Going Brilliantly

Also published by Memphis Public Libraries with my permission.

Diane Carey is something of a Star Trek literature legend. In addition to having written more than 30 Trek novels, Carey was twice tapped to write Star Trek series' inaugural novels: The Next Generation's Ghost Ship (1988) and Enterprise's Broken Bow (2001). Her novels consistently rank highest among Trek lit, and she's tackled franchise-specific challenges with more success than the shows and films themselves. Point-in-case: 1997's Ship of the Line.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was the 1991 film that decidedly ended the run of films featuring the cast of the original Star Trek. It was May 1994 when Star Trek: The Next Generation ended its seven-year run on television, and only six months later, Star Trek Generations was released to theaters. Starring both William Shatner and Patrick Stewart, it was meant to be a passing-of-the-torch from one film series to the other. Instead, the torch was dropped in a puddle. We would pick back up with the Next-Gen cast in 1996 with the release of the phenomenally successful Star Trek: First Contact.

And yet, we still were dissatisfied with what Generations could have been. So, with a new Enterprise starship to work with, the realizations of where characters would go, and an ear for minutiae that even most fans didn't hear, Carey wrote the original-series-to-Next-Generation hand-off we all wanted.

In 1992, Star Trek: The Next Generation aired the episode "Cause and Effect" where we meet the USS Bozeman, a lost Federation starship that accidentally time-traveled 90 years into the future (the present for Captain Picard and his crew). Captained by Morgan Bateson (Kelsey Grammer), the Bozeman can't go back, and is stuck in the 24th century. In Generations, Picard and crew lose their ship, the Enterprise-D. By First Contact they've been re-assigned to the Sovereign-class Enterprise-E, and we hear "radio chatter" of a starship Bozeman participating in the Battle of Sector 001. This is all established lore: Star Trek canon.

Carey's Ship of the Line gives us some 23rd-century back-story for Bateson: the Bozeman is a border cutter patrolling the Klingon Neutral Zone, and Bateson is the scourge of a Klingon commander, Kozara. Carey has invented "border cutting" as it is in Star Trek, as well as Kozara, but has used 20th- and 24th-century insight to inform both to a very believable degree. When the Bozeman appears in the future, her crew has lost everything they knew in the past, and also robbed Kozara of his chance to honor himself and his house. Via time travel and Klingon long-livedness, both sides are now in the Star Trek present, where Captain Picard and his erstwhile crew are shipless after the events of Generations.

Similar to how The Wrath of Khan touched on aging, loss, and friendship, Ship of the Line adds honor, loyalty, and legacy to the mix—skillfully showing both sides of all these coins. Carey brings new depth to old characters, previously both known and unknown. Bateson is a 1960s American brought into the early 2000s and unable to accept a neutered Soviet Union; or perhaps he's a Kirk allegory brought into the 24th century to redeem that famous captain's pointless death in Generations. On the other hand, our Next-Gen heroes grew up with an allied Klingon Empire, and are living in the 2010s believing that the Russians are a homogenously harmless people whom the 'old-timers' just don't understand. It's rote to say that each generation's crew learns both wisdom and humility from the other, but throw in a modern (i.e. Next Generation) understanding of Klingon honor vis-à-vis the characters originally defined in 1960s' technicolor, and Carey has woven a cross-generational tapestry that should bring Trekkies and Trekkers across the aisle.

Rewatching "Cause and Effect", Generations, and First Contact aren't necessary for understanding the novel. If you want to really grasp some of the nuance going on, though, watch some original-series Klingon episodes, read up on some McCarthy-era politicking, and remember that Star Trek is about showing us how to improve ourselves and be better people.