Wednesday, February 14, 2024

The Unsettling Stars

Star Trek (Kelvin Timeline)
The Unsettling Stars by Alan Dean Foster
Release date: April 14th 2020
Read April 27th 2020

Previous book (Kelvin Timeline): Star Trek Into Darkness
Next book (Kelvin Timeline): More Beautiful Than Death

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Publisher's description:
Taking place in an alternate timeline created when the Starship Kelvin was destroyed by a Romulan invader from the future, this bold new novel follows Captain James T. Kirk and an inexperienced crew commandeering a repaired U.S.S. Enterprise out of spacedock for a simple shakedown cruise. When a distress call comes in, the Enterprise must aid a large colony ship of alien refugees known as the Perenorean, who are under siege by an unknown enemy. But Kirk and his crew will find that the situation with the peaceful Perenorean is far more complicated than they bargained for, and the answers as to why they were attacked in the first place unfold in the most insidious of ways…

My thoughts:

This novel was a long time coming. Originally written around the time of the first "Kelvin Timeline" film, Star Trek (2009), the publication of this and three other novels were delayed indefinitely. The reason for the delay? According to the powers that be, there was concern that events depicted in the novels might contradict future plans for films set in the Kelvin Timeline. Then, a decade later, two of the shelved novels were resurrected, and apparently the prior concerns were no longer an issue. This one, by Alan Dean Foster, was originally titled Refugees. The novel was given a name change, and according to the author, a small part of the ending was revised, but other than that, The Unsettling Stars is relatively unchanged from the original draft that was turned in a decade earlier.

The original solicitation cover for this novel, back when it was first announced in 2009.

So, after waiting a decade of waiting to actually read the book, how is it?

The plot of the novel centers around a group of refugees, the Perenoreans, whose situation has special resonance for Spock. Remember that in this reality, the surviving members of the Vulcan species are also refugees, their homeworld having been destroyed in Star Trek (2009). It was interesting to see Spock relate to the Perenoreans and their plight from his unique perspective. The Perenoreans themselves are fascinating; they are highly advanced technologically, with an innate desire to be extremely helpful.

A second species, inhabitants of the planet SiBor, offer their moon to the Perenoreans to settle. In response, the grateful Perenoreans offer their advanced technology to aid in solving all manner of problems and difficulties, a situation that is initially very enticing. However, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that having all of your issues "magically" solved isn't always the best thing. Eventually, the Perenoreans prove to be so helpful that the SiBorians themselves end up seeming superfluous and unnecessary on their own world. As the plot unfolds, the reader continually expects the Perenoreans to have some sort of villainous motive behind their actions, but the truth of the matter is that it is simply their penchant for being overly helpful that fuels the conflict. This makes for a very interesting dilemma to focus the plot of the novel around.

The story of The Unsettling Stars is, overall, very cerebral. The dilemma presented to our heroes is unique, and is quite relevant given what is happening in society today. More and more, we are seeing artificial intelligence inhabiting spaces that are typically filled by human labor and creativity. But what happens if AI turns out to be much better than us at writing, for example? We're already seeing AI-generated writing in advertisements and other written works. Like the SiBorians in this novel, we humans may soon become superfluous in the face of superior artificial intelligence.

Seeing the Kelvin Timeline crew in novel form was a fun change, and I'm glad this novel finally saw the light of day.

For the most part, I was impressed by The Unsettling Stars. The voices of the characters are familiar, and would fit in well with the Prime timeline, but with just enough of a flavor of the Kelvin timeline to distinctly be those versions of the characters. The Perenoreans, as the drivers of the primary conflict of the novel, aren't your typical "bad guys." The species themselves are truly alien, both in how they are described physically, and in the way they think and view the universe. They are sympathetic in some ways, while unsympathetic in others, remaining refreshingly unpredictable throughout the story.

Final thoughts:

A worthy entry in the ever-expanding Star Trek literary universe. It was nice to finally get to experience the "Kelvin Timeline" crew in novel form, and Alan Dean Foster does a great job of capturing their unique voices, setting them apart from their Prime universe counterparts. The dilemma at the heart of the story is a unique problem that resonates with issues we are dealing with today. I fear the story of The Unsettling Stars will only become more relevant as the years go by.

More about The Unsettling Stars:

Also by Alan Dean Foster:

Next time on Trek Lit Reviews:

Next up: Star Trek: Voyager: String Theory, Book I: Cohesion by Jeffrey Lang.

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