Published essentially in tandem with Star Trek: Discovery’s premiere (Jan. 24, 2017), Desperate Hours (Jan. 26, 2017) pairs characters Michael Burnham and Spock, as well as Captains Philippa Georgiou and Christopher Pike, working alongside one another to solve a crisis brewing on a colonized planet as the situation becomes increasingly dire. Set one year prior to the events of The Battle at the Binary Stars, the novel, an action-packed, page-turner of a Science Fiction adventure, contains all of the elements that keep Star Trek fans in the fold and awaiting ever unfolding incarnations of the original classic tale. These include moral questions that challenge the reader as well as the novel’s characters, self-serving leaders, aliens of questionable intention, starships and their diverse crews, space battles…. And did I mention action?
Without spoiling the plot, the USS Shenzou, under the command of Georgiou, is called to a planetary colony in distress after it comes under attack from a local, but previously unknown entity. The Shenzou comes to the rescue and then sends details and analyses of results collected from planetary scans to Starfleet, including those of a very large, very ancient spacecraft. Shortly thereafter, Shenzou is joined by the USS Enterprise commanded by Pike who has been instructed to carry out orders from Starfleet to which Georgiou, as expected, objects. The two Captains engage in an escalating battle of pride, duty and wills, leading Shenzou First Officer Burnham, “Number One” in that era’s parlance, to take action and reach out to “family friend,” Mr. Spock, of the Enterprise. Her efforts to enlist him in a desperate grasp for an alternative course of action are successful for the critical duration of the book, as she and Spock join forces offship to eliminate the threat not only to the planet, but also to the Federation’s moral compass.
In concert and from space, the starship captains are left to deal with traditional human, political issues arising on the surface of the planet, an alien spaceship, and each other.
All in all, the book spun an exciting tale consistent with the traditions one has come to expect from Gene Roddenberry’s initial conception and its follow-ons. The revisitation of Captain Pike preceding the events of Star Trek’s TOS provided a backdrop to the Enterprise story pre- legendary Captain James T. Kirk, a time of which many Star Trek followers are aware, but have had little opportunity to explore. The creativity the author demonstrated in devising a series of trials to which Spock and Burnham were tested served to keep the reader engaged and, at the same time, stewed him or her in a bath of science, technology and math. Despite the death and destruction, there were moments of levity, as well: the dentist character and the ironic conclusion to his arc was laugh-out-loud funny. In the political situation surrounding the colony, the viewer is treated to both big buisness and politicians at their worst, perfect foes in any drama that tests the fortitude of idealism. What is more, the space battles were vivid and although the reader knows intellectually that both the Shenzou and Enterprise must and do survive the onslaught of their enemy, the author took readers right up to the point where one had to question both if and how they would do so. The necessity of team in the outcome cannot be understated and proved to be a recurring theme throughout the book.
Deperate Hours came up a little short in several ways, however. Namely, in terms of bringing the situation with the colonial leadership to conclusion — it didn’t. Rather, the reader was simply told that the crisis was resolved. Given the prominence of this storyline in the novel, this eschewal left me feeling somewhat unsatiated. The Nook version of the book ran 275 pages and it seems that with just a few more, this plot device could have been tidied up more neatly.
Pike was portrayed as a blind order-following stick figure who, despite ethical awareness, was willing to consciously join the ranks of those infamously relegated to the annals of history for obeying unjust orders. This characterization felt inconsistent with both the depiction in the Kelvin timeline movie series, as well as Anson Mount’s portrayal in Discovery Season Two, not to mention military officer training (or so I’m told by non-fictional military officers).
Georgiou’s character was more in line with what viewers of the TV series have come to expect — tough, competent and compassionate. There was a small hint of sexism in the author’s treatment of her, however. While Pike was simply thrown about during the space battles, Georgiou was shown to feel “fear”, and we saw her looking tousled with her hair out-of-place. If only the author had simply not gone where men have gone before and stayed away from the gender stereotypes…
Finally, having watched the first episodes of Discovery Season Two prior to reading the novel, inconsistencies between the book and TV series become apparent. Most notably, in the Episode Brother, Burnham states that she and Spock have not spoken in years and that the situation is her fault. Meanwhile, not only does Desperate Hours take place a mere two years before the events of Brother, but Spock and Burnham take great strides towards resolving their differences at the end of the former, differences which at their core proved to be the fault of Sarek more so than either Burnham or Spock. Now, although technically, two years can constitute years in its plurality, the estrangement was made to feel more extensive in the referenced episode. While these inconsistencies in no way detract from the merits of the novel itself, given the editor’s commentary on the place this and others hold in the Discovery universe, they are, indeed, inescapable.
Be that as it may, as a stand-alone read, Desperate Hours is a worthwhile time investment, especially for fans of both Star Trek in general and Discovery, in particular. What is more, it provides a stable launching point for the series of novels to follow.