Imagine there was a story with no limits – no budget, no censors, no rules. Imagine it was about James T. Kirk’s first mission with the Enterprise. Imagine it featured a My Little Pony. Guess what? That’s been written!
In Vonda McIntyre’s Enterprise: The First Adventure, Captain Kirk gets to carry a vaudeville act around Starfleet’s more remote space stations where morale is crappy. And that is why there is a winged horse in the Enterprise’s shuttle bay.
This novel is an awe-inspiring creation. The winged horse contributes a lot to this. It’s a carnivore because it’s part raptor, and it’s a million colors like a peacock, but it cannot actually fly (except possibly in one-tenth G, but as of the beginning of the book, no one has been able to arrange that). It’s an elegant pony-flavored McGuffin. I am deeply distressed that Boris Vallejo did not paint it on the book cover. The pony is part of the touring vaudeville company, because vaudeville has managed to survive into the 23rd century, and will not just make everyone on the remoter space stations more depressed. The company is led by an attractive young woman, whose control of a space-going touring vaudeville company at the tender age of 21 is analogous to James T. Kirk’s control of the Enterprise at the tender age of 29. We discover this in the midst of the change-of-command ceremony at which Kirk takes control of the Enterprise, meets his new crew, talks to his family about his divorce, and picks a fight with the Starfleet brass all at once. And with that, McIntyre has taken her readers from zero to “Wait, what?” at least three times in the first 73 pages. And I haven’t even told you about Kirk’s drunken encounter with a rhododendron.
There’s no way you could have a Star Trek novel JUST about the Enterprise ferrying some performers to remote starbases. You also need at least one Klingon and a new species to make first contact with. McIntyre will not fail you on either front. She offers a variety of Klingons, ranging from pirates to high-ranking government officials. The pirate, Koronin, is the most interesting. She has a pet monkey named Starfleet and prefers swords to energy weapons. This is an odd choice for a space-criminal, but it keeps the plot moving in those moments when things need to be sliced up. The remainder of the Klingons stomp around trying to retrieve the ship Koronin has stolen. They are also the first Klingon audience to hear the soliloquy from Hamlet, albeit in a mangled form.
The new species are a little like telepathic flying monkeys. They appear in an absolutely enormous craft in a tiny finger of Federation space perilously close to the Klingon Empire. Although they initially seem primitive, it turns out that their ship maintains an interior gravity of about one-tenth G, and, somewhat more impressively, moves the universe. Spock goes insane in an attempt to learn their language via mind meld. He gets better.
What else do you need to make a Star Trek novel complete? Some interesting revelations about Spock? Meet his cousin, Stephen! Stephen is disreputable because of his fascination with emotions, and also because he signs on to the vaudeville company as a juggler. He has a cat, and is good with winged horses and 21-year-old vaudeville company managers. Spock disapproves. Not enough for you? How about multiple species of impossibly-expensive-to-film aliens? There’s a warrior-like cat species whose members greet each other with insults and then make out. There’s a beast with claws on its knees and a deep appreciation of Earth cocktails. Want more revelations about peripheral characters? Janice Rand’s basket-weave beehive is both a personal and a political statement, and she has an aptitude for graphic design.
While the novel has an undeniable screwball intensity, it also has a serious side. Kirk is recovering from serious combat injuries. His best friend, Gary Mitchell, is hospitalized and comatose, recovering from injuries Kirk feels personally responsible for. He’s floundering, both personally and professionally. Spock and Scotty request transfers. Uhura has grave reservations. The unexpected first contact with the flying monkeys enlivens their USO mission, but does not rescue Kirk from his uncertainty. This bitterness balances the novel’s essential sweetness, and offers fascinating insights into how the relationships between these characters grew.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.