#076: Home Is the Hunter (TOS #52)

This week, Kirk squares off with Totally-Not-Q, who banishes three of his officers to tumultuous moments in Earth’s past. While he learns how to play nice with the Klingons and work out the god-alien’s inscrutable morality, his missing crewmen struggle to reconcile their desire to return to their own time with the obligations they’ve committed to in their new surroundings. What’s a ghargh? Is Kirk always this whiny? Why don’t children ever just listen? It’s the book with a special appearance by John Larroquette!

Home Is the Hunter
Author: Dana Kramer-Rolls
Pages: 278
Published: December 1990
Timeline: Shortly after The Motion Picture
Prerequisites: None

Dropping in on a story in medias res is always a potent way to kick things off, and this time is no exception. Starting from Sulu’s realization that he is in fact not dreaming about being a samurai in the thick of battle, we gradually grok the full scope of the situation: viz., that a powerful alien named Weyland has banished three of Kirk’s men to war-torn moments in Earth history—Sulu to just before the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600; Scotty to the Battle of Culloden in 1746; and Chekov to Stalingrad in World War II—leaving Kirk confused and angry in the present.

Weyland takes care of the people of Cragon V, whom he finds refreshingly simple and undramatic. He’s basically Q in all but name: he’s essentially omnipotent, enjoys taunting spacefaring peoples, and has a warped sense of morality and justice only he understands. Also like a Q, he is, just prior to the events of the story, a member of an alliance of beings like himself, but he briefly left Cragon V to tender his resignation from said alliance, disillusioned by the fact that they prefer to sit on the sidelines rather than help people (like the Cragonians) using their powers. Weyland hung a sign on the planet before leaving that said “Running an errand, back in 5 minutes”—but unfortunately, being an all-powerful god-alien with no use for linear time, what he thought was a few minutes was in fact several months, during which time the Klingons swooped in and taught his nice, kind, harmless Cragonians how to set traps and be ruthless killers.

Weyland is already plenty perturbed about that, but Kirk and the Klingons push him over the edge. Neither side succeeds in convincing him to avail himself of their assistance, and he sends them home empty-handed. But the second they leave his castle, both sides immediately go right back on their bullshit, and a skirmish breaks out. Amid the donnybrook, a child grabs a timed plasma grenade. Garrovick tries to wrest it from him, but alas, it explodes, killing them both, infuriating Weyland and driving him to levy the aforementioned punitive action.

A major theme of Home Is the Hunter is reevaluating your patriotism. One trait shared by all three punished characters is that prior to their time banishment they lionized—you could even reasonably say fetishized—romanticized versions of their countries of origin. As they become more and more resigned to living out whatever fates the past may have in store for them, they (especially Chekov) realize there’s not actually that much to love about the grimy, violent, unenlightened times they’ve been putting on a pedestal. It’s executed powerfully enough to make a reader stop and think about their own jingoistic tendencies and nationalist leanings. It’s a bit unfortunate that such an epiphany is invalidated by the non-canon status of the novels and the way character progression (at the time) didn’t roll over between books, but such is the nature of such episodic fare.

Dana Kramer-Rolls may well rank as one of the most eclectic one-shot Trek authors. She’s a knight in the Society for Creative Anachronism, and was the first woman in the club to win a throne by right of arms. Her Amazon author page lists one book, The Way of the Cat: Nap, Do Nothing, and Stretch Your Way to a Blissful Life, which seems to be about learning how to live a quieter, more reflective life by observing your cat. Currently, she writes weekly devotions for a site called Episcopal Cafe. With a background like that, it’d be highly unusual if what she wrote wasn’t at least interesting, if not necessarily good. Luckily, however, it’s both.

One thing Kramer-Rolls brings to the table is a refreshing change of format. Most of Home‘s chapters are short and sweet, some barely breaking two pages, which keeps things moving along at a nice clip. Also, she juggles four timelines and never drops any of them, which is a pretty amazing feat. Bringing everything to a satisfying climax proves slightly beyond her reach, but at least she shot for the moon.

Home Is the Hunter is a good example of the distinction between a book written by someone who loves Star Trek and a book written by someone who appreciates it. That may sound like a knock, but I don’t mean it as one. One level of fandom can provide access to certain types of insight that a deeper or shallower one may not be able to. I get the feeling D.K.-R. is not quite as thoroughly taken with Star Trek as your average Trek author,1 and that makes it quite different, but in an anthropologically fascinating way that I personally am highly receptive to. I have a suspicion that Dana Kramer-Rolls wanted to write a book about history that work Star Trek into it rather than the other way around. In this case, the approach works, adding yet another to the number of authors I’m sad we only got to see one story from.

MVP & LVP

  • My MVP this week is Uhura. Her screwing with Kbrex on the hailing frequency gave me one of the most genuinely laugh-out-loud moments I’ve had reading these books so far. She probably wouldn’t have gotten so sassy if both ships weren’t completely disabled and locked into a decaying orbit, but it’s great fun while it lasts.
  • I give LVP this week to Kirk. Part of it isn’t really his fault: Weyland’s punishment for him is to not know what Weyland did with his three crewmen, which drives him nuts and leaves him acutely feeling every bit of his impotence in the situation. But when pleading with Weyland, he sounds more childish than anything, reeks of desperation, and comes across as really whiny. It’s not a good look,

Ten Forward Toast

I struggled a bit in deciding who to give this to this week. You would think a child that dies would pretty much automatically get it, but there are mitigating circumstances in play here. Garrovick tried to yank that plasma grenade from him, but the kid yanked it back and said, “Mine!” Now, I understand that a child would naturally take issue with a stranger trying to steal something he found first, and that kids don’t have the critical faculties to immediately realize that when an adult takes something from you, it’s because it might be dangerous and not because they’re trying to yuck your yums. Nevertheless, the kid’s tantrum made my lip curl, so I’m giving it to Garrovick.

Nuggets & Other Stray Bits

  • After hardly ever visiting the brief post-Motion Picture era, this is our second TOS book in a row to take place in that time frame. No Deltans this time around, though.
  • Kral’s ship is called the Ghargh, which according to Bing’s Klingon translator means “serpent worm”. Neat!
  • Maltz (from The Search for Spock) makes an appearance of just a few pages as the second officer on the Ghargh.
  • p. 31, just a beautiful, beautiful sentence: “He was within spitting distance—appropriately—of Nazis.”
  • p. 122: A Klingon named Kevlar shows up on the Ghargh. The material used most famously in the manufacture of bulletproof vests was first used commercially in the early 70s, so there’s no way this goofiness couldn’t have been avoided.

Final Verdict

I give Home Is the Hunter 3.5 out of 5 serpent worms. Home Is the Hunter offers several varieties of intense action and excitement of a different flavor than usual that shines multiple spotlights on minor characters, but also makes plenty of room for both introspection and laughs, as good true-to-the-spirit Trek should. It’s a little bizarre to be dealing with an alien who in every meaningful aspect is Q but is actually totally absolutely definitely not Q, and Kirk’s hemming and hawing and the whole Klingon rite-of-succession business get to be a bit of a bore from time to time. But the individual historical dramas are well-crafted, and overall, this is one of the superior efforts to date.

NEXT TIME: Riker spies and Data flies in Fortune’s Light

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RIP Vonda McIntyre

2 Comments

  1. Adam Goss

    The Klingons have a ship named for gagh?? That’s like having the starship Sushi or the USS Corn-On-The-Kob!

  2. A.D.

    I only read this book because you gave it a positive review. I’m glad I did. Now I don’t think I liked it quite as much as you did, but it’s still a worthwhile read.

    The concept of the book (three characters tossed into the past) made me fear that the book would be filled with cheesy stereotypes, but I think the author handled the characters fairly well. I especially liked how Chekov was treated in a serious manner.

    I disagree with a couple of your points.

    1) You stated that one of the book’s major themes is “reevaluating your patriotism” and I don’t think I agree with that. Scotty and Sulu seemed to love their ancestral countries even more by books end and I don’t think that Chekov (in this novel at least) ever felt that the USSR was ever really “his” country; he treated it as a dark period in a country that would evolve into something much better by the 23rd century.

    Imo, the real theme of this book is HONOR. Weyland strikes me as less of a Q and more of a more mature Trelane. He’s a god who has found some admirable traits in mortals. Instead of an adolescent fascination with war and bloodshed he’s come to appreciate honor and sacrifice. When he serves up a helping of poetic justice for our three protagonists by giving them a “death sentence” in the past he learns that he has misjudged them; they are all honorable men willing to give their all in a fight not there own.

    2) I disagree with you that Kirk came across poorly here. I thought he was very much in character. He was totally outmatched by Weyland, but he was able to deduce a bit of his true nature and make his way back to the planet’s surface, defeating the bad guy along the way. I also liked the bit where Kirk has already composed a stirring speech about the innate nobility of man to convince Weyland to see the error of his ways, but has to scrap it because the job’s already been done for him.

    Things I didn’t like about the book:

    1) The action sequences weren’t well written. Scotty manufacturing a bow and arrow and Sulu escaping from the river are two scenes that strain credibility.

    2) The triangle between the three main Klingons needed fleshing out. Was something cut out? The scene at the end involving a book of poetry and a medal came out of left field.

    3) The theme of honor that was so central to the three main stories seemed very underdeveloped in the framing story. How does it apply to the Klingon’s story arc? Does it apply to Kirk’s actions? The wraparound story should have been what tied everything together, but it only seems to do so superficially. We needed something after the Chekov, Sulu, and Scotty epilogues.

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