Final Frontier

Diane Carey

reviewed by David Landon

Prequels generally get a bad rap among science fiction fans, but in the late 1980's, the idea of a Star Trek story set before the time of the original series seemed fresh and exciting. Fortunately, Diane Carey's Final Frontier did nothing to disabuse us of that notion. If you're going to tell a Star Trek prequel story, this is the right way to do it.

Except for a framing story that seems to take place immediately after the events in "The City on the Edge of Forever" (more on that later), Final Frontier takes place about twenty-five years before the famous five year mission, and chronicles the first (secret) voyage of the newly-built Enterprise under the command of Captain Robert April. Carey's April is an idealist with pacifist leanings who sees the first-of-its-kind starship as a symbol of the Federation's noble ideal of peaceful exploration. He recruits Commander George Kirk (the father of Jim and Sam) to serve as his first officer on a mission to rescue a ship full of colonists that's trapped in a deadly ion storm. Kirk, a military-minded security officer, sees the starship as a fighting machine powerful enough to intimidate hostile powers like the Klingons into leaving the Federation alone. Of course, the rescue mission does not go smoothly. First, a catastrophic power failure as the ship leaves drydock threatens to scuttle the mission before it even begins and makes Kirk suspicious that someone's trying to sabotage the powerful new vessel. Kirk's warnings to April go unheeded, though, and the saboteur strikes again, causing a navigational "accident" that strands the Enterprise deep inside Romulan space.

It's obvious that Carey has taken great pains to project the level of technological and ideological advancement we saw in the original series backward by a quarter-century. Not only is the technology believably less-advanced, but so too is the philosophy of our people. Carey perhaps takes things to a bit of an extreme here; although Robert April is said to be a veteran space explorer, he's extremely reluctant to fight, even when it's necessary to protect his ship and crew. George Kirk, on the other hand, is full of the stubborn fighting spirit that will make his son a legendary starship captain, but he has none of April's diplomatic skill. Even before April says it out loud, it's obvious that the ideal starship captain (read: James T. Kirk) will be a combination of the two men.

Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that Diane Carey manages to have our people encounter Romulans without completely discarding the idea that no one knew what a Romulan looked like in "Balance of Terror". Rick Berman and Brannon Braga should have been taking notes.

Folks who were weaned on the Okuda chronology may be confused by Final Frontier's use of the old timeline that had the five year mission taking place in the early 23rd century, as well as references to ships from the Spaceflight Chronology, but to longtime fans this will no doubt add to the book's charm.

The framing story contains some nice Kirk-Spock-McCoy moments, but it's unlikely that the Enterprise would have come back to Earth for shore leave this early in its voyage. Also, Carey seems to have forgotten that Chekov wasn't part of the bridge crew at this point. These are minor quibbles, though. Final Frontier is a thoroughly enjoyable tale that any original series fan would do well to have in their library.

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