This week, Worf ships off to the Academy, and as Starfleet’s first Klingon cadet, the burden of expectation weighs heavily on him. But when he gets in a fight fresh off the shuttle and the dean makes his brawl buddy his roommate, he’s caught between a rock and a hard place. Are Worf and his brother cut out for Starfleet? Will the Finnegan tradition live on? And why can no one ever think of the obvious “orange” rhyme? All this and more in Worf’s First Adventure, the book that comes with a handy cheat sheet!
Worf’s First Adventure
Author: Peter David
Published: August 1993
Timeline: Six years before “Encounter at Farpoint”
Today we reach a fascinating point in Star Trek literary history: the debut of the Starfleet Academy line. Intended for younger readers, the Academy sub-series in time grew to a total of twenty titles, with non-Academy adventures set in Deep Space Nine bringing the number of kid-geared Trek novellas up to 32. To this day, these books remain the largest collective body of Star Trek work to be targeted explicitly at children.
If I was to pick a high point for kid-friendliness in Star Trek, that high point might very well be 1993–94. It’s the narrow window in which both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine were airing. In the former, although Wesley Crusher was making only sporadic guest appearances by that point, the show still regularly threw kids a bone, catering to both teens (e.g., “The Game” and “True Q”) and younger viewers (e.g., “Imaginary Friend” and *shudder* “Rascals”). The latter, meanwhile, gave children Jake and Nog to gravitate toward. TNG boasted a robust line of action figures, vehicles, and accessories from Playmates. Also, the sanitized nature of TNG cultivated an aura of approachability that worked to its favor with the young. There could hardly have been a more perfect moment into which to drop something like the Starfleet Academy books, and Pocket Books struck while the pain stick was hot.
Fisher-Price–esque title notwithstanding, Worf’s First Adventure strikes the right tone for this type of project: simple, but not simplistic. It emphasizes Star Trek‘s greatest strength, i.e., inclusivity, overcoming differences while still celebrating them, but it never overwhelms with too hard a sell. It never shies away from lore—quite the opposite, actually. There are shockingly in-depth discussions of things like Eminiar VII and the Picard Maneuver. Yet foreknowledge of these events is not at all mandatory. A kid could read this not knowing their provenance, or even thinking they were made up whole-cloth for the story, and it wouldn’t adversely affect the reading in any way—if anything, it retroactively adds richness when one discovers those are references to established canon. Most importantly, it never patronizes the reader; anyone of any age can read this and not feel talked down to.
Apropos for Star Trek, Worf’s First Adventure is mostly a low-key story of personal growth, with just a dash of action sprinkled in near the end. Worf Rozhenko and his human brother Simon1 ship out to the Academy on the same shuttle as Soleta, a Vulcan girl, and Mark McHenry, an extreme space case whose off-putting oddness belies a talent for astronavigation that dwarfs even the most advanced computers. Worf hopes the days of being singled out and bullied just for being a Klingon are over, a hope that is instantly ruined almost the minute he gets off the shuttle when he is taunted and goaded into a fight by Zak Kebron, whose race, the Brikar, has a less-than-pleasant history with the Klingons. Having already anticipated bitter enmity between the two, Admiral Fischer, the dean of students, has devised the perfect solution: making them roommates.
Although his shuttle buddies accept him, Worf continues to be ostracized by others, his frustration reaching a peak when Zak mobilizes their Combat Strategy classmates to weaponize a seemingly innocuous assignment for maximum humiliation. A friendly face (whose identity I don’t dare spoil) encourages Worf to sign up for the Prometheus Run, a routine diagnostic run to a janky old space station that gives cadets a chance to acquire valuable real-world (real-space?) experience. But when Romulans attack during the run, the cadets learn who has the right stuff when the chili meets the cheese—and who doesn’t.
I admit that even with someone as talented as Peter David at the helm, I was expecting something a little too basic to be truly satisfying, but Worf’s First Adventure is a tasty snack-sized morsel. And it isn’t just well-written, it’s also well-illustrated, with sketches rendered elegantly by James Fry in No. 2 pencil that practically cry out for artistically inclined young readers to try to copy them. An easy yet mature read in a charming package: you could hardly ask for a better introduction to Star Trek for younger readers.
MVP & LVP
- My MVP this week is none other than Worf himself. His deep blue funk doesn’t last the entire book, and he pulls it together really well by the end, galvanizing his team during the Prometheus Run and proving once and for all which Rozhenko brother has the right stuff. Way to go, Worf.
- LVP of this book is Tania Tobias. So far all she’s here to do is have the unrequited hots for Worf. Since there are two more Worf Academy adventures, there are still a couple of books for her to actually get a chance to do something, but while her unconditional friendliness is nice, she just doesn’t do a whole lot here.
Nuggets & Other Stray Bits
- There’s a timeline in the front of the book that covers various important events between the NCC-1701 setting out on its five-year mission and Sisko taking command of Deep Space Nine, including the dates of entry into the Academy for various TNG characters. I spent long enough absorbing this timeline while I was sitting around bored at work; no telling how long I would have stared at it and how thoroughly I’d have internalized it if I’d owned this book as a kid. Great underrated addition, and it even helps support a late-story cameo to boot.
- Mark McHenry, p. 13: “Not all questions without answers are paradoxes. Like … what rhymes with orange? There’s no answer to that.” — YES THERE IS. Door hinge. “Door hinge” rhymes with orange. This immediately pops into my head any time someone brings up the whole “rhymes with orange” nonsense. He didn’t say there was no word that rhymed with orange, just nothing that rhymed with it, and while it is technically slant rhyme, it’s close enough. What about one of the other handful of words in English that’s much harder to find a rhyme for, like “silver”, “purple”, or “month”? But no, it’s always “orange” that people get hung up on for some reason. NOT ACADEMY MATERIAL, MR. McHENRY.
- A descendant of Finnegan, Kirk’s oft-mentioned rival at the Academy, seeks to perpetuate his great-grandfather’s proud tradition of pranking. Making the victim of your practical joke a Klingon, however, turns out to be a pretty rock-solid way to lay that tradition to rest. (pp. 39, 41)
- Worf expresses distaste for the cowardice of the Picard Maneuver: “A captain should go down with his ship. I could never serve under such a man.” WACKITY-SCHMACKITY-DOOOOO (p. 66)
I recommend Worf’s First Adventure. An auspicious start to the Starfleet Academy line of books that strikes precisely the right tone for a project aimed at a younger demographic, and it’s fun for adults to read as well. The lesson being taught may be simple, but it’s the sort of thing everyone could stand to be reminded about now and again.
NEXT TIME: Kira finds herself in the crosshairs in Bloodletter