I rather like Star Trek: Discovery and I’ve decided to finally read some Star Trek novels. Searching for the best to start my adventure with, I’ve come across a book written by Joe Haldeman. And then I realized something – we have Scalzi, we even have Jean Johnson, but there is no Haldeman review on this blog! So, one will appear, but not of his Forever War, but a Planet of Judgment, a short (152 pages) novel published in 1977 and set in Trek Verse in the classic era of Kirk and Spock.
It’s just as aged as The Original Series* and not as good as Forever War, but it was a worthy beginning of my adventure with the written Star Trek.
*meaning – not too much, the form might be a bit out of date, the characters sometimes sound like they belong to our past, not future, but it’s still a smart read, and isn’t that what a Trekkie is looking for in a book? This franchise never was the first choice for quick action and cheerful violence…
This is a tie-in created by a really good author and it shows. It could be a TOS episode, or, if slightly expanded, a solo s/f book, as it is – better know who Kirk, Spock or McCoy are, if you want to fully appreciate it. I admit I felt, at times, that knowing more about the original tv series would give me more context. And what is the novel about?
Had the Enterprise been betrayed by its own technology. Never before had their systems, instruments and weapons failed to respond. And never before had Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest of the crew faced a total breakdown of science and sanity….until they stumbled on the mysterious world that couldn’t exists….A world orbited by a black hole and ruled by chaos — where man was a helpless plaything for a race of beings more powerful than the laws of the universe.
PLANET OF JUDGMENT
A brain-bending voyage into the unknown with the Starship ENTERPRISE
Some spoilers ahead, but nothing that would spoil the fun… it’s not a who killed kind of story 😉
The crew of the Enterprise finds an unusual world, where they are confronted by a strange, powerful (but morally ambivalent) civilization that cannot be simply defeated by the power of photon torpedoes and phasers. It needs to be understood, reasoned with and subtly influenced, and in the end it won’t be our protagonists who will make final judgments. To be judged, they have to confront the daemons of their pasts, their weaknesses and their loyalties. Oh, there will be a fight in the end, but not an epic space battle, this is not Honor Harrington. One moment, near the beginning, reminded me of Solaris, but it was brief, and it’s not this level of depth and originality. Readers learned more about the protagonists (and this was, relatively, early days, not everything about Kirk was a trope) than about the important truths of the Universe. Still, it is more thoughtful than your average s/f.
Each significant crewmember shows their signature moves, and they are no surprises here, nor will the final result really change anybody’s mind about the ST universe and its main protagonists. The author also seems to struggle a bit to contain his vision within the frame of the established – and ongoing – world, especially near the end.
For me it was a joy, a little bit of nostalgia, a well-liked feel of classic s/f, but not necessarily something I’d recommend to everybody. The Forever War remains my favourite Haldeman (and one of my favourite military s/f novels!).
What now, a Dr Who novel 😉 ?