star trek: discovery books megareview

star trek: discovery: desperate hours (novel 2017)

by david mack

star trek tie-in novels have never been considered “canon” by anyone with the authority to make such decisions, so i’m not going to make a habit of talking about their breaks with continuity. that being said, the first discovery novel depicts an encounter between the shenzhou and the enterprise that was just immediately reduced to the status of fanfiction by the plot of season 2.

the thing is, it’s really good fanfiction.

my only real frustration with this novel is that way too much of the first few chapters is from the perspective of the colonists we’re never going to see again, including a several page-long scene from the point of view of a fighter pilot who is introduced to the reader for the first time at the beginning of the scene and unceremoniously blown out of the sky at the end of it, never to be seen again. one of the things i’ve always loved about star trek is that we experience the various worlds and situations the crew encounters through the crew. all you really need is “we got a distress signal from x planet,” okay let’s warp over there, okay let’s hail them and get a bit of an infodump. done.

in spite of that, i love this book. again, it’s nuked out of even theoretical existence by season 2 of discovery, but the interactions between burnham and spock, georgiou and pike, and especially saru and number one are freaking awesome and in the case of burnham and spock i honestly kinda prefer this profic fanfic version to what we actually got in the show! also i’m openly desperate for more shenzhou stories, so having that thirst satiated is pretty much always going to be a huge win in my book.

on top of that, the problem discovery and enterprise have to tackle together is super original and interesting. it includes a number of satisfying ethical dilemmas, great character conflict, and an unbelievably cathartic scene of captains georgiou and pike telling off a planetary governor for being a corporate shill. a-rank

star trek: discovery: the light of kahless (comic 2017-18)

writers: kirsten beyer & mike johnson
artist: tony shasteen

just an extended flashback about discovery season 1 klingons, and i super hate what season 1 of discovery did with the klingons, so yeah shockingly i didn’t like this one too much? i also wasn’t a big fan of the art. like, the lines were fine but there often wasn’t enough contrast between the background and the foreground so it was occasionally really hard to see what was going on in a panel without studying it carefully.

oh, it did have a lot of unintentionally horny dialogue though so that was nice. didn’t make me like the story any more or anything, but at least it kept me entertained. come to think of it that was basically how i reacted to the klingons in season 1 of discovery. “i hate this writing but i’m pretty thirsty for them.” so i guess they did a good job of capturing what the show conveyed. c-rank

star trek: discovery: drastic measures (novel 2018)

by dayton ward

this novel places both of star trek: discovery’s1 first two captains (georgiou and lorca) as up-and-coming lieutenant commanders in the thick of the tarsus iv massacre referred to in the tos episode “the conscience of the king.” lorca is in charge of a federation outpost on tarsus iv, and georgiou is in charge of field operations for the first wave of relief efforts to the beleaguered colony world.

i kind of didn’t need this backstory, and i’m not really sure anyone else did? was anyone really hoping for more on this when they saw that tos episode?2 and having so many principle players from discovery as well as captain april’s enterprise involved conspired to make the universe feel way smaller, which is pretty much always a pet peeve of mine.

one interesting thing to wrap my head around, though, is that this is probably the only depiction we’ve ever gotten of prime universe gabriel lorca? like, i was ready to say that i kind of didn’t buy lorca as a guy who had served planetside for any length of time, but then i realized that at the end of the day i actually don’t know anything about prime universe lorca, so i had no basis to say that. kind of a head trip.

given that, it feels a bit weird that the book kind of brings lorca to a place where he has a reason to be disenchanted about the federation’s ideals and misanthropic in general. and there wasn’t a lot done to depict him as substantially different than his mirror universe counterpart. he even has the weird quirk about fortune cookies.

my original, unresearched guess was that the author didn’t know lorca was going to be revealed to be from the mirror universe until he had already finished the book and he tacked on the epilogue to account for that but didn’t change anything in the main body of the text.3 but after doing some digging4 i’m actually pretty convinced that isn’t the case. so at the end of the day i’m not too sure what happened there, actually.5

although i didn’t really necessarily feel like this story super needed to be told, i did like the overall structure of the book with the excerpts from one of the survivors’ books about the massacre interspersed among the narrative. the excerpts tend to be interviews with a character that’s just been introduced or done something important in the story, and it’s a nice way to get exposition dumps about those characters in a form that feels more natural and memorable than just having it forced in awkwardly in narration or dialogue.

georgiou being in charge of the relief effort doesn’t feel like it was super necessary and didn’t really give us any new insights into her or anything, but it did give us a few good character moments that reinforced things i already liked about her. we get to see her maintaining her faith in people and the federation’s ideals in the face of unspeakable tragedy, which really squares with the kind of dedication she displays to those ideals in “the vulcan hello.” she also gets great character moments with a young jim kirk6 and the little girl who grows up to write the aforementioned in-universe nonfiction book 

i think my biggest issue with the book, aside from it feeling like a somewhat unnecessary prequel, is that it at times it reads like a first draft. either that or it was edited very sloppily? there are just several moments where dialogue and narration seem redundantly similar to something that was said a paragraph or two ago, sometimes in extremely similar words. most egregiously, there were even one or two instances of the exact same sentence being repeated a few sentences later? just really sloppy stuff, imo.

basically, the main thing saving this is that there’s a pretty stable floor of “i will enjoy it at least this much” with star trek books unless they are truly atrociously written, and this one wasn’t. aside from the sloppy editing, it was fine. like, it didn’t put me to sleep or get hard to follow or anything, it just felt kind of meandering and like it was happening just because. c-rank

star trek: discovery annual 2018 (comic 2018)

writers: kirsten beyer & mike johnson
artist: angel hernández

this was a nice little backstory for stamets and the spore drive! plus the beginnings of his relationship with dr. culber.

it’s not amazing or anything, but it’s a lot different than the stories you usually get in star trek comics, and that kind of variety is nice once in a while! b-rank

star trek: discovery: succession (comic 2018)

writers: kirsten beyer & mike johnson
artist: angel hernández

this is just a pretty alright mirror universe story. not a lot else to say about it. not really the kind of story i usually go looking for. i do appreciate seeing in flashbacks that mirror georgiou was genuinely gutted when her michael died.

you know what this was really missing, though? captain killy. definitely needed more (aka any) captain killy. b-rank

star trek: discovery: fear itself (novel 2018)

by james swallow

i was thoroughly not expecting this, but this was pretty easily one of the best star trek novels i’ve ever read.

i’m always happy to return to the shenzhou, though sadly it looks like this is the last thing currently published that scratches that particular itch. i would really love a series of novels or comics set aboard the shenzhou, but it seems like media tie-in publishing isn’t favoring those sort of lengthy series like the old 80s and 90s star trek novels.7

the focus character of this novel is saru, and i love him on the show, but i wasn’t sure i was going to be super enthusiastic about a novel from his perspective? and wow, was i ever wrong on that front. and despite the limitations on this being both a media tie-in and a prequel, it managed to give him the kind of meaningful character growth that you would expect on a particularly great episode of an actual star trek series.

the structure of the overarching story is also pretty fantastic. it starts out fairly low-stakes with the shenzhou investigating a damaged probe. the tholians are in the distant background as the looming threat, but for the majority of the book it seems like they might be a red herring. things get more complicated when the shenzhou rescues a badly-damaged ship seemingly over that ship’s crew’s strenuous objections. the situation quickly escalates when a fight breaks out between that crew and their passengers, and saru–who wasn’t even supposed to still be on the ship–ends up as the senior officer present when the shenzhou’s chief engineer is incapacitated in a firefight.

saru finds himself as a hostage and struggling to maintain the confidence of his subordinate officers. at one point the pressure becomes so intense that he fabricates a reason he needs to sit alone (guarded, of course) on the docked shuttlecraft just so he doesn’t feel everyone watching him. it just feels so real and relatable, you can’t help but feel for him.

this really is the turning point of the novel, as saru’s next action is to fabricate an excuse to need to consult the rest of his landing party and he quickly wins back their confidence and devises a frankly brilliant scheme to escape their captivity. there’s a series of messy fights between various competing factions that saru navigates deftly, and when all is said and done he really does end up proving himself, even if it’s hard for him to see it.

oh, and that tholian red herring? yeah, the last few chapters are a series of three increasingly desperate space battles against them, with the shenzhou arriving just in time to join the decisive battle. pretty epic stuff. s-rank

star trek: discovery: the way to the stars (novel 2019)

by una mccormack

in a lot of ways, tilly is the beating heart of star trek: discovery. you don’t notice it at first but by the end of season 1 it’s just super obvious, and it just gets more and more obvious as time goes on. what you do notice right away is that she is such a mood. like, she’s got to be one of the most immediately relatable characters on the show to the average star trek fan.

one of my favorite things about discovery, and i think one of a lot of people’s favorite things about discovery, is that the crew isn’t nearly as… stuffy as in the next generation?8 everyone doesn’t always have to say the exact right thing at the exact right time, and we see that this isn’t incompatible with the “elevated” humanity that is so central to the franchise’s appeal. it’s okay to get excited about things in messy, awkward ways! and tilly is basically a human-shaped avatar of this approach. on top of that, she’s a genuinely great portrayal of someone who is clearly neurodiverse.9 she’s just so damn refreshing in a world where a lot of popular entertainment uses “brilliant but rude, not empathetic, and has trouble talking to people” as shorthand for anyone who isn’t neurotypical. tilly is amazing at connecting with people, and i don’t think anyone is going to accuse her of an underabundance of empathy.

… so, uh, yeah! all of that is to say that i was, you know, maybe slightly excited to read a book that’s primarily about her! this book expands on a lot of what we already got from snippets about her–overbearing mother who sounds like a huge asshole (she is), brilliant, had a “rebellious phase.” i also really appreciate the continuity between this and the 2019 annual (more on that shortly) with her father’s ship!

the book is split into three parts which are extremely unequal in terms of length but nevertheless pretty equally important. part 1 covers tilly’s transition from living on earth to living at boarding school, and takes up almost half of the book, dwarfing the other two parts. part 2 follows tilly’s brief exploits as a teenage runaway, and part 3 finds her aboard her father’s ship and is the beginning of her path to starfleet. although the other two parts are equally important and are maybe slightly more effective as page turners, part 1 is the part that i found myself relating to the hardest.

one of the big obstacles tilly faces is her inability to stand up to her mother, and how she keeps getting bullied into going along with whatever her mother wants. this is what led her to boarding school, and while she’s there despite her teacher feeling she’s excelling, her mother just refuses to be satisfied.

tilly ends up internalizing her mother’s expectations and dropping things that are genuinely fun and important to her to try to do the best she can to meet her mother’s impossible standards. she ends up obsessing over a major project and overworking herself to the point of exhaustion, and when the time comes despite all her hard work she ends up bombing the presentation because of all the pressure she’s put on herself. worse, she realizes she’s alienated all her friends and is left all alone by the end of the term.

i… found this aspect way more relatable than i wanted to. i find that i often get so focused on what i’m working on or making progress with something… chasing the next dopamine release, as it were. and as a result i end up not doing enough to maintain the relationships in my life which are actually drastically more important to me than whatever i’m working on. and that’s without the pressure of a parent or other authority figure! just the ghost of one, in the form of lingering trauma from childhood. so it’s just extremely easy to empathize with tilly here.

i knew i would probably enjoy this book, i really love me some tilly, but i didn’t expect it to be so personally meaningful and genuinely useful. yeah, there’s a lot about tilly’s life that i can’t relate to, and a lot that i’m frankly pretty jealous of! but there are equally important parts that i very much can relate to, and that made this an incredibly satisfying read. a-rank

star trek: discovery: captain saru (comic 2019)

writers: kirsten beyer & mike johnson
artist: angel hernández

this was awesome! we see saru’s first full mission as acting captain, including a bit more detail about starfleet’s decision not to give him command of the discovery after season 1. this also references two of the discovery novels, which i thought was super cool.

the mission discovery embarks on with a skeleton crew ends up having the cinematic scope of the sorts of missions they often find themselves on in the series, the art and dialogue really conveys that action quite well, and saru gets to be a bit of a badass. on the whole, this kicks some serious ass.

on a more superficial note, the baddie in this is an arrogant orion slave trader, and her henchmen are a bunch of hunky shirtless orion boys, soooo uh yeah i also appreciated that. obviously. a-rank

star trek: discovery: the enterprise war (novel 2019)

by john jackson miller

you know, early on i was a bit skeptical of this one? i didn’t think the enterprise getting embroiled in their own offscreen war really followed what we had seen in discovery, but this does actually totally fit.

despite the circumstances that seem bigger than anything alluded to in the show, every sporadic update the crew got about the federation-klingon war seemed to crush their spirits further. and they were all very explicitly dealing with feelings about their absence throughout the novel no matter how distracting or dire their immediate circumstances were.

as for those immediate circumstances, the conflict between the boundless and rengru is one of the better large-scale conflicts i’ve seen in a star trek novel. and i appreciate that resolving it required a combination of bruce force and science/diplomacy. the battles themselves are epic, we even get a rare constitution-class saucer separation!10 the book also serves as a bridge of sorts between “the cage” and pike’s enterprise’s appearances in discovery. i thought all of that was very well done.

this really did grow on me the further i got into it, and by the end of it i felt like it was definitely on one of the upper tiers of all the star trek novels i’ve read.

again, i just super appreciate that these discovery novels seem to show that the publishing arm of star trek is interested in publishing fewer but better novels that genuinely expand the world and really feel like they fit in with the story we see in the show. that wasn’t always the case in prior eras of star trek, and i’m glad it’s what we’re seeing today. a-rank

star trek: discovery: aftermath (comic 2019)

writers: kirsten beyer & mike johnson
artist: tony shasteen

yeah, this ruled! much like the saru comic expanded some of the time between the main action and final scene of discovery’s season 1 finale, this did the same with its season 2 finale.

captain pike drags spock from leave on vulcan to help him with the federation’s overtures of peace towards chancellor l’rell and the klingon empire. there’s some wonderful interactions between pike, number one, and spock, and some great action once some of the klingons try to betray l’rell. helping pike and l’rell escape this situation alive helps give spock the push he needs to resume his duties aboard the enterprise, as seen in the last scene of the season 2 finale. a-rank

star trek: discovery: dead endless (novel 2019)

by dave galanter

if i were involved in the production of star trek: discovery supplementary content i’m not sure it would have occurred to me to do a novel about hugh culber’s time in the mycelial network, and it definitely wouldn’t have occurred to me to set it largely aboard an alternate discovery with a captain michael burnham who assumed command when one gabriel lorca did in the prime universe. a captain michael burnham who formed a chosen family that’s explicitly called a family towards the end of the book with her first officer saru and their mutual surrogate mother, fleet captain phillipa georgiou.

i mean, literally all of those last few would’ve occurred to me as things to include in a fanfic au, but i wasn’t expecting to see them in commercially-released fiction. i know it didn’t seem to have much utility beyond this one story, but i want a whole series of books (or at least fanfics) set in this universe. pretty please?

anyway, in this novel alternate discovery finds itself trapped in the mycelial network and faced with a ticking clock, tons of technical problems, and eventually a first contact. also there’s an extremely sweet gay romance that bends the laws of physics to its will. that do anything for you? it certainly did something for me. s-rank

star trek: discovery: die standing (novel 2020)

by john jackson miller

i love mirror georgiou on the show because of her interactions with burnham but i knew this probably wasn’t going to be one of my favorite novels going in. for one thing i just unambiguously hate section 31, i really think the star trek universe would be better off if we just quietly retconned them out of existence.

i did enjoy the prologue showing the prime universe version of georgiou meeting with quintilian, and i also enjoyed the second prologue showing mirror georgiou in her element back in her own universe, including thinking about using other fairly powerful people as sexual playthings. at one point she literally teases a pirate friend of hers about how she tied her up in the bedroom once, and i just… i’m sorry! i’m kinky af. i enjoyed imagining finding myself under her lash. you know what? i’m actually not sorry. also once the main action of the story moves back to the prime universe, i enjoyed mirror georgiou reminiscing about owning a nightclub on qo’nos and having scantily clad hotties around all the time.

finnegan was a weird pull. frankly i could’ve gone without being reminded that that character existed. he worked fine in this story, and i appreciate that we meet him in fucking jail having washed out of starfleet. emony dax was also kind of a weird pull, but one i approved of much more. i know this is the kind of “making the world smaller” stuff i usually complain about, but frankly if you have an excuse to get a dax involved in a star trek story you just do it, in my opinion.

i did not enjoy that that jail georgiou found finnegan in was clearly abusive as fuck but nevertheless had some kind of working relationship with the federation. the need to imply that there’s a seedy underbelly to the federation is just never something i enjoy about star trek, and it’s something anything starring these section 31 chucklefucks always has to go out of its way to do, and i’m just so bored of it i’m sorry.

they did at least have admiral cornwell get all righteously angry about how bad the prison was and more than imply that she was going to push for the federation to revoke their agreement with it, but idk given the federation’s commitment to rehabilitative rather than punitive justice, it seems super weird they would farm this kind of thing out in the first place.

i just kind of hate it when people working on star trek think the only way to comment on the problems of the present are to reproduce them. star trek is at its best when it comments on these things by showing a better way.

anyway yeah this was fine but it didn’t blow me away or anything. i didn’t hate it! and there was every reason to believe i might’ve given all the factors working against it, so in the end i suppose that’s a win. b-rank

star trek: discovery: wonderlands (novel 2021)

by una mccormack

i love michael burnham and i love season 3 of star trek: discovery and i love michael burnham in season 3 of star trek: discovery. but when michael shows up in the future without discovery and meets book and starts going on dystopian space adventures, i found myself terrified that they were going to have it take a significant amount of time for her to find her way back to discovery. and i’m sorry but that’s just super not what i come to star trek for!

and, you know, technically they did do that because it took her a year to find discovery (because they arrived a year after her), but also they didn’t because it happened in literally the next episode? and i thought they did a great job of telling that story and exploring the gap between who michael was in the first episode of the season and who she was in the second episode of the season, but given that i was super relieved we didn’t have to live through that year of her life where she was on her own in this kinda terrible future i wasn’t really super excited to read the book about… that year of her life where she was on her own in this kinda terrible future?

una mccormack has a really strong grasp of michael’s character, though, and that made this a pretty good read in spite of my misgivings going into it. again this is just super not the kind of story i go to star trek for, but the execution was pretty great and there was one other huge mitigating factor that made me like the book more than i probably otherwise would have.

so, one of my favorite things about season 3 of the show aside from the fact that we went from having our first ever gay main characters to having a bonus lesbian as well as two trans/nonbinary characters who are fucking gay dating each other, and aside from the fact that its storytelling was excellent, and aside from the fact that every single episode was a banger… wait, hang on, there were a lot of things i loved about season 3 it’s almost like it was one of my favorite seasons of television ever.

okay fine, one of the extremely many things i loved about season 3 of the show was an almost blink and you miss it detail in the penultimate episode of the season. and that would be admiral vance explicitly stating that the federation opposes capitalism in every form and that that’s the biggest crux of the ideological struggle between it and the emerald chain. and like, that’s been pretty fucking obvious to anyone who’s paying attention since like at least tng, but given that the franchise has always stopped just short of actually saying that shit out loud, it was pretty cool to finally actually hear it said that straightforwardly.11

so what’s nice about this novel is it actually expands on that quite a bit, with michael ruminating at length about the harm that capitalism is doing to the world she finds herself navigating in her first year in the 32nd century. so that’s the other biggest thing this novel has going for it.

again this isn’t a story i was super excited for, and it’s definitely not one of my favorite discovery novels, but there was a lot to like about it and the quality to quantity ratio with these discovery novels continues to be tilted drastically in favor of the former and i just think that’s a super great move for everyone concerned, and i’m really looking forward to whenever the next one drops. (pleasepleaseplease let it be about adira and gray, they are so important and i love them so much, okay thank you bye.) b-rank

star trek: discovery: adventures in the 32nd century (comic 2022)

writers: kirsten beyer & mike johnson
artist: angel hernández

this miniseries is comprised of four issues, each from a specific crewmember’s point of view. the first is grudge (yes, book’s cat), and as a proud cat uncle and lifelong cat-lover, i just have to say it’s way too adorable and perfect, omg. like, easily one of the best comics i’ve ever read, let alone star trek comics.

the second, which is also unsurprisingly the one i was looking forward to the most, is about adira. i love, love, love them so much, and i especially love, love, love them with gray, so even though this is largely retreading ground we’ve already seen explored in flashbacks, i’m really never going to complain about getting more of them! honestly i’d be super into a novel or a longer comic miniseries that’s adira/gray-centric, but i appreciated this whetting my appetite and i’m just still so fucking glad that star trek is so hecking queer these days!!

the miniseries is rounded out by stories about lt. commander detmer and lt. linus. and while i do like detmer well enough and think her story went to some interesting places, i think it was probably the story i was the least hyped about if that’s fair to say? like, it was good, it was fine! it just wasn’t something i felt like i really needed on the level of some of the other characters? and like, to be perfectly honest, what i would love more than a detmer solo story is a detmer & owosekun story! i would say a story with their whole friendgroup including airiam & tilly, but to be perfectly frank as much as i love me some tilly and really like airiam, i feel like both of them have gotten plenty of fleshing out? and even detmer has, to an extent. we’ve gotten little hints of what owosekun is about, and she seems amazing from what we’ve seen? but we’ve seen precious little of her, so i’d really like to see more of her! and her and detmer seem pretty tight, so that seems like it could’ve been a good way to go. i know i’m just armchair editing here, but yeah. just my two cents.

linus’s story is delightful and genuinely deep! i sort of vaguely knew that he was supposed to be a saurian, but it’s really cool to actually get some portrayals of a species we’ve known existed since the earliest days of tos beyond “oh hey yeah they make really good brandy i hear.” like, okay, i was definitely way more into learning about his internal struggles and anxieties gelling with the crew than i was with the plot hinging on him singlehandedly saving the entire ship/crew. that felt like a bit much. but i still enjoyed this a heck of a lot.

so, yeah! taken as a sum of its parts, this is almost certainly my favorite discovery comic so far! i guess that’s not really surprising considering some of the characters involved and considering that this is exactly the sort of stuff i think expanded universe content should do for franchises, but still! i’m glad this lived up to my fairly high expectations! a-rank

notes

1. before you get ready to type that “well, actually” comment–i mean the show, not the ship!

2. for that matter, how many people even remember that tos episode?

3. the structure of the book also seemed suggestive to me because the epilogue actually comes after the acknowledgements and about the author sections, by the way, which i don’t think i’ve ever seen in another book before? it almost makes it feel like a “post-credits” scene. also this book was published in february of 2018 and lorca was revealed to be from the mirror universe in a january 2018 episode, so at first glance the timing would seem to line up, too.

4. my understanding after looking into it a bit is that the discovery writer’s room is actually unusually involved in the production of the tertiary materials like comics and novels, so that would seem to discount this explanation.

5. another possibility that probably occurs to some people here is that lorca being from the mirror universe was decided late in the show’s run, and i kind of wondered that too given the production chaos and high turnover of top-level show creatives, but, again, nope! jason isaacs has confirmed in multiple interviews that this was always the intention for the character.

6. this cameo was basically mandatory, so it’s not one of the “making the universe feel smaller” deals i was complaining about earlier.

7. the tradeoff is that what we are getting seems to be of a much more consistent quality than when we were getting just piles of novels and comics. i’m pretty okay with this trade.

8. i hope it’s pretty obvious from my reviews of the series that i do love the next generation. this isn’t a dig against it.

9. i’m not going to put a specific diagnosis in the show’s mouth, but as someone who is autistic and has adhd, i frequently feel very seen by how her character is presented.

10. it even fits into what semi-canonical sources have long said about the constitution class version of the saucer separation, with the enterprise being unable to reconnect the saucer and stardrive sections to each other without assistance.

11. also like, an extremely vocal minority of the show’s fans have somehow been missing that memo this whole time, so it’s not like no one needed it spelled out.


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