Saturday, June 29, 2019

Burning Dreams

Star Trek
Burning Dreams by Margaret Wander Bonanno
Published July 2006
Read April 30th 2019

Previous book (The Original Series): Vulcan's Soul, Book Two: Exiles
Next book (The Original Series): Mere Anarchy: Things Fall Apart

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Spoilers ahead for Burning Dreams

From the back cover:
Before James T. Kirk, another captain stood on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise, spearheading its mission of exploration into the uncharted reaches of the galaxy. He was a man driven to perfection, a brooding soul whose haunted eyes reflected the burden of the impossible standards he set for himself, and for whom his longtime science officer, Spock, one day would risk everything. Yet, little is truly known about the enigmatic Christopher Pike, the events that defined him...or the secrets that consumed him. 
From the embers of his early childhood among Earth's blossoming interstellar colonies, to the terrifying conflagration that led him back to the world of his birth; from the mentor who would ignite young Chris's desire to return to the stars, to the career he blazed in Starfleet that would end in supreme sacrifice -- the path of Pike's astonishing life leads through fire again and again. But even amid the ashes of Talos IV, the forbidden world on which he would live out the remainder of his days, the dreams smoldering still within his aging, radiation-ravaged breast fan the flames of Pike's spirit to accomplish one final task....

My thoughts:

At the time that Burning Dreams was written, not much was canonically known about the history of Captain Christopher Pike. We have the original pilot episode, "The Cage" (re-purposed for the only TOS two-parter, "The Menagerie"), and that's it, canon-wise. Outside of canon Trek, there has been a bit more exploration, notably in the novels: Vulcan's Glory by D.C. Fontana and The Rift by Peter David being a couple of notable examples. But no one had tried to tell the life story of Pike, which is the ambitious goal of Margaret Wander Bonanno's Burning Dreams.

Christopher Pike's history is the focus of Burning Dreams.

The framing story has him arriving at Talos IV at the end of "The Menagerie" to live out the rest of his days in their care along with his former cage-mate, Vina. Getting to know one another, Pike begins to tell her his life story, beginning in his youth on the frontier world Elysium. Accompanying his mother and Heston Prescott, his step-father, young Chris spends his formative years helping Heston with his attempts to tame this new world and aiding a hired hand, Charlie, in raising horses. Tragedy strikes, and an out-of-control fire claims the life of his mother and step-father, and Charlie and Chris leave Elysium behind and return to Mojave on Earth.

Charlie, who is a crewman in Starfleet, inspires Chris to attend Starfleet Academy and become an officer. We see pieces of his Starfleet career as he ascends the ranks and becomes a model officer, eventually rising to the position of first officer under a questionable captain. Eventually, Pike learns that he was placed on that vessel to expose the crimes of his captain, showing how he would come to be known as an officer with impeccable moral character.

Burning Dreams was a fun novel to revisit, given the recent season of Star Trek: Discovery in which the classic character was played by actor Anson Mount. Reading this novel, I pictured both him and Jeffrey Hunter at various points. The Pike of Burning Dreams tended to echo the more brooding style of Hunter's portrayal, but both interpretations of the character seemed applicable to various parts of the novel.

Bonanno's characterization of Pike lent itself to both Jeffrey Hunter's and Anson Mount's portrayals of the character.

Overall, Burning Dreams is a fascinating study of the Pike character, delving into the experiences that turned him into the man we saw both in "The Cage" and Discovery. At times, a few of the plot turns and revelations felt a bit "soap opera-y," but Bonanno mostly does an excellent job of getting to the root of what makes this character tick. Pike's later life is one filled with tragedy, and his past reflects that same theme.

One aspect of the novel that I want to touch on is a part of the story set decades after Pike was left on Talos IV. Spock, receiving a telepathic summons from the Talosians, returns to Talos IV believing Pike to have passed away. His supposition turns out to be correct, and he is being summoned to take possession of Pike's remains for return to the Federation. This part of the novel ends on a surprising and very welcome note of hope, as not only have the Talosians done a great service to Pike by letting him live out his remaining years in their care, but he has returned the favor by putting Talosian society on a path to recovery from the holocausts of their past. Burning Dreams ends with the thought that Spock might argue for their admittance into the Federation due to the huge amounts of progress they have made as a society thanks to Pike's help. It's a wonderful note for the novel to end on and brought a big smile to my face.

Pike's legacy includes possible redemption for the Talosian species.

Final thoughts:

A touching novel that explores the life of Christopher Pike with a depth not achieved by any other work featuring this character. While some parts seem a bit on the melodramatic side of things, for the most part, Burning Dreams is a wonderfully written biography of what has become one of my favorite characters in Trek. It doesn't completely mesh with what we've come to know as canon with Pike's portrayal in Discovery, but that doesn't make it any less worth reading. Bonanno does an excellent job bringing this character to life from just one prior appearance in canon. Definitely recommended!

More about Burning Dreams:

Also by Margaret Wander Bonanno:

My next read:

Next up is my review of the second Star Trek: Titan novel, The Red King by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin.

1 comment:

  1. It took me three attempts to get through this novel. I just didn't care for the Elysium portions of the book. I felt bad for Pike's stepfather. His professional dreams were being hamstrung by neo-Luddites, and at the same time he was being cuckholded at home. On top of that, he's got a stepson whose first reaction to finding out that his stepdad my have endangered the lives of his horse embryos is to wish for his death. No wonder the guy became so bitter.

    Having said that, the novel begins to pick up after Pike reaches adulthood. I liked the section about Pike's mutiny, I enjoyed the wordbuilding with the reptile race, and I LOVED the ending on Talos IV.

    I'd give the first part of the book 2 flaming horse embryos, the middle section 3 miming snake monsters, and the ending a full 5 throbbing Talosian noggins. I have no idea what that averages out to, but I will say that I'm very glad that I (finally) stuck with the book to the end.

    Random comments:

    - The Cage is one of my very favorite Trek episodes. Easily a top 5 TOS episode for me. The only episode that may surpass it is City on the Edge of Forever. It's just great old school sci-fi in the vein of Forbidden Planet.

    - My favorite Pike story is "A Private Anecdote" in the very first Strange New Worlds anthology.

    - Margaret Wander Bonanno wrote the very first Trek book that I ever read, Strangers From the Sky. Depressingly enough that was almost 30 years ago. I need to reread it someday to see if it is as good as I remember it being.

    - I'm really looking forward to the new Pike novel by JJ Miller. I'm not even a Discovery fan but I've got high hopes for this book.