This week, three children from a previous episode contend with the most dangerous alien force of all: puberty. But their joyride in a stolen starship takes an alarming turn when the Federation realizes there’s also an experimental cloaking device prototype on board. It’s bad enough for Kirk to have to cancel a meeting with a council of Contra-teens (which isn’t going so hot anyway) and call in some favors from an old friend—and I do mean old. Are the kids in fact alright? Is Kirk still carrying a gross torch for Miri? Wouldn’t you have an itchy trigger finger if you were a redshirt? It’s the book that, sadly, isn’t just 300 pages of Dr. McCoy dunking on basic white people.
The Cry of the Onlies
Author: Judy Klass
Published: October 1989
Timeline: After TOS
Prerequisites: “Miri” (S1E11); “Requiem for Methuselah” (S3E21); also a brief but important callback to “Dagger of the Mind” (S1E10)
The Cry of the Onlies opens with three kids on a starship all by their lonesome. Jahn, the oldest, is nominally in charge: you might remember him as one of the mischievous youths from “Miri”, one of the earliest TOS episodes. After spending centuries frozen in age on the precipice of his teen years, Jahn has finally crossed over into adolescence … and it would be the understatement of the millennium to say he’s not handling it well. Jahn’s thoughts are severely disjointed, he gleefully destroys ships that are run by grups, and he yells at the other two a lot. Rhea, the only girl on board, tries in vain to rein him in, and Pal, the youngest, spends most of his time finding places to hide from Jahn.
Meanwhile, the Enterprise pays a visit to another set of kiddos: the Council of Youngers, an adolescent rebel group that overthrew the previous ruling council on the planet Boaco Six. The Council of Youngers is spinning a lot of business plates, wheelin’ ‘n’ dealin’ with the Klingons, the Romulans, Orion pirates—pretty much everyone except the Federation. The Federation is in the doghouse with the Council, who are upset with them for providing weaponry that enabled the tyrant Puil’s rise to power. Kirk’s job is to regain their trust, restore diplomatic relations, and persuade the Council of Youngers that the Federation is the only horse worth betting on.
After a palace tour designed to twist the knife some more, things slowly start to pick up. Kirk hits it off with Tamara Angel, the minister of interplanetary relations, and McCoy’s medical aid, while slightly out of line, instills a great deal of hope in the overworked Boacan medical team. But all their wonderful progress gets dashed on the rocks when a ship transporting the minister of Boaco Eight gets blown to smithereens by an erratic attacker, and suddenly things are back to square one. Not even square one—more like square negative twelve.
At this point, the Boaco Six stuff goes entirely on the backburner. Incipient war is bad, but even worse, apparently, is learning that the ship that launched the wild ‘n’ crazy attack is also carrying an experimental cloaking device prototype that not only hides a ship but fools other ships’ sensors with false images and readings. Kirk gets in touch with the device’s creator, Flint, the immortal man whose android companion he memorably macked on in “Requiem for Methuselah”.
This split focus does weaken the book, though not significantly. It would have been much stronger if it had only been about Boaco Six or only been about the cloaking device and the Onlies, but since I’m given to understand that Klass padded it out at the behest of her editors, I’m willing to forgive its thin-spread nature somewhat, because the actual writing is fantastic. Last week, we looked at The Captains’ Honor, which brought the TOS episode “Bread and Circuses” forward a hundred years into the world of TNG, but didn’t have any real ideas about it and shed less light than, say, a simple general contrast between TOS’s cowboy diplomacy and TNG’s more bureaucratic nature would have. Conversely, the callbacks in The Cry of the Onlies feel well-considered and chosen to advance a specific point. They don’t necessarily all come together in one grand unified point, but they feel of a piece in their respective meditations on aging and maturing.
Of the book’s two discrete sides, I prefer the Boacan half. “Miri” is, in this specific case, an interesting choice for revisiting, because in a lot of ways the Council of Youngers feels like the anti-Onlies. Instead of wallowing in their childhood and playing “foolies”, they’re taking matters into their own hands: educating themselves and the populace, shredding the red tape, solving problems immediately and with urgency, and making the reversal of injustices their highest priority. Of course, they aren’t perfect—their naivete prevents them from truly grasping the unscrupulousness of the Romulans and the violence of the Klingons—but the best parts of the book are in those moments of realization and in watching the Enterprise crew nudge them toward their best selves.
No matter where you’re at in the book though, it’s bound to be colored by tragedy, whether in the form of senseless death, lost connections, misunderstanding borne of miscommunication, or loss of innocence. It’s rare for a Trek novel of this era to be so thoroughly suffused with that kind of thing, though at the same time it manages never to wallow and overall isn’t a downer. Klass’s pensive reflections on characters who are grappling with the forward movement of unnaturally protracted lives are a flavor of Trek I can really get down with. She runs the full gamut, taking a grim view of the Onlies’ rehabilitation in her extrapolation of its logical extreme but finding the joy in Flint finally approaching the beginning of his mortality.
The Cry of the Onlies was one of the last Trek novels I read on a capricious whim before beginning the rigid reading order of the Deep Space Spines project in earnest, and I remember strangely not caring for it all that much at that time. These are the times when doing this site pays off: upon reaching a book I’d previously cultivated this or that opinion about and written off, I end up reevaluating it and changing my mind, sometimes, as in this case, for the better. There’s lots here to chew on, and it’s fairly gritty for one published in this era. I think you have to have a solid foundation of show knowledge under your belt to really get the most out of this one, or at least of these episodes, but you’re well rewarded for it.
MVP & LVP
- My MVP for this book is Dr. McCoy, for one reason and one reason only: he spends some of his time at the medical camp talking to this hoity-toity privileged white chick (not described as white, but absolutely totally 200 percent white) who acts like the Federation are irredeemable monsters and that her ostentatiously expensive safari is what’s really creating true change out here on Boaco Six. McCoy listens to her and lets her talk … and then just eats her sack lunch. I would read an entire book of Bones taking clueless tourists to the cleaners. This seems like something that would happen in a Diane Duane story.
- I’m giving LVP to Iogan, one of the ministers of the Council of Youngers who decides taking up with the Klingons is the Council’s best bet. His motivation was never really fully clear to me, although it was pretty darkly funny to watch him figure out why that was such a bad idea when he sees up close and personal what they do to people who do wrong by them.
Ten Forward Toast
So I’ve decided to debut a new segment this week. Death happens all the time in Star Trek, and there’s not always a place in these reviews to talk about it—sometimes it doesn’t even really fit in the Nuggets section. So whenever a character dies a particularly gruesome, senseless, or emotional death, we’ll commemorate them with a Ten Forward Toast. This section won’t appear in a review if there are no especially noteworthy deaths in the book.
Note that this section may contain spoilers depending on the unexpectedness of the death and how well we got to know the character.
This week, we’re pouring one out for Glen and Hiroshi, the two guys running the ore freighter that Jahn destroys for literally no reason (other than the boy ain’t right). Just two guys, sittin’ around, bored, making pie-in-the-sky plans for the future, and they get blown to smithereens. They don’t even get the dignity of getting monologued by their attacker. Senseless and tragic. And so here’s to Glen and Hiroshi, two men cut down before their time, whose dreams were crushed almost the exact moment seed touched soil by forces beyond their ken. Depressing.
Nuggets & Other Stray Bits
- Cover Art Corner: Usually this mini-segment leans more into criticism, but not today. I unabashedly love this cover. The colors are rich and vibrant, the characters’ looks are spot-on, and they pop so well against the black backdrop. I don’t know what the kid is doing with his hand, but I don’t even care. This cover is gorgeous.
- In the acknowledgments preceding the book, Klass thanks her agent, Herb Katz. If that is not the most agent-sounding name you’ve ever heard in your life, I’ll give you a Yankee dime. How could you be born with a name like “Herb Katz” and not become an agent. I would also be shocked if he did not wear a greasy toupee, smoke giant stogies, and own a closet full of plaid wool sport coats.
- Ensign Michaels, as described on page 24:
Michaels had not spent much time on any intermediate vessels. A well-liked and hardworking student at the Academy, he had struggled to live up to the flash of genius he had shown in early childhood, and had convinced his teachers of his precocity.
Not gonna lie—that hits me right in the ol’ glowing red weak spot. Despite being a huge Star Trek fan (obviously), I’ve never fancied myself Starfleet material, as I’m sure some do, because if I’m really honest in my self-assessing, I’m far more an Ensign Michaels than, say, a Riker or a Geordi or even a Wesley Crusher or Harry Kim.
- The ensigns in the landing party are a bit trigger-happy, readily employing the kill setting on a rodent-type creature that latches onto Kirk’s face shortly after beaming planetside. Kirk chastises them for the needless termination of life … but real talk: if you’re a redshirt, and you’ve heard some lower-decks scuttlebutt about how these missions tend to play out for someone of your rank and station, is that really such an unfathomable reaction? I’m not completely prepared to say they were totally off base there. Undisciplined? Sure. In the wrong? Well…
- pp. 209–10: Even among Klingons, the atom-air gun sounds like one of their more gruesome punishment devices.
- Oh, and if you’re hoping this book offers some kind of corrective for the yuckiness of the Kirk/Miri relationship, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s revealed that Miri died by phaser blast in the dust-up that led to Jahn’s escape, and Kirk spends more than a few pages totally gut-wrenched over it. No real deconstruction of it happening there, much to my chagrin.
I give The Cry of the Onlies 4 out of 5 stolen experimental cloaking devices, which might be a little generous considering too much being crammed into too little space dilutes its potency, but I was genuinely impressed by it and enjoyed the heck out of it. This is a remarkably solid first effort. Klass is an author who showed her work. References and callbacks feel well justified and thoughtfully considered. A strong theme emerges and remains in focus even as the story bounces from one idea to another. If it didn’t depend so much on prior knowledge of specific episodes for maximum enjoyment, it might even be an easy recommend for casuals and/or non-fans.
It’s astounding that Judy Klass was only 22 (!!!) when The Cry of the Onlies was published. This book is proof that, had she so chosen, she could have easily gone on to an illustrious career in Trekdom, but a cursory glance at her website reveals her to be one of those dilettantish talents who likes to try lots of things. I feel a sadness similar to the one I felt with Barbara Paul and The Three-Minute Universe, knowing this strong outing will be the only one we ever get from her.
NEXT TIME: Prepare to have your face melted off by The Lost Years