Oh, hey there. Can you believe it’s been over a month since I wrote one of these? I know, I know. I’m just not delivering the value you expect from a blog about Star Trek novels that are old enough to be on their second mortgage, but what can I say? It’s been a rough few weeks for me, everyone I know, the nation at large, and the entirety of planet Earth.
Astute readers are going to wonder why I’m not covering the novelization of Star Trek II, since it was next in the publication order. That’s because if things align correctly, I’m going to get a nice collaboration in with Mike Duquette over at Hollywood and Spine.1 I can’t say enough good things about this newsletter. It’s a great look at an art that most people just don’t know about in the modern era.
Okay, fanboy. Get to it.
Here’s my favorite part of these posts, because I don’t have to do any thinking, the back cover copy:
SPOCK A TRAITOR?
There is sabotage aboard the Enterprise, and Spock’s investigation leads him into defiance of the Federation and a bizarre alliance with the Romulan and Klingon Empires against the bloodthirsty Tomarii—a savage race for whom war and battle are life itself.
Now Spock has been declared a traitor and condemned to the shame of the Federation’s highest security prison. And now Captain James Kirk must face the toughest decision of his command, while a lifelong friendship and the destiny of the free universe hang in the balance!
If you can’t tell already, this book is a lot.
As the introduction by Theodore Sturgeon2 Sonni Cooper actually handed him an early version of this novel at a Star Trek convention years before. notes, it starts with a literal bang, with a devastated bridge and the ship spiraling out of control. Kirk’s near death, Spock has a sliver of metal embedded near his spine and Scotty and the rest of the crew have to scramble to save everyone they can before ordering the separation of the saucer section. Over just ten pages, Sonni Cooper gives us a setup, offers up some plot complications, and introduces a mystery, and I can’t help but admire that.
Hot damn, I’m into this so far!
In fact, the first third of this book is really engaging, even if there are the sections where clumsy, too-thick exposition is used instead of actually writing out a scene or two. It rockets through the plot3 I refuse to use any warp speed puns here. with an indefatigable eagerness, and you can tell that Cooper is really excited about what comes next. It seems like every five pages or so, a new plot twist is introduced, and for a while there’s some real tension about what might happen, but it hits the wall that a lot of thrillers hit: so many big moments and revelations coming one after the other becomes dull without some masterful storytelling backing it up.
Okay, give me the big bits of the plot, preferably delivered in easily-digestible bullet points.
What about a numbered list here and some bullet points later?
- After mind-melding with Sulu, Spock traces the cause of the explosion that nearly killed the entire bridge crew: a cadet who had joined the crew for her first tour in space. She had handed Kirk a booby-trapped tablet before fucking off in the turbolift.
- With Scotty’s help, Spock returns to the saucer section for a brief reconnoiter and discovers more about the mysterious Isabel Tomarii, who left two pieces of key evidence in her quarters: a piece of paper with some mysterious doodles on it and a bottle that contained some very strong depilatory.
- During the formal inquisition about the explosion and what’s happened, Spock presents this evidence to Starfleet, who inform everyone present that what happened was definitely an accident.
- Spock says “No, fuck that, I’ve found a disappearing cadet, a very powerful bottle of Nair, and what seems to be a star chart,” and convinces Scotty to help him track down Tomarii.
(Reminder: he’s doing all this while in incredible pain thanks to a finger-length piece of metal that’s likely to leave him paralyzed if he takes one bad step.)
- Scotty and Spock end up on a planet they’ve decided to call Quest.
- So have contingents of Romulans and Klingons.
- They all get got by a bunch of short, hairy humanoids who have a chemical rocket. Note: We’re on page 40 at this point.
- From here, the captives are brought back to the Tomarii homeworld and are promptly enslaved and groomed for battle because that’s just the kind of assholes these people are.
- The former Isabel Tomarii 4Who took her pseudonym from the name of her people, much like my porn name is Hugedong Earther, Ilsa, is something of a leader in their culture and she gets herself a big old crush on Spock because, I mean, who wouldn’t, right? Spock takes that wrong step, gets paralyzed, almost makes kisses on one of the captured Romulans, but that doesn’t work out well.
- After some weird caveman cosplay, both Scotty and Spock are rescued and promptly court-martialed for stealing a ship5Spock gets some spine surgery, btw, and a dramatic plot complication is resolved inside a paragraph. . Because Scotty was just following Spock’s orders, he gets a year off starship duty and a teaching position. As the instigator, Spock gets Space Alcatraz. Kirk tries to intervene on his behalf, but Spock refuses his help.
- While in Space Alcatraz, Spock meets a very handsome Romulan space pirate named Desus. Spock decides his friendship with JTK is over and Desus is his best friend now.
- They escape, become space pirates, blah blah blah, turns out Desus is actually with the Romulan military, blah blah blah, everything comes back to the Romulans and the Enterprise teaming up to lay siege upon Tomarii and demand their surrender.
Now hang on there, Spock stole a spaceship, escaped Space Alcatraz, became a space pirate, and joined the Romulan military. Surely there are consequences!
Nope. The last two pages are like the last minute of almost every episode of Star Trek: everyone is gathered on the bridge, some jokes are made, and they all have a laugh as the ship goes off to its next adventure.
I last read this book in 1987, so I had no idea if this was all going to be somebody (probably Kirk’s) wild-ass coma dream or if Spock was going to turn out to be running some kind of deep-cover spy game.
I’ll let you guess what happens.
We’re at the part of this where I list some random notes about this book.
- This is the greatest number of times you’ll encounter the world “depilatory” in any kind of non-fetish fiction.
- At one point, it’s mentioned that one-eighth of the galaxy is under Tomarii control; this is never brought up again.
- I liked how committed Spock was to his vegetarianism, even under life-threatening circumstances. This stood out to me because his ethics through the rest of the story are dubious, to say the least.6Cut to me saying “The Spock I know wouldn’t…”
- During his time on the Tomarii homeworld, Scotty manages to distill some whiskey from mold and scrub grass because he is the hero we deserve.
- There’s a really decent subplot with Kirk learning to work with his new first officer and engineer. One goes pretty well, the other doesn’t.
- Cooper has a keen ear for dialogue; you can easily imagine this being adapted as an audio drama featuring the original crew.
- The Romulan commander from “The Enterprise Incident” has one of those cameos that must have seemed achingly clever at the time. I adore it for trying so hard.
- There’s some neat in-universe filigree that helps place this firmly after the TV series and before Star Trek: The Motion Picture. As part of the repair efforts on the Enterprise, the bridge is refitted a bit; the uniforms are changed; and for some reason, Cooper decided Chekov should be a lieutenant.7No, I won’t stop making fun of Chekov, ever.
So, did you enjoy this or what? Should I read it?
I’m not going to say this is a masterwork. It is, after all, Sonni Cooper’s first (and only Trek) novel and Hartwell and company’s dubious editorial standards have been noted here before, but her long association with the franchise8She was William Shatner’s personal manager for years and helped organize a number of conventions and zines and passion for the world is obvious.
If you see a cheap copy of Black Fire and want a deeply silly, fun Trek adventure that you can devour over the course of a lazy Sunday afternoon, then go for it. It’s definitely bigger and weirder than most of the licensed material being put out right now.
Buy Black Fire: