Dec 9 2013 10:00am

Vulcans and the Women Who Love Them: A.C. Crispin’s Sarek

Sarek Star Trek A C CrispinThe addictive thing about books is the way they lead in to one another. In the opening chapters of Libriomancer, Jim Hines refers to a Star Trek novel by A.C. Crispin, and I had to put his book down to look that one up. Tragically, the book Hines referred to was fictional, but it led me to Crispin’s actual 1994 novel, Sarek.

Crispin was the author of my first encounters with Star Trek. She was one of the writers who told me that Star Trek was for and about people like me. I reviewed two of her novels some months back with phasers set firmly on snark; The Yesterday Saga was both precious and hilarious. Sarek was one of the more serious Star Trek novels—un-numbered and published in hardcover. It offers a detailed and attentive examination of Federation politics and a massive quantity of character development. Sarek is the Star Trek novel equivalent of a glass of Riesling—sweet and light, but indisputably grown up.

Although Sarek is the main protagonist, the book’s emotional heart lies in its exploration of Spock’s mother, Amanda. Despite her obvious importance in Spock’s life, and her role as an informal cultural liaison between Earth and Vulcan, Amanda existed on the periphery of the original television series and its movies. She’s important because of her husband and son, not in her own right. All she got in the 2009 reboot was a death that was vaguely, and probably unintentionally, reminiscent of Delacroix’s Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi—both included rocks and some kind of drape-y garments, but the Delacroix painting had more emotional impact.

Crispin makes artful use of Amanda as a living symbol of the alliance between Earth and Vulcan, deploying Amanda’s reflections on the canonically recorded events of her life to shed light on Amanda herself, as well as her relationships to Spock, Sarek, Earth, and Vulcan. Amanda is a bridge between Earth and Vulcan, and the bridge between Spock and Sarek. She’s also an incredibly unique person in a unique place in the Federation. Her indispensability and her frailty torment her family as Earth/Vulcan relations become increasingly fraught and the post-Khitomer diplomatic situation deteriorates. I don’t perfectly recall the details of the Khitomer accords, but Crispin isn’t giving a quiz, so it’s all right.

As Spock and Sarek struggle to come to terms with each other and the emerging crisis, Kirk’s nephew Peter wrestles with the pressures and expectations of having Captain James T. Kirk as his only living relative. While preparing to face the Kobayashi Maru, Peter dabbles in political espionage. This results in his abduction by Klingons, and ultimately, in his romance with Valdyr, an ambitious young Klingon woman. Their budding relationship echoes the Sarek and Amanda’s in intergalactic significance, though not in pace or emotional restraint. Crispin’s examination of the early days of Sarek and Amanda’s courtship is deeply romantic, if you like your lovers stoic. Peter and Valdyr offer an alternative for those who prefer their lovers trapped and conflicted. For both couples, love builds bridges that promise to last beyond death. The romance here is classy romance—Kirk is limited to rescue missions. The weighty motifs Cripin builds in her characters’ relationships are balanced by an action-packed plot. Nefarious Romulans, Vulcan trafficking, an intergalactic mind-control conspiracy, and a cabal of Klingons bent on revenge against Kirk keep the novel moving swiftly. Sarek is revealed as an amazingly versatile diplomatic operative, skilled in chess, espionage, and poison-sword dueling.

Crispin was a talented writer, and her contributions to the Star Trek universe are legion. Sarek was one of her more significant works. I highly recommend it. Sadly, it is no longer in print. Amazon offers a Kindle version, and it’s also available for Nook. I love my Kindle, but I don’t consider it a strong platform for Star Trek—I can read the words just fine, but I miss out on the cover art. Sarek’s cover is a standard-issue three-heads-and-a-starship treatment; its most notable features are Sarek’s forehead and Kirk’s toupee. You can probably get by without it. Unfortunately, the sins of the Kindle are magnified by a substantial number of missing section breaks. Action shifts between settings without so much as a signaling line break at several points,. Motivated readers will be able to handle the intuitive leaps this requires, but used copies are probably the best approach to holiday gift-giving, and for readers who like to be told when they’ve moved across the galaxy and are talking to different people.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer has a number of completely ridiculous ideas for re-designing Sarek’s cover to bring it in line with the Yesterday’s Saga art.

Classic Appa
1. Classic Appa
I love my Kindle too but I hate when they translate a book to electronic format with no consideration to formatting. Section breaks and the like are important! You can't just leave them as an extra page break; you need to put in some sort of delineation of a new section, publishers!
Liz J
2. Ellisande
This was one of my favorites. She did an excellent job of translating the Sarek and Amanda that I saw in my head into fully realized characters.

The dedication to Mark Lenard always gets me, but I'm also glad that he was able to read it and know what his portrayal inspired. For, what, 90 minutes of total screentime spread across thirty years, he made quite an impact. Between this one and Spock's World, they were both the ones that I thought did Sarek, Amanda, and even Vulcans in general the most justice.

Though, lol, apparently I skimmed Peter's sections since I wouldn't have been able to tell you he was in this, until this post reminded me.
David Stumme
3. grenadier
Just to be clear, the formatting issues are not the fault of the Kindle itself. It can only display what's fed into it. If the publishers are doing slipshod conversions to electronic format, that's hardly Amazon's fault.

I suspect that more recent Trek e-Books are better formatted, but when Sarek came out in eBook formats, the audience was much more limited, and the attention paid to little things like formatting and spelling was less than it (hopefully) is now. I bought a ton of the Trek books on my Palm PDA, and they were full of problems like the ones mentioned here for "Sarek."
Classic Appa
4. Michael Capobianco
An unabridged audiobook of SAREK and an abridged audio version read by Mark Lenard are available from Audible.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
5. EllenMCM
@1 and @3 - I'm grateful for the availability, even with errors. That said, it would be awesome if the publisher updated the files to address these problems.

@2 - There was a TON going on in this book. It all made sense while I was reading it, which I think speaks to the sense of gleeful opportunity with which Cripin approached the ST universe.
Brendan Rose-Silverberg
6. Balesirion
I quite like this one, except for the way that it retcons the conspiracy in Undiscovered Country to be a Romulan plot, which I think undercuts some of the themes of that film. Interestingly, it also seems to portray a different story of the early days of Amanda and Sarek's relationship than Spock's World, although I think I prefer this version, which has more subtlety to it.

Overall a quite good read, for the reasons you stated above, and one of my favorite Star Trek novels, although I haven't actually read that many.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
7. EllenMCM
@6 - I had forgotten the Spock's World version. I re-read it. They're nice contrasts to each other. I like having both.
Classic Appa
8. Zeno

I've meaning to comment on for awhile now.This is another very good review. The only thing I disagree with you on is the Peter subplot. It seemed as if it was in the book just to fill up pages and make this a "giant size" novel. The whole romance angle was unconvining. Not to mention superflous to the main story of Sarek.

As far as the main story goes,the only thing that it could have had was a talk with Spock and Sarek about their relationship. Maybe with Sarek saying he was too hard on Spock when he was a kid. Some might argue Vulcans do not believe in talking about their feelings and that would be out of character but I disagree given their relationship.

Speaking of out of character,Sarek's courting of Amanda in Spock's World was way out of character. It suprises me more people do not mention this. Sarek laughing out loud? Diane Duane is usually good with characters but this was one rare instance that she got it wrong.

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