Weird Science: Vonda N. McIntyre’s buckwild “The Entropy Effect”


Now that’s a book cover, right there. A colorful, bold design1It’s interesting that “A Star Trek Novel” and the book’s title are the same size, isn’t it? I’d love to learn about the thinking/marketing that went into that choice. that incorporates some familiar iconography, the ship we all love, and characters like Kirk, Spock, and…Six-Months-Into-His-Vision-Quest Sulu?2There’s an in-text reason for that particular choice, really. I’ll go into it later. Pocket’s design team is making a statement here: it’s 1981 and Star Trek is cool again.

(Okay, maybe not as cool as they want, but still…that’s a good cover.)

Anyway. Here’s the back cover copy:

The Enterprise is summoned to transport a dangerous criminal from a starbase prison to a rehabilitation center: brilliant physicist Dr. Georges Mordreaux, accused of promising to send people back in time – then killing them instead.

But when Mordreaux escapes, bursts onto the bridge and kills Captain Kirk, Spock must journey back in time to avert disaster – before it occurs.

Now there’s more at stake than just Kirk’s life. Mordreaux’s experiments have thrown the entire universe into a deadly time warp. Spock is fighting time…and the universe is closing in on itself with the relentless squeeze of…

The Entropy Effect.

Sounds pretty cool, right? It is, but I’ve also got problems with how much this reveals, as you’ll see.

Stop blabbering about the cover and get to it, already.

Vonda McIntyre was a very logical choice to kick off the new Star Trek fiction published by Pocket Books. The founder of the Clarion West Writers Workshop, the prolific author had over a dozen published short stories, two novels, and a pair of Nebula awards to her name and an outspoken love of Trek.

That passion for the franchise was an opportunity for David Hartwell, the editorial director for the Timescape imprint. He’d argued hard with his bosses for the publisher to move into the original novel space. Sure, the novelization had done very well, but they’d seen how Bantam’s books had made less and less of a dent in the market. That, combined with the cost of the license and combined author’s fee’s, made it a risk.

His solution? Pay the writers less. Cloaking his fiduciary shadiness under a declaration that he needed authors who “cared about what they were doing,” he offered an advance that was half of the $6000 normally paid to authors for original fiction.3This is detailed in Jeff Ayer’s mammoth 2006 book Voyages of Imagination: The Star Trek Fiction Companion.

McIntyre took the deal, maybe because a lot of the work had already been done by her when she was 18.

Wait, did she publish her old fanfic?

Kind of. She actually had a screenplay she’d written while a freshman at the University of Washington while the show was still on the air. She never had a chance to submit it, but it provided a framework that she could use to build out this fast-moving, ambitious adventure.

Okay, cool. Proceed.

As the back cover copy indicates, The Entropy Effect involves astrophysics, time travel, and the death of our beloved captain. McIntyre takes her time getting to the big moment, allowing readers to spend time with a well-realized version of the series regulars4 Especially Sulu, who’s definitely McIntyre’s biggest crush. and quite a few new crew members created just for this book.

McIntyre’s use of original characters (especially on the Enterprise) is something I really appreciate an author doing. New characters allow writers to create genuine tension by placing them in real danger, something that couldn’t happen with the main cast.5This is one reason I love the first volume of DC Comics’ Trek series so much – the sprawling supporting cast featured people with their own arcs while the Magnificent Seven stayed fairly static. Despite coverage in The National Enquirer and other outlets that the books had killed Kirk, there was no way a fan with more than three brain cells together believed that any long-term, canonical changes to Trek were going to occur anywhere but on-screen.

These new characters cover a wide range of personalities with security chief Mandala Flynn and an old flame of Kirk’s, the mono-named Hunter, captain of the border patrol ship Aerfen, getting the most room to breathe in the story. Both of these could be considered Mary Sues by less generous readers. After all, they both are beautiful, smart women who are at the top of their respective field, each with a unique origin that makes them stand out, plus they’re involved romantically in some way with series regulars.

However, considering the array of additional new characters — Jenniver Aristeides is a “Changed” human whose DNA has been altered so they can live on high-gravity planets; Snnanagfashtalli is a felinoid alien who’s ride or die for her friends; Beranardi al Auriga and Maximo Alisaunder Arrunja are two security hunks with awesome names6Snnanagfashtalli, al Auriga and Arrunja all appear in A.C. Crispin’s Time For Yesterday as well as Uhura’s Song by Janet Kagan; Ian Braithewaite is a space DA who serves as an antagonist by trying to get to the bottom of everything without trusting anyone — I don’t see these two women being a little more prominent as a problem.

After all, you’d have to be pretty awesome to command your own ship or serve as the head of security on the Federation flagship, right?

We get it – you like characters in your books. Big deal. Keep moving, nerd.

Fine, fine. After the first two chapters of setup, we find that:

  • Kirk is wondering what might have been with the slightly-contrived-but-still-captivating Hunter, who is part of a multi-partner family unit that has invited Kirk to join multiple times.7She’s also part of a human colony whose traditions echo those of Native Americans and wow, she may be a Mary Sue, huh?
  • Sulu is crushing so hard on the ship’s new security chief that they’re exchanging martial arts lessons and he’s listened to her about his personal grooming, but he also wants to have a fulfilling Starfleet career and that likely involves leaving the Enterprise.
  • Spock is puzzling over the fact that the universe is likely collapsing in the next century while the man who taught him more than anyone else about physics is going to space jail for a series of unimaginable murders.8BTW, Mordreaux gets the VIP suite instead of the brig because Spock told Kirk that he learned some science from him so he couldn’t possibly have killed people. Kirk, of course, trusts Spock completely.

Then it gets nuts. Sulu leaves the ship (to join Hunter on her own), Kirk is murdered, and thanks to Mordreaux’s experiments that led to the apparent deaths of a dozen people, temporal chicanery is suspected. An investigation is launched, Spock takes a long shot with McCoy’s help, and Scotty is left wondering what the hell is going on. I honestly wish that the book’s jacket hadn’t revealed so much because Kirk’s death is shocking on its own (even if you know that there’s always a way out) and the reveal of time travel’s involvement is handled so organically.

As you read, it’s obvious that McIntyre has a clear plan and has pinpointed the exact moments where character beats and plot points would have the maximum effect. The Entropy Effect reminded me of the best episodes of Rick And Morty in how much thought was applied to the intricacies of time travel and its effects.

It’s important to note, though, that it never feels like homework. McIntyre’s prose is punchy9Her description of how the time travel device’s effect looks is vivid and makes it sound like something from the Abramsverse. and her pacing is so tuned that you’re fed information just as you need it and reminded of previously-introduced elements without it being blatant.

Additionally, she’s able to casually bring in things that are new to Trek — the ultra-secret Code Ultimate that requires Kirk to use a memorized cryptogram key to manually decode messages; spiderweb guns that attacked the target’s nervous system; the idea that Vulcans don’t lock their doors because theirs is a culture of trust — minus any awkwardness that can happen when someone goes big with their concepts while working inside the world of licensed fiction.

Wrap it up. I’ve got a big sandwich to make and eat, Dagwood Bumstead-style.

This book is probably most famous in fandom for establishing Sulu and Uhura’s first names, but it’s also a damned fine read on its own. McIntyre’s ability to balance the established and the new, combined with big sci-fi ideas, an audacious plot and clockwork pacing, makes this an essential read. It’s easy to see why she got the plum assignments of novelizing the next three Star Trek films10Where we find out what happened to Captain Hunter and writing the Enterprise: The First Adventure.

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3 Comments Weird Science: Vonda N. McIntyre’s buckwild “The Entropy Effect”

      1. eric

        I finally finished it last night and enjoyed it so much that I found myself on good reads looking at lists of “good” Trek books.
        I think that Vonda captured the crew well (though Scotty felt a little short changed there) and I thought that Sulu’s character arc was really well done.


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