This week, when a scientist’s quest to give her people unlimited fusion power goes horribly awry, at least the explosion is pretty. But when Kirk wants to rescue as many survivors as he can, he learns that two’s company, three’s a Prime Directive violation. Can Jim keep his friend happy? Can the Enterprise keep the disaster from spreading to Earth? And can I keep Dan Forden from living rent-free in my head? All this and more in The Rings of Tautee, the book that won’t inspire any baby names anytime soon.
The Rings of Tautee
Authors: Dean Wesley Smith & Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Published: May 1996
Timeline: Mid–season two, between “Obsession” (S2E13) and “The Immunity Syndrome” (S2E18)
All fifteen major planets in the Tautee system have been destroyed, causing the formation of several tragic yet achingly beautiful debris rings, as well as regular waves of subspace interference. Prescott—the lead scientist on the Kanst Energy Experiment, which was supposed to provide unlimited fusion energy to all the habitable planets of the system—has the galaxy’s worst case of survivor’s guilt, because she believes the failure of the project caused the destruction. (She is, in fact, correct.) She doesn’t believe there’s anyone out there who can save them, because Tautee is a pre-warp culture and they’ve never discovered any alien civilizations, but her partner Folle continues to hope against hope.
That hope arrives in the twin forms of the Enterprise and the Farragut, dispatched to investigate the scene and make sure the carnage is not the result of a rumored new Klingon superweapon. Amusingly enough, the Klingons are on hand to make sure a rumored new Federation superweapon is not the culprit. Ahh, 23rd-century covert intelligence! Kirk has a plan to rescue potential survivors with a risky surfing gambit, but Kelly Bogle, the Farragut’s captain and an old crewmate of Kirk’s, is a considerably more cautious rule-abider. So, of course, it really throws Bogle for a loop when Kirk says he’s going to ask the Klingons for help with his harebrained scheme.
The Enterprise discovers the source of the waves and rescues Prescott and her colleagues, but Spock’s readings suggest there could be thousands more Tauteeans scattered among the debris. It’s here that they run into a frustratingly arbitrary Prime Directive dilemma: saving only a handful of survivors is fine, because “the culture [is] effectively dead”, but saving a couple thousand is apparently not, since at that point the culture is able to pick up the pieces and continue, except now they know about starships and warp drive and phasers and a bunch of other jazz they haven’t been deemed developmentally ready for. Kirk, naturally, being Kirk, says nuts to that, we’re going to save as many as we can. But the waves are increasing in intensity and size, and will go on to eventually wipe out other systems and worlds if the rift isn’t closed in just a couple of hours. And then there’s Bogle, not nearly as flexible a captain as Kirk, and nursing a touch of bitterness and envy to boot…
The Rings of Tautee is an extremely lean offering, containing exactly as much action and general TOS vibe as it needs to scratch an itch and not one whit more. Mostly, this works to the book’s detriment, since nothing is included that gives us any glimpse into pre-disaster Tauteean culture whatsoever. Outside of their height and their eyes, there’s barely even any indication of what they look like. They’re not much more than pawns in the book’s larger point about the Prime Directive. That’s a shame, because the handful of offbeat chapters that focus on them, such as the one that features a firefight with the Klingons from Prescott’s extremely confused perspective, and another with a few short stories featuring random Tauteeans in the moments just before they get beamed to safety, rank among the book’s finest. It’s not as though some extra Tauteean focus would have constituted especially egregious padding. It would have taken forty pages of it to get this book up to average length. And because it’s so short, things wrap up even more patly than usual, with Kirk getting too easily off the hook in more ways than one.
It’s actually kind of easy to see how this book ended up being such thin gruel. After all, this is Smith and Rusch’s third Star Trek novel in the last calendar year, to say nothing of whatever other plates they may have had spinning at the time, and such a machine-like pace doesn’t exactly make for consistent grade-A quality. But with the advent of Voyager, we’ve seen a glut of Prime Directive stories of late, such that it’d have been nice if they eased off of leaning so hard on it in other series until it became more of a secondary concern for the Voyager crew. The Rings of Tautee doesn’t stink, but there also isn’t very much to it, and there’s a more interesting story to be found in these bones, I think, with a handful of survivors suddenly finding the sum total of whatever knowledge they possess right in that cataclysmic moment to be whatever survives of Tauteean history, and how they would even begin to go about organizing and shepherding that history as they move into the future. But that might be a little heady for what clearly aims to be TOS pulp in the purest tradition, which it basically nails within acceptable parameters.
MVP & LVP
- MVP this week is Kirk. Classic maverick Kirk at his finest. Tossing out the rule book, doing what needs to be done, highlighting the difference between following the rules and making the correct moral decision—all that jazz is here.
- A dual LVP this week, shared by Uhura and Chekov. They’re not much more than seat-warmers here. No snappy one-liners or hints of personality from them here, just the sorts of everyday command confirmations that you’d expect from them at their posts.
- Cover Art Corner: Man, what is up with Kirk’s face on this one. Looks like he got some bad work done. It looks like what you would get if you asked someone to paint Nick Swardson as Captain Kirk.
- I cannot read the word “Tautee” without saying it the way Dan Forden says “Toasty!” in Mortal Kombat.
- The Farragut’s chief engineer’s first name is Projeff, which sounds like a terrible YouTube gamer channel.
- A Tauteean late in the book is named Dicnar. I just want to point out that that’s “Rancid” backwards. I don’t know if one or the other of the authors is really into punk, but it’s hard to believe it was an accidental thing.
About as average as average gets. Extremely slight, with no meaningful remembrance of Tauteean culture to speak of; they are more or less pawns in the novel’s larger point about the Prime Directive, so they get pretty short shrift. Chapters that do feature them more heavily are among the book’s best; it could have used much more of that. Good at nailing the pulpy TOS tone, but it could have been so much more.
NEXT TIME: Possession is ten tenths of the next book