I can’t believe we’ve made it this far already. It seems like only yesterday we were kicking off with The Motion Picture, and now we’re getting ready to dive into the sixth Star Trek television series. Sixth! That’s absolutely bananas. I can’t wait to dive headfirst into the adventures of Burnham, Tilly, Saru, silver-fox daddy Pike, and all the—
Wait, what? We’re not on Discovery? What are we on? …Oh, Recovery? Oh. My bad.
Authors: J.M. Dillard, Kathleen O’Malley1
Published: March 1995
Timeline: A few weeks before the events of The Motion Picture
Prerequisites: “The Tholian Web” (S3E9); events from The Lost Years are referenced and characters from same recur
Just as Kirk marches upstairs to give Admiral Nogura a piece of his mind for keeping him deskbound for too long, the old man hands him a space assignment: he’ll be on hand for the maiden run of the Recovery, a fully automated ship designed to evacuate large populations without calling in other ships and risking their crews. For its inaugural test, Recovery will be evacuating a research station on Zotos IV, a planet in a truly tricky spot, situated on the borders of Federation, Klingon, and Tholian space. Kirk will be watching from aboard the Paladin; McCoy is on the Recovery itself as a civilian guest of honor, but opts to voluntarily stay separated to avoid accusations of collusion. (And because he’s worried Jim is still mad at him for chewing out Nogura for making Jim a desk jockey.)
Kirk has previously been skeptical of the Recovery in preliminary assessments, mostly on account of its defensive systems, which he is unsure make for a good look, particularly in a vessel with such a humanitarian mission. But Recovery’s designer, Myron Shulman, is determined to set him straight. Kirk throws a few curveballs at Recovery to see how it fares in a scenario that isn’t pre-arranged. But Shulman has already anticipated that Kirk wouldn’t be satisfied with his initial demonstration, and decides to amp it up—to a deadly degree.
Recovery opens fire on the Klingon, Tholian, and Romulan spectators before turning on the Federation teams. Convincing them it was an accident is a miracle, and one Kirk manages to pull off, but that’s only the first of many. Recovery’s creator has gone as haywire as the ship he created, assassinating members of the Federation Disaster Relief Agency one by one and spouting a load of gibberish about avenging “the holy triad”. No one knows what he’s on about, but they’re going to have to figure it out pretty quickly, because Recovery has set its own course for Tholian space, and if Kirk and Bones can’t stop it before it crosses the border, they’re staring down the prospect of interstellar war.
Recovery is a much more loaded title that you generally expect from these books. It’s about a lot more than a ship by that name, for sure. For example, it wouldn’t be James Kirk if he didn’t manage to finagle himself into the command chair; he’s recovering what he feels is his rightful place on a starship. Kevin Riley recovers some of the ground he lost with his ex-wife, Anab Saed, who features pleasingly prominently into the action. Spock, seen only intermittently, attempts to recover from his lapses into emotion at the remembrance of his friends, whom he senses are in danger. But there’s a meta meaning I think beats all other readings: Recovery could very well be construed as a sly jab about getting the Lost Years saga back on track after the not-so-much bad but certainly less successful diversions of A Flag Full of Stars and Traitor Winds.
Recovery is the best Lost Years novel since, well, The Lost Years, and it casts a revealing light on what was missing from the middle two installments. For the Lost Years to really click, it can’t just be as simple as “stories that take place between the five-year mission and The Motion Picture“. There has to be a genuine connection to the film and to the lore for it to be effective. No disrespect to Brad Ferguson and L.A. Graf, but that’s not something their books tried all that hard to achieve. A Flag Full of Stars at least engaged with the Lori Ciana relationship, but mostly kind of did its own weird thing. And while it was good and vital to see what the junior bridge officers were up to in the interim, L.A. Graf clearly saw Traitor Winds as another opportunity to lavish more love on their preferred power trio. Again, not that these books were bad—I rated both quite highly—but viewed as extensions of The Lost Years and analyzed within that rubric, they do lack that next-level pop.
The only major problem with this book is one I think was outside Dillard’s control, and it’s that it seems bizarrely hell-bent on spoiling itself before you even open it. The back cover mentions Recovery’s creator as “[falling] under alien influence”, and though you can pick up on subtle clues pertaining to that as you read, the full extent of it is not explicitly revealed until almost 200 pages in. The cover art may also prove sufficient to tip a reader off as to which species will eventually be revealed to be responsible for Recovery’s sabotage, if they’re familiar with certain visual elements of the Original Series. I may have even managed that myself in describing all this. But of course, it’s the finer details that really matter, and those are too indelible to risk airing out here.
I had long kind of suspected it, but Recovery confirms that The Lost Years would have been better off spending its entire run under Dillard’s wing. She originated the concept and showed the strongest grasp of it from beginning to end. If anything, however, the general trajectory of the series shows how tough it can be for even devoted fans to embrace the trappings of The Motion Picture warts and all. Certainly I appreciate it, and I can tell you why it’s an important piece of Trek. Do I love it, though? Of that, I’m not as sure. What The Lost Years needed was those rare breeds who can love it, and for at least a couple of those books, it got that.
MVP & LVP
- My MVP this week is Sonak. How on earth did it take four of these dang books to get some Sonak? In case that name doesn’t ring a bell for you, Sonak is the Vulcan science officer who dies in the transporter malfunction in that grisly scene in The Motion Picture along with Lori Ciana. So we never get an idea of who he was or of his talents. But this book more than makes up for that tragic death. Finally, we get to Sonak in his element as a science officer. It’s heartwarming to see how he fills a Spock-nostalgia void for Kirk and exciting to see how quickly he adapts to Kirk’s captaining style and logic. When Kirk asks Sonak at the end if he would ever be interested in serving as his first officer if he got to command a ship again and Sonak accepts, it’s a real earned moment.
- Our LVP this week is also a Vulcan: Spock. He keeps getting the sense that his friends are in danger, and he keeps sweeping it under the mental rug. Don’t do it, man! Kolinahr’s not for you! Jim is your t’hy’la! Plus, Kolinahr makes you a big jerk! But in all seriousness, all his scenes feel like padding and like they’re here just to make sure we don’t forget he exists.
Nuggets & Stray Bits
- Another fun character is Reese Diksen, a cadet who considers her communications post boring until the Recovery mess goes down. She idolizes Kirk and did a Vulcan-awarded study on his practical applications of the Prime Directive, and now gets a lesson in action from the man himself. If she’s not as ruthlessly efficient as Sonak, who could be? She really rises to the occasion, and any scene featuring her is a delight.
- One character has a heart attack after getting stunned by a phaser, an idea that’s never occurred to me, but, frankly, is terrifying, speaking as someone who’s had one before. (p. 132)
- Riley mentions that one of Kirk’s notes about Recovery was that the computer should be unable to declare one person as more important than another. “Otherwise, in the evacuation of a planet, the first political party to get on board could order the ship to abandon its enemies.” Woof! Dark! Are we sure this book wasn’t written in 2020?? (p. 135)
- McCoy, p. 269: “The only way the Federation’s ever gonna get me to work for them again will be to forcibly draft me. And that’s a promise.” — That got a hearty laugh out of me, for reasons anyone familiar with TMP will appreciate.
Final Assessment: 🙂
Though it tries its best to spoil itself before page one, nothing can stop Recovery from being a fun romp and a solid end to what’s overall been a somewhat troubled, though still consistently good series. The return of The Lost Years to Dillard’s care confirms that it should have been her baby all along. To achieve true excellence, it needs to be more than just “stories that take place between the five-year mission and The Motion Picture“. It needs to show a genuine love for the trappings of that era of Star Trek, and Dillard and O’Malley are the only Lost Years authors to reach that transcendence.
NEXT TIME: More pirate action in Blaze of Glory