Volume 2, Number 2, April 1984

Star Trek and Freedom


By Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath

Reviewed by Michael Grossberg
April, 1984

The Wounded Sky

By Diane Duane

Reviewed by Michael Grossberg
April, 1984

Black Fire

By Sonni Cooper

Reviewed by Michael Grossberg
April, 1984

No, I'm not a trekkie.

But I will confess that I loved Star Trek and still enjoy reading an occasional Star Trek novel. Okay, I admit that I've read all the Star Trek novels. In self defense, I'd like to explain the factors that make up the great appeal of the Star Trek phenomenon. Star Trek was the first breakthrough into the popular culture of TV, and later movies and cartoons and comics, of romantic science fiction—as Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath explained in detail, with a proper bow to Ayn Rand's The Romantic Manifesto, in their nonfiction book Star Trek Lives. Self-described Jeffersonian (i.e. a neo-libertarian) liberal Gene Roddenberry created a TV series offering many Star Trek fans their first contact with a vision of the world in which ideals mattered—despite the all-too-frequent failure of the Starship Enterprise crew to follow its libertarian "non-interference ethic" when push came to shove.

In the 1983 crop of the Star Trek series, there are three novels that really stand out: Black Fire, The Wounded Sky, and Triangle.

Black Fire offers the most exciting story, a brilliant plot reminiscent of Captain Blood, Scaramouche, and other swashbuckling pirate tales by Sabatini. Investigating sabotage on the Enterprise, Spock forms an unlikely alliance with the Romulan and Klingon Empires against a savage race for whom aggression and authoritarianism are ideals and a full-time occupation. Declared traitor by the Federation, Spock becomes a 23rd century pirate; forcing Captain Kirk to risk a lifelong friendship to save what the dust jacket calls the "free universe."

The Wounded Sky offers more psychological depth into Star Trek's color characters than any other novel in the series. The plot—about the Enterprise's efforts to test, and then repair the disastrous consequences, of the Intergalactic Inversion Drive invented by an alien scientist—serves mainly as an excuse for author Diane Duane to explore the spiritual ideals of leadership, reason, love, integrity and service personified by Kirk, Spock, McCoy: Scotty, Uhura, Chekov and Sulu.

Which isn't to say that the story doesn't work—it does—but Duane understands the characters so well that she succeeds in opening up new levels in their characterization. And this achievement is so impressive in its emotional impact that it overshadows everything else about The Wounded Sky, even its aliens who are more imaginative and fully realized than in any other Star Trek novel.

Triangle, which dramatizes the issue of individualism versus collectivism, offers the most philosophical insight into the Star Trek universe and characters. It could, in fact, be read as a fictional footnote for Marshak and Culbreath's earlier, non-fiction book, Star Trek Lives. Would that it could be read as more than that, because the book's theme does not fully succeed in integrating its plot and characterization. I wish that Marshak and Culbreath had more of Duane's ability to make the characters real, because much of Triangle remains abstract, a philosophical rather than personal story of Kirk and Spock's struggle for individuation and personal rights against a collectivist telepathic group entity.

Still, because of the thematic focus of its plot, it deserves to be nominated for this year's Prometheus Award. While it won't be the best novel nominated this year, nor the best novel in the Star Trek series, it will rank highly in both categories.

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