Welcome to my beloved Star Trek novels shelf. In an earlier review, I mentioned the high caliber of novels written in the 1980’s and 1990s. Many of these novels were written by women. Diane Carey has written thirty-nine Star Trek novels to date. You’d think at that speed she wouldn’t be able to produce much quality, but her novels are great – exciting, thoughtful, and often highlighting lesser-known characters or introducing new characters who have their own adventures. My favorite is Dreadnought, which introduces Lieutenant Piper.
Piper is a hotshot with dreams of her own command who is thrilled to find herself posted to the Enterprise. Alas for Piper, before she even gets a chance to change from her civvies into her uniform, she’s implicated in a treason plot. Piper and her roommates form a mirror group to Kirk’s command group. Piper is the boss and the first-person narrator of the book. She’s human, but has never been to Earth before Command School (she’s descended from colonists of Proxima Beta, another planet). Scanner is the tech guy. He’s human, from the American South. Merete is the doctor (she’s another human descendent of colonists). And Sarda is Vulcan.
Piper has another roommate who is a Gorn. I would have loved for the Gorn to have been part of the team, although the Gorn doesn’t seem to communicate verbally so no telling how that would have worked out. Presumably due to this issue, the Gorn is sadly left behind. One of my favorite things about the novels is that, unlike the show, they are unconstrained by technological and budgetary limits, and therefore they have the opportunity to introduce more unusual alien species. Authors Barbara Hambly and Diane Duane had a lot of fun introducing all kinds of bizarre life forms. It was a disappointment to start the book in that direction and quickly devolve into a book in which everyone looks human with the exception of pointy ears.
Piper and Sarda have a complicated history in which she spilled some secrets about him “for his own good” at Starfleet Academy and then proceeded to bully him about being Vulcan. This kind of bigotry is omnipresent in Star Trek: The Original Series. It’s a show that very much pushes for inclusion, and yet has an odd dynamic in that people feel compelled to constantly needle Spock about being Vulcan without actually trying to understand him. McCoy is the most blatant offender, with his comments usually being played for laughs. It’s refreshing to see that Piper quickly realizes how inappropriate her reactions to Sarda are. Instead of continually trying to challenge him to behave in a more human manner, she starts to educate herself about Vulcan history and education, and she becomes more respectful of Sarda’s boundaries. This allows them to develop a healthy balance that nicely mirrors the Kirk/Spock relationship and even improves on that relationship a bit.
Piper is brash, awkward, nervous, and very young. In the course of this book and the sequel, Battlestations, it’s great fun to watch her mature as a leader. This isn’t a heavy book, but it has some substance behind it as people deal with cultural and ethical problems. It’s one of my go-to books for the bathtub, or when I’m sick. When I was nursing my baby, who wanted to be held all the time, I read piles of Star Trek novels, because they were fast reads that kept my attention and neither strained nor insulted my intelligence, and because they were lightweight paperbacks that I could hold in one hand when I had a baby in the other.
The other time in my life when I read a lot of Star Trek novels was high school. Whatever flaws these novels have, they were instrumental in introducing me to the work of many women who were writing science fiction, and they matter-of-factly placed female characters in leadership positions. This was long before Star Trek: Voyager. I was thrilled and astonished at the idea that women would be starship captains, but these books treated the concept of women in high positions of power across multiple disciplines as a matter of course. It’s largely thanks to these novels that I never thought of science fiction as something that was “for boys.” I’ll always be grateful to the women of the Star Trek novels for helping me believe that Space, actual and literary, is a Frontier for everyone.