This week, when George Kirk struggles to straighten out his wayward progeny, the boy’s mother suggests a Take Your Son to Space Work Day. But when their shuttle gets waylaid by pirates en route to a ceremony, young James sees a new side of his father and learns that duty can sometimes literally cost an arm and a leg. Will James Kirk give in to the boomer side? What’s the point of campfire stories that aren’t scary? And what’s the deal with Sanskrit on Mars? All this and more in the positively foudroyant Best Destiny.
Author: Diane Carey
Published: November 1992 (hardcover)
Timeline: Immediately after The Undiscovered Country (framing story); 45 years prior to that point (main story)
Prerequisites: Final Frontier, also by Diane Carey
Literally minutes after the Federation president congratulates Kirk on the events of The Undiscovered Country, a distress call comes in from the Bill of Rights. Readings in the ship’s vicinity show signs of antiproton flushback, an explosive phenomenon known only to occur in warp nacelles. The only other object in the neighborhood is a cold, lifeless ball of rock called Faramond, a name that stokes the fires of Kirk’s memory…
We then travel back in time 45 years and drop in on a younger James Kirk going by Jimmy. To say he’s rougher around the edges would be a massive understatement. When we meet him, he’s leading a ragtag band of misfits across dangerous terrain with the goal of running away to South America to get some sun, work some odd jobs, and watch the toilets flush counterclockwise. They get as far as stowing away on a boat in the Pacific—farther than I’d get, I’ll give him that—before Starfleet intervenes. Why would Starfleet get involved in an earthbound vessel’s affairs, you and certain inquisitive skippers may ask? Because Jimmy Kirk isn’t just any random stowaway. He’s the Starfleet man’s son.
Imagine if in The Breakfast Club John Bender had been the principal’s son, and that should give you a fair impression of the Kirks’ relationship at the start of the story. George’s behavior makes for a significant obstacle to enjoyment. He is a titanic square, the kind of person who says things like (I cannot emphasize enough that these are actual quotes) “Look, you retract your bristles, bud!” and “Watch your lip, buster” and calls his son things like [checks notes] “greenhorn punk”, “little gangster”, and “that snot”. Literally everything out of his mouth makes you want to give him a swirly, and the book never fully recovers from these early stumbles. It’s genuinely really hard not to blame Jimmy for his withering contempt.
With George at his wits’ end, Winona (George’s wife and Kirk’s mother) suggests taking Jimmy with him on his next deep-space outing. Questionable safety plus the fact that the filial and recreational accommodations of the Galaxy class of starships are still well over a century away notwithstanding, it’s hard to see how being cooped up in space will thaw Jimmy’s hardened adolescent heart or be otherwise productive in any way. But George nonetheless seizes on the idea, and it’s his intentions that lead to my other big issue with this book.
Best Destiny appears to promote an agenda of adult wish fulfillment favored by a certain breed of parent. Wouldn’t it be marvelous, the timbre of the writing suggests, if only the troubled lad could see for himself the tangible results of strict adherence to rules and regulations? If I expose the young ruffian to people doing good rather than browbeat him with endless talk of it, then surely the scales will fall from his eyes and he will transform into a MAN that I can be PROUD OF! I’m not saying this can’t work. But as it’s presented in this particular story, it just doesn’t ring true to me. George Kirk is simply too much of a hotheaded dweeb for me to buy into the idea of one harrowing space cruise completely changing the complexion of his relationship with Jimmy. Looking back on my Final Frontier review, I see I preferred George Kirk’s willingness to take action over Robert April’s passivity, but I did a complete 180 on the characters this time.
Fortunately for George, he’s both surrounded by cooler heads and flattered by proximity to an even worse parent. On the way to a ground-breaking ceremony at Faramond, a shuttle containing the two Kirks, Robert April, Carlos Florida (aside from April, the most prominent recurring character from Final Frontier), and a handful of other officers is attacked by pirates from the dreaded Blue Zone. As they think on their feet and fight to stay alive, Jimmy is moved by their ingenuity, bravery, and selflessness, and when he gets a chance, he tries to emulate their heroic gestures with one of his own, attempting to pilot the makeshift escape pod they build for him into the pirates’ engine exhaust and blow them up. He misses, but gains a chance to sabotage the pirates from the inside.
Jimmy meets his funhouse-mirror counterpart on the pirate ship in Roy Moss, a ponytailed young man about his age. Roy is constantly mocked and belittled by the other pirates—most of all by his own father, Big Rex Moss—but he takes solace in the fact that he’s the smartest person on the ship, and one day they’ll all see and they’ll all pay. Roy mostly serves as level-1 fodder for Jimmy’s fledgling powers of armchair psychology, though he also, as you may begin to suspect while reading, plays a significant role in the framing story, which I haven’t talked much about since 1) it’s nearly completely useless1 and 2) it results in some character beats for present-day Kirk that would ordinarily be disappointing enough on their own, but are extra lame when viewed through the lens of the specific film this novel’s events immediately follow.
It’s not a great sign when a Kirk-heavy event novel’s worst bits are all Kirk-related. But thankfully, its supporting cast pulls a lot of weight—enough to actually make it a somewhat enjoyable read, despite its best efforts. I just think it has some bizarre notions about rehabilitating troubled youths, and the idea of taking a kid out in deep space seems like it would fit much better over the frame of TNG or another concurrent or later series. The family history might be the reason you’re drawn to the book, but it almost certainly won’t be why you stay.
MVP & LVP
- Few characters have earned MVP quite as thoroughly as this week’s winner, Ensign Veronica Hall. When Jimmy impulsively tries to manipulate machinery marked for use by trained professionals in an attempt to be helpful, he nearly gets a face full of coolant for his effort. The only reason he doesn’t is that Veronica pushes him out of the way. In the process, she loses her right arm and most of her leg and face. Her sacrifice leaves the greatest individual impression on Jimmy, as does her gallows humor in the face of unfathomable pain and agony. I’m not sure what’s more amazing: that she survives, or that the book manages to not have one of them fall in love with the other (or both with each other). Veronica Hall is everything great that Starfleet embodies. I often think Carey’s idea of Starfleet is a bit too jingoistic for its own good, but the flipside of that is that no one else really comes close to capturing such raw acts of courage.
- LVP of the week is Francis Drake Reed. In Final Frontier, Reed and George were like peas in a pod. Here, Reed is spared the misfortune of being on the ill-fated shuttle ride, but unfortunately, that leaves him with next to nothing to do back on the Enterprise. He’s essentially reduced to spouting information, giving Lorna Simon (the commanding officer in Robert April’s absence) the lowdown on George Kirk whenever she wants to speculate on what he’ll do next. It’s a heavy blow to a character who once enjoyed far greater prominence, though there are some, like Sarah April and Spirit Claw Sanawey, who might argue he should be thankful he got to appear at all. Honorable mention to George Kirk for something I didn’t mention earlier: he has to be, like, physically restrained from firing on a ship his own son is on. He can argue until he’s blue in the face about how that’s just how duty goes sometimes, but at that point in the book, he’s already having a hard enough time recovering from the early impressions that he doesn’t need to be adding “sociopath” to his list of negative qualities.
Nuggets & Other Stray Bits
- Unlike most people his age in this era, Kirk is admirably determined to hand the generational reins over with grace and magnanimity. Unfortunately, all too much like most of them, he ends up doing no such thing, convinced of his own indispensability by story’s end.
- Robert April, p. 100: “I never tire of nebulae … they’re so particularly foudroyant … worth a voyage just to see one.” — Yeesh, talk about your ten-dollar words! I like to think I have a somewhat elevated everyday vocabulary, but you’d never catch me busting this one out in casual conversation. But if you’d like to attract blank stares at parties, by all means, go for it. Most Google results tend to emphasize the word’s medical application, but Dictionary.com provides this more helpfully generalized definition: “striking as with lightning; sudden and overwhelming in effect; stunning; dazzling.”
- “He pulled Veronica’s spacesuit back out of the locker, along with two of the personal emergency medical kits, moving like a zombie in a strictly-for-scare campfire story.” — Umm, is there any other kind of campfire story? I mean, I suppose there are also goofy campfire stories for laffs, but who wants to waste time on that? (p. 203)
- Spock, p. 297: “Discovery of the same language on two continents is an indication of seafaring, and on two planets is an indication of possible space travel, yet raises endemic questions. For example, discovering Sanskrit on Mars … did we go there, or did they come here?” — At first I thought this was an offhanded reference to a news item I was too young to be aware of at the time, but unless my Google-fu is weak, it appears to be something Carey made up out of whole cloth. Without a reference point to an actual event, this just seems like an unnecessary exoticization of a culture.
I give Best Destiny 2.5 out of 5 coolant leaks. There’s a lot working against this story, including its bizarre agenda of parental wish fulfillment, the immense unlikability of George Kirk, and an almost totally pointless framing story. But numerous supporting characters step in to make this an at least moderately entertaining read. There may yet be a good story involving these characters, but once again I fail to be impressed by the adventures of the Enterprise’s first crew.
NEXT TIME: Scotty faces the grim prospect of obsolescence in Relics