I love Star Trek. I have for nearly 15 years now, ever since I saw J.J. Abrams’ reboot film in the theatre back in 2009. In that time, I’ve watched all the shows, seen all the films, eagerly anticipated the arrival of new projects since the franchise has seen a new renewed life on the small screen, and grown to admire Trek more and more. But in all that time, I’ve never found my way around to the vast swathes of Star Trek novels that exist. So when I finally got the chance to read and review one, I found David Mack’s Star Trek: Harm’s Way to be the perfect introduction to the literary final frontier.
Star Trek: Harm’s Way follows the crew of the original USS Enterprise, led by Captain Kirk, during its 5-year mission. Specifically, we pick up only a handful of days after the calamitous events of the classic Star Trek: The Original Series episode “The Doomsday Machine.” This was a real treat for me as that episode is a personal favorite of mine, and getting to see the toll those events have taken on the crew, especially Kirk, is something I didn’t know I needed – but I am incredibly grateful to David Mack for this. Digging into a more vulnerable side of the good Captain is a great hook to set up the stressful situation he and his crew will face throughout the novel.
The stressful situation at the heart of Star Trek: Harm’s Way is a minefield of political and scientific problems relating to Starfleet’s mysterious Project Vanguard. On one side, we have the USS Enterprise tasked with heading into the Klingon Neutral Zone to rescue a missing scientist from a primitive. On another, we have the personnel of Project Vanguard and their scout ship, the USS Sagittarius, also tasked with finding this missing scientist. And on yet another side, we have the Klingon ISS SuvwI’ and her captain, Kang (from both The Original Series and Deep Space Nine), tasked with finding a Klingon scientist who has also gone missing on the same planet. As you can tell, things get complicated fast.
For those versed in Trek lore, Project Vanguard may sound familiar. Star Trek: Harm’s Way is a sort of follow-on to David Mack’s Star Trek: Vanguard series of novels. But rest assured, the book expertly gets the uninitiated up to speed quickly with the various characters and the Project’s primary goal. I was left wanting to dive into the Vanguard series at the first possible opportunity, perhaps the highest compliment a book like this can receive. The crews of the Enterprise and the SuvwI’ don’t get shortchanged in this focus on Vanguard’s activities. In fact, there is ample time devoted to all these factions without losing sight of the mission at hand.
What could have been a miscalculation on Mack’s part – numerous POV characters, ends up being one of the biggest strengths of Star Trek: Harm’s Way. The individual voice of each character we follow is always unique, be it Spock’s logical thinking or Kang’s sense of honor, and allows different but always informative insight into these characters’ motivations and reactions to the increasingly complicated situation they have found themselves in.
When a small away team of Starfleet and Klingon crew find themselves stranded on the planet while searching for their missing scientists and beset by forces best left unsaid in what is intended to be a spoiler-free review, we see an uneasy truce between these two factions struck up. This is a particular highlight of Star Trek: Harm’s Way, seeing these two very different groups butt up against each other and try and find a way of surviving. All the while providing a fun, early look at the peace achieved during the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and further explored in The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.
While the ground teams are striking up a truce, Kirk and Kang are engaging in some classic Cold War submarine warfare, attempting to one-up the other without plunging Starfleet and the Klingon Empire into all-out war. This evokes the starship battles seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan without ever being a direct carbon copy of what happened there, proving David Mack to be someone who implicitly understands what Trek should be while bringing a new take to classic situations.
All in all, I can’t recommend Star Trek: Harm’s Way enough. From being thoroughly invested in the character journeys at its heart to its engagingly well-written story, David Mack has produced a winner here, and I hope you find yourselves checking it out too. I can’t wait to dive into more of Star Trek’s literary final frontier soon.
Star Trek: Harm’s Way is available now from all good bookstores and digital storefronts.