Authors: Michael Schuster and Steve Mollman
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Genre: Science Fiction (Media tie-in, Star Trek: The Original Series)
This entry into the latest series of Star Trek: The Original Series novels takes its title from Isaac Asimov’s book A Choice of Catastrophes: The Disasters That Threaten Our World. The authors credit this work as the source for their title. The story focuses in on the Chief Medical Officer of the starship Enterprise, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy.
Dr. McCoy is not at all pleased to be left behind on the ship while Captain Kirk and his first officer, Mr. Spock, take a team down to investigate a ghost-planet that is the source of temporal anomalies buffeting the Enterprise. However, it turns out for the best, as all the crew members with especially advanced extra-sensory perception suddenly fall into comas. The tension mounts as the patients slowly slip away, and Dr. McCoy and his medical staff begin to hear the accusatory whispers of ghosts out of their own pasts.
Meanwhile, Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and their team uncover a cryogenically suspended race and a plot to sell the sleeping aliens as slaves to the Orions. As they attempt to stop this atrocity and save their ship, Lieutenants Hikaru Sulu and Nyota Uhura try to hold the Enterprise together, as each temporal anomaly comes closer to tearing it apart.
Throughout the book, Dr. McCoy and his medical staff encounter characters from their pasts who appear in a manner reminiscent of ghosts. As Star Trek comes from a naturalistic perspective, however, a “scientific” explanation is found for the apparent “ghosts”. This story also deals with the idea of ESPers, or people who have enhanced psychic and telepathic abilities.
Many of the crew members end up injured in the aftershock of the temporal anomalies, as well as being injured by aliens on the planet. Their ailments are described to a degree of detail that might be considered grotesque to sensitive readers. However, there are not any descriptions so violent that they would earn higher than a PG-13 rating if they were on film. There is implied torture when a character is captured by the alien slave-traders, however, only the after-effects of this scene are described in the book.
Mild profanity peppers the dialogue of the Starship Enterprise’s crew, similar to the language used in the Star Trek movies starring the original series cast. Words such as H*** and D**** are the most common. The Lord’s name is unfortunately taken in vain a few times as well.
Dr. McCoy’s affair and subsequent divorce are alluded to, though sexual acts are never described explicitly.
Medications and alcohol are used by characters, but not abused.
Other Negative Themes
Dr. McCoy’s broken family is at the forefront of the regrets that plague him throughout the novel. Images of his ex-wife and estranged daughter haunt him as he tries to perform his duties aboard the ship. Also, a small band of the aliens are plotting to sell the rest of their cryogenically suspended species to the Orions as slaves, and go about kidnapping and torturing Enterprise crew members at will. They are portrayed as the main villains of the novel.
When Captain Kirk discovers the plot against the suspended aliens, he makes it his mission to set these captives free. The main theme of Dr. McCoy’s storyline is deciding what to do with regret. The Chief Medical Officer and his staff are forced to decide whether they will let their past mistakes drive them insane, or learn from them and change their behavior in the future.
The highlight of reading A Choice of Catastrophes for me was the portrayal of the Enterprise crew. Dr. McCoy is brilliantly adapted to the page from DeForest Kelly’s screen presentation. I felt as though I could hear Kelley’s voice as I read the dialogue. McCoy’s backstory is woven together brilliantly out of the snippets we get in the television series and movies. Nurse Christine Chapel also plays a prominent role in the novel, as she deals with the demons from her own past. It was a distinct pleasure to be able to hear more from Majel Barret’s character, and learn more about Chapel’s backstory. In addition to these two standout characters, Lieutenants Hikaru Sulu and Nyota Uhura also get a lot more “screen time” than they do on any given episode of the show. Both are faced with important decisions as they take their turns as the acting commanders of the Enterprise Bridge. Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and Chekov are also portrayed in ways that do justice to their television counterparts. Out of the minor characters that Schuster and Mollman sprinkle throughout the text, the strongest is probably Security Chief Giotto, who appears to be tough and unfeeling at first, but eventually becomes a multi-dimensional and lovable character.
There isn’t too much to be said in the way of style. The prose is readable, but not at all literary or groundbreaking. The writing style is simple, and uninspiring. The plot is interesting, and plays out well. The peril of Doctor McCoy and the crew on the Enterprise as well as the danger encountered by the team on the planet both kept my interest. I did feel that the authors switched back and forth between the various points of view too quickly, and I was left wanting more out of certain characters and plot points. Overall, it wasn’t really the plot that kept me turning the pages — it was reading about characters I love.
I would say the main theme of this novel is dealing with regret. Dr. McCoy is forced to face some pretty awful mistakes in his past, such as his divorce, the choice to end his ailing father’s life support, and his estrangement from his daughter. In the context of the story, these regrets have the potential to cause a lot of damage if he should let them interfere with his work of saving lives. The climax of his storyline is his decision to use the pain in his past to become a better person in the future, rather than let it destroy him and those in his care.
Star Trek: A Choice of Catastrophes is a Star Trek novel written for Star Trek fans. Therefore, people who aren’t immersed in the characters and lore of this fictional universe probably won’t enjoy this book if they pick it up. However, for Trekkies, it is a fun visit with familiar characters that also provides a bit of food for thought.
The regrets we carry with us from past mistakes are a powerful force in our lives. Oftentimes, it is our decision whether this is a force used to destroy, or a force used to inspire positive change.
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+ Good usage of established Star Trek characters. + Valuable theme. + Introduction of interesting alien race and language.
- Some dark content. - Bland writing style.
The Bottom Line
Star Trek: A Choice of Catastrophes is a Star Trek novel written for Star Trek fans. People who aren’t immersed in the characters and lore of this fictional universe probably won’t enjoy it. However, for Trekkies, it is a fun visit with familiar characters that also provides a bit of food for thought.