Apr 5 2012 1:00pm

The Yesterday Saga: Yesterday’s Son and Time for Yesterday

Late in season three of the original series of Star Trek, Spock went back in time to Ice Age Sarpeidon. Because of the nature of the technology involved, he reverted to a pre-civilized state. He lost control of his emotions, ate meat, and fell in love. In the Yesterday Saga, Ann Crispin explores the repercussions of this incident. The result is a confusing series of events surrounding a fascinating new character.

Yesterday’s Son opens with the not-entirely unexpected news (given the book’s title), that Spock’s sojurn on Sarpeidon left his paramour, Zarabeth, in the family way. Spock stoically denies all knowledge, but the shock causes him to lose a game of chess. While the crew plans a convivial production of HMS Pinafore, Spock plans to head for the Guardian of Forever, return to Sarpeidon, rescue his son and return home to deal with the consequences of his excessive passion. Kirk and McCoy aren’t going to hang out on the Enterprise watching Gilbert and Sullivan while Spock goes on a Colonel Brandon-like quest for his natural child. They pack a first aid kit and some cold-weather camping gear and meet Spock in the transporter room. They are expecting to rescue a pointy-eared tyke, but when they finally find Spock’s son, Zar, he’s 28. The Guardian of Forever is not a precision instrument. Zar is also very psychic. That will be important later.

The trio fishes Zar out of his ice age solitude, brings him back to the present, and then decides that the best place for him to acclimate to his new life is the Enterprise. There are two really notable moments in this process. The first is when McCoy cuts Zar’s hair to look like Spock’s. This didn’t strike me as important when I first read it at age 13, but my re-read at age 35 screeched to a halt while I pondered the implications. Shouldn’t McCoy ask first? Is a haircut culturally appropriate for a guy who just moved in from the prehistoric ice age? What if waist-length hair MEANT something? McCoy is unconcerned. I am furious. Just before I hurl the book with great force, I realize that I’m upset because I like Zar and I don’t want anyone to hurt him. Zar doesn’t seem to mind. I forgive Crispin and make peace with McCoy’s tactlessness. Spock has some trouble adjusting to fatherhood, and while I don’t think the haircut helps, it’s not the biggest issue on the table.

That issue shows up in notable moment #2, a brilliant scene in the galley, where Spock sits down to join Zar and McCoy for lunch. You know how we’ve all been super-excited about The Hunger Games? You know that scene on the train (in the movie, not the book) where Katniss nearly stabs Haymitch because he keeps getting drunk, and Effie is upset about the table? Imagine that Zar is Katniss, and Spock is Haymitch. In this version of the scene, replace “getting drunk” with “quizzing his kid on math facts” and sub out the knife for a meatball grinder. The role of Effie will be played by Leonard McCoy, who takes Zar to task for disrespecting his dad with his wicked non-vegetarian ways, even though Zar is a grown man who spent years hunting and killing all his meals, and no one else has apologized to Spock for eating meat in the history of ever. Not surprisingly, following a convoluted series of events, Zar ditches modernity and his dad in favor of a return to pre-history, albeit on a warmer and more populated part of his planet.

After the strains of Yesterday’s Son, Spock and Zar are desperately in need of the emotional closure that only a sequel can provide. That sequel is Time for Yesterday. Crispin wrote an introduction to this book that could have easily been titled “Why my Star Trek story has been published by Pocket with a Boris Vallejo painting of Spock’s shirtless, sword-waving offspring riding a unicorn through the Guardian of Forever on the cover, and your Star Trek story will probably only appear in fanzines.” Crispin has done a lot for writers. I’m sure the intro was meant as an early part of that advocacy work, even though I read it as a crushing blow to my childhood dreams. Time for Yesterday is the kind of book you read to dull the pain.

Reading the early chapters of Time for Yesterday feels like being stuck behind a school bus. The details kept jolting me out of the story. The universe is ending – and Spock supplies the correct plural of supernova. There’s a problem with the Guardian of Forever – and the Federation has found a furry, pregnant, eight-year-old psychic to try to make contact with it and save the universe. (The book was published in 1987, which means that furriness is an allusion to The Mote in God’s Eye, and not to the lower levels of the Geek Hierarchy.) The eight-year-old psychic is incapacitated by the Guardian just before giving birth – and Spock asks Uhura to help with the babies because she was so good with Tribbles. The story improves once we get through the malfunctioning Guardian to Zar’s life in Bronze Age Sarpeidon. Back in the ancient world, Zar is preparing to defend the civilization he created and provided with advanced science and technology. It’s a delicate moment. Spock needs Zar to use his telepathic powers to fix the Guardian, which Zar has contacted once before. Their familial sympathies overcome their past tensions, and they work together to save Zar’s civilization and Spock’s universe. Zar kidnaps the precognitive, psychic priestess who has foretold his death, marries her, falls in love, returns to the future to fix the Guardian and his chronic leg injury, and then goes back to the past to win the battle, defy fate, and live happily until he dies of old age. He’s a great guy. He deserves nothing less.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer has been a Star Trek fan since the early 90s, but only started watching the series in 2009. She teaches history and reads a lot.

1. StrongDreams
Zar kidnaps the precognitive, psychic priestess who has foretold his death, marries her, falls in love, returns to the future to fix the Guardian and his chronic leg injury, and then goes back to the past to win the battle, defy fate, and live happily until he dies of old age.

Words fail me.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
2. EllenMCM
It's convoluted, but it's the kind of plot you want in a book with a topless pointy-eared elf and the biggest MacGuffin in the universe on the cover.

Or, if you want to think of it another way, it's like a very, very short version of Game of Thrones, with time travel standing in for incest.
Mordicai Knode
4. mordicai
Oh man but the best part is when Spock is in the middle of a Game of Thrones-esque battle just killing dudes with all the Pon-Far weapons.
5. StrongDreams
Ellen, will you be reviewing Spock, Messiah? I think it's the only TOS-era novel I read,* and I rather liked it, and I'm curious whether my 14 year-old judgement was as bad as I'm afraid it was.

*other than New Voyages, which really was fanfic, as I recall.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
6. EllenMCM
StrongDreams, I do not appear to have a copy of Spock, Messiah in my posession at this time. I think it's OK to trust your 14-year-old judgment of literary quality. I also think it's fun to go back and see what the heck was going on there and how you feel about it now.

Mordicai, that was a pretty awesome part. I'm all for the deployment of Pon Farr weapons. I'm still kind of sad I didn't pick up the Pon Farr battle Christmas ornament while I had the chance.

Also, I don't know for sure who did it (I suspect Chris), but my thanks to whoever put the "click here to enlarge this glorious thing" link on the Time for Yesterday cover.
7. Lesley A
I love these two books! Ann Crispin is a fun writer (and I've read her other stuff too) and Zar is one of my favourite characters-who-was-never-actually-in-the-Old-Series-but-should-have-been!
Debbie Solomon
8. dsolo
Yesterday's Son was the first Star Trek novel I ever read, and I loved it (and I was not 13). I met Ann Crispin when she was a guest at our local Star Trek fan club's Trek Fest. She was a lovely person.

It's been years since I read any Trek novels, but I would never have read any if I hadn't liked Yesterday's Son. Pretty much all Trek books are published fanfiction, since they are not considered canon. Are they great literature? No. Are they entertaining? Mostly.

My other favorites were written by Peter David and our mostly Next Gen. Will those be reviewed? This trip down memory lane is enjoyable.
Shelly wb
9. shellywb
You do know that there are quite a few people who haven't read The Hunger Games? I've read Yesterday's Son though and I still have no idea what you're talking about in the fourth paragraph because I can't decipher it.

I have read almost all of the TOS tie-ins. I haven't returned to these two because they were poorly written and out of character.
Karen Bovenmyer
10. maxmelig
I read these in high school in the 90s--I loved them. I also loved Uhura's Song. Young dumb me was so "proud" of herself because she had loads of science fiction books she loved, which, obviously, were written by men, "superior" to the "junk novels" sold at garage sales (I turned my young nose up at romance--I finally picked up one in curiosity, The Kadin by Beatrice Small, read it, loved it, hid it under my bed so no one would know I had).

All my SF/D&D friends & the famous SF writers I heard about as a teen were guys, so why not? When I got to college and started reading short stories by SF writers, I was shocked to discover my favorites were by women. I dug back through my adolescent reading habits, my very favorite Star Treks... all by women (with the exception of Peter David). I couldn't have been more blown away! Life revelation! A.C. Crispin, a girl! Writing from a boy's point of view! Unpossible!
My Star Trek New Voyages short story anthology all by women too?!?! WHAT? (StrangeDreams, I hear you!)
(There's a particuarly awesome-to-a-14-yr-old story where Spock loses his memory and falls in love with fairies... The Enchanted Pool by Marcia Ericson. Side note:: These are listed as fan fiction anthos, I wouldn't have known fan fiction from a hole in the ground back then, now I avoid it. This certainly causes me to challenge my 2010s 30-something snobbery!)

I just read The Hunger Games and liked your comment there too. Everyone else, go read them. It will take you a day or two, and although I had problems believing in a future where no one cares about anyone else anymore, except for three teenagers, I was addicted to the "flavor" Collins conjured for me.
Michael Poteet
11. MikePoteet
Another fun review, although I have to admit I loved both these novels at the time. YS is by far the better one, but I read TFY when my family was making a major move (from NC to TX) in the middle of my high school career. I was seriously sad, and, having no friends yet in the new place, relied on the Trek characters I'd "befriended" back "home."

I also remember Crisipin's introduction vividly - in fact, it is the only part of the book I ever re-read, when I started thinking about trying to write fiction. I actually appreciate her honesty, and her image of writing fan fiction as being like swimming in a shallow, heated pool: not altogether bad and a modicum of exercise, but not as good as going all out and plunging into the cold, untested deep end. I know from experience she's right: after I had a story published in the second Strange New Worlds volume (!!shameless plug alert--still available in ebook format!!), I found it much harder to craft my own stories. Even thinly disguising stories that had originally been fan fiction didn't work. I still find it harder (which probably explains why I write nonfiction these days). (Come to think of it, my SNW story also involved a child of Spock, so I owe a larger debt to A.C. Crispin than I realized!)

I too, liked the connection you make to The Hunger Games. It's like "The Gamesters of Triskelion," only, y'know, really good.
S Tieh
12. infinitieh
Wow, how did I manage to miss these books in my teen years? I only remember the James Blish ones in the school library.

I only have read the first two books in the Hunger Games trilogy. For some reason, killing off - or trying to kill off - teens bother me when the kids are basically good kids, like Katniss and crew. It doesn't bother me if the kids are deliquents, like in "Yu Yu Hakashu". Hm...
Michael Poteet
13. MikePoteet
@12 - You probably know this, but the whole situation in Hunger Games is supposed to bother you... the injustice and cruelty of Panem's government is, of course, a major theme. This is off-Trek topic, but give it another try. I am doing so, in wake of the film, and there's a lot of meaty stuff there.
14. Sue Lee
I've got several TOS favorites. But the best of those is hands down Ishamel.

Here come the brides and Bonanza wrapped up in one great story.
15. Zeno
I haven't read either of these since the early 90s. Yesterday's son was much better than the sequel.  One of the problem with the sequel is that the whole story of a Zar's planet and the politics involved  did not come off as convincing. Especially the marriage with the girl from the rival tribe. The ending also seemed like a cheat. It really did not describe what happened. Now I wonder if Ann Crispin was planning a sequel. 

The book also suffered from a trend that made me lose interest in the later Trek Novels. It seemed longer than it needed to be. As you mentioned the first part  it is not really about Zar and the problem that started the adventure ends 2/3 through. Does anyone know if Pocket Books made the writers pad the novels?

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