Following the successes of her 1986 Star Trek novels, Dreadnought! and Battlestations! Diane Carey took another run at the Star Trek mythos in Final Frontier, a giant novel about Kirk’s dad. Not to be confused with the movie of the same title, Carey’s 1988 novel describes George Kirk’s involvement with the first ever mission of the as-yet-unnamed Enterprise, the first starship ever constructed, under the command of its first captain, Robert April. They’re off to rescue a colony ship from an ion storm, when a computer malfunction sends them on a side-trip to the heart of the Romulan Empire. George and Robert spend most of the story embroiled in an argument about the ethical use of physical force, allowing Carey to spend a lot of time explaining her political views, in case you missed them in the earlier books.
Carey is engrossed in her love affair with Ayn Rand. This is not without precedent – Piper’s lecture to Sarda in their prison cell in Dreadnought! is a reasonable, if ironically-timed, summary of Atlas Shrugged. This embrace of personal striving would be understandable if Star Trek was Little House on the Prairie in space, but you really cannot pretend that your life path is entirely a result of individual striving and/or your ability to escape from a society that robs individuals of the rewards of their achievements in order to serve the needs of those who do nothing WHEN YOU ARE FLYING THROUGH SPACE IN A SHIP YOU DIDN’T BUILD.
As far as I can tell, Robert April’s past actions did not fund the construction of the starship he is flying around in with a hand-picked crew, nor does his effort to prove something about the use of force justify his decision to abduct of some of the crew members who come along on his mission. Little Jimmy Kirk has done nothing to earn the sailboat his dad is saving up to buy him. Ayn Rand has done nothing to earn a place in the hearts and minds of Star Trek fans. And while I’m sure she’s an amazing person, Carey didn’t build this fictional universe. They’re all playing with someone else’s toys, and then claiming that they built the toys themselves. Carey tries to slap a patch over this hole in her philosophy with an anti-violence quotation from Rand at the end of the book, which makes the story seem like a 434-page effort to call Kirk’s dad a dick. It’s clear that Carey doesn’t care about him.
Carey’s interests lie with the fictional embodiment of her personal philosophy, Captain Robert April. Unfortunately for Carey’s thesis, she has not picked up Rand’s ability to craft a compelling fictional world that neatly proves her point, albeit in a completely fictional way. April’s decision-making is capricious to the point of stupidity.
Also, he wears a cable-knit cardigan.
If internal temperatures on a starship prototype cannot be maintained in a comfortable range for an all-human crew, I feel strongly that this should be regarded as an early sign of an alarming situation with the environmental control systems, not an opportunity to explore the world of fashionable knit-wear.
And indeed, there is a problem with the environmental control systems. They’re offline in large parts of the ship. These sections, unused because the as-yet-unnamed prototype is cruising with a skeleton crew, are being maintained at absolute zero and zero G. Isn’t that a safety hazard? Yes, especially with the automated sliding doors starships are so famous for. A wolf-like creature inadvertently beamed up from an alien planet and a Romulan spy both fall prey to these unsecured danger zones. Both were being pursued by security teams at the time of their unfortunate accidents. If those teams had been slightly more efficient, they would have been freeze-dried. And floating. Until someone flipped the gravity on. Using the wall switch. Yes, Virginia, some decks on our brave little flying dinner plate have gravity that can be switched on and off from a wall switch. Some sort of dimmer might have been more humane, but it hardly mattered to the Romulan spy, who froze to death before he hit the floor and shattered.
The next important piece of any rescue mission should probably be medical staff. You need the best possible care for families with radiation poisoning. Hire your vet! Or your girlfriend! Too many decisions? Date your vet! I commend Robert April for finding a DVM who also holds an MD, surely one of the few people in the Federation ever to leave practice for many more years of training and student loan repayment in order to work in the lower-paid field of veterinary medicine. I do not commend him for redecorating her workspace with lit candles in order to ensure romantic ambiance for the delivery of a letter (from the bridge? They are on the same ship!) containing his marriage proposal, at the crucial moment when she finally has radiation-sick children who desperately need medical care.
Wait, aren’t there Romulans in this book? Yes, though they join everyone but Robert April on the list of characters Carey doesn’t care about. The interesting Romulan dies horribly. So does the fascist Romulan. That leaves the crafty Romulan politician who likes gardening, and some humans who somehow wound up in the Romulan Empire during the Romulan War and decided to become secret agents. How would you spot a human acting as a secret agent for the Romulan Empire? They don’t let their foods touch. Suddenly, my 5-year-old’s eating habits look highly suspicious. What about that last Romulan? There’s a vet handy to bob his ears.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.