This week, when the Enterprise aids a non-Federation planet with its rebellion problem, Kirk finally gets to work with a diplomat he likes. But when he’s pushed into leading the way, he’s more than a little uncomfortable with the ace the cops have up their psychic sleeve. Which senior officer would you not want to catch en flagrante? Could you eat rat meat if it tasted like steak? And what’s the latest on future sports popularity? All this and more in The Patrian Transgression, the book whose title sounds like a Big Bang Theory episode.
The Patrian Transgression
Author: Simon Hawke
Published: April 1994
Timeline: Mid-season 3-ish
Although not a member of the Federation, the planet Patria requests their aid in quelling a rebellion movement that’s gained a major advantage—viz., a loot drop of Klingon disruptors. The Enterprise is assigned to a support role; in charge is Robert Jordan, the famous author of the Wheel of Time saga who appears to have overcome the significant handicap of, uh, being dead to offer the Federation his services as a diplomatic envoy. Truly, a man of many talents. Jordan is accompanied by his undersecretary Kim Li Wing, whose Asianness and hotness are duly noted in both prose and dialogue.
Kirk used to be friends with Jordan back at the Academy, and looks forward to working with a diplomat he doesn’t hate for a change. So there you have it: a cushy mission with an agreeable partner, no problems whatsoever. The End! Oh wait, record scratch, that isn’t how stories work. Almost immediately, Kirk gets a fat lot of nothing from Jordan, who seems content to pass the buck and leave Jim’s neck on the block if things go sideways. Patria’s prime minister leaves him in much the same bind. In the immortal words of Ned Flanders’s mother, they’ve tried nothin’ and they’re all out of ideas. Kirk emphasizes that he’s cool with hanging back and providing impartial counsel, but the prime minister dumps the entire situation in his lap and says, essentially (I’m paraphrasing somewhat), “You have my blessing. Deuces!”
The party is partnered with a beat cop named Joh Iano, who takes them down to the mean streets to watch live Patrian Gladiators in a bar. The reigning champ, Zor Kalo, challenges Kirk to a spontaneous exhibition match and tells him amid the melee to not trust the police, that the underground has no contact with the Klingons and the Federation is being lied to about the disruptors, and that Iano is a telepath. Iano immediately proceeds to shoot a guy who “was thinking about” committing a murder, and the crew learns a few hard lessons about Patria—namely, that ideation and intent are punished as harshly as actual deeds, and that telepaths on Patria are made, not born, volunteering for an elite squad called the Mindcrime Unit. The cops and government want the rebels quashed, while the rebels demand nothing less than the resignation of everyone on the Patrian Council and the total dismantling of the Mindcrime Unit. The whole mess has Kirk and his crew walking on eggshells to avoid violating the Prime Directive in several ways, some of which are genuinely surprising.
The last time we checked in with Simon Hawke was for his debut, the TNG novel The Romulan Prize. Although I reviewed that one less than five months ago, I remember virtually nothing about it, except that I mildly enjoyed it overall, with the Romulan antagonist being a particular high point. I think I’ll find The Patrian Transgression a bit more memorable. In its careful consideration of all the possible ramifications of the Prime Directive, it reminded me of another TNG novel I enjoyed quite a lot, Terry Mancour’s Spartacus. That level of insight is imparted to the characters as well. Many of the featured Patrians have a good bead on the planet’s situation, and although the nature of it is complex, their articulate assessments make it easy to follow.
Expectations are capably subverted whenever longstanding Trek tropes come into play. As soon as you hear the rebels have Klingon disruptors, your first thought is bound to be Gee, I wonder who supplied those. Yet you realize there has to be more to it as you get deeper and deeper into the story without meeting a single Klingon. Relatedly, there is somewhat of a minor whodunit element centered around the question of who has a vested interest in keeping this dynamic going, but Hawke made it almost completely unguessable by baking the key to the answer into the structure of Patrian society itself. This was either going to be very clever or very irritating, and thankfully, it turned out to be the former. And it’s rare enough for McCoy to be the one who gets the one-episode stand, but his fling with Secretary Wing is marked by such a mature understanding of consent and work/life balance that, astoundingly, it counteracts almost all the innate yuckiness of an old wrinkled codger hooking up with a P.Y.T. The only real remaining flaw in that part, then, is that it takes McCoy out of the action at moments when his character beats and talents might be appreciated, though it does make for an amusing scene where Kirk knocks on his door during what is clearly mid–fun-times.
Despite its gift for interesting subversions, I’d hesitate to call The Patrian Transgression top-shelf material. I had quite a bit of fun reading it, but it never really blew my mind. I’d say it falls squarely in the topmost sub-tier of solid competence, where it should still be one you add to your reading list if you want a comprehensive picture of the strengths of Trek literature. The Prime Directive is dicey even in theory, and not all authors (or screenwriters) handle it properly. But Hawke is certainly one who can posit nifty ideas and then tease them out to fascinating conclusions.
MVP & LVP
- My MVP this week is one of the Patrians, Anjor, who welcomes the Federation delegation with a bang, knocking their socks off with a whiskey of his own creation (which he names after Scotty) and a steak that tastes like beef but comes from a giant indigenous rodent. Talk about missing a calling. Why is this guy even in the military? If he can get people to eat rat steaks, he should be filming his own Food Network show, not getting into unwinnable firefights with the Orions. Runner-up to Kirk, who assumes command of the mission by citing a completely made-up regulation, a totally baller move I would never have the guts to try.
- For LVP this week, I’m giving it to McCoy. Yes, his hookup with Secretary Wing is, against all odds, tastefully executed and somehow not nearly as gross as it should be. Still: is this really a good time? The Patrian situation is extremely volatile. He could be needed at any time to tend to injured innocent parties. Imagine how hard he’d have gotten read the riot act if he’d been doing the space nasty while civilians were getting mowed down. Perhaps get your rocks off during a less … urgent mission, sir? Oh no, I just imagined how that hotel room smells, brb while I barf up literally all of my vital organs.1
Nuggets & Stray Bits
- Given that this is numbered TOS novel #69, I would be remiss in my duties if I did not take the time to say this: Nice.
- Cover Art Corner: Looks like we’ve got some reused assets! That’s the same picture of Kirk that appears on the box art for Star Trek: Judgment Rites, making him the second box-art star from that game to make an identical appearance on a book cover.2 Also, the Patrian shown here looks like a reptilian re-imagining of Ruk from “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”, which caused me to read every Patrian character’s dialogue in Ted Cassidy’s voice.
- “It was a cacophony of sights and smells and sounds, reminiscent of some of the Federation’s wildest and most wide-open cities, such as Bangkok, Bradbury City, New York, and Elysium.” — Bradbury City is a cool name, but it got me thinking: how often are new cities actually founded? I feel like there have been no new cities in my lifetime, although that can’t possibly be true. There have definitely been new countries; I think Chechnya happened not that long ago in the big scheme of things. Also, South Sudan? Clearly, geography is not my strong suit. Although now that I reread that sentence, it doesn’t necessarily say Bradbury City is on Earth—just in the Federation. (p. 80)
- Spock talks about several Terran blood sports, including kumite, and mentions that boxing remains popular. So if you’re keeping score at home: punching people in the face is still hot in the 23rd century, while hitting a ball with a stick is not. (p. 82)
- So we’ve looked today at The Patrian Transgression, but YOU would be committing a Patreon transgression if you didn’t support this site on Patreon, by giving just one dollar a month to help me purchase the books and keep the site going! There. I believe that’s what is known as a [puts on bifocals, checks notes] “call to action”. Very subtle, I thought.
I recommend The Patrian Transgression. This is the kind of book where you can tell the author gave a great deal of thought to a very intricate situation, and the effort paid off. Some expectations regarding common Trek tropes are nimbly subverted, and the book overall shows an above-average competence. It probably won’t change your life like Anjor’s rodent steak, but it’s definitely well worth reading.
NEXT TIME: Jake and Nog bum a ride to Bajor in Stowaways