time To series: A Time for War, A Time for Peace by Keith R.A. DeCandido!

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