Star Trek 786: The Return

786. The Return

PUBLICATION: Kirk Series Book 2, Pocket Books, June 1995

CREATORS: William Shatner (with Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens)

STARDATE: Most of it takes place a month after Generations and in some ways sets up First Contact.

PLOT: In the wake of Kirk's death on Veridian III, a Romulan-Borg alliance steals his body, pumps his body full of nanoprobes, resurrects, rejuvenates and brainwashes him so he can betray the Federation. The Romulans are a military faction intent on protecting the Star Empire from assimilation and the Borg, fronted by Romulan Locutus stand-in Vox, seemingly agree in exchange for help in assimilating the Federation. Kirk is thus required to kill Picard, the one threat to Borg domination. Meanwhile, Picard and Beverly have been assigned to the USS Monitor, a super-secret Defiant-class stealth ship working for an anti-Borg intelligence squad. They've been sent into an assimilated starbase, but wind up stowing away on a Cube as it goes to its base inside a transwarp conduit. There, they find Romulan Warbirds and an abducted but unassimilated Spock, and think he's behind the alliance (and he thinks Picard is still Locutus). Back in the Alpha Quadrant, Kirk visits each of Picard's old crewmates in turn until he is caught on Deep Space 9. There, Dr. Bashir manages to diagnose his condition and later on the USS Challenger, where Riker and the TNG crew have been assigned, he attempts to remove the Borg implant responsible for memory suppression, which he manages with the help of the just arrived Admiral McCoy. Still, the captain is expected to die from nanite poisoning in some 5 days. When all the characters are back together, Kirk tries to kill Picard as programmed, but Spock intervenes and mindmelds all the mistrust and confusion away. The Monitor is equipped with transwarp capability and redubbed Enterprise for one last mission: Flying to the Borg homeworld and destroying its coordination capabilities (or Central Node). It ends in a big Enterprise vs. Warbird+Borg ships battle, with Kirk giving his life to flip the node's switch... but he may not actually be dead...

CONTINUITY: Probably too many to mention, especially as we go into Kirk's various memories (which includes Pike handing over his keys). In addition to characters from three of the shows making an appearance, the use of both Romulans and Borg, we also find out the fates of some of the TOS crew. Chekov became an admiral and published the memoirs that made the original USS Enterprise a legend, Uhura was twice awarded the Nobel Prize, and Sulu was president of the Federation council for three terms. The Romulan in charge of the operation is the granddaughter of the first Romulan Commander ever seen, so has an axe to grind. Kirk is led to believe he was a human with a Romulan wife and family, and that his name is Yar. McCoy uses the techniques he learned in Spock's Brain to remove Kirk's implant. Bashir shows a moment of superhuman hand-eye coordination (this was published well before he was made into a mutant). Shelby is still heading Starfleet's anti-Borg task force (so this is before New Frontier). Spock is immune to assimilation because the Borg already detect the collective in his mind thanks to his mindmeld with V'ger. So it is revealed that the planet that transformed V'ger was the Borg homeworld back when the collective was assimilating through digitization. The USS Farragut is destroyed. The USS Challenger (Timeless) was in operation at this time. The Bozeman is mentioned, though it's still not clear if it's the old one from Cause and Effect or a new one (either way, it's also mentioned in First Contact).

The story sets up First Contact in the following ways: Data is still experimenting with the emotion chip and realizes his emotions are annoying his friends. Picard can still make contact with the collective and use his status as Locutus against them. The reason they want him dead may be that they know he'll turn the tables on them in First Contact (they were present at those events, so could be trying to create a paradox). The Romulan element could explain why the Enterprise-E has to patrol the Neutral Zone while the big Borg action (retaliation for the destruction of their homeworld) is going on. I guess they got better faster than expected.

DIVERGENCES: Borg tricks we've never seen include modular scout ships turning into a Cube or other shapes, assimilated dogs, and drones with huge mech-like bodies (not necessarily divergences). Though the Borg supply the implant, the nanites keeping Kirk alive are Romulan in origin, which doesn't make sense given what we learn about the Borg in Voyager. Speaking of Voyager, does this story contradict anything in that series? I don't think so. The Romulan alliance actually creates a precedent for Janeway's (which she wouldn't have been aware of) and the destruction of the homeworld could explain the use of a Unicomplex as HQ instead.

REVIEW: The Return is a huge action movie spectacular that doesn't waste time getting you into the action and then keeps that level of fun, cool, action-packed and surprising for 375 pages straight. Cut into short, quick chapters, it comes off as a brisk and breezy read. There are a lot of references to past Trek here (and perhaps one too many - V'ger is particularly awkward), so it's probably a better book for fans (but do non-fans read spin-off fiction?). Shatner excels at giving the characters great lines and moments, though his natural hubris has him give most of them to Kirk. That's fine. He's got to live up to his legend. Though beating Worf using ancient Klingon martial arts? A bit much. The very cool strategy of flying a Defiant-class into a Romulan Warbird's negative space? Much better. Spock and McCoy are particularly well written too. And thanks to the story's position between two films, it feels important. The stakes are high and the characters bigger than life. It's the kind of thing that's at once big and stupid, and exactly what the doctor ordered. The future looks promising for Captain Kirk...


Sea-of-Green said...

Hmmm ... This is one of those books that I thought looked interesting when it first came out, but I never got around to reading it. Your review has intrigued me, to say the least!

Anonymous said...

I am currently reading this novel and, continually, have to put it down in anger at poor characterization of people from the later series(namely Picard and Beverly during that Borg battle on the colony). I have (no joke) been reading this novel since late November. What I've done in between reading it has included: watching episodes of the original series (including the gangster and Nazi ones), read the first four books of the Deep Space Nine eighth season, and continued on with my college education, and I've enjoyed all of these better than the Shatner novel (even though I am learning the most dreaded math in existence: calculus). I can't stand the damn novel I have read several textbooks that I've enjoyed more.

Siskoid said...

I respect that, though I found no such problem with it. To me, it's a big, ridiculous bowl of popcorn.

De said...

This is indeed a big, ridiculous bowl of popcorn, which I think Trek needs every once in a while. I remember reading this in about two hours, which lends credence that it's primarily action and continuity porn over substance.

However, there are some really nice moments in this novel. My particular favorite being when Kirk tells McCoy and Spock to look out for each other before he leaves to shut off the Central Node.

Alden? I beg to disagree, calculus rules! Physics majors represent! ;-)


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