Song Revisited
Janet Kagan

reviewed by Joanne K. Seward

Last week, I picked up my ancient and tattered copy of Uhura's Song by Janet Kagan. I'd once loved this novel, named it as my favorite of the often maligned pro novels. Would it stand the test of time and my own changing taste? What would I do if I found I now hated it? Worry, as Spock would say, is illogical. I therefore turned to the first chapter and started reading.

First published in 1985--the year when the general population became familiar with the term AIDS--the story tells of a desperate search for a cure for a plague named ADF, often referred to as "the long death," which is overwhelming the Federation planet Eeiauo.

Uhura's grief and feelings of helplessness when she learns that her friend, Sunfall of Ennien, is a victim of the plague prompt the Communications Officer's memories of a song Sunfall once taught her. It is a song, Sunfall has told her, which can never be sung for other Eeiauoans, a song of being outcast and journeying from the "camp" where the Eeiauoans once lived to Eeiauo where they now make their home.

Using clues from Sunfall's journey song and other songs she taught to Uhura, Kirk, Spock and the crew of the Enterprise, accompanied by temporary Chief Medical Officer Evan Wilson (McCoy and Christine Chapel, exposed to the illness, must remain on quarantined Eeiauo), go on what amounts to a quest of legendary proportions to find a suspected Eeiauoan homeworld.

And find it, they do. Problem solved, right? Wrong. The culture of the Sivaoans, so physically similar to the Eeiauoans that they could be one people, couldn't be more different. They do, however, have one thing in common: the inviolable taboo that prevents Uhura from singing Sunfall's journey song on Eeiauo is the same taboo that prevents the Enterprise crew from gaining the information they need from the Sivaoans to cure ADF. The Enterprise landing party discovers that in order to overcome this taboo they must prove they are indeed "adults" and therefore worthy of hearing a tale the Sivaoans don't even tell their own children…

Having reread Uhura's Song, I'm pleased to find that I still love it. There is adventure, there is the medical thriller aspect, there is what appears to be a subplot regarding Spock and his reaction to Dr. Wilson. But the true wonder of this book is the culture Janet Kagan has created. As you read, you feel a part of the world she has made. And then, like the Enterprise crewmembers, you feel lost and alien. There are those, I'm sure, who would say that it is preachy and pedantic. But so too, is Star Trek sometimes preachy and pedantic. Having thought about how I would make cuts, how I would edit it, perhaps trim out some preachiness or pedantry, I shake my head. This is a story to savor, to read every word, and to remember warmly for years to come.

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