In last week’s adventure, the Enterprise crew temporarily set aside their differences with the Romulans to put a stop to some evil people and achieve something for the greater good. This week, the Enterprise crew temporarily sets aside their differences with the Klingons to put a stop to some evil people and achieve something for the greater good. Totally different!
The Tears of the Singers
Author: Melinda Snodgrass
Published: September 1984
Timeline: After TOS
Prerequisites: “Errand of Mercy” (TOS S1E26)
“James Kirk was bored.” That’s the first sentence of the first chapter of The Tears of the Singers, and a heck of a way to really grab your reader by the lapels at the start of a novel. Some stories start right smack dab in the middle of a space battle, others start with pure boredom. So what’s the cure for the stuck-at-a-starbase blues? Spock and Uhura suggest Kirk accompany them to a concert by Guy Maslin, “the bad boy of classical music”, a phrase sure to get all the ladies dripping wet.
Kirk gets called away mid-concert to get briefed on a tear in space in the Taygeta system that is swallowing starships and causing their crew members to experience synesthesia-like sensations, such as hearing colors and tasting music. Meanwhile, Uhura goes backstage after the show preparing to fangirl out over Maslin, only for him to treat her like dirt. Shocked that a woman would display a modicum of agency and refuse to take his guff, Maslin takes Uhura out to dinner, and she finds herself falling for him despite the fact that he’s a shithead.
Because there is reason to believe that the tear is linked to the song being sung by Taygeta V’s seal-like inhabitants, Kirk decides to recruit Maslin to help them solve the mystery. When he refuses, Kirk invokes an obscure law that allows him to conscript Maslin anyway. It’s at this point we learn that Guy has Richart’s syndrome, a fake space disease that will cause him to basically fry his circuits if he stresses himself out too much. Nothing to worry about; it’s only the entire universe that’s on the line here. Nothing about that should cause a flare-up of that sort of disease, right?
Taygeta V, the only planet in the system bearing life, is in a quadrant being explored by both the Federation and the Klingons, and Kirk intimates in his captain’s log that he hopes they can carry out their mission “without the added burden of dealing with the Klingons.” Way to jinx yourself, dingus. But it’s not just any Klingon: it’s Kor! In case you’re not familiar with him, Kirk first encountered Kor in the episode “Errand of Mercy”, where the Organians step in and disable everyone’s weapons to force them to resolve their conflicts by a means other than war.
Kor would still relish a chance to go mano a mano with Kirk, but he remains level-headed, taking a wait-and-see approach—much to the chagrin of some of his subordinates—and thinking let’s help the humans solve this mystery now so that there’s still a universe to do battle in later. Sometime between “Errand of Mercy” and this book, he also tied the knot, with a lovely little lass named Kali, who finds herself rather enjoying human company and watching her ingrained prejudices about them crumble at tremendous speed. Kor and Kali are both great characters; Kor especially gets in a lot of good licks playing the magnificent bastard role that fits him like a glove.
While Maslin works out the mystery of the song, the humans and Klingons also have to contend with redneck poachers who are killing the Taygetians, causing the Taygetians to secrete the titular tears, which quickly solidify into beautiful gems that can be sold for a lot of money. The poachers are jerks, yet within their rights; the Federation has declared the Taygetians animals rather than sentient beings, so it’s technically totally legal for the poachers to hunt them. Not that that stops either the humans or the Klingons from doing the actual right thing and beating the tar out of them.
The vast majority of the book is spent creeping toward a breakthrough as Guy vacillates between working himself to death (literally) and ignoring orders to rest so he can get back to working himself to death. He’s actually not as annoying a civilian as the tag on this entry might suggest—he certainly starts out that way, and he always remains at least somewhat abrasive just because that’s who he is, but little by little, the ice starts to thaw from his cold black heart, such that by the end, you’re sad to see him go, even though status quo demands it could never be otherwise.
Make no mistake, the spotlight character here is Uhura, and she gets to show all kinds of sides—passionate lover, sass dispenser, taker of no man’s crap—that we don’t normally get to see on account of the fact that she spends most of her screen/page time hunched over a console. The romance between her and Guy is treated more tastefully and with a more delicate hand than you might expect from the era in which pro novels were often uncomfortably few steps removed from zine fic. Romances among the tertiary characters in general tend to be sweeter and more grounded, with more room for big leaps in character development, so I tend to prefer them over Kirk fawning over whichever green and/or blond rando he’s fixed his male gaze on in a given week. One segment in the middle of the novel where Uhura considers the consequences of a relationship with Guy on her desire for her own command is mired in a truly bizarre misunderstanding of sexuality, but for the most part I liked her portrayal and I liked her and Guy’s dynamic, finding their push-and-pull neither overly annoying nor too saccharine.
Though the book does plenty with Uhura, it’s almost more fun to follow the Klingon side of things. Kor has a bit of a deficit to work his way back from, having fallen from grace and re-risen to tenuous power sometime between “Errand of Mercy” and the book, and about 20 percent of the joy of the book is in witnessing him deftly tamp down a mutiny before it even really starts. His steadfast marriage to Kali provides an interesting contrast to Uhura and Maslin’s passionate fling, cultural warts and all. They’re kind of like a Klingon Gomez and Morticia. I would read an entire Snodgrass-penned book about those two.
So, once again, the day is saved, thanks to the Powerpuff G—I mean, thanks to Guy Maslin and his unrivaled musical genius, and also the collaborative efforts of the humans and the Klingons, who, as they do point out, managed to work together peaceably without the Organians having to get all up in their beeswax. Perhaps it is not so silly after all to hope that these longstanding enemies can one day become friends, just as in much the same way, it may not be too silly to hope that these books can consistently rise to at least the level of quality achieved here.
Nuggets and Other Stray Bits
- Melinda Snodgrass is a name that may ring a bell, especially if you’re a fan of Next Generation. As far as Trek goes, she’s probably best known for writing the season 2 episode “The Measure of a Man” (the one where Starfleet puts Data on trial to determine his sentience and forces Riker to be the prosecutor). Notably, she was also a story editor and executive script consultant in seasons 2 and 3, and she’s also the co-editor of and a regular contributor to George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards anthologies.
- Cover Art Corner: We haven’t done one of these in a while, but oh doctor, there’s a lot going on in this one. First of all, that doesn’t look anything like Nichelle Nichols. Second of all, why is she wearing khaki slacks. I get that they’re wearing different gear for a chilly planet, but she doesn’t work at Target, she’s not going to ask if she can help you find something today. And lastly, what is Spock doing in his “just boarded the Enterprise in The Motion Picture” getup? Rhetorical question—I’m sure the mere act of sticking that tiny Spock on there helped sell at least twice as many copies as it would have otherwise. Still, he’s up to some serious creeping. Personally, I think he’s secretly hoping Uhura will kiss the seal and telepathically trying to make it happen. Not one of Boris’s better efforts, this one.
- The Tears of the Singers was the last STPB published before I was born. Now, for the next few years’ worth of books, you can picture the world I lived in when the book came out: living in an itty-bitty house in Oklahoma, messing in my diapers, not knowing what Star Trek was for probably at least another seven or eight years.
- Commander Li and Guy Maslin both have a smoke in the first chapter. One would sort of have to imagine that by this point they’ve managed to make them harmless and/or non-addictive, though the real technological feat would be in making anyone who smokes them not look like jackasses for whipping them out in public.
- Words That Don’t Belong in Star Trek, Vol. 4: Even though it comes out of the mouth of one of the redneck poachers, I would hope the word “turd” has fallen out of vogue even among the less savory elements of society by the 23rd century.
- p. 163: Spock and McCoy discuss the possibility of Maslin dying while pursuing the solution to the Taygetian mystery. Spock argues one man’s life would be an acceptable casualty if it saved countless lives; McCoy throws it back in his face, claiming it’s easy for Spock to say that when he’s not the one in the hot seat. Spock counters: “I would not be swayed by such considerations, Doctor. I would always do my duty.” Of course, Spock would later get his own opportunity to put up or shut up, and as we all know, he did the former.
I give The Tears of the Singers 4 out of 5 crystal tears. I guess you could say it gets my “seal” of approval! … Get it? Because the Taygetians resemble seals, and … whatever. These are the jokes, people.
Don’t sleep on Uhura—she’ll be front and center again just two weeks from now. But first, Kirk is going to play Poirot. Are his detective skills up to snuff? (Spoiler: no.)
NEXT TIME: The Vulcan Academy Murders