This week, we’re going all the way back to the oldest of the old-school: Captain Pike, sweaters, a number-one named Number One, the whole shebang. It’s Spock’s very first mission aboard the Enterprise, and Starfleet thinks it’s got a lead on the location of one of Vulcan’s most treasured artifacts, the long-missing titular jewel. Like most emeralds, however, where this one goes, chaos follows. Meanwhile, Pike’s reunion with some old road bros gets interrupted by an impromptu production of Romeo and Juliet. What makes Number One number one? How much is T’Pring making off Spock in US dollars? It’s the book that probably could have used a few more gamma rays in its hooch.
Author: D.C. Fontana
Published: February 1989
Timeline: Before TOS
Prerequisites: “The Cage” (TOS original pilot); “Amok Time” (S2E1) and “Yesteryear” (TAS S1E2) are also heavily referenced
You want pedigree? Well, buddy, you got it! This week’s author, in her one and only literary Trek appearance, is none other than Miss Dorothy Catherine “D.C.” Fontana. Fontana, for the unlearned, is one of the undisputed queens of Star Trek history: she wrote at least one episode for four different series of the franchise (five if you count the fan-made New Voyages) and served as associate producer and/or story editor on three of them. She’s a pretty big deal in the annals of Trekdom. It seems like Pocket Books would have been pretty excited, and not without justification, to have a luminary with Fontana’s résumé grace them with an original story. But there were two things that struck me before I even started reading the book.
One is that this book’s credentials don’t jive with its status. Consider the import of the person at the wheel here, as well as the nature of the story: Spock’s introduction to the Enterprise, the first step in what would go on to be one of the most illustrious careers in Starfleet. This would seem to me to be exactly the kind of epic history-making adventure that merits an event novel. Yet Vulcan’s Glory is just a regular numbered novel like any other, and not only that, but one of the shorter and more briskly paced ones in recent memory, with a brevity that recalls the very earliest sub-200-page Trek novels.
The other is that the one person who doesn’t have much to say about all this is Fontana herself. You’d expect this to be exactly the sort of book that opens with a breathless foreword about her history with the franchise, her love of the fandom, how the story came together, etc.—but in fact, the only non-story word from her is a no-nonsense dedication. That lack of pomp, which in almost any other book would be somewhat of a relief, is actually a bit disquieting here, and provided for me the first sign that we maybe weren’t exactly going to be in for the most rollicking adventure.
Spock in these early days of his career isn’t as calm, cool, and collected as the Spock we know by the time TOS rolls around. As the story opens, he’s having to be ordered not to work while on shore leave, he and Sarek are deep in the thick of their whole not-talking-to-each-other business (Sarek conducts a family meeting by having Amanda speak for him through an earpiece), and T’Pring, his betrothed, is demanding that he put a ring on it and spare her and her family further embarrassment. All of this weighs heavy on his mind and heart as he prepares to report for duty aboard his new ship, the Enterprise.
As Spock settles into his new assignment, it’s learned that after years of rumors, wild goose chases, and dead ends, there may at last be a solid lead on the location of Vulcan’s Glory, a gigantic (almost 23,000 carats), long-missing emerald that was lost on a voyage roughly equivalent of one intended for showing the flag. The lead actually pans out, and the crew retrieves it from the planet Areta. An annoying geologist with a thirst for fame tricks his way into the vault, and soon enough winds up murdered by what appear to be Vulcan methods. After he clears himself as a suspect, Number One allows Spock to lead the murder investigation, and in the course of the investigation he finds himself increasingly attracted to his pointy-eared Watson, T’Pris, whom he gradually comes to admit to himself he digs way more than that frosty black-heart T’Pring.
T’Pris is a tragic inclusion, because you know from the minute Spock starts getting goo-goo eyes for her that it’s not fated to last. Either she’s the murderer or she’s going to bite the dust—knowing what we know about the timeline, there just can’t be any other way. And it’s a huge bummer, because she’s really sweet and understanding and a great match for Spock. (That sweetness even makes their sex scene more potent.) On one hand, the inevitable loss can be enough to make you wish the character and the relationship had never been set up in the first place. However, it’s also nice to see Spock get some peace and contentment during a time in his life that was full of emotional upheaval.
While Spock and T’Pris put on their Sherlock Holmes hats, Pike beams down to Areta solo to check in on some old nomad buddies (who don’t know he’s a starship captain, believe he’s simply a wise wanderer, and don’t question his comings and goings) and try to help establish trade between at least them and the city folk, though pulling the hat trick and getting the mutant population off in the hills in on the deal would be swell too. It’s never that easy though, and a city leader’s son and a nomad chief’s daughter running off together complicates the proceedings considerably. These were my favorite parts of the book, since Pike appears to be really in his element in this type of mission, and never loses his cool or breaks kayfabe around the Aretians for even a second. If nothing else, Vulcan’s Glory certainly makes a strong argument for Pike’s inclusion among the legendary captains.
Lest you think Vulcan’s Glory is nothing but The Spock Show Starring Spock, it’s also Scotty’s first mission aboard the Enterprise. A second lifeline for readers not familiar with the Pike era isn’t strictly necessary, but as redundancies go, it’s at least a fun one. Scotty never mingles with the main story line, spending all his time in a lighthearted but inconsequential C-plot in which he and his bunkmate Bob Brien concoct a batch of engine-room hooch that knocks everyone’s socks off but winds up accidentally getting a little too much radiation in it for the higher-ups to look the other way. You almost never get this kind of completely self-contained comic mischief in these books, and while it’s amusing enough, its inclusion in an already quick and compact story speaks more to the gauntness of the other plot threads than standing on its own.
Vulcan’s Glory also attempts to color in some of the details of the enigmatic helmsman/first officer known only as Number One1, played in the pilot by Majel Barrett-Roddenberry. Evidently, she’s called Number One because she’s literally the best of her batch from her homeworld of Ilyria—i.e., the top product of her people’s genetic engineering practices. Fontana makes a good effort to make her something more than the distant cipher she came across as to some in “The Cage”, but still it’s abundantly clear this is not her story, and honestly I have a hard time remembering anything she did here other than play a game of zero-g racquetball with the ship’s engineer.
That lack of memorability is the biggest problem with Vulcan’s Glory in general. I was rather surprised by how much less meat Vulcan’s Glory has on its bones than what I’ve come to expect from a Star Trek novel this deep into the run. This would have worked much better either as the start of something ongoing rather than as a standalone work, or as something with much more of an event novel-type brouhaha surrounding it. While the glimpse into a rarely explored era is appreciated, it’s treated very much like business as usual, and I wish, considering the importance of its author and the era and characters being covered, that that hadn’t been the case.
MVP & LVP
- This week’s MVP is Captain Pike. Of all the characters expanded on from “The Cage”, he gets the most and coolest stuff to do. He’s the only one who isn’t stuck in a bottle episode for the majority of his page time, and he’s just a pretty cool guy in general. I’m looking forward to reading more adventures revolving around him, such as his installment in the Captain’s Table series.
- My choice for LVP is Meadows, the geologist who forges Pike’s signature to get his hands on Vulcan’s Glory, because my least favorite Starfleet officers are always the conniving sniveling weiners. I didn’t shed any tears when he ate it, that’s for sure.
Nuggets & Other Stray Bits
- Vulcan’s Glory was one of the four novels re-released in 2006 to celebrate the franchise’s 40th anniversary. I can guarantee you that’s pretty much entirely because of the name on the cover and not any testament to the book’s actual quality. (The other three, by the way, were The Entropy Effect, Strangers from the Sky, and Federation, which we’ll get to when we reach 1994.)
- p. 113 “bodies still moist from making love” — Okay, look, I’m not one of those people who throws fits about the word moist. I think it’s one of those things similar to claiming you’re afraid of clowns, in that it is never ever true and only serves as a red flag to an unfathomably boring and unimaginative inner life. That said, I’m not going to lie: that turn of phrase did indeed squick me out a little.
- Page 181 has Pike referring to “an old Indian trick”. I mean, come on—just because the pilot was made in 1964 doesn’t mean everyone has to talk like that’s what year it is.
- p. 238: “‘You bastard,’ Spock hissed” — It makes sense in context, but man, you must have to cheese Spock off something fierce to get him to say something like that.
- Page 248 mentions the crew wearing dress uniforms. Did they ever show what dress uniforms looked like in the sweater prototype era? I had trouble visualizing it.
I give Vulcan’s Glory 3 out of 5 shots of engine-room hooch. It’s not bad by any stretch—the stuff involving Pike is good, and to be honest it’s a bit of a low-key relief after enduring another round of Jean Lorrah’s obsession with exclamation marks and italics, but it’s just sort of a trifle. It might have made sense as the first step in a series of stories that showcased Spock’s growth from his start on the Enterprise to the Kirk era, but as it is, it just sort of ends with a thud, and we’re left with the cold comfort that somewhere in the interim Spock gets better. We can only hope that future stories set in this era take more time and care in worldbuilding.
NEXT TIME: Peter David throws his first pitch down the Strike Zone