This week, a high-speed chase leads the Enterprise to a planet rumored to guarantee asylum with no credit check and no money down. But when Kirk takes the pursuit planetside, he quickly learns that ships that check in don’t check out. Now he, Spock, and Bones have to find a way out before they all get turned into Ken dolls. Meanwhile, back in the peanut gallery, Scotty trades interior design for intel and turns to the Bible for inspiration. Does this book have the worst foreword yet? Where are all the women? And can Scotty successfully endure an epic case of blue balls for the good of the Federation? All this and more in Sanctuary, the book that provides six steps to a better, more mindlessly obedient you.
Author: John Vornholt
Published: September 1992
Timeline: After “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (S3E15)
Sanctuary opens with the Enterprise in hot pursuit of a mysterious space pirate named Auk-Rex. As they enter unexplored space, Spock speculates that Auk-Rex may be heading for Sanctuary, a fabled planet said to take in all who flee from danger and deny all appeals and requests for extradition from outsiders. When they can’t lock on with the tractor beam, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy hop in a shuttlecraft and continue the chase on the planet’s surface. A Klingon ship in orbit hails the Enterprise to commend Kirk for his bravery. Seeing Scotty’s confusion, the Klingon captain explains that ships that go down to Sanctuary don’t come back.
After Auk-Rex’s ship crashes into a mountain, the three explore a little. They meet Zicree, a Senite, the race of androgynous humanoids taht appear the run the show. Zicree seems polite enough—until they explain why they’re there, at which point it angrily calls them “persecutors” before vanishing. After an especially rough several hours, things finally appear to look up when they reach Dohama, a pleasant burg with a welcoming aura, but Kirk can’t shake the notion that something is fishy. As the trio becomes more restless and inquisitive, their intransigence begins to annoy the Senites. Snooping around trying to figure out their transporter tech finally gets their wanted level up to five stars, and they’re forced to escape by sea.
They row through nasty weather to Khyming and meet some of the women the planet has heretofore suspiciously lacked. Kellen is a lifer with a bright red Kool-Aid mustache, but Renna, a newer arrival, isn’t as convinced. She agrees to help Kirk, Spock, and McCoy find their shuttle and escape, but it won’t be easy, and the price of failure is fairly scary. If caught, they’ll be put through the Six Holy Steps of Reborning—essentially, they’ll have their brains wiped and their genitals removed for conversion into full-time Senites.
Abject horror isn’t a direction Star Trek goes very often, but when it does and it sticks the landing, the result is hard to beat. Sanctuary effectively alternates between thrilling and horrifying, and does a great job of making you think the titular planet truly is inescapable and shaking that faith in the status quo. In particular, the Reborning ritual—when you realize how these neutered beings make more of themselves—is especially disturbing. Sanctuary maintains that constant sense of “what’s going to happen next?” that you hope for every time you pick up a book.
Much of what happens next is the sudden pop-up of one cool idea or another. I haven’t yet had it in me to complete even a short work of fiction, but if I could, this is an effect I would hope to achieve. The momentum of Sanctuary is buoyed by the consistent introduction of new and nifty ideas, until at last you have a cozy 200pp+ pile of them. It seemed like every few pages I’d run into something that made me think That’s cool. I wish I’d thought of that. You can practically open Sanctuary to a random page and find something clever, cool, funny, or even all three.
All this is made even more impressive by the fact that to date I’ve found John Vornholt’s books to be rather disappointing. But they don’t say the third time is the charm for nothing. That moment when an author first rises to the occasion is always exhilarating, and Sanctuary is a choice example of that moment. Of course, this is also the sort of thing you only notice when you read there books in a specific progression—like, say, for instance, the order in which they were published. Now, what if there was a website that did that? That’d sure be something.
MVP & LVP
- MVP this week goes to Scotty. I didn’t talk any about the B-plot in the body of the review, but it’s often as entertaining as the events brewing on the planet below. Scotty contends for most of the novel with a captain named Pilenna, providing gratis repairs to her jalopy in hopes of getting useful intel on Sanctuary in return, and doing an admirable job of resisting the seduction that is no less formidable for its performer being only half-Orion. Scotty deserves no less than shore leave on Risa for his heroic forbearance. That’s not even getting into his hilarious scheme to unleash a plague of Regulan locusts on the planet to annoy the Senites into relenting and giving back his men. He even makes sure they’re sterile so it won’t screw up their ecology! What a champ. The bulk of the action may follow the classic power trio, but Sanctuary is not so secretly an excellent Scotty showcase. Honorable mention to Renna, without whom our boys would be gray-skinned eunuchs, but Scotty just put together way too impressive a portfolio in this one to not earn it.
- LVP this week is Billiwog. Describing him as “British Worf on amphetamines” may be accurate, but makes him sound much cooler on paper than he actually is in execution.
Nuggets & Other Stray Bits
- Sanctuary is the first book in a while to begin with a foreword. Aside from the usual acknowledgments, this foreword features, incredibly, a call to action to the private sector to revive the faded dream of space travel. Even back then, it’s likely this plea was at best misguided and/or hopelessly naive. Here in good old 2019, I’d call it that and more—”boneheaded” is a word that comes effortlessly to mind, as well as harmfully ignorant. Brands today are interested far more in dunking on each other on social media, trying to be your friend/therapist, or undermining hard-won labor standards than in reaching beyond our solar system. Those few that are interested in traveling among the stars are run by colossal dingdongs. Sorry John, but this is one take that should be launched into the sun.
- p. 90: “Unfortunately, the fog had masked the pending storm, and they didn’t know enough about the sea to realize that the choppy waves meant a squall was brewing.” — I know we take it for granted that these guys can perform acts of heroism and feats of strength in their sleep, but there’s something refreshing about this passage where lacking a skill set and barely scraping by made these characters feel that much more human to me.
- Broke, Not Woke, p. 97: “Kirk and Spock rowed like whipped slaves, but they couldn’t make any headway in the tumultuous surf.” — Really? That’s the simile we’re going with here? … Whatever you say, Cap’n.
- p. 155: Captain Donald Mora appears to subscribe to the philosophy that fish are friends, not food.
I give Sanctuary 4 out of 5 Holy Steps of Reborning. There is always something either exciting or terrifying happening in this book, and the sum of it adds up to a quite clever and satisfying little pile of interesting individual ideas. No-questions-asked asylum sounds pretty nice, but this book excels at exploring that concept’s nightmarish dark half. Great action, great suspense, great humor, great character beats—just an all-around solid novel.
NEXT TIME: Back-to-back Vornholt stories as we sound the War Drums