This week, a jaunt to the Gamma Quadrant leads to love for Pike!Enterprise’s goofiest-looking crewman, but the premature closure of the gate that brought them there forces them to leave before she can engage his hyperdrive. Several years later, when the Enterprise returns for a hopefully rosier second outing, she dares to quit before her people can fire her, to which they respond by holding the Federation’s contact team hostage. Will Kirk figure out how to extract his people before the gap closes for another three decades? Will Jose Tyler finally get the sweet, sweet Gamma Quadrant strange he was denied all those years ago? Is it shorter to list the things that don’t offend a Tellarite? All this and more in The Rift, a romance 33.4 years in the making.
Author: Peter David
Published: November 1991
Timeline: 2254 (chapters 1–7) (Pike-era Enterprise); 2287 (chapter 8 and on) (i.e., shortly after Star Trek V: The Final Frontier)
Prerequisites: “The Cage”, of course—standard for Pike-heavy stories; additionally, characters from “A Taste of Armageddon” (S1E23) and “The Ultimate Computer” (S2E24) play major roles in the story
In our second book in a row to feature the Sweater Era, the Enterprise encounters a tear in space. Pike is willing to send a form letter of peace and goodwill through it, but beyond that, he feels the greater priority is helping survivors at Vega IX. When a short response comes back through, Pike makes a U-turn to address it. An attempt at sending a probe is rejected with the terse rejoinder “Nice try.” Reluctantly, Pike makes the decision to enter the rift, which deposits them in the Gamma Quadrant over two decades from home at warp seven.
The people on the other side are the Calligar, a technologically advanced but rather shy race, who inform the Enterprise crew that the rift they just passed through opens for about 72 hours once every 33.4 years. Master Builder Zyo and his cohorts give the crew a tour of many aspects of Calligarian society, but the main focus lands on navigator Jose Tyler, who gets to explore what Federation folk will later realize is basically a holodeck. That’s not all he gets to explore: Zyo’s daughter Ecma apparently gets wet for dudes who look like Andy from Toy Story, and sure enough, she puts the moves on him something fierce. That’s about the time her brother Macro shows up to beat the snot out of Tyler and tell him this is my ink, go dip your pen somewhere else. During the fight, the rift begins closing sooner than usual, due to the mass of the Enterprise passing through it. Pike interprets the delay in Tyler’s return as an act of hostility and puffs out his chest, disappointing Zyo, who declares the Federation not ready for prime time.
Exactly 33.4 years later, the Enterprise is back to try again with the Calligar. Jose Tyler is now a commodore, Ecma is now Master Builder, and Tyler has made sure he’s on hand for the grand re-opening to resolve their unfinished sexy business. Unfortunately, the reunion isn’t all smiles: Ecma now has a son by Macro, which isn’t a taboo for the Calligar,1 although that doesn’t stop Tyler from throwing a massive tantrum about it. Ecma also wants to step down from being Master Builder, which no one has ever tried, not least of all because it isn’t allowed.
Another reason for her malaise is that she also isn’t terribly thrilled about her impending Thinning, a process wherein, when it’s decided she’s peaked intellectually and creatively, she will be uploaded to Calligar’s Worldmind, a sort of heaven-on-earth where she’ll remain conscious and able to provide her vast knowledge to those Calligarians still living. Ecma requests asylum in the Federation, which Kirk grants her; displeased, the Calligarians hold the contact team pending Ecma’s return. The remainder of the story, naturally, concerns Kirk’s attempt to get his people out of the hostage situation before the rift closes and everyone except Spock dies of old age before it reopens.
First, let’s hit the things this book does right. One, it’s nice to spend a sizable chunk of time in the Sweater Era and really get to know characters rather than just visit it intermittently through dreams, memories, and flashbacks, as we did in Michael Jan Friedman’s Legacy. The setting of Calligar is also really cool, and feels really advanced without coming across as silly or crossing too egregiously into soft sci-fi (the advent of cloud technology probably helps in that regard).
But as with last week’s Q-in-Law, there’s a lot working against this book, and it doesn’t have to be that way, but Peter David just can’t seem to rein in his less savory impulses. There’s a conversation between Pike and Boyce about women in the pre-TOS portion of the book that’s just plain nasty, and Jose Tyler’s behavior makes you wonder what Ecma’s getting herself into (more on that later). Ecma and Number One are really the only women featured prominently, and they’re each put through the wringer for seemingly little more than plot fuel and male character exploration, respectively. Just because the sexual politics of the pilot were gross doesn’t mean one has to lean into it.
That said, the book does move forward at a brisk clip, and there’s usually something fascinating going on that’s able to take your mind off the worse stuff for a while and remind you of the sheer level of raw talent we’re witnessing in Peter David. Perhaps the close proximity of release between this and Q-in-Law caused the quality of each to suffer. I have to imagine they were being written concurrently, or at the very least with not much of a break in-between. My heart and my mind really clash over these David stories; it’s difficult to assess and score them in a way that communicates that I can see real talent and value in them while also acknowledging the severity of their flaws.
MVP & LVP
- I’m giving out a co-MVP this week, to Shondar Dorkin and Thak, the Tellarite and Andorian ambassadors to the Calligar, respectively. These two are at each other’s throats constantly, sort of like Spock and Bones but with a greater threat of possible physical violence. They seem like goofball comic relief, but then one of them dies saving the other’s life, and they gain a mutual respect for each other that’s genuinely moving. The only reason the one who dies doesn’t get a Ten Forward Toast this week is because it would be too much of a shame to spoil it outright. But I enjoyed them a lot, and I wish they could have had more adventures together.
- Jose Tyler is my LVP this week. He’s annoying all throughout, and generally runs hot, which is annoying enough as an ensign but is totally unbecoming for a commodore. But the final moments of the book really shed light on the true nature of his heart. Now this I don’t mind spoiling one bit: with the rift seconds from closing and Ecma having appeared to return home through it, he starts calling her a bitch and grousing about how she used him to reconnect with her youth and flinging all manner of character assassination at her. Then right as it closes, she pops back through, having changed her mind, and suddenly Tyler is all smiles, saying he never doubted her for a moment. Spock opines, “Considering the vast number of emotional flipflops humans make in their lifetimes, it’s amazing you do not all come equipped with trampolines as standard issue.” That’s a very charitable, diplomatic way of putting it. I have neither reason nor incentive to be anywhere near as nice: Commodore Tyler can rot in hell, and he doesn’t deserve Ecma.
Nuggets & Other Stray Bits
- Cover Art Corner: This is, without question, the sharpest-looking cover to date, and no other comes remotely close. I’ll let slide that the satellite city doesn’t quite look like that and that Sweater!Spock doesn’t play near the role in this book that the cover would suggest.
- p. 4: We learn where Spock picked up the word “fascinating”: from Number One.
- p. 13: “‘Capped in!’ Tyler seemed to be saying, and Pike was wondering what was capped in what.” — As someone who has cracked off enough terrible puns in his lifetime to no longer have a working on/off switch for them, I can spot when somebody’s had one clinking around in their head for a while and is taking the first available opportunity to let it out, and this is definitely one of those times.
- p. 15: Peter David’s answer to the “Number One’s name” dilemma? It’s unpronounceable.
- Scotty showing Commodore Tyler around engineering, p. 119: “The equipment has so many redundant check systems and self-maintenance programs, why … a blind man could be chief engineer and not lose a whit of efficiency.”
- As sometimes happens, The Rift is one of the handful of Star Trek books I read as a kid, (Come to think of it, I think I chose it based on that cover I raved so much about, actually.) Prior to rereading it, I remembered only two things about it: 1) Ecma stripping down, skinny-dipping, and trying to get it on with Tyler,2 and 2) Chapter 11, where Shondar Dorkin gets upset when Kirk says words that coincidentally sound vaguely like Tellarite fightin’ words but is honored when Tyler calls him a jerk. The setup is a tad laborious, but the payoff made me chuckle.
I give The Rift 3 out of 5 energy-creating plasma fires. The Calligarian world is pretty cool, and it’s been a while since we’ve seen something truly futuristic-feeling in a Trek novel. But Commodore Tyler’s overall characterization and behavior, along with Peter David’s usual peccadilloes and proclivities, threaten to tank what’s otherwise a compelling story. David’s already turned in some legitimately great work, so I’m not sure why subsequent novels have continued to revert to amateur puerility. I’m really hoping that greatness returns soon and doesn’t prove to have been a fluke.
NEXT TIME: Picard gets together with some old coworkers for a Reunion