Monday, July 13, 2009

Book Review: Strangers from the Sky and Spock's World

Strangers from the Sky by Margaret Wander Bonanno and Spock’s World by Diane Duane

As a general rule of thumb, I try to avoid reading Star Trek novels, not because they’re all terrible, quite a few of the ones I’ve read have been very good (though the lack of effect on the cannon is upsetting) but rather because of my aims as a writer. Essentially, I want to write science fiction, and my exposure to science fiction has already been so steeped in the world of Star Trek that I want my science fiction resources to be expanded (I also generally apply the same principle to Star Wars books). However, I was recently down in Mexico for my sister’s wedding, and despite spending a lot of time exploring Peubla I still had a great deal of downtime in which to do reading. Because of this, I finished the two books I’d brought with me and turned to reading two Star Trek books my mom had brought with her. So, I read and enjoyed them and it seems appropriate to do a review of them.

The first book was called Strangers from the Sky, and detailed a Vulcan crash landing on Earth prior to the official first contact with the alien race, as well as an adventure of Kirk and Spock that happened early in their careers. The book is an older one, and fills in a lot of details regarding the early space exploration of Earth that have afterward been filled in differently by the show. The second was called Spock’s World and dealt with Vulcan considering succeeding from the Federation, as well as chapters on the history of Vulcan.

Both are actually quite interesting reads, and for the most part their conception of things are better than what the shows eventually demonstrated. For one thing, Earth is not a boring monoculture, but still has a plethora of languages and belief systems. Of the two novels, Strangers is the better, mostly because of its portrayal of the Vulcans. Spock’s World attempts to give the Vulcans a greater cultural range than we usually see, and has some interesting ideas about the Vulcan conception of God, but unfortunately the author goes a bit too far with Vulcan’s having emotions to the point where they don’t really feel like Vulcans anymore. On the other hand, Strangers is brilliant in its portrayal of Vulcans, making them into a regal and admirable race. Strangers also gets the dialogue of the familiar Star Trek characters Bones, Spock and Kirk, to the point where I could hear the actors voices as I read, while the characters in Spock’s World don’t sound quite right, especially Bones. I do not want to disparage Spock’s World too much, however, it’s an extremely interesting read and many of the concepts put forth in it are fascinating. I especially enjoy the ideas about the difficulties of universal translators and the portrayal of the events that led up to the Romulan exodus.

These are certainly not great works of literature, but they’re fun, and are even better than some of the award-winners I’ve read so far (*cough* The Moon and the Sun *cough*). If you like Star Trek, these two are probably worth a read for you.