#180: Twilight’s End (TOS #77)

This week, the planet Rimillia needs Scotty’s help to escape the No-Spin Zone. But when Bones speaks for the trees, he and Sulu find themselves committing to a marathon Spore stream. Which will prevail: plants or machines? And will one of them emerge the victor before rotation can turn into revolution? And also, should Chekov be here yet? All this and more in Twilight’s End, the book that won’t get all judgey about your hobbies.


Twilight’s End

Author: Jerry Oltion
Pages: 272
Published: January 1996
Timeline: Voyages of Imagination places it vaguely after “A Taste of Armageddon” (S1E23), though Chekov is present, so it would have to be at least partway into season 2
Prerequisites: None

Much to Dr. McCoy’s ire, the Enterprise puts off another supply rendezvous to hasten their arrival at Rimillia, where war threatens to break out over opposing views on a terraforming project of unprecedented scale as well as the abduction of said project’s lead scientist. The overwhelming majority of planets the Enterprise visits are Class M,1 but Rimillia sits a step down at Class L, barely habitable even with technological aid (e.g., environmental suits). Rimillia inhabits a binary star system, and is tidally locked—that is to say, it doesn’t rotate on its axis, unlike roughly 99.99999 percent of planets.

As one might expect of a planet that doesn’t rotate, the side that faces the primary star is blazing hot, and the other side is deathly cold. But the other star provides juuuust enough warmth to the cold side to vaporize some gases and create a thin atmosphere. Rimillia’s population lives mostly on the planet’s terminator, the only zone not excessively hammered by either climate. Some of them want to make the whole planet livable, not just a narrow band around it, and to that end they propose using thirty thousand impulse engines to get it turning and have things other planets have, like normal weather and seasons and day/night cycles. Scotty is tapped to take over the project on account of the aforementioned kidnapping plus the destruction of vital equipment by an unknown saboteur.

McCoy thinks the engine project is—not to put too fine a point on it—a load of horse hockey, and suggests that genetically modifying some of the local flora might prove more viable in the long term. Sulu running his mouth about his botany experience lands him a spot on Team Bones, and with that, the game is afoot to see which strategy the Rimillians will ultimately choose. The majority of their government officials want to move forward with the engine plan, and so it’s treated as the default option, but even with Scotty at the wheel, prospects look anything but rosy. And that’s to say nothing of the class struggle simmering beneath it all, with the “outsiders” living on the harsh fringes of the habitable zone ready to descend on the comparatively cozy “insiders” at the first whiff of the rotation plan’s failure.

We just got a serving of Scotty a couple weeks ago, though that was a TNG event. It feels strangely rare, on the other hand, to see him featured in a TOS story. Scotty inhabits a lonely gap between what I perceive as the two power trios of TOS: Kirk/Spock/McCoy and Sulu/Uhura/Chekov. The exploits of the former hardly need to be rehashed here, and as junior officers, it’s natural that the latter three would gravitate toward each other for friendship and commiseration. That leaves Scotty the odd man out. Without the ability to slot easily into a trio or even a duo, it’s harder to find narratives that are suited to putting him front and center. So it’s a bit of a shame, then, that this one is so goofy—and that’s probably one of the more charitable adjectives I could use.

Jerry Oltion is an amateur astronomer as well as an author, so I have to imagine the concepts found here are grounded in at least some kind of firsthand knowledge base. Nevertheless, I can’t seem to shake the gut feeling that the plot of Twilight’s End is powerfully dumb, a thing of such exquisite stupidity that it is actually kind of perversely beautiful. I realize this is the sort of breathless take that ironic lovers of badness reserve for episodes like “Spock’s Brain”, and I don’t deploy it lightly. “Spock’s Brain” probably isn’t the kind of company a Trek writer hopes their creation will keep, but fortunately, Twilight’s End has a few things going for it that keep it from being quite as bad as all that.

Twilight’s End feels like the handiwork of a jack of many trades. Sometimes, you can feel, through an author’s words, the fact that they are much smarter than you bearing down on you with a terrible gravity. Here was more of a variation on that, where instead of feeling like Oltion was smarter than me, I could feel that he has a far greater curiosity about the world than I do. In addition to astronomy, there’s an escape plan that develops from an ensign’s beer-brewing hobby, an exhaustive description of neural nets that was probably far more necessary in 1996 than it is now, and various flashes of an enthusiast’s interest in meteorology and seismology. The personality that peeks through as a result of all this is, dare I say it, kind of adorable.

Twilight’s End also feels, for better and worse and with all it implies and entails, more like an actual episode of TOS than any book in recent memory. How much of a good or bad thing that is will vary from reader to reader. Personally, I think it’s probably better to try to transcend the limitations of the old series rather than create something that fits so neatly within them, but I don’t think that was exactly the intention here, per se—just sort of what happened. It isn’t going to make for anything mindblowing, but it is engaging and fun, as far as it goes, with lots of the good old-fashioned interplay, and it even manages to unearth a fairly novel character combination by putting Bones and Sulu together. I’m not prepared to call this one good, but it does have a certain surprising charm about it that I think can win a lot of readers over.

Ten Forward Toast

One thing that definitely adds to the TOS verisimilitude of Twilight’s End is that a redshirt dies in it. We haven’t had one of these in a while, so here’s to Ensign Hughes, who freezes to death when his environmental suit becomes compromised. That’s a pretty rough one, and it takes him a while to die to boot.

MVP & LVP

  • I’m giving this week’s MVP to Scotty. This book probably sets a record for the number of times Scotty is asked to do something beyond all the everything he’s already doing, and he delivers every time. Solid work, and despite its issues, I highly recommend this book for Scotty fans.
  • This week’s LVP is Chekov. I’m not even certain he’s supposed to be here right now, given the time frame offered up by Voyages of Imagination, but he doesn’t do much here except offer a cheeky remark every now and then. The book would be no worse off if he wasn’t around for this one, and it’d be more consistent with a season-one time frame to boot.

Nuggets & Stray Bits

  • Coordinator Joray, p. 39: “We have a saying on Rimillia. If you don’t like the weather, blink. It’ll change.” — I was not aware that Rimillia is literally just Texas. (Or wherever you live where people say this. It’s been said about roughly eight billion different places.)
  • Page 63 mentions Schofield convertors and Bischoff taps, two surnames that keen-eyed observers will recall we’ve seen on Star Trek covers already. Oltion thanks Bischoff in a brief intro for urging him to write the book. Considering Bischoff thought of himself as above literally all the Trek novels he read in preparing to write his own, it makes me wonder what he really thought of Oltion if that is in fact true.
  • That same acknowledgments section mentions that a potential title for this book could have been The Spin Doctors, which could go a long way in helping to explain why this book is as corny as it is.
  • “Spock was uneasy about Turner. His performance on the job had always been exemplary, but he brewed alcoholic beverages in one of the science labs during his off-duty hours, and Spock was not sure how much faith he could place in someone who created mind-altering substances as a hobby, even if his use of them was moderate.” — Boy, this irked me quite a bit. When you’re off the clock, it ain’t nobody’s business what you do but your own. Plus, it ended up coming in handy out in the field, helping Kirk escape captivity and allowing the Enterprise to get a transporter lock on him. You couldn’t even keep your ensign alive, Spock! That’s right, who’s getting judged now? (pp. 80, 81)
  • Minority Advocate Haidar, p. 210: “The government cannot flee to safety when the people are in danger.” — A noble sentiment, Ms. Haidar. Though I can think of at least one person who might disagree with you…

Final Assessment

Average. After processing the opening and getting a sense of the plot, I was ready to give this one a bit of a drubbing for launching from such a deeply corny premise, but it won me over some with a certain amount of adorkable charm. For those who like their books to feel like they could be ripped straight from the screen, this one definitely nails that feeling, and it also provides a lot of juicy material for Scotty fans. It never fully recovers from the shaky setup, but it isn’t as dreadful as you might expect from such an eyebrow-raising premise.

NEXT TIME: Picard fights to preserve the Dragon’s Honor

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2 Comments

  1. Adam Goss

    The idea of getting an entire planet to rotate actually sounds like the sort of Big Engineering that Scotty and the Starfleet Corps of Engineers dream of pulling off. Maybe not as practical as other solutions, but if it’s what the natives want and, like Mythbuster, engineers want to try to actually see if it can be done, then why not? So I am not sure why this comes across as corny to you, unless I’m misunderstanding your reasons for saying the book is corny.

    Also, Spock “being uneasy”?? Spock is NEVER uneasy. He may have doubts, he may disapprove, but uneasiness is an emotional response. Bad author! No biscuit. That’s like having Data speak with a contraction without a special cause for it happening.

    • jess

      I’ll admit it was a little hard for me to articulate my thoughts on this one. So to be more specific, I would say that for me personally, it breaks even the considerable suspension of disbelief I’m willing to extend to Star Trek. I’ll readily admit I’m no scientist, but a concept as deceptively simple as a planet not rotating on its axis just does not feel possible to me at all, and so a grand-scale project like using engines to force it to rotate was hard to stack on top of that. McCoy’s idea felt more “doable” to me, as far as that goes.

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